THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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42 posts categorized "Italy"

29 June 2018

Gӧrz, Gorizia, Gorica: digital scholarship brings a city’s history to life again

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How to turn 47,000 pages of old newspapers into meaningful information?

For a research group at the University of Bristol, the answer is: big computers and historical context.

Led by Nello Cristianini,  Professor of Artificial Intelligence, the group digitised 47,000 pages of two Italian-speaking local newspapers from the city of Gorizia, using the facilities of FindMyPast, based at British Library in Boston Spa. Then they used optical character recognition (OCR) software to extract digital text, and finally compared it with the digital text of three Slovenian newspapers from the same place and time, to provide context.

Gorizia Corriere Corriere de Gorizia, an Italian newspaper from the city.

Gorizia lies at the crossroads of the Latin, Germanic and Slavic-speaking worlds, and its population reflects this. Until 1918, it was known as Görz, and was part of the Habsburg Empire, though latterly coveted by the young Kingdom of Italy. These last years before World War One were particularly notable, as the political and ethnic tensions within the empire and over its borders played out in the city itself. The two main linguistic communities, Italian and Slovenian, published their own newspapers, and the latter have been digitised by the Slovenian Digital Library. But until the Bristol University group started work, the Italian ones were preserved on microform alone in the Biblioteca Statale Isontina,  which first collected the paper versions.

Gorizia postcard YF.2007.a.13615The Corso Giuseppe Verdi in Gorizia, early 20th-century postcard, reproduced in Srečko Gombač, Brata Edvard in Josip Rusjan iz Gorice: začetki motornega letenja med Slovenci (Ljubljana, 2004) YF.2007.a.13615

The team, including computer scientists and a historian, carried out statistical analysis on the newspapers, looking at the frequency of different words or phrases. This process revealed the individual stories of thousands of people, but also the collective trends of a population in the years leading up to the War and the final days of Empire. As the city lies in a quiet corner of central Europe, now divided between Italy and Slovenia, many of these stories and trends had been forgotten until now.

Gorizia Cathedral (JA) Gorizia cathedral today (Photograph: Janet Ashton)

Professor Cristianini says: “In the space of a few decades, the town embraced new ways to communicate, such as the cinema and the telephone, along with new modes of transportation, like the car, the airplane, the bicycle and the train. Far from being a backwater in a decaying empire, this was a city with an eye on the future and an interest in new ideas – including political ones. It was, however, also a time in which new tensions emerged along ethnic lines and a time of rapid change, with problems and anxieties that sound very familiar to the modern ear. It is incredibly fortunate that the collection of newspapers in the Biblioteca Isontina library survived so many threats. We get a glimpse of the last years of a world heading towards a new chapter in its history during a period that transformed it beyond recognition. We see new technologies, new ideas, new economic opportunities, new cultural challenges and problems.”

Among the patterns the team extracted are timelines that pinpoint such significant events as the arrival of Halley’s Comet, the visits of the Emperor Franz Joseph, or the devastating 1895 earthquake in Ljubljana (then Laibach, capital of the Habsburg county of Carniola). Fascinatingly, they found that the earthquake was more noted in the Slovenian-speaking community than the Italian, since Ljubljana was already predominantly Slovenian-speaking itself and had less significance to the Empire’s Italians as a regional centre.

Gorizia bridge The Solkan Bridge, carrying the railway over the Soča river at Gorizia – revolutionary in its day as the largest stone arch ever used for a railway bridge (Photograph: Janet Ashton)

Other ground-breaking events in the city at the time included the construction of the new Transalpina/Bohinj railway, which carried tourists from Vienna to Lake Bled and further, but was also to be used for more prosaic reasons. Then, most glamorous of all, two local brothers named Edvard and Josip Rusjan  were among the first aviators in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

  Gorizia Rusjans
Edvard and Josip Rusjan adjusting the propeller on their aeroplane. Reproduced in Srečko Gombač, Brata Edvard in Josip Rusjan iz Gorice.

