Accepted Paper:

The letters of Helene Maasen-Varik: mingling the personal and public in the letters of a folklore collector  


Katre Kikas (Estonian Literary Museum)

Paper short abstract:

The presentation analyses the letters of Helena Maasen-Varik (1869 – 1933) sent to J. Hurt and M. J. Eisen in the context of folklore collecting campaigns. In these letters we can see quite ambiguous relations between private and public modes of communication.

Paper long abstract:

The presentation focuses on very special context of letter writing: folklore collecting campaigns organized by Jakob Hurt (1893-1907) and Matthias Johann Eisen (1857-1934) in 1890s Estonia. The participation in these campaigns was lively, and the backgrounds of the collectors quite varied: there were writers, students and schoolteachers, as well as farmers, handicraftsman, schoolboys and servants. Many of the participants had got only minimal three-year schooling, and for them the participation in the campaign was quite rare (but welcome) possibility to use their writing skills.

Folklore collecting can be looked at as a separate domain of literacy (Barton 2007: 37-40) - one that is concerned with rendering the oral world on paper. But participating in it demanded acquaintance with other domains. As the campaigns were organized through newspapers, the collectors needed to be more or less regular newspaper readers. As it was organized from distance (i. e. the organizers and collectors never met), the epistolary literacy (Whyman 2006: 9) was also needed. In my paper I am going to focus on the peculiarities of the epistolary literacy involved in the folklore collecting campaigns, looking at the letters of one particular collector - Helene Maasen-Varik. In these letters (as those of other collectors') we can see quite ambiguous relations between private and public modes of communication.


Barton, David 2007. Literacy. An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Whyman, Susan E. 2009. The Pen and the People. English Letter Writers 1660-1800. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Panel P06
Sincerely yours: ethnography of letters and correspondence