THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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12 posts from January 2018

31 January 2018

Tolkien’s ‘Secret Vice’

J.R.R. Tolkien had a ‘secret vice’, which ceased to be secret from the moment he let the cat out of the bag in an essay of the same title, which has been reprinted many times.

Tolkien’s vice was inventing languages. He was introduced to this pleasure at an early age by his cousins Mary and Marjorie Incledon, who taught him the language Animalic which they had created themselves. He quotes a fragment of it in his 1936 essay ‘The Monsters and the Critics’: “Dog nightingale woodpecker forty = You are an ass”.

When the elder of the two girls lost interest, Tolkien, who was already learning Latin and French at school, collaborated with her younger sister to create a second and more sophisticated language called Nevbosh or ‘New Nonsense’. “I was a member of the Nevbosh-speaking world,” Tolkien proudly recalls. He even quotes part of a poem in the language, which begins with the lines: Dar fys ma vel gom co palt ‘hoc / Pys go iskili far maino woc? (There was an old man who said ‘how / can I possibly carry my cow?’)

During this time Tolkien also learnt Esperanto. Esperanto was still a new language, only five years older than Tolkien himself. (The first book of Esperanto  was published in 1887, while Tolkien was born in 1892.) When he was 17 years old he used Esperanto in a manuscript with the title The Book of the Foxrook, consisting of 16 pages in a a secret code using rune-like phonetic symbols and ideograms. The name of the code was Privata Kodo Skaŭta – ‘Private Scout Code’ (The correct word for ‘scout’ in modern Esperanto is skolta.)

A teenager with a passion for learning and creating languages could hardly fail to discover Esperanto, although the criteria which Tolkien followed for his own constructed languages were quite different from those which inspired Esperanto’s creator Zamenhof. The grammar of Esperanto aims to be as simple as possible, in contrast to the complex grammars of Tolkien’s languages. Tolkien was aiming to create word forms which would be aesthetically pleasing, and harmonize with their meanings. In accordance with these principles he invented at least 15 languages in the course of his lifetime. He also gave them different dialects and background histories showing how they had evolved over time,  and imagined the peoples who spoke them His grammars were very elaborate, making use of his linguistic knowledge of Finnish, Welsh, Ancient Greek and other languages. It might be difficult to learn to speak his languages fluently – but ease of learning was never his primary object in creating them.

Tolkien montage
A selection of books about Tolkien’s invented languages from the British Library’s collections

In the first period up to 1930 he worked on Primitive Quendian, from which the entire family of Elvish languages evolved. He followed this up with Common Eldarin, Quenya and Goldorin, which later became Noldorin. To these languages he later added Telerin, Ilkorin, Doriathrin and Avarin.

In the final stage, Noldorin evolved into Sindarin, which along with Quenya is one of his best known languages. Sindarin makes use of the same phonological system as Welsh, which was one of Tolkien’s favourite languages. The grammar is also inspired by Welsh, and the result is notably complex. For example some nouns form the plural with an ending (usually -in), e.g. Drû, pl. Drúin, ‘wild men’. Others do so through vowel change, e.g. golodh and gelydh, ‘lore master, sage.. Still others use some combination of the two, and a few do not change in the plural: Belair, ‘Beleriandic-Elf/Elves’ is singular and plural.

Tolkien Quenya
An example of Tolkien’s Quenya script and language (Image by TigerTjäder from Wikimedia Commons)

Compare this with Esperanto, which has only one plural ending for nouns, with no exceptions. Of course, the aim of Esperanto is that it should be easy to learn for speakers of all languages.

In spite of this, Tolkien recognized the poetic qualities of Esperanto, stating in ‘A Secret Vice’: “Also I particularly like Esperanto, not least because it is the creation ultimately of one man, not a philologist, and is therefore something like a ‘human language bereft of the inconveniences due to too many successive cooks[...];” .

At the phonological level, too, Tolkien’s languages stand in complete contrast to the simplicity of Esperanto. Sindarin is based on Welsh, but with elements of Old English and Old Icelandic, resulting in a rich abundance of vowels and consonants. Esperanto’s phonological system on the other hand is closer to that of Modern Hebrew, which consists of a simplified version of the phonology of European languages.

Tolkien’s connection with the British Esperanto movement continued in later years. In 1930 the World Esperanto Congress was held in Oxford, and the following year Tolkien was appointed to the Board of Honorary Advisers of the British Esperanto Association’s Education Committee.

TolkienBritishEsperantist1932

Letter from Tolkien to the Secretary of the Committee of the British Esperanto Association, printed in The British Esperantist,  2 May 1932.  PP.4939.ka.

In his letter of acceptance, Tolkien wrote that Esperanto was “in the position of an orthodox church facing not only unbelievers but schismatics and heretics.” The letter concludes with the well-known sentence: “My advice to all who have the time or inclination to concern themselves with the international language movement would be: ‘Back Esperanto loyally.’”

In 1933 he was one of the patrons of the British Esperanto Congress in Oxford, and signed a declaration about the educational value of Esperanto in schools.

TolkienLaMastroJ.R.R.Tolkien, La mastro de l'Ringoj (Kaliningrado, 2007). YF.2008.a.11686 

Two of Tolkien’s most popular works have been translated into Esperanto. The Lord of the Rings was translated by the major Esperanto writer and poet William Auld (1924-2006) as La mastro de l’ ringoj (first published 1995-1997). The Hobbit was first published in Esperanto in 2000 as La hobito: aŭ tien kaj reen, translated by Christopher Gledhill and William Auld.

TolkienLaHobito La Hobito: aŭ tien kaj reen (Ekaterinburg,2000). YF.2008.a.10159

Tolkien’s writings show that for him one of the most important qualities of invented languages was beauty of form. Sindarin achieves that ideal, possessing both educational and aesthetic value. Remembering his support for Esperanto, Esperanto speakers owe it to him to declare, “Ĝuu Sindarin plene” - Enjoy Sindarin to the full.

Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics, La Sapienza University Rome, and former President of the World Esperanto Association.

References/Further reading

A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins (London, 2016) YC.2017.a.9899.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Monsters and the Critics, and other essays, edited by Christopher Tolkien (London, 1983) X.950/22397.

29 January 2018

PhD placement opportunity at the British Library: First World War French Posters

PhD students are invited to apply for a placement which focuses on the British Library’s collection of French First World War posters. Working with the European and Americas collections curatorial team, this three-month placement offers an exciting opportunity to research, catalogue and promote the collection to the widest possible audience in the context of the anniversary of the First World War.

1

 H. Delaspre, L’infanterie française dans la bataille. Tab. 11748.a. Box 3, poster 238.

The collection, which spans the period 1914-1918, consists mostly of propaganda posters and includes advertisements for war loans, calls for donations to charitable causes, and official proclamations. One third of the posters are illustrated and the rest are text based.

