THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

11 posts from February 2018

27 February 2018

Women on brooms and more such raging.

Every child knows that the humble broom is the transport medium of choice for wizards and witches. They use it to fly to the Witches’ Sabbath, although other magical forms of transport are used, too. Why has the image of a witch on a broom taken such a firm hold in our culture? Why a broom and not a bread peel, or a cooking pot, or a pig, or even a cat?

According to art historian Renilde Vervoort two engravings by Pieter Bruegel The Elder were instrumental in imprinting the image of the witch on a broomstick (and her cauldron and black cat) in our collective imaginations.

Images of witchcraft in the 15th-century Low Countries were rare, which may go some way as to explaining their impact. Vervoort lists seven major works with such images produced in the Low Countries between 1420 and 1560. One example of a work that influenced Bruegel greatly is a pen-and ink drawing by the 15th-century painter Hieronymus Bosch, owned by Bruegel who greatly admired Bosch.

The drawing (now in The Louvre) depicts nine women playing around with sticks and brooms and other household utensils. Bosch clearly pokes fun at the silly old women, who are jumping and running about, trying very hard to get airborne, not succeeding very well. The striking thing about this drawing is that there is not a broom in sight, apart from one very short one, held over the shoulder by one of the women.

BroomsticksYF2012a4427JBosch
Hieronymus Bosch, Nine Witches, drawing in ink (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Reproduced in Renilde Vevoort, Vrouwen op den besem en derghelijck ghespoock (Nijmegen, 2012) YF.2012.a.4427

As an aside, this could also point to the belief that witches did not so much use broomsticks, or other sticks for that matter, to fly to the Sabbath, but to conjure up spirits and demons who would take them there. This belief might explain at least in part the origins of the wand.

Broomsticks Discorse
A witch and her familiars, from A Discourse of Witchcraft as it was Acted in the Family of Mr Edward Fairfax ... (18th-centurt English Manuscript) Add, Ms, 32496

Enter Bruegel. His engravings ‘St. James Encounters Hermogenes’ (1565) and ‘The Fall of the Magician Hermogenes’, copies of which are held in Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, make a lasting impression on anyone who sees them. They are full of weird and wonderful creatures, very ‘Bosch-like’.

Both engravings have the legend of St. James’s encounter with the magician Hermogenes as subject, a story that was well-known in the Middle Ages. However, nowhere in the story is there any mention of witches, therefore no earlier representations depict any. Bruegel’s does.

‘St. James Encounters Hermogenes’ shows witches on broomsticks, flying up into the air via the chimney, where they join two other witches fighting each other.

BroomsticksYF2012a4427Bruegel1
Pieter Bruegel The Elder, ‘St. James encounters Hermogenes’. Reproduced in Vrouwen op den besem ...

‘The Fall of the Magician Hermogenes’.  shows only one witch who flies away on a broomstick, which she holds upside down.

BroomsticksYF2012a4427Bruegel2
Pieter Bruegel The Elder, ‘The Fall of the Magician Hermogenes’. Reproduced in Vrouwen op den besem ...

It is unclear where Bruegel found his inspiration for the way he represented the legend of St. Jerome and Hermogenes. It may have come from a performance of the Three Apostolic Plays, by the Antwerp Chamber of Rhetoric ‘The Violets’, which showed witches and magicians. What we do know is that his fellow artist, engraver and printer Hieronymus Cock (1518-1570) commissioned the works, most likely also providing the framework for them. Cock must have expected to find a market for the prints. He was right and it is also probably due to the high reputation of both men that the prints spread rapidly, thus establishing the fairly new concept of a witch on a broom.

BroomsticksHyrdeCockLC31b12817
Portrait of Hieronymus Cock. from Joris van Grieken, Hieronymus Cock: the Renaissance in print (New Haven, 2013) LC.31.b.12817

This concept remains a standard feature in depicting witches and witchcraft to this day.

BroomsticksX95026593
A 20th-century witch. Woodcut by woodcuts by Nicolaas Johannes Bernardus Bulder from Kornelis ter Laan, Groninger overleveringen (Groningen 1928-1930) X.950/26593.

Witch trials more or less ceased altogether in the Low Countries around 1600, although people from surrounding areas would sometimes find their way to the small town of Oudewater, to be cleared of any accusations in their own countries.

That, however, is a topic for another post.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

23 February 2018

Deluxe printing: Antoine Vérard’s 1498 illuminated Merlin

The current British Library exhibition Harry Potter, a History of Magic  features a pack of divination cards produced in the mid-18th century, which include a variety of characters ranging from Proserpina to Copernicus and Dr Faustus to Merlin, the magician and prophet of the British.

1aDivination playing cards, London, 1750s (British Museum, Dept of Prints and Drawings 1896,0501.942.1-54.+)

Merlin first appeared alongside King Arthur in Latin sources, in particular the Vita Merlini and the Historia Regum Britanniae by the 12th-century writer and chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth. The French Roman de Merlin, written around 1200, which draws on the Historia, considerably develops the story of Merlin. Born as an anti-Christ, the son of a devil, Merlin is gifted with supernatural powers, including shape-shifting. However, his gift of prophecy is of divine inspiration, and despite his troubling origins, Merlin chooses to serve the kings of Britain for the accomplishment of the divine plan.

2 add 10292 f137

Merlin (right) and his master Blaise, from L'estoire de Merlin (Saint-Omer, Tournai or Ghent, 1316)  Add. MS 10292-94

The British Library collections hold many important manuscripts of the French prose Merlin tradition, including the extensively illuminated 14th-century BL Add. 10292-94,  a complete set of the Lancelot-Grail cycle  or BL Add. 38117, another illustrated manuscript produced in Northern France which holds the Post-Vulgate version of Merlin’s Sequel.

3 BL Add38117 f048a Merlin as a child prodigy with Kings Uther and Pendragon, from Le Livre de Merlin (Laon or Saint-Quentin, c. 1310 Add. MS 38117 

Much less known are the illuminations in Antoine Vérard’s 1498 printed edition on vellum of the Livre de Merlin. The first and second volume, illustrated with woodcuts, hold the prose Merlin and its Sequel, and the third holds Merlin’s Prophecies. The later is a French prose text attributed to ‘Master Richard of Ireland’ and written by a Franciscan friar in Venice in the last third of the 13th century. It mixes romance material and political or polemical prophecies in an Italian context.

4Binding of Vérard’s Les prophecies de merlin, the third part of this edition on vellum (Paris, 1498) C.22.c.8

Antoine Vérard was a prolific Parisian publisher in the late 15th and early 16th century who edited many French texts, including mediaeval romances of chivalry like Lancelot or Tristan. Vérard is well known for the production of deluxe copies printed on vellum and illuminated for royal and aristocratic patrons such as King Charles VIII of France. After the death of Caxton,  he became the main provider of French printed books for the developing library of Henry VII of England. This is the origin of the British Library’s exceptional collection of Vérard’s editions on vellum, including the 1498 illuminated Livre de Merlin, in three parts, bound in red velvet (C.22.c.6-8).

5 000jbaR

Frontispiece from Vérard’s 1498 edition of Merlin on paper.  Reproduced in Merlin: 1498, ed. Cedric Pickford (London 1975), vol. 1. X.981/20014

In the paper copies, the illustration of the first and second part of the 1498 Merlin consists of woodcuts re-used from editions of other texts such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses for the frontispiece, Jacques Millet’s Destruction de Troye la Grant or the epic Les Quatre fils Aymon: the images are not specifically adapted to Merlin.

6 ic_41148_f024r
The same frontispiece, showing Ovid, Fallen angels, Deucalion and Pyrrha, from Vérard’s La Bible des poetes, Methamorphoze (Paris, 1493) IC.41148. 

However, in the copies of Merlin on vellum, the miniatures created in the workshop of the Master of Jacques de Besançon,  though often rather generic, are designed for a closer relationship to the narrative. This customisation appears in the opening illustration which displays the conception of Merlin. Inside a room, a horned devil with animal traits appears in bed with a naked woman and places his hand on her body in a possessing gesture. The background features another aspect of the demonic persecution: winged devils massacre the herds of Merlin’s family.

7 BL C.22.c.6 t1 f001RR The conception of Merlin, frontispiece from Vérard’s 1498 vellum edition of  Merlin (C.22.c.6).

Merlin features in another illumination in the second volume, when in a side-story he goes to Rome in the shape of a stag. There, he interprets the dream of the emperor Julius Caesar (!) who is both betrayed by his lustful wife and faithfully served by a maiden in disguise (who he eventually marries). The miniature shows Merlin bounding happily through the forests towards the walls of the city.

8aaa

 Merlin as a stag  (C.22.c.7; f. 23v)

Interestingly for a work which bears his name, this is the only miniature (out of 22 in the two illuminated volumes) representing the character of Merlin. The illuminations do not depict recurrent scenes from the manuscript tradition like Merlin dictating his story to the hermit Blaise or leading Arthur’s troops on the battlefield. The other images display King Arthur or his nephews led by Gawain, and the different battles they fight against the Saxons or rebelled British barons.

9 BL C.22.c.7 t2 f036vRa

 Battle of Clarence (C.22.c.7;  f.36v)

This is in line with the text of Merlin’s Sequel, which presents Merlin on the side of Arthur, but also focuses heavily on the heroic deeds of the young king who stands in a duel against the giant Saxon king Rion. Although Arthur is victorious and chases his opponent, the miniature emphasises the size and aggressiveness of Rion.

10 BL C.22.c.6  t1 f190vRaArthur fighting the giant king Rion. (C.22.c.6;  f.190v)

In the story, Arthur appears in a completely positive light, engaged in a courteous and reciprocal love relationship with Guinevere. A miniature shows the celebration of their betrothal. Two squires bring dishes and drinks to the couple at the ceremonial banquet table. In the romance of Merlin, nothing foreshadows, in the early days of Arthur's reign, the adulterous love of Guinevere and (the as yet unborn) Lancelot.

11 BL C.22.c.6  t1 f183RaFeast for the betrothal of Arthur and Guinevere. (C.22.c.6;  f.183r)

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator, Romance collections

Vérard’s 1493 La Bible des poetes, Methamorphoze, along with other BL incunabula and manuscripts, will be on display in Bruges from  1 March - 3 June 2018 at the exhibition Haute Lecture by Colard Mansion 

References/Further reading:

Paul Durrieu, Jacques de Besançon et son œuvre, un grand enlumineur parisien au xve siècle (Paris, 1892). Ac.6883/12.

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, ‘Les imprimés sur vélin d’Antoine Vérard: d’Ogier le Danois au Merlin de la bibliothèque d’Henry VII enluminé par le maître de Jacques de Besançon (1498)’, Mémoires du livre / Studies in Book Culture, 7 (2015)

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, ‘Du manuscrit à l'imprimé: les remplois de bois gravés dans l'illustration du Merlin et de sa suite dans l'édition d'Antoine Vérard (1498)’, Viator, 48 (1), 2017 9232.230000

Le livre du Graal. I, Joseph d’Arimathie, Merlin, Les premiers faits du roi Arthur, D. Poirion and P. Walter (dir.). Pléiade, 476. (Paris, 2001) YF.2006.a.5747

John MacFarlane, Antoine Vérard (London, 1900) 2719.x.12601

Merlin: 1498, Cedric Pickford (ed.) (London, 1975) [facsimile of Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, CG 110-112]. X.981/20014

Le Moyen Français, 69 (2011) [Issue devoted to Antoine Vérard] 

Les prophecies de Merlin. Edited from Ms. 593 in the Bibliothèque Municipale of Rennes by Lucy A. Paton (New York, 1926). Ac.2683/3.

Jane H. M. Taylor, Rewriting Arthurian Romance in Renaissance France, from Manuscript to Printed Book (Cambridge, 2014). YC.2014.a.12660

Mary Beth Winn, Anthoine Vérard, Parisian Publisher, 1485-1512. Travaux d’humanisme et Renaissance; no. 313. (Geneva, 1997). WP.A.31/313

 

21 February 2018

The first grammar of modern Ukrainian: 200 years ago

“The year 1818 […] turned out to be crucial for Ukrainian national development”, says prominent Ukrainian historian Serhiy Plokhy in his book The Cossack Myth: History and Nationhood in the Age of Empires (Cambridge, 2012, p.353; YC.2012.a.16183). And the first important book amongst three “major literary works” of this year quoted by him is the first grammar of the modern Ukrainian language. Published in St Petersburg in 1818 with the title Grammatika malorossiĭskago nariechiia... (The Grammar of the Little Russian dialect), it was the first book which described the basic phonetics and morphology of the Ukrainian language of the time. The British Library’s copy is now digitised.

PavlovskyGrammar1818Title-page of Grammatika malorossiĭskago nariechiia (St Petersburg, 1818)  1332.e.5.(1.)

Not much is known about its author, Oleksiy (Aleksey) Pavlovich Pavlovsky (1773-1822?). He was born in the Ukrainian-Russian borderland (now the village of Sosnivka, Sumy Region in modern Ukraine), and after studies in Kyiv moved to St Petersburg where he continued his education at the Teachers’ Seminary. He spent almost 30 years working on the grammar (it was ready by 1805, but published only years later) and was the first to use phonetic principles in describing the contemporary spoken Ukrainian language.

In 1822 Pavlovsky published a brochure called Pribavlenie k Grammatikie malorossiiskago nariechiia (Additions to Grammar of the Little Russian dialect) as an answer to the review of his first book by prince Nikolai Tsertelev  in the influential Russian journal Syn Otechestva in 1818 (PP.4840 and Mic.B.994). This 34-page brochure is also digitised.

PavlovskyAddition1822Title-page of Pribavlenie k Grammatikie malorossiiskago nariechiia (St Petersburg, 1822) 1332.e.5.(2)

“The author’s attitude toward the Ukrainian language was ambivalent, for although he wished to refine it, he still regarded it as a dialect of Russian”, notes Orest Subtelny in Ukraine: A History (Toronto, 1994, p.230; YA.1995.b.7319). “But Pavlovsky’s achievement, like that of Ivan Voitsekhovych, who in 1823 compiled a small dictionary of Ukrainian, was significant”, he continues. Modern linguists agree about the importance of this first grammar. The short Ukrainian dictionary with Russian translations (pp. 24-78) still evokes a lot of interest.

PavlovskyLetterVLetter B (V) from: Grammatika malorossiĭskago nariechiia

The book of 1818 gives also Ukrainian proverbs with their Russian equivalents and a few examples of spoken Ukrainian language.

PavlovskyProverbsUkrainian proverbs and maxims from: Grammatika malorossiĭskago nariechiia


The Ukrainian language had a very difficult time in the 19th century. Two infamous tsarist ukazes in the second part of the century – the Valuev Circular of 1863 and Ems Ukaz  - prohibited the use of the Ukrainian language in print. Yet it survived the persecutions of the tsarist regime and later the limitations on its use during Soviet times. As we are celebrating International Mother Language Day today we pay our tribute to the first grammarians of all languages, especially of those which were prohibited and persecuted.

