Politics of rural childhood in pre-
World War II Estonian memoirs
Toomas Korka
8/9/2014 1SSEES Postgraduate Conference, Lo...
8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 2
“Of the Village: Memories and
observations of the development
of Estonian ...
The purpose of memoir
according to the authors
• I dare to offer the reader an experiment by showing our
village life in t...
…and according to
literary criticism
The popularity of memoir literature in recent years is,
more than anything, a sign of...
8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 5
Mihkel Martna (1860–1934)
Source:
http://entsyklopeedia.ee/artikkel/martna...
Memories “illuminated by
the shine of wisdom”
My desire is to recount my observations as if they were
a mere skeleton whic...
Oppositions in Martna’s
text
“The old” and “the new”:
• “village communism” and feudalism vs the
capitalist-bourgeois stag...
Examples
• The church lord and all the pious hypocrites who clinged
to the old ways saw the modern boots and brightly
colo...
Hanko: stability, not
change
• Broadly speaking, people have remained the same with their
joys and sorrows, even though th...
“The old” and “the new”
in Hanko’s view
• hard physical labor in the past vs „cultural
amenities“ in the present;
• season...
Different views on
working life
• Nowadays the eulogists of village life sing exaltedly
about the joyful and happy life of...
The parish of Kambja
8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 12
A tale about Knorring
The landlord Konstantin von Knorring, former rittmeister of the
guards, who mostly resided in Tartu ...
Another tale about
Knorring
Once when he was walking across the milldam in his
manor, a beggar came up to him. Some of the...
A tale about the baron in
“Of the Village”
Baron U. /…/ was hardly ever at home. He was
constantly on trips and tasted lif...
Marta Sillaots on rural
nostalgia
It has become a sort of tradition that everyone
should speak about their earliest years ...
of 16

Politics of Rural Childhood and Modernization in Pre World War II Estonian Memoirs

Funded by the Tartu Cultural Capital, I gave this presentation based at the 13th International Postgraduate Conference on Central and Eastern Europe, at UCL School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Published in: Art & Photos      
Source: www.slideshare.net


Transcripts - Politics of Rural Childhood and Modernization in Pre World War II Estonian Memoirs

