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Anciennes et nouvelles aristocraties

Didier Lancien
Monique de Saint-Martin

III. Noblesses du xxe siècle

Continuity and Change

The Case of the Savo Gentry in Finland

Anna-Maria Åström

Texte intégral

1The fact that Finland was the easternmost outpost of the Swedish realm at the end of the 18th century and one of the most westerly parts of the Russian Empire in the 19th, could not but influence the thin sprinkling of landowners who lived on their manors in the province of Savo.

2In the 18th century, Savo was one of the three Finnish regions which were outstanding for the number of upper-class residences, the two others being the hinterlands of the then capital Abo (Fi. Turku) and those of the recently-built fortress of Sveaborg (Fi. Suomenlinna) outside Helsingfors (Fi. Helsinki). In Savo, the main centre was the locality of the second military school in Sweden-Finland, Rantasalmi; and the whole province was an extensive network of manorial enclaves in a dozen parishes. This network formed a specific stratum of society, in part nobles and their family and in part manor-owners with bourgeois Swedish names. What these two groups had in common was that they held manors, and that the father of the family served the Swedish crown as a millitary or civil official.

3When Finland became a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire in 1809, the political power centre instantaneously moved from Stockholm to St. Petersburg, and both offices and titles were henceforth granted via the court in St. Petersburg (Bush 1988).

4This contribution is an effort to characterize the cultural code of this manor-owning group which was the ruling class in the province, to study the changes brought about by external circumstances, and to show that even today, there is a guiding code to some extent similar to the one which came into existence two hundred years ago. At the time it was greatly influenced by the intermediate position of the province itself: under Swedish rule, a military outpost against Russia with a certain importance to it, and during the Russian era, a quiet but relatively well-developed province which lay somewhat outside the mainstream of industrialization.

5The values inherent to it, which were upheld by noble and non-noble officials alike towards the end of the Swedish era and maintained for quite some time during the Russian period, stressed the concepts of honour, standing, and rank, as well as tradition and conduct (Åström 1993; Bush 1988). Rank was distributed according to the strict rank list which was originally Swedish, then Russian, and renewed by the Czar in 1828. The list made each office-holder and manor-owner a cogwheel in a nationwide hierarchy, while also determining his and his family’s position in the small network of manors which existed in every parish (Åström 1993: 172).

6Rank and manor ownership entailed the exercise of rule, Herrschaft, in part through civil and military service, but also in relation to manorial land and the people who lived on it. Learning was also highly considered, but for many people this primarily meant the education they had received, without any deeper scientific, literary, or artistic achievement (Åström 1993: 236-246).

7At the same time the situation of the province led to the development of what Norbert Elias calls a two-front stratum (Elias 1983: chap. 6). Towards the power centres and their aristocracies, any competition for favours was impossible: the situation was hopeless. The overall attitude adopted was to avoid confrontation and to make provincialism an inner strength. This did not mean deviation from the cultural code established for the aristocracy and the king’s servants, but rather a more modest interpretation of it. Conspicuous consumption would give way to living in style with restraint, strict ceremony could be replaced by less formal contacts, and extravagant clothes would be dispensed with, so that the gentry wore such clothes as the sumptuary laws permitted (Elias 1983: 388-390; Lieven 1992; Åström 1993). Such norms of behaviour might also differ to a certain extent, some gentry houses endeavouring to observe the niceties of ceremonial, while others adopted a more modest and low-profile attitude, both to their noble origins and to external luxuries (Åström 1993: 94-130; Bush 1988: 103-152). Loyalty, civility and virtue were stressed upon, an emphasis that also came out in the esprit de corps which existed in the military school during the early 19th century (Gripenberg 1912).

