THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

18 posts categorized "Belgium"

02 August 2018

‘We’re all excited about Brussels!’ – The Atomium at 60

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When it comes to iconic buildings, the Atomium in Brussels surely takes top spot.

Towering over Brussels, it is the city’s most popular tourist attraction and never more so than this year, when it celebrates its 60th anniversary. Back in 1958 not many thought it would make it past its first year, let alone to 60.

AtomiumYF.2018.b.843The Atomium under construction, from Katarina Serulus and Javier Gimeno-Matinez Panorama (Brussels, 2017) YF.2018.b.843

It had been built as focus point for the Expo 58, the first World Exhibition after the Second World War. Designer-engineer André Waterkeyn and architects André and Jean Polak wanted to send a positive message about nuclear power, one in which nuclear power would be used for the benefit of all mankind. To that end they created three exhibition spaces inside the Atomium, as well as a restaurant in the top sphere for the public to visit. Which they did in their droves. The Atomium attracted over 40,000 visitors per year at one point.

AtomiumdetNachr2 Atomium detail, from Nachrichten aus der Chemie, Bd. 56, Nr. 5 (Weinheim, 2008). (P) JB 00-G(51)

The German magazine Nachrichten aus der Chemie of May 2008, looks at the Atomium from a technical point of view. It would certainly interest chemists to know that the Atomium in fact does not represent an iron atom, but one unit cell of pure iron, as kept under room temperature and under atmospheric pressure, 165 billion times enlarged. The design of the structure deviates from the actual chemical structure of this unit cell of pure iron. The proportions of the spheres and connecting tubes are different as is its position in space. This has everything to do with the practicalities of available space, accessibility (the need for staircases and lifts inside the connecting tubes) and the way in which the building had to be fixed to the ground.

Due to its popularity with the public the Atomium was not demolished, as had been the plan. Unfortunately, the aluminium coating was not meant to last for ever and over time it started to deteriorate. The Atomium literally and figuratively lost its shine and there was again talk of demolishing it. When more damage was discovered in 2003, the Atomium was closed. However, the people of Brussels did not want to lose their beloved Atomium, so renovation started in 2004. The aluminium was replaced by stainless steel; new elevators were fitted and other adjustments were made to make it fit for the 21st Century. In 2006 it re-opened, once more standing in all its shining glory, hopefully for at least another 60 years.

The British Library has a variety of material about the Expo 58. Apart from Nachrichten aus der Chemie, from which I took the technical information for this post, there is the novel Expo 58, by Jonathan Coe, from which I pinched the title of this blog.

  Expo 58 novel

Cover of Jonathan Coe’s Expo 58 (London, 2014) H.2015/.7833

Coe’s novel is a story about love and betrayal, with some espionage thrown in. It is set in the Expo grounds and wider Brussels, as well as Britain. When the protagonist Tom arrives at the Expo his guide drives him around the various pavilions. See if you can track his route on this plan of the Expo 58, held in our Maps collection.

AtomiumMapExpo1Plan Panoramique Expo 58 = Panoramisch Plan Expo 58 = Panoramic Plan Expo 58 = Panoramischer Plan Expo 58. (Brussels, 1958) Maps CC.6.a.74.

Tom’s main task is to look after the pub ‘Britannia’, which was part of the British pavilion, simply because his mother is Belgian and his father ran a pub for 20 years. This is not entirely fiction – there really was a pub called ‘Britannia’ set within the rural, green and pleasant UK pavilion. The panoramic plan of Expo 58 doesn’t show where it was located, but what is clear is the green setting.

AtomiumMapExpoUK Detail of the British pavilion, from the Plan Panoramique

I also looked at the British Newspaper Archive, available in our reading rooms. The Birmingham Daily Post of Friday 18 April 1958 writes glowingly about the flying start the British made, being the only country that finished its displays on time for the official opening!

AtomiumExpoposter

 Poster for the Expo 58 in Brussels, from Serulus and Gimeno-Matinez, Panorama

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.

 

21 May 2018

European Literature Night at the British Library: identity and translation

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The arrival of the month of May can only mean one thing: European Literature Night!

EUNIC  and the European Writers’ Tour, with additional support from the Czech Centre and Flanders House, organised this year’s event on May 10th. As always the British Library hosted the event whereby authors from continental Europe showcased their work translated into English. They  read passages from their books in English and their own language. The readings were followed by a panel discussion with a Q&A session. Afterwards the audience was invited to buy the guest authors’ books and have them signed.

So far, so traditional. However, this year saw some radical changes. There were three authors instead of six or eight, which did the authors more justice. It made the panel discussion possible, which wasn’t there in previous years. A smaller group of authors also made the event more intimate, and this was emphasised by the new location: not the big auditorium in the Knowledge Centre, but a cosy tent in front of it, on the Piazza.

