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10 posts categorized "Denmark"

07 April 2017

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

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

JakobsenPhoto

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

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

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

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

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

 

JacobsenBiographyGeorgChristensen

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

02 February 2017

The art of wrecking a friendship 2: Henrik Pontoppidan, L. A. Ring and Nattevagt

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Over a century ago there lived a famous author who, inspired by his strong social conscience, embarked on a series of novels in which he depicted in vivid and unsparing detail the conditions of his times. Among his friends he numbered a painter who shared his revolutionary ideals and his concern for social justice. However, he was unwise enough to use this friend as a model for an unflattering character in a novel about the artistic life, and the latter, deeply hurt and offended by this betrayal, ended their friendship with no further explanation.

At this point our readers may be suspecting that inspiration is running short and they are about to read a recycled version of an earlier post. However, a very similar drama was played out just a few years after Cézanne’s rupture with Zola in 1886. This time the year was 1894 and the place was Denmark.

The novel in question was Nattevagt (‘The Night Watch’, 1894; 012581.aaa.73), the work of Henrik Pontoppidan (1857-1943), of whom we shall hear more this year, as in 1917 he was to share the Nobel Prize in Literature with Karl Gjellerup. However, in the earlier part of his career he concentrated on pithy short stories set in the Danish countryside; they recall Maupassant’s mordant sketches of the avaricious and crafty Norman peasantry in their refusal to idealize rural life. These culminated in a collection named Skyer (‘Clouds’, 1890; 012581.e.23), a searing attack on the oppression of Denmark by the Conservatives and the apathy with which many Danes greeted it. The following year he began a series of three novels portraying Denmark in the era of the constitutional struggle between Conservatives and Liberals, the growth of industrialization, cultural conflict and the rise of revolutionary movements: Det forjættede Land (‘The Promised Land’, 1891–95; 12582.b.40), Lykke-Per (‘Lucky Per’,1898–1904; 012581.dd.8.), and De dødes Rige (‘The Realm of the Dead’, 1912–16; 012582.cc.35.). In writing these he made a deliberate break with his privileged family background and its clerical tradition; he himself had taught in an elementary school before turning to journalism and literature.

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 Portrait of Henrik Pontoppidan from Vilhelm Andersen, Henrik Pontoppidan: et nydansk forfatterskab (Copenhagen, 1937) 011853.s.46

His friend, the artist L. A. Ring (1854-1933), had also grown up in the country, though in less prosperous circumstances. While Pontoppidan’s father had been a pastor, Ring’s was a wheelwright and carpenter. Originally known as Laurits Andersen, he renamed himself after his native village of Ring in Zealand in 1881. While living and working in Copenhagen Ring’s opposition to the repressive conservatism of the 1880s led him to join a student rifle corps and also to paint not only landscapes but scenes of rural poverty, industrialization and backbreaking labour, as in his studies of a railway guard (1884) and workers in the Ladby tile factory (1892).

Ring Tile factory

 I Teglværket. Ladby Teglværk (1892) from Cai Mogens Woel, L. A. Ring. Et Levnedsrids (Copenhagen, 1937) 7813.ee.6/2.

In Pontoppidan’s novel we meet two members of the Scandinavian artists’ colony in Rome, ‘Red’ Jørgen Hallager, so called because of his politics as well as the colour of his hair and beard, and his friend Thorkild Drehling. At first the latter slavishly imitates Hallager’s paintings of industrial subjects, as when Hallager’s portrayal of a worn-out labourer buried under a fall of marl and crying in vain for help (‘A Martyr’) inspires Drehling the following year to create a pastel drawing, ‘The Last Comforter’: ‘There was no difference except that in this one there was a poor woman who, in the middle of a bleak, comfortless landscape, had sunk down under the weight of a heavy burden of kindling, while out on the horizon, [instead of Jørgen’s] elegant carriage with a liveried coachman and footmen, there could be seen a misty, indistinct figure representing Death…’ No-one familiar with Ring’s work could fail to catch the allusion to his painting Evening: The old woman and death (1887).