8The Savo province, which had received an influx of both nobles with roots in the 17th century and manor-owners who frequently came from urban areas in Finland’s westerly towns, was marginal in other respects, too. For one thing, the province was covered by immense forests with numerous lakes which shaped the landscape and only small patches of cultivated fields. There was a background of low grey log-built houses owned by the common people and forming a contrast to the manors, which were considerably more spacious, painted in light yellow, pink and white, with outbuildings painted in red. The manors were often positioned so as to command a view of a lake, and the surroundings were planted with alleys and small gardens; sometimes pavilions and villas formed part of the layout. The architecture of Gustavian times and the small-scale building were later supplanted by the Russian Empire style (Åström 1993: 75-93; Nikander 1942). Agriculture on the manors focused on grain and cattle, whereas the underlings still used primitive methods such as slash-and-burn agriculture in the deep forests. The manor-owners would at the same time have to attend to the position they held. Army officers had to exercise and two wars were waged in this region during the intense Swedish period, the 1788-1789 war and the “Finnish war” of 1808-1809, in which all of Finland was lost to Russia. On the other hand the civil administration of the province was in their hands.


  • 1 Seven series of diaries, three of which were held by young noblemen, one by a tutor, one by a prof (...)

9From 1780 to 1850, the hundred and thirty manors in the province developed an internal social intercourse marked at the same time by hierarchy and mutual solidarity. The maintenance of the dominant position and the life force of this stratum required repeated occasions for strengthening both. Studies of diaries reveal that this system of social intercourse was in part time-bound to traditional annual festivities such as Christmas, New Year and Midsummer and in part related to the manor-owners’ family occasions such as name-days, births and christenings, marriages and burials.1 Christmas parties displayed solidarity, every family and manor having their dance and receiving visits from the others; but New Year celebrations developed along hierarchical principles, those of the highest rank receiving congratulatory calls. Births and christenings were also twofold occasions so that all parish gentry were invited to “wet the baby’s bottom,” but the godfather system was strictly hierarchical. Godfathers and godmothers would number between twelve and twenty, and those highest in rank would be listed first, whereas friendship and family could only be expressed by inviting “younger” godfathers (Åström 1993: 177-223).

10Celebrations on the manors were attended by both men and women fairly equally, but naturally according to rank. This was a society in which every manor had its own role in a social exchange system where the manor-owner and his wife would, alternatively, figure as hosts and as visiting couples. The rest of the gentry also had their defined positions: widows, unmarried young gentlemen, the young gentlemen as a group, the young misses and demoiselles, and, finally, the children with or without their tutors and governesses. Every manor had the required sets of porcelain, glasses, and cutlery which made it possible to entertain a large company. Hospitality was highly valued, and one letter even mentions “visiting rights,” an expression that may indicate that this hospitality was also a duty (Åström 1993: 105-111, 195-204).

11In addition to weddings and burials, events which gathered the whole manorial society from all the parishes were the assemblies, even in the 18th century. These were dances held on public premises, engaging the gentry in social intercourse and including the serving of food.

12The framework for the social reproduction of the group was thus in place. A study of marriage relations reveals that weddings, assemblies and earlier relationships gave rise to new alliances. It also emerges that the whole province formed the basis for marriages, which strengthened the unity of the different parts in this geographically dispersed society (Åström 1993: 205-212, 147-159). These people spoke Swedish, and their cultural expression largely harmonized with the corresponding layers of society in Sweden. However, they were thoroughly rooted in their province, and manor-ownership in particular meant that the mythical ties to the earth, so important for aristocrats, were well established and maintained by means of various heritage procedures (Åström 1989, 1995).

  • 2 This comes out in the diaries through minute mentioning of the different manors where official mat (...)

13The Savo gentry, whose members were so intermingled and tied to one another through hierarchies in their conditions of service, their intermarriages and relations and common culture, were also the ruling class of the province. Mohammed Rassem has pointed out that the aristocracy was a kind of lay estate whose task in society was to provide services related to the administration, representation, legal protection, and wars. He also points out that for this purpose, a suitable mentality had evolved, befitting social, ceremonial and political, or military activities. This mentality was expressed in an interest in perfect conduct and an embodiment of virtue and ability, which guaranteed a high position in relation to other groups (Rassem 1987: 165). This also held good for manor-owners with bourgeois names. The manorial way of life was, almost by definition, exclusive. As we have already seen it implied a rigid distinction between everyday toil and celebrations and also the display of outward signs of wealth such as fine carriages, fashionable dress, walking sticks, parasols. The manors, which also functioned as part of the administration, were the prime symbolic expression of the gentry as an estate. An additional proof of mutual solidarity was that the manors also functioned as an exclusive network of hostels for people of the same rank as the manor-owners.2 Therefore, even everyday routines functioned as an additional gathering force.


