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Literary Tallinn at the end of the nineteenth century: the structure of its townscape. An overview


Estonian literature of the late nineteenth century is examined in terms of its various and often questionable depictions of the town of Tallinn. Such representations appear in several stories as well as in the first Estonian city-novel. The townscape that emerges from such writings is controversial: it is seemingly divided into different spaces, and each encounter brings with it some sort of conflict. In this optic, we, as readers, witness the perceptions of the city through the lens of given writers at a given moment in literary history.

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  1. 1.

    A clergyman of the western Estonian Swedish minority in 1930–1936.

  2. 2.

    Konstantin Päts (1874–1956), the first State Elder and President of Estonia (1920–1940).

  3. 3.

    The Estonian text quotations are translated by the author of the article.

  4. 4.

    In this comparison, the question of being overshadowed by the metropolis of St. Petersburg is evident, a concern also mentioned in the memoires of Baltic Germans (e.g. Sprengfeld 1877).

  5. 5.

    “Hill of the Harju Gate”, one of the eight gates of old Tallinn.

  6. 6.

    Here the Russian duke Sergey Vladimirovich Shahhovskoi is being referred to; he was the Estonian governor in 1885–1894, and very forcefully carried out the Russification policy of the Czar Alexandre III. This policy was aimed against the autonomy of the Baltic-Germans, and at first it seemed that the local people could benefit from this situation, but this was an illusion. This man is one of the bugbears referred to in the title. He was the initiator of the building of the Nevsky Cathedral on Toompea.

  7. 7.

    Mostly criticism of the Russian Empire is missing from the literature of that period, as books were censored.

  8. 8.

    Paul Abner was a German merchant; his son-in-law was Estonian.

  9. 9.

    After the Estonian War of Independence (1918–1920), in 1920, with the radical land reform all landed property, farming equipment and cattle were taken from landlords; they were left their manor houses. The land was distributed and about 56,000 new farms were founded.

  10. 10.

    Cf. Tiina Kirss presentation “Mahtrad: Talupoegade mässu kujutamisest Eduard Vilde romaanides ja võrdlevalt” at the conference Historical Novel: Poetics and Politics, March 8th–9th, 2012, Tallinn University.


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Correspondence to Elle-Mari Talivee.

Additional information

Specifically, two texts by Eduard Vilde (1865–1933), the short novel Kuhu päike ei paista (Where the Sunlight Does Not Reach, 1888) and the historical novel Kui Anija mehed Tallinnas käisid (When the Anija Men Went to Tallinn, 1903), Eduard Bornhöhe’s (1862–1923) detective story Kollid (Bugbears 1902) and A. H. Tammsaare’s (1878–1940) novel Ma armastasin sakslast (I Loved a German, 1935) are analysed.

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Talivee, EM. Literary Tallinn at the end of the nineteenth century: the structure of its townscape. An overview. Neohelicon 41, 51–62 (2014).

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  • City in literature
  • Nineteenth century Estonian literature
  • Realism and romanticism
  • The structure of a literary capital
  • City semiotics