Ring Evening

 Aften. Den gamle kone og døden, 1887, from Peter Hertz: Maleren L. A. Ring (Copenhagen, 1934; 7862.v.21.)

Later in the story there is a confrontation between Drehling and Hallager, who accuses him of pandering to popular taste and creating ‘chocolate-box’ art in his new works whose ‘riot of colour must surprise anyone who was accustomed to see Drehling as a faithful imitator of Hallager’s powerful but strictly restrained way of painting’, with an even more startling choice of subjects: ‘fantasies, dream pictures, strange and mysterious sights’ culminating in a large painting of the legend of the merman gazing wistfully from the sea to the church where his earthly bride Agnete sits.

However, it was not the depiction of Drehling as a failed revolutionary and exponent of the ‘lyricism’ despised by Hallager which wounded Ring. In the novel Drehling falls in love with Ursula Branth, the only child of a wealthy state counsellor and connoisseur, but before he can summon the courage to declare himself, Hallager claims her in marriage despite her father’s misgivings. Hallager’s fanatical political views lead to a scene at the Scandinavian artists’ gathering and a growing distance between the couple which culminates in Ursula’s sudden death from a cerebral aneurysm. For many years Ring had been in love with Johanne Wilde, the wife of his friend Alexander Wilde, an amateur painter. As he approached forty, realizing that the relationship could never develop further, he broke with the Wildes and travelled to Italy on a study grant in 1893.

When Nattvagt appeared the following year, Ring was alarmed by the possibility that it could be read as an allusion to his hopeless love for Johanne. This would not only have created a scandal but jeopardized his growing attachment to Sigrid Kähler, a painter half his age, whom he married in 1896. Despite the age gap, the marriage was a happy one, producing three children and enduring until Sigrid’s death in 1923. Sadly, however, the relationship between Pontoppidan and Ring was irreparably damaged; Pontoppidan gained the Nobel Prize, but forfeited forever the regard of his former friend.

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

10 May 2016

Stamina! Stamina!

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For the European Literature Festival Writers’ Showcase event we are posting brief Q&A’s with the featured authors. First up is Dorthe Nors from Denmark, whose works Karate Chop & Minna Needs Rehearsal Space are published by Pushkin Press

ELN Nors Dorthe 2008_1  Foto Simon Klein Knudsen copy_redux
Dorthe Nors (photo by Simon Klein Knudsen)

How did you become a writer?

I learned the alphabet, I started writing, I kept on writing (and reading, I read a lot) and then I wrote some more. One day I sent a novel to a publisher who loved my writing and published my book. That is how I became a writer.

Do you have a favourite character in your fiction? If so, who? And if not, why not?

Nah, you love the characters you work with in different ways. If I should choose a small favourite it would be the little girl in the story The Wadden Sea.

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

When I was a kid I loved Charles Dickens (still do), then came the Jane Austen years (I still read her when I get the 'flu). I also really love C.S. Lewis - and Dylan Thomas, love Dylan Thomas.

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

It’s a matter of choosing openness. Being friendly to what is culturally different to yourself is a decision you can make. The very openness you need in order to read a book should be transformed to the very meeting between people. We have in The Western World, I feel, become dangerously afraid of otherness.

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

Tarjei VesaasThe Birds – an amazing Norwegian novel about a sister and brother (and life and death and love and stuff).

What advice would you give to anyone just starting out?

Keep it up. Don't let go. STAMINA, STAMINA!

What are you reading now?

I just finished Dutch writer Jaap Robben’s You Got Me to Love - great book, and now I'm going to read Max Porter: Grief Is the Thing With Feathers. Porter and I will perform together in New York later this summer. Can't wait to read his book.

Can you tell us anything about your next book?
Nope!

