THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

57 posts categorized "Germanic"

22 May 2017

The problem with Berlin Alexanderplatz

Add comment

The current season of films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder at the BFI has included his adaptation of Alfred Döblin’s ‘unfilmable’ novel Berlin Alexanderplatz. Here former BL cataloguer Trevor Willimott reflects on his experience of reading the original work.

For someone reading the original text whose first language is not German, Berlin Alexanderplatz is a formidable challenge. Just a few pages in I realised this, partly because of the stream of consciousness nature of Döblin’s writing and partly because of the passages of colloquial language. The stream of consciousness technique has never been practised as much in German as in English or American literature but Döblin’s book is often seen in those ‘greatest novels of all time’ lists alongside other exponents of the genre, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner. Often compared to Joyce’s Ulysses, Berlin Alexanderplatz  is amorphous and turbid and in many ways untranslatable, although EugĂšne Jolas did translate it into English in 1931 (British Library. 012554.dd.26), a work which was not well received at the time. This is still the only available English translation of the novel.

Berlin Alexanderplatz DJ
Dust-Jacket of the first edition of Berlin Alexanderplatz (Berlin, 1929) YA.1988.a.21631

Regarded as one of the greatest German novels of all time, it tells the story of Franz Biberkopf, a murderer who upon release from prison resolves to become a respectable member of society in 1920s Berlin. Despite this, because of his past and the community he is released into, he is unable to free himself from the criminal underworld which has been his life. He lives in a grubby world of criminals and prostitution, with the lengthening shadow of Nazism falling over Germany. He is very much in and of Berlin and common, at one point considered a sort of ‘Vieh’ (in the contemptuous sense, animal or beast), a keyword throughout the novel, because humans are seen as little more than animals.

Berlin Alexanderplatz Döblin
Alfred Döblin around 1930 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Normally, I like stream of consciousness fiction, and Virginia Woolf is my favourite novelist, but it was a struggle to enjoy this book. Gloomy and oppressive like the U-Bahn below, the dialogue sometimes moves to the same monotonous rhythm. The main reason I didn’t like it was its heavy reliance on Berlin slang and colloquialisms, which tested my German skills greatly, and the mundanity of it all. True to the stream of consciousness form because it credibly reflects the commonplace thoughts and ruminations which daily obtrude into people’s minds, it completely failed to lift me to the sublime levels of Virginia Woolf’s poetic prose in To the Lighthouse, for example. She could create a beautiful image of how someone sees a newspaper swirling down a blustery street, whereas Döblin will describe in detail Biberkopf’s spiel on the differences between a tie and bow-tie when working in a high-class men’s tailors, which may well serve to develop his character and Berlin’s social life, but is ultimately totally uninspiring prose. It is that unrelenting use of direct speech to reveal the character’s mind that I found so unappealing.

The most striking aspect for me in Döblin’s writing came from the darker side of life, for example his description of the slaughterhouse. In those days it wasn’t a bullet through the head; it was clubbing and hacking. The submissiveness with which the animals entered the abattoir moved me deeply.

While the plot is unremarkable, as is the case with many stream of consciousness works, Berlin Alexanderplatz is undoubtedly a great novel because it is a brilliant exposition of an ex-convict’s mind, his world, and Berlin of the 1920s. I think it has to be read in the original German to appreciate fully the book’s greatness, and while my expectations fell short it’s no doubt because that appreciation can only be attained by someone who has been immersed in the German language and its literature at a high level for a long time.

Further reading:

Materialien zu Alfred Döblin "Berlin Alexanderplatz", herausgegeben von Matthias Prangel (Frankfurt am Main, 1975)  X:907/15849

Harald JĂ€hner, Erzählter, montierter, soufflierter Text : zur Konstruktion des Romans Berlin Alexanderplatz von Alfred Döblin (Frankfurt am Main, 1984) YA.1987.a.13595

David B. Dollenmayer, The Berlin novels of Alfred Döblin : Wadzek's battle with the steam turbine, Berlin Alexanderplatz, Men without mercy, and November 1918 (Berkeley, 1988)  YH.1988.b.839

Otto Keller, Döblins Berlin Alexanderplatz: die Grossstadt im Spiegel ihrer Diskurse (Bern, 1990) YA.1993.a.8319

Frauke Tomczak, Mythos und AlltĂ€glichkeit am Beispiel von Joyces ''Ulysses'' und Döblins ''Berlin Alexanderplatz''  (Frankfurt am Main, 1992) YA.1993.a.4008

Sang-Nam Park, Die sprachliche und zeitkritische Problematik von Döblins Roman "Berlin Alexanderplatz”. (Berlin, 1995)  YA.1995.a.10150

Peter Jelavich,  Berlin Alexanderplatz : radio, film, and the death of Weimar culture (Berkeley, 2006) YC.2006.a.2302

 Rainer Werner Fassbinder und Harry Baer, Der Film Berlin Alexanderplatz: ein Arbeitsjournal (Frankfurt am Main, 1980) X.944/411.

Fassbinder: Berlin Alexanderplatz, edited by Klaus Biesenbach (Berlin, 2007) LF.37.a.184. 

  Berlin Alexanderplatz Arbeitsjournal
Cover of the â€˜Arbeitsjournal’ by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Harry Baer documenting their work on the film of Berlin Alexanderplatz  

 

12 May 2017

A feisty Finnish feminist: Minna Canth

Add comment

In 1820 James Finlayson, a Scottish Quaker and self-taught engineer, received permission from the Senate of Finland to build a textile factory in Tampere using water power from the Tammerkoski rapids. Three years earlier he had been invited by Tsar Alexander I to set up a similar factory in St. Petersburg, and he was now bringing modern industrial methods to Finland, then under Russian rule. Finlayson, a passionate philanthropist as well as a good businessman, was zealous in providing the best possible conditions for his employees; the enterprise throve and grew to become Tampere’s biggest provider of employment, with considerable benefit to the town’s social conditions. Finlayson founded not only an orphanage but also a school for the workers’ children, and it was here that Minna Canth, one of the most important figures in the Finnish women’s movement received her early education.

Minna Canth portrait

Portrait of Minna Canth from Hilja Vilkemaa, Minna Canth: elÀmÀkerrallisia piirteitÀ (Helsinki, 1931) 10797.b.40.

Ulrika Wilhelmina Johnsson was born in Tampere on 19 March 1844, the elder daughter and first surviving child of Gustav Vilhelm Johnsson, whose hard work in the Finlayson textile factory enabled him to become a foreman there. At home and at school she was strongly influenced by the emphasis on industry and piety, and when in 1853 her father was promoted to manager of the Finlayson textile shop in Kuopio, she continued her education there, doing so well that she was allowed to enter a school for daughters of the upper classes and, in 1863, to enrol at the newly-founded teacher training college in JyvĂ€skylĂ€  (now the University of JyvĂ€skylĂ€), the first institute in Finland to admit women to higher education and to deliver teaching in Finnish.

However, before completing her studies, Minna married the college’s natural sciences teacher, Johan Canth, who was nine years her senior, and over the next thirteen years produced a family of seven children. Nevertheless, this was not the end of her ambitions, which developed in a literary direction. Canth became the editor of the newspaper Keski-Suomi (Central Finland), and his wife contributed articles on matters particularly relevant to women, including temperance, which she saw as a means of combating the addiction to alcohol which reduced many families to poverty. Her polemical attitude, which her husband shared, compelled them to leave Keski-Suomi in 1876 and to move in 1877 to a rival newspaper, PĂ€ijĂ€nne, which began to print her stories. Two years later her first collection of these, Novelleja ja kertomuksia (‘Novellas and Tales’) appeared in print.

Minna Canth did not shrink from taking on prominent public figures such as churchmen and authors when the occasion demanded. In 1885 she published one of her most famous plays, Työmiehen vaimo (‘The Wife of a Workman’), the story of a spirited and capable woman, Johanna, whose shiftless husband Risto ruins the family by drinking her money away while the laws governing women’s property render her helpless to prevent him. Set in contemporary Kuopio, the drama created a considerable scandal; that same year, its author spoke out robustly against a bishop who claimed that emancipation was against God’s law and the writer Gustaf af Geijerstam who supported him by arguing that men’s different needs and nature made it impossible for them to achieve feminine purity. Before the year was out, the Finnish Parliament had passed a new law allowing married women to hold property in their own right.

Minna Canth Työmiehen vaimo

Title-page of Työmiehen vaimo (Porvoo, 1885) 11755.df.20

Canth wrote many other plays and works of fiction, but her last drama, Anna Liisa  is among the greatest and is still often performed. Seduced by Mikko, a local youth, the fifteen-year-old heroine conceals the resulting pregnancy and stifles her baby in a fit of panic. Mikko’s mother Husso buries it secretly, but she and Mikko resort to blackmail when, some time later, another suitor, Johannes, proposes marriage to Anna Liisa. Refusing to give in even if it means sacrificing her happiness, Anna Liisa confesses and goes to prison, but with a calm mind and clear conscience. Although critics have argued against the unfairness of a conclusion in which Mikko escapes punishment and Anna Liisa bears it alone, she emerges as a strong woman capable of making moral choices and determining her own future on the basis of their integrity.

Minna Canth Anna Liisa
Title-page of Anna-Liisa (Porvoo, 1895) 11758.df.32

Johan Canth had died in 1879, and while pursuing her literary career his widow continued to manage not only her household and family of seven but the draper’s shop which she had taken over from her father. Her vitality and outspokenness made her a tireless worker for women’s rights and human rights at a time when the Grand Duchy of Finland was striving towards independence from Russia, and her birthday is marked every year as a celebration of social equality throughout Finland.

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

08 May 2017

Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages 2017

Add comment

The annual Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages will take place at the British Library on Monday 5 June in the Eliot Room of the Library’s Conference Centre, with the usual varied range of speakers and topics. The programme is as follows.

11.00     Registration and Coffee

11.30     David Shaw (Canterbury): The impact of the Aldine octavos on sixteenth-century paper for printing the classics.

12.15     Lunch (Own arrangements).

1.30     Pardaad Chamsaz (London): A murky business: the composition of HonorĂ© de Balzac’s Une TĂ©nĂ©breuse Affaire.

2.15     Rhiannon Daniels (Bristol): Where does the Decameron begin? The editorial ‘problem’ of the paratext and the question of rubrics.

3.00     Tea

3.30     W. A. Kelly (Strathclyde): The Book trade in Moravia.

4.30     Barry Taylor (London): Allegorical title pages.

The Seminar will end at 5.15 pm.

The seminar is open to all and attendance is free, but please let Barry Taylor (barry.taylor@bl.uk) or Susan Reed (susan.reed@bl.uk) know if you would like to attend.

Narrenschiff 1499 Unnutzen BĂŒcher

05 May 2017

Reformation 1517-2017 at the British Library

Add comment


95 Theses Latin
The original Latin version of Luther’s 95 Theses ([Leipzig?], 1517) C.18.d.12.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517, without knowing all the implications of that momentous act, it proved the beginning of a ‘Glaubenskampf’ – a struggle of faiths – across Germany, Europe and farther afield, which would also be the impetus for wars and bloodshed over centuries and would lead to religious separation and a split from Rome. Later, he further changed the world with his translations of the Bible into German, with a New Testament published in 1522 and a Complete Bible (with books excluded from the canon used by Roman Catholics) published in 1534.

1534 Bible tp and coat of arms

 Biblia, das ist, die gantze Heilige Schrifft Deudsch. (Wittenberg, 1534) 1.b.9. The first complete edition of Luther’s German Bible translation.

500 years later, Luther’s life and work and the Reformation are celebrated in the German-speaking countries, across northern Europe and North America, and other parts of the world as achievements of enlightenment, illustrious in their influence not only on Christian theology, but also in disciplines and areas of human endeavour such as art, literature and music. In many ways, Martin Luther’s achievements and the Reformation are also today celebrated in the spirit of reconciliation. For the first time in history, ordinary people had begun to have access to the Bible in their own language, and were able to inform themselves and make choices about issues of religious faith.

