Abstract

This article focuses on the complex relationship of socialism, working-class culture, and fin de siècle decadence in early twentieth-century Finnish working-class culture. The hegemonic ideology of the labor movement praised self-discipline and conservative literary ideals, but many working-class people were inspired by the radical writings of August Strindberg and Oscar Wilde. Furthermore, proletarian decadence was related to the pro- and anti-feminist debates, the ideas of free love, and to the construction of a new working-class masculinity. These ideals were the subject of lively discussions in a conversational community of young working-class intellectuals during the First World War. The leading figures of this informal café club—called “The Decameron Club”—were the young poets Kössi Ahmala (1889–1918), Kasperi Tanttu (1886–1918), and Emil Lindahl (1892–1937). Their texts personified “the new masculinity” in the figure of either a working-class bohemian or flâneur. Kasperi Tanttu was a self-educated poet and “a proletarian dandy,” well known in various political and cultural circles. In spite of his limited primary education, Tanttu mediated the traditions of world literature to working-class readers, especially to the younger generation. He admired the poetry of Byron and Shelley, and he translated a few of Shelley's poems into Finnish. The Civil War put an abrupt and violent end to the visions and writings of these young poets, but they have continued to inspire new generations of working-class writers.

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