The third and final volume in Tony Lurcock’s series of compilations of British eye-witness accounts of Finland from the mid-18th century.
After nearly five centuries as a Swedish province, and more than century as a Grand Duchy of Russia, Finland was finally able to declare independence in 1917. It rapidly established its place in the world, becoming known especially through its athletes, its architecture, and the music of Sibelius.
Following the Bolshevik revolution a British squadron was established in the Gulf of Finland, and British agents risked and sometimes lost their lives crossing between Finland and Russia. Within a few years, though, tourists were acclaiming Helsinki as ‘one of the most modern and up-to-date cities in Europe’, but also discovering traditional ways of life in almost every part of the country. Other visitors interested themselves in aspects of ‘Finland the Pioneer Republic’, admiring its social cohesion, the political system, the schools and the hospitals. They photographed the stadium being got ready for the 1940 Olympics, but the Soviet invasion of Finland at the end of 1939 and the ensuing Winter War brought British war correspondents rather than spectators.
Passages from the writing of more than thirty British travellers are linked and introduced by Tony Lurcock’s usual informed and entertaining commentary. Among those included in this volume – alongside spies, journalists, anglers, foot-sloggers, schoolchildren and volunteer ambulance drivers – are Arthur Ransome, Noël Coward and Harold Macmillan.
‘More than 32,000 asylum seekers arrived in Finland last year, and were welcomed with the offer of free classes on Finnish values and manners and how to behave towards women. The Finns’ openness and practical reaction to the current crisis match the historical attitudes described on almost every page of Tony Lurcock’s rich survey of British (and a couple of American) travellers in Finland, A Life of Extremes ... Lurcock’s anthology, stitched together by an informed, enthusiastic commentary, is the last volume of his trilogy about the British in the country, and a fascinating prism through which to view modern Finland.’
– Julian Evans, Times Literary Supplement
From reviews of Tony Lurcock’s previous books, Not So Barren or Uncultivated: British travellers in Finland 1760–1830 and No Particular Hurry: British travellers in Finland 1830–1917:
‘This fascinating survey of the British in Finland’
– Paul Binding, Times Literary Supplement
‘This book is a gem: entertaining, fascinating, astonishing . . . Tony Lurcock’s clever collage of these [travellers’ accounts] from the past adds to the enjoyment . . . I’ve learned a lot about Finland 250 years ago. Lovely book.’
– Finland Forum
‘Impeccably researched, written in an accessible, lively and lucid style, with useful appendices, notes, and bibliography, this is a gem of a book which will delight the scholar and the general reader alike.’
– Mara Kalnins, Notes and Queries
‘At once both an anthology of extracts from British travel accounts and a rich mini-encyclopaedia of personalities, routes and destinations.’
– Rainer Knapas, Books from Finland