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Tottering House


“Tottering House” has been adapted for the stage on many occasions for example by Heini Tola or Maria Koskiluoma whose adaptations clearly differ from each other at least structurally.
Heini Tola’s dramatisation is based on a visual (black box) theatre in which the short scenes overlap each other and time levels as well as events change rapidly. The play tells about the Markku family, about a father who is a dominating drunkard, his submissive and enduring wife, about the birth and upbringing of their children, about family friends and last but not least about their servants of whom every one in her turn ends up in the father’s bed and as a consequence has to leave the mistress of the house. Triangle drama follows triangle drama in this play which has enough of everything to make a real family hell.
At the centre of this family hell is wife Lea. The family image she has from a childhood overshadowed by a submissive drinker father and a dominating mother overlaps with the pattern of submission in her own marriage. At a party Eero Markku snatches Lea single-mindedly from the arms of his friend Aulis Heliö. Eero Markku and Lea’s wedding marks the beginning of the play. Three children are born into their penniless marriage.
Lea: “Our children will be the main thing in our life together.”
Eero. “Learn to deny yourself your bodily desires.”
Eero values freedom and passion highest, Lea for her part a sense of responsibility and virtue. Drinking, cheating, children, abuse, violence, quarrels, carelessness, miscarriages, submission and subjection make this marriage what it is. Aulis Heliö, Lea’s admirer from younger days, temps Lea into leaving her husband, he offers his help on several occasions but Lea doesn’t accept it. Eero, however, makes use of his friend’s help, for example when forging his name on a bill and when cheating on his wife not only with their servants and Lea’s friends but also with Lea’s younger sister who eventually marries Aulis Heliö.
Lea: “We have to learn to forgive.”
Eero: “I’d rather shoot you than divorce you. .. I’ve had my day, no matter, I’ve lived a thing as fully as a person can.”
“Everything here is coming apart at the seams, and you pretend not to see it. You’re afraid to face up to the facts, to see that your house is tottering in the wind.”, Lea’s sister hits her with the truth after her own marriage has come apart.
At the end of the play Eero first shoots a servant who has come to blackmail him and then himself. Lea saves Eero’s and the servant’s illegitimate child and takes it into her care. At the very end, she commits herself to a common life with her long-time admirer Aulis Heliö. The end opens a door for hope.
“Tottering House” is a surprisingly modern day text even though it was written in 1935 (and published only in 1963, 20 years after the author’s death). The point of view on the family hell is not only that of the wife but also of the children: “When I’m a proper grown-up man I will make my own home and take you there away from father” and to his father: “I’m not going to be like you” declares Lea’s and Eero’s first-born. The audience knows, however, that such family patterns have repeated themselves to this day.
Eero: “Blood? What a word. Everything lives in blood. Lust, desire, evil, all hell. … Inside a man there lives a desire to defend and to destroy. … a battle between two different drives.”
The novel is also an allegory of the battle between good and evil in the world. Eero Markku represents the manic badness controlled by complete selfishness and narcissistic egocentricity which surges up from the world of human desires and dark instincts untamed by culture. Lea and Aulis Heliö represent for their part goodness and the belief in forces bridled by culture, forces that are vigorously challenged in the novel but nonetheless save the protagonists from destruction.



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