THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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90 posts categorized "Germanic"

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.

ELN2018PanelfromEUNICTwitterDc6EPL1WsAICyxR
 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)

ELN2018booksSF
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

 

08 May 2018

“A rogue and a madman”: August Strindberg's Antibarbarus

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In his anti-literary 1890s, August Strindberg took to the laboratory to experiment in alchemy, and some of his thoughts led to a peculiar book published in Germany in 1894 called Antibarbarus I: oder Die Welt für sich und die Welt für mich (YA.1990.a.22668). His discovery of the process of transmuting lead into gold was conjecture and anti-scientific, if anti-anything, but 13 years later, this simple pamphlet, first published in Germany, transmuted into one of the finest luxury editions printed in Sweden.

Antibarbarus - coverCover of August Strindberg,  Antibarbarus: Det är en vidlyftig undersökning om grundämnenas natur och ett nytt betraktelsesätt af de kemiska operationernas förlopp enligt den rådande monist-teorien om naturens allhet & enhet, sådan den af Darwin och Hæckel tillämpats på de andra naturvetenskaperna (Stockholm: 1906) Cup.408.I.20.)

Strindberg composed Antibarbarus as a series of letters written in the second person, addressing an unidentified correspondent on diverse scientific principles. His first letter was entitled, ‘The ontogeny of sulphur’, the second, ‘On the transmutation of matter, transformist chemistry, or everything in everything’, the third, ‘Thoughts on the composition of air and water’, and a fourth, simply ‘Paralipomena’. He himself thought he ‘simply drew all the logical conclusions inherent in Transformism and Monism,’ (letter to Torsten Hedlund, 23 July 1894) that is, the belief that all matter has a single shared substance and elements differ only in their properties and not as entities, to paraphrase his first letter.

What he did not account for was the mixture of bemusement and vehement criticism that the publication received. In a letter to Georg Brandes, soliciting the great critic’s help in reviewing it favourably in Denmark, Strindberg writes that his work ‘has caused the Swedes to depict me as a rogue and a madman […] There is in fact not a single paper in Sweden honourable enough to print a word in my defence’, ultimately surprised ‘to see a whole country’s chemists so blinded by jealousy that they cannot acknowledge their own views when they see them put forward by someone they find offensive!’ (31 May 1894). Even his friend and the translator of his Swedish manuscript into German, Bengt Lidforss, reviewed it harshly in Dagens Nyheter—albeit under a pseudonym, which was scant consolation.

Antibarbarus - title pageTitle page of  Antibarbarus

Five years later, the magazine Nordisk Boktryckarekonst (Stockholm, 1900-1925; PP.1622.h.) was established by Hugo and Carl Lagerström, who subsequently set up a publishing house, with aim of inaugurating an authentic Nordic style of book design. They sought a work with which to begin a series of bibliophile editions and Arthur Sjögren was enlisted both to produce the book and to convince Strindberg to volunteer the first idea for the series. Sjögren, who had worked with Strindberg, arrived at Strindberg’s studio to find a chemist’s laboratory in disarray and the author-cum-goldmaker deep into experiments. With Strindberg only thinking about scientific works, they eventually landed on Antibarbarus. The Antibarbarus manuscript had been under perpetual revision and expansion since 1894 and, with Strindberg’s encouragement, the Lagerströms decided to take it on.

Antibarbarus - fascicle 1Fascicle 1, Antibarbarus

Taking nearly a year to produce, Antibarbarus had a limited print run of 299, each copy priced at 30 Krona. To put it in context, very few books cost over 10 Krona and Strindberg’s luxury edition of Ordalek och småkonst, which came out a year earlier in 1905, cost 8.50. No expense was spared from the light-brown leather binding incorporating the same decorative coils and knots that frame the text throughout, to the thick hand-made paper from Grycksbo  with a specially designed watermark by Sjögren, depicting a four-leaf clover over a three-leaf clover. The coiled dragon-tail ornamentation that envelops the title-page is derived from Viking picture stone iconography, which speaks to the National Romantic ethos of the new publishers, but by no means renders William Morris’s decorative influence any less obvious. The portrait of a Faustian Strindberg facing the title-page takes us back to Sjöberg’s encounter with the author in his laboratory, while drawing comparisons with Goethe, as a similar polymathic genius.

Like his illustrated works before this, Strindberg’s manuscript influenced the artistic design and the drop capitals and annotations set within the body of the text appear to be original to the author. Notes are literally indicated by a red hand pointing and paragraphs are marked by red pilcrows, rather than spaced out. Connoisseurs did not particularly warm to these latter innovations in the layout but the book has been acknowledged to be one of the most exquisite Swedish books ever produced. Georg Svensson considers it Sjögren’s best.

Antibarbarus - slaying the dragonSlaying the dragon, Antibarbarus

Ultimately, we might say the design is in harmony with the content. One critic, G. Bargum, reads the work as the creative scientist’s labyrinthine search for a greater truth where each path is a dead end. He suggests that what is stabbed in the final ornamental image is a many-headed Hydra, who constricts the courageous opponent, so that he will never escape. A review in Dagens Nyheter (cited in Samlade Verk) prefers to see the dragon finally slain by a Sigurd figure and the obstacles triumphantly overcome. While Strindberg never made gold and never did conquer the world of science as his anti-barbarian persona might have wished, his creative genius – with all its delusions and idiosyncrasies – is still wonderfully celebrated in this book, paradoxically ensuring a legacy for his failure.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References/Further Reading

August Strindberg, Naturvetenskapliga skrifter I [August Strindberg’s Samlade Verk, vol. 35] (Stockholm, 2009), YF.2011.a.4183

August Strindberg, Strindberg’s Letters [selected, edited and compiled by Michael Robinson] (London, 1992), 92/19967-8

G. Bargum, ‘Der neue Antibarbarus’, in Zeitschrift für Bücherfreunde (10:6), 1906, p. 253, P.P.6548.c.

04 May 2018

Karl Marx’s 200th Birthday

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This year sees the 200th birthday of political philosopher Karl Marx, who was born in the German town of Trier on 5 May 1818.

Marx C.120.g.2 (1)
Karl Marx (1818-1883). Frontispiece of Le Capital (Paris, 1872-75). C.120.g.2.

In connection with the anniversary, the British Library opened a new display in its Treasures Gallery earlier this week. ‘Karl and Eleanor – Life in the Reading Room’ (free entry, until 5 August) explores the special relationship that Karl Marx and his youngest daughter, political activist Eleanor Marx, had with the Reading Room of the British Museum, one of the predecessor institutions of the British Library.

Marx Round Reading Room 11902.b.52
The Round Reading Room of the British Museum, completed in 1857, where Marx spent much of his time as a reader. From Thomas Greenwood, Free Public Libraries, their organisation, uses and management (London, 1886) 11902.b.52. 

From the first edition of the Communist Manifesto to letters written by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and others in their circle, items from the Library’s collection provide an unique insight into the life and work of one of history’s most significant and controversial thinkers.


Marx manifesto and letter
The Communist Manifesto and a letter from Marx on display in the Treasures Gallery  (©Sam Lane Photography)

Marx made London his permanent home after being forced into exile after taking part in the German revolution of 1848. He famously spent long hours in the British Museum, researching and writing his works that would go on to shape world history.

Marx Reader's ticket
Index slip recording the issue of a British Museum reader’s ticket to Karl Marx, dated 21 July 1873. MS Add. 54579, f.i 

One highlight of the exhibition, displayed for the first time, is an original edition of the French translation of Das Kapital (1872-75), which Karl Marx himself had donated to the British Museum Library. Crucially, it contains some annotations in the margins that are believed to be in Marx’s own hand. There is a chance to learn more about this book and its significance in a talk by the exhibition curators on 18 June (book tickets here).

Marx corrections 2
One of the manuscript corrections in Le Capital (C.120.g.2.), thought to be in Marx's hand

The run-up to the bicentenary has seen lots of new artistic, academic and wider public engagement with Marx’s life. Last year, a new play Young Marx was performed at London’s Bridge Theatre to great acclaim, while Oscar-nominee Raoul Peck directed a film on the topic. Members of both production teams, as well as novelist Jason Barker, are coming to the British Library on the afternoon of 5 May to discuss these recent re-imaginings of Marx. The panel discussion is followed by a rare UK screening of Peck’s The Young Karl Marx (last minute tickets are available here).

Also, on 16 May, recent biographers of Karl and Eleanor Marx, Gareth Stedman Jones and Rachel Holmes, will be speaking at the Library about these two fascinating characters, their lives in London, and their wider legacy.

Marx display 2
The ‘Karl and Eleanor Marx’ display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery (©Sam Lane Photography)

The British Library is of course not alone in marking Marx’s birthday. From a large exhibition in Marx’s native Trier, to a variety of events in the UK and a display in Nanjing in eastern China – the Marx anniversary is a truly global affair.

Diana Siclovan, exhibition curator for ‘Karl and Eleanor Marx’

Find out more about the ‘Karl and Eleanor Marx’ display in The Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery and the accompanying series of events at the British Library here.

30 April 2018

Why did Joseph Banks go to Iceland in 1772?

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In 1772 Joseph Banks, a wealthy 29-year-old landowner and one of the early naturalist explorers, led the first British scientific expedition to Iceland, then a dependency of the kingdom of Denmark-Norway. Banks had been on the celebrated Endeavour expedition with Captain Cook  in 1768-71, one of the most important voyages of discovery ever made. A member of the Royal Society since 1764, he was accepted for Cook’s voyage as a supernumerary in natural history, after he offered to pay not only for himself but a party of eight including artists and scientists. His participation on the Endeavour elevated Banks to ‘a figure of international scientific significance’ (Gascoigne, p. 692).

JosephBanks1773_Reynolds

Portrait of Joseph Banks by Joshua Reynolds (1773).  Image From Wikimedia Commons. The original portrait is currently on display in our exhibition ‘James Cook: the Voyages’, which runs until 28 August.

Due to the success of the Endeavour voyage another expedition to the South Pacific was planned for 1772. The prime aim of the second Cook voyage on the Resolution was to search for the existence of an Antarctic continent, the mythical Terra Australis. Banks, convinced that a ‘Southern’ continent existed, was overjoyed when Lord Sandwich, the First Lord of the Admiralty, invited him to be the scientific leader of the expedition.

Throughout the winter of 1771-72, Banks was busy assembling a party of scientists, artists, secretaries and servants, including a French chef, as well as vast equipment for collecting specimens, again at his own expense. All was progressing well until Banks saw the shipboard facilities for himself and his party. He became famously displeased. The vessel, he thought, was simply not large enough to accommodate his entourage and after a heated exchange with the Navy Board he abandoned the Resolution expedition in a fit of pique, thus earning himself negative epithets both from contemporaries and his later biographers.

To the disappointed Banks, it was, however, of prime necessity to engage his men in a new project. By early June he had settled on his new destination. Instead of searching for a massive continent south of Australia, he decided to head north, his choice falling on Iceland. The question begging to be answered is: why Iceland?

Clevely View of a mountainJohn Cleveley the younger, ‘View of a mountain, near Hekla with a view of a travelling caravan’, Add MS. 15511, f.48.  

Scholars have advanced various theories, but in his Iceland journal Banks adequately explained the reasons for his decision. As the sailing season was much advanced he:

saw no place at all within the Compass of my time so likely to furnish me with an opportunity as Iceland, a countrey which...has been visited but seldom … The whole face of the countrey new to the Botanist & Zoologist as well as the many Volcanoes with which it is said to abound made it very desirable to Explore... (Banks’s Journal, p. 47).

And from the documentary evidence it seems clear that seeing ‘burning mountains’, as volcanoes were called at the time, had become the major aim of the voyage. There was a growing interest in volcanology and in his passport, quickly issued at the beginning of July by the Danish envoy in London, the main purpose of Banks’s visit was recorded as observing Mount Hekla, the most famous of the Icelandic volcanoes. The ascent of Hekla was the highlight of the expedition, the measurements of the spouting hot springs described by Banks as ‘volcanoes of water’ (the word geyser was coined later, Geysir being the proper name of the most magnificent of the Icelandic hot springs), coming a close second. On their return The Scots Magazine reported in November 1772 that they had ‘applied themselves in a particular manner to the study of volcanoes’.

Clevely Crater of GeyserAbove: John Cleveley the younger, ‘View of the crater of geyser, immediately after an eruption when empty’, Add MS. 15511, f.37; Below: John Cleveley the younger, ‘View of the eruption of geiser’, Add MS. 15511, f.43. Both drawings are also on display in the James Cook exhbition.

Clevely Geyser erupting

Banks prepared his voyage as best he could within the limited period of time he had. Understandably he found no-one in London who had been to Iceland but Claus Heide, a Dane resident in London, gave him information ‘Chiefly out of books’ (BL Add MS 8094, ff. 29-30). The King of Denmark was notified of their wish to visit Iceland and was only too happy to sanction the ‘celebrated English Lords’ journey.

Among the members of the expedition were three artists: John Cleveley Jr, James Miller and his brother John Frederick Miller, and their magnificent drawings and watercolours are invaluable sources. These illustrations, over 70 of them, are now in the British Library and in steady use (Add MS 15511-15512).

Clevely Skaholt ChurchJohn Cleveley the younger, View of the Cathedral Church of Skálholt, southern Iceland; with houses, and villagers tending cattle in the foreground, Add MS. 15511, f.17

Banks also collected Icelandic manuscripts and books – something he had prepared before his departure as he wrote to Bodley’s Librarian, the Reverend John Price, that he was about to sail to Iceland and while there would endeavour to procure Icelandic manuscripts. Today over 120 books and 30 manuscripts are in the British Library, including copies of the first Icelandic version of the Bible from 1584, Snorri Sturluson’s Edda and the most famous saga, Njal’s Saga (Add MS. 45712, 4857-96). Men were sent to the only printing press in Iceland, at Hólar, to buy copies of the books printed there. In the years following his visit the district governor Ólafur Stephensen, now a friend, continued to collect and consequently ‘charged our best copyists to transcribe the antiquities and sagas’ (24 June 1773, Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic 1772-1820, p. 183)

Banks’s chartered ship, the Sir Lawrence, a brig of 190 tons, with a crew of 12, eventually left Gravesend on 12 July 1772, ironically the same day as Cook started on his second voyage. He arrived in Iceland at the end of August and after an eventful stay of six weeks they left in early October, loaded down with, among other objects, specimens of lava, Icelandic manuscripts and two Icelandic dogs, aptly named Hekla and Geysir.

As a consequence of the Iceland expedition, Banks became the acknowledged British expert on Iceland and a faithful friend of the Icelanders. Three decades later during the Napoleonic Wars, Banks assumed a crucial political role as self-appointed protector of Iceland, smoothing the way for their trade during the conflict and repeatedly urging the British government to annex the island for the benefit of the inhabitants. He became the architect of Britain’s political and commercial policy towards the Atlantic dependencies of the Danish realm.

Anna Agnarsdóttir, Emeritus Professor, University of Iceland

Further reading:

Anna Agnarsdóttir (ed.), Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic 1772-1820. Journals, Letters and Documents, (London, 2016), YC.2016.b.2118.

Id., ‘After the Endeavour: What next for Joseph Banks?’, in Endeavouring Banks: Exploring collections from the Endeavour Voyage 1768-1771 (London, 2016), LC.31.b.1774

Harold B. Carter, Sir Joseph Banks 1743-1820 (London, 1988), YK.1988.b.2415

Neil Chambers (ed.), The Letters of Sir Joseph Banks. A Selection 1768–1820 (London, 2000) m01/13368

John Gascoigne, ‘Banks, Sir Joseph, baronet (1743-1820)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 3 (Oxford, 2004).

Halldór Hermannsson, ‘Sir Joseph Banks and Iceland’, Islandica, vol. 18 (1928) Ac.2692.g/6.

Uno von Troil, Letters on Iceland (Dublin, 1780) 10280.eee.14.

26 April 2018

Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages

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The annual Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages will take place on Monday 4 June in the Dickens and Eliot Rooms of the British Library Knowledge Centre.

The programme is as follows:

1.30     Registration and Coffee

2.00     Stephen Rawles (Glasgow), Measuring typesetting effort in the 1530s and 40s: calculating ems in the work of Denis Janot. 

2.45     Thomas Earle (Oxford), Rui de Pina’s Crónica de D. Afonso V: manuscript and print

3.30     Tea

4.00     Geoff West (London), The Spanish and Portuguese Manuscripts of Frederick William Cosens (1819-1889)

4.45     Susan Reed (London), Fraktur vs Antiqua: a debate in the London German press in 1876.

The Seminar will end at 5.30pm.