2 Lucien Jonas, Debout: nos morts pour la patrie... Voici la France! 1914. Tab. 11748.a. Box 6 poster 314.

The project will enhance the discoverability and public awareness of this collection (there are some 350 posters, but only one generic catalogue record which hides the wealth and appeal of the collection). The posters constitute invaluable primary material for research. They promote national identity, aim to sustain the morale of the home front, and demonstrate solidarity between the French army and the Allies.

3

Andrée Médard, Fumeurs de l’arrière économisez le tabac pour que nos soldats n’en manquent pas. Tab. 11748.a. Box 6 poster 247.

During their placement at the British Library, the PhD student will produce descriptive records for the posters, researching and recording their key features (issuing organisation, artist, date, location, and context). These records will be made visible in the Library’s online catalogue.

The student will also promote the posters and their research findings by contributing posts about the collection to the  European Studies blog  and twitter account. They will also have the opportunity to write an article on the collection for publication and to contribute to Library events.

4

 Daniel Ridgway Knight. 3e Emprunt de la Défense Nationale. Le bas de laine français. 1917. Tab. 11748.a. Box 3 poster 269.

The placement is open to PhD students from all disciplines and academic backgrounds; however, good knowledge of written French is essential, and knowledge of early 20th century European history and/or visual arts would be an advantage.

The closing date for applications is 4pm on 19 February 2018. You can view the full project description here. and details of how to apply here.

5

Victor Prouvé. Hygiène de Guerre. 1918. Tab. 11748.a. Box 2 poster 302.

The research placements offered through this scheme are opportunities for current PhD students to apply and enhance research skills and expertise outside of Higher Education as part of their wider research training and professional development. They are training and development opportunities to be undertaken within this specific context and are therefore different to the paid internships or other fixed-term posts that the Library may occasionally make available.

Please note that – unlike for an internship or a fixed-term post – the British Library is unable to provide stipends or payment to PhD placement students. It is therefore essential that applicants to the placement scheme obtain the support of their PhD supervisor and Graduate Tutor (or someone in an equivalent senior academic management role) in advance and that, as part of their process, they consult their HEI to ascertain what funding is available to support them.

After the interview stage, students who have been offered a placement and are not able to cover the costs through funding from their university or other sources may apply to the Library’s PhD Placement Travel Fund to request help to cover day-to-day commuting expenses or one-off relocation travel costs only. Please note that this Fund is limited and the success of an application to it cannot be guaranteed.

To support self-funded and part-time students, the placements can be done on a part-time basis, and some remote working is possible.

6

Lucien Jonas. Emprunt de la libération. Souscrivez. 1918. Tab. 11748.a. Box 6 poster 279.

 Teresa Vernon, Lead Curator Romance Collections / Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator Romance Collections

26 January 2018

Another Revolt of the Animals: Nikolai Kostomarov’s ‘Skotskoi Bunt’

As discussed in a previous blog post Władysław Reymont’s Bunt (‘The Revolt’) – a story of farm animals revolting against their master, first published in 1922 and re-discovered in Poland in 2004 – raised the question of whether and how this obscure story by a long-forgotten Polish writer could have inspired Orwell’s more famous treatment of the same theme in Animal Farm.  The recent rediscovery of  an even earlier story of an animals’ revolt on a farm in 19th-century Ukraine told as  political satire makes the question of how such strikingly similar plots travel, cropping up in such seemingly disparate worlds, even more fascinating.

Kostomarov portraitPortrait of Nikolai Kostomarov from Thomas M.Prymak,  Mykola Kostomarov: A Biography (Toronto, 1996). YC.1999.b.6922

Written in 1880 by Nikolai Kostomarov, the great Russian and Ukrainian historian, writer and ethnographer, the manuscript of Skotskoi Bunt (‘The Farm Animals’ Revolt’)  lay dormant long after the author’s death in 1885. It was finally published in 1917  in one of the most popular magazines of the time, Niva. The fact it was published just before October Revolution may explain why the story never gained much readership at the time. But it doesn’t mean it was not read by Niva’s devoted audience – even as some of them fled the Revolution, such as the Vinavers, Zinovieffs and Nabokovs, who would later be influential in the London literary and cultural scene.

KostomarovNIVAIssue4-371917

Cover of  issue 34-37 of Niva, September 1917, where Skotskoi bunt was first published. Available in our Reading Rooms via Electronic Resources

There are various ways in which the story might have travelled from revolutionary Petrograd via post-revolutionary Poland to post-Second World War Britain, each worth a story in its own right. But the interesting thing would be to compare these tales to see how much they have in common.

The basic plot and the main dramatis personae remain the same in all of them, though each story takes its own, different narrative route. Kostomarov’s rebellious animals rise against the landlord but never in fact gain control of the farm. The person in control turns out to be a trusty old farmhand, Omelko, who possesses the gift of understanding animals’ talk. While the master panics, running around with a rifle, Omelko jumps onto the wall and quickly outwits the leaders of the insurrection – the powerful bull and the beautiful stallion – by giving in to their fervent demands and granting them and their folk freedom. But soon some of the rebels are forced, shouted or talked into submission, with many confused beasts gratefully returning to the fold. When winter comes and the liberated “horns and hooves” run out of food, which for the most part they had destroyed themselves, the leaders are punished: the bull felled and sent to the slaughterhouse, and the horse neutered. Omelko is instructed to take every precaution to prevent the uprising ever happening again, and the world returns into the old rut.

In Reymont’s story there is also a character who understands animals’ talk, called Mute, but he is on their side. He too feels mistreated by his fellow men and joins the animals in their mass escape from man’s bondage. Later he and his friends fall out and go their separate ways. Mute dies alone in the wilderness, but the animals continue their exodus east, towards the promised land.

Orwell’s story has the line between man and beast clearly drawn, the two facing each other on opposing sides, as in Kostomarov’s, though never on  an equal footing as they are with Mute in Reymont’s story; that line later blurs as some of Orwell’s animals become all too human.

Although the stories have the same triumvirate (triumbrutat?) of leaders, the original stirrers among them are different. In Kostomarov’s it is the bull, so wilful and strong it has to be kept in fetters at all times and beaten into submission if need be; in Reymont’s it’s a dog named Rex, not so long ago the master’s favourite but through some unintended mischief fallen out of favour; in Orwell’s it’s Old Major, the wise boar, the philosopher of change. Their characters and motivations differ too – from the injured pride of a bull aware of his power, through the vengeful hurt of the rejected man’s best friend, to the wisdom of the old swine who dreams of a fairer world. Yet the way they inflame their brethren to rise and fight is the same – with long idealistic speeches. The most surprising one is given by Kostomarov’s brawny bull who sells pure Marx to his fellow bovines, calling on them to assert the ownership of their labour and the right to enjoy its fruit as they see fit. But perhaps it was not Marx but Blanqui,  since it is the original elite group of the revolutionaries, the cattle, who establish the dictatorship. Interestingly, this shows that in Kostomarov’s time, although the Age of Revolution had already dawned, the exact way of doing it was still being debated, the Blanquists and Marxists soon joined by the ever-growing number of theorists who claimed to have the know-how.

