Tove Jansson’s summer days
“Tooti and I wake up early, always simultaneously though we sleep in separate beds.”
Tove Jansson (1914–2001)
Tomorrow would have been the Swedish-speaking Finnish writer and illustrator’s 108th birthday, a good enough excuse for me to share a wonderful glimpse of her daily life found in the book Letters from Tove.
First, some context: Jansson is internationally beloved for creating the Moomins, a family of friendly trolls whose adventures she illustrated in nine books and a long-running daily comic strip, and who became the subject of a TV program in Sweden, an anime series in Japan, an opera in Helsinki, and a mind-boggling array of Moomin merchandise.
In 1970, Jansson turned her attention to writing fiction for adults, eventually producing five books of short stories and six novels. So far I’ve only read one of these books, 1989’s Fair Play, a slender, episodic novel about Mari and Jonna, a writer-artist couple who bear a very close resemblance to Jansson and her partner of decades, the artist Tuulikki Pietilä, whom she called Tooti. It is an extremely charming portrait of two artists making a life together—and also, as Ali Smith writes in her introduction to the NYRB Classics edition, “often an excellent handbook of advice and rules for the workings of art.”
The following letter excerpt, from July 1964, captures Jansson and Pietilä’s daily routine at a rented cottage on Finland’s Pellinge archipelago, where they spent their summers. Here they are joined by Jansson’s mother, nicknamed Ham, a frequent guest.