Olga Kerziouk, Curator, Ukrainian Collections

Further reading:

V.V. Nimchuk, Z istoriï ukraïnsʹkoï movy. Do 150-richchia “Hrammatyky” O. Pavlovs’koho. (Kyiv, 1972). X.908/28597.

Ivan Dziuba, Internationalism or Russification?: a study in the Soviet nationalities problem. 3rd ed. (New York, 1974). X.709/30122

Ilarion, Metropolitan of Winnipeg and All Canada. Istoriia ukraïnsʹkoï literaturnoï movy (Kyiv, 1995). YA.2000.a.13453

Istoriia ukraïnsʹkoï movy: khrestomatiia, compiled by S. Yermolenko, A.K. Moĭsiienko. (Kyiv, 1996). YA.1999.a.168

The battle for Ukrainian: a comparative perspective, edited by Michael S. Flier and Andrea Graziosi. (Cambridge, Massachusetts, [2017]) On order.

Article about the Ukrainian language from online Encyclopedia of Ukraine 

 

20 February 2018

Chekhov, Sakhalin and the Russian Famine of 1891–92

In 1890, the 30-year-old Anton Chekhov made the long and arduous journey from Moscow through Siberia to the remote island of Sakhalin. There he spent three months recording his observations and carrying out a census of the some 10,000 convicts and settlers who lived in the Russian penal colony on the island. An accredited correspondent, Chekhov in part financed his trip by writing a series of articles while en route to Sakhalin for the newspaper Novoe vremia (‘The New Times’; MFM.MF1223), which was owned by his acquaintance Aleksei Suvorin. The first six articles appeared in the paper in June 1890 under the title ‘From Siberia’ (Iz Sibiri) and a further three were later published in July and August under the heading ‘Through Siberia’ (Po Sibiri).

Chekhov image 1

 Portrait of Chekhov around the time of his visit to Sakhalin, from V. A. Brender, O Chekhove. Vospominaniia i statˊi (Moscow, 1910). 010795.i.19.

During his stay on Sakhalin, Chekhov witnessed the appalling conditions and treatment many of the inmates and settlers were forced to endure. He took a particular interest in the intellectual needs of the colony’s children, later collecting and sending a library of over 2,200 books to Sakhalin. He also came into contact with the island’s indigenous peoples and observed first-hand the devastating effects of colonialisation on their communities.

Chekhov image 2The famous Sakhalin inmate Sofia Bliuvshtein, known as Zolotaia Ruchka (‘Golden Hand’). Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Returning to Moscow in December 1890, Chekhov began writing an account of his time on Sakhalin, which would later be published in full in 1895 as Ostrov Sakhalin (Sakhalin Island; BL 10011.l.21). Initially Chekhov is said to have been reluctant to publish sections of his book in literary journals, preferring instead for the book to appear as a complete work. This changed, however, in 1892 when he agreed to publish Chapter 22, ‘Beglye na Sakhaline’ (Escapees on Sakhalin), in Pomoshchˊ golodaiushchim (‘Aid for the Hungry’), a collection of works published to raise money for victims of the Russian famine that had begun along the Volga River the year before. 6,100 copies of the anthology were published and its other contributors included Leo Tolstoy (who was an outspoken critic of the government’s handling of the famine), Konstantin Balmont  and Dmitry Merezhkovsky.

Chekhov image 3Image from the inside cover of Pomoshchˊ golodaiushchim. (Moscow, 1892) YA.2002.a.2793

The famine had arisen following bad weather in 1890-91 and a subsequent poor grain harvest. However, despite the severely reduced harvest, there was in fact enough food available to feed the population. Problems with infrastructure and government policy meant that food supplies were not fairly and adequately distributed. As a result, almost half a million people are believed to have perished by the end of 1892, the majority from disease triggered by the famine.

Chekhov image 4An illustration printed in Pomoshchˊ golodaiushchim. The caption reads: ‘A hungry man understands the hungry’.

The British Library’s rare copy of the first and only edition of Pomoshch’ golodaiushchim not only provides information on the horrific famine and the attempts to aid its victims, but it is also particularly noteworthy as it contains the first appearance in print of any part of Chekhov’s book on Sakhalin Island. The chapter in question deals with runaways in the penal colony and later formed the penultimate chapter in the full version of his 1895 book in revised and abbreviated form. For example, an evocative passage describing the natural obstacles facing those attempting to escape the island appears in the 1892 and 1895 publications as follows:

Но среди препятствий, удерживающих людей от побегов, не так страшны морские волны, как путь к морю. Переплыть море не трудно, не страшно и утонуть в нем, но трудно и страшно подходить к нему. Непроходимая сахалинская тайга, горы, постоянная сырость, туманы, голод, безлюдье, а зимою страшные морозы и метели – вот истинные друзья надзора.
But among the obstacles which restrain people from escaping, the path to the sea is more formidable than the waves. It is not the crossing of, or even the fear of drowning in, this sea that is difficult and frightening, but the route to the sea itself. The impassable taiga, the mountains, the permanent damp, the mists, hunger, the lack of human beings, and in winter, the dreadful frosts and snow-storms – it is these things that are the true allies of surveillance.
(‘Beglye na Sakhaline’, 1892, Pomoshchˊ golodaiushchim, p. 228)

Но среди препятствий, удерживающих людей от побегов, страшно главным образом не море. Непроходимая сахалинская тайга, горы, постоянная сырость, туманы, безлюдье, медведи, голод, мошка, а зимою страшные морозы и метели – вот истинные друзья надзора.
But among the obstacles which restrain people from escaping, it is not the sea that is primarily so terrible. The impassable taiga, the mountains, the permanent damp, the mists, the lack of human beings, bears, hunger, mosquitoes, and in winter, the dreadful frosts and snow-storms – it is these things that are the true allies of surveillance.
(Ostrov Sakhalin, 1895, p. 475)

Following the publication of Pomoshchˊ golodaiushchim, Chekhov published several other chapters from Ostrov Sakhalin in the Russian periodical Russkaia myslˊ (‘Russian Thought’; P.P.4842.dc.) prior to its full publication.

Chekhov’s reasons for travelling to Sakhalin have long been a source of debate for scholars (Karlinsky, pp. 152-154). It is clear, however, that the trip and his subsequent book had a profound impact on both him and Russian society. To this day, the island and Chekhov’s work continue to hold a poignant fascination, as a photo essay  by Oleg Klimov for the 120th anniversary of the 1895 publication of Ostrov Sakhalin demonstrates.

 Katie McElvanney, Curator Eastern European Collections

References and further reading:

Anton Chekhov, Ostrov Sakhalin (Moscow, 1895). 10011.l.21

Anton Chekhov, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem A. P. Chekhova. Volume 10. ‘Ostrov Sakhalin, 1891-1894’. ‘Iz Sibiri, 1890’. 1948. 12266.l.1.

Anton Chekhov, Sakhalin Island, translated by Brian Reeve (Richmond, 2013). YC.2014.a.1499

Anton Chekhov’s life and thought: selected letters and commentary, translated from the Russian by Michael Henry Heim in collaboration with Simon Karlinsky; selection, introduction, and commentary by Simon Karlinsky (Evanston, Illinois, 1973). YC.1999.a.3087

Donald Rayfield, Understanding Chekhov: a critical study of Chekhov’s prose and drama (Bristol, 1999). YC.1999.a.3685

 

16 February 2018

Silent Witnesses: Two Manuals of the Sart Language

We’ve all heard of dead languages: the Latins, Ottomans, Manchus and Arawaks that dot the pages of historical texts. These are languages that have ceased to be spoken, whether as first languages or taught ones, by anything more than a handful of scholars. Some dialect groupings disappear altogether for reasons of politics (consider Ottoman and Manchu); social change (Gaulish and Messina Greek); or simple brutality and terror (Arawak and Beothuk). For many others, their “death” is merely a fudge: Latin developed into Italian, French, Spanish and other Romance languages by the same process that brought us contemporary English from Old English, although the latter grouping was never considered to have died. But what of languages that have disappeared through bureaucratic measures? The Sart language might be considered one such example.