Kostomarov Oxen
‘Ploughing  in Ukraine’, painting by Leon Wyczółkowski, 1892. (Image from Wikimedia Commons. Also reproduced in Urszula Kozakowska-Zaucha, The Borderlands in Polish Art (Olszanica, 2009), LF.31.b.7294. )

Interestingly, only Kostomarov’s and Orwell’s stories try to set the animals’ rebellion on a proper ideological foundation. Reymont’s story, much closer to the actual Russian Revolution, emphasizes the psychology of hurt and vengeance which drives the rebellion to its tragic end. Orwell on the other hand concerns himself mostly with exposing the mechanics of power and how it corrupts, painfully knowledgeable as to how these things end. And while Kostomarov and Reymont stay with the simple formula of a cautionary tale – one funny in still a fairly theoretical argument, the other bleakly confirmed by eye-witnesses, Orwell upgrades it to a biting political satire more suited to the sophisticated 20th century reading public.

The shifts in emphasis in each story reflects the time in which it was written, their changing social and political context practically covering the entire Age of Revolution from the mid 19th to mid 20th century. For undoubtedly, the parable of the animals’ revolt as told by Kostomarov, Reymont and Orwell tells the same story of revolution - how the idea developed, how it came to pass and what happened to it when it actually won and died. And why.

 Wiesiek Powaga, Polish translator

 

24 January 2018

The Adventures of ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’

Of the comparatively few German-language children’s books that have become enduring classics in the English-speaking world, two are by Swiss authors: Johanna Spyri’s Heidi, and The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss, who died 200 years ago this month.

Robinson 1st ed tp
Title-page of the first edition of  Der schweizersiche Robinson (Zürich, 1812) C.108.aaaa.7

Like many famous children’s books, The Swiss Family Robinson originated as a tale told aloud to real children – Wyss’s four sons. He wanted both to entertain and to inform the boys, and also to depict their different characters (and hint at ways in which these could be improved). Indeed, his own title for the story was ‘Characteristics of my children. In a Robinsonade’. He did not intend the story for publication, but in 1812 one of the now adult sons, Johann Rudolf, edited the manuscript and published it as Der schweizersiche Robinson, oder, Der schiffbrüchige Schweizer-Prediger und seine Familie (‘The Swiss Robinson, or the Shipwrecked Swiss Preacher and his Family’). This was the first of many changes that Johann David’s original work would undergo.

Robinson shipwreck
Shipwreck! The family commend themselves to God in the storm. Illustration from the first French translation Le Robinson Suisse (2nd edition; Paris, 1816) 122835.c.21.

The book tells how the shipwrecked family of the title survive and create a new home on a desert island, involving many adventures and discoveries. Wyss describes in great detail how they salvage material from the wreck, build shelters and other amenities, and find (and later cultivate) food, all intended as a lesson in practical skills for young readers. Natural history lessons also have their place, with long discussions and lectures on the flora and fauna of the island, which is surprisingly varied: the place is home to an unlikely international menagerie of animals, including jackals, porcupines, buffalo, ostriches, tigers, kangaroos, walrus and even a duck-billed platypus. Most of these creatures are either domesticated or shot by the family.

Robinson Kangaroo
Shooting a kangaroo (clearly based on George Stubbs’s 1772 painting of ‘The Kongouro from New Holland’) from the first English edition The Family Robinson Crusoe (London, 1814) C.117.b.78. 

Less exciting and exotic are the lessons in morality and piety. The father in the story frequently reminds his sons to say their prayers, whether of supplication or thanks, and to be honest and hardworking. 

Robinson preaching
The father leads his family in Sunday worship, from The Family Robinson Crusoe

Despite its didacticism, the story is engaging and some of the passages of dialogue between the boys and their parents – such as a discussion of names for different sites around the island – seem to carry an echo of the way the Wyss boys might indeed have talked and joked together. The book certainly appealed to young readers and enjoyed great success.

Robinson Montolieu
Title-page of  Le Robinson Suisse. The frontispiece shows the translator reading the book to her grandsons and great-nephews, to whom she dedicated the translation.

Translations soon followed and further altered the original tale. The first English and French translations (1814 and 1813 respectively) both made some changes to the sequence of events and chapter numbering, but the French translator, Isabelle de Montolieu, went further still. When, over a decade after the first German edition, a promised continuation had not yet appeared, she wrote her own, based on brief notes provided by Johann Rudolf Wyss and published in 1824. Wyss’s own last two volumes appeared in 1826-7, but Montolieu’s continuation served as a basis for several other translations, including the most successful 19th-century English version, ascribed to the bestselling children’s author W.H.G. Kingston but actually the work of his wife Agnes.

Robinson map
Map of the island, from an 1826 edition of Le Robinson Suisse. 12807.bbb.26

Other changes were made to the book as time went on. Chapters were merged, split or rearranged, new adventures and characters were added, and the conclusion varied in different versions and translations. Names were often changed in translation, with different translators into the same language sometimes using different variants. There have been many retellings and abridgments, picture-book and comic-strip versions, and even a Swiss Family Robinson in Words of One Syllable (London, 1869; 12808.g.20). Modern editions jettison most of the religious and moral lectures, and I suspect that, in the 21st century, the family’s trigger-happy attitude to the animals they encounter may also be played down.

Robinson Kingston 012803.f.40
Cover of an 1889 English edition  (012803.f.40). 

Cinema and TV have also played a role in changing the story. A 1960 Disney film added pirates and a love triangle involving the older boys and a female castaway to the story. A 1980s Japanese animated series had as its main protagonist a newly-invented daughter of the family. In both of these versions Robinson is the family’s actual surname, a false assumption no doubt made by many English readers over the years. Robinson is not, of course, a Swiss surname, and in the original no family name is given (although Montolieu, in a short play appended to her translation, calls them ‘Bonval’). ‘Robinson’ in Wyss’s title simply refers to the fact that the preacher and his family were Crusoe-like castaways.

