THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

10 posts from April 2017

28 April 2017

Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths opens today, marking the 100th anniversary of the Revolution, an event that changed history and profoundly influenced the course of the 20th century. The exhibition follows Russian history from the reign of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, to the death of Lenin in 1924, telling the story not only from the perspective of key players and ‘great men’ but from that of the ordinary people who lived through these extraordinary times.

On entering the gallery, visitors will see two vast maps of ‘European’ and ‘Asian’ Russia before the First World War, giving an idea of the sheer scale of the Russian Empire. Alongside them is our rare first edition of the Communist Manifesto, the slim 24-page pamphlet whose influence would help to overturn that huge empire.

Intro pic
The introduction to the exhibition (picture by Sam Lane Photography)

The first main section of the exhibition explores the last years of Tsarist Russia in more detail, looking at the vast social and ethnic diversity of the Empire, at the growing political opposition to the monarchy and at the revolutionary events of 1905 which led to the establishment of Russia’s first parliament (Duma). Star exhibits here include the lavish album published to commemorate Nicholas II’s coronation and Lenin’s letter applying for a reader’s ticket for the British Museum Library.


Coronation-7-X2
An opening from the Coronation Album, Les Solennités du saint couronnement (St Petersburg, 1899) L.R.25.c.20 (picture by Sam Lane Photography)

The second section takes us from the outbreak of the First World War to the Revolutions of February and October 1917, the latter of which saw Lenin’s Bolshevik faction seize power. Among the documents on display are a copy of the Tsar’s abdication declaration, and ‘Order no.1’ issued by the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies on 1(14) March 1917, which overturned traditional military discipline and had a powerful effect far beyond the Petrograd garrison to which it referred. And one exhibit has a hidden personal story: a display of banknotes issued by the Provisional Government come from the family of the exhibition’s lead curator.

Order no. 1
‘Order no.1’ ([Petrograd, 1917]) HS.74/1870

In the third section we look at the Civil War which engulfed Russia in the aftermath of the October Revolution. In order to try and explain some of the complexity of this period – more correctly referred to as Civil Wars in the plural rather than a single two-sided conflict – a large animated map shows how the different factions gained and lost control. The formation of the Red Army is examined, with hand-written memoranda by Trotsky among the items displayed, but also in this section are some examples from the British Library’s collection of rare propaganda from the White (anti-Bolshevik) movement, ranging from seemingly uninspiring pamphlets on cheap paper to striking posters.

Cavalry
A White Army recruitment poster for Caucasian Muslim cavalrymen (1919). 1856.g.8.(30)

As the Civil Wars raged, the Bolshevik party were trying to consolidate and maintain their grip on power, and this is the theme of the fourth section. The devastating famine that spread through Russia and the Bolsheviks’ war on religion are also examined here, and of course we look at the fate of the Tsar and his family. Yet alongside these tragic events there was an outpouring of optimism among some that a better world was being born. We show some striking art and propaganda produced not only by avant-garde artists such as Mayakovsky but also by a group of women factory workers from Yalta, who produced their own ‘wall newspaper’, with essays, poems and pictures celebrating their work and their new-won literacy. This section also looks at the cult of Lenin that developed in Soviet Russia and at the experience of flight and exile for opponents of the new state.

Make%20Your%20Own%20Propaganda-1-X2
‘The Yalta Female Delegate’, Wall Newspaper (1927) Add.MS.57556 (picture by Sam Lane Photography)

The last section looks at international dimensions of the Revolution, first from the perspective of foreigners living in Russia during the period: journalists reporting on the situation, soldiers involved in allied anti-Bolshevik intervention during the civil war, and spies reporting on Russia’s new rulers. Then we turn to the influence of the Revolution outside Russia. The Bolsheviks hoped that revolution would spread from Russia, ‘setting the world on fire’, and indeed revolutions did break out in many European states, notably Germany and Hungary, but there were short lived ‘soviets’ in many other places, and communists around the world advocated the Soviet cause and formed links with Russian institutions. A banner presented to the Young Communist League of Shipley by Russian textile workers, and on loan to the exhibition from the People’s History Museum, illustrates such connections. Finally we look at the struggles for independence in states of the former Russian Empire and the formation of the Soviet Union in the early 1920s.

Moor Flame
A worker setting the world on fire with revolution, image from Dmitrii Moor, Azbuka krasnoarmeitsa ([Moscow, 1921]) Cup.401.g.25.

Finally, an epilogue looks at how the Revolution was depicted on film and in literature in the 20th century, featuring clips from famous and less well-known Soviet films, and the work of four Russian Nobel literature laureates.

The exhibition runs until 29 August, and we hope it will inform, inspire and intrigue visitors, taking them on a journey through a world-changing period of history and raising questions about how it should be understood today,and what contemporary resonances might be found in the events of 100 years ago. There is also a season of events with something for everyone from a late-night ‘Storming of the British Library’ to readings and lectures. Full details can be found on our website.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies, and Co-Curator of Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths

Red Army poster c British Library
Detail from Dmitrii Moor, ‘Have You Volunteered?’, Red Army recruitment poster (1920). HS.74/2009(10)

27 April 2017

Bianca Bellová wins the EU Prize for Literature

On 21 April it was announced that this year’s European Union Prize for Literature had been awarded to a Czech writer with Bulgarian roots, Bianca Bellová, for her novel Jezero (‘The Lake’). She will receive the prize of 5000 euros at a ceremony in Brussels on May 23. The novel also won the Czech Magnesia Litera Award  for the book of the year recently.

Jezero

 Cover of Bianca Bellová, Jezero (Brno, 2016) BL copy awaiting shelfmark.

The European Union Prize, established in 2009, is awarded annually to writers from the EU member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and the EU candidate countries to enable them to have their books published abroad and address a wider public. It also aims to promote better understanding among nations, and over 60 of the winning books have been translated into three to four languages on average. The jury usually selects writers from 12 countries as the EU award laureates. In recent years the prize has twice been conferred on Czech authors: Jan Němec received it for his novel about the avant-garde photographer František Drtikol, Dějiny svetla (‘The History of Light’: Brno, 2013; YF.2014.a.9528), in 2014, and Tomáš Zmeskal for his debut novel Milostný dopis klinovým písmem (‘Love Letter in Cuneiform Script’) in 2011.

Bellová was born in 1970 in Prague, where she studied economics, going on to write for newspapers and periodicals and work for multinational companies before embarking on a career as a translator and interpreter from English. She made her literary debut with Sentimentální román (‘Sentimental Novel’; 2009), followed by the novellas Mrtvý muž (‘The Dead Man’; 2011) and Celý den se nic nestane (‘Nothing Happens All Day Long’; 2013). The first of these is the story of a traumatized family during the 1970s and 80s – the grandfather had been a victim of the regime (the book opens with the sentence ‘They hanged Grandad in September 1950’), the grandmother fights against it, the mother is on the verge of a complete breakdown, and the father experiences his own ‘coming out’ during the Velvet Revolution, while the children – the protagonist Hana and her twin brother David – play at being the Mašín brothers who fought the Communists in the 1950s and the ‘communist bastards’. In the second, set in a hotel which is preparing for a wake, an employee, Marta, is trying to communicate with her 16-year-old daughter Lola, while both of them miss Esterházy, a man who has abandoned them both.

Bellová also wrote a number of short stories. One of these, Přijela tetička Lidka (‘Along came Auntie Lidka’), appears in a collection held by the British Library, Možná si porozumíme (‘We may come to understand each other’), together with stories by other well-known contemporary Czech authors including Petra Soukupová and Michal Viewegh.

Czech short stories

 The short story collection Možná si porozumíme (Jihlava, 2015) YF.2016.a.16116

Jezero is the story of a boy, Nami, trying to find his mother in a distant region reminiscent of the shores of the Aral Sea. We follow him as he lives rough in search of work, standing hopefully in line day after day until he finally gets a backbreaking job as a stevedore at the port and then as an asphalt-layer in a sulphur factory. By night he sleeps in a squalid dormitory where his meagre savings are stolen and he is plagued by bedbugs; we witness the creeping brutalization of his fellow-workers whose sole pleasures are smoking and a weekly trip to the brothel, and the gradual breakdown of their health and hygiene as, covered in sulphur-dust, they stagger back at night too exhausted to wash or clean their teeth before collapsing into bed. This in turn mirrors the degradation of their environment - a fishing village at the end of the world on a lake that is drying up and, ominously, pushing out its banks.

Yet Nami cherishes memories of Zaza, his first love, whom he lost to Russian soldiers, and dreams of being reunited with his mother although he cannot remember her face or even her name. His quest for her takes him on a pilgrimage across the lake and around its shores; despite the highly topical themes of pollution and the slow poisoning of the atmosphere and the landscape, human relationships and individual souls, the eternal figure of the young hero, a Parsifal for our times, testifies to the endurance of hope in the midst of intolerable bleakness.

Susan Halstead Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences) Research Services

 

25 April 2017

French Medieval Tales in the 19th Century

A two-volume copy of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, a collection of tales delivered by different historical characters, has recently been acquired for the British Library French collections. 

Robida Fig 1
Cover of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles illustrated by Albert Robida, (Paris, 1888) RB.23.a.37261

This collection of 100 entertaining and often licentious short stories was written at the court of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, who was presented with a now-lost manuscript copy of the text in the 1460s. The main surviving manuscript copy of the work is in Glasgow University Library, (Hunter, 252 (U. 4. 10)), also produced in the 1460s at the court of Burgundy. The collection is anonymous, though it was (wrongly) attributed to Antoine de la Salle, author of the late medieval chivalric novel Jean de Saintré, by Antoine Vérard, who published the first (illustrated) edition of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles in 1486. The text was reprinted by Vérard in 1498-99, and led to new editions throughout the 16th century.

Robida Fig 2
Antoine Vérard’s 1499 Paris edition of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, IB.41194

In the first half of the 20th century, the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles have been attributed by their editor Pierre Champion to ‘Mgr de la Roche’, Philippe Pot, Chamberlain to the Duke of Burgundy, who is responsible for the highest number of short stories in the compilation (15 in total). The text, which bears the influence of the medieval genre of the fabliau, is modelled on Boccaccio’s highly influential Decameron, which was disseminated in French through its translation by Laurent de Premierfait in the 1410s, published by Vérard in 1485, and reprinted c. 1499-1503.

The newly acquired copy of Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles is a merger of two items: 50 leaves of colour illustrations by Léon Lebègue, dating from 1900, have been inserted into the 1888 first edition of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles originally illustrated with over 300 black and white engravings by Albert Robida.

Robida Fig 3
Illustrations in Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, by. A. Robida (left) and L. Lebègue (right)

Robida was a well-known caricaturist. He wrote and illustrated a science fiction trilogy imagining life in the 20th century, featuring modern warfare and scientific inventions (Le Vingtième Siècle, La Guerre au vingtième siècle, Le Vingtième Siècle: La vie électrique, 1883-1890).

Robida Fig 4
Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles
, ill. A. Robida, 1888

Robida had a particular interest in the Middle Ages and contributed to several works relating to the period. He engaged in illustrated youth fiction, authoring Le roi des jongleurs (1896) and Les Assiégés de Compiègne, 1430 set around the story of Joan of Arc, and illustrating Georges Trémisot’s Le bon roi Dagobert  (1918).  He also illustrated the collection Contes et Fabliaux du Moyen Age (1908), as well as the works of the 15th century poet François Villon (1897;  12237.k.5.). In Les escholiers du temps jadis (1907), Robida tells the story of students in Parisian and provincial universities from the Middle Ages to his own time.

Robida Fig 5
Cover of A. Robida, Les Assiégés de Compiègne, 1430 (Paris, 1906) 12518.p.1.

Robida illustrated the very successful play by Frédéric Gaillardet and Alexandre Dumas, La Tour de Nesle, first performed in 1832, which tells the scandalous story of the daughters-in-law of Philip IV of France (the plot reappears in Maurice Druon’s 1955 bestseller Les Rois Maudits, 011306.gg.15.). The British Library holds a copy of the play, printed for the Société des Amis des Livres, donated and signed by its president, Henri Beraldi.

Robida Fig 6
F. Gaillardet / A. Dumas, La Tour de Nesle (Paris, 1901) 11739.g.106.

Robida also produced several series of books encompassing the history and architecture of old European cities (Les Vieilles Villes 1878-1880, 10129.ee.1.) and regions of France (La Vieille France) as well as of Paris, about which he was particularly prolific. He was the instigator of the monumental and hugely successful ‘Vieux Paris’ reconstituted historical quarter at the International Exhibition of 1900.

Robida fig 7
Cover of A. Robida, La Vieille France: La Bretagne (Paris, 1890-1893) 2362.dd.1.

Our copy of the Lebègue plates for the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, issued by Charles Carrington, is number 104 of an edition of 120 copies. A folded advertisement for this edition is bound at the end of the second volume, along with its preface by Jules de Marthold.

Robida Fig 8
Advertisement for Lebègue’s 50 illustrations of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles

The pages of the Lebègue volume fit within four red lines which delimitate a central space, a feature which is strongly reminiscent of the rulings on the folios of medieval manuscripts.

Robida Fig 9
Cover of Lebègue’s illustrations of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles

This concerted medievalism, which agrees with the content and setting of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles is immediately apparent on the book cover, with a Gothicising script printed in red ink, framed by two tournament spears and a scroll at the bottom. At the centre of the page are depicted a lady with a distinctive headdress and a knight in armour jointly reading a book in between two rose windows. On top of the illustration, the title is printed in a vegetal frame and ornamented by two lilies, and under the image feature the names of the artist, the writer of the preface and the printer, as well as the date of publication. Despite the anonymity of the author of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, the front cover designed by Lebègue contains a wealth of information, which contrasts with the paucity of bibliographic information provided in medieval manuscripts.

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator Romance Collections.

References:

Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, ed. Pierre Champion (Paris, 1928) W.P.8406/5.

Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, ed. Franklin P. Sweetser (Geneva, 1966) W.P.2063/127.

Philippe Brun, Albert Robida, 1848-1926: sa vie, son œuvre: suivi d'une bibliographie complète de ses écrits et dessins (Paris, 1984) YV.1986.a.430.

Daniel Compère (dir.), Albert Robida du passé au futur : un auteur-illustrateur sous la IIIe République (Amiens, 2006) Awaiting shelfmark.

Albert Robida et son blog… http://albert-robida.blogspot.co.uk

22 April 2017

Lenin's Birthday

One of my very first childhood memories was a happy day, 22 April 1970, when the entire Soviet Union was celebrating the centenary of Lenin’s birth. I still remember an overwhelming sensation of pride, an excitement that spring brings with its smells after long winter, and envy toward the Young Pioneers who were assembled to march along the main street of Moscow to Red Square. I was watching them from the fourth floor flat in this main street wishing to grow up as quickly as possible to become a Little Octobrist and then a Young Pioneer and a member of Komsomol .

   11953569_original
Badges of the Soviet youth groups, l.-r., Little Octobrists (7-9 years), Young Pioneers (10-15) and Komsomol (14-28)

My childhood wish was very easily satisfied as membership of these organisations was technically compulsory. As I grew older Lenin on my badge was also becoming older and bolder. The image of the ‘most human of all humans’ was ubiquitous and based on legendary accounts and fake memoirs. Some historians believe that the attempt on Lenin’s life on 30 August 1918, which triggered the Red Terror, also laid the foundations of a cult of Lenin, as his recovery from the serious wounds was miraculously quick.

45-Lenin-calendar-Cup.645.a.6
Soviet Wall Calendar, 1920s. Cup.645.a.6.(65).

The design of this wall calendar imitates popular traditional motives and the composition of the Resurrection from Christian icons. However, Christ has been replaced with Lenin and the traditional warrior figure on the left bears the hammer and sickle on his breastplate. Lenin himself was not keen on being the object of worship, but even in his own lifetime he could not prevent it, and by the time of his death he was fully sacralised.

Natan Altman, a star of the Russian avant-garde, was interested in immortalising Lenin in the visual arts. His series of drawings of Lenin in his office in the Kremlin was published straight after Altman had finished it. The artist spent six weeks with Lenin in July 1920 and recalled that they spoke a lot about art and revolution. Based on these sketches, he created Lenin’s bust in bronze. It was the first portrait of Lenin to be shown abroad – at the Paris exhibition in 1925, where Altman received a gold medal for his work.

45b-Lenin-Altman-C.135.g.32 (1)-NOT ON THE LIST

45b-Lenin-Altman-C.135.g.32 (2)
Sketches from Natan Altman, Lenin: Risunki Al’tmana (St Petersburg, 1921) C.135.g.22.

In 1920 Lenin was very busy also sitting for the English sculptress, journalist and writer Clare Sheridan, who at that time was having an affair with the prominent revolutionary and Lenin’s Deputy Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars (government) Lev Kamenev. She stayed in the Kremlin for two months, where she made busts of the prominent leaders of the Russian Revolution. She spoke candidly with the Bolsheviks as she worked, discussing with Lenin his dislike of her cousin Winston Churchill. She later wrote a book Russian portraits, where she described her Russian experience.

Sheridan1
Portrait of Clare Sheridan wearing a Russian-style fur hat from her book Russian Portraits (London, 1921) 9456.d.22.

Book tributes to Lenin started appearing before his death. Such was, for a example, a chronicle of his life published for his 50th birthday.

Lenin's 50th 1765.f.2
Ko dniu piatidesiatiletiia so dnia rozhdeniia Vladimira Il’icha Ul’ianova (Lenina) 
(Moscow, 1920) 1765.f.2

One of the key figures of Russian literary Futurism, Aleksei Kruchenykh, wrote a book where he examined Lenin’s speeches and his style. He endeavoured to study them from a linguistic point of view as an example of propaganda art. Kruchenykh’s artistic study was inspired by academic works coming from the circle of literary critics and scholars called ‘formalists’, who were more interested in analysing the structures of literary texts, rather than in their historical, social and other contexts. Although the book could be seen as part of the trend of the rising cult of Lenin, the foundations principles of formalism were severally criticised under Stalin, and the book was forgotten.

45a-IAzyk Lenina-C.136.b.30-NOT ON THE LIS
Aleksei Kruchenykh, Iazyk Lenina: 11 priemov leninskoi rechi (Moscow, 1925) C.136.b.30.

One of the ‘devices’ of Lenin’s rhetorical style was what Kruchenykh called ‘resoluteness’. He insisted that Lenin was primarily the ‘person of deeds’, and not a ‘person of words’: ‘He doesn’t leave space for hesitation, as many authors or speakers do, when they speak as if asking for an advice from the audience. He sets himself a task not to convince the audience, but to put the audience face to face with the necessity to agree with the [inevitable] facts’.

This ‘resoluteness’ was probably a feature of Lenin’s character rather than only a rhetorical device. The country built by the man who did not know hesitation and probably was incapable of simple empathy collapsed having murdered millions of its citizens. Little did I know on this happy day 22 April 1970 how wrong were my feelings. Unfortunately, the birth of the third child in the family of a civil servant Ilia Nikolaevich Ul’ianov was not such a happy day for the course of the Russian and world history.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths opens on 28 April 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the fall of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website

19 April 2017

Four legs good? A Bohemian Wild Man

The Gazeta de Lisboa reported on 29 August 1825 that a wild man had been found in the Hartzwald in Bohemia. About 30 years old, he howled like a dog, walked on all fours, climbed trees as nimbly as a monkey, and caught birds with ease. Taken to Prague, he resisted all attempts to civilize him.

This news inspired the anonymous author (or, rather, translator, as most of his information comes from the New Dictionary of Natural History printed in Paris in 1803 – that is, Nouveau dictionnaire d'histoire naturelle, appliquée aux arts, principalement à l'agriculture et à l'économie rurale et domestique; BL 723.i.1-23.) to put together in 14 pages a small anthology of wild men.

Wildman tp
Noticia de hum homem selvagem, apparecido ultimamente; com a curiosa relação de outros muitos, que em varios tempos tem apparecido na Europa (Porto, 1825) RB.23.a.24200.

In 1544 a young man in Hesse had been brought up most carefully by a family of wolves, who had dug a hole in which to hide him. So used was he to walking on all fours that it was necessary to tie splints to him to make him stand upright. Having learned to speak, he told the Landgrave he would sooner live among wolves than men. His natural language consisted of “most expressive gesticulations” and “sharp cries issued from his throat”.

Wildman Lutterell Psalter  Add MS 42130
A mediaeval image of a wild man, walking on all fours, from The Lutterell Psalter, Add MS 42130

There is a remarkable consistency among these wild men: a boy of about nine found among bears in Lithuania also communicated in rough grunts and refused all attempts at education. Another Lithuanian wild boy had forgotten all about his animal life by the time he learned human language.

Tulpius, the Dutch doctor (was he the Dr Tulp of Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson?) describes a boy brought up by sheep in Ireland. He lived on straw and leaves, which he could sniff out without mistake.

Tulpius Observationes
Engraved title-page of Nicolaus Tulpius, Observationes Medicae (Amsterdam, 1672) 1607/108

Another recognized his foster mother at a distance, by smell alone, like a dog. Some were still wearing residual clothing, like the boy found in Breslau. Had he run away from a cruel mother or nanny? Initially fierce, he allowed himself to be partly domesticated, but all his life evinced an antipathy to women: their proximity made him shiver and tremble.

Come of these cases are described as unusually hirsute, but in general are said to be well formed. In all cases the senses were developed beyond those of a civilized person. The treatments of these cases are neither voyeuristic, sensationalist or sentimental. Although the idea of the Noble Savage had been current for over a century, these savages are neither better or worse than the people who write about them.

Wildman Peter
‘Peter the Wild Boy’, a famous 18th-century feral child, found near Hamelin in Germany in 1725, from The Manifesto of Lord Peter (London, 1726) 12316.tt.24.

Even though these men and boys in many cases came to speak normally, none of them was reconciled to the civilized life, and sadly all yearned to return to the animal families who had nurtured them.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

16 April 2017

Happy Easter from Imperial Russia

Among various collections of visual material at the British Library we have a collection of postcards (HS.74/2027) published by the pioneer of postcard production in Russia, the Society of Saint Eugenia. The Society started as a charity organisation to support  nurses who had served in the Russian army during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, but after the war had no means of livelihood. Supported by artists and elites the society was patronised by Princess Eugenia of Leuchtenberg (1845-1925), a cousin of Tsar Alexander III, father of Nicholas II.

The Society supported hospitals, subsidised nursing homes and organised learning courses for young nurses to prepare them for work at the front in the war-time. To fund its activities, the Society started a publishing business, producing popular and commercially viable picture postcards with landscapes, photographs, art works reproduced on cards and made especially for the postcard format. Artists close to the World of Art group as well as other famous and popular painters and illustrators, such as Dmitrii Mitrokhin, Nikolai Samokish, Stepan Iaremich and many others took active part in the work of the society and contributed their art works to the print production of the Society.

The first printing endeavour of the Society was a decorative envelope for Easter 1896. Under a different name the Society continued its work after the Russian Revolution in 1917 and in 30 years of its existence produced around 6,500 postcards, with an average print-run of 10,000 each.

Vol 8  sleeve 10

Vol 14  sleeve 22

The use of postcards for holiday greetings definitely commercialised even religious holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. But we think that you might like to get our sincere Easter greetings with these old Russian postcards.

Happy Easter!

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths opens on 28 April 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the fall of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state.

14 April 2017

La Majstro mortis!

L. L.Zamenhof, creator of Esperanto, died in Warsaw on 14 April 1917. Warsaw was at this time occupied by German troops as the war in Europe still raged and the Russian empire was already engulfed in the flames by the February Revolution.

“Normally the funeral of Ludovic Zamenhof would have been attended by at least representatives of the Esperanto Movement from most European countries; war made this impossible”, notes Marjorie Boulton  in her book Zamenhof, Creator of Esperanto.

ZamenhofBoultonTitle-page and frontispiece of Zamenhof, Creator of Esperanto by Marjorie Boulton (London, 1960). 10667.m.13

Here she describes the funeral procession:

At three o’clock on April 16th the funeral procession set out from 41 Krolewska Street, with those members of the family who were able to come, the Warsaw Esperantists and many of Zamenhof’s poor patients. Foreign Esperantists were represented by Major Neubarth and one other German. As slow procession passed through the Saxon Square and along Wierzbowa Street, Bielanska Street, Nalewki Street, Dzika Street and Gesia Street to Okopowa Street and the Jewish cemetery, the slow black serpent grew longer and longer.

At the funeral Polish poet and Esperantist Leo Belmont spoke warmly about Zamenhof in Polish and the president of the Polish Esperanto Society, poet and translator Antoni Grabowski  paid tribute to the great man in Esperanto.

ZamenhofFunebraProcesio Funeral procession from La Lastaj Tagoj de D-ro L.L. Zamenhof kaj la Funebra Ceremonio. Eldonis Adolfo Oberrotman kaj Teo Jung (Cologne, 1921). YF.2008.a.12302

The news about the death of Zamenhof spread worldwide. In the memorial service in London at Harecourt Church on 6 May 1917, Belgian Esperantist Paul Blaise, married to British Esperantist Margaret Jones and living in England as a refugee, read from the yet unpublished translation of Isaiah by Zamenhof himself.

ZamenhofTheBritishEsperantistNEW The British Esperantist. Issue for May 1917. Announcement of Zamenhof’s death. P.P.4939ka.

The most famous poem about the death of Zamenhof ‘La Majstro mortis’ (The Master is Dead) was written by the Hungarian Esperantist, professional actor and writer Julio Baghy, then a prisoner of war in Siberia.

ZamenhofLaMajstromortisNEW.4322
 La Majstro mortis by Julio Baghy and the first tomb of L.L.Zamenhof in Warsaw (From La Lastaj Tagoj de D-ro L.L. Zamenhof kaj la Funebra Ceremonio).

The extraordinary life of Zamenhof, his language and his ideas attracted and will attract a lot of attention now and in the future. In 2007 the sixth edition of the biography of Zamenhof (first published in 1920) by prominent Swiss Esperantist Edmond Privat was published by the Universal Esperanto Association, based in Rotterdam. On this day, 100 years after the death of Zamenhof, Esperantists from Albania to Zimbabwe and many non-Esperantists remember his life and achievements. Zamenhof’s testament from his poem ‘La Vojo’ (‘The Way’), written in 1896, is still echoing in their memories:

Straight forward, with courage, not veering nor stopping
Pursue we this Way of our own:
Ne’er faileth the water, by dropping and dropping,
To wear through a mountain of stone:
For Hope, and Persistence, and Patience together
Are watchwords in all kinds of weather;
So, step after step – such is ever the story-
We’ll come to the goal of our glory.

L.L. Zamenhof ‘La Vojo’ translated by D.O.S.Lowell, published in Star in a Night Sky. An Anthology of Esperanto Literature (London, 2012). YKL.2014.a.2549

ZamenhofPrivatNEW

Above: New edition of Edmond Privat, Vivo de Zamenhof (Rotterdam, 2007; YF.2013.a.18901), Below: new books about the life of Zamenhof (from France, Poland and Lithuania).

ZamenhofNewbiographis

Olga Kerziouk, Curator, Esperanto studies

 

11 April 2017

Translator in Residence

Today we’re delighted to announce the British Library’s inaugural Translator in Residence initiative, which is being undertaken in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s ‘Translating Cultures’ theme. In this blog, Jen Calleja, our first resident, introduces herself and writes a bit about what she hopes to achieve with the Library over the coming year:

I am overjoyed to be the first ever Translator in Residence at the British Library and it feels like both the culmination of my last seven years engaging with translation (though you could argue that it has actually been about a dozen, or maybe my whole thirty years) and a new phase of amplifying that engagement with renewed commitment and energy.

When I saw the call-out for the residency it was as if it had been written specially for me. I had been thinking more and more about how action was needed on a larger scale against the heavy lean towards monoculturalism and monolingualism in the UK, and then this appeared. This is the right moment to be bringing translators and cultural mediators into the spotlight and I plan to be as ambitious, vocal and visible as possible in the residency’s inaugural year. It feels more vital than ever to be exploring foreign, globalised and multilingual subjectivities – and the perception of them – through the ‘impossible possibility’ of translation and other creative practices, and I consider the creation of this role to be a great step forward for translation and socio-political activism.

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Jen Calleja (photo (c) Robin Silas Christian)

I’ve been a freelance literary translator from German of fiction, non-fiction, books for young people, poetry and essays since 2012 – though I’ve worked full and part-time jobs alongside that for most of the time. I moved to Munich when I was eighteen after my A-levels (something that the younger generation might not have the opportunity to do) and started reading German-language novels while doing my undergraduate degree in Media and Modern Literature at Goldsmiths in London. I went on to study an MA in German Studies, specialising in translation theory and practice, and translated my first book while finishing my Masters. My recent projects include Gregor Hens’ essay-memoir Nicotine (Fitzcarraldo Editions; YK.2017.a.1058), essays on art and culture by filmmaker Wim Wenders collected as Paul Cezanne’s Pixels (Faber & Faber), and I’m currently editing my translation of Kerstin Hensel’s novella Dance by the Canal (Peirene Press).

In 2012 I also founded my Anglo-German arts journal Verfreundungseffekt, which collates art and writing at the intersection of German-language and English-language culture and experience; reportage and personal essays on cross-cultural projects and the Anglo-German self; as well as translations. A couple of years later I became the acting editor of the journal New Books in German, where I spent two years immersed in the German-language and English-language publishing scenes, helping the best German-language books gain a platform in the English-speaking world and becoming familiar with how books make it into translation.

In early 2015, the Austrian Cultural Forum London invited me to become Guest Literary Curator, and inspired by a talk I had attended at International Translation Day at the British Library, I asked the ACF London if I could be ‘upgraded’ to Translator in Residence six months into my two year curatorship. This meant I could translate work by the as-yet-untranslated Austrian authors I invited to participate in events, discuss the craft of translation, and elevate ‘the translator’. The events I curated spanned an exhibition of multimedia translations of a translated short story and a performative reading of a crime novel, to a conversation series between British and Austrian authors and founding and co-judging the ACF London Translation and Writing Prizes.

Around the same time as my curatorship began, I successfully pitched a column on literary translation to online arts journal The Quietus. I had been inspired by translation publications like Asymptote and Words Without Borders, and wanted to do my bit to bring the kind of conversations taking place in the translation scene to a general literary readership. My aim was to focus on a different language and/or translation approach or issue with each column, and it’s still going strong. I wanted to demystify translation, and this has also been my motivation when I’ve given talks and workshops. Translation is a highly nuanced practice, but I’m constantly aware that we cannot only preach to the choir: we must engage with those for whom translation is still an abstract and invisible mystery in innovative, imaginative and generous ways.


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Portrait of Beyibouh-al-Haj by Richard Phoenix, based on photograph by Emma Brown from a column by Jen Calleja on Saharawi poetry in translation

Throughout my residency, I hope to consistently explore translation at the intersection of the theoretical, the educational, and the practical, allowing for perspectives onto what translation has been, is, and could be within society and culture. I already have a long list of ideas and themes – working groups and workshops; a mentorship; archive creation; ‘translating’ the spaces of the British Library; accessibility as translation; translation, power and protest; translation as writing and writing as translation – but I’m sure that once I get up to speed with the Translating Cultures project and the British Library’s own ground-breaking ventures, my ideas will morph.

Translation is – or should be – an exercise and expression of empathy. This will be what I will return to throughout my time at the British Library, but much of what the residency will be is very much still to be discovered. I couldn’t be more excited about the next year of unfolding translation as our way of reading foreign literatures and as creative writing in its own right; as an embedded and largely invisible practice that influences our everyday lives; and as the foundation for communication and our connection with others – not to mention something that brings joy, creates strong bonds between people, and makes the inaccessible accessible.

Jen Calleja is a writer, literary translator and musician based in London and is the inaugural Translator in Residence at the British Library @niewview

Charles Forsdick (AHRC Theme Leadership Fellow, ‘Translating Cultures’) said: “I am delighted that Jen Calleja has been appointed as the inaugural British Library / AHRC ‘translating cultures’ translator-in-residence. The scheme will allow us to develop already fruitful collaborations between the AHRC ‘translating cultures’ theme and the British Library. The AHRC has funded a number of projects that explore the practice of the translator, as well as the growing field of translation and creativity. We hope that Jen will be able to work with some of our award holders to develop further activity in these areas. In recent years, a growing public interest in questions of translation, multilingualism and creativity has become increasingly apparent, and we are keen to demonstrate through the residency the centrality of research and scholarship in these areas.”

Janet Zmroczek (Head of European and American Collections at the British Library), said: "At the British Library, we aim to bring inspiration and enjoyment through our translation-related projects and events, where participants engage with our collections covering an extraordinary range of world languages and many formats. The breadth of our resources, from translators’ archives to spoken word recordings and a wealth of printed materials from all periods and most world languages, makes us an ideal home for those interested in how stories travel between languages and cultures. We’re delighted that, with support from the AHRC, we’re able to offer Jen Calleja, out first Translator in Residence, the opportunity to put down roots in the multilingual community of staff, readers and visitors at the heart of the British Library. By giving Jen the opportunity to get to know our collections from the inside, we hope her residency will contribute to opening up this multilingual treasure-house for new groups unfamiliar with our collections and events and encourage wider understanding of the value of translation and linguistic diversity."

 

07 April 2017

Nature and naturalism: the short life of J. P. Jacobsen

On 7 April 1847 Chresten Jacobsen, a merchant of Thisted in Jutland, and his wife Bente Marie welcomed their first child into the world. The boy was christened Jens Peter, but it was under his initials, as J. P. Jacobsen, that he achieved a reputation far greater than his modest literary output – two novels, seven novellas, and one posthumous volume of poetry – might suggest.

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Portrait of Jacobsen from Niels Georg Christensen, J. P. Jacobsen (Copenhagen, 1910) 010761.de.1/4.

His education began at the age of four, when he entered the local infant school. He rapidly proved to be an apt pupil; in 1862 he passed his school certificate examination, was sent to a crammer in Copenhagen to prepare for university entrance, and passed the first part of the qualifying examination the following year. It was all the more surprising, then, that two years later he failed the second part and only received a third-class grade when he eventually passed it in 1867. His health was fragile, but a more likely reason for his failure was the growth of his creative interests; in 1867 he had founded a literary society named Agathon in honour of the Greek poet, and he was further distracted by falling in love with the actress Betty Hennings.

However, he had developed an interest in botany, and after passing a general examination in philosophy he registered to study biology in 1868. It seemed that he had found his vocation: in 1870 he was commissioned by the Danish Botanical Society to carry out a survey of the islands of Laesø and Anholt which was subsequently published in its journal (Ac.3353). He won a microscope for a research project on algae and began to publish essays on biological topics. Several of these were inspired by his growing fascination with the theories of Charles Darwin, which aroused as much controversy in Denmark as in Britain, and in 1872 he published his Danish translation of The Origin of Species, followed in 1874 by The Ascent of Man.

JacobsenDarwinTranslation7003.aaa.12Illustration from Jacobsen’s translation of The Ascent of Man (Copenhagen, 1874-75) 7003.aaa.12.

At the same time he was at work on a dissertation on algae which was awarded a gold medal by the University of Copenhagen in 1873, the year when, on 25 June, he embarked on his first trip abroad, planning to set out from Lübeck and travel through Prague, Vienna and Munich to Italy. Four months later, though, he was back at his parents’ home in Thisted, convalescing after a serious lung haemorrhage, a symptom of the tuberculosis which would eventually kill him.

 

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Title-page of Niels Georg Christensen’s biography J. P. Jacobsen (Copenhagen, 1910) 010761.de.1/4.

 

It is possible that overwork was a factor in weakening his health: while involved in this ambitious programme of research and translation Jacobsen had been steadily devoting himself to writing of a different kind. As early as 1868 he had submitted a cycle of poems to the publishing-house of Gyldendal but had met with rejection both then and when he sent his poetry to the famous critic Georg Brandes. Turning to prose, he fared better, publishing his novella Mogens in 1872, which encouraged him to begin work on his first novel, Fru Marie Grubbe (1876). Based on the true story of a 17th-century Danish noblewoman who, after a notorious career involving two marriages and two divorces, finally achieves happiness as the wife of a ferryman, the novel was finally published in December 1876 and was unusual for the frankness with which it depicted the heroine as an independent and strong-willed woman with vigorous erotic desires – her red-blooded nature in marked contrast to the author’s failing health which broke down again in 1875.

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Illustration from an edition of Fru Marie Grubbe (Copenhagen, 1909) 12581.t.1.

Jacobsen had already begun work on another novel, Niels Lyhne, in 1874, completing it in December 1880. The novel and his disease progressed in parallel, and a stay in Montreux in 1877 failed to prevent yet another haemorrhage; perhaps it was no coincidence that the novel’s hero, enlisting in the army as a volunteer after a life of disillusionment, dies of a bullet wound in his right lung. It was this novel which would exert a profound influence on Rainer Maria Rilke, who learnt Danish in order to read both Jacobsen’s fiction and his scientific works in the original. It was also a favourite with Sigmund Freud, who wrote in 1895 that Niels Lyhne had moved him more deeply than any other book which he had read in the last ten years. Thomas Mann, too, claimed in 1904 that Scandinavian literature, and especially Jacobsen, had shaped his work far more than his reading of French authors. Yet in Denmark Jacobsen may be viewed as the equivalent of Zola in his pioneering of Naturalism, not surprising in view of his scientific training and capacity for unsparing observation. He brings this to bear as mercilessly on man’s spiritual condition as on the natural world, typified by his portrayal of the crisis which confirms Lyhne’s atheism, a view which Jacobsen himself shared.

Although both T. E. and D. H. Lawrence held Jacobsen’s work in high regard, English-speaking readers may know him as a source of inspiration for composers including Delius and Schoenberg. Frederick Delius’s opera Fennimore and Gerda (1919; G.1044.(3.)) is based on Niels Lyhne and takes its title from two of the women in the hero’s life – the consul’s daughter who marries Niels’s cousin Erik, is seduced by Niels and rejects him after Erik’s death in an accident, launching him on years of wandering, and the gentle Gerda whom he marries, only to lose her and their infant son. Arnold Schoenberg’s cantata Gurre-Lieder (1910; I.558.c.) similarly deals with a triangle of doomed love – this time between King Waldemar, the beautiful Tove, and the jealous Queen Helvig who orders her murder – and sets German translations of poems by Jacobsen recounting this legend from Danish history.

Jacobsen died at Thisted on 30 May 1885. He left no descendants and a comparatively modest literary output, but his legacy as the founder of Danish Naturalism and part of the ‘Modern Breakthrough’ in his country’s literature was of incalculable value.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Services

04 April 2017

The Dutch Are Coming!

On 30 March Medway Council  and The Historic Dockyard Chatham announced the international programme of events to mark the 350th anniversary of the Battle of Medway (June 1667).

The battle is little known in England, but this will surely be remedied by the end of this summer, once the programme has run its course.

Whether one calls it a ‘celebration’, or a ‘commemoration’, the fact is that the events of 1667 proved to be the beginning of the end of the glory years of the Dutch and the beginning of centuries of British naval power.

At the time the Dutch wielded power over trade routes, increasingly challenged by the English. Needless to say the Dutch were not exactly going to hand anything over without a fight. 

Three fights during the 17th Century, to be precise, known as the Anglo-Dutch Wars.

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       Anti-Dutch and anti-English pamphlets from the Anglo-Dutch Wars. Above: Title-page of Charles Molloy, Holland’s Ingratitude... (London, 1666) 1103.f.65; below Title-page of Den omsigtigen Hollander (s.l., 1667) 8075.cc.10, a ‘conversation’ between three  ‘true Dutchmen’ and and Englishman

Omsigitgen Hollander

The battle that ended the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667) was fought on the Medway. The Dutch attacked the English fleet as it lay moored close to the dock yard at Chatham and Upnor Castle. Although the Dutch did not succeed in their aim to destroy the dockyard and the whole fleet with it, they certainly did major damage to the fleet and to the pride of the English people and that of King Charles II in particular, whose flag ship The Royal Charles was captured, towed back to Holland and put on display. The carved stern is still in the Rijksmuseum, although ownership has been restored to the Brits.

 

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Title-page of the official Dutch account of the events of the second Anglo-Dutch War, Kort en Bondigh Verhael... (Amsterdam, 1667) 808.c.39

As part of the programme there will be three exhibitions: one at Upnor Castle, one at The Guildhall Museum in Rochester and one at The Historic Dockyard Chatham. The latter’s exhibition ‘Breaking The Chain’ will feature several items from the collections of the British Library: manuscripts, engravings, pamphlets and a poem.

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Title-page of the Treaty of Breda (signed 31 July 1667) which ended the Second Anglo Dutch-War (The Hague, 1667) RB.23.A.39646

A very special item is a manuscript volume of John Evelyn’s diaries, in which he describes the Dutch attack in some detail, as Samuel Pepys does in his diary

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Page from John Evelyn’s Diary, June 1667 Add Ms 78323 f186v 

There are various published editions of Evelyn’s diary , such as the six-volume one edited by E.S. de Beer (Oxford, 2000; YC.2002.a.8453). Another title worth exploring is Particular Friends, the correspondence of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, by Guy de la Bédoyère (Woodbridge, 1997; YC.1998.b.140).

We hope to see you all in Chatham in June!

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections