Elisabeth Aspe (from 1892 Nieländer, 15./3. XII 1860 - 25. VIII 1927) was one of the first female writers in Estonia, a pioneer of realist prose.
Aspe was born in Vana-Pärnu and attended Pärnu Higher Girls’ School, although she did not take her final exam. In 1880, she began contributing to Eesti Postimees. In 1891, she went to work in St. Petersburg and returned a year later. She died in Pärnu and is buried at Vana-Pärnu Cemetery.
Aspe’s first original story Enne ukse lukutamist (‘Before Locking the Door’) was published in Eesti Postimees in 1881 and was against Estonians’ migration to Russia. Her following stories were published in magazines and later as a book as well. The story Kasuõde (‘Stepsister’, as a book in 1913) that was originally published in Olevik in 1887 follows the sentiments of the time and criticizes abandoning your nationality and vain attempts at imitating Germans. The main character of ‘Stepsister’ represents Aspe’s favorite character: good, patient, hard-working and selfless. The epistolary form of the story was novel at the time. The novel-like story Ennosaare Ain (originally published in a supplement of Olevik in 1888, as a book in 1910) may be considered her main work. It focuses on an Estonian intellectual, who over the course of his development unfortunately drifts apart from his nation. He becomes an astronomer, who makes it to the big city of Moscow, only to recognize he is alien everywhere. Love is the focus of the stories Meremehe mõrsja (‘The Sailor’s Bride’, published in the humor supplement of Postimees in 1890) and Anna Dorothea (Olevik 1891, as a book in 1927).
Aspe gathered most of her inspiration from Pärnu. She is good at describing her time and contributed to the budding city literature genre in Estonia. The characters in her stories are Estonian intellectuals, farmers, sailors. Aspe is a good story-teller, although her style is at times too brief, falling short of becoming a novel.
A. N. (Translated by A. S.)
Books in Estonian
Ennosaare Ain: jutustus Eesti minevikust. Tartu: Hermann, 1910, 148 lk. [Järgmised trükid: 1923, 1974, 1984.]
Aastate pärast: lugu ühe naese elust. Tartu: Postimees, 1911, 48 lk.
Kasuõde. Tallinn: Maa, 1913, 92 lk. [2. trükk: 1923.]
Anna Dorothea: jutt ühest pildist. Tartu: Eesti Kirjanduse Selts, 1927, 27 lk. [2. trükk: 1984.]
About Elisabeth Aspe
Arno Raag, Elisabeth Aspe elu ja looming: biograafilis-kriitiline essee. Tartu: Eesti Kirjanduse Selts, 1928, 75 lk.