Apr 17, 2014

Seven Brothers: Homoerotic Rowdiness in a Finnish Sauna

I'm not a fan of the Kalevala, the Greatest Work of Finnish Literature: it's completely heterosexist, all about gods searching for wives (except maybe for a gay subtext in the teenage Kullervo).

But the Second Greatest Work is about seven guys alone in the woods. What's not to like?

Seven Brothers (Seitsemän veljestä, 1870), by Aleksis Kivi, is about guys who are perfectly happy living alone on their farm near Toukola.  They are rowdy, crude, and given to practical jokes.  They like to hunt and fish and get drunk and hang around nude in the sauna.  But then they discover that they must be civilized: they must learn to read, which will result in being confirmed into the Lutheran Church, which will result in wives!



I heard that often enough while growing up: "Your childhood will end, and your real life will begin, when you find a wife."

Faced with a vision of their fun ending, definitively, at the wedding altar, they rebel.  They light out for the territory and build themselves a house in the wilderness of Impivaara, where they can continue to be rowdy and crude and play practical jokes, and hang out nude in the sauna.






There are perils: they fight a giant bear and wild boars. There are hardships: farming is tough; their house burns down, and they must rebuild.  But in the end, they prosper.

Actually, after ten years in the woods, they return to Toukala, join the church, and get married (except for Simeoni, who stays single).  You can't hold out forever.

But no one remembers the civilizing.  The images that stick with you are the seven guys in the woods, being crude and rowdy, needing no one else.





There have been many film versions, two operas (by Tauno Martinnen and Launas Armis), and a ballet (by Marjo Kuusela).  Some versions, such as the 1989 tv miniseries by Joukku Turka, make Simeoni gay, but really a gay identity isn't necessary.  The whole work revels in the homoeroticism behind male bonding.