The team’s findings also highlight how the war transformed the city and its surrounding county into something entirely different. During the war the front lines crossed through Gorizia itself and the urban population was largely relocated. In 1918, Italy annexed it, and twenty years of fascism and then another war followed. After 1947, the border between Italy and Yugoslavia ran right through the former county, partly separating the city centre from some of its neighbourhoods. Until Slovenia joined Schengen in 2007, this border had real impact, leading to the growth of a “replacement” city, Nova Gorica, on the Yugoslav/Slovenian side, while historic Gorizia became something of a backwater, isolated from its hinterland and feeling neglected by Rome.

Gorizia 1917 9084.aaa.10

Above: View of the Castle in Gorizia in 1917, showing First World War bomb damage, from Enrico Galante, Gorizia e i campi di battaglia dell'Isonzo et del Carso (Gorizia, [1929]) 9084.aaa.10. Below: Gorizia Castle today (Photograph Janet Ashton)

Gorizia Castle (JA)

The project, from scanning and indexing to in-depth analysis, combined methodologies from both library science and historical research, as well as employing mathematical expertise, and illustrates how digital humanities is bridging the traditional boundaries between disciplines. A full study of the project’s methods and its findings, “Large scale content analysis of historical newspapers in the town of Gorizia, 1873-1914”, by N. Cristianini et al., has recently been published in the journal Historical Methods.

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager

01 March 2018

The Battle of Valle Giulia 50 Years After - 1 March 1968

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50 years ago today a new era began in Italy. Students joined the global wave of dissent, protesting against the bourgeois value system, fighting for equality and civil rights, and requesting a modernisation of the education system in the country.
‘La contestazione’ started in Rome, on Friday 1 March 1968. The School of Architecture of the University of Rome, in Via di Valle Giulia, became the battlefield for the first violent encounter in Italy between the student movement and the police. 

1968_giacconeFausto Giaccone, Fight between police and students outside the School of Architecture at Valle Giulia. Rome, 1 March 1968. From ’68. Un anno di confine (Milano, 2008) LF.31.b.4963 

Some accounts of the participants have been recorded about that day, which was described as ‘a collective initiation’. 
In the words of Oreste Scalzone, a student at the time, who later became a politician:  

Freedom was the morning of Valle Giulia. They [the police officers] had seized the school of Architecture […]. The night before, discussing the protest at a university committee meeting, we decided that we would go to get it back. We woke up early and we went [… ]. We arrived by the green esplanade and started throwing eggs at the police, who seemed all wrapped up, unprepared, because they were used to repressing protests without expecting any form of resistance. When they charged, we didn’t run away. We withdrew and then counterattacked [our] stones against [their] tear gas grenades […] (quoted by Nanni Balestrini in L’Orda d’Oro (Milan, 1997; YA.2001.a.31572); own translation). 

At the end of the battle, 148 police officers and 478 of about 1500 protesters were injured, 4 were arrested, and 228 reported to the police.

1971_lucasUliano Lucas, Piazzale Accursio, Milan, 1971.  From ’68. Un anno di confine (Milan, 2008) LF.31.b.4963

Among the students and the police officers involved, many then had careers in journalism (Giuliano Ferrara, Paolo Liguori, Ernesto Galli della Loggia), others in politics (Aldo Brandirali, and the above-mentioned Oreste Scalzone), others in the arts, like the actor Michele Placido, the architect Massimiliano Fuksas and the songwriter and director Paolo Pietrangeli, who wrote a song called ‘Valle Giulia’ to celebrate that, suddenly, on that day a new thing happened: ‘non siam scappati piu’ (‘we didn’t run away any more’). The song quickly became the iconic anthem of the protest: ‘No alla scuola dei padroni! Via il governo, dimissioni!’  (‘Down with the bosses’ schools, out with the government, resignation now!’).

Pier-paolo-pasoliniPier Paolo Pasolini on the set of The Gospel According to St. Matthew. Picture from Wikimedia Commons

Pier Paolo Pasolini  famously wrote about the event. Some verses of his poem ‘Il PCI ai Giovani’ (‘The Italian Communist Party to the Young People’), written in the aftermath of the Battle of Valle Giulia, have been quoted for decades to state that Pasolini was supporting the police:

Pasolini PCI ai giovani
Extract from Pier Paolo Pasolini, Il PCI ai Giovani, 1968Translation into English by Guido Monte  

But if one reads the full poem, it becomes clear that the Pasolini uses his irony to provoke the students, urging them to abandon their bourgeois rebellion, to take their fight under the wing of the Communist Party and closer to the workers because, in his idea, Communism was the only way to make a revolution happen. 

Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections (Italian) 

References/Further Reading

Alessandro Portelli, The Battle of Valle Giulia. Oral History and the Art of Dialogue (Wisconsin, 1997) YC.1997.a.3597

Michele Brambilla, Dieci anni di illusioni. La storia del Sessantotto (Milan, 1994) YA.2001.a.34307

Wu Ming 1, The Police vs. Pasolini, Pasolini vs. The Police, translation from Italian by Ayan Meer 

14 February 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carlo Levi Dipinti

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

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

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

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

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

That same impossibility of intellectual detachment is observed by Levi:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

References/Further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

 

09 November 2017

Alberto Savinio. The social utility of Surrealism

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One day in 1937, in Paris, André Breton, read to me a page in which he wrote that in the time before WWI, the name of my brother, Giorgio de Chirico, and mine, stand among the leaders of that art-form which later took the name of “Surrealism”’.

This is how Alberto Savinio begins the preface to his collection of short stories titled Tutta la vita (‘A whole life’). The stories were published in various newspapers and magazines between 1942 and 1944, before being gathered and published under that title in 1946. The British Library holds the edition published in 1953, which contains in addition 13 illustrations of his paintings and drawings.

Savinio tp
Title page with the author’s self-portrait from Alberto Savinio, Tutta la vita (Milan, 1953) 12472.e.9.

Now, what happens then when a surrealist painter transfers his skills into writing?

Pieces of furniture talk among themselves revealing uncomfortable secrets to Candido Bove about his wife, while he is sitting on the sofa, sleeplessly overcome with grief as she died just the day before. This is what happens! (In the story ‘Poltrondamore’ [Lovesofa])

Savinio Nonna

‘La nonna’ picture by Savinio reproduced in Tutta la vita (facing p. 49).

A taxidermist, nicknamed God Almighty, kills and embalms his wife and his assistant, after finding them naked under the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden he made in his house. This is what happens! (In the story ‘Il Paradiso Terrestre’ [Heaven on Earth]).

Savinio Adamo Eva

 ‘Adamo ed Eva’, picture by Savinio reproduced in Tutta la vita (facing p. 96)

When Miss Fufù receives the piano she ordered, she notices that it looks bigger; the morning after she finds it breathing heavily and surrounded by little pianos: the piano was pregnant. This is what happens! (In the story ‘La pianessa’ [Miss Piano]).

Savinio Sorelle
 ‘Le due sorelle’, picture by Savinio reproduced in Tutta la vita (facing p.257)

In Savinio’s short stories “A whole Life” is injected in pretty much everything, in fact, we could say that objects are more alive than people. What these short stories have in common is that the surreal events their main characters experience have a formative function, that is, surrealism here has a social purpose: it aims at shaking the reality of the main characters, whose life is flattened by loneliness, self-absorption, surrender. As Savinio continues in his preface:

... surrealism, as many of my literary works and paintings demonstrate, does not content itself with representing the shapeless and expressing the unconscious, but it wants to give shape to the shapeless and consciousness to the unconscious

This becomes clearer in Anima, the story of Nìvulo, a child described by his father as a typical old house in Milan, where façades do not face the street, but the rear garden: a child with the face turned inward. Nìvulo has the soul of his brother, who died at birth 32 years before, trapped in his body, this has prevented him to live his life, in fact, has prevented him from even learning to talk.

The social purpose of Savinio’s work is more explicit in the tale titled ‘Scendere dalla collina’ (Walking down the hill).

Parents, do not let your children grow up under the shadow of a great man… Equally, do not let them grow up under the shadow of a memorable event or a remarkable idea, and, let me also add: do not let your children grow up under the shadow of a famous name.

It is difficult not to read here a certain autobiographical reference since Alberto Savinio, whose real name was Andrea Francesco Alberto de Chirico, changed his last name so that he would not be eclipsed by his more famous brother.

Savinio L45-2089 cover

The British Library also holds a copy of the prestigious first edition of Alberto Savinio, pittura e letteratura (Milan, 1979; L45/2089, pictured above), a volume with black silk covers printed in gold, the pages printed in Bodoni characters on azure blue paper, and numerous beautiful plates of Savinio’s paintings glued on the pages.

