August Gailit

Novels August Gailit

Short stories and novellas

About August Gailit

August Gailit (9. I 1891 / 28. XII 1890 – 5. XI 1960), an author of short stories and novels, who stands out as a unique author for his romantic creative nature, and who is chiefly known for his episodic novels Toomas Nipernaadi and Ekke Moor.

He was born at Kuiksilla farm on the Sangaste estate, the son of a master builder of Latvian or Livonian origin. His mother was an Estonian from a Germanized family. From 1895 his childhood home was the Laatre estate in Tartumaa. From 1899 he attended the Latvian parish school in Valga and the county school; thereafter, from 1905 to 1907, the Tartu county school, but did not graduate. From 1907 to 1911 he completed his education with private lessons in Tartu. From 1911 to 1916 he worked as a journalist in Riga, and then as a war correspondent. He continued as a journalist in 1916-1917 on the Tallinna Teataja and in 1918 in Tartu in the editorial office of Postimees. He wrote art and literary criticism. In 1917 he was active in the Siuru literary movement. He took part on the War of Independence as an army official and as a war correspondent. From 1920 to 1922 he was press attache at the Estonian embassy in Riga. From 1922 to 1924 he lived in Germany, France and Italy. Thereafter he was a professional writer in Tartu. He married the actress Elvi Vaher-Nander. From 1932 to 1934 he was director of the Vanemuine Theatre; from 1934 to 1944 he was a writer in Tallinn. He fled with his family to Sweden in September 1944, and lived on the Ormesta estate near the city of Örebro. There he continued his literary activity until his death. He is buried in the Northern cemetery in Örebro, where a memorial stone has been erected.

He made his debut in the press in 1909. The first work to appear as a book was the Symbolist tale Kui päike läheb looja (‘When the Sun Sets’, 1910). The witty satirical short stories of the Siuru period are gathered in the collection Klounid ja faunid (‘Clowns and Fauns, 1919). The earliest short stories appeared in the books Saatana karussell (‘Satan’s Carousel’, 1917), Rändavad rüütlid (‘Wandering Knights’, 1919) and August Gailiti surm (‘The Death of August Gailit’, 1919). Characteristic of his neo-romantic short stories is a unique choice of subject matter, character description and vocabulary. He preferred to depict exaggerated images, galleries of exotic beings and scenes, with an abundance of destructive mental conditions, grotesque motifs, and caricatures. In dissecting the hidden aspects of human existence and confrontations in a hostile world of chaos, the stories are sometimes loaded with Expressionism-influenced aesthetic of ugliness and cynical sarcasm. In the last three collections to be published in his homeland, Idioot (‘The Idiot’, 1924), Vastu hommikut (‘Toward Morning’, 1926) and Ristisõitjad (‘Crusaders’, 1927), the fantastical descriptions and playful variations of style have receded, while the basic affirmation of life continues to be romantic, full of drama, which is reflected by a deeper look into psychology of his characters. In addition to the earlier themes of fate and love he focuses on drastic conditions in the social and ideological sphere, but the starting premise is primarily humane, his basic attitude is pessimistic or even tragic. The satirical pieces lambasting the evils of cultural politics and social life are gathered in the collection Aja grimassid (‘Grimaces of Time’, 1926).

Muinasmaa (‘Fairyland’), a novel with impressionistic elements (written 1914, published 1918) reveals a parade of bohemian characters against a background of events in summer. In the novel Purpurne surm (‘Purple Death’, 1924), degeneration and destruction depicted in Expressionist terms give an impression, in the manner of Spengler, of the decline of the West, attested by great wars and bloody revolutions, the culmination of which is a gradually approaching epidemic. His best-known work, the episodic novel Toomas Nipernaadi (1928), pictures a wandering bohemian writer, who, as a archetypal representative of the Romantic canon, embodies the collector of life experiences, the eternal seeker of love adventures, and the existential rebel against the inevitabilities of life. The other episodic novel Isade maa (‘Land of Fathers’, 1935), set in the War of Independence, tells in a somewhat comical way of the struggle for freedom, romanticizing history. The maritime novel Karge meri (‘Rough Sea’, 1938, winner of the Estonian president’s literature prize in 1939), depicts coastal life on a small island, where living conditions are determined by traditional community ways of life and a subjection to the harsh elements of nature. The bildungsroman Ekke Moor (1941) tells in a humorous and lyrical way about the wanderings of a young man from a coastal village, in order to experience the different sides of reality and to seek himself and the open sources of life. The novel Leegitsev süda (‘Flaming Heart’, 1945) offers philosophical musings about life and art against a rural background. The novel Üle rahutu vee (‘Over Restless Waters’, 1951) depicts the route of refugees from their homeland in a small fishing-boat in the autumn of 1944. The three-part prose work Kas mäletad, mu arm? (‘Do You Remember, My Love?’, I – 1951, II – 1955, III – 1959) contains nostalgic memoirs of varying length and colourful subject matter, with palpable feelings of homesickness and exile.

Gailit’s work in general has provided the material for many plays and films. Tallinnfilm created film versions of Karge meri (1982, dir. Arvo Kruusement), and Toomas Nipernaadi (1983), dir Kaljo Kiisk).

