THE BRITISH LIBRARY

English and Drama blog

24 posts categorized "Events"

21 April 2017

TRANSLATORS TAKE CENTRE STAGE AT THE BRITISH LIBRARY THIS SPRING

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by Deborah Dawkin, PHD student working on the Michael Meyers Archive at the British Library

On 8 May we will be hosting The Translator Made Corporeal: Translation History and the Archive.  Showcasing the most recent international research, this conference will reveal the stories of translators throughout history: from the Early Modern period to the present day, and from every corner of the world.

It is hard to imagine the library of any serious bookworm that did not include international classics such as Homer, Tolstoy, Proust, Neitzsche and de Beauvoir, as well as examples of more contemporary authors such as Saramago, Kundera, Knausgård, Murakami, and some Scandinavian crime to boot. But we rarely consider the translators who make it possible for us to read these books; translators have largely remained invisible throughout history. So too, the stories behind the creation of translations: the lengths to which translators might go to ensure the publication of literary gems; the sometimes fierce arguments between translators and their editors; the sacrifices made by translators in difficult political times; and the personal and literary networks, even love affairs, that lie behind translations.

This one-day event in our Knowledge Centre will reveal fascinating stories drawn from diverse historical sources about the human, flesh-and-blood translator: Our panelists will introduce us to (amongst others) translators who have risked exile or even their lives for their beliefs, female translators whose identities have been hidden in a male dominated world, and WWII Japanese interpreters convicted as war criminals. We’ll hear about the part-time criminal who acted for many years as his deaf friend’s court interpreter in 18th-century Ireland and the dragoman who worked as a translator and tourist guide in 19th Century Egypt – and whose recently discovered scrapbook sheds light not only on the everyday life of a non-elite Middle Eastern translator, but on an array of international clients. We’ll encounter Armenian and Persian translators working for the 18th century East India Company and literary translators negotiating with their editors in a time of heavy censorship in the Soviet Union.

While the majority of the conference focusses on translators of the past, there will also be a panel devoted to the collection of data about contemporary translators. Subjects include: the day-to-day struggles of visually impaired interpreters in Poland; research about Finnish translators’ backgrounds and working lives; what the surveys carried out through the Emerging Translators’ Network reveal about the trajectories of the careers and lives of translators in the UK.

This conference also aims to create a space in which the “corporeal” translator might be brought out of hiding and given precedence. It will include a project by emerging Berlin/London based photographer, Julia Schönstädt, on the (in)visibility of translators today. This features photographs taken by Schönstädt at the London Book Fair 2017 along with extracts of interviews with contemporary translators.

The interviews are revealing. Many translators expressed a certain frustration at the public’s ignorance about translation, and stressed the importance of increased recognition for their work, including through the recent use of #namethetranslator on twitter. Others pointed out that the translator’s work often goes beyond the translation of a text – they can also act as cultural ambassadors, literary scouts, advisers.

Yet, some expressed a disinterest in having any public persona: “I quite like to be invisible”, said Kate Lambert, “Perhaps it’s a way of hiding. You do it [your work] behind the scenes. You do it sneakily.” Another, Adrian Nathan West, said “Invisibility? If I can be frank, and I’m afraid this may be a minority opinion, I don’t really care. You know, I like to read, I like to translate…it’s fine…I could have been a pop-star or be in action movies, I could be an actor if I wanted [fame]…right?” 

Trans1 Trans2 Trans3

The Made Translator Made Corporeal: Translators Through the Lens by Julia Schönstädt and curated by Deborah Dawkin, will be shown at the conference.

 

The Translator Made Corporeal: Translation History and the Archive

8 May 2017 at the British Library

Programme & ticket booking: https://www.bl.uk/events/the-translator-made-corporeal-translation-history-and-the-archive

Website: http://thetranslatormadecorporeal.wordpress.com

FB: https://www.facebook.com/translatormadecorporeal

Twitter: @translator_2017 

Conference hashtag: #translatorcorporeal

 

 

28 November 2016

Foundations of a Movement

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Celebrating 50 Years of New Beacon Books, the UK’s First Black Bookshop and Publisher

At the British Library on Saturday 3 December two events will celebrate 50 years of New Beacon Books: ‘Changing Britannia – Through the Arts and Activism’ (4.30pm-6pm) and ‘A Meeting of the Continents – An International Poetry Night’ (7pm-9.30pm).

‘The International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books will be a meeting of the continents for writers, publishers, distributors, booksellers, artists, musicians, film makers, and the people who inspire and consume their creative productions.’

This 1982 welcome statement by John La Rose of New Beacon Books, Jessica Huntley of Bogle L’Ouverture Publications and Race Today Publications heralded the start of the first International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books, which would have twelve iterations between 1982 and 1995. Held at Islington Town Hall in 1982, then at Lambeth Town Hall a year later and at Acton Town Hall in 1984, from 1985 the Book Fair set up its London home at the Camden Centre in Kings Cross. These Book Fairs would prove to be groundbreaking in their mission to place literary and artistic production by people of colour from the UK and around the world at the centre — and by 1995 some 114 exhibitors from nearly 30 countries were attending.

