Marja-Liisa Vartio (1924-1966) was one of the most important Finnish modernists of the 1950’s, characterized as a reformer of Finnish literature. Vartio’s books betoken the breakdown of the worldview in the twentieth century and the inluence of this on human beings, especially on women.
Marja-Liisa Vartio was a teacher’s daughter from Sääminki in Savolax, Eastern Finland. During her school and university years she lived near Helskinki. She studied art history and literature and graduated in 1950. Vartio married twice, her second marriage being to the writer Paavo Haavikko, with whom she had two children. The couple belonged to the modernist literary elite of the time.
Vartio published nine works of prose and poetry, and wrote also plays for TV and radio. She made her debut in 1952 with the poetry collection Häät and, unlike the other Finnish 1950s modernists, used folk literature as an inspiration. Both her poetry and her prose are full of imagery and mythical subjects, as are her five novels about women’s search for identity and their shattered dreams, which include Kaikki naiset näkevät unia (1960) and Tunteet (1962). Her plain, simple style gradually became more exuberant, and the tragic and the comic became interwoven.
Her novel Hänen olivat linnut (1967) about the relationship between a clergyman’s widow and her androgynous maid, was published posthumously. Three volumes containing Marja-Liisa Vartio’s diary notes and letters were published in 1994, 1995, and 1996, edited by Anna-Liisa Haavikko. Vartio died of cancer when she was 42 years old.