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

References/Further readings

Filippo Secchieri, Dove comincia la realtà e dove finisce – Studi su Alberto Savinio. (Florence, 1998). YA.2202.a.24958

Matteo Marchesini, Soli e civili – Savinio, Noventa, Fortini, Bianciardi, Bellocchio. (Rome, 2012) YF.2017.a.21214)

Alberto Savinio, musician, writer and painter (Milan, New York, 1995.) q95/27443

06 October 2017

Montalbano’s Rice Balls

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In 1965, after sending his short novel to Italo Calvino, who at that time was working for Einaudi, a publishing house, the Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia  received this reply:

I read your detective thriller … it will be a popular book … Seeing how you are so good and sound at this, I’ve decided, in a bid to match the grim times we are living through, to offer bitter little titbits in every letter. Otherwise where’s the fun? ... This Sicily is the least mysterious society in the world. By now, everything in Sicily is clear, crystal-clear: the most tormented passions, the darkest interests, psychology, gossip, crimes, lucidity, fatalism, none of these hold any secrets any more, everything has been by now classified and catalogued … the entry ‘Sicily’ gives us the rare pleasure, so rare as to be unique, of being able to confirm at each new reading that our information pack on Sicily was already well-stocked and up to date enough. So much that we fervently hope that nothing will change, that Sicily will stay totally the same, so that at the end of our life we can say that there is at least one thing we have managed to know thoroughly! (Italo Calvino Letters, 1941-1985, 2013. p.306. YC.2013.a.12579).

Calvino was probably right, nothing new under the Sicilian sun; however, what would he have said, had he witnessed, thirty years later, the popularity of another Sicilian writer, Andrea Camilleri, whose detective stories have reached a big audience outside Italy? Following the publication of La forma dell’acqua (Palermo, 1994; YA.1995.a.7115), Camilleri’s series of novels, which feature the character of Inspector Montalbano – a Sicilian detective in the police force of Vigàta, an imaginary town in the island – has sold about 10 million copies in North America, Australia, and in the UK where, since 2011, the BBC has broadcast the TV adaptation.

Monatalbano cover 2
Andrea Camilleri, Gli arancini di Montalbano, with photographs by Ferdinando Scianna (Milan, 2006) YF.2008.b.486

The British Library holds a copy of the special edition of Camilleri’s Gli arancini di Montalbano (2006, YF.2008.b.486), the first collection of short stories featuring Montalbano, first published in 1999. In the 2006 edition, each short story is accompanied with a photograph taken by Ferdinando Scianna to visualize the atmosphere.

The ingredients of the so called sicilianità, some of which Calvino lists in his letter - the most tormented passions, the darkest interests, psychology, gossip, crimes, lucidity, fatalism - are brought to the surface by Camilleri making the stories accessible to a broader audience.

Montalbano 2
Tre castagni
, photograph by Ferdinando Scianna, used to illustrate the story  ‘La prova generale’ in Gli arancini di Montalbano

In the first story, La prova generale (you can hear it read by the author here), with a few pages Camilleri manages to show us a Sicily able to laugh at itself in the beginning, to then sink into despair, dissolving the suspense in an unexpected manner, that is, not with a twist, but by way of changing the very dynamic expected in a detective story. “This Sicily” is still able to excite a great deal of curiosity.

Gli arancini di Montalbano is also the title of last short story: by calling the Sicilian rice balls “Gli arancini”, that is, by using the word in the masculine (here in the plural form), Camilleri challenges the Sicilian areas where the feminine is preferred: the author is originally from Porto Empedocle, had he been from Palermo or Trapani he would have chosen the feminine gender, so the title would have been “Le arancine di Montalbano” - an amusing discussion about this can be read here; and here is what the Accademia della Crusca says).

Disappointingly enough, Camilleri does not tackle this open debate in his story. Nevertheless, it does contain Adelina’s recipe for the best Arancini, enough to make Inspector Montalbano decide who to spend New Year’s Eve with. Adelina, Montalbano’s maid, has two sons bouncing in and out of prison: this rare occasion when both of them are free, “rare as the appearance of the comet Halley”, must be celebrated with Gli arancini. Things, obviously, don’t go exactly as planned.

