Hilja Onerva Lehtinen

1882 - 1972


Hilja Onerva Lehtinen wrote under the pseudonym L. Onerva, was the daughter of a sawmill manager, and grew up in Helsinki, where she completed her upper secondary schooling in 1901. She belonged to the first generation of women to be educated at university, translated French and Swedish literature into Finnish, and worked as a cultural writer for the periodicals Päivä and Sunnuntai and the daily Helsingin Sanomat. She was married twice, but is associated above all with her legendary peer, the poet Eino Leino, whose biography she wrote in 1932.

She made her debut in 1904 with the poetry collection Sekasointuja, which received a lukewarm response, and she caused a scandal with her depictions of an intellectual and sexually interested female student in her expressionist, psychological Bildungsroman Mirdja, 1908. In her extremely stark poetry and prose, L. Onerva emphasises the identity-threatening mental and sexual conflict between the modern woman’s desire for self-fulfilment and her encounter with men with old-fashioned morals.

A touch of masochism complicates the modern woman’s zest for life, and this is mirrored in the titles of the short stories in the collection Mies ja nainen, 1912: Loneliness, Crushing Force, The Woman’s Secret, From Wedding to Funeral, Chained Soul. Her prolific writing comprises thirty-four works; her short story collections available in Swedish are Brytningslinjer, 1910, Jungfru Maria gåva, 1918, and Mirdja, 1995.

Further Reading

Viola Parente-C̆apková: “Free love, mystical union or prostitution?: the dissonant love stories of L. Onerva” in: Changing Scenes, 2003

Articles about her