Ernst Särgava

Short stories Ernst Särgava

About Ernst Särgava


Ernst Särgava (born Karl Ernst Petersen, until 1935 Ernst Peterson, also used the name Ernst Peterson-Särgava, 29./17. IV 1868 – 12. IV 1958) was a prose author and playwright, one of the founders of Estonian critical realism.

He was born in Vana-Vändra parish, Pärnumaa country, the son of a teacher. He attended Kadaka village school, Vändra and Tori parish schools, and from 1886 to 1889 in Tartu II Teachers’ Seminary. From 1883 to 1886 he worked as an assistant to his father at Kadaka school, from 1889 to 1906 as a teacher and schoolmaster at schools in Sindi, Põltsamaa, Kose-Uuemõisa and Rakvere; from 1906 at various schools in Tallinn. From 1919 to 1938 he was a teacher of Estonian and inspector at Tallinn Secondary School of Science. He wrote several Estonian language textbooks, some of which were reprinted. He was a member of the Tallinn City Council from 1907 to 1918 and 1930 to 1933, the deputy chairman of the Estonian Education Union from 1934 to 1936 and chairman from 1936 to 1940, from 1927 head of propaganda of the Tallinn unit of the Estonian Defence League, and a member of the central board of the Patriot League party from 1938 to 1940. In 1938 he was elected to the National Assembly’s Chamber of Deputies. He was active in the temperance movement. From 1940 to 1950 Särgava worked as an Estonian language teacher at the Tallinn College of Building Technology. He became a People’s Writer of the Estonian SSR in 1957. He died in Tallinn and was buried at the Metsakalmistu Cemetery.

Särgava’s youth was passed in a nationalist-minded environment. He read European classical and modern literature, but he was particularly influenced by the contemporary Russian authors Tolstoy, Chekhov and others. He was also enthused by Andres Saal, Juhan Liiv and Eduard Vilde. His social views were influenced by Ernst Haeckel and other materialist scientific scholars, and ideas critical of religion from Western Europe.

Särgava began writing while studying at the teachers’ seminary in Tartu, cultivating realism from the start. While working as a teacher, Särgava came into close contact with the people’s economic and social problems. The heyday of his creative work fell into the period 1898-1905. Särgava entered the front rank of the critical realists with his three-volume series of stories Paised ('Dams') - Ühe härja lugu ('The Tale of a Bull') and Marjad silmas ('Berries in the Eye') in a single volume in 1899, Issanda kiituseks ('To Praise the Lord', 1900) and Tulge appi! ('Come and Help!', 1901). The particularly radical and critical story Tulge appi! got a sequel Oheliku onu jõulunägemine ('The Halterman’s Christmas Vision'), which appeared in the newspaper Teataja (1901). Paised examines the late feudal and early capitalist economic conditions that were crushing the people, the moral decline and the mind-numbing oppression by the clergy. Paised is linked thematically with the story Jõulupuu ('The Christmas Tree', 1903), which depicts the plight of the urban poor.

In the novel Rahvavalgustaja ('Enlightener of the People', 1904) Särgava depicts the dominating petty bourgeois mentality, the mental stagnation, meanness and vulgarity of Mudila, a small market town. The efforts of young schoolteachers to enliven social life end in the teachers either acquiescing or leaving Mudila. Mudila later became a general name for the mental resignation and extreme provincialism of Estonian public life. Inspiration for the novel was drawn from Särgava’s own hometown of Vändra. Written in the spirit of the 1905 revolution was the story Kolonist ('The Colonist', 1906), depicting relations between landlords and tenant farmers.

After the revolution Särgava’s political radicalism softened; after he settled in Tallinn in 1906 his creative productivity also lessened, and his participation in social and political life increased. He started actively compiling Estonian language textbooks. In his work Särgava began drawing more attention to the need to support women’s social emancipation. Of the stories reflecting these strivings, the best known are Liisi (1905) and Elsa (1907). He also wrote Ennemuistsed jutud lastele ('Once Upon a Time, Tales for Children', 1909) and Ennemuistsed jutud reinuvader rebasest ('Once Upon a Time, Tales of Reynard the Fox', 1911), of which the latter is nowadays Särgava’s most popular work.

In 1920 Särgava published a play dealing with the problems of marriage and morals, Sõnajala õis ('Fern blossom'), and in 1922 the comedy Uus miniister ('The New Minister') mocking the life of the petty bourgeois Mudila, known from his earlier novel Rahvavalgustaja. In the latter half of his life Särgava worked for several decades on the novel Lähme linna kirjutama, oma elu kergendama! ('Let’s Go to Town and Write, to Ease our Lives!'), but it was never made ready for print, finally appearing in two volumes only in 1968, edited by Olev Jõgi. Lähme linna kirjutama… is a large-scale novel of cultural history, depicting mid-19th-century life in the Vändra district. Among the central figures in the novel, apart from members of Särgava’s own family, are well-known local cultural figures, J. V. Jannsen, C. Körber, and others.

The memory of Ernst Särgava is perpetuated by a monument erected in 1985 in Kadriorg Park in Tallinn and moved in 1988 to the front of the Tallinn Secondary School of Science.

S. V. (Translated by C. M.)

Books in Estonian

Ei iialgi. Roman Eesti lähemast minevikust. Rakvere: N. Erna, 1888, 269 lk. [Kättesaadav: Järgnevad trükid: 1895, 1902, 1938.]
Ernst Peterson, Rahwa-walgustaja: Uudisjutt. Jurjev: Uudised, 1904, 237 lk. [Järgnevad trükid: 1921, 1938, 1946, 1953.]
Lähme linna kirjutama, oma elu kergendama. 1. Kommeteerinud O. Jõgi. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1968, 559 lk.
Lähme linna kirjutama, oma elu kergendama. 2. Kommeteerinud O. Jõgi. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1968, 583 lk.

Ernst Peterson, Paised. Juhtumised ja jutustused Eesti elust. 1. anne. Rakvere: N. Erna, 1899, 94 lk. [Kättesaadav: Sisu: 'Ühe härja elulugu', '"Marjad silmas" ehk 50% rumalust, 25% laiskust, ja mis üle selle, see on sula kange-kaelus'.]
Ernst Peterson, Paised. Juhtumised ja jutustused Eesti elust. 2. anne. Rakvere: N. Erna, 1900, 120 lk. [Kättesaadav: Sisu: 'Issanda kiituseks'.]
Ernst Peterson, Paised. 3. anne nr. 4, "Tulge appi!" (Tükikene missioni tööst Indiamaal). Rakvere: N. Erna, 1901, 81 lk. [Kättesaadav:]
Hea sõber: Uus Lugemise Raamat weiksematele lastele. 1. jagu, Kooli ja kodu jaoks. Kokku seadinud Ernst Peterson. Rakvere: N. Erna, 1903, 109 lk.
Elsa. Ernst Petersoni jutt. Tallinn: [s.n.], 1907, 100 lk. [Kättesaadav:]
Ennemuistsed jutud lastele. E. Petersoni jutustatud. Illustreerinud A. Uurits. Tallinn: E. Peterson, 1909, 16 lk. [E-raamat: Tallinn: Digira, 2015.]
Ennemuistsed jutud Reinuwaderist rebasest. Ernst Peterson'i jutustatud. Kunstniku R. R. Hirsch'i joonistused. Tallinn: Tallinnamaa kooliõpetajate vastastiku-abiandmise Selts, 1911, 95 lk. [Kättesaadav: Järgnevad trükid: 1918, 1920, 1947, 1955, 1967, 1981, 2000.]
Ernst Peterson, Jutustused. Tallinn: Mõte, 1916, 205 lk. [Kättesaadav: Sisu: Liisi. Jõulupuu. Kolonist. Oheliku onu jõulunägemine. Hõiskama Jaagup.]
Ernst Peterson, Liisi. Tallinn: J. Lilienbach, 1914, 63 lk.
Jõulupuu. Ernst Petersoni jutustus linnaelust. Tallinn: Mõte, 1916, 48 lk.
Kolonist. Ernst Petersoni jutustus maaelust. Tallinn: Mõte, 1916, 38 lk.
Oheliku onu jõulunägemine. Ernst Petersoni jutustus maaelust. Tallinn: Mõte, 1916, 23 lk.
Paised. Tallinn : Ilukirjandus ja Kunst, 1945, 232 lk. [Sisu: 'Ühe härja elulugu', 'Marjad silmas', 'Issanda kiituseks', 'Tulge appi!'. Järgnevad trükid: 1958, 1970.]

Jutustused. Tallinn: Ilukirjandus ja Kunst, 1947, 372 lk.
Ernst Särgava-Peterson, Jutustused. Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1952, 285 lk.
Jutustusi. Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1959, 68 lk.Kurvad linnud. Koostanud M. Mihkli, järelsõna: H. Puhvel. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1989, 382 lk. [Sari 'Eesti novellivara'.]

Ernst Peterson, Sõnajala õis. Näidend 3 waatuses. Tallinn: Eestimaa Kooliõpetajate V. A. Selts, 1920, 112 lk.
Ernst Peterson, Uus miniister. Näidend 3. waatuses. Tallinn: Kool, 1922, 98 lk.

Collected works: Ernst Särgava (Peterson), Kogutud teosed, 1938-1939
I köide. Tartu; Tallinn: Loodus, 1938, 552 lk. [Sisu: P. Ambur, 'Ernst Särgava elukäigust', 'Nälg', 'Ei iialgi!', 'Õnnetu õnnelik', 'Ühe härja elulugu', 'Marjad silmas', 'Aadam Tips' (näidend).]
II köide. Tartu; Tallinn: Loodus, 1938, 530 lk. [Sisu: 'Issanda kiituseks', 'Tulge appi!', 'Oheliku-onu jõulunägemine', 'Heinakuhi', 'Hõiskama Jaagup', 'Nime pärast', 'Jõulupuu', 'Rahvavalgustaja'.]
III köide. Tartu; Tallinn : Loodus, 1939, 559 lk. [Sisu: 'Kurvad linnud', 'Maa ägab', 'Liisi', 'Kolonist', 'Elsa', 'Kain ja Aabel', 'Nõia juures', 'Sõnajala õis' (näidend), 'Uus minister', 'C. R. Jakobsoni matusel', 'Poolelijäänud jutlus', 'Joosua'.]

About Ernst Särgava
Paul Ambur, Ernst Särgava loomingu probleemistikust. Tartu; Tallinn: Loodus, 1939, 248 lk.
Richard Alekõrs, E. Peterson-Särgava. Elu ja looming. Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1963, 164 lk.