14The family ideology of both nobles and bourgeois prescribed that the continuation of the family was to be secured by carrying on the traditions through socialization between equals, and by striving to maintain and, if possible, add to the land-holdings as well as to the number and prestige of the offices that appealed to them. Each generation was expected, as in Central Europe, to ensure that every member of the family received what was due, that is, the privileged lifestyle of the gentry, by means of inheritance, marriage, widow care, training and education without jeopardizing the basic foundation, the manor, which was also the family’s core of power. It was necessary to see to the careers of the children, to prevent the extinction of the family, and to work for the preservation and protection of all the manorial families which together constituted the group. Only in this manner could the families and the manors be preserved (Reif 1982).

15Because this society was so highly dependent on office-holding (the manors as such did not provide sufficient economic backing), the education of boys and their early entry into men’s sphere was emphasized. Meanwhile, girls had to be trained for their future lives and an early introduction to social life (Schlumbom 1983; Rundqvist 1989). While these offices were available locally in the province, and this was the case for quite some time in the 19th century, with the Swedish bureaucracy remaining nearly intact and the Swedish troops simply supplanted by Russian ones, there were no problems with the succession on the small manors.

16Consequently the gentry society continued more or less undisturbed, with its season-bound way of life, where the young gentlemen played an important role as ushers for social contacts, especially on their return from secondary and university studies elsewhere, that is Abo, Viborg and Helsingfors. The catastrophic conflagration in the military school in 1818 and the consequent removal to Fredrikshamn (Fi. Hamina) of the whole Cadet Corps, closer to the new metropolis of St. Petersburg, meant a severe blood-letting of the younger generations and a weakened local cultural life. At the same time, military appointments were increasingly abandoned in favour of civil ones, even by the young gentlemen (Åström 1993: 160-176).

17Although the manor embodied the idea of the family seat, especially for noble manor-holders, their sons continued to be trained for the army or the civil service. An office remained the hallmark of gentry society membership. In this respect the changeover from the Swedish to the Russian system did not affect the general trend. The cultural code was also future oriented, the reason being that families were concerned with their survival. Their cultural capital-education and offices-thus seems to have been regarded as more important than the local position of power which manor-ownership entailed.

18This is why, by and by, the efforts to preserve the manor came into conflict with the search for offices. Troops had diminished in number, and other upcoming groups in society began to compete for the few offices available in the countryside. Around the mid-19th century the difficulties in combining the principles of Herrschaft, manor-ownership and rank became apparent. Most male members of the families found it impossible to both acquire a position eagerly sought after, and to remain in the province. Between 1830 and 1880, more than half of the Savo manors were sold and abandoned. The consequence was an urbanization of this layer of society, once solidly bound to the land (Aström 1993: 51-53). With the passage of time, the Savo province increasingly became a hinterland for St. Petersburg and the Finnish towns Viborg and Helsingfors, the new capital. The young men left the province, and with them, the young families.


19Their disappearance meant the end of the rich social life that had once marked the province, and the beginning of the Chechov era in Finland.

20This becomes eminently clear when we look at the structure of ownership in 1880. Of the eighty-six manors still worth the name, ten were owned by military people: three by major-generals, two by majors and five by captains. Of the other seventy-six manors, as many as twenty-eight were in the possession of landowners who did not hold any office. These male owners were called landed proprietors, but many manors were also inhabited by unmarried misses and untitled heirs. Many manors now were looked after by stewards, with absentee landlords (Census information 1880; Åström 1993: 42).

21In 1880, only forty-five manors could be regarded as actively displaying the manorial way of life. This included intensive agriculture, sufficient domestic staff, and at least an incomplete owner family on site. Nevertheless, many of these manors were kept by widows or ageing couples without offspring, or by unmarried brothers and/or sisters. For those who had remained in Savo despite of everything, the manorial culture meant that they had to engage in agriculture and take care of the family estate, so that it had eventually become a value in itself. The cultural code may have contributed to this development. Sisters and brothers were separated by the fact that those who had been trained for office were forced to forsake their manor and their home province; those who had stayed, possibly on account of educational failure or of failing to find a suitable partner, were forced to witness overwhelming changes in their previous social milieu. The former group secured the continuation of the family, the latter the continuation of the manor. Contemporary letters from the 1850s reveal the feeling of loss among those whose social life had turned into quiet evenings with only very few local peers.

22Noble manor-owners did not differ in any significant way from the general pattern. Bearing in mind that families were, in general, large, with five to eight children, this means that within a few decades, quite a number of young people left the province to be included in hierarchies that had, even originally, been considered desirable (Åström 1993: 144-145, 160-176). In individual cases, members of such families bought manors nearer the centres which were now growing. But regardless of whether they chose to foster the continuity of the family elsewhere or preserve their faithfulness to the manor, both might involve a degree of self-sacrifice. The family ideology made either choice exempt from criticism.


23A micro-analysis of three manors, Frugård and Wehmais, owned by members of the noble Grotenfelt family, and Haneberg, owned by the bourgeois family Fabritius, provides examples of the choices as they were made at the time and of their consequences. The starting-point was the ownership situation in 1880. The first example, Frugård in the parish of Joroinen, displays an incomplete family in 1880, the children of the former owner and Swedish army officer colonel Β. A. Grotenfelt. There were four unmarried sisters between fifty and sixty years of age; their brother was Deputy Lord Justice of the Court of Appeal in Viborg, married but childless. There were three half-brothers, one of whom died quite young while serving in the Russian army in Novgorod. The second half-brother was Councillor at the Court of Appeal in Helsinki but also died young; the third was a retired Lieutenant General living in St. Petersburg. The Helsinki Councillor’s son was also a lawyer and later Deputy Director General in the prison administration in Finland; his sons, born in the 1860s, were noted academic citizens, representing the fields of history and philosophy. This rural noble family with its military turn had thus followed the ways of the educated bourgeois. Nevertheless, the ties with the absentee civil servants were maintained: the Deputy Lord Justice was regarded as the owner of Frugård, in spite of the fact that he shared the manor with his younger sisters, who lived there.

24At Wehmais in Juva, the situation was similar. Here too, members of the Grotenfelt family resided, the children of Colonel Herman Carl Grotenfelt. Two unmarried brothers between seventy and eighty and one unmarried sister lived on the family manor, whereas one married brother, who was also Councillor at the Court of Appeal in Viborg, still retained an interest in it. One of his daughters was married in St. Petersburg and connected with the court there. In 1896, half Wehmais was handed over by will to one of the married brother’s sons, who was a lawyer and, as an auditor, held one of the rare military offices in the home province Savo. The other half of the manor went to his brother, a Helsinki Councillor of Justice and later a Senator who, however, only spent his summers on the manor. One of his sons later obtained the whole manor; he had a university education in agriculture and was eminently fitted to look after an estate with over fifty crofts. A second son was a right-wing extremist poet, who spent his youth in fashionable circles in Helsinki. As of the mid-19th century, the family seemed bent on the higher civil service, while retaining faithfully its interest in the manor. The summers at the end of the 19th century and in the early 20th century saw vast congregations of family and kin on Wehmais.

25Haneberg, also injuva, was owned by the Fabritius family, of bourgeois descent. Haneberg is an example of a manor which was abandoned by the owners. In 1880, it belonged to a member of the family who was born there. He was a judge who had been President of the Land Court in Viborg. He lived on the manor until the end of the 19th century. His two sons chose clearly lower professional careers, one becoming a clergyman, and the other an apothecary. In this case, the unmarried sisters moved out, and the manor was sold to a farmer. The Haneberg manor was quite large, but it lay far away from the parish centre and was therefore not very attractive to persons of higher social standing.