  BF Aerial Shot Islington Town Hall
                Islington Town Hall, 1982

 

The International Book Fairs didn’t come about just by accident, though. They were in no small part due to one of the founders of the UK’s first black bookshop and publisher, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2016. New Beacon Books was founded as a publishing house in August 1966 by John La Rose, with the active support and assistance of Sarah White. La Rose, who was born in Trinidad in 1927 and who died in February 2006, was a poet, essayist, publisher, filmmaker, trade unionist and cultural and political activist. By the time he arrived in Britain in 1961, he had already been engaged for nearly 20 years in anti-colonial and workers’ struggles in the Caribbean. That engagement taught him that colonial policy was based on a deliberate withholding of information from the population, leading to a discontinuity of information from one generation to the next. Publishing, therefore, was a way of establishing an independent validation of one’s own culture, history and politics; and it could also act as a vehicle between generations to build on what had gone before. This is the concept that has been at the very heart of the work of New Beacon since it began.

Around the same time as the founding of New Beacon Books, John La Rose, the Jamaican writer and broadcaster Andrew Salkey and the Barbadian poet and historian Kamau Brathwaite founded the Caribbean Artists Movement in London — which is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. In March 1967 Kamau Brathwaite’s poetry reading of ‘Rights of Passage’ (the first part of his seminal trilogy of poems The Arrivants) was organised by New Beacon Books at the Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre in London. The event was the public launch of the Caribbean Artists Movement and also publicised the first two New Beacon publications, a book of poetry called Foundations by John La Rose and a book on Marcus Garvey by Adolph Edwards.

From this time, stimulated by the demand for books after the formation of the Caribbean Artists Movement, New Beacon also went into bookselling. Demand for black literature increased further as the black consciousness and black activist movements from various parts of the world impacted on the UK. From 1967 New Beacon began producing specialist catalogues of Caribbean materials, which combined works in English, French and Spanish. Later catalogues also included work from Black British, African and African-American writers. The bookshop, which started as a bag of books in a bed-sitter, then moved to the bottom floor of the home of John La Rose and Sarah White, arrived at its present location in Stroud Green Road in 1973.

                 Bookshop

At the start of the 1980s Britain was rocked by a number of riots in the inner cities of London, Liverpool, Bristol, Leeds, Bradford and Birmingham. The frustration of black youths at years of sub-standard education, being criminalised by an institutionally racist police force and judicial system, and various other factors boiled over into the streets. In some ways, the riots prompted a positive response from both black and white progressives within the UK, who became even more aware of the need for material that gave Britain’s ethnic minorities a positive sense of self and that challenged the everyday racism faced by these populations.

John La Rose and other activist colleagues and comrades in New Beacon had already by this time formed the political and cultural Alliance of the Black Parents Movement, the Black Youth Movement and the Race Today Collective. There was also a unity of purpose with the black radical publishers Bogle L’Ouverture Publications, set up in 1968 by Eric and Jessica Huntley in West London. In the early 1980s, out of the common vision between New Beacon Books, Bogle L’Ouverture and the Race Today Collective, was born the idea of the International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books. It was a pioneering vision which would come to fruition in 1982, which would produce twelve Book Fairs and numerous accompanying cultural events at each one – including the iconic International Poetry Nights – and which would pave the way for every British black, Asian and minority ethnic cultural initiative thereafter.

On 3 December 2016, the 50th anniversary of New Beacon Books will be celebrated at two special events at the British Library. ‘Changing Britannia – Through the Arts and Activism’ by Professor Gus John will sketch out 50 years of Black British activism whilst ‘A Meeting of the Continents – An International Poetry Night’ will capture the cultural vision of the International Book Fairs with a ten-poet reading fest, hosted by Linton Kwesi Johnson.

by Sharmilla Beezmohun

‘Changing Britannia – Through the Arts and Activism’ (4.30pm-6pm) and ‘A Meeting of the Continents – An International Poetry Night’ (7pm-9.30pm) celebrating 50 Years of New Beacon Books is on at the British Library on Saturday 3 December. Tickets available at www.bl.uk

For more information on the history of New Beacon Books and related activist organisations, please visit The George Padmore Institute at www.georgepadmoreinstitute.org

21 September 2016

Melvin Burgess: Censorship and the Author

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by guest blogger, young adult and children's author Melvin Burgess, in anticipation of Banned Books Weeks (25th September-1st October 2016) which kicks off with Censorship and the author at the British Library on 22nd September, at which writers Melvin Burgess and Matt Carr will discuss censorship with Jo Glanville.

Melvin Burgess cred John Coombes

Melvin Burgess photographed by ©John Coombes

Censorship in books for teenagers takes a number of forms, but before looking at them, it's worth looking at the provision of fiction for teenagers in general, and the peculiar and privileged position books do hold among them.

Written matter is, in fact, the only media in which any serious issues can be seriously explored in a fictional way for people under the age of eighteen. Film, for instance, is strictly censored according to age – we're all familiar with the age rating for films in the cinema. At first sight, this might appear not to matter, since anyone can actually get to see anything via the internet; but if you look at provision rather than access, you get a very different picture. When my book Junk first came out, a number of production companies wanted to make a movie based on the book, but they very quickly realised they couldn't because “the audience for whom it's intended won't be allowed in the cinema.” Funding was impossible, and the project was dropped. Junk later appeared in a castrated version on BBC education.