The seminar is free and all are welcome, but please let the organisers, Susan Reed (susan.reed@bl.uk) and Barry Taylor (barry.taylor@bl.uk) know if you wish to  attend. 

Vignette 10003.w.4.
Vignette from Cornelio Desimoni, Nuovi studi sull'Atlante Luxoro (Genoa, 1869) 10003.w.4.

 

19 April 2018

‘Now my text will be destroyed by gingerbread men’: the collaboration between Arthur Sjögren and August Strindberg

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August Strindberg (1849-1912) – the unorthodox, self-taught, one-of-a-kind writer, painter, historian, photographer, scientist-alchemist and one-time schizophrenic – can’t have been easy to work with. A pioneer with such singular vision would naturally find some difficulty opening his work up to the ideas of those forever catching up with his modernity.

From the 1890s onwards, Strindberg did however work closely with the artists Carl Larsson and Arthur Sjögren, falling out with each in turn some ten or so years later. The beginning of the end for the partnership with Sjögren came when Strindberg dismissed his contribution to a future publication in 1906, suggesting ‘now my text will be destroyed by gingerbread men,’ perhaps a jab at the artist’s stylizing tendency. Yet, undoubtedly, in the collaboration between Sjögren and Strindberg, some of the most significant Swedish works of art and literature emerged.

Strindberg & Sjögren book covers
A range of book covers by Arthur Sjögren for August Strindberg’s work, from Arthur Sjögren: Typografi och bokkonst, grafik och måleri… Nationalmusei utställningskataloger nr. 99. (Stockholm, 1944) W.P.6606/99

From the 1880s to the mid-1890s, Swedish book illustration and typography found itself in a ‘trough’, wrote the art historian Georg Svensson: ‘It had a plethora of styles but lacked style.’ That is to say, it did not have a national style of its own. Under the influence of William Morris in particular, publishers Waldemar Zachrisson and Hugo Lagerström called for a new style and for innovative artists to burst forth. Hugo and his brother Carl established the magazine Nordisk Boktryckarekonst (PP.1622.h) in 1899 and chief among its contributors was the prolific Sjögren (1874-1951), who fast moved away from an early career in architecture to the ‘pure lines’ of book craft. Nordisk Boktryckarekonst had as its aim to create the conditions for a Nordic style in book design and Sjögren would become, in the words of Erik Wettergren, ‘one of the most ingenious and intensive pioneers of book design in the national spirit’.

Sjögren signature
Arthur Sjögren’s monogram

Sjögren began working with the already famous Strindberg in 1900, at which point the writer had had a few years’ experience collaborating with Carl Larsson. In the earlier relationship, it is clear that Strindberg very rarely gave free rein to the illustrator and Sjögren would meet a similar level of artistic direction. This is by no means an abnormal situation but there is little sign of the ‘role of chance in artistic creation’, as one of his essays once lauded. Strindberg sets out the roles in the preface to their first collaboration, Sveriges Natur (1901), ‘the drawings offer landscapes, not prospects, which are composed by the writer and carried out by Arthur Sjögren to the writer’s contentment [belåtenhet].’

Sveriges Natur - Cover
Cover of August Strindberg and Arthur Sjögren, Sveriges Natur (Stockholm, 1901) L.49/151

Strindberg had travelled around Sweden in 1891-2, much as he had done around France before, and made notes and sketches in situ and these drawings and photographs were the strict basis for Sjögren’s work. The author still insisted on writing both their names on the cover in the same gold type, despite the illustrator’s protests, yet we find Sjögren’s name appears smaller than Strindberg’s, perhaps as a concession to the modest artist.

Sveriges Natur - Lappland title
Above: Heading from the section ‘Lappland’, and Below: Landscape of Lapland, from Sveriges Natur

Sveriges Natur - Lappland landscape

Future collaborations did see more conceptual input from Sjögren, yet Strindberg continued to be prescriptive. If the balance of input is not clear, Sjögren’s artwork in the poetry collection Ordalek och småkonst [Word Play and Minor Art] (1905) is without doubt as masterful as Strindberg’s verse, both encapsulating the tension between the innocent simplicity of nature and everyday life and the mystical otherness that Strindberg saw flickering everywhere at the edges.

Ordalek - Cover - title page - end combined
Cover, title page, contents and ending of August Strindberg Ordalek och småkonst (facsimile edition, Stockholm, 1974) X.989/34103

Ordalek och småkonst is visual poetry. Even without the illustrations, critics resort to imagistic terminology, evident in Lotta M. Löfgren’s interpretation prefacing her translation: ‘The realist’s eye now picks up a surreal shimmer.’

Ordalek - Gatubilder
Above: ‘Gatubilder’ [Street Pictures], below: ‘Molnbilder’ [Cloud Pictures], from Ordalek och småkonst

Ordalek - Molnbilder

The stand-out poem in the collection, if not in all of Swedish poetry, ‘Stadsresan’ [The City Journey] moves from a perfectly harmonious Midsummer’s Day in Stockholm and the shores of Lake Mälaren to a sudden apocalyptic nightmare summoned by a pianist’s music. While such darkness always sits beneath the surface for Strindberg, it only takes the warmth of an impromptu audience and his wife’s hand on his shoulder for ‘life to smile again’.

Ordalek - Stadsresan
Above: The third song in ‘Stadsresan’,  below: ‘Skapelsens tal och lagar’ [Creation’s Numbers and Laws], from Ordalek och småkonst

Ordalek - Skapelsens tal och lagar

As the pianist steps back and the room begins to glow with the praise of the onlookers and the happiness of the family, the piano itself begins to gleam and, ‘Also it beamed out a power, it cast a glow all around them / Shone on the paltry furnishings, elevated the humble.’ Strindberg captures it precisely. In art, in poetry, in the illustrations of Sjögren and the words of Strindberg, the humble life is represented as it is and, in its simple beauty, is elevated at the same time.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
A second blog post on the collaboration between Strindberg and Sjögren will appear shortly.

Further Reading:

August Strindberg, Selected poems of August Strindberg, edited and translated by Lotta M. Löfgren (Carbondale, 2002)

Michael Robinson, An International Annotated Bibliography of Strindberg Studies 1870-2005 (London, 2008),  YC.2009.a.2140 vol. 1, YC.2009.a.2141 vol. 2, YC.2009.a.2142 vol. 3

Sten-Ove Bergwall, series of blogs on the collaboration between the Strindberg and Sjögren

 

01 April 2018

Public Passions: the Oberammergau Passion Play

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The tradition of Easter Passion Plays, re-enacting the Biblical story of Jesus’s last days, crucifixion and resurrection, dates back to the Middle Ages, but the world’s most famous Passion Play, performed once every decade in the Bavarian village of Oberammergau, has its origins in the 17th century.

Oberammergau theatre
Oberammergau and its Passion-Play theatre in 1890. From John P. Jackson, Album of the Passion-Play at Ober-Ammergau ... (Munich, 1891) 1871.d.24

During a plague epidemic in 1633 the villagers swore an oath to re-enact the Passion every ten years if they were spared from further deaths. The death-toll allegedly fell to nothing and in 1634 the villagers duly staged their play for the first time. The regular performance year was later moved to the last year of each decade.

Script and Programme
Opening of the oldest surviving version of the script (1662), and a programme for the 1780 performance. Reproduced in Norbert Jaron and Bärbel Rudin, Das Oberammergauer Passionsspiel: eine Chronik in Bildern (Dortmund, 1984) YV.1987.a.740.

The play combines the action of the Passion story with sung choruses and tableaux of Old Testament scenes interpreted as prefigurations of the life of Jesus. As Oberammergau had no existing Passion play tradition, the first play-text was put together from various sources. In its first two centuries it underwent various revisions and rewrites, reaching its longest-lasting form in 1860 in a version by the local priest, Joseph Alois Daisenberger.

Oberammergau Devrient Theatre
‘Jacob receives Joseph’s bloodstained coat’. Tableau from a performance in 1850. Illustration by Friedrich Pecht from, Eduard Devrient, Das Passionsschauspiel in Oberammergau und seine Bedeutung für die neue Zeit (Leipzig, 1851). 11746.l.16.

In the mid-19th century, the Oberammergau Passion Play began to attract wider attention, as more visitors from outside began to attend the performaces and to publish accounts of their impressions. One such account of the 1850 play by the actor Eduard Devrient was particularly influential in establishing the play not just as a moving religious experience but also as an expression of the ‘German national spirit’.

Oberammergau Devrient 11746.l.16.
Cover of Devrient’s, Das Passionsschauspiel in Oberammergau ...

It was the former aspect (as well as improvements to transport and the development of international tourism) that began to draw ‘pilgrims’ from beyond Germany to the play. Even those prepared to be cynical, fearing crude performances by uneducated peasants, tended to find themselves overwhelmed by religious feeling. Gerard Molloy, writing about the performances of 1871 (the regular cycle had been disrupted by the Franco-Prussian War), quotes a number of emotional responses from British visitors, including a woman who ‘forgot all but the wonderful story of our salvation and cried all day.’ A less overwrought account is found in Jerome K. Jerome’s Diary of a Pilgrimage (Bristol, 1891; 12331.i.36.), which combines a comical description of the author’s journey to Oberammergau in 1890 with a fairly straight discussion of the play itself.

Oberammergau Blessing 1871
Jesus (played by Josef Mayr) blessing John (Johannes Zwink) and Peter (Jakob Hett) in the 1871 production. From Gerard Molloy, The Passion Play at Ober-Ammergau, in the summer of 1871 (London, 1872) RB.23.a.26273.

As the play’s international popularity grew, guidebooks and programmes began to appear, featuring not only details of the performances but also advertisements for local hotels, restaurants and shops, and advice about places to visit nearby. The play was becoming a focus for package holidays and an important part of the local economy.

Programmes
Guidebooks to Oberammergau and the Passion Play from 1880 (10240.e.3), 1900 (11791.c.55) and 1930 (11795.p.21.)

Some of the local performers also began to enjoy a degree of celebrity. Their portraits featured in many accounts, and one lavish souvenir volume of the 1890 performances even includes pictures of the principal performers’ houses. Anton Lang who played Jesus from 1900-1920 published an autobiography which ran to two editions. But despite all the publicity and the commercial aspect of the festival, the people of Oberammergau continued (and continue) to see the play first and foremost as a solemn religious undertaking.

Oberammergau portraits
Above: Portraits of the principal performers in 1890, from John P. Jackson, Album of the Passion-Play; Below: Title-page of Anton Lang, Aus meinem Leben (Munich, 1938) 10710.a.47, with a portrait of Lang in the character of Jesus

Oberammergau Land biog

In 1934 additional performances of the play took place. These marked the 300th anniversary of the original production, but were also used by Germany’s new Nazi rulers to link the play and Devrient’s conception of its ‘German national spirit’ with their own regime, as the introduction to the 1934 edition of the play-text makes clear, speaking of ‘the fortune of a new life which unites us all in our race’ and ‘the suppression of the antichristian powers in our fatherland’.

Oberammergau 1934
Title-page and frontispiece from the official 1934 play-text, Das Passions-Spiel in Oberammergau (Munich, 1934)
  11749.aa.12.

One feature of the play that particularly appealed to the Nazis was the strongly anti-semitic slant of the text. This troubling aspect was highlighted as early as 1901 in a book by Joseph Krauskopf, who had seen the play in 1900 and was shocked and angered at ‘seeing one gross misrepresentation of the Jewish people after the other’.

Oberammergau Krauskopf
Title-page and frontispiece portrait from Joseph Krauskopf, A Rabbi’s Impressions of the Oberammergau Passion Play ( Philadelphia, 1901.) 011795.aaa.4. Text available online at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/rio/index.htm

Astonishingly, however, even after 1945 the issue of antisemitism was not addressed for some decades, in spite of growing international complaints and a partial boycott of the 1970 performances in protest. Although the play had a history of being revised and rewritten, Daisenberger’s 1860 text had somehow acquired a canonical status which the organisers were obstinately unwilling to challenge, and it was used more or less unchanged until the 1980s. It was only in the following decade that Oberammergau began seriously to reconsider the play’s depiction of Jews and Judaism. Change has been gradual, but recent directors have worked with both Jewish and Catholic experts to create a script and presentation more in keeping with a modern understanding of the New Testament story, and in particular to remind audiences that Jesus himself was Jewish.

How well these challenges have been met will be apparent when the play is next performed in 2020. It is to be hoped that this remarkable , nearly 400-year-old tradition of community performance can survive in a form fitted to our times, to be appreciated by religious and secular audiences of all backgrounds alike.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Further reading:

The Oberammergau passion play : essays on the 2010 performance and the centuries-long tradition, edited by Kevin J. Wetmore (Jefferson NC, 2017) [Awaiting shelfmark]

Tomas Dashuber, Ecce Homo: die Entstehung des Oberammergauer Passionsspiels (Munich, 2000) LB.31.b.20379

James Shapiro, Oberammergau: the troubling story of the world's most famous Passion play (London, 2000) YC.2000.a.8555.

Roland Kaltenegger, Oberammergau und die Passionsspiele 1634-1984 (Munich, 1984) YV.1987.b.1758

29 March 2018

Obe Postma and Emily Dickinson’s bees

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In 2018 Leeuwarden is not only capital of the province of Friesland, but also European Capital of Culture

To celebrate this special year I shall be writing a series of blog posts on our holdings of Frisian literature throughout the year. As it happens today (29 March) is the 150th anniversary of the birth of one of Friesland’s best known and most prolific poets: Obe Postma.

OPostmaportrait
Portrait of obe Postma from his collection Fan wjerklank en bisinnen (Drachten, 1957) 011565.h.8.

He was the son of a farmer from Koarnwerd, Friesland. The Frisian landscape in which he grew up became his life-long inspiration for his poetry, even when he moved to Amsterdam to study mathematics and physics. He would never live in the countryside again, teaching mathematics and mechanics at the HBS (Higher Civil School) in Groningen for his whole working life. After retirement he moved to Leeuwarden, where he died in 1963.

OPostmaNieuwebrug
A Frisian landscape: ‘Nieuwebrug ‘, oil on canvas by Bonne Dijkstra, reproduced in Sjouke Visser (ed.) Het Friese landschap (Harlingen, 1986) LB.31.b.309

Postma’s career as a poet took off relatively late, at the age of 34, but continued right up to his last days, spanning six decades. In 1918, at the age of 50, he published his first collection of poetry: Fryske Lȃn en Fryske Libben

OPostmaFryskeLAnfrontcover
Cover of Fryske Lȃn en Fryske Libben (Snits, 1918) 011557.l.33

His early career is characterised by poetry about the Frisian landscape, which earned him the accolade of ‘Poet of the Frisian Landscape’. Postma is sometimes seen as a ‘naïve’ and nostalgic, even ‘provincial’ poet, but this ignores the fact that he was deeply influenced by literature and philosophy, as well as by his scientific background. He knew what was going on in the world of poetry, both in Friesland and beyond. He combined a sharp eye for the simple day-to-day realities, such as a flower meadow, with a feeling for the sublime, with ‘beauty as living principle within the cosmos, the infinite that penetrates the finite, the absolute in the relative.’

Postma saw in Emily Dickinson a kindred spirit. He placed her alongside Elizabeth Browning, Christina Rossetti and Emily Brontë as one of the greatest female poets. Dickinson’s lack of sentimentality, her sober choice of words, range of subject matter, but perhaps most of all her love of nature appealed to him. In his literary notes Postma writes: ‘She has played a unique role in restoring to poetry those important characteristics of simplicity, sensuousness, and passion.’ Like no other poet Dickinson expressed most clearly his ideas about what ‘nature’ is and what ‘culture’. He writes that in order to grasp this, ‘ I need to go to Emily Dickinson’s bees.’ 


OPostmaEMDMurm
Above: Emily Dickinson’s ‘The Murmuring of Bees’, from The complete poems of Emily Dickinson (London, 1975) X.909/40625. Below: Obe Postma’s translation, ‘Ut Natûr’, from Samle fersen (Baarn, 1978) X.950.11642.

OPostmaUtNatur

The British Library holds one anthology of Postma’s poems in English translation, published in 2004. ‘Easter Monday’ is an example of Postma’s early work in which he shows signs of his later philosophy, setting his senses wide open to the wider context in which his beloved Frisian landscape sits.

OPostmaEasterMonday
‘Easter Monday’, originally published in 1927, in De Ljochte Ierde (Snits, 1929) X.909/88993. Translated into English by Anthony Paul and published in What the Poet Must Know (Leeuwarden, 2004) YK.2006.a.1764.

Marja Kingma , Curator Germanic Collections.

References/further reading:

De dichters en de filosofen, ed. Philippus Breuker en Jan Gulmans. (Leeuwarden, 2008). YF.2009.a.25393

Emily Dickinson in leven en dood, ed. Philippus Breuker and J. Gulmans. (Leeuwarden, 2009) YF.2011.a.6038. I am particularly indebted to Albertina Soepboer’s article on Postma and Dickinson in this collection (pp. 62-75)

In útjefte ta gelegenheid fan de ûntbleating fan de búste fan de dichter en wittenskipsman Obe Postma (1868-1963) ed. Geart van der Meer, Jan Gulmans. (Ljouwert, 2014). YF.2017.a.9947

 

 

22 March 2018

Why Oudewater was so attractive to ‘witches’

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In an earlier post I discussed the popularisation of the image of witches flying on broomsticks by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

This chimes with what Balthasar Bekker writes in his famous De Betoverde wereld (‘The Enchanted World’), namely that the idea of witches flying to gatherings at night on a broomstick ‘is today a widely held belief amongst the common people’.

WaagOudBetWeereldttlp
Title-page of Balthasar Bekker, De Betoverde wereld (Leeuwarden, 1691) 8630.bbb.25

How did prosecutors go about proving that someone accused of being a witch was indeed a witch?

There was one practice that was uniquely reserved for witch trials, namely ‘trial by ordeal’, or divine judgements. In his Malleus Maleficarum (first published Speyer, ca 1487; IB.8581.), Heinrich (Institoris) Kraemer stated that witches could fly because they were weightless. So, all one had to do was establish the weight of the accused and when she (it was mostly women who were prosecuted) was found indeed to be weightless this pointed strongly to her being a witch.

WaagOudMalleus1510
Title-page of an early 16th-century edition of the Malleus Maleficarum (Paris, [1510?]) 1606/312.

There were two ways to establish weightlessness:

The first was by water, a very popular method in the Netherlands, for obvious reasons: water aplenty! Throw the accused in the water and see if they float. If they sink they are innocent, if they float they are too light, and must be a witch. At the end of the 16th century this method was officially abolished in Holland, following a thorough academic study on the validity of the method by scholars from the University of Leyden.

This left the second method of trial by weighing. This was usually done on the scales of the local weighing house, where goods brought to market were weighed to quality-check them and therefore big enough for a person to stand on. Although seemingly pretty straightforward, there are accounts of places where the scales were fiddled with to show ‘0’ on the dial, leading to gross miscarriages of justice. No such tricks were played at what became known as the ‘Witches Weighing House’ at Oudewater, a small town between Rotterdam and Utrecht.

WaagOudextCUP502I30p10The Weighing House at Oudewater, from Casimir K. Visser, Van de heksenwaag te Oudewater. (Lochem, 1941) Cup.502.l.30

The authorities in Oudewater made sure that weighings were carried out correctly, with several witnesses apart from the weighing master, thus making sure all persons had a weight matching their stature. Moreover, the weighing house issued a certificate stating that the person was not a witch, which they would show magistrates back home. It is no surprise that none of the weighings carried out at Oudewater resulted in a prosecution.

WaagOudScalesCup502I30 The scales of the weighing house at Oudewater, from Van de heksenwaag te Oudewater.

Oudewater was not well known in the Netherlands in the 16th century, when most witch trials took place. It was not until the witch trials had virtually ended there that it came into its own, during the 17th and first half of the 18th century. Oudewater attracted almost exclusively people from outside the Netherlands, who were sent there by magistrates in their home towns.

It is not known why it was that towns sent defendants all the way to Oudewater; why did they not carry out weighings themselves?

Over time belief in witchcraft diminished and the scales at Oudewater became an anachronism. This is poignantly expressed by the owner of a travel guide to the Netherlands, published in French in Amsterdam in 1779. It is entitled La Hollande aux dix-huitième siècle. In the chapter about Schiedam on page 36, the travel guide says that after 1593 not one person in Schiedam, nor in Holland for that matter, was punished for witchcraft.

WaagOudLaHollTtlpTitle page of La Hollande au Dix-Huitième Siecle. (The Hague, 1779). RB.23.a.37831

I recently bought a copy this travel guide for our collections. Inside it were several loose pieces of paper inserted with handwritten comments by what must have been the owner of the book. Imagine my surprise when I found that one note described the practice of weighing witches at Oudewater! Here is what it says:

A Oudewater on a une balance fameuse par l’usage qu’on en faisait pour peser les femmes accus[é]es de sorcellerie. Malheur à celles qui étoient trouvées trop légères. La derniere épreuve en à été faitte [sic] sur une vielle rabatteuse, il n’y a qu’une quarantaine d’ années, ce qui est assez singulier dans le XVIII siècle.
(At Oudewater they have a famous scales for the use of weighing women accused of sorcery. Woe betide those found to be too light. The last trial was made on an old vagrant woman not even forty years ago, which is exceptional for the 18th century. )

WaagOudNote Inserted manuscript note on Oudewater found in La Hollande au Dix Huitième Siecle

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

References and further reading:

A.W. den Boer, Oud-Oudewater. ([Oudewater], 1965). X.808/3056

Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra / Willem Frijhoff (eds), Nederland betoverd: toverij en hekserij Van de veertiende tot in de twintigste eeuw. (Amsterdam, 1987). YA.1990.b.7167.

Jacobus Scheltema, Geschiedenis der heksenprocessen. (Haarlem, 1828). 8631.i.15

 

20 March 2018

Hygge, noir or both? The Films of Carl Theodor Dreyer

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With the current enthusiasm for all things Danish, from the cult of hygge to crime dramas, it is fitting, on the 50th anniversary of his death, to examine the legacy of Denmark’s greatest contributor to the history of cinema, Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889-1968).