26The careers chosen by the children of these three families indicate that loyalty to the manor was more marked in the two noble families than in the bourgeois one. This seems generally to be the case in so far as noble manors retained their owners longer. Urban occupations presented a strong pull away from the manor–a logical development, since the education and work of young men, even in former days, were often located in the towns in which they eventually settled.

27In this connection we also have to recognize another dimension of the cultural code, which in fact formed the basis of everything individuals did. Rank and the emphasis on Herrschaft was, as already stated, split in two. In addition to the hierarchical ties at the local level, there were liens external to the province and geared to the centres of the respective courts. Prior to and shortly after Finland was incorporated into Russia, a move to Sweden was by no means inconceivable. There are about a dozen cases in which the sons of Savo manor-owners sought positions in the mother country, Sweden. Similarly, the Russian military service provided a choice that a relatively large group of young men thought to their advantage, relatively soon after the Russian incorporation,

28As the national feeling had not yet arisen, it follows that a rank-based principle was applied for advancement, and whoever provided rank or office was to be followed. Even in the early 19th century, the correspondence between sons who had moved out and those remaining at home shows that a major focus of interest was the imperial family, its whereabouts, and events in its surroundings. Another keen interest among fathers was for their sons to be well received, and preferably incorporated into the genteel circles in the towns where they lived.

29The social network outside the province was given a similar importance, if not a greater one, than the one within. Actual life was lived somewhere else, and it was vital to ensure that one had a place in it. The social capital represented by the number and selection of gentry homes related to the family, both in the country of origin and in other places, also interacted between locations. These networks were interdependent, and an addition in one location could be counted as a gain in another, too, even to the extent of adding to the social capital of other family members than those directly involved. The four unmarried sisters living at Frugård are often said to have mentioned “our brother the General,” although he had not visited the manor for decades.

30The impression that life was lived somewhere else increased during the 19th century, and the attraction of the metropolis became palpable. The issue was no longer merely to obtain an education elsewhere. There was this consciousness that in order to secure a proper office or rank, one had to enter national or, in the case of Russia, trans-national hierarchies. A post and a rank at a court meant an attachment to something that was conceived as greater and, perhaps, more valuable than the manor.

31Later, the national awakening in Finland, coming as a wave in the late 19th century, also touched the Savo gentry. At the end of the century, interest came to focus on the future of the nation–the Grand Duchy of Finland–, and many families of the Savo gentry and bourgeoisie took part in the formulation of this future. Therefore, the cultural code was amended so as to correspond to the times: it was now important to take part in the creation of Finland as a future state with a university system, a national economy, and a bureaucracy of its own. A prerequisite for such a development was the liberalism of Czar Alexander II.

32As a result, as soon as openings were spotted, many left their manors and looked for new opportunities in the capital and in Viborg. They easily fitted into the existing bourgeoisie, some of whom had a preference for civilian and academic work, others for business and the growing industrialization. Here we might recall the tendency mentioned by Elias among the two-front strata: the studied modesty and genuineness of the provincial gentry, and their faithfulness to high ideals (Elias 1983: 387, 390). Such an attitude was surely well suited for those who had to bend to the demands that a civilian administration put on the administrators themselves.

33An example of the latter trend is the Ehrnrooth family who owned several manors in the province and who, to this day, hold leading posts in major Finnish industries.

34The restructuring of the gentry society into an urban, civilian or industrial one shows how quickly the highest ranks in the Finnish hinterland reacted to changing times. The abandonment of the countryside simultaneously brought a continued influx into -he national bureaucracies, and this reflects the traditional stand of the gentry: they served king and country. The nation6state was in need of a national class of civil servants in the late 19th century. With slight modifications, the cultural code of the gentry answered the need. Meanwhile, these social migrations also led to a restructuring of the lifestyle of the thin upper class in Finland. Even in the middle of the 19th century, small urban conglomerations had received social strata whose cultural ancestry was rural and non-bourgeois, i.e. not bent on trade. The central bureaucracies were in fact strengthened during the century by the influx of these rural cousins who made their homes in the towns, and the educated bourgeoisie received a considerable addition of noblemen (Bush 1988: 164-169).