That remains the case to this day. TV is the same. Access, although technically very limited, is in fact almost unlimited. Provision on the other hand is almost non-existent..

Censorship of provision is well and away the most successful way of going about the job of restricting what people get to see or hear but it does have some other unfortunate side effects. In the case of film anyone over the age of about twelve, can get to see things, many of them highly inappropriate, that they technically shouldn't. Meanwhile, the kinds of material they actually should be getting, but which some adults would still feel uncomfortable with, simply doesn't exist at all.

This isn't particular to the UK, either. It is in fact, global. In every continent in which visual material for film or TV is made, serious content for teenagers is effectively stifled at birth by the censorship of age. It appears at first glance to be a matter of simple negligence, censorship by accident, almost; but something that happens with such uniformity on such a global scale is obviously nothing of the kind. That doesn't mean it's done on purpose of course, but it does say a great deal about our attitudes to teenagers that the provision of visual imaginative material for them is restricted to the anodyne on such a universal level.

Books and other written material such as graphic novels and comics are uncensored for age. The importance of written fictional material for teenagers can be measured exactly by the degree of absence of fictions for them in other media. It is of the very first degree of importance.

Censorship of books does occur, however, at a much more local level. I remember very well the librarian who kept my books in a locked cupboard at the back of the library, so that no innocent youngster could inadvertently come across them, and suffer god only knows what forms of psychic shock or corruption. That's an extreme example, but that librarian was acting in the manner in which censorship against books does occur; by the system of gatekeepers. I'm referring to those people who are in a position to control or regulate books to young people; librarians, teachers, bookseller managers, parents – in other words, the very people whose job it is to encourage reading are the ones who also take it upon themselves to limit it.

It goes without saying, but even so I feel I have to say it, that this is not a role all of them relish.

A great deal of this actually happens in the school library, where the kind of material that older teenagers in particular like to read, is by no means always considered suitable for them. When I began writing, schools were still the main source of sales for children's books and to this day, publishers are concerned not to put anything out there that might fall foul of the kind of “standards” that schools require. All too often, such standards, purporting to be some kind of moral stewardship, actually revolve more around the the kind of stories the local press might summon up if they found people under the age of fourteen had access to books with such horrors as drugs, breasts or sexual activity of any kind.  There is in every class at least one unfortunate child with a mad parent, and if the school's senior management is more concerned with public image than developing young minds, that one person can completely define what kind of reading matter every child in the school has access to. In such schools, many readers will tend to ignore the library almost as much as non readers. It's a vicious circle.

Junk of course, and Doing It, were often kept by thoughtful librarians in brown paper wrappers under the desk, to be handed to chosen, suitably mature students, who weren't always he ones who would benefit from them the most. But I can also think of many examples not by any means connected with my more controversial books. One teacher told me how, when reading a passage from my very first book, The Cry of the Wolf, to a group of parents, one mother rose quaking with horror that something so violent (the wolves got shot in a suitably bloody fashion) was available in an institution of education. As a result, not just that one, but all my books were taken off the school shelves.

Violence, however, is one of the rarer targets for the banning of books. The usual one is sex – very handy when everyone over the age of thirteen is fascinated by it – and second is religion. I don't tend to write religious books, but back in the day I did write a book called Burning Issy, which showed witches persecuted by the Church in the 17th C. This book caused me to be dis-invited to a very posh school, on the grounds of “we do not feel the parents of our students would want them to be introduced to this sort of thing.” I was puzzled by what “this sort of thing” might be, but my enquiries yielded no further answers. My guess, though, is that someone somewhere out there, actually believed I was acting as a propagandist for Mr Satan.

Other gatekeepers can include book sellers. Those who remember the book shop Borders from a few years ago, may be surprised to hear that at least one store didn't stock my books, after receiving one solitary complaint.

Of course all this occurs alongside a great deal of support, and stems from an issue which begins life as something quite reasonable. Content, of course, is an issue that all parents will be concerned about.The real issue here isn't about whether we want to allow unrestricted access to children of any age whatsoever; we have allowed them that already (so long as we're not in the room at the time.) It's more about the disconnect between the kinds of material young people want to engage in, (and that we passively allow them to engage with), and the kind of material that we as adults want to present them with. It's a bit like teaching someone to swim in the bath, and then turning your back while they rush out and splash in around in a fast flowing river.

What are we scared of, I wonder? Finding out what they really think? It's all very hypocritical on the face of it, but presumably such a universal system serves some kind of purpose. Perhaps its something to do with permission. All over the world, adults passively encourage teenagers to breech the rules that we ourselves have put into place. I wonder if we rather like the idea that they transgress – that it is in fact a necessary right of passage. In that case, the  rules are more like the governor on a lorry, rather than the actual brakes. Even so, it's a pretty abyssal way of doing it, that leaves people at a time in their lives when they are changing so much, risk taking so actively, and trying to get to terms with an ever more complex and rapidly changing world, without the imaginative structures that might help them negotiate it.