Sart is, or was, a Turkic language spoken by the Sart people of Central Asia. Although ethnic identity in pre-Soviet Central Asia is an exceptionally thorny issue, consensus seems to be that the Sarts were a sedentarized Turkophone population in various urban centres throughout the region. They were assumed to be Iranic by descent, but a quick look at two works in the British Library’s collections confirm that their speech, as recorded by Russian officials and travellers at the end of the 19th century, was very much Turkic. This was a basis for their distinction from the neighbouring Tajik peoples of the Pamir range, a community with whom 19th and early 20th century ethnographers assumed they shared a common ancestry, as Maria Subtelny explores in ‘Symbiosis of Turk and Tajik’.

RB23b6250 Sayid Kerim Sayid Azimbaev Portrait

 Portraits of Sayid Azimbaev (above) and Palvan Tapylbaev (below), two Sarts whose lives and genealogies are studied in N.P. Ostroumov’s 19th-century ethnographic work on Sart communities, Sarty: etnograficheskie materialy (Tashkent, 1896) RB.23.b.6250. 


RB23b6250 Palvan Akhmad Tapylbaev

The first of the two works in question is a phrasebook entitled Frazy na sartovskom” iazykie (‘Phrases in the Sart Language’), authored by Z. A. Aleksieev in 1884 and published in Tashkent. It was intended to be of “useful benefit for landlords and landladies, buyers and farmers, and [with] a good chrestomathy for Russians learning literacy in Sart and for Sarts beginning to read in Russian.” This was only 19 years after the city of Tashkent had fallen into Russian hands, and five years before the arrival of the Trans-Caspian Railway. It is a good indication of the pressure Russian officials felt to cement their interests among the mercantile classes of a sensitive part of the Empire abutting British interests in the Sub-Continent.

14489d15 Frazy na sartovskom iazyke Cover PageCover of Frazy na sartovskom” iazykie … (Tashkent, 1884) 14489.d.15

Although the work was advertised as being a learning resource for Sarts, it was clearly aimed at Russians: it is organized into three columns, with a Sart phrase on the far right; its Russian translation on the far left of the page; and a Cyrillic transliteration of the Sart in the middle. No Arabic transliteration of the Russian exists.

14489d15 Frazy na sartovskom iazyke Sample page A page from Frazy na sartovskom” iazykie, dealing with tree planting

The table of contents shows just how heavily it was geared towards functional interactions: while there is no section on small talk, there are stock phrases about buying birds or carpets; teacher-student interaction; farming; and the repair of telegraphic lines.

14489d15 Frazy na sartovskom iazyke TOC
Table of contents from Frazy na sartovskom” iazykie showing the diversity of commercial topics covered by the book

It is difficult to compare Sart to contemporary Turkic languages from the region. These reflect heavy state intervention on the part of the Soviet authorities and bear the scars of often traumatic social disruption, such as the collectivization and sedentarization campaigns of the 1930s. Nonetheless, what we can say about it is that it resembles considerably contemporary Uzbek, as well as certain features of Kazakh and Kyrgyz, all of which are spoken today in the regions where the Sarts lived.

12975l21 RusskoSartovskii Slovar Cover Page

 Cover  of V.P. Nalivkin, Russko-Sartovskii i Sartovsko-Russkii Slovar’ (Kazan, 1884) 12975.l.21.

The second work is a dictionary and short grammar of the language compiled by Vladimir Nalivkin. Published in 1884 as well, this time in Kazan’, it focuses on the dialect of the Namanganskii Uezd, in contemporary eastern Uzbekistan. Russko-Sartovskii i Sartovsko-Russkii Slovar’ is not, unfortunately, as telling of the social relations between Russians and Sarts as is Frazy, but it does reveal many important features of the language. Much of the vocabulary is not far from that of the Turkic languages of today’s Central Asia, although there are some remarkable departures, including in the names of months. The grammar is far from systematic, and provides only a sketch of the most important morphological structures of the language. Nevertheless, it is easy to see that Sart behaved very much like other Karluk Turkic languages;  it would not have been hard for anyone versed in Chagatai or even contemporary Uyghur or Uzbek to pick up.

12975l21 RusskoSartovskii Slovar Grammar

Sketch of Sart grammar, from Russko-Sartovskii i Sartovsko-Russkii Slovar’

As an important vehicle of commercial communication, it would be easy to assume that Sart would function as a crucial tool in extending Moscow’s authority over Central Asia in the 20th century. Such was not the case. In the 1920s and 30s, the Soviet government sent out teams of ethnographers and anthropologists in order to determine the region’s ethno-linguistic make-up; a key step towards the division of the territory into national republics. As Francine Hirsh has explored in Empire of Nations, this was a fraught process, occasionally led by political fiat rather than evidence. Throughout it, the Sarts fared badly. It was assumed that, in the march towards Socialism, they would be absorbed into the Uzbek nation. As a result, their language was not provided official recognition, and their culture ignored in favour of a Socialist Uzbek one. Sarts disappeared from the 1926 census and official discourse. The Sart language, along with dozens of other dialects that were no longer deemed to be expedient in the march towards Communism, was expunged from the historical record. These two items in the British Library’s collections, however, remain as testimonies to the vibrancy and importance of the language in the pre-Soviet period, and the people who spoke it.

Michael Erdman, Curator of Turkish and Turkic Collections

References/Further reading

Sergeĭ Abashin, Natsionalizmy v Sredneĭ Azii: v poiskakh identichnosti (St Petersburg, 2007) YF.2009.a.901 

Maria Subtelny, ‘The Symbiosis of Turk and Tajik’, in Central Asia in historical perspective, edited by Beatrice F. Manz (Boulder, 1994) ORW.1996.a.1330

Frances Hirsch, Empire of nations: ethnographic knowledge & the making of the Soviet Union (Ithaca, N.Y., 2005) YC.2005.a.7999

Polveka v Turkestane : V.P. Nalivkin biografiia, dokumenty, trudy = Half a century in Turkestan : Vladimir Petrovich Nalivkin : biography, documents and works, Redaktory-sostaviteli: S.N. Abashin [and five others] (Moscow, 2015) YF.2017.a.4115

14 February 2018

Rainbow sickness: Beauty and despair in Carlo Levi’s ‘Christ stopped at Eboli’

Writer, poet, painter, doctor, banished to a small village in Lucania in 1935 for his anti-fascist activities, Carlo Levi (1902-1975) wrote about his experience as a political prisoner in the then remote and extremely poor south Italian towns Grassano and Aliano.

This work, Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli) – a combination of diary, novel, sociological study and political essay – was published in 1945 and translated into English by Frances Frenaye in 1948.

Carlo levi Map Map of Southern Italy, with Lucania in the centre, from Carlo Levi Christ stopped at Eboli ... Translated by Frances Frenaye. (London, 1948). 010151.k.6. 