Montalbano 5
Gibilmanna
, photograph by Ferdinando Scianna, used to illustrate the title story in Gli arancini di Montalbano 

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

References

Italo Calvino, I libri degli altri, lettere 1947-1981. (Torino, 1991). YA.2000.a.32812 (Collection of letters written while working at Einaudi. Letters sent to Sciascia p. 538)

I Siciliani, foto di Ferdinando Scianna (Torino, 1977). L.42/12

 

29 September 2017

'Poema a fumetti' by Dino Buzzati

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The British Library holds a copy of the first edition of Poema a Fumetti by Dino Buzzati, which, published in 1969, is the novelist’s last literary work.

Buzzati Cover 2
Cover of Dino Buzzati, Poema a Fumetti (Milan, 1969). Cup.700.ee.12. (An uncensored version of this image appears at the bottom of the post.)

Wait, literary work? Is it a literary work?

It has words in it, yes, and, as the title suggests, is a poem, a story; however, it’s a story told with more than just words, as these are paired with illustrations, drawn by the author himself. What is interesting about Dino Buzzati’s last work before his death is that, even though it is not the work for which the writer gained recognition (he won the Premio Strega in 1958 with Sessanta Racconti, a collection of short stories), it is hardly the amusing/adventurous story we expect to read in a comic strip. Certainly, Italians were already familiar with darker comic strips, the so called “fumetti neri” (Diabolik was published for the first time in 1962) and graphic novels (La ballata del mare salato, first of the Corto Maltese series, was published in 1967), but less familiar with a comic strip created by a novelist to re-tell and re-imagine a story from Greek mythology, namely, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Buzzati chose this story to reflect and visualize, on one hand, the literary themes his readers were accustomed to, such as hold and death (Il deserto dei Tartari, 1940; 11567.c.28.); mystery and surrealism (Sessanta Racconti, 1958; 12472.pp.6.); love and women (Un amore, 1963; 12521.h.47.). On the other hand, by modernising it, the story portrays the time the author was living in – a time when pop culture was shaping the young generation’s imagination: the story takes place in modern-day Milan where a singer-songwriter named Orfi descends into the Realm of the Dead to look for Eura, his girlfriend who died recently.

Buzzati Orfi
Buzzati’s Orfi (above) and Eura (below) from Poema a fumetti

Buzzati Eura

The beyond is, in the words of Julian Peters, “exactly like the world one has known while living – in Orfi’s case, it looks like modern-day Milan. The only real difference is that there is no death, and consequently, no emotional intensity to one’s existence. This is because, as Buzzati’s entire narrative is bent on demonstrating, all human emotions, and above all love and sexual desire, are in one way or another connected to our knowledge of our own mortality.” ()”).

Buzzati Discesa
Orfi’s descent into the underworld, from Poema a fumetti

If this does not make Poema a fumetti a literary work, it does open a new window onto the history of comic strips: although, as Peters argues, “Buzzati’s graphic narrative makes no attempt to distance itself from the characteristic ‘lowbrow’ elements of pulp comics”, what it does do is to push the subject matter towards a lyrical depth. And this was something Italians were not used to coming across in a comic strip.

Poema a Fumetti was translated into English for the first time by Marina Harss in 2009, as Poem Strip.

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

 References/further reading

Julian Peters, “Graphic Poetry: Dino Buzzati’s Poema a fumetti”, http://www.imageandnarrative.be/index.php/imagenarrative/article/view/1294

“Poema a fumetti” di Dino Buzzati nella cultura degli anni '60 tra fumetto, fotografia e arti visive : atti del convegno internazionale, Feltre e Belluno, 12-14 settembre 2002, a cura di Nella Giannetto ; con la collaborazione di Manuela Gallina., (Milan 2005) YF.2006.a.27755

 

Buzzati Cover
The uncensored cover of Poema a Fumetti

11 September 2017

International Collaboration: a Dutch Polymath and a Czech Printer in 17th-Century Rome

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We do not often realise just how much collaboration took place between foreigners working abroad rather than in their native countries in 17th-century Europe. One interesting example of such a collaboration is that between a Dutchman, Cornelius Meyer, and a Czech printer, Jan Jakub (or Giovanni Giacomo) Komárek, who worked and collaborated in Rome, a veritable hive of intellectual activity at that time.

Meyer Arte de restituire tp
Title-page of Meyer’s L’arte di restituire a Roma la tralasciata navigatione del suo Tevere (Rome, 1685), 49.h.10 (1).

Little is known of Cornelius Meyer except that he was born in Holland in 1629, was generally accepted to be a polymath and trained as an architect, civil engineer and an engraver. He moved to Rome, one of the most vibrant and active capitals in Europe, in the 1680s and died there in 1701. He is principally remembered for his studies on technology, particularly his masterminding improvements to the navigability of the River Tiber in his L’arte di restituire a Roma la tralasciata navigatione del suo Tevere.

Meyer Nuovi ritrovamenti Dragon
Title-page of Meyer’s Nuovi ritrovamenti, divisi in due parti (Rome, 1689-96) 49.h.10 (2), showing the alleged dragon seen near the Tiber

He is also remembered for his description and detailed account of the sighting of a dragon ‘nelle paludi fuori di Roma’, in December 1691. Despite his detailed and beautiful engravings of the beast’s skeletal remains, Meyer’s account of the dragon was an elaborate hoax not unlike ‘Piltdown man’ but was so skilfully produced and illustrated that he duped many learned men and scientific experts.

Meyer Occhiali
Engraving of three wearers of different kinds of spectacles, from Nuovi ritrovamenti

Meyer’s engraving of spectacles and their wearers for his work on various technologies, Nuovi ritrovamenti, divisi in due parti, printed by Komarek on behalf of the Accademia Fisico-matematica, one of the most important scientific academies in Rome, is extremely finely detailed, recalling similar images by Holbein. It imparts a very human perspective on what could have been a dryish discussion of the important science of optics, which had made very considerable advances since Galileo first used the telescope to study the heavens systematically. Moreover, by depicting the wearers of the spectacles in fine detail, two with fulsome beards, all three wearing caps or bonnets, and two wearing beautifully detailed ruffs, thereby modelling their visual aids, Meyer imparts a sense of scale and proportion to his illustration and is able to show the size of the pince-nez spectacles and their respective lenses he has designed (one set of which is even tinted) to their best advantage and how well they would look and fit on the noses of prospective clients.

Meyer Nuovi Ritrovamenti 1689
Title-page of the 1689 volume of Nuovi ritrovamenti, with Komarek’s imprint ‘all’Angelo custode’.

Despite the Italianization of his forenames to Giovanni Giacomo, the printer Jan Jakub Komárek was born in Hradec Králové, in Bohemia, in 1648. He moved to Rome between 1669 and 1672 and was originally employed as a technician in the papal print works of the Congregazione della Propaganda della Fede, founded in 1622. He set up his own printing press at ‘all’Angelo custode’ and later, ‘alla fontana di Trevi’ and was active until 1700, publishing several liturgical works by Giovanni Giustino Ciampini, Andrea Pozzo’s celebrated Prospettiva, and works for the Accademia of the Collegio Clementino. The work is an excellent example of very effective networking and of the creation of considerable synergy between author and publisher and of truly international co-operation: a Dutchman having his work printed by a Czech printer in Italy.

This co-operation is also a very timely reminder of the very great debt that the whole continent of Europe, and Italy in particular, owes to Germany. It was a German, Johannes Gutenberg, who invented printing with moveable type in the 1450s, something which played such an important role in disseminating new texts and ideas, and created an ever-increasing demand for the printed word. But we should also not forget the debt owed by Italy to German printers and engravers, from Albrecht Dürer to Lucas Cranach. From the first introduction of printing to Italy in 1465 by Konrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz, who worked in partnership at Subiaco, printing was firmly established in Italy by German printers.

Denis Reidy, former Curator Italian and Modern Greek Collections 

08 May 2017

Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages 2017

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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 Honoré de Balzac’s Une Ténébreuse 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 Bücher

20 March 2017

Actaeon was not a voyeur

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The current small exhibition about Ovid in art (primarily ceramics) at the Wallace Collection reminded me of an earlier one at the National Gallery. Here some artists of our time paid homage to Actaeon on the entirely bogus grounds that he was a voyeur, and regaled us with a mock-up of a peep-show and similar treats.