Dreyer Portrait
Portrait of Dreyer directing in 1931, from Ebbe Neergaard, En filminstruktørs arbejde. Carl Th. Dreyer og hans ti filmer (Copenhagen, 1940) 11796.bb.43

Certainly, judging by the subjects of his films and the events of his own life, it would be difficult to regard Dreyer as a typical representative of ‘Europe’s happiest nation’. He was, in fact, only half Danish; his mother, Josefine Bernhardine Nilsson, was a servant on a farm in Sweden where she was seduced by her Danish employer Jens Christian Torp – a situation familiar to readers of Martin Andersen Nexø’s novel Pelle Erobreren (Copenhagen, 1906-10; 12581.r.18.). Torp was already married, and when Josefine died he placed their illegitimate son in an orphanage. At the age of two the little boy was adopted by a typographer named Carl Theodor Dreyer, and his wife, Inger Marie, who gave him a home and a name but little in the way of emotional warmth or security. When he was 16 he broke away from his adoptive parents, but their lasting influence is evident in the ideology which underpins many of his films, set in a Denmark where religious conservatism prevails and failure to conform can have fatal consequences.

At the time when Dreyer made the transition from journalism to film, the Danish silent cinema was in its early stages, and even during his mature career as a director he lacked the support of a well-established national film industry. This apparent disadvantage, in fact, accorded well with Dreyer’s preference for solitude and independence at all costs. In his biography En filminstruktørs arbejde, Ebbe Neergaard describes the moment when the young Dreyer, visiting the vaults of the Great Northern Telegraph Company in the company of an elderly accountant who proudly pointed to his life’s work – a collection of musty files – recoiled in horror from the prospect of a similar fate and promptly resigned his post to strike out alone.

Throughout his life Dreyer was outspoken in his criticism of mass-production film-making, and his insistence on the integrity of the individual, no matter what the outcome, runs through his work. He began in a small way, writing film scripts for Nordisk Film (1913-19). Although he later called this period ‘a marvellous school’, it coincided with the decline of Danish film during the First World War, where, although neutral, Denmark lost many of its foreign markets and Nordisk’s German theatre chain was bought up by Ufa in 1917. Dreyer then left Denmark to work in the French film industry; while living in France he met Jean Cocteau and other members of the French artistic scene and in 1928 he made his first classic film, The Passion of Joan of Arc. This, like his next effort, Vampyr (1932), privately funded by Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg who also played the hero, was a commercial failure. Both were subsequently recognized as masterpieces of emotional realism and surreal expressionism, but Dreyer was deterred from making any more films until 1943, when he directed one of his greatest works, Day of Wrath. Denmark was by now under German occupation, and this story of the persecution of alleged witches in a remote Danish village stands as a metaphor for the climate suspicion and oppression which flourished in those days.

Dreyer Cover
Montage of images from The Passion of Joan of Arc reproduced on the cover of  En filminstruktørs arbejde

Many of Dreyer’s films are set in small, tightly-knit communities in rural districts. However, they do not portray an idealised world of neighbourly cosiness but demonstrate how an apparently secure web of relationships can become a trap. In Master of the House (1925), he depicts a tyrannical father’s hold over his family and its eventual subversion; on a wider scale, The Word (1955) shows the stranglehold of religious bigotry over the lives of villagers, with a strict father forbidding his daughter to marry out of their sect and a young man transformed into an eccentric ‘holy fool’ by excessive theological study. Yet there remains hope, even though in this case it requires the death of his sister-in-law Inger in childbirth to bring about the miracle which eventually transcends and dissolves the artificial boundaries which constrict their lives.

Dreyer degeneration#
‘The degeneration of family life’: the birdcage scene from Master of the House; pictures from En filminstruktørs arbejde

David Bordwell’s The Films of Carl-Theodor Dreyer (Berkeley, California, 1981; L.42/1194) provides a masterly study of the cinematic techniques which Dreyer employed throughout his career, culminating in his last film, Gertrud (1964). He analyses not only Dreyer’s use of the camera but his choice of plays and stories to adapt in exploration of spiritual conflict, social pressure to conform and the fate of those who defy it, and the concepts of sin and transgression (though Dreyer later disowned Two People (1945), based on a crime story and directed while he was living in exile from the Nazis in Sweden). But in his choice of Kaj Munk’s play Ordet as the source for The Word, he made common cause with a figure whose defiance of a corrupt regime, like Joan of Arc’s, cost him his life. Unsparing in his condemnation of moral compromise and hypocrisy alike, Dreyer invites his audience to explore the borderlands of the natural and the supernatural, earthly and spiritual, and to think for themselves in drawing their own conclusions.

Susan Halstead, Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services

Further Reading

Carl Theodor Dreyer, Fire film ... Jeanne d'Arc, Vampyr, Vredens Dag, Ordet. Udgivet med indledning af Ole Storm. (Copenhagen, 1964) X.900/560. (English translation: Four Screenplays (London, 1970) X.981/1902.)

Carl Theodor Dreyer, Om filmen. Artikler og interviews. Udgivet af Erik Ulrichsen (Copenhagen, 1964) X.908/793. (English translation: Dreyer in double reflection ed. by Donald Skoller (New York, 1973) 75/22116

Claude Perrin, Carl Th. Dreyer ... points de vue, documents, filmographie, bibliographie, chronologie, 50 illustrations (Paris, [1969])

Tom Milne, The cinema of Carl Dreyer (New York, 1971) X.900/6387.  

Maurice Drouzy, Carl Th. Dreyer, né Nilsson (Paris, 1982) X.950/26307

Edvin Kau, Dreyers filmkunst (Copenhagen, 1989). YA.1991.b.411