The most moving and enthusiastic, as well as the most common emails and letters I've had from teenagers speak of the sheer relief and joy they've had at finding something that seems to actually reflect what's going on in their own heads in an honest and authentic fashion.

YA is barely twenty years old, and it remains the only form in which the contradictions I've spoken about are ever reconciled. Already it's become fashionable to knock it and to dismiss it's existence as a form, even among the people who actually write the stuff – driven, perhaps, by the urge to widen their readership among adults. Every publisher and every writer wants their work to be crossover, rather than pure YA as such. It would be a tragedy if it ever got genuinely taken over by middle aged wannabe youths, looking for nostalgia. At its best it is for teenagers, about being a teenager, and its disheartening to see grown ups trying to hi jack it for themselves.  If they succeed, we'd be talking about banned genres, rather than just books and that old biblical saying – To those that have not, even that which they have shall be taken from them – will yet again have proven its  worth.

Banned Books Week was initiated by the American Library Association in 1982 in response to an increasing number of challenges in the US to books in schools, bookstores and libraries, and in particular, books aimed at children or young adults. For the first time in the UK we are holding events, activities and publishing a series of blogs, all on the topic of Censorship and Banned Books, made possible by the partnership between The British Library, Free Word and Islington Library and Heritage Services and in association with the ALA.

BannedBooksWeekLogos

        

19 September 2016

Swimmers: pamphlets and events

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The Library has recently received the first 3 issues of Swimmers bimonthly pamphlet series. These will be available in our Reading Rooms later this year. In this guest post, the editorial team at Swimmers, explain more about the group and the series, and how to find out about future events and publications.

Swimmers publishes a limited-run bimonthly pamphlet series. The pamphlets combine creative and non-fiction written work, alongside artwork in various forms, created by established, emergent, and new writers and artists. To mark the publication of each pamphlet, Swimmers runs an events series—frequently hosted at The Function Room in Somers Town—where artwork exhibits provide a backdrop for poetry, fiction, and script readings and performances.

Swimmers was founded in 2013 in collaboration with arts association STORE. STORE is composed of an educational programme of arts and architecture courses, wide-ranging public exhibitions, and a socially engaged design practice: through this nexus, STORE has created projects and events beneficial to local communities, such as the Summer School in Gillett Square. STORE and Swimmers’ shared ethos and interest in the city space made for an ideal collaborative partnership, through which an initial series of readings, screenings, and performances were hosted in a derelict space in Bloomsbury, where STORE/Swimmers built a library and cinema. Contributors to Swimmers events, and to an anthology-style publication produced in response to the series, included (among many others): Sarah Howe, Maureen McLane, Amy Blakemore, Will Self, Richard Wentworth and Christopher Reid.

For-web-swim_face_3

In 2014, the Bloomsbury space was regrettably claimed by property developers. Shortly afterwards, Swimmers dived underground, occasionally resurfacing to host one-off events in collaboration with STORE at a variety of venues across London—such as Taste and Poetry and Architecture.

In March 2016, Swimmers received ACE funding to help launch the pamphlet series. Issue One featured an essay on race and poetry in the UK by Kayo Chingonyi, alongside new poems by André Naffis-Sahely and photo-printed artwork by Ned Scott. Issue Two featured a fragmentary essay on translation and fan-fiction by Sophie Collins, new poems by Caitlin Newby—ancient hymns to the Mayan goddess Inanna, taken from the cuneiform and put through translation software—and A3 prints by Luke Burton. In the current issue, Matthew Gregory explores the phenomenology of the piazza, Richard Scott takes inspiration from Bellini, and Tamsin Snow renders an autopsy table. Issue 4, released later this month, will feature new written work from Daisy LaFarge and Anne Boyer.

Swimmers wants to celebrate the physical, tactile object, to inspire communication between readers, and to allow the written word to enjoy the single-event status often reserved for visual artwork. Swimmers also distributes the pamphlets for free, so that the pamphlets are not restricted to an economically-privileged readership. To achieve all this, Swimmers utilises an experimental distribution model; on subscribing to the mailing list at swimmers.london (or emailing direct at mailinglist@swimmers.london), you will be notified as to when an online sign-up sheet will go live. The first 30 people to sign-up receive a copy—through the post or hand-delivered—for free. In order to widen this readership, a copy of each issue will be accessible to the public at the British Library Reading Rooms. Select content from each issue will also be downloadable as a PDF from swimmers.london, one month after that issue is distributed.

While The Function Room undergoes refurbishment, the next Swimmers event will be held at 7.00pm on Thursday 29th September, The New Evaristo Club, 57 Greek Street, London W1D 3DX. Readings from Emily Berry, Daisy LaFarge, and special guests. Entry is free.

13 April 2016

Seamus Heaney: From “Ex-poet” to Nobel Laureate

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Recently the British Library hosted an event to mark the publication of Seamus Heaney’s translation of Book 6 of Virgil’s Aeneid, published by Faber. Poets Jo Shapcott, Tom Paulin, Matthew Hollis, and Simon Armitage gave readings from the work, offered insights to Heaney’s influence on their own work, and read much-loved poems from Heaney’s celebrated collections. The translation, which details Aeneas’s descent into the Underworld, is the last collection from the Nobel Laureate, who died in 2013. Here Richard Price, Head of Contemporary British Collections, reflects on two meetings he had with the Laureate at the Library.

SHeaney

Seamus Heaney at the University College Dublin, February 11, 2009, By Sean O'Connor [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m lucky enough to have met Seamus Heaney a couple of times, as part of my job here at the British Library. My first encounter was when he had just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was giving a lecture for the Library on the poetry of Robert Burns, an important influence on Ulster poets in the nineteenth century and perhaps still to this day.

Those were in the days of the Round Reading Room in the British Museum when I was a junior curator in the Library there. He had a little time before the event so before he took to the lectern, I met him with my then colleague Mary Doran, the Curator of Modern Irish Collections, and we ushered him into an anteroom.

We had recently acquired a very rare item relating to Heaney’s early days of writing and were excited about what his reaction might be. It was the Hilary Term 1961 issue of the magazine Gorgon (Hilary Term is the second term, at the start of the calendar year). He had been an assistant editor of the magazine as a student at Queen’s University, Belfast and this was the last issue he was involved in. Unusually, he supplied his own, extra, editorial.

  Gorgon Heaney

Gorgon, Hilary Term Issue 1961. British Library shelfmark: Cup.410.f.750

It was quite something to be able to show the new Nobel Laureate this early piece of his poetry activism, a slim mimeographed magazine, crammed with poems and articles Heaney had been involved in selecting (the main editor, Pat Roche, makes a point in his editorial that the assistant editors had taken a particularly active role in the process).

Even so, the mere fact of Heaney’s involvement magazine wasn’t why we were so excited: rather, it was because of the dramatic way in which Heaney signed off his editorial. “I am not an ex-editor of Gorgon but something (I have convinced myself) more despicable,” he writes in his last sentence of the editorial, “an ex-poet.”

Heaney editorial

An extract from Seamus Heaney’s editorial in the 1961 issue of Gorgon in which he signs off as an ‘ex-poet’

What would the elder, feted, famed, Nobel prize winning, poet say to that?

He laughed, of course.

I think in that chuckle there was an affection for his younger self and for the earnest activity of all poets, young or otherwise. The high stakes of poetry, its solemnities, its purposefulness, even in humour, is particularly felt. Five years later, Heaney would publish Death of a Naturalist to worldwide acclaim. As well the first edition of Death of A Naturalist, Faber, 1966, the Library has sound recordings of him from this time and later, e.g. from our British Council collection.

Heaney Catalogue

Image from a handbook issued by the British Council: Catalogue of Tape Recordings (November 1974).

 

I suppose all poets are like the “young bloods” he describes in the opening of The Aeneid VI, making quick landfall, “vaulting quickly out” with their urgent poetry, metaphorically in search of flints for fire or simply to stand amazed at new rivers.

Aeneid

The cover of Seamus Heaney's Aeneid Book VI, with kind permission of Faber & Faber

The second time I met Seamus Heaney, sadly the last time, was in late 2003. It was in our new building at St Pancras – Heaney had been viewing the Ted Hughes exhibition I had curated because he was going to give a reading of some of Hughes’ poems for the launch. We met for a cup of coffee with Hughes’s widow, Carol. We were talking about Hughes of course, who had been an early inspiration and then a great friend to Heaney.

Then, to my surprise, Heaney began to talk about Robert Henryson, the fifteenth century Scots Makar, the name given to a Scottish poet of national standing. He said he had started to translate, or retell, Henryson’s Testament of Cresseid. This would clearly be one of Heaney’s present-in-the-past projects which followed on from his acclaimed version of Beowulf, in which contemporary battles, and contemporary hubris, seem pre-echoed. As with Edwin Morgan’s translation of Beowulf, which Morgan had described as his ‘Second World War poem’, there is a feeling in Heaney’s translations that in such epic translations the present is being addressed by the past.

 

Cresseid

“Fair Cresseid” © Hughie O’Donoghue, painting reproduced as a tipped-in plate, from Seamus Heaney’s Testament of Cresseid, Enitharmon Editions, 2004, used with kind permission of the publisher and artist

Testament of Cresseid is a sorrowful story about the fate of the once beautiful, vivacious Cresseid, separated from her lover Troilus. For lamenting her life intemperately she is punished by the gods with disfigurements akin to leprosy (though if anything sounds intemperate to me, those punishments do!). Years after they have parted, Troilus recognises her but does not reveal his identity, instead giving a large amount of money to the leper colony. Cresseid, realising who her patron was, dies in grief.

Henryson is in a sense writing a sequel to Chaucer’s poem Troilus and Criseyde, and is also part of a great Troilus literary chain, since Shakespeare, in one of his more bitter plays, would later dramatise the story in Troilus and Cressida.

Leper house gate

“Leper house (gate”), © Hughie O’Donoghue, painting reproduced as a tipped-in plate, from Seamus Heaney’s Testament of Cresseid, Enitharmon Editions, 2004, used with kind permission of the publisher and artist

Heaney’s Beowulf had only recently been published when we met that second time. Famously, the British Library holds the original Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, and in fact, now, the manuscript of Heaney’s translation, too. Manuscripts were the link for the Henryson poem, too: Heaney had seen a Henryson manuscript at the Library and this had inspired him, after long admiring the poet, to render Henryson from Middle Scots into modern English.

Heaney’s Testament would later appear in a beautiful artist’s book with images by Hughie O’Donoghue, published by Enitharmon (British Library shelfmark: LD.31.b.557), as well as in a more commercial publication five years later.

Cresseid 2

 “Cresseid” © Hughie O’Donoghue, painting reproduced as a tipped-in plate, from Seamus Heaney’s Testament of Cresseid, Enitharmon Editions, 2004, used with kind permission of the publisher and artist

As we talked, Heaney emphasised how the Makar’s distinctly moral vision appealed to him: there is a teacher-like morality in Henryson he especially admired. As he talked I thought I detected, what, a hesitation? Knowing me as a Scottish poet, was he testing me, about Scottish reaction to ‘versioning’ this apparently sacrosanct text?

No, the moment passed, and I am still not sure if anything happened at all. In retrospect, I doubt he was worried. Henryson, Beowulf, Virgil, are each surely a gift to the world, in the original or in its re-transmission, and there would surely have been little reason for qualm.

Where is your garden

“Where is your garden?”, © Hughie O’Donoghue, painting reproduced as a tipped-in plate, from Seamus Heaney’s Testament of Cresseid, Enitharmon Editions, 2004, used with kind permission of the publisher and artist

Seamus Heaney highlights in the British Library include

  • Gorgon, Hilary Term 1961. Queen’s University literary magazine for which Heaney was an assistant editor.
  • Eleven poems (Belfast: Festival Publications, [1965]), X.909/37714. Heaney’s first collection, followed in 1966 by Death of a Naturalist (Faber).
  • Many sound recordings from 1966 onwards, including some made by our own curators.
  • Beowulf, typewritten drafts of Heaney’s translation with MS annotations; 1995. Add MS 78917
  • 'Forecast', a typewritten poem (inspired by the Shipping Forecast) with autograph annotations, extensively re-worked and edited. Presented by the author; 3 April 1998, Add MS 74089
  • Correspondence between Ted Hughes and Heaney, 1991-1998 (Add MS 88918/35/12)
  • Testament of Cresseid, with images by Hughie O’Donoghue, Enitharmon Editions, 2004, LD.31.b.557.

29 February 2016

Bringing a Liverpool Heart to Moliére

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by Deborah Dawkin, currently working on a collaborative AHRC PHD project with UCL and the British Library focussing on the archive of Ibsen translator Michael Meyer.

Last week the British Library had the pleasure of hosting the 2016 Sebald Lecture, given this year by Roger McGough. His subject was the translating and adaptation of Molière’s plays, including Tartuffe (2008), The Hypochondriac (2009) and The Misathrope (2013) for the English Touring Theatre. Unsurprisingly perhaps, given McGough’s renowned skills in performance and public speaking this was anything but a dry lecture: we were treated to a vibrant and entertaining as well as thought provoking insight into the process of translating seventeenth century French comedy for the contemporary British theatre – one which highlighted the difference between the requirements of theatre translation and literary translation – the difference of creating a text which “preserves history” and one that breathes new life into a play while at the same time respecting the original writer’s message and intentions.

  Seabald

Roger McGough (right) who gave this year's Sebald Lecture together with Duncan Large, Academic Director of the BCLT who chaired the event.

The Sebald lecture is an important date on the British Library calendar for all those interested in international literature and translation. Sponsored by the British Centre for Literary Translation. The Sebald Lecture is given annually on an aspect of literature in translation. The event is named after the acclaimed German writer WG Sebald (1944-2001), whose novels and essays include The Emigrants, The Rings of SaturnAusterlitz and On the Natural History of Destruction. Despite writing almost exclusively in German he lived in the UK, lecturing in German at University of East Anglia where he founded the British Centre for Literary Translation in 1989.

In true story teller’s style McGough began at the beginning, and took us back in time to his first lessons in French at the Irish Catholic Brothers school for boys in Liverpool, where the tyrannical Brother O'Shea used the fear of the strap (specially sewn and crafted by the local nuns) to get his students to learn their verbs and vocabulary. Despite this unpromising start McGough went on to study French as well as Geography at the University of Hull. If the audience were expecting then to hear how McGough had developed an undying passion for French literature and language, they were disappointed. Instead we were regaled with a story in which McGough’s accent was so bad (having missed the French Exchange programme due to a family bereavement) that he was discretely removed from the aural exam. Slightly disingenuously - as he worked as a French teacher in the sixties - McGough left us with the impression that his French language skills were sketchy at best. But perhaps McGough wanted emphasise the point that these are not literal or academic translations, but adaptations designed to bring the spirit of Moliére to a contemporary audience: Molière with a "Liverpool heartbeat".

McGough was first approached in 2008 by Gemma Bodinetz to create a translation/adaptation of Tartuffe for her production with the English Touring Theatre. He was initially uncertain about undertaking the task, but promised to give it some thought. Taking several translations of Tartuffe with him on a Saga cruise (as an entertainer he hastened to tell us, not a guest) he read them on the journey to the Bay of Biscay. This allowed McGough to enter the play without the struggle of reading complex 17th century French verse, and to allow the characters and plot to inhabit him; to set his imagination free. By the time he had returned to the shores of the UK, McGough had started to write his version. Now McGough, concerned that he should be true to Molière’s intentions, turned to Molière’s original text, to check his own version against it, thus taking the script to a new level.

Anyone who has read McGough’s translations of Moliere, or had the pleasure of attending a performance, will be struck by their dexterity and their sharp, playful wit, and their cleverness in offering us a contemporary text, with contemporary references, yet never quite losing the link back to 17th century France.

This event was supported by Arts Council England and Writers’ Centre Norwich.

Past Sebald Lectures can be heard in full on the British Centre for Literary Translation website.

09 February 2016

Seven things that you might not know about Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

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With the Library’s Alice in Wonderland exhibition now almost half way through its run I have been thinking about some of the surprising things that I have learnt about Carroll's famous story whilst working on the exhibition. I shared seven facts about Alice as part of one of the breakout sessions at the Alice themed Festival of the Spoken Nerd event that was held at the Library on 1st February and I thought that I would share them here too.

1. It took Lewis Carroll over two years to create the manuscript, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, after he first told the story to Alice Liddell and her sisters on the 4th July 1862. Carroll recorded in his diary that he had finished the text of the manuscript (which is written in a very neat hand in sepia ink) by February 1863. However Carroll was not a professional artist and it took him more than a year to finish the illustrations.

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2. Carroll added two new chapters, ‘Pig and Pepper’ and ‘A Mad Tea-Party’ when he reworked the story for publication. These chapters include some of the most famous characters – the Duchess, the Cheshire Cat, the Hatter and the March Hare. It is hard to imagine Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland without some of its most famous and eccentric characters!

3. The model for publication was rather different in the Victorian period. Although Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was published by Macmillan Lewis Carroll bore most of the financial liability for the publication of the book himself. This meant that decisions about all aspects of publication from selecting the illustrator and engraver to the size and colour of the volume were made by Carroll. This may help explain part of why Carroll was so determined that the book should be a success.

4. John Tenniel who illustrated both of the Alice books was blinded in the right eye in a fencing accident aged only 20. Tenniel sustained the injury in a fencing match against his father though he managed to conceal his disability from his father for the rest of his life in order to spare him any guilt. This isn't strictly a fact about the book but I found it so incredible that Tenniel was able to become such a successful artist with such a disability.

5. The first colour illustrations of Alice which are featured in The Nursery Alice (1890) show Alice wearing a yellow dress rather than the blue and white outfit which we often tend to associate with her.

6. The success of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland can be seen in the range of 19th century merchandise and Alice themed music and theatre which were created. This included Charles Marriott’s Wonderland Quadrilles and the Wonderland Postage Stamp Case which Carroll personally helped to create.

 

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7. Copyright for Carroll and Tenniel’s edition of the book expired in 1907. This meant that any artist who wished to publish their own version of the story could do so. The market was flooded with new editions with twenty being produced between 1907 and 1920 alone. 

If you haven’t already seen the exhibition please do visit before it closes on the 17th April. In addition to the free exhibition the Library is also running an interesting series of events based around the exhibition. These include two Ekphrasis poetry evenings inspired by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland on the 4th and 5th March and an Alice in Wonderland Discovery day for all the family on Saturday 20th February.

Finally the Library is running two adult learning courses with Alice themes, Illustrating Alice and Alice and the World of Children's literature which will begin in February and March. Please see the Library’s website for more details.

25 September 2015

Celebrating Translation at the British Library

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On Friday 2nd October, the British Library will open its doors once more to the translation community to celebrate International Translation Day. Translators, authors, students, publishers, booksellers, librarians, bloggers and reviewers, all with an interest in translation, will gather to debate significant issues and developments within the sector, as well as to celebrate its successes. This annual event, presented by Free Word, English PEN and the British Library in association with the British Centre for Literary Translation, Literature Across Frontiers, the Translators' Association, Wales Literature Exchange and Words With-out Borders has become one of the highlights of the British Library’s calendar. 

Translated literature may only represent between three and four per cent of books published each year in the UK, but most literature lovers will find that their bookshelves (real or virtual) hold a far greater proportion of translated works than such a statistic implies. The personal library of any serious book-worm is very likely to include international classics such as Homer, Tolstoy, Proust, Ibsen, Nietzsche and de Beauvoir, as well as examples of more contemporary authors such as Saramago, Kundera, Knausgård and Murakami…and perhaps some Scandinavian crime, for lighter, though somewhat dark, reading. Without this international literature our world would certainly be a great deal narrower, and our literature a great deal poorer.

 

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It is easy to forget when discussing the latest work by Murakami that the words on the page are in fact those of his translator/s and as such represent an act of interpretation. We have no way of knowing the challenges that the original text has presented the translator with, or how much is lost (or perhaps even gained) in translation. Even more hidden from our eye is the collaborative pro-cess that goes into the making of a translated text: the discussions that took place between the translator and the editor, or original author, over issues of style or ‘meaning’. Neither can we guess at the various levels of negotiation that bring a work of foreign literature to our shelves:  the impassioned letters from a translator to a publishing house persuading them to publish the latest literary gem they have discovered; the fierce negotiations over foreign rights at the international Book Fairs; the wrangling over author’s and translator’s fees; the concerns of publishing houses about the marketability of a work. In a sense, then, it is not just the translator and his/her process which remain largely invisible to the public, but all the other professionals who collaborate to bring translated fiction to our shelves.

It is this ‘hidden life’ of a translation – the whys and wherefores of translators’ choices and the complex process of translated literature reaching our shelves – which is often revealed in the archives of translators. Within its contemporary literary manuscripts collections, the British Library holds the extensive archives of poet Michael Hamburger (1924-2007) and playwright Michael Meyer (1921-2000). Both authors in their own right, Hamburger and Meyer are best known for their translations. Hamburger was responsible for bringing some of the most important German language writers, particularly poets, to our shelves, including Paul Celan, Gottfried Benn, Friederich Hölderlin and W. G. Sebald. Meyer translated the works of the great Scandinavian dramatists, Ibsen and Strindberg, for the British theatre, radio and television of the 1950s and 1960s, bring-ing a freshness to the texts which helped to ensure their status in the twentieth century’s dramatic repertoire. These two archives, containing draft manuscripts of their translations alongside correspondence with editors, literary agents, publishers and other prominent literary figures shed light on the ‘hidden life’ of a translation.

Other equally interesting translation-related material is to be found in the recently acquired archives of contemporary poets Ted Hughes and Peter Dale, both prolific translators. Hughes believed passionately in the importance of translation, and the archive includes letters and papers relating to the journal Modern Poetry in Translation which he and the publisher Daniel Weissbort founded in 1965 with the express aim of bringing contemporary foreign poetry to the Anglophone reader. Hughes’s own translation work included the poetry of Ovid, and plays by Euripides, Racine and Wedekind. The archive includes correspondence about his translations of Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding as well as drafts of his translation of Aeschylus’s Oresteia. Peter Dale’s translations from the French include the poetry of François Villon and Paul Valéry and Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The Library’s archives collections do not only represent translations into English. A collection of correspondence between Harold Pinter and his Japanese translator Tetsuo Kishi not only throws light on the relationship between author and translator but also on the cultural transformation that Pinter’s plays undergo in translation, giving us pause for thought about the Pinter we know and love, and what it is it about his work that transferred so effectively to Japanese theatre.

Older translation-related treasures are to be found in the British Library vaults too. The archive of the nineteenth century drama critic, translator and author William Archer, who brought many of Ibsen’s plays to the British theatre for the first time in the late 1800s, includes papers related to performances of the time, and discussions with George Bernard Shaw about Ibsen’s work. The literary manuscripts of William Morris contain drafts of his translations of the Icelandic Edda and Beowolf, along with correspondence and notes. The archive of William Henry Fox Talbot, known chiefly as a pioneer in photography, but also an Assyriologist and one of the first decipherers of the inscriptions of Nineveh, includes a collection of notebooks with his draft translations.

And from even further back in time there are many Early Modern British and European manuscripts of translated works; not just into English but from English into Latin, Greek, Italian, Dutch, Swedish and Arabic (to name but a few). Some even earlier examples of translation are to found in our Arabic and Islamic Heritage collections - among them a thirteenth century manuscript of Ptolemaeus’ Almagest, an influential astronomical text thought to have been translated from the Greek into Arabic by al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf ibn Matar in about 900 AD. The manuscript was owned by the mathematician Tusi, and is annotated with his comments and improvements on Ptolemaeus’ system, as well as remarks where he finds fault with the translation (visit the Qatar Digital Library at http://www.qdl.qa/en  to find out more). Such documents offer important historical clues into the impact of translation in the history of the international ex-change of ideas on philosophy, medicine, surgery, theology, as well as politics, trade and diplomacy, from as early as the thirteenth century.

The fact that translation and international literature is an intrinsic part of our national heritage, both past and present, is not only represented throughout the British Library’s collection, but is celebrated in our calendar of events through-out the year. This June, for example, UCL held the ARTIS 2015 Conference: Multidimensional Methodologies: collaboration and networking in translation re-search. The conference included a panel discussion about the relationship be-tween Archives, Museums and the study of Literary Translation, followed by a “show and tell” session led by curators at the Library to showcase some of our collections.

For the general public with an interest in international and translated literature, there are a variety of events to be found on the British Library’s calendar, not only including the forthcoming International Translation Day, but The PEN Pinter Prize held this year on October 6th, European Literature Night held each spring, and a plethora of events throughout the year which offer audiences an opportunity to hear international and British authors from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, as well as translators, discuss their work.

Deborah Dawkin is currently working on a collaborative AHRC PhD project with UCL and the British Library focussing on the archive of Ibsen translator Michael Meyer.