Elektroloristi 2/1997, 4. vuosikerta
Julkaisija: Suomen Kansantietouden Tutkijain Seura ry., Joensuu
ISSN 1237-8593, URL: http://cc.joensuu.fi/~loristi/2_97/sal297.html
E-mail: loristi@cc.joensuu.fi

"The Enlightener" and "The Whipper"

Handwritten Newspapers and the History of Collective Writing (1)

Kirsti Salmi-Niklander

"The Enlightenment comes out for the first time today, the 18th of February. This is its program. First of all The Enlightenment will not be impartial nor will it take advantage of calling itself impartial, but will advocate the ideals of youth. At the same time it will fearlessly expose the failings of bourgeois society -- . But above all The Enlightenment will guide working youth towards civilized values with enlightening writings and essays. The Enlightenment will be democratic and free from censorship. Anyone can submit anything that does not deviate from the morality to the Enlightenment."

"The purpose is to justify what is right and to scounge that which is evil and rotten -- so my name is the whipper which means that if you don't swing the pen I shall lash you --"

These two manifestos inaugurate two newspapers, not printed but handwritten ones. The manifesto of "The Enlightener" sounds sophisticated, even pompous compared to the direct and clumsy manifesto of "The Whipper", which has been crossed out as if the writer was ashamed of it. Nevertheless, both papers are presented as acting and speaking subjects independent of the individuals who have created them.

"The Enlightenment", which soon was renamed into "The Enlightener", was written between 1914 and 1925 in the youth club of the workers' association of Högfors, a small industrial community in Southern Finland. It was confiscated by the police in 1926, when all workers' associations in Karkkila were banned for being communist. At the beginning of the 1980s a pile of issues of "The Enlightener" were found in the attic of the local police station, when it was cleared for removal. The collection runs to nearly 1000 pages, making it one of the largest of its kind preserved in Finland.(2)

"The Whipper" was written on the other side of the world, in the Finnish immigrant community in Timmins, Northern Ontario. This community was founded in the middle of the forest in 1910, when several large gold mines were opened up in the area. Finnish men, among many other nationalities, came to the town to work in the mines, and the paper was one of their first communal activities. "The Whipper" was written in the local Finnish Socialist Society between 1912 and 1917.(3)

Collective writing?

Handwritten newspapers are the most important genre of collective popular writing, which has long remained outside the interests of various university disciplines. For literary historians, they have not been literature; for folklorists, they have not been folklore; and for the historians, they have not been valid historical sources. During the past decade this situation has started to change. Instead of the traditional questions "Is this a historical source or a historical event? Is this fiction or literature? Is this collective tradition?" researchers have started to ask, what is a historical event? What is fiction and literature? What is collective tradition?(4) These new questions relate to the history of mentality and to the exploration of the frontiers of literature.(5)

Research into 20th century local tradition requires the study of a writing and politically conscious subject. Among the Finnish folklorists, Satu Apo (1980; 1995, 173-186), Ulla-Maija Peltonen (1996, 59-135) and Jyrki Pöysä (1997, 33-56) have recently discussed the narrator-author and written archive collections.

Handwritten newspapers have not been newspapers in the ordinary sense of the word, because only one actual copy has been produced. They have usually been "published" by being read out aloud at meetings. In Finland and Sweden (and probably in all Scandinavian countries) handwritten newspapers have been a common tradition in families and schools, among university students and in popular movements during the 19th century and the first decades of this century.(6) In the USA and Canada they have been written by the Finnish and the Icelandic immigrants. The Finnish immigrants in Canada have had a special name for these papers, literally translated as "The Fist Press".(7)

So far I have come to a few clues which have led me to a hypothesis that handwritten newspapers have also been a common tradition in Central Europe and North America. A few examples have so to say been saved from the rubbish dumps and attics of history. One is the paper "Vedem", written by young boys in the concentration camp of Terezin during the Second World War (Klein 1965, 79-86; "I never saw another butterfly", 1964) The other is the paper "Pickwick Portofolio" that the girls of the March family write in Louisa May Alcott's book "Little Women".(8)

The concept of "collective writing" sounds illogical as do some other terms and concepts created by researchers exploring the grey areas between oral, manuscript and written communication, such as "scribal publication" (Love 1993) and "collaborative writing" (Gere 1987, Koestelbaum 1989, Shuman 1993). All these concepts (like the genre of "handwritten newspapers") are at odds with the assumptions about writing as a solitary creative activity and print as the only means of publication. The logic of these assumptions is the product of the 19th and the 20th centuries, the period of romantic and bourgeois individualism and the mass publishing industry (Ezell 1993, 4-6; Jones 1995, 127; Wall 1993, 10).

