On the Masculinity Crisis in the Literary Works of A. H. Tammsaare: The Master of Kõrboja (1922)

Mirjam Hinrikus (Under-Tuglas Centre for Literary Research, Estonia)

In  his essay „Literary Style“ (1912), critic Friedebert Tuglas (1886-1971), a leading figure in the Young Estonia movement, made the following claim about modernity and Estonian life: „the city, a new tempo of life, and a new psychology…have not neglected to make their appearance here “. Tuglas summarizes these three factors as „the intellectual urbanization of the country“. The writer who most deeply articulated the dynamics behind this statement was A. H. Tammsaare (1878-1940). A crucial thematic line both in Tammsaare´s short novel The Master of Kõrboja (Kõrboja peremees, 1922), and the first and last volumes of his epic novel Truth and Justice (Tõde ja õigus) was the penetration of  technology, capitalism and urban mentality into the countryside, with the resultant profound alienation of humans from nature and agrarian society more generally.  These problems are, in turn, fraught with shifts in gender relations, specifically, a crisis in masculinity.

Anna, the  female protagonist of Tammsaare`s short novel The Master of Kõrboja, is an emancipated woman whose behaviour is marked by both the new tempo of life and urban „nervousness“, features perceived as are alien in the rural village to which she returns as the unmarried sole heir of the prosperous Kõrboja farm.  Her chosen, Villu, heir of the Katku farm,  is disabled due to an accident. Villu`s masculinity is constructed according to the gender expectations of the rural society, but it falls short of the full measure of physical health; the crisis of Villu`s masculinity leads eventually to his suicide. This paper will analyze the disintegration of representations of gender in the novel.

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