In Germany this year, festive events in heartland areas of the Reformation and across the whole country are the culmination of the ‘Luther Decade’ of the Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland. Each year of the decade has had its own dedicated thematic strand, devoted to a particular achievement of the Reformation – its impact not only on theology, but also on culture, music, literature, unification, and enlightenment.

Luther inscription Zweig MS 200 f003r Signed inscription by Martin Luther from the ‘Reformatoren-Gedenkbuch’, a collection of inscriptions bny prominent German reformers, Zweig MS 200

Martin Luther’s impact has helped make our world as we know it today what it is – and the Reformation is also frequently regarded as the end of the (‘dark’) Middle Ages. At the British Library we are joining in this year’s anniversary celebrations and marking the Reformation: language and languages, the distribution of texts and knowledge, access to information are cornerstone elements of the Reformation and also central to our Library’s mission and achievements.

The British Library will present a small “Reformation 2017” exhibition in its Treasures Gallery during the month of November. The exhibition will focus on the four themes of: religious and political setting, early response and controversy, Bible translation and impact, and legacy.

Themes of the Luther decade are also areas where the British Library will make its contributions through the display of valuable items in our exhibition and via posts on the European Studies blog throughout the year. We shall be considering the Reformation in word and print, the spreading and influence of the Reformation across Europe (other German-speaking countries, Scandinavia, the UK, the New World), the impact on literature, translation, and music – to name just a few. We are also planning a Study Day at the Library. Events throughout the year at the British Library and at other locations are being listed at: www.reformation500.uk

Dorothea Miehe, Content Specialist Humanities & Social Sciences, Research Services

11 April 2017

Translator in Residence

Add comment

Today we’re delighted to announce the British Library’s inaugural Translator in Residence initiative, which is being undertaken in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s ‘Translating Cultures’ theme. In this blog, Jen Calleja, our first resident, introduces herself and writes a bit about what she hopes to achieve with the Library over the coming year:

I am overjoyed to be the first ever Translator in Residence at the British Library and it feels like both the culmination of my last seven years engaging with translation (though you could argue that it has actually been about a dozen, or maybe my whole thirty years) and a new phase of amplifying that engagement with renewed commitment and energy.

When I saw the call-out for the residency it was as if it had been written specially for me. I had been thinking more and more about how action was needed on a larger scale against the heavy lean towards monoculturalism and monolingualism in the UK, and then this appeared. This is the right moment to be bringing translators and cultural mediators into the spotlight and I plan to be as ambitious, vocal and visible as possible in the residency’s inaugural year. It feels more vital than ever to be exploring foreign, globalised and multilingual subjectivities – and the perception of them – through the ‘impossible possibility’ of translation and other creative practices, and I consider the creation of this role to be a great step forward for translation and socio-political activism.

Jen Calleja c Robin Silas Christian
Jen Calleja (photo (c) Robin Silas Christian)

I’ve been a freelance literary translator from German of fiction, non-fiction, books for young people, poetry and essays since 2012 – though I’ve worked full and part-time jobs alongside that for most of the time. I moved to Munich when I was eighteen after my A-levels (something that the younger generation might not have the opportunity to do) and started reading German-language novels while doing my undergraduate degree in Media and Modern Literature at Goldsmiths in London. I went on to study an MA in German Studies, specialising in translation theory and practice, and translated my first book while finishing my Masters. My recent projects include Gregor Hens’ essay-memoir Nicotine (Fitzcarraldo Editions; YK.2017.a.1058), essays on art and culture by filmmaker Wim Wenders collected as Paul Cezanne’s Pixels (Faber & Faber), and I’m currently editing my translation of Kerstin Hensel’s novella Dance by the Canal (Peirene Press).

In 2012 I also founded my Anglo-German arts journal Verfreundungseffekt, which collates art and writing at the intersection of German-language and English-language culture and experience; reportage and personal essays on cross-cultural projects and the Anglo-German self; as well as translations. A couple of years later I became the acting editor of the journal New Books in German, where I spent two years immersed in the German-language and English-language publishing scenes, helping the best German-language books gain a platform in the English-speaking world and becoming familiar with how books make it into translation.

In early 2015, the Austrian Cultural Forum London invited me to become Guest Literary Curator, and inspired by a talk I had attended at International Translation Day at the British Library, I asked the ACF London if I could be ‘upgraded’ to Translator in Residence six months into my two year curatorship. This meant I could translate work by the as-yet-untranslated Austrian authors I invited to participate in events, discuss the craft of translation, and elevate ‘the translator’. The events I curated spanned an exhibition of multimedia translations of a translated short story and a performative reading of a crime novel, to a conversation series between British and Austrian authors and founding and co-judging the ACF London Translation and Writing Prizes.

Around the same time as my curatorship began, I successfully pitched a column on literary translation to online arts journal The Quietus. I had been inspired by translation publications like Asymptote and Words Without Borders, and wanted to do my bit to bring the kind of conversations taking place in the translation scene to a general literary readership. My aim was to focus on a different language and/or translation approach or issue with each column, and it’s still going strong. I wanted to demystify translation, and this has also been my motivation when I’ve given talks and workshops. Translation is a highly nuanced practice, but I’m constantly aware that we cannot only preach to the choir: we must engage with those for whom translation is still an abstract and invisible mystery in innovative, imaginative and generous ways.


Beyibouh_Al-Haj_Lo_Res2_1442753688_crop_550x778
Portrait of Beyibouh-al-Haj by Richard Phoenix, based on photograph by Emma Brown from a column by Jen Calleja on Saharawi poetry in translation

Throughout my residency, I hope to consistently explore translation at the intersection of the theoretical, the educational, and the practical, allowing for perspectives onto what translation has been, is, and could be within society and culture. I already have a long list of ideas and themes – working groups and workshops; a mentorship; archive creation; ‘translating’ the spaces of the British Library; accessibility as translation; translation, power and protest; translation as writing and writing as translation – but I’m sure that once I get up to speed with the Translating Cultures project and the British Library’s own ground-breaking ventures, my ideas will morph.

Translation is – or should be – an exercise and expression of empathy. This will be what I will return to throughout my time at the British Library, but much of what the residency will be is very much still to be discovered. I couldn’t be more excited about the next year of unfolding translation as our way of reading foreign literatures and as creative writing in its own right; as an embedded and largely invisible practice that influences our everyday lives; and as the foundation for communication and our connection with others – not to mention something that brings joy, creates strong bonds between people, and makes the inaccessible accessible.

Jen Calleja is a writer, literary translator and musician based in London and is the inaugural Translator in Residence at the British Library @niewview

Charles Forsdick (AHRC Theme Leadership Fellow, ‘Translating Cultures’) said: “I am delighted that Jen Calleja has been appointed as the inaugural British Library / AHRC ‘translating cultures’ translator-in-residence. The scheme will allow us to develop already fruitful collaborations between the AHRC ‘translating cultures’ theme and the British Library. The AHRC has funded a number of projects that explore the practice of the translator, as well as the growing field of translation and creativity. We hope that Jen will be able to work with some of our award holders to develop further activity in these areas. In recent years, a growing public interest in questions of translation, multilingualism and creativity has become increasingly apparent, and we are keen to demonstrate through the residency the centrality of research and scholarship in these areas.”

Janet Zmroczek (Head of European and American Collections at the British Library), said: "At the British Library, we aim to bring inspiration and enjoyment through our translation-related projects and events, where participants engage with our collections covering an extraordinary range of world languages and many formats. The breadth of our resources, from translators’ archives to spoken word recordings and a wealth of printed materials from all periods and most world languages, makes us an ideal home for those interested in how stories travel between languages and cultures. We’re delighted that, with support from the AHRC, we’re able to offer Jen Calleja, out first Translator in Residence, the opportunity to put down roots in the multilingual community of staff, readers and visitors at the heart of the British Library. By giving Jen the opportunity to get to know our collections from the inside, we hope her residency will contribute to opening up this multilingual treasure-house for new groups unfamiliar with our collections and events and encourage wider understanding of the value of translation and linguistic diversity."

 

07 April 2017

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

Add comment

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 LaesĂž 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 LĂŒbeck 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

04 April 2017

The Dutch Are Coming!

Add comment

On 30 March Medway Council  and The Historic Dockyard Chatham announced the international programme of events to mark the 350th anniversary of the Battle of Medway (June 1667).

The battle is little known in England, but this will surely be remedied by the end of this summer, once the programme has run its course.

Whether one calls it a ‘celebration’, or a ‘commemoration’, the fact is that the events of 1667 proved to be the beginning of the end of the glory years of the Dutch and the beginning of centuries of British naval power.

At the time the Dutch wielded power over trade routes, increasingly challenged by the English. Needless to say the Dutch were not exactly going to hand anything over without a fight. 

Three fights during the 17th Century, to be precise, known as the Anglo-Dutch Wars.

Hollands Ingratitude 1103.f.65

       Anti-Dutch and anti-English pamphlets from the Anglo-Dutch Wars. Above: Title-page of Charles Molloy, Holland’s Ingratitude... (London, 1666) 1103.f.65; below Title-page of Den omsigtigen Hollander (s.l., 1667) 8075.cc.10, a ‘conversation’ between three  ‘true Dutchmen’ and and Englishman

Omsigitgen Hollander

The battle that ended the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667) was fought on the Medway. The Dutch attacked the English fleet as it lay moored close to the dock yard at Chatham and Upnor Castle. Although the Dutch did not succeed in their aim to destroy the dockyard and the whole fleet with it, they certainly did major damage to the fleet and to the pride of the English people and that of King Charles II in particular, whose flag ship The Royal Charles was captured, towed back to Holland and put on display. The carved stern is still in the Rijksmuseum, although ownership has been restored to the Brits.

 

BlogTDACKort

Title-page of the official Dutch account of the events of the second Anglo-Dutch War, Kort en Bondigh Verhael... (Amsterdam, 1667) 808.c.39

As part of the programme there will be three exhibitions: one at Upnor Castle, one at The Guildhall Museum in Rochester and one at The Historic Dockyard Chatham. The latter’s exhibition ‘Breaking The Chain’ will feature several items from the collections of the British Library: manuscripts, engravings, pamphlets and a poem.

BlogTDACArtvanVreedeIMG_3766

Title-page of the Treaty of Breda (signed 31 July 1667) which ended the Second Anglo Dutch-War (The Hague, 1667) RB.23.A.39646

A very special item is a manuscript volume of John Evelyn’s diaries, in which he describes the Dutch attack in some detail, as Samuel Pepys does in his diary

BlogTDACAdd_ms_78323_f186v_EvelynDiary
Page from John Evelyn’s Diary, June 1667 Add Ms 78323 f186v 

There are various published editions of Evelyn’s diary , such as the six-volume one edited by E.S. de Beer (Oxford, 2000; YC.2002.a.8453). Another title worth exploring is Particular Friends, the correspondence of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, by Guy de la BĂ©doyĂšre (Woodbridge, 1997; YC.1998.b.140).

We hope to see you all in Chatham in June!

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections 

31 March 2017

Wagenseil, Wagner and the Mastersingers of Nuremberg

Add comment

By a neat coincidence, an enquiry about a work by Johann Christoph Wagenseil arrived in the same week that I attended a performance of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von NĂŒrnberg at the Royal Opera. Why a neat coincidence? Because an important source for Wagner’s opera was another work by Wagenseil, a history of Nuremberg with an appended study of the Meistersinger, or Mastersingers, and their art, especially as it developed in the city.

Wagenseil tp
Title-page and frontispiece portrait of the author from Johann Christoph Wagenseil, De Sacri Rom. Imperii Libera Civitate Noribergensi Commentatio ... (Altdorf, 1697) 794.f.6.(1.)

The precise origins of the historical Mastersingers are not entirely clear, but their schools or guilds developed in the late middle ages and their heyday was in the early 16th century. Wagenseil reports the tradition that the Mastersingers looked back to ‘Twelve Old Masters’, including the mediaeval poets Wolfram von Eschenbach and Walther von der Vogelweide – although in the opera the pedantic town clerk Beckmesser dismisses the latter as a master because he is ‘long since dead’ and would have known nothing of the guild’s rules.

In Wagner’s story, the knight Walther von Stolzing seeks admission to Nuremberg’s guild of Mastersingers in the hope of winning the hand of his beloved Eva Pogner at the St John’s Day singing contest. Among the masters he is opposed by rival suitor Beckmesser and assisted by the shoemaker Hans Sachs, who has to set aside his own feelings for Eva. In the first act Walther auditions for the guild and the Masters are shocked by his untutored efforts, which break all their rules and are especially condemned by Beckmesser, who judges the song in his official role as ‘Marker’.

Wagner took many details of the Mastersingers’ rules and ceremonies from Wagenseil. The list of sometimes bizarre names for the guild’s approved tones, which Sachs’s apprentice David reels off to the baffled Walther, all come from Wagenseil, and the rules of the ‘Tabulatur’ which the master Fritz Kothner recites before Walther’s audition for the guild cleverly reflect in verse the rules described by Wagenseil in prose.

Wagenseil Tones
A selection of the Mastersingers’ tones, from Wagenseil’s book

Walther’s experience of the ‘Singschule’ also follows Wagenseil’s description, including the time and place: following a service at St Catherine’s Church. One key difference, however, is that where Wagenseil describes four Markers, each with a specific task, Wagner has only one, in order to highlight the contrast and rivalry between Walther and Beckmesser.

Even the Masters’ names come from Wagenseil, who lists 12 ‘old masters’ of the Nuremberg guild. Wagner uses all of these (with some minor changes), but attributes a selection of trades to them which are not mentioned by Wagenseil. As Wagner also needed to add Hans Sachs to his list and presumably wanted to avoid the odd and unlucky number of 13 masters on stage, one of Wagenseil’s line-up, Niclaus (In Wagner’s libretto Niklaus) Vogel, is absent from the action, reported sick by his apprentice during the roll-call.

Wagenseil Masters
Wagenseil’s list of the 12 ‘old masters’ of the Nuremberg guild

For all its basis in Wagenseil’s work, Wagner’s opera presents a romantic and idealised view of the Mastersingers as a core part of a community where art and work go hand in hand, and where the townspeople share an instinctive appreciation of true art. The guilds actually had little public or popular resonance, but were more of a closed circle. Those who did become popular writers, such as the real Hans Sachs, tended to be known for other works, not least because their Meistergesang was performed only at the guild’s meetings and preserved only in manuscript among the members.

In fact one of the historical Sachs’s works features in the opera: the opening lines of his poem in praise of Martin Luther, Die Wittenbergisch Nachtigall, are sung in act 3 by an admiring chorus in praise of Sachs himself. But its poetic form is not that of authentic Meistergesang, and nor is the musical setting of the chorus.

Nachtigall  

Nachtigall Wach auf
Title-page and opening lines (as set by Wagner) of Hans Sachs, Die Wittembergisch Nachtigall  ([Augsburg, 1523]) 11515.c.18.(4).

Indeed, it seems that Wagner took little inspiration for the actual music of the opera from Wagenseil’s work: according to the musicologist Annalise Smith, it is only the songs of the rule-obsessed Beckmesser that closely follow the guidelines cited by Wagenseil. But since Wagner’s plot is concerned in part with the importance of change and innovation in artistic practice, and since he gently mocks many of the rules quoted from Wagenseil, perhaps this is only fitting.

Wagenseil Melody
An example of Meistergesang with music from Wagenseil’s history

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

References/further reading

Herbert Thompson, Wagner & Wagenseil: a Source of Wagner’s Opera ‘Die Meistersinger’ (London, 1927) 07896.f.36.

John Flood, ‘Mastersingers’, in Matthias Konzett, ed., Encyclopedia of German literature (Chicago, 2000) pp. 687-689. YC.2000.b.1167

Annalise Smith, ‘Honour Thy German Masters: Wagner’s Depiction of “Meistergesang” in Die Meistersinger von NĂŒrnberg.’ Musicological Explorations, 11 (2010)

23 February 2017

Stefan Zweig’s Literary and Musical Treasures

Add comment

To mark the 75th anniversary of the death of the Austrian writer and collector Stefan Zweig (23 February 2017), the British Library has this week opened the display: ‘Stefan Zweig: The Magic of Manuscripts’ in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery.