For most readers –in any language – in the two centuries since in its publication, the Swiss Family Robinson that they encountered has most likely been at several removes from the work of either Johann David or Johann Rudolf Wyss. But, despite all the accretions and alterations, the core of the original tale has survived and continues to appeal to young readers, unlike most other didactic Robinsonades of the period. A tribute, perhaps, to Johann David’s skills as a father and a storyteller.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator, Germanic Collections

References/further reading:

Entry for ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’ in Daniel Hahn, ed. Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature (Oxford, 2015) YC.2015.a.15862

Hannelore Kortenbruck-Hoeijmans, Johann David Wyss’ “Schweizerischer Robinson”: Dokument pädagogisch-literarischen Zeitgeistes an der Schwelle zum 19. Jahrhundert. Schriftenreihe der Deutschen Akademie für Kinder- und Jugendliteratur Volkach; Bd. 23 (Baltmannsweiler, 1999) YA.2002.a.4961

J. Hillis Miller, ‘Reading. The Swiss Family Robinson as Virtual Reality’, in Karín Lesnik-Oberstein (ed.) Children's literature: new approaches (Basingstoke, 2004) pp. 78-92. YC.2006.a.4061 

John Seelye, Introduction to Johann David Wyss, The Swiss Family Robinson. Penguin Classics (London, 2007) H.2008/132

22 January 2018

Three Alphabets of the Belarusian Language

The written culture of Belarus is over 11 centuries old. Many of us correctly associate the Belarusian language with the Cyrillic alphabet. However, many texts, in both Old Belarusian and the modern literary language (1850s onwards) were originally written and published in Latin characters. The existence of these two graphic systems in the Belarusian written tradition reflects the rich and complex cultural influences the country experienced at different periods. Many people may be surprised to learn that the Arabic alphabet was also used for writing in Belarusian. For that we should be grateful to the Tatars of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

For centuries, Cyrillic script (kirylica) was the most commonly used graphic system of the Old Belarusian language both for religious and secular literature. The oldest Belarusian book known to us is the Turaŭ [Turov] Gospel. Its only fragment, consisting of ten sheets, was discovered in 1865 in Turaŭ, a town in the south of contemporary Belarus. It is preserved in the Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences  in Vilnius. The manuscript is written in the Church Slavonic language, in uncial script (ustav) - the oldest type of Cyrillic writing.

Starting from the 14th century, a more economical half-uncial script was widely used in East Slavonic manuscripts. When the first Belarusian printer, Francysk Skaryna, established his press in the early 16th century, he chose a font based on handwritten half-uncial Cyrillic script.

All three versions (1529, 1566 and 1588) of the Statutes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were written in Cyrillic too. There is no academic consensus regarding their language. Most Belarusian scholars call it Old Belarusian, but others refer to it as Ruthenian or Chancery Slavonic. In any case, the texts of the Statutes became important precursors of the modern Belarusian language. Unlike the first two Statutes, the version of 1588 was printed; a Cyrillic font imitating an italic script (skoropis) of that time was used. This script was used for civil publications, while religious books continued to be printed in a more elaborate half-uncial script.

BelarusianAlphabetsStatute1588(2)
Title-page of the facsimile edition of the Statute of 1588 in : Statuty Velykoho Kniazivstva Lytovs'koho (Odessa, 2002-2004), Vol. 3, book 1,  ZF.9.a.951

The organic development of the Cyrillic form of the Belarusian language was interrupted by the increased use of the Polish language in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 17th-18th centuries. Polish was replaced by Russian in official use after the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Kingdom of Poland were partitioned by their stronger neighbours at the end of the 18th century.

A civil script, grazhdanka, developed for the Russian alphabet under Tsar Peter the Great’s supervision, was adopted by newspaper and book publishers after publishing in Belarusian became legal in the Russian Empire at the beginning of the 20th century. After a short period of experimentation, the Belarusian alphabet settled into its current form. It is very close to the Russian and Ukrainian alphabets, but has its own particularities, e.g. the letter ў (ŭ) which recently acquired a mascot status for the whole Belarusian language.

BelarusianAlphabetsПомнік_літары__Ў_

A monument celebrating the character in Polack, the oldest Belarusian city and the birthplace of the first Belarusian printer, Francysk Skaryna. (Photo by Pasacern7 CC BY-SA 4.0  from Wikimedia Commons)

The Latin script (lacinka) was used widely in Belarus for writing in Latin and Polish. From the 16th century, we also have examples of Belarusian texts, usually written in Latin script using the Polish alphabet.

19th-century publications in Belarusian are dominated by lacinka: the folklorist Jan Čačot, the author Jan Barščeŭski, the poet and publisher Alexander Rypinski, the first major Belarusian playwright Vincent Dunin-Marcinkievič, and the first major national poet, Francišak Bahuševič – all wrote and published their works in the Latin script. In 1862-63, the first – illegal then – Belarusian newspaper, Mužyckaja praŭda, was published by Kastuś Kalinoŭski, also using Latin script.

BelarusianAlphabetsRypinskiTitlepageCover of Alexander Rypinski, Niaczyścik, Ballada Białoruska ... Wydanie trzecie Akcentowane ([Tottenham, 1856?]). 11585.a.56.(7)


BelarusianAlphabetsDudka Cover of the facsimile edition of Frantsishak Bahushėvich, Dudka białaruskaja (Minsk, 1990). YA.1999.a.4633

The earliest Belarusian newspapers and books published legally under the Russian Empire used both Cyrillic and Latin scripts, which they referred to as “Russian and Polish characters”. Cyrillic was used to address the Orthodox Christian population and the Latin alphabet – for Roman Catholics. The Naša Niva weekly, the main voice of the Belarusian national revival, dropped its lacinka version for the kirylica one due to costs.

BelarusianAlphabetsNashaNivaPage from a facsimile edition of Nasha Niva (Minsk, 1992). ZA.9.d.379

The Latin script continued to be widely used in the western part of Belarus, which from 1919-1939 was under Polish rule. Here, the outstanding linguist Branislaŭ Taraškievič proposed a version of the Belarusian Latin alphabet which broke away from the earlier conventions; for example, instead of digraphs common in Polish (cz, sz), letters with diacritics (č, š) were introduced. This version was quickly and widely adopted by publishers in western Belarus.

In Soviet Belarus, the possibility of adopting the Latin script was discussed only once, during the Academic Conference for Reform of the Belarusian Grammar and Alphabet in 1926. The conference agreed that such a change would be the best solution, but premature at that time. Three years later, the Bolsheviks described such views as sabotage and tearing Belarusian culture away from that of Russia. Mass purges of the Belarusian intelligentsia followed soon after.

A slightly modified version of Branislaŭ Taraškievič’s lacinka has recently been adopted by the Belarusian government for transliterating Belarusian geographic names into Latin script and recommended for use by the United Nations.

From the 14th century, Tatars from Crimea, the Volga region and the Caucasus settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – some were invited to join the Duchy’s army, while others were refugees or prisoners of war. Many of their settlements survived until very recently in contemporary Belarus, and even now the small town of Iŭje is primarily known for its Tatar community. In literature, they are referred to as Lipka Tatars.