  • 1. Politics of rural childhood in pre- World War II Estonian memoirs Toomas Korka 8/9/2014 1SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London
  • 2. 8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 2 “Of the Village: Memories and observations of the development of Estonian villages after the 1860s” by Mihkel Martna, 1914. Tallinn: Maa. “There Once Was…: memories. I, Kambja” by August Hanko, 1939. Tartu: Maa.
  • 3. The purpose of memoir according to the authors • I dare to offer the reader an experiment by showing our village life in the way I see it after many years have passed. I dare it because I believe that my perspective will help explain the progress of our nation, if even a little. Although my memories will not take the reader far back in time, for the younger generation this is already a past which they have not experienced. And I hope that the younger generation will be interested in this time. (Martna 1914: 6) • The life memories of the regular person deserve any attention only to the extent that they depict the environment and the conditions in which that person has lived. There are periods in the life of a nation when the conditions change particularly strongly. One of these periods has been our last 50 years. /.../ [My life memories] make up one picture among many others that will not be without interest to anybody, whose homeland is close to their heart. (Hanko 1939: 4–5) 8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 3
  • 4. …and according to literary criticism The popularity of memoir literature in recent years is, more than anything, a sign of an animated interest in history. Because memoir literature is, of course, a certain form of historical evidence as well as research (Palm 1938a: 256). 8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 4
  • 5. 8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 5 Mihkel Martna (1860–1934) Source: http://entsyklopeedia.ee/artikkel/martna_ mihkel August Hanko (1879–1952) Source: http://entsyklopeedia.ee/artikkel/hanko_a ugust
  • 6. Memories “illuminated by the shine of wisdom” My desire is to recount my observations as if they were a mere skeleton which has acquired some meat around its bones. /.../ The events that I experienced 45 years ago, which seemed unexplainable at the time and which left a lasting impression on my memories, have since been illuminated by the shine of the wisdom I have gathered. /.../ My childhood memories and village experiences date back to the mid 1860s, to the start of the transformation of the economic life of our village. This period meant the end of natural economy and the beginning of capitalist economy.(Martna 1914: 5–6) 8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 6
  • 7. Oppositions in Martna’s text “The old” and “the new”: • “village communism” and feudalism vs the capitalist-bourgeois stage of history; • religion and superstition vs rationality. Social oppositions: • ethnic as well as class-based: Estonian peasants vs Baltic-German landlords; • emerging antagonism between Estonians themselves based on possession of property: labourers, cotters and tenant farmers vs the wealthy landowners 8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 7
  • 8. Examples • The church lord and all the pious hypocrites who clinged to the old ways saw the modern boots and brightly coloured clothes as a sign of the devil’s power and moral fall of the people. (Martna 1914: 65) • Village life in wealthier places has developed in such a way that the farm owner and his family live seperately, have their meals separately and participate in the working life of the farm only by way of governing. /…/ The families of the farmhands are often housed in small dirty rooms. /.../ When the farm owners have a little too much to drink, then the hired workers can hear what they really think: „what are you? A poor sauna-dwelling rat!“ (Martna 1914: 77) 8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 8
  • 9. Hanko: stability, not change • Broadly speaking, people have remained the same with their joys and sorrows, even though the farmhand can now wear a collar, ride a bicycle to church or to the pub on Sunday, go to work much later in the morning and come back earlier in the evening, and use machines to do the work he used to do by hand much more easily. (Hanko 1939: 73) • The Estonian is reserved, modest and skeptical by nature. He will not easily fall into a great and spellbinding state of reverence. (Hanko 1939: 231) • In general, grayness and narrowness of the so-called mental and cultural concerns prevail on the countryside and that is inevitable because it is just the way rural life is. (Hanko 1939: 5) 8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 9
  • 10. “The old” and “the new” in Hanko’s view • hard physical labor in the past vs „cultural amenities“ in the present; • seasoned and happy people in the past vs spoilt people in the present. 8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 10
  • 11. Different views on working life • Nowadays the eulogists of village life sing exaltedly about the joyful and happy life of herdboys /.../ But if I had the chance to relive my childhood, I would certainly not want to go through what I had to endure while working as a herdboy ever again. (Martna 1914: 51) • Farm work is in many ways dirty because it has to be done with any weather, often in the rain and mud. But at least it is done in fresh, healthy air and it gives people a lot of physical exercise. /.../ People in the past were no less happy or energetic than now. They were maybe even more so because they had not learnt to want a better and easier life like nowadays. /.../ They were probably more spiritually balanced and satisfied than now. (Hanko 1939: 72) 8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 11
  • 12. The parish of Kambja 8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 12
  • 13. A tale about Knorring The landlord Konstantin von Knorring, former rittmeister of the guards, who mostly resided in Tartu and spent only two or three summer months at his estate, did not conduct the estate affairs himself, instead he had an estate administrator. Even so, sometimes a peasant would try to get in contact with himself. Once when he was in the manor for the summer, a tenant farmer wanted urgently to discuss something with him and went to the manor. /.../ [The valet] announced that the master does not wish to see him. Estonian peasants, however, are persistent. He went outside and started waiting behind the corner patiently. /.../ When v. Knorring finally came out towards the grove, the tenant farmer was there to raise his hat to greet him. „Whether I’m walking on the streets of Berlin or in the yard of Kambja manor, no peasant-dog can approach me!“ shouted v. Knorring, turned around and left. (Hanko 1939: 130–131) 8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 13
  • 14. Another tale about Knorring Once when he was walking across the milldam in his manor, a beggar came up to him. Some of the workers at the mill had wanted to tease the simpleton and told him that the landlord was very charitable. Von Knorring /.../ waved his cane and ordered the beggar to beat it. But the beggar kept following v. Knorring, as the mill workers giggled, until they reached the main entrance of the manor. Normally, the valet would have had to throw out the beggar but that was not the case this time. „Give that blind man three rubles!“ shouted v. Knorring to the valet. The beggar, by the way, was not blind. (Hanko 1939: 131–132) 8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 14
  • 15. A tale about the baron in “Of the Village” Baron U. /…/ was hardly ever at home. He was constantly on trips and tasted life wherever it was most beautiful. Once on a Sunday when he was back in his homeland, he stepped into the church and went right up to the altar with his high-hat on. /…/ “He is like the devil himself” the people said. Because it was considered unacceptable to cross the threshold of the church wearing a hat, a “desecration of the temple”. Now the question arose: why did the priest allow the baron to do this? This was the talk of the parish. The village folk, unfortunately, were too narrow-minded to discuss the more important issues. (Martna 1914: 94) 8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 15
  • 16. Marta Sillaots on rural nostalgia It has become a sort of tradition that everyone should speak about their earliest years as a „childhood paradise“, that every herdboy was like a king and that only the good and the funny should be said about time spent in rural schools. It is considered a breach of a well-mannered way of speaking when somebody does not conform to this tradition. /…/ It is important to describe the darker sides of the past and the mentality that made the period in question such a dark one (Sillaots 1936: 143) 8/9/2014SSEES Postgraduate Conference, London 16

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