A Queer Feminist icon: Tove Jansson and The Moomins

In this blog we put an artist spotlight on the author, illustrator and artist Tove Jansson who challenged oppression, stereotypes and created a world-famous book series. As a woman and an artist Tove inspires us all to be our true, creative selves.

Throughout Tove Jansson’s life she carved out space for her art, writing and personal relationships. The daughter of artists, Tove Jansson emanated creativity and wrote for multiple audiences; as well as illustrating all of her own work. Her most famous series was The Moomins, first published in 1945 and still widely read today. The Moomin stories have maintained great popularity through the years, their adventures delighting generations of children and adults.

Tove’s personal life and The Moomins

Jansson was a queer woman at a time when homosexuality was illegal and classified as an illness in Finland (and most of the world). This did not begin to change until well into her lifetime, with the decriminalisation of ‘homosexual activities’ in 1971.

When writing to a friend in 1946, Tove wrote “I’ve fallen madly in love with a woman. And it seems to me so absolutely natural and genuine…I just feel proud and uncontrollably glad.” Even at the risk of criminal convictions, Jansson never hid her identity and lived with the love of her life Vivica Bandler for 45 years.

This acceptance and defiance of homophobic oppression was characterised in her book Finn Family Moomintroll with the duo ‘Thingumy’ and ‘Bob’. In the book the two speak a special language, “talking in the strange way that Thingumies and Bobs do talk”, that only they understand. When Vivica and Tove wrote to each other they also used a special language so that they could not be understood by prying eyes. In the book, Thingumy and Bob have an exciting secret; they carry a beautiful and decadent ruby. The Moomin franchise have noted: “It’s not far-fetched to read the story as an allegory for Tove’s and Vivica’s forbidden love.”

Jansson’s feminist ideas and success

One of Jansson’s most recent books in The Moomin series is The Invisible Child which was released posthumously in 2017. This was in collaboration with Oxfam in their campaign to empower women and girls, tackle inequality and end poverty around the world. In the first year, Jansson and The Moomins raised €300,000 with their #THEINVISIBLECHILD campaign and sales.

Jansson was unapologetic for her success and built her business up wholeheartedly, fiercely protecting it from those who believed a woman shouldn’t be an entrepreneur and run her own business. This fierceness is characterised by Little My in The Moomin series, who regularly challenges Moomintroll with her competitiveness and determination. Snorkmaiden is another female character who is brave, adventurous and smart; always there to give advice to her overly enthusiastic friends Moomintroll and Snufkin.

In 2017 The Moomin brand was said to have a yearly retail value of €700 million, making it an incredibly successful franchise. Tove Jansson was a talented businesswoman who made sure her values were reflected in her work and business, even keeping it in the family after her death with her niece Sara Jansson. When reflecting on Tove’s lifetime, Sara notes: “She was all about making choices that are not necessarily easy…Her work says: ‘This is me. This is who I am. Take it or leave it.’”

Although identifying as a ‘Feminist’ wasn’t something Tove did explicitly, Sara argues that she was a feminist “in every sense of the word.” Today we honour her impact on generations of readers and young people, encouraging queer people and womxn to challenge conventions with their creativity, imagination and the love they hold in their relationships.

Written by Ellie Stebbing

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  • Joanna Sowerby says:

    I am so happy you have highlighted the importance of Tove Janssons incredible body of work. As a lifelong reader of her Moomin stories and some of her adult personal work I feel that often she is viewed as merely a children’s author. I have always viewed her stories as depicting something far greater and seeing a recent documentary highlighted not only the hidden stories but their important role in demonstrating her wish for peace during the occupation of Finland in WW2. She was certainly a force to be reckoned with from what they say in that film