 The Tatars adopted the vernaculars of the peoples they lived among, and used them in their own manuscripts – translations of and commentaries on the Quran, prayer books and books of religious instruction. Belarusian dialects predominate in Lipka Tatar manuscripts, particularly in the oldest known to us, dating from the 17th-18th centuries. The Tatars preserved the Arabic script for writing and recorded phonetics of the language they – and people among whom they lived – spoke. These manuscripts are an important source about the development of the Belarusian language: many characteristics of the contemporary Belarusian language can be seen in Lipka Tatar writings from centuries ago.

Ihar Ivanou, Head of Learning Resources, QA Higher Education, London.

References / Further reading:

Peter J. Mayo, ‘The Alphabet and Orthography of Byelorussian in the 20th Century’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 4/1 (1977), pp. 28-47. ZC.9.a.9127 .

George Meredith Owens/Alexander Nadson, ‘The Byelorussian Tartars and their Writings’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 2/2 (1970), pp. 141-176.

Paul Wexler, ‘Jewish, Tatar and Karaite Communal Dialects and their Importance for Byelorussian Historical Linguistics’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 3/1 (1973), pp. 41-54.

Shirin Akiner, ‘The Vocabulary of a Byelorussian Tatar Kitab in the British Museum’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 3/1 (1973), pp. 55-84.

Shirin Akiner, Religious language of a Belarusian Tatar Kitab: a cultural monument of Islam in Europe (Wiesbaden, 2009). EDM.2009.a.41

Barys Sachanka, Belaruskaia mova: ėntsyklapedyia (Minsk, 1994). YA.1999.b.2123

A. Susha, ‘Turauskae Evanhelle – samaia starazhytnaia kniha Belarusi’, Belaruski histarychny chasopis, no. 8 (2015), pp. 22–32. ZF.9.b.69

 

19 January 2018

Mapping the Christmas Flood of 1717

This Christmas saw some pretty wet and windy weather, both in the UK and across the North Sea in the Netherlands, where I spent my Christmas holidays. Foul it may have been, but it was nothing compared to the storm that battered vast swathes of the Northern Netherlands, Northern Germany and Denmark for four days over Christmas in 1717. 

I must say, that I, like most of my fellow Dutchmen had never heard of this storm. Yet, it caused more casualties than the big flood of 1953. It was the biggest natural disaster in 400 years.  The Northern Maritime Museum,  located in two beautiful Medieval buildings in the centre of Groningen, is runnning an exhibition on this ‘Midwinterflood’, in collaboration with the Groninger Archieven. They are organising a conference about the flood on 20 January.

A prominent place in the exhibition is taken up by images of a map, which is by no means ‘only’ a topographical map, but tells the story of the flood in both cartographic and pictorial images and text. It is beautifully made, but that should not come as a surprise, since it was none other than the master cartographer Johann Baptist Homann who engraved it.

PHOTO1MapHomannMaps27095J.B. Homann, Geographische Vorstellung der jämerlichen Wasser-Flutt in Nieder-Teutschland, welche den 25 Dec. Aº 1717 ... einen grossen Theil derer Hertzogth Holstein und Bremen, die Grafsch. Oldenburg, Frislandt, Gröningen und Nort-Holland überschwemet hat. (Nuremberg, [1718?]) Maps * 27095.(6.)

Homann addresses us as ‘reader’ (‘Hochgeneigter Leser!’) instead of ‘viewer’, seemingly emphasising that the map is not just a topographical tool but a text to be read. 

PHOTO2MapHomannHochgLeser

 Detail from Homann’s map, with his address to the reader.

The most striking thing about the map is the green colouring which indicates the extent of the reach of the water. It immediately brings home the scale and seriousness of the disaster. At one point the water reached the gates of the city of Groningen, which lies 34 km inland from the coastal town Pieterburen. Estimates are that 14,000 people lost their lives across the whole of the northern Netherlands, Germany (10,000!) and Denmark. Homann gives a figure of 18,140 for casualties in Germany. Let’s hope that modern science is more accurate than he was.

PHOTO3MapHomanndetBericht

Homann’s account (above) and depiction (below) of the flood

PHOTO4MapHomannGronEmb 

The illustrations within the map, such as the water scoop, sluice and inundated village support the story. The putti holding up the banner with the quote from Ovid’s Metamorphoses are crying, as a sign of the scale of the human tragedy and may-be the feelings of Homann himself. 

PHOTO5MapHomannwaterscoops

Water-scoop and sluice (above) and weeping putti (below) from Homann’s map 

PHOTO7MapHomannPutti

My first thought when I saw this extraordinary map in the exhibition was: “Is there a copy in the British Library?” As soon as I could I went online to check our catalogue and indeed, I found it at the first attempt. I reserved it immediately to be ready for me to study it as soon as I was back at work. I almost could not wait. Fortunately I had the exhibition to keep me entertained. It gives a fascinating account of what happened, how it could happen, the human, material and financial costs and it also highlights the hero of the story Thomas van Seeratt, who had been appointed provincial commissioner only the year before. At first ridiculed when sounding the alarm on the sorry state of the dikes, he was tragically proven right on Christmas night 1717.

Soon after the event pamphlets such as that by Adriaan Spinneker started to appear, telling of horrible ordeals suffered by people trying to save their lives by clinging on to trees, or roof tops, barely clothed, without any drinking water or food, exposed to bitterly cold and wet weather for hours and sometimes days on end, all the while carrying loved ones on their backs or in their arms. In the end some became so exhausted and stiffened by cold that they had to let go of their children. 

Spinniker
Adriaan Spinneker, Gods Gerichten op den aarde vertoond in den ... storm en hoogen waterfloed ... in't 1717de Jaar voorgevallen, aandachtig beschouwd …(Groningen, 1718) 11557.bbb.64

Authorities did initiate a large programme of dike building, based on van Seeratt’s designs, which involved making dikes less steep, so they can absorb the shocks of the waves much better. These days Dutch national authorities and the 22 water boards are responsible for dike maintenance, rather than private landowners.  This is just as well, because without dikes to protect it, the Netherlands would look a bit more like this.  

Netherlands compared to sea level
The Netherlands compared to sea level. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)


Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.

Further reading

Gerhardus Outhof, Verhaal van alle hooge watervloeden in ... Europa, van Noachs tydt af, tot op den tegenwoordigen tydt toe ... Met eene breede beschryvinge van den zwaaren kersvloedt van 1717 ... (Embden, 1720) 1607/5565.

Johannes Velsen, De hand Gods uitgestrekt tot tugtinge over zommige provintien der vereenigde Nederlanden, bestaende in zes gedigten van de watervloed, in Kersnagt, van 't jaer 1717. (Groningen, 1718), in: Dutch pamphlets 1542-1853 : the Van Alphen collection (Groningen, 1999) Mic.F.977

 

17 January 2018

Władysław Reymont’s Revolt of the Animals

A recent Europen Studies blog post by Masha Karp examined the publication history of George Orwell’s Animal Farm  in the languages of Eastern Europe. That the book has maintained its canonical status worldwide for over 70 years is proof of its universal truth. But as Orwell sat down to write his tale – a warning against the creeping advance of Soviet Communism based on his growing awareness of its brutal reality – was he aware he was not the first modern writer to use the allegory of an animals’ revolt to capture the mad logic of revolution?