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 Panel discussion at European Literature Night, Thursday 10 May 2018 at the British Library. From left to right: Peter Terrin, Sylva Fischerová, Meike Ziervogel, Scott Pack. Taken from EUNIC Twitter feed.

We had a new host: Scott Pack, who replaced the host for many years Rosie Goldsmith. She was still there, but rather enjoying the event, with a nice glass of wine. The theme of the evening was ‘Identity’. The choice of authors obviously reflected this. All three authors share a ‘multifaceted’ identity. Poet/philosopher Sylva Fischerova was born in what used to be Czechoslovakia and is now the Czech Republic. Nothing fundamental changed, life went on. People tell each other the story of the old woman who was born in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, grew up in Germany, lived in the Soviet Union and died in Ukraine, never moving away from her home town. Borders don’t determine one’s identity.

Maybe language plays a more important part in ‘identity’ than geographical borders.
Sylva objected to having her poetry translated into English. When her good friend Stuart Friebert offered to translate her poetry she dismissed it out of hand as being ‘impossible’, but eventually he persuaded her to give it a go. He then not only translated her poetry, but also commented on the poems themselves, sometimes resulting in changes to them. Sylva now thinks the translation is even better than the original Czech version. I can’t judge, because I don’t speak Czech, but I enjoyed Sylva’s readings from The Swing in the Middle of Chaos (YC.2011.a.678)

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Three books by Sylva Fischerová: Bizom, aneb, Služba a mise. (Brno, 2016). YF.2017a24377; The Tremor of Race Horses, transl. by Jarmila & Ian Milner. (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1990). YC.1990.a.10283; The Swing in the middle of Chaos, transl by Stuart Friebert. (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2010). YC.2011.a.678

Next up was Peter Terrin. He read from his 2015 novel Monte Carlo. The story throws up many questions about ‘identity’, such as where the protagonist belongs: in his English village, where he earns a living, repairing cars or on the Formula 1 circuits, as one of the top mechanics?

Peter Terrin sees himself as a ‘European’, rather than as a Belgian, or Fleming. ‘Identity’ is big in Belgium and language plays a major part in this, Terrin doesn’t ‘do’ borders. He speaks Flemish, English, probably French too and writes in Dutch (Flemish is very seldom used in writing). He lives in Belgium and publishes in the Netherlands.

‘This is really good,’ Peter thought, reading David Doherty’s translation of Monte Carlo. It felt almost like a new work. In a certain sense translations are new works. Translators never merely translate word by word; there is a big creative effort involved in translating any text. Still, the question remains what made him think like that. Maybe a foreign language creates the distance required to see one’s own work in a different light.

ELN2018PT MonteCarloMonte Carlo, Peter Terrin.(Amsterdam, 2015).YF.2016.a. 19205 and Monte Carlo, Peter Terrin, David Doherty. (London, 2017) DRT ELD.DS.163792.

German novelist and publisher Meike Ziervogel certainly seems to think so. She moved from Germany to the UK thirty years ago and writes solely in English. She calls herself a ‘translingual’ writer. She noticed that when writing in German she was hiding her emotions behind complicated words and constructions. At the time her ‘beginner’s’ level of English forced her to write in simpler, more direct language, which did bring out her true emotions. After thirty years English has become a native language to her and I could not help wondering if she ever feels like writing in German, doing the reverse of what she did thirty years ago, to force herself to identify her true emotions.

ELN2018MeikeZ Magda Magda, Meike Ziervogel. (Cromer, 2013). H.2015/.5439

Ziervogel is now on her fourth novel, The Photographer, about her own grandfather living through the Second World War.

ELN2018MeikeZThePhcover
 The Photographer by Meike Ziervogel. (London, 2017). DRT ELD.DS.206566 

I look forward to reading the various books that were discussed this evening, including Ziervogel’s Magda, her debut, about the wife of Joseph Goebbels. I hope I’ll finish them all before next year’s European Literature Night!


Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

 

20 February 2017

BeLgoLab 2017: Belgian Translations

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Translation plays a major role in Belgian culture, both domestically, by enabling Flemish speaking readers to access work produced in French and vice versa – and internationally, by disseminating work to wider audiences.

In its second year BeLgoLab 2017 is devoted to translations of different kinds. It combines formal papers and discussions with practical workshops, where published English translations are compared with the originals (guidance materials in the form of collections items will be supplied).

The event is aimed at researchers and postgraduates in Comparative Literature and Translation Studies, as well as those in French and Dutch studies, and anyone who is interested in the topic! Attendance is free and open to all, but registration is required as detailed below.

BeLgoLab01

 ‘Vers5’, by Paul van Ostaijen, taken from Verzameld Werk. Poëzie Vol 1. ([Antwerp, 1952]) British Library X.900/1631. A French translation can be seen on the website of the journal nY 

The programme is as follows:

Monday 6 March 2017: British Library, Knowledge Centre, Eliot Room
Bookings for this session via dutch-enquiries@bl.uk

13.30-14.00 Registration

14.00-14.10 Welcome Adrian Armstrong (Queen Mary University of London), Marja Kingma (British Library)

14.10-15.25 Workshop on translation: Amélie Nothomb, ‘Fear and Trembling’ (‘Stupeur et tremblements’) Adrian Armstrong

15.25-15.45 Tea/coffee

15.45-17.00 Workshop on translation: Paul van Ostaijen, ‘Occupied City’ (‘Bezette Stad’)  Jane Fenoulhet (University College London)

17.00-18.00 Reception, kindly supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Belgium in London

BeLgoLab03

 Books by Belgian authors will be featured at the event from the British Library’s collections

Tuesday 7 March 2017: Institute of Modern Languages Research (Senate House G35)
Bookings for this session via http://www.sas.ac.uk/events/event/7189

09.00-09.15 Welcome Adrian Armstrong, Marja Kingma

09.15-09.45 Translator’s choices in the literary field: Alex Brotherton’s translation of Gerard Walschap’s ‘Marriage/Ordeal’ (‘Trouwen’, ‘Celibaat’) Irving Wolters (University College London)

09.45-10.15 From Mobutu to Molenbeek: Cultural Translation in Contemporary Belgian Ethnic-Minority Writing in French Sarah Arens (University of Edinburgh)

10.15-10.30 Discussion

10.30-10.45 Tea/coffee

10.45-11.45 Round table: Translation and Belgium Adrian Armstrong, Marja Kingma.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

 

23 December 2016

Christmas in the Trenches 1916: a Mystery Play.

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This year I showed some items from our Low Countries collections  with a Christmas theme at the annual Christmas party for the Patrons of the British Library. I had selected three items, all of them worthy of a blog post, but I decided to pick just one: L’Adoration des Soldats, or ‘The Adoration of the Soldiers’. This year is the hundredth anniversary of its publication. It was not published in the Netherlands, or Flanders, but in London, the residence of its author Émile Cammaerts and place of refuge of its illustrator, Dutch cartoonist Louis Raemaekers.

The Adoration is a nice example of some of the more subtle Allied propaganda during World War I. Cammaerts’ wife, British actress Helen Tita Braun, better known under her stage name of Tita Brands, translated the French text into English. The English text is printed on the left hand pages, the French text on the right hand pages. Margaret B. Calkin wrote the script.

AdorSold00TtlpgP1090297

Title-page of Emile Cammaerts, L’Adoration des soldats = The adoration of the soldiers (London, [1916]). K.T.C.26.b.29.

It was the perfect book for the occasion, because it looks like an illuminated medieval manuscript, so practically guaranteed a warm reception with the public. The text is printed on high quality, thick paper, in black and red ink, in a medieval looking font. The initials are decorated, as are the spaces on lines where the text does not run to the end. It is bound in cream cloth, resembling vellum, with gilt decorations. Just as one would expect of a publisher like The Fine Arts Society

AdorSold01InitialEngP1090287

In the Foreword it says: “The Adoration of the Soldiers is a short mystery play which was suggested to Mons. Cammaerts during a visit which he paid to the Belgian Trenches in Christmas Week.” In what year this visit took place is not mentioned. The story is set in the trenches during Christmas. The main characters are four soldiers: The Believer, The Grumbler, The Jovial One and The Sceptic. They see a rocket being fired which fails to fall down on them, but remains hanging in the air, like a bright burning star. Soon after an old man leading a donkey carrying a young woman appears, as if from nowhere. How they managed to get through enemy lines and how they know the password is a mystery.

AdorSold02JosephMariaP1090291

After some deliberations the soldiers allow the couple to take shelter in their dug-out. All apart from The Believer go to sleep. Soon an angel appears to the soldiers, bringing the happy tidings of Christ’s birth, as on every Christmas. This year He chose to be reborn amongst “…his martyrs and defenders”, of which the angel says: “Let this be to you a token of victory!”.
The story ends with the soldiers adoring the Christ-Child in their dug-out, joined by people from the local village. All sing a local Christmas song.

AdorSold03NoelEngP1090293

 

AdorSold04bMadonnaChildsmallDSCF0807

I have not been able to find evidence of ‘The Adoration’ ever being performed, either in churches or in the trenches. If anyone knows of any such performance, please get in touch.