35However, a few noble families still tended to regard land ownership as a value in itself, a noble obligation, and the old manor, provided there still was one, was regarded as a haven and an identity link between past and present. An ancestral home was an anchorage and a counterweight to the various demands of urban life. At the same time, the manor was a token of distinction: summer retirement to the manor was an issue of prestige, in spite of the fact that life there was provincial and relatively modest (Lönnqvist 1988).

36Many manors remained summer residences for those who had moved to Viborg and Helsingfors until the 1910s. Most of the manors, however, had been taken over in the early 20th century by a completely new group, well-to-do Finnish peasant families. The memories of the past of the 18th and early 19th centuries tended to fall into oblivion, and the parish historians’ descriptions of noble warlords of the province seemed unreal.


37In order to analyse the continued development on the few manors which remained in the hands of their original owners, the same framework as above can be applied: a cultural code stressing honour, rank/Herrschaft, tradition and education. We can see that manor ownership as such was the summary and epitome of a particular lifestyle, but also a burden or an obligation in a world where other values and cultural codes carried the day.

38The four Grotenfelt manors will illustrate conditions in the 20th century: Frugård and Wehmais mentioned above, and the two others: Järvikylä, which had become the largest manor at an early date, and Örnevik, which was the ancestral seat of all branches of the Grotenfelt family. The cultural code, which was in part a cultural inheritance, and in part had to be changed to correspond to the challenges of the time, again stands at the centre. Insofar as a certain alienation from the old manors had arisen, because of urbanization, education and office holding, they eventually came to have new meanings for the owners who had remained faithful to their family seat.

39After Finnish independence and the Civil War, a period of stabilization followed in the 1920s and 1930s. The Czarist bureaucracy had in fact a national stance even in the later part of the 19th century, but now the bureaucratic-aristocratic era was coming to an end, as the elite also began to incorporate entirely new layers brought in through the democratisation of Finnish society. In spite of this, there were many old Swedish-speaking families who continued to enrol in the civil service.

40The land-owning gentry could take this way, but also had the possibility of intensifying agriculture and remaining in their home province. This solution was applied on the two large manors, Wehmais and Järvikylä. Between the two wars in the 20th century and up to the 1950s, the two resident manor-owners both had a university degree in agriculture and a great devotion to their ancestral homes.

41A new aspect was that increased attention was paid to the history of the families, the manors and their surroundings. As early as 1915, the owners of Wehmais had published a small book of poetry pertaining to the manor, with old and more recent photographs (Grotenfelt, J., A. 1915). On the eve of Finland’s independence, in 1917 with the subsequent civil war, a first family history of the Grotenfelt family was published, written by the manor-owners themselves (Grotenfelt, Ν. Κ., Ε., K. 1917). In 1924, a great family reunion was held, and a fifty pages-long memorial text was published (Grotenfelt, Ν. K. 1925). The Karl Grotenfelt responsible for the earlier publications also published two books on his manor, Järvikylä (see especially Grotenfelt, Ν. K. 1946). As far as Frugård is concerned one may point to certain structural changes of an antiquarian character: the removal and refurbishing of an old smoke-croft, and the establishment of a manor museum in the attic of the main building. Before the ancestral meeting in 1924, a first catalogue of museum objects had been compiled. All these activities show that a genuine interest was taken in the past of the manor. In the manor-owners’ code, the retrospective aspect was there to stay.

42Yet this retrospective element was, especially at Järvikylä and Wehmais, combined with a relatively modern lifestyle, including sports such as tennis, and the use of motor vehicles.

43This had to do with the fact that there were many youngsters in the families. Social life was based on kinship between the four manor-owning families, with varying degrees of hospitality, differing from the modest day-to-day routines of everyday life. As compared with the early 19th century, social life was not particularly hectic or even very festive: coffee or tea parties could not approximate the great dances and assemblies of the previous century.

44The manorial society lived an inward-looking life centering on agriculture and, in the summer months, family life combined with visits by genteel guests such as holiday-making relatives from town. The presence of the urbanized members of the family throughout the summer was taken for granted and never questioned. Even far-off relatives could count on boardinghouse-style holidays on the manors. The 1930s was an era of quiet pleasures, and in spite of the fact that the surrounding world and the European continent provided a tangible background and a contrast to this provincial style of life, the remaining gentry were well satisfied with their little nook in the world. This period lasted until the Second World War, which ended the era in many respects.


45The end of the 1940s and the whole of the 1950s was again an era when manor-owners, or their kin, resided on the manors throughout the year. For one thing, this was a return to the cultural code that stipulated that the manor should be kept within the family at any price. In Finland, with over 300,000 Karelians to resettle from the territory taken over by the Soviet Union, the manor-owners had to prove that they really needed and really cultivated their land. The Grotenfelt family saw to it that the manors were kept in the family by using adoption and by strictly “forcing themselves” to live on the land until the danger of it being taken over was past. Nevertheless, both cultivated land and forest land from the large manors were handed over to Karelian families.

  • 3 The men born in 1915-1925 had occupations including a lawyer, the managing director of a large com (...)

46Although the post-war generation was expected to pursue academic studies, there were also examples of self-sacrifice, individuals committing themselves to becoming rural landowners in order to preserve the manor for the next generation.3 Other manors were kept as some kind of pensioner residence before the next generation could take over. In general, no jobs requiring an academic education were available locally, but the post-war generation mostly lived their working life in the capital, Helsinki. Once again, spending the summer in the country and visiting became part of manorial life.

47Since the 1950s there has been a marked change, not only in the restructuring of agriculture from diversified production towards specialization in either cattle or grain, but also as regards the professional backgrounds and interests of the manor-owners.

  • 4 The occupations of this now active generation of individuals born between 1940 and 1955 are a lawy (...)

48For the active generation, an education according to individual preference and a certain interest in business and industry brought a new professional basis. The occupations of the younger generation, now in their active age since the 1970s, deepen the impression that both men and women have chosen their careers from personal inclination.4 Like the previous generation, this one mainly lives in the capital Helsinki.

49Input into the agriculture of the ancestral home, either as intensive agriculture or organic cultivation, together with modern transportation has made it possible either to commute between the manor and the capital, or to stay on the manor throughout the year. Living in Helsinki and having an urban social network has meant a new lifestyle which is on a par with that of the Swedish-speaking bourgeoisie in Finland today. Their cultural code includes, in addition to a professional career for both men and women, a marked leisure-time interest. Sailing in the archipelago, a preference for spending summer there, alpine skiing, travels to European and world-wide metropolises–all in all, a distinguished social life with like-minded people. This is also a general trend among well-to-do society in Finland.

50For the provincially anchored, partly noble families, there may be a pronounced consciousness of style which contributes to a well studied distinction and a relatively lively interest in all forms of “high culture.” Apparently, the family ideology of loyalty to the ancestral home is combined with an individually based but socially specific form of leisure with exclusive social contacts and urban pleasures. These needs can only be satisfied in southern Finland, in holiday resorts and metropolis. This means a search for experiences in an environment totally different from that offered by the manors. For the inheritors in the 1990s and the early 2000s, the agrarian and boarding-house-like life on the manors is thus not as attractive as it was for the post-war generation, tired of war and oriented towards the future.

51Another characteristic marking both individuals and core families is that the “noble” extended family ideal has been combined with an attitude favouring separate lives, which is expressed in housing arrangements (wings and old workers’ houses have been turned into homes for the families of the younger family members). Moreover, Christmas celebrations can no longer be expected to interest all family members.

52On the other hand, certain given patterns recur in social life. Like New Year’s Day in the 19th century, Boxing Day is today an occasion, not for the local gentry, but for the extended family Grotenfelt, whose mutual solidarity is expressed and a certain deference is shown for the largest manor on the day of the annual Christmas reception at järvikylä.

53The reciprocity between all the manors is also maintained by means of everyday visiting and major celebrations on the occasion of birthdays and celebration days at the manors. The older generation will always express their satisfaction at the presence of the majority of the younger generation. Likewise, interest in the welfare of the family is expressed in invitations to family members to the receptions in Helsingfors held at the matriculation examination celebrations of the children, in spite of the fact that social life is mainly concentrated on the old Savo manors in summer and during other longer holidays.

54Like the unmarried brothers and sisters in the 19th century, pensioned couples and widows of the oldest generation keep the manors alive throughout the year and have thus abandoned their former active life in Helsingfors. Beside being oriented to the present and engaging in the future of the families, members once again have also stressed the retrospective element with three publications on the manors in the 1990s (Grotenfelt, N. G. 1994, 1996; Åström 1993).

55Within the manor-owning group, now no longer exclusively consisting of nobles, the concept of being well-born provides a background which is sometimes in the spotlight, such as when an heir is born, or when a member of the family dies. Otherwise the group presents a low profile in relation to this concept. On the other hand, the members of the family who have contacts with the nobility in southern Finland also strive to present the Savo manors, when occasions for discreet display are at hand. During the 1990s, a number of exhibitions were held in the House of Nobility in Helsingfors, presenting material from manors across Finland. The items exhibited have included brass, copper, chairs, sets of porcelain, and tea and coffee sets. These exhibitions have been quite popular and are in fact a way of lifting the curtain without letting integrity go.

56The demands on the Savo manors for public representation purposes has lessened, whereas pressures from tourism have not yet quite set in. This means that it is still possible to live relatively privately on the manors. The ambivalent attitude to the requirement of procuring a model and showing the cultural goods while being sufficiently reticent is still part of a complicated leitmotif in the gentry way of life. In this situation, the manor building itself becomes the focus of interest.

57If the reduction in the manor-owning group in the 1880s was largely based on its own cultural code (stressing honour, rank, education and refinement) which educated the men away from the province, today’s situation is one of conflict between the cultural code of an internationally oriented elite and a code that still has its vested values, including tradition (Girtler 1987). In the latter case, the family ideology still demands some kind of sacrifice for the manor itself (Bourdieu quoted in Rundqvist 1995).

58As social life in the early 19th century was enough to create a world where participation seemed meaningful, there was in fact a focal and local centre for the manorial society. Today, along with the idea that life is better somewhere else, the focus of interest definitely lies outside the province. Historical consciousness can only be retained on manors where the children have been inculcated with it at an early age. The conscious effort of the older and active generation seems in spite of everything also to be in favour of a family ideology centred on the manor. Among other elitist ways of life, the manorial lifestyle continues to present a special case, insofar as the traditional connection to the land is still there.

59In recent years, various romantic qualities have been associated with life on the manors in Finland. The actual core of the matter for the “landowning gentry of today” is, however, how a mixture of cultural codes, the anomalous conceptions of land and inheritance, the present, the past and the future can all be contained in the modern or post-modern demand for freedom of the individual. The potentially positive answer to this dilemma seems to lie in the fact that the values of the individuals may change during their life span, and that those inculcated in childhood, then abandoned, may return later in life (Simmel 1992). Accordingly, during different phases of the life cycle, different weight is granted to the values consistent with the ancestral home.



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1 Seven series of diaries, three of which were held by young noblemen, one by a tutor, one by a professor at the military school, in Rantasalmi, one by a clergyman’s son and one by the professor’s wife. Fragments of a diary by a young nobleborn girl also exists. The intensive period of the diaries is 1815-1840. Preserved invitation cards confirm the social networks in the diaries. The National Archives, Helsinki and manorial archives, Savo.

2 This comes out in the diaries through minute mentioning of the different manors where official matters where handled and manors where night accomodation was sought. Cf. footnote 1.

3 The men born in 1915-1925 had occupations including a lawyer, the managing director of a large company, a teacher of mathematics, but also a landed proprietor. The wives as well had professions or training in fields like economics, history, or pharmaceutics.

4 The occupations of this now active generation of individuals born between 1940 and 1955 are a lawyer-entrepreneur, two lawyers, a dentist, an engineer, an officer, an architect, but agricultural training and an inclination for farming still also exist. Even artistic professions are to be found, a poet/journalist and a documentator of cultural milieus are represented. Among the women the occupations include biologist, interior design shop owner, librarian, researcher, physiotherapist, architect.


Department of Ethnology, Åbo Akademi University

© Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2007

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