In this paper I outline the functions and meanings of handwritten newspapers in popular movements and local communities in relation to the history of collective writing. I have defined collective writing as a special form of collaborative writing: instead of occasional, voluntary collaboration it is an organized literary activity with specific rules in which all members of a group or a community are supposed to participate.(9)

Communication, contestation, self-education

The earliest handwritten newspapers in European history have been media for communication as substitutes or predecessors of printed newspapers in the 16th and 17th centuries (Moureau 1993a, 1993b). In England, newsletters were sent by professional scribes from London to the gentry in the countryside. These newsletters maintained the style of personal correspondence, although they could be produced in hundreds of copies (Love 1993, 9-22). In Finnish immigrant communities handwritten newspapers have served the communicative function, since they have often been the only medium in the Finnish language in the community.

Handwritten newspapers, along with leaflets, pamphlets and underground printed newspapers, have also been media of political struggle (see e.g. Darnton 1996, 186-190). In the 17th and 18th century France handwritten newspapers (nouvelles á la main) were written by professional reporters and sent as private letters (Moureau 1993b). They were also written in the Parisian salons and smuggled to the countryside by valets or slipped inbetween legal, printed papers ( Gelbart 1987, 139-140, 172, 289; Goodman 1989, 341-343; Gossman 1968, 60-61.)

Handwritten newspapers in the popular movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries have rather been media for literary self-education, since they have only been read or circulated within the immediate group. Their purpose has been to give the members of the peasantry and the working class a chance to practice their writing skills so that they would become good citizens and be able to present their opinions in writing. (See e.g. Ambjörnsson 1988, 161-173; Josephson 1996.)

Collective literary self-education has its origins in the Enlightenment, during which the provincial academies and literary societies of the 18th century France trained their members to practice their writing and conversation skills (Goubert & Roche 1984, 253-254). In the United States, group writing has been an educational method rooted in the "self-improvement" societies and literary clubs of the 18th and 19th centuries (Gere 1987, 32-54).

Anonymous and androgynous writing

Handwritten newspapers have also served as a game of literary hide-and-seek, a kind of group therapy in close-knit groups and communities.(10) This function is related to the literary salons and coteries of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Romantic period. The literary activity of salons and popular movements has many similarities: the texts have been published by reading them out aloud, they have been revised and rewritten collectively and writers have been offered at least apparent anonymity (see e.g. Goodman 1989, 343-344; Harth 1995, 184-187; Jones 1995). The salons have been "marriage markets" like the youth clubs of popular movements (Hertz 1988, 204-250). The radical re-evaluation of love, marriage and patriachality was important in the early salon culture, although during the 18th century it gave way to the "serious purposes" dominated by male philosophers (Harth 1995).

The most apparent difference between the salons and the writing groups of popular movements is that the latter have not had dominant feminine leaders comparable to the "salonnieres". Nevertheless, political and religious movements have provided working-class and peasant women with the first opportunities to publish their writing and to make their opinions heard in the community.(11)

The writers of "The Enlightener" were young men and women in their late teens or early twenties. In the paper they could play with different discourses and stances hiding their identity behind pseudonyms (feminine, masculine or gender-neutral), although they lived in a community with very strict gender roles and class distinctions.

An example of the literary game of hide and seek is a story entitled "The Ordinary Story". It was read at the meeting on December 25th (sic!) 1914, and it put the questions of love and sexuality onto the agenda of the youth club and into "The Enlightener". The story, signed by Lennart Berghäll(12), tells about a 16-year-old girl, Fanny Helenius, who is "as ignorant of sex as many of her agemates" and is therefore the easy victim of a log driver, Kalle Kangas, who seduces her after a dance in a forest lit by August moonlight:

----- The night passed into the morning, and only the moon knows what happened in the forest. ---- A light breeze swayed the tops of the trees, the first rays of the sun
were reflected on the earth. Fanny did not really
understand what had happened and Kalle could not judge
the extent of his crime.
9 months from the foregoing had passed. Fanny was lying in childbed. A week earlier she had been to the priest with Kalle to get married. Now after they had been married for a week a son was born to them. Fanny still lay ill, she had a fever that became worse. Her father was poor and could not get a doctor and Kalle had no money either. There she had to die deep in the heart of the forest while the spring was at its height.
(The dashed lines belong to the original manuscript.)

The subtitle of the story is "According to Real Events". The characters of the story probably had real models who its first readers and listeners had known. However, Lennart Berghäll has written this short story as narrative fiction with an omniscient narrator who enters into a woman's sexual experience. The story is actually a triangle drama between Fanny, Kalle and the narrator. The narrator condemns the irresponsible sexual behavior of Kalle Kangas by defining it as a crime, even though Kalle finally accepts his responsibility by marrying Fanny. However, the greatest culprit in Fanny's tragedy is the society which does not provide her with sexual education or medical care.

In the following issues of "The Enlightener" some other writers answered this story, constructing other kinds of models for love and gender in their own stories. One describes love as a compassionate meeting of androgynous soulmates. Another one represents a woman not as an innocent victim but as a speaking and acting subject capable of aggression and revenge who burns both her deceitful lover and his new bride to death.

Incompetence or anti-aesthetics?

The fifth function of handwritten newspapers I have called (anachronistically) as literary punk. This function is more evident in "The Whipper". The first writers, young Finnish miners, started to write a newspaper even though their writing skills were very limited. Instead of writing sophisticated essays and short stories, they frankly describe their life of gambling, drinking and hard work, and their dreams of love and family life. In "The Whipper" they could create a literary style for their working class and immigrant subculture.(13)

"The Whipper" was a men's paper for many years, but little by little the Finnish women arrived in the town and started writing for the paper. A rare but interesting example of "feminist literary punk" was published in an issue of June 1917, edited by two women, Hanna Tynjälä and Katri Wainio:

Annnouncement from the other side of the ocean
Oh you almighty why did you create so many ribs for my husband I am one of your ribs here beyond the seas
I did not check you before you left for the bread so that if you still had too many ribs I would have stopped you leaving when the strange shark who took the last rib came and so I was left with my children in a great sorrow and in a spirit of hate and revenge against that shark who broke the body of my husband a shark is dangerous it swallows the living if the man happens to sleep when the shark swims to him so the danger is near that man the shark has good instincts it soon finds out if the man has swum before so then the shark starts to swim with the man so they both to the depth.

This text parodies the communicative genre of the announcement and breaks the silence on one very painful question in immigrant communities. Many of the Finnish men had left their families in Finland to earn a better living for the family. As the years passed and they could no longer send the money to their family, they finally stopped writing and often found a new woman (Lindström 1991, 102-105; Salmi-Niklander 1997). These emotions of guilt might be an explanation for the sadomasochistic imagery in the immigrant literature and popular writing.

In the "announcement" the shark is a symbol of "the other woman" that the husband of the narrator has met on the other side of the ocean or on the way there. The narrator of the story is the abandoned wife, but the real author is an immigrant woman, one of the possible sharks, and many of those unfaithful husbands were probably among the first readers/listeners.

Although the monologue of the abandoned wife sounds compassionate, the ambiguous publishing circumstances give it some ironic overtones. The expressions referring to the Bible (almighty, the woman as the rib of the man) add a new dimension to this irony. These expressions point out the religious ignorance and conservatism of the narrating wife from the point of view of the socialist and atheistic writer. In this story the immigrant women discuss their feelings of guilt and the mixed emotions of solidarity and rivalry between women: what was freedom for them was a tragedy for many women in Finland.

Many of the writers of "The Whipper" (like some writers of "The Enlightener") omit full stops, capital letters and paragraphs. Are these just features of an incompetent writer, or are writers transferring their incompetence into an anti-aesthetic, a kind of "proletarian avantgarde"? The writers of "The Whipper" also utilize genres of oral tradition (anecdotes, wellerisms) much more than the writers of "The Enlightener".(14)

Reading the two manifestos cited at the beginning of this paper, it is evident that "The Enlightener" follows the doctrines of equality and freedom of speech presented by Voltaire, and the theory of the class struggle developed by Karl Marx. The manifesto of "The Whipper" comes closer to the rhetoric of Friedrich Nietzsche, the great critic of the Enlightenment in the 19th century.(15) "The popular philosophy of the superman" is formulated more clearly in another manifesto of "The Whipper" on April 11th 1915:

"To be the real whipper one must not lack cold blood, one must not have any feeling of pity, but beat when the whip is in the hand. The program of the whipper is that simple."

The writers of both "The Enlightener" and "The Whipper" could discuss the inconsistency of the high moral ideals of the workers' movement and the harsh conditions of their everyday life, and negotiate and criticize not only bourgeois ideology but also the patriarchal mentality of the labour movement. Genres of oral tradition and parody of the literary genres were important tools in this process of negotiation.

Handwritten newspapers have been a popular genre in the panopticons of modernity (Foucault 1979), where individuals have been deprived of both intimacy and individuality and forced into closeness and hierarchy in schools, universities, prisons and small industrial communities. The Finnish immigrants had left the norms and hierarchies of their home villages, to find themselves in another prison on the other side of the world.

Handwritten newspapers bring out the multiple meanings of writing, which can be a practical tool, a social obligation or a means of self-education. Writing can also create distance from delicate emotions and intense social relations. Writing can be a survival strategy, since it is possible to write oneself out of a group or a community, symbolically if not in reality. It then becomes possible to imagine and discuss a return.


1. This paper was presented at the 23. Meeting of Nordic Historians in Tampere, Finland, 7.-12.8.1997.
2. "The Enlightener" is preserved in the archives of the Workers' Association of Karkkila. According to the minutes, about 100 issues were published between 1914 and 1925, 60 of which have been preserved.
3. "The Whipper" has been preserved in the archives of Finnish Organization of Canada (FOC) in the Public Archives, Ottawa.
4. See e.g. Eagleton 1983; Kalela 1991; Abrahams 1993b, 22-23.
5.On the history of writing see e.g. Foisil (1989), Moureau (1993a); on diaries Lejeune (1993) and Makkonen (1996); on letters Chartier (1997); on memoirs Menetra (1982) and Jarrick (1992).
6. Handwritten newspapers in the Finnish workers' movement have been analyzed by Jari Ehrnrooth (1992). Those of the Swedish workers' movement have been discussed by Ronny Ambjörnsson (1988, 161-174) and Olle Josephson (1996, 278-282); the school papers by Christina Florin & Ulla Johansson (1993); the papers of the Finnish university nations by Matti Klinge (1967, 10-13). 7. Lindström-Best 1981. I have been informed about the handwritten newspapers of Icelandic immigrants by Vidar Hreinsson (University of Manitoba).
8. See Alcott 1868/1994, 94-101. Jo Radner presented a paper on handwritten newspapers in 19th century Maine at the American Folklore Society meeting in Pittsburgh (October 1996).
9. Dena Goodman (1989, 342-343) and Erica Harth (1995, 185-187) have discussed collective and collaborative writing in the salon culture.
10. Handwritten newspapers have also been popular in sanatoriums (Nenola 1986), among political prisoners (Salmi-Niklander 1989) and according to the collections of Helsinki University Library even on the frontier during the Continuation War 1941-1944.
11. See e.g. Ezell 1993, 132-160 on the writing of Quaker women.
12. Lennart Berghäll is one of the very few writers of "The Enlightener" who signed his writings with his own initials, L.B. His short stories, poems and essays show considerable literary ambition. - "The Ordinary Story" is discussed in Salmi-Niklander 1996 and the text has been published in an anthology (Salmi-Niklander 1993).
13. Punk as a stylistic form of the working class subculture has been discussed by Dick Hebdige (1979, 106-112).
14. Omission of full stops and paragraphs is also typical of the memoirs of the 18th-century glass master Jacques-Louis Ménétra, whose memoirs have been edited and analysed by Daniel Roche (1982.)
15. See e.g. Jarrick 1992, 10-11. The writings of Nietzsche have been well-known in the Finnish labour movement, and he was cited in "The Enlightener".


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Kirsti Salmi-Niklander, FL
Folkloristiikan laitos
Helsingin yliopisto