 ELN Dorthe Nors Karate chop

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

As our ELF superstar-host Kate Mosse says: “At a time when the countless shared histories and stories from our many friends and strangers in Europe are danger of being lost in the politics of the EU debate, an initiative like the European Literature Festival is more important than ever.” Who needs supermodel Kate Moss on a Vogue cover when you have superstar novelist Kate Mosse?

On behalf of ELNet & EUPL & with thanks 2 ACE & ELIT I’ll c u 4 ELN @BL! LoL RGx

06 May 2015

Woman in Green

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In another guest post for European Literature Night 2015, the Danish author Naja Marie Aidt, appearing at the writers’ event, reflects on grief  and literature.

Naja Marie AidtNaja Marie Aidt

In late February I walked the streets of Manhattan and came across a small shop. A beautiful green jacket hanging in the window caught my eye. I went straight in and bought it even though the sleeves were way too long. Perfect for spring, I thought, and jumped on the subway, feeling uplifted and very happy. In March I suffered a terrible loss in my immediate family. Everything turned dark inside me and on the outside, the world seemed to disappear. In April the trees turned green, the cherry trees started blooming with a rich intensity, an almost vulgar pink prettiness. Nature had once again dug its way out of the long, cold, winter and transformed itself into a tempting scene of life: the sun was out, almost too bright, too clear, revealing my grief as a disgrace against the beauty of everything else. But grief is not a disgrace and it is not ugly. It’s heavy and it pulls the body towards the ground as if to bring you closer to the beloved missing person, burried deep in the wet cold soil. I walked the streets, blinded by the light, I dragged my mourning body onward even though it did not want to move. I tried to find my way back to the simplest activities: making coffee, showering, heating up a bowl of soup. I had forgotten about the before because this was the after and nothing would ever be the same again. I knew it when I looked up at the cherry trees and I know it now. Fortuna has played her sick game, just for the fun of it. The tragic coincidence that changed my life over night had no meaning, no purpose. I could almost hear the goddess laughing, and I hated her – hated the chaos of life, the unpreditable chaotic life that we usually believe we are in control of. But we are not. When we move through our lives, mostly uplifted and happy, we walk on invisible cracks and sometimes those cracks expand and make us stumble, sometimes they open up wide and swallow us. Simply by coincidence. I’ve written about those cracks in Baboon and in my forthcoming novel Rock, Paper, Scissors, but the difference between writing about getting hit by a car and actually getting hit by a car is obviously huger than huge.

One day in early May, grabbing a shirt from my closet, I came across the green jacket. I looked at it as if I had never seen it before and I realized that the pattern was almost identical to the image on Jordan Stump’s English translation of Marie NDiaye’s novel Self-Portrait in Green. There I stood, looking at the jacket,  thinking about Self-Portrait in Green, a remarkable mysterious story about repression and obsession where the dead mingle with the living and vice versa, and a certain type of woman – a victim, always unhappy, ghostly – is always dressed in green. I reached for the jacket and put it on. Perfect for spring, thanks to the too-long sleeves, as if in mourning seeking the ground.  I told Ms. Fortuna I didn’t give a shit for her spoiled, cruel games and went to the park with Self-Portrait in Green in my hand.

Naja book coverMaria NDiaye’s Self-Portrait in Green and the green jacket.


Naja Marie Aidt

Works by Naja Marie Aidt in the British Library

Vandmærket : noveller (Copenhagen, 1993) YA.2002.a.1404

Trilogi : digte (Copenhagen, 1995) YA.2003.a.30299

Huset overfor : digte (Copenhagen, 1996.) YA.2000.a.4948

Rejse for en fremmed (Copenhagen, 1999.) YA.2001.a.7331

Balladen om Bianca (Copenhagen, 2002). LF.31.a.1685

Rundt på gulvet (Gråsten, 2004.) YF.2006.a.7677

Bavian : noveller (Copenhagen, 2006.)