Thank you and Merry Christmas!

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections (Low Countries)

27 November 2016

‘Our only epic poet…’: Emile Verhaeren (1855-1916)

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Et le lent défilé des trains funèbres
Commence, avec leurs bruits de gonds
Et l’entrechoquement brutal de leurs wagons,
Disparaissait – tels des cercueils – vers les ténèbres.

These lines from Emile Verhaeren’s poem Plus loin que les gares, le soir’, with their evocation of a ‘slow parade of gloomy trains’ vanishing ‘like coffins’ into the distance, may be read as uncannily prophetic. Not only does it evoke the atmosphere of the stations throughout Europe where troop-trains would pull out to carry soldiers to the front, but also the one where, on 27 November 1916, the poet met his own end. Returning from Rouen to his home in Paris after speaking to a gathering of Belgian exiles and refugees, he tried to board the train too quickly, missed his footing, and fell beneath its wheels, dying shortly afterwards on the platform.

He was born on 21 May 1855 in Sint Amands, a riverside village on the Scheldt, at a time when the great canal system which had sustained trade throughout Flanders was already in decline, leaving his native country to become more and more of a backwater. Yet despite his decision to write in French and to move to Paris in 1898, the rhythms of the Flemish language and his love for a landscape dotted with disused windmills and the people who lived among them coloured his poetry throughout his life.

Verhaeren reading 11840.p.8
Verhaeren engrossed in a book, portrait from Albert de Bersaucourt, Conférence sur Émile Verhaeren (Paris, 1908.) 11840.p.8

After graduating in 1874 from the Collège Sainte Barbe in Ghent and studying law at the University of Louvain (1875-81), Verhaeren allied himself with the poets and artists who gathered round Max Waller, poet and founder of the journal La Jeune Belgique (P.P.4479.b.). Two years later Les XX, a group of twenty Belgian artists and designers, was formed, and drew Verhaeren into a circle of new friends and a career as an art critic. His essays for L’Art moderne (P.P.1803.laf.), also founded in 1881, established his reputation and brought him in contact with Auguste Rodin, Odilon Redon and other contemporary artists, many of whom supplied illustrations for his work. At the same time, as Symbolism gained ground in Belgium, his admiration for the great Flemish, Dutch and Spanish painters of the Golden Age was undiminished.

Verhaeren Flamandes 011483.c.54
 Title-page of the first edition of Verhaeren’s first volume of poetry, Les Flamandes (Brussels, 1883) 011483.c.54.

Nor was he merely a local figure; as his first volume of poetry, Les Flamandes was followed by many others and also by plays, he gained a readership which extended across Europe, especially when such distinguished literary figures as Edmund Gosse and Arthur Symons began to translate and promote his work in Britain. In Russia the poet Valery Bryusov, a distinguished translator of Homer and Virgil, performed a similar service for Verhaeren. The British Library also possesses an exquisite volume of poems by Verhaeren with paintings by the Japanese artist Kwasson, as well as an almanac (1895; K.T.C.8.a.9) in which Theo van Rysselberghe’s illustrations accompanied Verhaeren’s verses.

Verhaeren Images japonaises 15234.a.5. pagoda

Above: Poem by Verhaeren with Kwasson’s illutration, from Images japonaises (Tokyo, 1906) 15234.a.5. Below: Cover of Almanach. Cahier de vers d'Emile Verhaeren. Ornementé par Théo van Rysselberghe.(Brussels, 1895) KTC.8.a.9

Verhaeren Almanach KTC.8.a.9. cover

 Above all, however, it was Stefan Zweig who brought Verhaeren’s work before a wider audience as he championed it in the German-speaking world. Not only did Zweig spend many holidays with Verhaeren and his wife, the artist Marthe Massin, who was the subject of some of the poet’s finest love lyrics, but he translated his works, wrote a biography which soon became the standard text on Verhaeren, and collected a number of manuscripts, two of which which feature in the British Library’s Stefan Zweig Collection.

Zweig_ms_194_f001r
Page from the manuscript of Verhaeren’s poem ‘Le meunier’, ([c. 1895]), BL Zweig MS 194, f1r . Verhaeren presented the manuscript to Stefan Zweig in 1908.

In the summer of 1914 Zweig, Rainer Maria Rilke and the publisher Anton Kippenberg of the Insel Verlag  were already discussing a German version of Verhaeren’s collected works when the outbreak of war put an end to the project and also to the friendship. Increasingly aghast at the devastation of Belgium during the German invasion, including the destruction of Louvain, where he had studied, and ancient libraries and art treasures, Verhaeren devoted himself to publishing polemics and denouncing German brutality. However, he was beginning to revise this uncompromising position in the interests of international cultural unity when he met his death.

Verhaeren in 1910 010664.l.36
Verhaeren in 1910 from Stefan Zweig, Émile Verhaeren, sa vie, son œuvre (Paris, 1910) 010664.l.36.

Described by André Gide as ‘our only epic poet’, Verhaeren was in many ways a man of contradictions. Though always maintaining his Belgian roots, he travelled widely, and in London in particular he found the image of the ‘tentacular city’ of the industrial era, described in Les Villes tentaculaires (1895), sucking humanity and the landscape alike into a world of degradation. Yet he realised that the old world of the sleepy Flemish countryside had had its day, and strove to find positive aspects in the modern world. Infused with the spirit of nature which he loved so well, his late poem Novembre est clair et froid may serve as a postscript to his life:

Tout est tranquille enfin, et la règle est suivie.
Des mes longs désespoirs, il ne me reste rien.
Où donc le vieux tourment, où le regret ancient?
Un soleil apaisé se couche sur ma vie.

(All is peace at last, and the rule is kept.
Of my lengthy despairs nothing remains.
Where then the old torment, where the old regret?
Upon my life a calm sun sets.)

(Translation by Will Stone, from, Emile Verhaeren, Poems (Todmorden, 2014; YC.2014.a.14474).

Susan Halstead,  Content Specialist (Humanities & Social Sciences), Research Engagement.

04 July 2016

Continental Utopias

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2016 marks the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia, a book which gave a new word to the English language. But it was not until 35 years after that first publication that an English-language edition of the book actually appeared, also the first edition to be published in England. The early printing and publishing (and linguistic) history of Utopia is very much a continental one.

Island of Utopia
The Island of Utopia, from the first edition of the book (Louvain, 1516)
British Library C.27.b.30.

More started writing Utopia in 1515 while in Antwerp as part of a diplomatic mission to Flanders to negotiate commercial treaties. When the negotiations stalled, he used his time there to renew his acquaintance with the Dutch humanist Erasmus and make contact with other scholars in his circle, including Pieter Gillis, who appears as a character in Utopia and to whom the book is dedicated. The work grew in part from their discussions, and More wrote it not in English but in Latin, the international language of scholarship. After finishing the manuscript back in London, he sent it to Erasmus, asking him to find a printer. Erasmus sent it to Dirk Martens, then working in Louvain, who printed the first edition. 

Utopia 1516 tpTitle page of the first edition of Utopia, with the Louvain imprint and Martens’ Latinised name (‘Theodoricus Martinus’).

A small flurry of editions followed the first one, all in Latin, and all from continental printers: Gilles de Gourmont (Paris, 1517; C.65.e.1.), Johannes Froben (Basel, March 1518; G.2398.(1.), and November 1518; C.67.d.8.; both in editions with More’s Epigrams), and Paolo Giunta (Florence, 1519; in an edition of Lucian’s works).

 
Utopia Froben 1518
Johannes Froben’s March 1518 printing of Utopia, with woodcuts by Ambrosius Holbein (G.2398.(1.)). The image here shows More and Pieter Gillis (Petrus Aegidius’) with the fictional Raphael Hythlodaeus who describes the Island of Utopia

The first vernacular edition of Utopia was in German, printed again in Basel, by Johann Bebel, in 1524. After this the work apparently went out of fashion for over two decades, with no new editions in any language appearing until an Italian translation was printed in Venice in 1548. In the same year the first Latin edition since 1519 appeared in Louvain (522.b.22).

Utopia German Basel 1524
Above: The first German edition of Utopia (Basel, 1524). 714.b.38.

Below: The first Italian edition (Venice, 1548) 714.b.16.(1.)

  Utopia Italian Venice 1548

Interest in More’s work was clearly growing again: in 1550 a French translation appeared from the press of Charles L’Anglier in Paris, and in 1551 Utopia at last appeared its author’s native land and language, in an English translation by Ralph Robinson published by Abraham Vele. These translations and other early editions of Utopia can all be seen in the current display ‘Visions of Utopia’ in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery.

The early printing history of Utopia reminds us that an international book trade is nothing new (and of course English printing goes back to William Caxton’s first partnerships in Flanders: the first book printed in the English language came out of Bruges). It is also a reminder that international networks of scholars and writers were as alive and fruitful in the 16th century as they are today.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

 To accompany the current Treasures Gallery display, there will be a lecture, ‘Thomas More and Utopia’, by John Guy at 18.00 on Friday 8 July. For further details and booking, please see our ‘What’s on’ page.

11 May 2016

My Way of Looking/Breathing

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Our latest Q&A post with a writer featured in tonight’s European Literature Festival Writers’ Showcase event introduces Belgian Flemish novelist, poet and dramatist Peter Verhelst, whose story The Man I Became is published by Peirene Press

ELN Peter-Verhelst-author-photograph1
Peter Verhelst

How did you become a writer?

I’m not sure I became a writer. I’m sure I didn’t become a painter. I wanted to become Jan Van Eyck, but wasn’t able to paint very well. I've written every day since I was 15. That's my way of looking/breathing.

You’re coming to London for European Literature Night. Is there a British author you particularly admire?

I love (to hate) James Joyce. No one can irritate me the way he does and at the same time: witty!
I love Julian Barnes. His elegant way of thinking and finding words for all human emotions.
I love Samuel Beckett VERY MUCH.
I would love to love Tom McCarthy: I only read fragments of his books. Didn’t have the time yet to read full texts. But I'm sure I will love his books.

Other than reading literature in translation, how else can we break down barriers between people of different nationalities and cultures?

Talk to each other. Visit each other. Eat with each other.

Is there a book you wish you’d written? If so what is it?

Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll): it’s a book about the pleasure of writing. The pleasure of ‘making things up’.
(But I don't like the songs.)

What advice would you give to anyone just starting out?

Don’t try to be loved. Don’t believe compliments. Never mind the haters. Do exactly what you think you have to do (and don’t hesitate to contradict your own opinions).

What are you reading now?

Books about art. Preparing for my new novel.

Can you tell us anything about your next book?

It’s a novel about grief, trauma. Is it possible to talk about ‘what you can't talk about’? (Of course it is)

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09 May 2016

Our May Acronym Heaven: EU, EL, EUPL, ELIT, ELF, ELN, ACE & BL

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As European Literature Festival 2016 begins, we welcome back journalist and broadcaster Rosie Goldsmith to our blog as she introduces the events and gives a hint of what to look forward to at the Writers’ Showcase event on Wednesday 11th

For European Literature (EL) lovers, the month of May is the equivalent of Christmas, Hanukkah or Eid – it’s the festive highlight of our year when we celebrate our year-round efforts to publish and promote our beloved EL. Time to polish the champagne glasses (Boyd Tonkin), buy a new T-shirt (Daniel Hahn) and get out those red shoes (Rosie Goldsmith). This May we have an embarrassment of international literary riches: our first ever European Literature Festival and the first ever annual Man Booker International Prize (MBI)  in conjunction with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP: RIP) .

Eight years ago we had a dream, that we could gather together the best writers from the rest of Europe to London for a one-night-only special event. It had never been done before. Thanks to the mass collaboration of sponsors and partners, our dream became reality. The event became European Literature Night (ELN), initiated by EUNIC London, the Czech Centre and the British Library, and taking place in London and cities all over the continent. Over these eight years our ELN evening has become a week, then a month and this May it is the showcase event in our first European Literature Festival (ELF), embracing more than 30 countries, 60 writers and including poetry, graphic novels, literary fiction, non-fiction, crime thrillers and translation workshops. This year we also have some real British celebrities to boost the brand – Kate Mosse, Mark Lawson and Ian McMillan – and not just cut-price slebs like me and Danny Hahn. EL in the UK has itself become a celebrity. Next year maybe the cover of Vogue? Although we’ll have to do something about our acronyms.

  ELN 2015 Rosie Goldsmith
Rosie Goldsmith at the podium on European Literature Night 2015 (photo (c) MELA)

Here’s the full, fabulous programme: www.europeanliteraturefestival.org.uk and congratulations to ELF’s Artistic Director Jon Slack for making it happen.

As chair of the judges, Director of European Literature Network (ELNet) and host of ELN (keep up!), May is my personal merriest, busiest month. And I can guarantee that we have pulled it off again: the best of contemporary European literature (ok, EL!) is coming your way. British Library (BL – of course!), Wednesday 11th May.

Our six ‘winning’ writers are all literary celebrities ‘back home,’ magnificently translated and selected by us, the judges, from a pool of 65 European writers submitted by publishers and cultural organisations last November. Joining me on stage will be: Burhan Sönmez (Turkey), Dorthe Nors (Denmark), Gabriela Babnik (Slovenia), Peter Verhelst (Belgium), Jaap Robben (Netherlands) and Alek Popov (Bulgaria). They are all outstanding - unique, original, mind-expanding and fun. I love ELN and my two hours on stage, vicariously bathing in the reflected glory of our stars, conducting the equivalent of a BBC Live broadcast. (British Broadcasting Corporation!)

As our ELF Publicity promises: “The discussion will travel from the Turkish prison cells of Burhan Sönmez’s Istanbul, Istanbul to the turned upside-down-lives in Dorthe Nors’  twisted and imaginatively-realised streets of Copenhagen; to Slovenian writer Gabriela Babnik’s  seductive tale of forbidden love on the dusty plains of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; via Peter Verhelst’s deadpan Belgian humour in his Gorilla-narrated fable about the story of human civilisation (and its collapse). There is a tormented relationship unfolding between widow and son on Dutch-writer Jaap Robben’s remote and stormy island (located somewhere between Scotland and Norway); and we finish in Alek Popov’s strange and comic novel that moves between Bulgaria and New York, where two brothers question whether their long-deceased father is, in fact, dead.”

ELF-Writers-FB-Photos
This year's ELN line-up

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29 March 2016

The early illustrated editions of Don Quixote: the Low Countries tradition

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The first complete illustrated edition of Cervantes’s novel of Don Quixote appeared not in the original Spanish but in a Dutch translation, printed in Dordrecht in 1657. It contained as many as 24 illustrations, plus two frontispieces. Jacob Savery, the printer, was most probably also responsible for the engravings. In 1662, 16 of his illustrations were then reused in a Spanish edition printed by Jan Mommaert in Brussels. Then in 1672/73, Hieronymus and Johannes Baptista Verdussen of Antwerp printed an edition with the two frontispieces and 32 engravings of which the 16 were retained from the 1662 edition and 16 were new. These latter were engraved by Frederik Bouttats; the artist is unknown.

The illustrations of the three editions focus inevitably on narrative action with an emphasis on the more physical episodes. This supports the argument that in the 17th century Don Quixote was read largely as a work of entertainment. Limitations of space have restricted the current display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery  to just two examples from this important tradition. Savery’s illustration of the unfortunate Sancho being tossed in a blanket is common to all three editions. One feature of these illustrations is the inclusion of more than one incident in a single image. Here, two incidents in chapters 17-18 of Part 1 are combined: the tossing of Sancho in a blanket (ch. 17) and Don Quixote’s attack on the flock of sheep in the background (ch. 18).

Sancho1657

 Sancho Panza is tossed in a blanket in the inn yard; Don Quixote attacks the flock of sheep (Background). Miguel de Cervantes, Den verstandigen vroomen ridder Don Quichot de la Mancha (Dordrecht, 1657) Cerv.114. facing p. 58.

The same technique can be seen also in Savery’s illustration in all three editions depicting the concluding moments of Part 1 chapter 8. The narrative ends abruptly with Don Quixote and the ‘brave Basque’ confronting each other with swords raised ready to strike. The interruption occurs because, so it is claimed, the source text ended at this point. (The ‘discovery’ of a continuation is subsequently described in chapter 9.). Don Quixote and the Basque are placed in the foreground, in front of a coach and its lady passenger whom the Basque is escorting. In the background we can see also the preceding incident of chapter 8, Don Quixote’s disastrous charge against the windmills.

DQwindmills1662

 Don Quixote and the vizcaíno with raised swords; the charge against the windmills (background). Miguel de Cervantes, Vida y hechos del ingenioso cavallero Don Quixote de la Mancha (Brussels, 1662), vol. 1. 1074.i.5., facing p. 52.

The illustrations added to the Antwerp edition of 1672/73, engraved by Fredrick Bouttats, are technically superior to those in the editions of 1657 and 1662. Don Quixote’s meeting with the enchanted Dulcinea, the result of Sancho’s stratagem, includes the same characters, but is livelier and more expressive. Both the knight and his squire are shown kneeling in homage to the ‘lady’ Dulcinea. Moreover, unlike Savery’s 1657 illustration, it illustrates in the background the subsequent action when Dulcinea rides off and is unseated by her donkey. Quixote and Sancho come to her aid.

EnchantedDulcinea1672

Don Quixote and Sancho greet the supposedly enchanted Dulcinea; Dulcinea is thrown from her mount (background). Miguel de Cervantes, Vida y hechos del ingenioso cavallero Don Quixote de la Mancha (Antwerp, 1672-73), vol. 2, 1074.i.8. facing p. 80.

On their own the images of the 1657 edition had limited subsequent circulation except in Dutch versions, but those in the 1672/73 Antwerp edition were widely used in versions in French, English, German and Spanish until well into the 18th century.

Geoff West, former Curator Hispanic Collections

References/further reading:

Patrick Lenaghan, Imágenes del Quijote: modelos de representación en las ediciones de los siglos XVII a XIX (Madrid, 2003). LF.31.a.88

José Manuel Lucía Megías. Leer el ‘Quijote’ en imágenes. Hacia una teoría de los modelos iconográficos. (Madrid, 2006). YF.2007.a.12503

Centro de Estudios Cervantinos. Quijote Banco de imágenes 1605-1915: http://www.qbi2005.com

29 December 2015

The Big Dictation: the Excitement of Spelling.

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On Saturday 19 December, two teams of 30 Dutch and Flemish spelling aficionados went head to head in the 26th edition of Het Groot Dictee, or The Big Dictation. This spelling contest is broadcast live on television in the Netherlands and Belgium, from the chamber of the Dutch Senate in The Hague, no less. In its 26 years the Big Dictation has become an institution, with its own website, Twitter feed,  and a version for children. 

So, what is it about? Now you’re asking. Is it simply about spelling, or competition, or national identity, with a (friendly!) rivalry between the Dutch and the Flemish?

Who knows? It’s probably a bit of all three. One of the attractions is probably that everyone can participate, albeit unofficially, from their own living rooms. It probably also helps that  weeks before the contest the organizing newspapers, the Dutch De Volkskrant (The People’s Paper) and the Flemish De Morgen (The Morning) as well as language organizations offer practice exercises to get people in the mood. Schools participate, too, since children can do the children’s version. Isn’t this a fun way of learning how to spell? Words you’ve always struggled with will stick for ever in your mind, once it featured in the Groot Dictee.

Dutch spelling is formalised in the standard dictionary of the Dutch language: The ‘Dikke’ (Fat) Van Dale, a commercial title and in the Woordenlijst der Nederlandse Taal (Word list of the Dutch Language), or Het Groene Boekje (The Little Green Book) as it is better known. The latest edition of the Little Green Book was published in October this year, for the first time also by Van Dale.  It is compiled by De Taalunie the body that oversees policies in the area of the Dutch language, and there is a free online edition.  

 
Woordenlijst 1872
Second edition (1872) of Matthias de Vries and L.A. te Winkel Woordenlijst voor de spelling der Nederlandsche taal, the predecessor of today’s Groene Boekje  (British Library 1608/2709.)

This formalised approach to the Dutch language is similar to that of the French. It should therefore come as no surprise that the French were the first to come up with the idea for a Big Dictation.  There it is held in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, which is where Philip Freriks, Paris correspondent for De Volkskrant in the 1980s and 90s, first saw it and subsequently brought it over to the Netherlands.

HGD640px-Philip_Freriks
Philip Freriks . Photo by Maurice Vink from Wikimedia Commons

Freriks has presented the Big Dictation for many years and other journalists have contributed by writing the text, such as this year’s author Lieve Joris, journalist and travel writer. Originally from Flanders, she now lives in Amsterdam, when she is not travelling the world. She is known for her award-winning travel writing about the Middle East, for example The Gates of Damascus (London, 1996; YC.1997.a.94)

HGDLieve_joris-1450104525
Lieve Joris at the 2015 Big Dictation. Photo by Ruud Hendrickx from wikiportret.nl
 

Although it was the Dutch team that won this year, overall the Flemish contestants made the least mistakes. 31 Dutch participants made 747 mistakes, against 620 by the 29 Flemish.
This year saw a few ‘firsts’:

  1. The contest was between the Dutch and the Flemish teams, whilst before the participants selected from the readers of De Volkskrant and De Morgen were pitted against the Dutch and Flemish celebrities. 
  2. There was a final. After writing the Dictation the best Dutch reader and celebrity and best Flemish reader and celebrity battled it out over ten very difficult words. 
  3. There was a Polish participant; a ‘wild card’ added to the Dutch team. 

Needless to say any use of electronic spellcheckers is strictly forbidden, although the words for these devices pop up in the Dictation; such as ‘spellingchecker’. Now there’s a fine example of how the Dutch incorporate English words into Dutch. That aside, it doesn’t look as if spelling checkers have taken the fun out of spelling, so it is to be hoped that ‘The Big Dictation’ will see many more episodes. It is a true celebration of the richness of the Dutch language.

Marja Kingma, Curator Dutch Language Collections

Further reading
(This is a small selection of the many titles about Dutch spelling which can be found in the British Library catalogue.)

Henriëtte Houët, Grammatica Nederlands : woorden, zinnen, spelling. (Houten, 2011). YF.2012.a.14746.

F.J.A. Mostert, ‘Dutch Spelling Reform’,  Language International, vol. 8, no 2, 1996, pp. 18-20. 5155.709680

G.C. Molewijk & Vic de Donder, De citroen van de gynaecoloog : de sitroen van de ginekoloog : de nieuwe spelling: pro of contra (Amsterdam, 1994) YA.1995.a.7045.

G.C. Molewijk, Spellingverandering van zin naar onzin (1200-heden). (The Hague, 1992) YA.1993.b.9041.