As Levi explains from the very beginning, the title signifies the peasants’ sense of loss:

We are not Christian – they say. ‘Christ stopped short of here, Eboli’. ‘Christian’, in their way of speaking, means ‘human being’, and this almost proverbial phrase that I have so often heard them repeat may be no more than the expression of a hopeless feeling of inferiority. We are not Christians, we are not human beings…

In 1979, the book was adapted into a film featuring also some of the paintings Levi made during that time.

Carlo Levi Dipinti

Cover of Carlo Levi e la Lucania, dipinti del confino. (Matera, 1990) LB.31.b.5511

Christ Stopped at Eboli has the poetic narrative of a world seen by peasants – a world of superstitions, spells, where respect for the Madonna precedes religion, and the doctors from town are mistrusted. In describing how people lived Levi gives the paradoxical impression that he is the only free man in those villages. This marks a distance between him and that world, but at the same time reveals an empathic calm and love for it; as Italo Calvino says in a preface to the novel: ‘The love for things he talks about is a characteristic which we must bear in mind if we want to succeed at defining the singularity of Levi’s literary work’.

During the first days of my stay whenever I happened to meet … an old peasant who did not know me, he would stop the donkey to greet me and ask ...: ‘Who are you? Where are you going?’
‘Just for a walk: I am a political prisoner,’ I would answer. ‘An exile? (They always said exile instead of prisoner.) Too bad! Someone in Rome must have had it in for you.’ And he would say no more, but smile at me in a brotherly fashion as he prodded his mount into motion.
This passive brotherliness, this sympathy in the original sense of the word, as suffering together, this fatalistic, comradely, age-old patience, is the deepest feeling the peasants have in common, a bond made by nature rather than by religion.

The description of how peasants see the world reminds us somehow of the mythopoetic vision of the primitive societies described in a collection of essays first published in the same year with the title The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man and later reissued as Before Philosophy.

They could reason logically; but they did not care to do it. For the detachment which a purely intellectual attitude implies is hardly compatible with their most significant experience of reality.

That same impossibility of intellectual detachment is observed by Levi:

… And in the peasants’ world there is no room for reason, religion, and history. There is no room for religion, because to them everything participates in divinity, everything is actually, not merely symbolically, divine: Christ and the goat; the heavens above, and the beasts of the fields below; everything is bound up with magic. Even the ceremonies of the church become pagan rites, celebrating the existence of inanimate things, which the peasants endow with a soul, and the innumerable earthy divinities of the village…

Carlo Levi strada delle grotte page 11 ‘La Strada delle Grotte’, painting by Levi reproduced in Carlo Levi e la Lucania

The dramatic description of Matera gives a clear idea of the conditions people lived in at that time:

In the gully lay Matera… The gully had a strange shape: it was formed by two half-funnels, side by side separated by a narrow spur meeting at the bottom… The two funnels, I learned, were called Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano. They were like a schoolboy’s idea of Dante’s inferno… They were caved, dug into the hardened clay walls of the gully, each with its own façade, some of which were quite handsome, with eighteenth-century ornamentation… The houses were open on account of the heat, and as I went by I could see into the caves, whose only light came through the front doors. Some of them had no entrance by a trapdoor or a ladder… On the floor lays dog, sheep, goats, and pigs. Most families have just one cave to live in and they sleep all together: men, women, children, and animals. This is how twenty thousand people live. Of children I saw an infinite number. They appeared from everywhere, in the dust and heat, amid the flies, stark naked or clothed in rags: I have never in all my life seen such a picture of poverty.

When Levi describes the peasant woman Giulia we see again a distance between him and the world he observes – similar to the one between the writers of Before Philosophy and the ancient world they observe – but also a close, lucid enchantment:

Giulia was a tall and shapely woman with a waist as slender as that of an amphora between her well-developed chest and hips. In her youth she must have had a solemn and barbaric beauty… Her face as a whole had a strongly archaic character, not classical in the Greek or Roman sense, but stemming from an antiquity more mysterious and more cruel which had sprung always from same ground, and which was unrelated to man, but linked with the soil and its everlasting animal deities…

Carlo Levi Giulia ‘Giulia’, painting by Levi reproduced in Carlo Levi e la Lucania

Levi’s empathy and commitment to help are also very tangible. Although initially reluctant, he used his medical knowledge to help and cure the sick, gaining the respect of the people but also making the local ‘doctors’ jealous. Still, Carlo Levi the doctor is not immune to the peasants’ magic vision of the world as he is also the poet and painter who immerses himself in it:

The peasant called jaundice male dell’arco or rainbow sickness, because it makes a man change his colour to that which is the strongest in the spectrum of the sun, namely, yellow. And how does a man catch jaundice? The rainbow walks across the sky with its feet on the ground. If the rainbow’s feet step on clothes hung out to dry, whoever puts them on will take on the colours of the rainbow, with which they have been impregnated, and fall ill.

As Calvino wrote in his preface, Levi witnessed the presence of a time within his time, of another world within his world, where myth and reality clash. Here again there is a similarity with what H. and H. A. Frankfort wrote in the introduction to Before Philosophy:

Myth is a form of poetry which transcends poetry in that it proclaims the truth; a form of reasoning which transcends reasoning in that it wants to bring about the truth it proclaims; a form of action, of ritual behaviour, which does not find its fulfilment in the act but must proclaim and elaborate a poetic form of truth.

Carlo Levi coversEnglish and Italian editions of Cristo si è fermato a Eboli

Christ stopped at Eboli is both a great literary work and an important historical text. It is worth reading to have an understanding of the North and South difference within Italy before and after the Second World War.

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

References/Further reading:

Carlo Levi, Cristo si è fermato a Eboli; con saggi di Italo Calvino e Jean-Paul Sartre. (Turin, 2010). YF.2012.a.18391

Carlo Levi, Christ Stopped at Eboli. (Harmondsworth, 1982 ) X.950/13018.

Before Philosophy ... An essay on speculative thought in the ancient Near East. By H. and H. A. Frankfort, John A. Wilson, Thorkild Jacobsen. (Harmondsworth, 1949). 012209.d.4/198

The voices of Carlo Levi, Joseph Farrell (ed). (Oxford, 2007) YD.2008.a.5166

Daniela Bartalesi-Graf, Voci dal sud, a journey to Southern Italy with Carlo Levi and his Christ stopped at Eboli (London, 2011) YC.2010.b.2403

 

12 February 2018

1918 and the Eclipse of Populist Marxism

2017 saw a number of important milestones in the history of Russian Marxism, including the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first volume of Das Kapital and the centenary of the Russian Revolution. From 1 May to 5 August 2018, the British Library will be celebrating 200 years since Marx’s birth with an exhibition in the Treasures Gallery.

This year will also see the centenaries of the deaths of five central figures from the generation of ‘Populist’ Russians who began to engage with the ideas of Marx – V.V. Bervi-Flerovsky (b. 1829), Nikolai Danielson (b. 1844), Nikolai Liubavin (b. 1845), German Lopatin (b. 1845) and Vasily Vorontsov (b. 1847). The British Library holds original editions of many of their books, the manuscripts of the extensive correspondence between Danielson and Marx  (Add MS 38075), and the fruits of their work: Russian translations of the three volumes of Das Kapital, completed between 1872 and 1896.

Populism Capital

Above: Title page of volume 1 of Karl Marx, Kapital (St Petersburg, 1872-1896) C.185.b.12. The first translation of volume one of Das Kapital into any foreign language. Below: Inscription on the title-page of the second volume (completed by Danielson in 1885 after Marx’s death): ‘To the British Museum from the literary executors of Karl Marx. London 1.2.86. Presented by F. Engels & Eleanor Marx Aveling’.  

Populism Engels

These Populist ‘fathers’ represent something of a forgotten generation, overshadowed by the more familiar names of the Social Democratic ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’: the Mensheviks Georgi Plekhanov (who also died in 1918), Vera Zasulich, and Yuri Martov; and the Bolsheviks Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin.

Many commentators have depicted a rigid division between Populism and Marxism. Lenin  wrote that Populism was a ‘whole vision of the world whose history begins with Herzen and ends with Danielson’ – a precursor of his own revolutionary ideology, but essentially non-Marxist.

Populism Flerovsky  Danielson  Lopatin  Vorontsov
Top row, left to right: V.V. Bervi-Flerovsky (date unknown) and Nikolai Danielson (1908). Bottom row, left to right: German Lopatin (c.1895) and Vasily Vorontsov (date unknown). Images from Wikimedia Commons

The ‘Populists’ did not see it that way. As well as being involved in the translation of Das Kapital into Russian (in the case of Danielson, Liubavin, and Lopatin), they also sought to grasp what it meant for Russia. In the book, Marx vividly depicted what he called the ‘primitive accumulation of capital’, which shifted resources from pre-capitalist agricultural forms to the developing industrial capitalist sector - with devastating consequences for agricultural communities.

In Marx’s work, this is a historical account of a task already substantially achieved by the bourgeoisie – the subordination of agriculture to industry. For his Russian readers, however, this process lay not in the recent past but in their immediate future. They feared that the famines and social dislocation of industrialisation in the British Empire might be repeated in Russia.

Populism RepinA common experience for Marx’s early advocates in Russia. Ilya Repin’s Arrest of a Propagandist (1880-92). Image from Wikimedia Commons

Must Moscow travel the British road, ‘the expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, from the soil’? In the closing decades of the 19th century, Russian intellectuals drew on Marx to argue for various positions in relation to this question.

Though with differing emphases and political approaches, Bervi-Flerovsky, Danielson, Liubavin, Lopatin, and Vorontsov foresaw a ‘non-capitalist’ industrialisation in Russia, which would avoid the horrors of the ‘primitive accumulation of capital’. By exposing the economic mechanisms driving development in Western Europe, they argued, Marx opened up the possibility of a more self-conscious and planned process. They hoped for a more humane path which would allow the peasant commune to persist in some form, or at least enable the class of peasants to become modern socialist citizens without severe disruption.

Populism Vorontsov 1892

 Vorontsov’s  Krest'ianskaia Obshchina (‘The Peasant Commune’) (Moscow, 1892) 08207.k.30.

Other readers of Marx advanced a more fatalistic interpretation. For Nikolai Ziber (1844-88), known as ‘the first Russian Marxist’, there could be no path to socialism except through a long period of capitalist development exactly as depicted in Das Kapital. There must first be a bourgeois-democratic revolution to enable the unfettered accumulation of capital. A socialist revolution would follow only once more traditional economic forms had been dismantled, and the peasantry forcibly transformed into a wage-earning proletariat. This reading became known as ‘orthodox Marxism’, influencing the Social Democratic movement as well as the Legal Marxist intellectuals like Peter Struve.

By 1917, Lenin had resolved to cut the Gordian Knot by a third solution: to try to spark a world revolution, and contribute to the success of socialism in the developed capitalist countries. Socialist Russia would then be able to modernise in collaboration with the advanced economies of Socialist Europe.

Populism Lopatin 1926

 An early Soviet work about Lopatin. I. I. Popov, German Aleksandrovich Lopatin (Moscow, 1926) 010795.aa.85.

The daring actions of the Leninists in 1917 brought their particular strand of Russian Marxism to the fore, eclipsing all rival interpretations. In 1918 the Bolsheviks celebrated the centenary of Marx’s birth as the rulers of Soviet Russia, staking their claim to be his only faithful followers.

However, the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary ideology itself had emerged out of engagement with these older figures, albeit often in passionate argument with them. As the world socialist revolution failed in the years after 1917, the question of the fate of the peasantry along Russia’s path of industrial development, which had been so central for these early readers of Marx, returned with even greater urgency.

Mike Carey, Curator of East European Collections

References/Further Reading

Ewa Borowska, ‘Marx and Russia’, Studies in East European Thought 54, 1/2 (March, 2002), 87-103. 8490.413600

Henry Eaton, ‘Marx and the Russians’, Journal of the History of Ideas 41, 1 (January-March, 1980), 89-112. 5000.900000

Letters of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to Nikolai Frantsevitch Daniel’son (1868-1895) Add MS 38075.

Derek Offord, ‘The Contribution of V.V. Bervi-Flerovsky to Russian Populism’, The Slavonic and East European Review 66, 2 (April, 1988), 236-51.

Albert Resis, ‘Das Kapital Comes to Russia’, Slavic Review 29, 2 (June, 1970), 219-37. 8309.385000

Andrzej Walicki, The Controversy Over Capitalism: Studies in the Social Philosophy of the Russian Populists (Oxford, 1969) X.529/10228.

09 February 2018

Maria Prymachenko’s fantastic world of flowers and animals

Among the outstanding figures of 20th-century Ukrainian culture Maria Prymachenko (1909-97), the Honoured Artist of Ukraine and winner of the Shevchenko National Prize, occupies one of the highest places. Her name belongs to the line of outstanding artists of naïve art, such as Henri Rousseau, Niko Pirosmanishvili, Ivan Generalic and Nykyfor Drovniak

Maria Prymachenko devoted nearly 60 years to her beloved occupation, painting. Her works are spread among Ukrainian museums and private collections. The largest part of her legacy, nearly 650 works, dating from 1936 to 1987, is kept in the collection of the National Museum of Ukrainian Folk Applied Art in Kyiv.

PrymachenkoPhoto
Maria Prymachenko in 1936. Reproduced in Mariia Pryimachenko. Al'bom (Kyiv, 1994) YA.1997.a.1106.
  

Maria Prymachenko was born in the Kyiv region into a peasant family. In her childhood she suffered from polio, which left her an invalid for the rest of her life. But this severe illness did not break her spirit. Having learned embroidery from her mother during childhood, in the late 1920s and early 1930s the future artist started to work in the Ivankiv Co-operative Embroidery Association, where she brought her own interpretation to traditional ornaments as well as creating her own artistic designs. The Kyivan artist Tetiana Floru saw Maria’s embroideries in the Ivankiv market, and in 1935 invited the talented girl to work in the Central Experimental Workshop of the Kyiv Museum of Ukrainian Art. Here folk artists from the whole of Ukraine were assembled together for the preparation of the First Republican Folk Art Exhibition, which took place in Kyiv in 1936 (photo of Maria Prymachenko from 1936 above), and was later shown in Moscow and Leningrad. In 1937 some of Prymachenko’s drawings were presented in the International Exhibition in Paris.

PrymachenkoBirdOfPrayХижачка 1936Bird of Prey (1936).  Reproduced in  Mariia Pryimachenko. Al'bom 

From the start Maria Prymachenko showed herself to be an artist with a unique world view. In the creation of artistic images in her drawings from the 1930s a decisive role was played by line and by the principles of traditional Ukrainian ornaments, presenting flowers, plants and animals in two-dimensional forms.

PrymachenkoBlackBeastЧорний звір                                    Beast (1936) Reproduced in:  Mariia Pryimachenko. Al’bom.

This period of Maria Prymachenko’s life was brightened by two important events: after several successful operations in Kyiv, she could stand on both legs – and in Kyiv she met her beloved fellow countryman, the Red Army lieutenant Vasyl' Marynchuk. After productive activity in the Workshop, she came home to her native village, Bolotnya. In March 1941 she gave birth to her son Fedir. A few months later Ukraine was occupied by the Nazis. The artist experienced all the horrors of war: her brother Ivan was shot by the Germans, and later her husband also perished. The hard war years were exchanged for post-war poverty, constant work on a collective farm, and bringing up her son. She had neither the time nor the strength for painting. But her intensive artistic energy constantly sought realisation. At the beginning Maria embroidered a lot, and later took up painting again,predominantly small compositions with animals, birds and landscapes on leaves from school sketchbooks.

With time the format of her paintings increased. The white backgrounds of the 1930s works gave place to coloured ones in the 1960s-1980s. At the same time her technique changed: from the transparent watercolours with clear graphic contours of her early works to thick intensive gouache, which gave birth to wonderful full-toned depths of colour. But the world of her images remained unchanged, as well as the virtuosity of line and colour.

PrymachenkoBearsВедмедіувазі 1965Bears in Beegarden (1965).  Reproduced in  Mariia Pryimachenko. Al’bom

Flowers had a special place in her artistic heritage. Bright, decorative, unusual in shape and colour, they rose to the rank of the miraculous, and joined the aesthetic-philosophical interpretation of relations between human beings and the universe.

PrymachenkoPoppies Домашні маки  1965 (2)

 Poppies (1964) Reproduced in Mariia Pryimachenko. Al’bom

Images of birds, which for centuries have personified goodness, love, peace, and represent intermediaries between heaven and earth, occupy a significant place in her numerous compositions.

PrymachenkoFairyBird

 Bird (1962) Reproduced in: Mariia Pryimachenko. Al’bom

Decorative pictures with images of animals and fantastic creatures are a quintessential part of Prymachenko’s art. She impresses us by her talent for the creation of new unique images. Many critics noticed her specific 'philosophy of the good’, which she embodies in images of ‘kind’ beasts and birds (lions, hares, bulls, horses, storks, swallows etc.). In the 1970s an important innovation appeared – on the backs of her drawings she wrote captions, a kind of explanatory proverbs, organically linked to the images.

PrymachenkoCoverOstrovsky Cover of Grigoriii Ostrovskii, Dobryi lev Marii Primachenko (Moscow, 1990). YA.1993.a.25439

Many articles and albums with reproductions of her works were published, exhibitions held, films were made, coins and postage stamps issued in the independent Ukraine. The magic world of Maria Prymachenko continues to capture the imagination.

PrymachenkoPostalStamp PryjmachenkoPostalStamp2

 Two postage stamps with fantastic beasts by Maria Prymachenko (From Wikimedia Commons

Olena Shestakova, Head of Department, National Museum of Ukrainian Folk Applied Art

Further reading:

Oleksandr Naiden, Mariia Pryimachenko, Ornament prostoru i prostir ornamentu (Kyiv, 2011) YF.2012.a.9431

Oleksandr Naiden, Mariia Pryimachenko 100 (Kyiv, 2009). On order

Derzhavnyi muzei ukrains’koho narodnoho dekoratyvnoho prykladnohio mystestva URSR. Al’bom (Kyiv, 1983) L45/3278

Platon Biletsky, Soviet Ukrainian art. (Kyiv, 1979). X.421/20427

Natalia Brodskaia, Naïve Art. (New York, 2000). LB.31.c.12796.

07 February 2018

Exporting the Animals’ Revolt: Kostamorov - Reymont - Orwell

People say that there are only 3? (7? 11?) basic plots in the whole of world literature. Goethe claimed it was 36, but apparently he nicked the idea from a guy named Gozzi. I suspect the exact number will be argued as long as people tell stories but they can spin yarns of such striking likeness it makes one wonder how these plots travel, cropping up in different times and places, in seemingly disparate worlds.

Orwell’s Animal Farm is a good case in point. As discussed in two previous blog posts, for close on 60 years it was the prime example of a political allegory using the ancient form of animal fable to comment on 20th century politics, but the rediscovery of two earlier stories of animal revolutions, Władysław Reymont’s Bunt, and Nikolai Kostomarov’s Skotskoi Bunt  in recent years has raised the question of whether the three stories share the same genetic lineage. If they do, the next question is: how did the original idea travel from Russia to Poland to Britain?

The first possible route that immediately comes to mind is via Sonia Brownell, “the girl from the Fiction Department”, Julia from 1984, and Orwell’s future wife. They met in the early 1940s at Horizon magazine where Sonia was working as a secretary to Cyril Connolly, but already had solid editorial experience as assistant to Eugene Vinaver, a Russian post-revolutionary émigré and another specialist in fairy tales, though in his case they were Malory’s Arthurian tales.

Eugene was the son of Maxim Vinaver who was born, raised and educated in Warsaw before making a career as a lawyer in St Petersburg. He played an active role in the Russian Revolution but escaped to France before it could swallow him up. While settled in St Petersburg, the Vinaver family would almost certainly have subscribed to the legendary magazine Niva, which published Kostomarov’s story in 1917, as no respectable bourgeois family could function in society without it.

Maxim Vinaver RB.31.c.577
Maxim Vinaver as a member of the first Russian Parliament in 1905, from Pamiatnaia knizhka pervoĭ Gosudarstvennoĭ dumy (St Petersburg, 1906). RB.31.c.577

It’s practically certain too that Maxim Vinaver knew Reymont’s work; after all they went to school in Warsaw at the same time, a fact which wouldn’t have been lost on Maxim when Reymont won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. As a sociologist and a lawyer fighting for Jewish rights, he must have been familiar with Reymont’s rural and industrial novels of the Russian Empire, Chłopi (‘The Peasants’; Warsaw, 1904; 12591.b.52.) and Ziemia Obiecana (‘The Promised Land’; Warsaw, 1899; 12591.cc.39) and also with his journalism dealing with the rights of Polish minorities subjected to heavy Russification in the Lublin Governorate after 1912. Maxim might have even read Bunt, and would have shared both its anti-revolutionary sentiment and its interest in folklore – he was a founding member of the Russian Jewish Ethnographical Society and apparently infected his son with his interests badly enough for the young Eugene to study mediaeval literature and eventually to become an academic specialist in fables.

Clearly both Vinavers had good first-hand knowledge of both the mechanics of revolution and the art of fairy tales. Just as Orwell had towards the end of his spell at the BBC when he was working on radio adaptations of fairy tales. At that time he had already met Sonia Brownell. Could it be it was then she passed Vinaver’s infection (in-fiction?) on to Orwell?

Another possible route from 1920s Poland to 1940s Britain for the story of animal revolt as a parable of Russian Revolution could be via Teresa Jeleńska, Animal Farm’s Polish translator (in fact the first translator of Animal Farm into any language). Jeleńska was an aristocratic socialite in pre-war Poland, moving in European literary and political circles, who found herself as a refugee in London in 1941. Working as a journalist she met Orwell and the two became friends.

TeresaJelenska2
Photo of Teresa Jeleńska (Rome, 1924) from:  Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, Teresa Jeleńska, Konstanty A. Jeleński, Korespondencja (Warsaw, 2008). YF.2011.a.6916 

Jeleńska’s son, Konstanty, or Kot, later an influential essayist and translator of Witold Gombrowicz, after the war ran the Eastern European division of Congress for Cultural Freedom (its Manifesto was drafted by Arthur Koestler, a close friend of Orwell). In a letter to Jonathan Brent of 7 August 1985,  explaining the biographical introduction to his first collection of essays Zbiegi okoliczności (‘Coincidences’; Paris, 1982; X.950/16831), Konstanty recalled, “During my war years in England I discovered the Horizon and Partisan Review and met some English writers like Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman, Cyril Connolly, Raymond Mortimer and George Orwell (a friend of my mother…)”. It must have been at the same time that he met and befriended Sonia Brownell, though their shared interest then was probably more in painting than literature.