A. O. (Translated by C. M.)

Books in Estonian

Short stories
Saatana karussell. Tallinn: Siuru, 1917, 123 lk. [2. trükk: ‘Saatana karussell: “Siuru”-aegsed novellid’, Tallinn: Kunst, 2010, 340 lk.]
Rändavad rüütlid. Tartu: Odamees, 1919, 211 lk. [2. trükk: ‘Saatana karussell: “Siuru”-aegsed novellid’, Tallinn: Kunst, 2010, 340 lk.]
Klounid ja faunid. Tartu: Odamees, 1919, 153 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Varrak, 2011, 175 lk.]
August Gailiti surm. Tartu: Odamees, 1919, 42 lk.
Idioot. Tartu: Odamees, 1924, 88 lk. [2. trükk: ‘Saatana karussell: “Siuru”-aegsed novellid’, Tallinn: Kunst, 2010, 340 lk.]
Aja grimassid. Tartu: Loodus, 1926, 154 lk.
Vastu hommikut. Tartu: Loodus, 1926, 269 lk.
Ristisõitjad. Tartu: Loodus, 1927, 383 lk. [2. trükk: Toronto: Orto, 1953, 239 lk.]
Kogutud novellid. I köide. Tallinn: Kultuurkoondis, 1940, 298 lk.
Kogutud novellid. II köide. Tallinn: Kultuurkoondis, 1940, 275 lk.
Kogutud novellid. III köide. Tallinn: Eesti Kirjastus, 1942, 254 lk.
Viimne romantik. Vadstena: Orto, 1949, 228 lk.
Kas mäletad, mu arm?. I osa. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1951, 271 lk. [2. trükk: ‘Kas mäletad, mu arm?’, I-III, Tartu: Ilmamaa, 1997, 630 lk.]
Kas mäletad, mu arm?. III osa. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1959, 266 lk. [2. trükk: ‘Kas mäletad, mu arm?’, I-III, Tartu: Ilmamaa, 1997, 630 lk.]
Põhjaneitsi. Koostanud ja järelsõna: Heino Puhvel. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1991, 232 lk. [Sari ‘Eesti novellivara’.]

Kui päike läheb looja. Pärnu: Sakala; Meie Kodumaa, 1910, 198 lk.
Muinasmaa. Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1918, 228 lk. [Järgnevad trükid: Tallinn: Varrak, 1920, 167 lk; Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1965, 267 lk; Tallinn: Tänapäev, 2002, 189 lk.]
Purpurne surm. Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1924, 230 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Tänapäev 2001, 220 lk.]
Toomas Nipernaadi. Tartu: Loodus,1928, 430 lk. [Järgnevad trükid: Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1935, 452 lk; Tallinn: Eesti Kirjastus, 1944, 445 lk; Vadstena: Orto, 1947, 396 lk; Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1967, 360 lk; Tallinn: Avita, 1996, 320 lk; Tallinn: Varrak, 2001, 477 lk; Tallinn: Eesti Päevaleht, 2006, 253 lk; Tallinn: Hea Lugu, 2014, 260 lk.]
Isade maa. Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1935, 407 lk. [Järgnevad trükid: Vadstena: Orto, 1946, 407 lk; Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1967, 357 lk; Tartu: Ilmamaa: 1996, 270 lk; Tallinn: Eesti Päevaleht, 2009, 318 lk.]
Karge meri. Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1938, 327 lk. [Järgnevad trükid: Tallinn: Koskel, 1944, 251 lk; Vadstena: Orto, 1949, 207 lk; Tallinn: Eesti Raamat 1883, 192 lk.]
Ekke Moor. Tallinn: Eesti Kirjastus, 1941, 290 lk. [Järgnevad trükid: Tallinn: Eesti Kirjastus, 1942, 289 lk; Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1960, 324 lk; Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1990, 221 lk; Tallinn: Pegasus, 2007, 291 lk; Tallinn: Hea Lugu, 2015, 269 lk.]
Leegitsev süda. Vadstena: Orto, 1945, 310 lk. [Järgnevad trükkid: Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1956, 311 lk; Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1990, 230 lk.]
Üle rahutu vee. Göteborg: Orto, 1951, 375 lk. [Järgnevad trükid: Tartu: Ilmamaa, 1998, 303 lk; Tallinn: Eesti Päevaleht, 2009, 255 lk.]
Kas mäletad, mu arm?. II osa: Proua Ene Leevi pihtimus. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1955, 286 lk. [2. trükk: ‘Kas mäletad, mu arm?’, I-III, Tartu: Ilmamaa, 1997, 630 lk.]

August Gailiti kirjad Friedebert Tuglasele ajavahemikust 1917-1926. Sissejuhatus ja kommentaarid: Margus Kasterpalu. Tartu: Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum, Virgela, 1996, 93 lk.
August Gailit, Kirjad Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiivile. Koostanud Janika Kronberg. Tartu: Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum, 1999, 147 lk.
Ella Ilbak, August Gailit, Kirjad 1952-1961. Koostanud Piret Noorhani. Tallinn: Tänapäev, 2009, 137 lk.