But let’s back to the text, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, book III: Actaeon was out hunting and stumbled on Diana, goddess of chastity and the hunt, bathing with her nymphs.

Actaeon MS Harley 4431

Actaeon surprising Diana at her bath, miniature from Christine de Pizan, L’Épître Othéa, part of MS Harley 4431.

In Mary Innes’s translation for Penguin Classics (1955 and much reprinted):

The nymphs, discovered in their nakedness, beat their breasts at the sight of a man ... Crowding around Diana, they sheltered her with their bodies, but the goddess was taller than they, head and shoulders above them all

Vengefully, the goddess sprinkles Actaeon with water, turning him into a stag and causing him to be killed by his hounds.

Actaeon Emblemata 12305.bbb.37 Actaeon transformed, and pursued by his own hounds, from Andreas Alciatus, Emblemata (Lyons, 1551). 12305.bbb.37

Ovid gives the message right at the start:

Fortunae crimen in illo,
non scelus invenies; quod enim scelus error habebat?
(Destiny was to blame for Actaeon’s misfortunes, not any guilt on his part; for there is nothing sinful in losing one’s way.)

Ovid himself likens himself to Actaeon in Tristia II. Explaining why the Emperor Augustus exiled him to Romania, he says “Like Actaeon, I saw something”. What we don’t know, but Ovid obviously thought Actaeon was innocent, which meant that he was innocent too.

Actaeon 833.l.1

Diana and Actaeon from Ovid, Metamporphoses (Venice, 1513) 833.l.1.

But later authorities couldn’t help wanting to put the blame on Actaeon.

Fulgentius (5th century) said that Actaeon wasted all his time on money on leisure (hunting) and was therefore consumed by his hobby.

Actaeon IB.23185

 The story of Actaeon, from Ovidio methamorphoseos vulgare, translated and allegorised by Giovanni di Bonsignore (Venice, 1497) IB.23185.

Giovanni di Bonsignore (14th century) said he turned into a stag because his love of the solitary pursuit of hunting had made his proud and anti-social, like the stag.

Camões in the Lusiads (16th century) says much the same about Actaeon, but this is interpreted by Manuel de Faria e Sousa in the 17th century as something to be applied to the young King Sebastian.


Actaeon King Sebastian 10631.c.4
 The headstrong King Sebastian of Portugal from Fray Bernardo de Brito, Elogios dos reis de Portugal (Lisbon,
1603) 10631.c.4

Headstrong young Sebastian, like Actaeon, was too keen on sports and neglectful of the need to find a wife. And of course he died young, at the battle of Alcacer Quibir, because of his hot-headedness and left Portugal without an heir, leading to what the Portuguese call the “Philippine Domination” of 1580-1640.

So, be careful when you go down to the woods.

But whatever his mistakes Actaeon was not a voyeur.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References:

Barry Taylor, ‘O mito de Actéon: interpretação e poetização’, in Mythos: a tradição mitográfica portuguesa; representações e identidade séculos XVI-XVIII, ed. Abel N. Pena (Lisbon, 2008), pp. 55-66. YF.2012.a.29085

The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Translated and with an introduction by Mary M. Innes (Harmondsworth, 1955) W.P.513/58.

Gerlinde Huber-Rebenich, Sabine Lütkemeyer, Hermann Walter, Ikonographisches Repertorium zu den Metamorphosen des Ovid : die textbegleitende Druckgraphik (Berlin, 2004-), I.1, pp. 38-39. YF.2008.b.1354

 

28 September 2016

Giorgio Bassani 1916-2000

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Giorgio Bassani is best known for the great sequence of five novels and a collection of short stories, first published separately between 1950s and 1970s which, after a process of constant linguistic revisions, were finally published in 1980 as ll Romanzo di Ferrara. This definitive edition (British Library X.950/26023), comprised Dentro le mura (originally published as Cinque storie ferraresi), Gli Occhiali d’oro, Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini, Dietro la porta, L’Airone, and L’Odore del fieno. Only Bassani’s first collection of short stories, Una città di pianura, published in 1940 under the pseudonym Giacomo Marchi in order to evade the Racial Laws then in force, was omitted.

CM bassani  1 Photograph
Giorgio Bassani

Bassani’s most famous work is Il Giardino del Finzi-Contini (The Garden of the Finzi-Contini), which chronicles the relationship between the narrator and the Finzi-Contini, an aristocratic Jewish family in Ferrara, in the 1930s (especially in 1938 when the first Racial Laws were first promulgated in Italy) and his love for Micòl, the beautiful, capricious, and mysterious daughter of the family. It was made into a film by Vittorio de Sica in 1970. The novel (or perhaps the film?) also inspired Valley of Shadows, a ballet by Kenneth MacMillan, first performed in March 1983.

Bassani Giardino
Giorgio Bassani, Il Giardiono dei Finzi-Contini (Turin, 1962)  11626.t.14.

De Sica’s film, though lavishly-produced, critically well- received, and ultimately very moving, proved controversial as it took several liberties with the novel, notably by making crassly explicit the relationship between Micòl and Malnate. The film also lacks the novel’s all-pervasive and multi-layered atmosphere of foreboding and its evocations of death (there are, for example, descriptions of three different cemeteries, the necropolis at Cerveteri, the Jewish cemetery in Ferrara, and the one in Venice). Bassani, who initially supervised various versions of the screenplay but was not consulted about certain last-minute changes, violently denounced the film in the article ‘Il Giardino tradito’ (‘The Garden betrayed’) that appeared in the magazine L’Espresso in the same week as the film’s official opening. He had his name removed as one of its script-writers and the opening credits just state that it was ‘freely derived from the novel by Giorgio Bassani’.

Like his fiction, Bassani’s poems and essays were collected in the 1980s, published respectively as In rima e senza (1982), and Di là dal cuore (1984). Bassani was also an occasional translator and scriptwriter, whose translations include James M. Cain’s The Postman always rings twice (published in 1946, three years after Luchino Visconti’s film Ossessione, itself an adaptation of the novel). Screenplays by Bassani include La Donna del fiume (1954) in collaboration with, among others, Ennio Flaiano, Alberto Moravia, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mario Soldati.

As editorial director of Biblioteca di letteratura, the publisher Feltrinelli’s series of new writing, Bassani scored a real coup by publishing Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo (The Leopard), a work that had previously been rejected by two other publishers. In his preface to the first edition of the novel, Bassani gives an account of the only time he saw Lampedusa, in 1954 at a literary conference in San Pellegrino Terme where the latter had travelled with his cousin, the poet Lucio Piccolo, who was the recipient of a prize at that gathering.

CM Bassani 3   CM Bassani 4
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Il Gattopardo (Milan, 1958) 12472. r.3. and Racconti (Milan, 1961) 11589.m.12.

Lampedusa wrote Il Gattopardo, his only novel, in a brief outburst of creative activity shortly before his death in 1957. Shortly afterwards Bassani was sent a typescript of parts of the novel and, recognising its worth, travelled to Palermo where he met Lampedusa’s widow, retrieved the rest of the manuscript and also that of Lampedusa’s three short stories and an autobiographical memoir. Il Gattopardo was published in 1958 and, in the wake of the novel’s sensational success, Bassani also published Lampedusa’s Racconti in 1961.

There are numerous striking similarities, recently studied, between Il Gattopardo and Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini, two of the greatest Italian novels of the 20th century. Notable among them are the depiction of social classes threatened with extinction, and the omnipresence of death.

To mark the centenary of Bassani’s birth, the British Library in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute is organising “Remembering Giorgio Bassani (1916-2000), a three-day conference. Details of the programme can be found here; to book for the sessions at the Italian Cultural Institute, please contact the Institute (020 7235 1461; icilondon@esteri.it). To book for the sessions at the British Library, please email chris.michaelides@bl.uk and type ‘Bassani Conference’ in the subject line.

Chris Michaelides,Curator, Romance Collections.


References/further reading

Sophie Nezri-Dufour, Il Giardino del Gattopardo: Giorgio Bassani e Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. (Milan, 2014).

Sophie Nezri-Dufour, Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini: una fiaba nascosta. (Ravenna, 2011). YF.2012.a.28385.

Giorgio Bassani,Opere [edited by] Roberto Cotroneo. (Milan, 1998).