Åsted (Gråsten, 2008.) YF.2012.a.16708

Alting blinker : digte (Copenhagen, 2009.) YF.2011.a.14098

Sten saks papir (Copenhagen, 2012.) YF.2013.a.5872

05 November 2014

Hero of Montevideo: Ivo Lapenna in memoriam

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IVOLAPENNA19664

On 10 December 2014 Esperantists worldwide will be reflecting on the 60th anniversary of the Montevideo Resolution. This resolution in support of Esperanto was passed by the General Conference of UNESCO in Montevideo, Uruguay, on 10 December 1954, and authorised the Director-General “to follow current developments in the use of Esperanto in education, science and culture, and, to this end, to co-operate with the Universal Esperanto Association in matters concerning both organizations”. The Montevideo Resolution would not have been possible without enormous efforts by a great enthusiast for the international language, Ivo Lapenna (photo above with kind permission from the  Lapenna Foundation). 

The conference in Montevideo produced poems about its heroes and anti-heroes in Esperanto (by William Auld, Kalman Kalocsay, Reto Rosetti, Marjorie Boulton  and Geraldo Mattos). Photographs from the conference  and poems about it are to be found here. The “anti-hero of Montevideo” - Danish philologist Andreas Blinkenberg, who opposed the acceptance of the resolution -  lives on forever  in Esperanto poetry and spoken language (blinkenbergo).

Ivo Lapenna was born on 5 November 1909. A native of Split (then the part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), he received a very good education and in 1933 gained his PhD in Law in Zagreb and later became a professor of International Law at Zagreb University. During the Second World War Lapenna worked for the Resistance Forces. In 1949 he emigrated from Yugoslavia to Britain via France, became a British citizen in 1962, and worked as a professor of law in London. He was also a qualified teacher of the cello.

IVOLAPENNAVIOLONCHELIST21Ivo Lapenna playing cello (With kind permission from the Lapenna-Foundation)

The British Library holds books written and edited by Ivo Lapenna in various languages. The oldest of these was published in Croatian in Zagreb, then in Yugoslavia: Ujedinjene Nacije (‘The United Nations’; Zagreb, 1946; 8012.aa.23). Books about law in English followed in the 1960s: State and Law: Soviet and Yugoslav theory (London, 1964; 8184.d.47/1) and Soviet penal policy: A background book (London, 1968; X.208/864). By the time of writing the last book Ivo Lapenna held the title of “Reader in Soviet Law, London School of Economics and The School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London”.

Lapenna learned Esperanto as a teenager in 1928 and was an energetic and outspoken promoter of the language all his life. In 1955 he became General Secretary of the Universala Esperanto Asocio (UEA/World Esperanto Association) and between 1964 and 1974 served as its President. He was not re-elected during the 59th World Congress of Esperanto  in Hamburg in 1974, which created a lot of friction amongst Esperantists. Lapenna himself called the events in Hamburg “the communist putsch”. His colourful and complicated personality continues to provoke discussions in the Esperanto world up to the present day. Although Esperanto was planned by Zamenhof as a “neutral language” for all, the World Esperanto Association was functioning in the real world, and during the Cold War tensions amongst various national Esperanto associations sometime rose very high. Even the article about Ivo Lapenna in the Esperanto-language Vikipedio  gives a warning about the “non-neutrality of the article”.  

There are, however, a few things that all Esperantists do agree about Lapenna: he was an outstanding orator and the first author of a book about the art of oratory in Esperanto. His Retoriko (‘Oratory’; Paris, 1950) was republished several times (the British Library holds the second and third editions: Rotterdam, 1958; X5/5240 and Rotterdam, 1971; YF.2011.a.24046). An example of one of Ivo Lapenna’s presentations in Esperanto is available here. 

BOOKSBYLAPENNAMost of the books written and compiled by Lapenna, among them the monumental encyclopedic work (written in collaboration with Ulrich Lins and Tazio Carlevaro) Esperanto en perspektivo: faktoj kaj analizoj pri la internacia lingvo (‘Esperanto in Perspective: Facts and Analyses about the International Language’; London-Rotterdam, 1974;) are in Esperanto and about Esperanto. The British Library Esperanto Collections  hold the following books:

Elektitaj paroladoj kaj prelegoj (‘Selected Talks and Lectures’; two editions: Rotterdam, 1966; YF.2005.a.664; and Rotterdam, 2009; YF.2010.a.877);

Kritikaj studoj defende de Esperanto (‘Critical Studies in Defence of Esperanto’; Copenhagen, 1987; YF.2006.b.2670);

Hamburgo en retrospektivo : dokumentoj kai materialoj pri la kontraŭneŭtraleca politika konspiro en UEA (‘Hamburg in retrospective: documents and materials about the anti-neutrality political conspiracy in the UEA’; 2nd edition; Copenhagen, 1977; YF.2008.a.11937);

La Internacia Lingvo: faktoj pri Esperanto (‘The International Language; Facts on Esperanto’; London, 1954; F9/8716);

Aktualaj problemoj de la nuntempa internacia vivo (‘Current Problems of Contemporary International Life’; Rotterdam, 1952; YF.2010.a.16344).

Some of his books were translated into other languages. The whole bibliography of the original works and their translations is available in: Concise Encyclopedia of the Original Literature of Esperanto  by Geoffrey Sutton (New York, 2008; YC.2008.a.12495).

After his retirement Ivo Lapenna moved to Denmark. Even the date of his death – 15 December 1987 – the year of the 100th anniversary of La Unua Libro  – is linked to the love of his life, Esperanto: Zamenhof was born on 15 December. Books and pamphlets in his memory appeared soon after his death: Memore al Ivo lapenna (‘Ivo Lapenna in Memoriam’; Copenhagen, 1988; YF.2010.a.9052);  Eseoj memore al Ivo Lapenna (Essays in memory of Ivo Lapenna; Copenhagen, 2001; awaiting shelfmark). In 1984 the Lapenna Foundation was created in Copenhagen, aiming to keep alive the memory of Ivo Lapenna’s outstanding life, to promote the international language Esperanto, and to contribute to respect for human rights worldwide.


Olga Kerziouk, Curator Esperanto Studies

13 August 2014

Turbulent priest and polemical playwright: the life and death of Kaj Munk

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In 1955 the winner of the Golden Lion at the sixteenth Venice International Film Festival was an unlikely choice. Ordet (The Word), the only film which brought its director Carl Theodor Dreyer  critical or commercial success during his lifetime, portrays life in a Danish rural community, telling the story of the farmer Morten Borgen and his three sons Mikkel, Anders and Johannes. From the opening shot of white sheets fluttering in the sea-wind to the final transfiguring scene of a miracle which resurrects Mikkel’s wife and heals the schisms and religious conflicts among the villagers, the simplicity and directness of the film gives it a timeless quality which ensures its classic status almost sixty years after its release. Yet those who admire it may know little of Kaj Munk, the author of the play which Dreyer had adapted for the screen, whose life was as dramatic as any of his works.

Kaj_MunkPORTRAITKaj Harald Leininger Petersen (1898-1944, picture (left) from Wikimedia Commons) was born on the Danish island of Lolland and, after being orphaned at an early age, was fostered by a family named Munk whose name he adopted. He was ordained as a Lutheran pastor, and in 1924 was appointed to Vedersø, a parish in western Jutland. Widely read in history, philosophy and modern drama, he translated Hamlet into Danish (1938: BL shelfmark X.955/51), and his admiration for Shaw and Ibsen is evident in the plays which he began to write in 1917 with Pilatus (first published in 1937: Cup.400.f.15); Ordet (1925: published in 1932; X.909/23062) was the second of these. Like Ibsen, he frequently set the action in bygone days – mediaeval Denmark or biblical times – which emphasized the ageless nature of the moral dilemmas confronting his characters while placing them at a ‘safe’ distance from the increasingly dangerous times in which he lived.

Throughout the 1930s Munk viewed the rise of Hitler and Mussolini with growing concern. He had initially acclaimed Hitler’s achievement in providing a rallying-point for a united Germany, which he felt lacked a counterpart in Scandinavia, but came to repent of his ill-judged remark and spoke out with increasing vehemence, culminating in 1938 with an open letter to Mussolini published in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten attacking the persecution of the Jews.

Munk’s concern proved to be justified when, in 1940, Hitler occupied Denmark. He continued to use drama as a means of openly criticizing Nazism, as in Niels Ebbesen (1942: 11756.b.6), whose hero, a mediaeval Danish squire who assassinates another German invader, Count Gerhard III, represented an obvious parallel to the current situation. Such figures combined the dramatic importance of a central character prepared to suffer for deeply-held beliefs with Munk’s conviction that in perilous times a single strong leader was needed to act decisively and steer the people to safety.  

As Munk’s opposition to Nazism and those prepared to collaborate with it grew ever more vociferous, his friends tried to persuade him to go underground, but he refused to, preaching increasingly outspoken sermons, culminating in one which he delivered in spite of a Nazi ban in Copenhagen Cathedral on Advent Sunday in December 1943 (P.P.7256.da.(2.) ). A month later, on 4 January 1944, he was arrested by the Gestapo, and the following morning his body, with an abusive note claiming that he had worked for Germany anyway, was discovered in a ditch on a country road near Silkeborg. His death proved to be the turning-point in rousing resistance to the German invasion, with 4,000 Danes attending his funeral; his body was subsequently taken back to his parish church for burial, and his widow Lise was granted permission by the Danish government to live in the parsonage until her death in 1998.

Kaj Munk cover

To the last years of his life Munk continued to write lyrical poetry, such as the collection Liv og glade Dage (‘Life and happy days’; Copenhagen, 1936. X.619/8387: see picture above), affirming the beauty of creation as well as expressing intransigent moral opposition to the outrages of his times. His life bore witness the words of Martin Luther: ‘I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience’, and by his death he at last gave the Danish people the focus they needed, in his view, to turn against their oppressors. He is commemorated as a martyr in the Lutheran church’s Calendar of Saints on 14 August.

Susan Halstead, Curator Czech & Slovak

17 April 2014

What price freedom? An author’s thoughts

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In a guest post for European Literature Night, featured author Jonas T. Bengtsson from Denmark muses on society and freedom, concepts which inform his latest novel.

Has anybody ever met society? Shaken hands with society, yelled at society. Gone on a three day bender with society, or made sweet love to society?

Coming from the cold north one of the themes that so often pops up when books are being discussed or reviewed is the author’s take on society. Or criticism towards society. Like the author’s main job is to scrutinize society, thinly veiled and in a slightly more entertaining way than an angry letter to a newspaper.

A friend asked me if he should sell his apartment, his small boat, his car. If I thought that was the right thing to do. He and his girlfriend were considering travelling the world for as long as the money would last. 

I asked him to stay put. When they returned from Goa or Vegas or the Australian outback they would feel just as constricted and unfree as before the trip. They would continue life in much the same way as they had done previously.

 I asked him to find freedom where he was. By realizing that where he was in life was a choice. And that if there was anything he wanted to change he should probably just do it. Everything he did would come with a price, and if he wasn’t willing to pay it, that would be a choice as well.

So why this rant? Jonas T Bengtsson, A Fairy Tale

In my latest novel A Fairy Tale I write about a father who couldn’t care less about society. Or put in a different way, he is not at all concerned about changing it. He knows that freedom is not something that will be granted him by anybody else. It is something he has to take for him self.  So what is the price for freedom, and is it too high?

A Fairy Tale was originally published as Et eventyr in Copenhagen in 2011 (British Library shelfmark YF.2013.a.5667). The translation is published by House of Anansi Press. The British Library also holds Jonas T. Bengtsson’s first novel Aminas breve (‘Amina’s Letters’, Copenhagen, 2005; YF.2006.a.28994).

09 April 2014

Who or what were ‘the Vikings’?

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Interest in ‘the Vikings’ seems boundless, and the current Viking exhibition at the British Museum  makes the subject particularly topical. Googling ‘Viking’ produces forty-seven million hits –  though most of them may be for computer games or brand names  –  and a search on our catalogue under vernacular forms of the term produces over 250 titles in Scandinavian languages and thousands more in English, with dozens of the latter published this year already in the BL catalogue. Beyond that narrow focus, however, the holdings of the British Library are very rich in printed materials, from the 16th century to date, relating to pre-Christian Scandinavia.

A recent article in the Evening Standard by the great medievalist David Dumville aimed to counter the ‘revisionist’ and ‘politically correct’ views that have “covered up the crimes of a bloody era” during the past half-century. He admitted that “Vikings are in general not coterminous with Scandinavians” yet capitalised the word as if it were an ethnic label – as misleading as using ‘Cowboy’ or ‘Cossack’ to describe the entire cultures of the USA or Russia, from their art forms and technology to their political systems and modes of warfare. The ancient Scandinavians’ name for themselves was ‘Northmen’ and for their language and culture ‘Norse’ (norrœn).  

Of the two Old Norse nouns víkingr (m.) and víking (f.), the first meant ‘pirate or sea-rover’ (OED),  the second an overseas plundering expedition. Their etymology is contested but related to the noun vík, ‘bay’, or the verb víkja, ‘to turn away’ etc., referring either to people from a bay area  –  such as the Vik region around the Oslofjord (though its inhabitants were called víkverjar, not víkingar)  –  or to those who ‘set out’ on raiding voyages. But such ‘vikings’ formed only a fraction of the Norse peoples.  Overseas trading voyages had been undertaken long before then, for instance by the peaceful  ‘farbönder’ of Gotland, while the fact that travel by boat was so much faster than overland was the basic reason why so many Norse groups lived near and moved around on water. Will scholars ever agree to stop using the over-worked term ‘viking’?   

Raiders
Carelian raiders. Illustration from Olaus Magnus, Historia de gentibus  Septentrionalibus, bk 11, ch. 7 (Rome, 1555)  British Library 152.e.9.

The causes of the increase in overseas raiding around 800 were both external and internal. The main external one was the expansion of the Carolingian empire, its threatening proximity provoking aggressive reactions. The major internal factor was technological, the rapid development of open-sea sailing ships at that time.  (The best surviving examples are the beautiful Gokstad and Oseberg vessels  –  displayed in the Viking Ship Museum  in Oslo.)  Another was the breakdown of a centuries-old social system in increasingly violent power struggles among the elites that eventually reduced the number of kingdoms in Scandinavia from dozens to the three still existing ones.  

Oseberg_ship_-_IMG_9129
Oseberg ship, built around 820, buried 834, now in the Viking Ship Museum, Oslo (Picture by Daderot from  Wikimedia Commons)

An aggressive warrior ethos – already vividly described in the Old English Beowulf  poem, preserved in the British Library – saw raiding and pillaging as a perfectly honourable pursuit, enriching the participants. Change came only with the adoption of continental Christianity and feudalism, which no longer permitted unprovoked attacks on co-religionists. When the neighbouring Slavic, Finno-Ugrian and Baltic peoples likewise converted, the now christianised Norse elites  –  after a short period of ‘crusading’ around the Baltic  –  simply ran out of legitimate targets.  


Peter Hogg, former Head of Scandinavian Collections


Recommended reading:

Stefan Brink and Neil Price (eds), The Viking world (London, 2008) YC.2009.b.524
Gareth Williams, Vikings: life and legend (London, 2014) Catalogue of the British Museum exhibition
Saga  book of the Viking Society for Northern Research (London,  1892-  )  Ac.9939; volumes to 2011 are also available online at http://vsnrweb-publications.org.uk/
Proceedings of the Viking Congresses (quadrennial since 1950). Volumes catalogued separately. See also: http://www.vikingcongress.com/
Viking and Medieval Scandinavia  (Turnhout,  2005-  )  9236.374400

31 January 2014

Libraries can change your life: the peregrinations of Ludvig Holberg

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There is no surer way to arouse controversy in theatrical circles than to adapt a well-loved work of literature for another medium, as the heated response of Tolstoy, for example, to Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin indicates. The uproar which greeted a similar endeavour in Denmark in the early 20th century is perhaps less well known in British circles. However, when it was revealed in 1906 that Vilhelm Andersen, a literary historian, was working with the composer Carl Nielsen on an opera based on Ludvig Holberg’s comedy Mascarade, the project was regarded by many as sacrilege.  

Holberg (3 December 1684-28 January 1754) is one of the foremost figures in the history of Scandinavian literature, and, as the creator of the classic character comedy, might be termed the Molière of the Danish theatre. Several of his comedies remain in the Danish standard repertoire, including Mascarade, his contribution to a debate on public masquerades in the newly-built playhouse in Copenhagen’s Grønnegade, which opened in 1721 under his directorship.

Abrakadabra (Holberg)
A scene from Abracadabra, one of Holberg’s many comedies. Image from Holbergs Gallerie. Förste Hefte (Copenhagen, 1828). British Library 1601/650.

Holberg was not, however, only a playwright, though the humour of many of his plays, such as Kjærlighed uden Strømper (‘Love without Stockings’) and Jeppe paa Bjerget(‘Jeppe of the Hill’) still retains its freshness and vigour. Born in Bergen, Norway, he was orphaned by the age of eleven and, after studying in Copenhagen, earned his living as a private tutor and by giving lessons on the flute and violin during his travels which, in 1706, took him to London and Oxford.

His visits to Oxford University’s libraries inspired him to become an author, and in 1711 he published his first work, Introduction til de Europœiske Rigers Historier (‘Introduction to the history of the nations of Europe’), of which the British Library possesses a copy of the expanded 1757 edition (shelfmark 1308.a.7).

Funded by a grant from King Frederick IV, he travelled throughout Europe (1714-16), but the title of Professor which accompanied the award did not guarantee him an income, and it was only in 1718, after years of poverty, that he was appointed Professor of Metaphysics and subsequently of Public Oratory at the University of Copenhagen. He had previously written only on law, philology and history, but in 1719 he published his heroic-comic poem Peder Paars, widely regarded as the first classic of Danish literature (the British Library holds the 1772 edition at 85.g.11).

Until the 1720s French and German had been the only languages in which plays were performed in Denmark, but in 1722 a Danish translation of Molière’s L’Avare was staged at the new theatre, rapidly followed by a series of original comedies by Holberg himself – concluding, alas, with a ‘funeral of Danish comedy’ which he composed for the final performance before the theatre closed in 1727 as a result of financial problems.  The great fire of 1728 put an end to his hopes of seeing any of his later plays performed in Copenhagen, and he returned to prose works, including the satirical fantasy Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum (‘The underground journey of Niels Klim’).

Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum (Holberg)
Titlepage and frontispiece from Holberg’s, Nicolai Klimii Iter subterraneum novam telluris theoriam ac historiam quintæ Monarchiæ adhuc nobis incognitæ exhibens e Bibliotheca B. Abelini (Copenhagen, 1741) 1079.g.14.

Nielsen’s Mascarade is now famous as Denmark’s national opera, which would have delighted Holberg, a strong believer in the potential of comedy as a means of spreading Enlightenment ideas about equality in the language of the people: ‘as long as the masquerade lasts, the servant is as good as his master’.

Susan Halstead  Curator Czech, Slovak and Lusatian.