Zweig_display_210217-01
The display in the Treasures gallery (Photograph: Elizabeth Hunter)

Fast re-becoming a household name in the English-speaking world, Stefan Zweig was the most-translated author of his day. His short stories, his biographies and his memoir, Die Welt von gestern (The World of Yesterday), quickly became bestsellers but his writing was only one part of his work. From an early age, Zweig began collecting the manuscripts of creative figures he admired like Goethe and Beethoven. Soon, he owned one of the most prestigious manuscript collections in Europe and Zweig considered this group of ‘sublime figures’ as much of an artwork as his writing. Exile to England in the 1930s precipitated the dispersal of his collection – some items were donated to appropriate institutions, most were sold. What was left was the essence, the refined core of his original idea and in 1986, Stefan Zweig’s heirs donated this great collection to the British Library.

Zweig London 1938
Stefan Zweig in London, 1938

Our display will celebrate the breadth and eclecticism amongst the literary, historical and musical manuscripts. It begins with a case dedicated to the many close friendships Zweig made across Europe, with manuscripts from Romain Rolland, Hermann Hesse and ‘the dear master’ Sigmund Freud. We move onto showing how Zweig’s writing often reflected his collection through figures such as Marie Antoinette (the subject of an incredibly successful biography by Zweig), Leo Tolstoy and Lord Byron.

Zweig_ms_171_f001r
Letter from Marie Antoinette to Count Xavier von Rosenberg (1775) Zweig MS 171, f.1.

Zweig was motivated by the ‘secret of creation’ and the way for him to get closer to that secret was through manuscripts that were ‘still warm from writing’. In other words, working drafts, works-in-progress, corrected proofs – anything that showed the mess of production. This is precisely what the third case displays with a leaf from the monumental bound corrected proofs of HonorĂ© de Balzac’s Une TĂ©nĂ©breuse Affaire, which is certainly the collection’s most emphatic example of the creative process. Works by Goethe, John Keats, Paul Verlaine and Oscar Wilde join the Balzac in revealing the deviations, re-imaginings and second thoughts at the heart of the creative process.

Zweig_ms_163_recto
John Keats, lines from the poem â€˜I stood tip-toe upon a little hill’ (1816) Zweig MS 163

The final case belongs to Zweig’s musical manuscripts, since music would dominate his later collecting period. In exile in the 1930s and more and more uncomfortable with the German language which was becoming contaminated by Nazism, music became a less-complicated artistic refuge. Manuscripts by Richard Strauss, Mozart and Schubert each tell a story about Zweig’s later life. In Schubert’s ‘An die Musik’, we hear the famous line repeated so often in Zweig’s memoirs: ‘Thou lovely art, how often in dark hours, when life’s wild tumult wraps me round, have you kindled my heart with loving warmth, and transported me to a better world.’

Mozart, Das Veilchen Zweig MS 56
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, â€˜Das Veilchen’, a setting for voice and piano of a poem by Goethe. Zweig MS 56, f.1.

Other musical treasures from Zweig’s collection are also on longer-term display in the section of the gallery devoted to Music: a cantata by Gluck (Zweig MS 34), sketches for Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella (Zweig MS 94), and one of the greatest treasures in the collection, and indeed in the British Library, Mozart’s thematic catalogue of his own works (Zweig MS 63).

‘The Magic of Manuscripts’ will be on display until 11 June 2017 and to accompany the exhibition and celebrate the publication of the catalogue of the literary and historical manuscripts in the collection the Library will be hosting a study day and an evening of music and poetry from the Zweig Collection on 20 March. Tickets for these events are available through the links.

 Pardaad Chamsaz, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Student, British Library/University of Bristol

20 February 2017

BeLgoLab 2017: Belgian Translations

Add comment

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

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

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

BeLgoLab01

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

The programme is as follows:

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

13.30-14.00 Registration

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

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

15.25-15.45 Tea/coffee

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

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

BeLgoLab03

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

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

09.00-09.15 Welcome Adrian Armstrong, Marja Kingma

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

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

10.15-10.30 Discussion

10.30-10.45 Tea/coffee

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

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections