Tove Jansson : Life, Art, Words by Boel Westin. Translated by Silvester Mazzarella.

Tove Jansson longed to be alone. As a child, she slept on a high shelf in her family's home in Helsinki. Her mother, a successful illustrator, piled books from floor to ceiling and her father, a sculptor, kept a studio that dominated the majority of the space.

The Janssons were part of the relatively affluent Swedish-speaking minority in Finland, a group stereotypical regarded as artistic. Magazine and newspaper articles were written about the Janssons bohemian home.

'' I want to be a wild thing, not an artist,'' the young Tove wrote in her diary. But she was an artist, ineluctably, just as her father had hoped she would be.

She didn't create out of a desire for notoriety - when fame hit in her late 30s, it only made her shyer, as Boel Westin, an emeritus professor of literature at Stockholm University points out in her biography, '' Tove Jansson : Life, Art, Words.''

The first comprehensive biography of a creator whose reputation has only grown with time. Westin's work, translated by Silvester Mazzarella, is thorough and well researched. While one might wish for more insight into the subject, this is still a boon to fans of the enigmatic Jansson.

Tove Jansson, it is clear, created out of a need to capture her ever-changing self in ever-changing forms. At 13, she made her own magazine to sell in school, boiling the glue to bind the pages.

In the diaries she kept in art school, she wrote through alter egos, attributing to '' Fernanda '' the episodes from her daily life, to '' Dulcinea '' her thoughts and to '' Ellen '' her more poetic phrasings.

Jansson was most at home in the intermingling of words and pictures [ even her diaries and letters were illustrated ]. It was only natural that she become a cartoonist, but at periods in her life she felt the pull to be seen as either a serious artist or a writer.

Over the course of her life, Jansson would create political cartoons, still lifes, opera librettos, portraits, murals for public buildings, children's books, short stories,  novels syndicated comic strips, poetry, abstract paintings, essays, script for films and television, plays and, of course, the Moomins.

'' Oh, we are all Moomins,'' a Finnish person once said to me, by way of explanation for her off beat personality. Today Moomin Characters is one of Finland's most profitable businesses.

Moomins and mixed emotions : The Moomins are a nature loving, philosophical family of long-snouted, rotund white-troll creatures, born during World War II to a period when Jansson was a leading political cartoonist.

Jansson found herself at odds politically with her father during the war, but never wavered in her hatred of Hitler. '' It was the utterly hellish war years that made me, an artist, write fairy tales,'' she later wrote.

The World Students Society thanks The New York Times.


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