KonstantyJelenski

Title-page and frontispiece of Konstanty A. Jeleński. Chwile  oderwane (Gdańsk, 2008). YF.2009.a.16241

Jeleńska’s name doesn’t register in any biography of Orwell as one of his friends but only as a translator. Yet their paths apparently crossed quite frequently (probably after Jeleńska and Kot moved to Scotland in 1942), and their friendship, or at least their working relationship, was close enough for Orwell to trust her with the typescript of Animal Farm before publication. They may have been also Orwell’s Polish liaison behind his piece in Tribune (Sept. 1944) on the Warsaw Rising, in which he denounced the West for not helping the insurgents and Stalin for holding up the offensive and waiting for the Uprising to bleed to death. They corresponded regularly until Orwell’s death in 1950.

It’s unlikely that the Jeleńskis would not have known of Reymont’s story but whether they talked about it with Orwell remains unknown, as does whether Sonia Brownell regaled Orwell with stories heard from Eugene Vinaver about his years in St Petersburg or his father’s knowledge of a fellow Varsovian’s work on revolution. The readily available literature is mute on the subject, perhaps the secrets are still buried in the archives? These are mostly uncharted waters but perhaps one day someone out there will map them out. Sails up.

 Wiesiek Powaga, Polish translator

05 February 2018

10,315 x 2: the days of and after the Berlin Wall

5 February 2018 marks a curious anniversary: the date on which the Berlin Wall has been down for as long it stood. There were 10,315 days between 13 August 1961, when the first breezeblock-and-barbed-wire barriers appeared, and 9 November 1989 when crossing-points were opened and hundreds of East Berliners headed into the west of the city. Of course, the wall did not completely disappear until some months later, but after 9 November it would never again divide the city as it had for 28 years.

Bornholmer Strasse memorial plaque
Commemorative plaque at Bornholmer Strasse in Berlin, where the wall was first opened on 9 November 1989 (photograph by Susan Reed)

The British Library’s collections reflect the history of the Wall from its first appearance to its fall and its legacy, in academic studies, fiction and popular non-fiction, pictorial works, and more. We have a copy of one of the earliest collections of documentary photographs, Wolfdietrich Schurre’s Die Mauer des 13. August (Berlin, 1962; YA.1991.b.7307). This already shows the human cost of the Wall: families attempting to communicate across ever-rising barriers, and people climbing or leaping from houses on the eastern side to reach the west.

  Mauer Neues Deutschland
Headline from the official East German newspaper Neues Deutschland, 14 August 1961, (MFM.MF538H) describing the erection of the initial barriers the previous day as ‘measures for the protecion of peace and the security of the German Democratic Republic’

The Wall’s early years are also captured in the 2011 exhibition catalogue, Aus anderer Sicht, which contains official photographs taken for the East German authorities. Some are accompanied by short excerpts from the logbooks of East German border guards, ranging from the almost comical (such as a drunken westerner yelling ‘Happy Christmas’ from a viewing platform) to the grim and tragic: the deaths of would-be escapees.

Mauer aus anderer Sicht
Cover of  Annett Gröschner/Arwed Messmer (eds.) Aus anderer Sicht: die frühe Berliner Mauer = The other view : the early Berlin Wall (Ostfildern, 2011) YD.2012.b.142

The death toll at the Wall was notorious. A 1962 West German government report on the ‘violations of human rights, illegal acts and incidents’ in Berlin since the building of the wall already contains a long list of ‘homicidal crimes’ and other ‘deaths caused by the sealing-off measures’. A recent biographical handbook, The Victims at the Berlin Wall (Berlin, 2011; YC.2012.a.10023) links 136 deaths directly to the Wall – those killed or fatally wounded at or near the actual structure. But the editors point out that other deaths can also be connected more indirectly to the Wall, including many people who suffered fatal heart attacks during interrogation at checkpoints.

Mauer Greater Berlin Map
Map of Berlin showing the year-old wall and the places where related deaths had occurred since 13 August 1961, from Violations of human rights, illegal acts and incidents at the Sector border in Berlin since the building of the wall ... (Bonn, 1962) SF.583/444

To set against the terrible stories of the Wall’s dead, western writers were also keen to present a more optimistic narrative of successful escapes from East Berlin. Again, this began early: in their 1962 book The Berlin Wall, which otherwise emphasises the horrors of the situation, Deane and David Heller include stories and pictures of people who had managed to flee to the west.

Mauer tunnels
A successful and an unsuccessful attempt to escape from East Berlin by tunelling, from  Deane and David Heller, The Berlin Wall (London, 1962)

In the east, escape stories were officially spun very differently (if they were mentioned at all), as betrayals of the state. But they also circulated underground in their western guise as tales of hope, as illustrated by a Polish samizdat edition of a collection of true escape stories originally published in the UK.

Mauer Escape from Berlin samizdat Sol.202s
Anthony Kemp, Uciec z Berlina (Warsaw, 1988) Sol.202s. A samizdat edition of Escape from Berlin (London, 1987) YC.1987.b.5544

As well as dramatic true stories, there was plenty of fiction set around the Wall. German writers on both sides looked at the personal and social implications of a divided city in works such as Christa Wolf’s Der geteilte Himmel (Berlin, 1964; X.908/7267) or Peter Schneider’s Der Mauerspringer (Darmstadt, 1982; X.950/22618). In the English-speaking world, the Wall was more often a backdrop for tales of international espionage and Cold War tensions, as in the works of John le Carré and Len Deighton.

On its western side the Wall became a canvas for numerous graffiti artists, and as graffiti became more recognised as an art form, photographic books about ‘wall art’ began to appear, as well as books of art inspired by the Wall such as Maler interpretieren die Mauer (Berlin, 1985; YA.1994.b.1134) based on the collections of the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie Museum, or Peter Klasen’s Le mur de Berlin (Angers, 1988; LB.37.a.30).

Mauer Graffiti
Graffiti on the western side of the Wall, 1986. (Picture by Nancy Wong from Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0])

The fall of the Wall and the rapid political and social changes that followed led to a wave of celebratory publications, most of them richly illustrated. Perhaps the most fascinating, though far from the most lavish, in our collections is an A4 pamphlet of short pieces by pupils from a West Berlin school, describing their memories of 9-12 November 1989 and illustrated with photographs taken around Berlin later in the month. Although the individual texts and pictures are unattributed, the children’s signed forenames are reproduced on the back cover.

Mauer 89 front coverFront and back covers of Mauer 89 (Berlin, 1989) YA.1992.b.888

Mauer 89 back cover

The initial desire of Berliners after 1989 was to destroy the Wall completely. Few traces remain today, and in many places the landscape has changed so much that it is impossible to tell where the border once lay. More recently attitudes have changed and attempts have been made to preserve surviving traces and to create memorials to the Wall, its victims and the suffering it caused. Meanwhile, small fragments of the Wall (of increasingly dubious authenticity 28 years on) are still sold to tourists in Berlin, and large sections are preserved all over the world. The book Where in the World is the Berlin Wall? (Berlin, 2014; YD.2015.a.252) lists their locations.

Our fascination with the Berlin Wall has long outlasted the structure itself. Books of all kinds continue to appear about it, and every anniversary of its rise or fall creates new interest and brings new publications. Our collections will no doubt continue to grow accordingly.

 Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

To discover more about our collections relating to the Berlin Wall, see our online catalogue.