ReymontBunt2004

Cover of a recent edition Władysław Reymont’s Bunt (Warsaw, 2004) 

The question has been bugging me since I discovered Władysław Reymont’s Bunt (‘Revolt’) when it came out in Poland in 2004. While growing up in communist Poland in the 1970s I read Orwell’s Animal Farm in a samizdat edition, and while well acquainted with the rest of Reymont’s oeuvre, which was compulsory reading at school as well as being widely popular through TV and film adaptations, I never heard – and I’m sure very few in Poland at the time did – of Bunt. The similarity to Animal Farm was obvious. And another striking thing was that both stories are told as cautionary tales. I was very surprised it took the book so long to resurface, especially when its lesson seemed past its sell-by date. But apparently that’s how things are with truths and lessons.

ReymontPortrait

Władysław Reymont. Portrait by by Jacek Malczewski, painted in 1905 when Reymont was acknowledged as Poland’s foremost novelist, author of The Peasants and The Promised Land, both sweeping panoramas of late 19th-century rural and industrial Poland. (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Bunt is a story of a revolt among farm animals who work for their master and often love him but are spurned, ruthlessly exploited and cruelly beaten in return. The revolt is initially stirred up by the dog Rex who calls on animals to rise against the landlord and follow him to the land of justice and plenty for everyone, a land that lies somewhere in the east. Sadly, the poor beasts, worn out by the never-ending quest, eventually turn against their leader and plead with a gorilla, the nearest they can find to a human, to rule over them.

Of course the two stories are different, both in detail and in tone – one is bleakly tragic the other tragically funny, but the basic idea and the narrative mechanism that delivers the moral point is essentially the same – a parable of human ideals falling victim to animal instincts, a lesson revealing the inherent fault laying at the heart of a revolution, or indeed at the heart of all power and authority, which may change hands even from the oppressors to the oppressed but nevertheless remain the same mechanism of oppression, and there is no escape from it.

ReymontBuntBLcopyTitle-page of Bunt (Warsaw, 1924). YF.2018.a.342

Originally Bunt appeared in the Polish weekly Tygodnik Ilustrowany (Mic.A.4839-4844) in 1922, and then in book form in 1924, the year of Reymont’s Nobel Prize for Literature, and just before his untimely death at 58. Despite being one of the first literary echoes of the Russian Revolution, it barely registered on the critical circuit. Reymont’s great champion, his German translator Jan Kaczkowski, a Polish diplomat hiding under the pen-name Jean Paul d’Ardeschah, felt the book, being topical as well as universal, deserved a better fate. He managed to place Bunt with a Swiss publisher in 1926 as Die Empörung: eine Geschichte vom Aufstand der Tiere. Later, after being transferred by the Polish Foreign Office to Holland, Kaczkowski instigated and oversaw a Dutch publication in 1928 as De Rebellie. That was the last the world heard of Reymont’s Bunt.

Reymont BuntGermanedition

 Cover of a modern edition of Die Empörung (Frankfurt am Main, 2017). Awaiting shelfmark

For a long while I was combing through Orwell’s biographies looking for ways he might have come into contact with Reymont’s story. Was he familiar with Reymont as a Nobel Prize winner? Could translations of Bunt have passed through his hands while he was working at Booklover’s Corner? Orwell did not speak German or Dutch, and the story was not translated into French, a foreign language Orwell knew – after all he read Zamyatin’s We  in French translation.

Another possibility were his friends who did read German – or Dutch or Polish – who were also interested in Eastern European literature and Russian Revolution. They may have discussed Reymont and brought up the story as part of the revolutionary lore and connected it with Orwell’s interest in fairy tales, which he had apparently developed during his time at BBC, just before he started working on Animal Farm. Could it be his publisher friends, Victor Gollancz or Fredric Warburg? The German-born Tysco Fyvel or the Swiss-born Jon Kimche with whom he worked at the Booklover’s Corner? Or was it Arthur Koestler with whom he discussed extensively how revolutionary logic worked? Perhaps someone – a Pole? – he had met in Spain? Perhaps, but I haven’t found a direct link yet.

And then my detective work suffered an unexpected twist. Discussing it with my friends at the BL one of them told me of another tale about an animals’ revolt, this time Russian, and written years before Bunt – in 1880 in fact! Following the new lead I discovered that Nikolai Kostomarov’s Skotskoi Bunt (‘The Revolt of Farm Animals’) was indeed written in 1880 but published only posthumously in 1917, in the popular magazine Niva, just a few issues before October Revolution consigned it forever to history. How come nobody knew of this story for so long? Could Reymont possibly have known of it and how? Could it be it was in fact Kostomarov’s story that seeped into revolutionary lore and inspired both Reymont and Orwell? It could be. But that’s another story. Or is it? Watch this space.

Wiesiek Powaga, Polish translator.
Wiesek’s most recent translation ‘Inside Red Spain’ by Ksawery Pruszynski, appeared in Pete Ayrton's anthology No pasaran! Writings from the Spanish Civil War (London, 2016; YC.2016.a.6057)

 

14 January 2018

‘Do the Finnish people have a history?’ Zachris Topelius’s 200th birthday

Last month the Finlandia Prize, Finland’s most prestigious literary prize, was awarded to Juha Hurme for his novel Niemi [‘Headland’]. In praising the work, the jury said that it ‘treats the myth of Finland and the Finns with all the knowledge that our culture contains. A scope of this breadth can only be explored with the magnificently dilettante literary style in which Hurme boldly challenges both the legendary Egon Friedell and Zachris Topelius’ (translation by Helsinki Literary Agency).

The last of these comparisons is inevitable for any writer who attempts a history of the Finnish peninsula. The reference to Zacharius (Zachris) Topelius draws our attention to a great author perhaps not so well-known outside of the Nordic region, and on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of his birth (14 January 1818).

Born in Kuddnäs in Ostrobothnia, Topelius wrote mainly in Swedish but was focal in Finland’s growing self-consciousness as a distinct nation. Since 1809, Finland had been a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire yet Finland managed to gain more freedom to develop a national movement in the 19th century, than it had been allowed to do under Swedish rule previously. First as editor of the Swedish-language Helsinki daily, Helsingfors Tidningar, and later as a writer of historical novels and as Professor of History at the Imperial Alexander University in Helsinki (1854-1879), Topelius crafted exceptionally popular, romanticized and patriotic national histories and thereby heavily shaped the future identity of the burgeoning nation.

Helsinki
A view of Helsinki from the North-West, steel engraving by Magnus von Wright in Topelius’s Finland framställdt i teckningar (Helsinki,1845-52) 1264.d.15

His first published book, Finland framställdt i teckningar, was the earliest book of steel engravings of the Finnish landscape, for which he wrote a commentary. In later works, such as En resa i Finland (1872-74) and Boken om vårt land (1875), he continued to offer comprehensive overviews of his country, bringing the whole of Finland to readers with the help of masterful engravings by the likes of, among others, Magnus von Wright (1805-1868), Johan Knutson (1816-1899), and perhaps Finland’s most famous landscape painter, Bernt Adolf Lindholm (1841-1914).

Åbo Castle
Åbo Castle, steel engraving by Johan Knutson in Finland framställdt i teckningar

Recently, the Society of Swedish Literature in Finland has created a digital portal for Topelius’s works, Zacharias Topelius Skrifter, which has so far published eight digital critical editions. This year, has released a digital critical edition of Boken om vårt Land (‘The Book of our Land’), which was and is still one of the most important history books in Finland, not least because it was, in the words of critic Pertti Haapala, ‘the foremost history textbook used in elementary schools between the 1870s and the 1940s, and it was read and commented on a great deal after the Second World War as well’ (Haapala, p. 26). The British Library has an 1886 copy of the Finnish translation, Maame kirja (first published 1876), which shows signs of being well-used by a young Finnish student, presumably the ‘Yrjä Hagelberg’ named on the inside cover. On the fly-leaf, you can make out a pencil drawing of a male figure coloured in red, lifting what apper to be weights. Later, we see several of the woodcuts coloured in (very capably) by young Yrjä. All in all, this Maamme kirja, a near 500-page textbook for young learners, full of lengthy verse quotations from the Kalevala and the Kanteletar, has however been treated with the respect that the seminal history text deserves.

Doodle
Above: Doodle on the first page of Maamme kirja (Helsinki, 1886), YA.1990.a.1111); Below: The Imatra river coloured in by a student

Imatra

Not only did Topelius frame his Finnish history from the perspective of a child’s experience, but he wrote a great many successful and enormously influential children’s books, which gave him the name ‘Mr Fairy Tale’. As Haapala notes, ‘it is easy to see that the child’s experience in reading The Book of Our Land is a metaphor for the emerging historical consciousness of a nation’ (p. 38). The children’s tales too are important in the development of the nation, as folk tales, myths, songs have always been in the foundation of national identities. Topelius’s Läsning för barn series (1864-1896, BL 12837.m.11) contains stories that continue to be translated into many languages. Each of the eight volumes contain around two hundred illustrations, some subtle and others of a more epic imagination.

Book Cover
Above: Cover of the first book of Läsning för barn (Stockholm, 1902), 12837.m.11. Below: ‘When you sleep amongst roses’, illustration by Carl Larsson, from Läsning för barn

Sleep amongst roses

For the centenary of Topelius’s birth in 1918, the Swedish Academy asked the eminent Nobel Laureate Selma Lagerlöf to write something on him. Topelius was a clear influence on the Swedish author of Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (The Wonderful Adventure of Nils), which takes much from Topelius’s Boken om vårt Land, not least the idea to explain national geography from a child’s and bird’s eye view. Lagerlöf’s paean is to a writer of both Finland and Sweden, and ultimately ‘the North’ – its life and landscape. Zachris Topelius asks ‘Can you love a country, so hard, so cold, so full of neglect?’ His answer follows, ‘We love it because it is our roots, the essence of our being, and we are the ones our country has made – a hard, frosty, fierce people […]’ (En resa I Finland). The country that ‘made’ its people was itself created in the words of Topelius and fellow patriotic writers. And so, by extension, we might even say Topelius made a nation.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References/further reading:

 Zacharias Topelius, The Sea King’s Gift and other Tales from Finland (Retold by Irma Kaplan; illustrated by Anne Knight) (London, 1973), X.990/4615.

Ibid., Sammy and the Mountain King (illustrated by Veronica Leo) (London, 1984), X.995/461

Selma Lagerlöf, Zachris Topelius. Utveckling och mognad (Stockholm, 1920), 011851.aa.54.

Pertti Haapala, ‘Writing our History: The History of the ‘Finnish People’ (As Written) by Zacharias Topelius and Välnö Linna’, in Pertti Haapala, Marja Jalava, and Simon Larsson (eds.), Making Nordic Historiography: Connections, Tensions and Methodology, 1850-1970 (New York, 2017), 5353.922500

Maija Lehtonen, ‘Un Finlandais du XIXème siècle face à l’Europe. Les récits de voyage de Zachris Topelius’, in On the Borderlines of Semiosis. Acta Semiotica Fennica 2 (Imatra, 1993) YA.2003.a.18418.  pp. 401-412

11 January 2018

An Arthurian castle in Slovenia: the history, legends and future of Castle Borl

“I rode at my best pace into the broad Gandine, after which your grandfather Gandin is named. The place lies where the Grajena flows into the Drau, a river that bears gold.”

Thus Parzifal/Sir Perceval learns of his family roots in the province of Styria, according to Wolfram von Eschenbach’s version of his story. The town identified as his father’s namesake is today named Hajdina, a suburb of the city of Ptuj in eastern Slovenia.

20 kilometres to the east, a castle stands on a headland overlooking the Drava/Drau river, commanding a sweeping view of the valley and of the wine-growing Haloze hills around. Its Slovenian name is Borl, derived from the Hungarian word for a river crossing, and it is also known in German as Ankenstein. Its heraldic crest is an inverted anchor, the symbol in the legend of Parzifal’s Grail family.

Borl_KolaricDarko1View of Grad Borl today (Photo by by Darko Kolarič)

Borl’s true origins are poorly documented, and the Grail legend is just one of the many evocative tales associated with it. It dates from at least the 11th century and probably occupies the site of an older settlement. Reflecting its situation close to the old border between the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary/Croatia, it changed hands many times before becoming an established part of the Habsburg Duchy of Styria, with a series of different aristocratic owners who lived well on the vineyards and farmlands surrounding it.

In 1681, Georg Matthäus Vischer (1628-1696) recorded Grad Borl in three images as part of his Topographia Ducatus Stiriae. Visher was one of the pre-eminent cartographers and engravers of his day. His work documenting the castles and towns of the core Habsburg lands is still widely used as a reference source, and has been reprinted frequently. It is the sole known source for the 17th-century appearance of many of the castles. For some of them, it is the only source we have at all. That Borl appeared in three illustrations marks it as one of the more important castles: less significant ones had a single image apiece.

Borl Vischer 1

Above and below: Views of Grad Borl (here called “Ankchenstein”) from  Georg Matthäus Vischer, Topographia Ducatus Stiriae (Graz, 1681) Maps C.22.a.17.

Borl Vischer 2

In 1918, Lower Styria and Borl became part of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, subject to land reforms that proved controversial in the Habsburg successor states. Its disgruntled owner sold it to a local stock company. During the Second World War, the Nazis occupied the area, incorporating it into the Reich and issuing an arrest warrant for Borl’s Jewish owner, Zora Weiss, who fled, as did her co-owner, Vuk von Vuchetich. Borl became an internment camp for Slovenes who were being deported from Styria for resisting Germanization, and the occupiers looted any of the contents that were not nailed down.

This grim war-time story makes what happened next the more remarkable to me. In 1946, the new socialist government of Yugoslavia nationalised the castle, using it consecutively as a children’s convalescent home, a refugee centre for people fleeing the Soviet invasion of Hungary, and finally a successful hotel. During the latter period, it acquired a swimming pool high on the ledge above the river, and furnished many people with very happy memories.

Sadly, this happy phase did not last. The hotel closed down, and although the castle was still used for events some of the remaining treasures were stolen during the 1990s. Since 2010, for safety reasons, the gate has been locked and a poignant notice forbids entry without the permission of the Republic of Slovenia. On a recent visit, even the Prime Minister was obliged to respect this no-entry rule. But Borl still captures the imagination. There are re-enactments of events in its past and films of its history made every year. A voluntary society, the Društvo za oživitev gradu Borl, composed of local historians and other enthusiasts, campaigns to raise funds and awareness, and maintains the grounds during summer. Random hikers, cyclists and other explorers post their videos on Youtube. Miha Pogačnik, violinist, inspirational speaker and Slovenian cultural ambassador, has a protective interest in the Castle, where he held arts and business conferences for several years before 2010. Inspired by the Parzifal connection, he believes it could become a centre for the formation of a pan-European identity and European spiritual revival.

In 2018, work is due to take place to restore the main courtyard of the castle and shore up the hillside below it. What happens beyond that is sadly unclear, but it is not through shortage of ideas or enthusiasm about this beloved and dramatic building and a surrounding landscape full of cultural monuments.

BorlAshtonPhoto by Janet Ashton. 

 Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager (With particular thanks to Sonja Golc, Mira Petrovič and Branko Vnuk)

References/Further reading:

Ivan Stopar, Razvoj srednjevške grajske arhitekture na Slovenskem Štajerskem (Ljubljana, 1977) X.421/9913

Vnuk, Branko and two others. Grad Borl : gradbenozgodovinski oris in prispevek k zgodovini rodbine Sauer. (Ptuj, 2010). https://www.dlib.si/details/URN:NBN:SI:DOC-IHU7ORVJ/

Wolfram, von Eschenbach, Parzifal, translated by A.T. Hatto. (Harmondsworth, 1980) X.909/45081

 

08 January 2018

Two Murders, a Suicide and an Anglo-German Newspaperman

In the course of my research on German printers and publishers in 19th-century London it can be hard to discover how long an individual was at a business address, let alone any more personal details of their lives and backgrounds. But searching for information about Johann Lachmann von Gamsenfels, sometime printer of the German-language Londoner Journal (1878-91), I discovered an unexpected and tragic story.

On 15 August 1889 Gamsenfels took lodgings in Stratford-on-Avon, accompanied by a woman and a four-year-old girl. They appeared a devoted and happy family, and enjoyed visiting the local sights, but on the following Monday morning the landlady heard gunshots from their room. The police were called and forced open the locked door to reveal the woman and child lying on the bed and Gamsenfels on the floor, all three shot through the left temple. Gamsenfels had apparently murdered his wife and daughter while they slept and then killed himself.

Gamsenfels Illustrated Police News
The discovery of the bodies as depicted in The Illustrated Police News 31 August 1889, via the British Newspaper Archive

Such a ghastly event was bound to arouse press interest and there was no shortage of lurid coverage, especially when it was found that the murdered woman was not Gamsenfels’s wife but his mistress. The couple had been living together for some years as if married, while Gamsenfels continued to support and occasionally visit his legal wife Rosanna and their son. Rosanna said at the inquest that she had found compromising letters to Gamsenfels from a woman five years previously and had confronted them both, but claimed to have had no knowledge of her husband’s continued infidelity and to have accepted his explanation of long absences from home as business related.

One thing that struck me in all this was that Gamsenfels was described in the newspaper reports as editor – and sometimes founder – of the Londoner Journal, although the issues of the paper which I have examined mention him only as its printer. Even in this capacity his name disappears after July 1884, as do large-scale advertisements for his printing business. This must have been around the time that Rosanna discovered his infidelity, and indeed when his mistress became pregnant with their daughter, and I can’t help speculating that his disappearance from the public face of the paper is related to these events.

Gamsenfels large ad Londoner JournaMasthead of the Londoner Journal (12 January 1884; NEWS14598) with an advertisement for Gamsenfels’s printing business

Did the Londoner Journal’s staff agree to turn a blind eye to Gamsenfels’s adultery if he withdrew his name from the enterprise? Were they perhaps sympathetic to his situation and willing to give him a nominal role as editor in order to help him support two households? I say ‘nominal’ because by the time of the murder he and his mistress were also touring with a stage act (as ‘Herr Mozart and Mme Lenormand’), which sits oddly with editing a newspaper full time. Yet if his colleagues were in any way complicit in Gamsenfels’s double life or allowing him to carry out less than a full-time role, they gave no hint of it in their report of his death. There he is described as ‘our editor for many years’ and ‘a diligent worker, jovial colleague and good friend’. The writer states that Gamsenfels and his wife were estranged – something Rosanna seems to have played down in her comments to the inquest – but implies no prior knowledge of the mistress and illegitimate child. So my speculations must remain just that. 

Lachmann LJ report
The opening of the Londoner Journal's report of Gamsenfels’s death (22 August 1889)

Gamsenfels’s motive for the murder-suicide was equally impossible to prove. At the inquest it was assumed that severe financial difficulties must have led him to such a desperate act and that his state of mind could not be ascertained, although the Londoner Journal claimed that ‘sufficient resources were always available to him,’ and describes the crime as being carried out  ‘apparently in a moment of mental disturbance.’ The inquest judge  (quoted in the Banbury Guardian of 5 September 1889) took a more moralising tone: ‘it was the natural result of an illicit and shameful connection … a vicious life ending in a disgraceful manner.’

But the saddest mystery in this strange case is the identity of the dead woman. Many reports identify her only by her stage name Mme Lenormand. Later she was tentatively identified as Caroline Monthey, the woman whose letters Rosanna Gamsenfels had discovered in 1884, but Rosanna herself said she could not be certain of this. Whoever she was, both she and the daughter she had with Gamsenfels, the victims of his crime, were buried anonymously, with no family or friends to mourn them.

 Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections