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268 posts categorized "Literature"

17 October 2017

Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata

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In the 1880s Leo Tolstoy mainly focused on writing non-fiction; his novella The Kreutzer Sonata is one of the few exceptions. In February 1876 a woman calling herself ‘Slavyanka’ had written to Tolstoy her thoughts on the appalling situation of women in contemporary Russian society. This was one source of inspiration for the novella. Another was a story told to Tolstoy by a friend who had heard a fellow train traveller talking about his wife’s infidelity.

When the first draft had been written, a family friend performed Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata (Sonata No. 9 in A Major for piano and violin, Op. 47) at Tolstoy’s house in Moscow. Immediately afterwards, Tolstoy suggested that the actor Andreev-Burlak and the artist Ilya Repin, who were present, could help him express the feelings evoked by this music. Tolstoy’s original plan was to have his story read in public with Repin’s visual response to the music in the background, although this performance never took place. It occurs to me that had such a recital happened, we could have think of Tolstoy as one of the founding fathers of conceptual performance art.

1-Ilya Repin's picture of Tolstoy and his daughter Alexandra

Ilya Repin’s picture of Tolstoy and his daughter Alexandra at the piano

Tolstoy continuously reworked the plot of the story and it went through many transformations. In the final version, the protagonist tells his story as part of a conversation on a train concerning marriage, divorce and love. Although he loved his wife at first, he became unhappy with her when she was preoccupied by motherhood, but was also displeased when she started to prevent pregnancies. Nonetheless, having noticed his wife’s admiration for a violinist, he became consumed with jealousy which led him to kill her. Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata triggers all the emotions in the story, as this is what unites the protagonist’s wife with the violinist when they play it together, filling him with rage and misery. He blames the conventions which force people to stay together even after love has turned into hatred, and believes that women and men will never enjoy equal rights as long as men view women as objects of desire. Yet he also claims that women have a form of power over men, since much of society is geared towards women’s pleasure and wellbeing. Tolstoy’s message is confusing, but is usually interpreted as questioning the institution of marriage and celebrating the ideals of chastity and sexual abstinence.

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 Draft page of The Kreutzer Sonata, Zweig MS 191

In November 1889, the story was read in public at the publishing house owned by Tolstoy’s friend Chertkov. It made such an impression that, against Tolstoy’s will, the manuscript was copied on the same night. Three days later 300 lithograph copies were already in private circulation in St. Petersburg and many more were created on hectograph machines. In December 1889, rumours that the censors would ban publication were confirmed. Tolstoy had decided in 1879 to renounce his copyright and potential royalties for anything written thereafter, so was relieved that he did not have to deal with a moral dilemma: to allow his wife to support the family by publishing his work commercially or to publish it gratis according to his own principles.

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Opening (above) and last two page (below) of a clandestine edition of The Kreutzer Sonata ([St Petersburg?, 1889]) RB.23.b.6954.

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In 1890, when it became obvious that The Kreutzer Sonata would not be published in Russia, the Bibliographic Office in Berlin published the story in four languages – Russian, German, French and English – simultaneously. At least two other different English translations, by H. Sutherland Edwards and by Beni R. Tucker, were published in 1890 in England and America respectively.

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Above: The Berlin edition of The Kreutzer Sonata  (1890) 1608/5228. Below: English translation of The Kreutzer Sonata. (London, 1890) 012589.e.34.

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In 1891, Tolstoy’s wife Sofia Andreevna was granted personal permission by Tsar Alexander III to publish the novella in Russia. She did so to prove to herself and others that she had not been hurt by the story, although she admitted in her diaries that it was aimed at her life with Tolstoy, which certainly made her feel uneasy about it. She even wrote a “reply” to Tolstoy, a novella Ch’ia vina? (‘Whose was the blame?’), not published until 1994.

An almost immediate response to Tolstoy’s ideas on marriage and sexuality came from the German author Dagobert von Gerhardt, known under his pen-name Gerhardt von Amyntor. In 1891 he published his story Die Cis-moll-Sonate in which travellers on a train discuss Tolstoy and his Kreutzer Sonata, and one describes how Tolstoy’s ideas influenced his life in a negative way.

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Against The Kreutzer Sonata, by G. von Amyntor in Russian translation: Za pravdu i za chest’ zhenshchiny [For the truth and women’s honour]  (St Petersburg, 1898) 8410.ff.18.

Tolstoy’s son, Lev L’vovich, also argued with his father in his novella Preliudiia Shopena (‘Chopin ’s Prelude’). In 1890 Leonard Terry, writing as ‘Margrave Kenyon’ published a play entitled Madansema, Slave of Love; re Tolstoi, a counter-song to anti-marriage (London, 1890). On the inside cover of the British Library copy there is an inscription: “Tolstoi thinks – marriage is a sin (essay in “Universal Review”, 1890)”. Apart from the title, the play has only a loose connection with Tolstoy’s story. Mrs James Gregor’s novella, like Sofia Andreevna’s entitled Whose was the blame?, was published in London in 1894 and is subtitled A woman’s version of the Kreutzer Sonata. These are just some examples of contemporary responses to The Kreutzer Sonata.

The Czech composer Leo Janaček’s String quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata” was also inspired by Tolstoy’s story. When he wrote it in 1923, the composer’s own private life was tense and difficult: he had informally divorced his wife, and was passionately in love with Kamila Stösslová, who neither sought nor rejected his devotion. An image of a “tormented and run down” poor young woman from Tolstoy’s novel was very close to Janáček’s heart at that time.

The Kreutzer Sonata remains one of the most popular of Tolstoy’s works and continues to attract new translations and adaptations.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

References / Further reading:

Lawrence Kramer, “Tolstoy’s Beethoven, Beethoven’s Tolstoy : the Kreutzer Sonata” in his collection of essays Critical musicology and the responsibility of response : selected essays (Aldershot, 2006) YC.2008.a.856

Europäisches Ereignis "Kreutzersonate" : Beethoven - Tolstoj – Janáček, Ulrich Steltner … et al. (Jena, 2004) YF.2006.a.12001

Dawn B. Sova, Literature suppressed on sexual grounds (New York, 2006) YC.2007.a.2777.

Alexandra Popoff, Sophia Tolstoy: a biography. (New York, 2010) m10/.18612

The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy, translated by Cathy Porter. (London, 2010) YC.2011.a.630

 

12 October 2017

Righteous Gentile and honorary Irishman: Zdeněk Urbánek

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When Václav Havel, playwright and future president of the Czech Republic, was imprisoned in the 1970s, he came across a novel entitled The Road to Don Quixote (Cestou za Quijote; 1949), freely based on Cervantes’s experiences in an Algerian prison. As he read it, admiring the prophetically modern quality of the book and the author’s imaginative grasp of what it felt like to be a prisoner, he realised that he had actually met the author. At that time, when he was a young man in his early twenties attempting to break into the world of Czech literature and drama, the older man – a writer of short stories and essays, and a translator of Shakespeare and Joyce – inspired his respect, but little more. It was not until later, as they worked together as friends and co-signatories of Charter 77, that Havel came to appreciate the true qualities of Zdeněk Urbánek.

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 Portrait of Zdeněk Urbánek (Image from The Archive of Fine Arts, Creative Commons non-commercial use-Share-Alike 3.0)

Urbánek was born on 12 October 1917 in Prague. After graduating he became an editor, first at the publishing house Evropský literární klub and in 1945 of the periodical Svobodné slovo, before working in the Ministry of Information and the Czechoslovak state film company as a script reviewer. In 1957, however, he contracted tuberculosis and left full-time employment to devote himself to translation. He had a special affinity with Irish literature, describing himself as an ‘honorary Irishman’; his translation of James Joyce’s Dubliners (Dubliňané; Prague, 1959; 011313.kk.22) testifies to this.

Among the many British and American authors whom he translated were T. S. Eliot, Eugene O’Neill, Scott Fitzgerald and Charles Dickens, but his crowning achievement was his translation of seven of Shakespeare’s plays; the British Library holds a three-volume edition of these containing Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, Richard III, Julius Caesar, Hamlet and all three parts of Henry IV (Brno, 1992-95; YA.2002.a.740). Of these, Hamlet retained a place in the repertoire of the National Theatre in Prague from 1959 to 1965.

Urbanek Romeo and Juliet

Frontispiece and tittle-page from Romeo a Julie (Prague, 1964; 11760.a.6),translated by Urbánek, illustrated by Ota Janeček.

The British Library is also privileged to own a copy of Urbánek’s earliest published work, a collection of short stories entitled Jitřenka smutku (‘Mourning star’), which bears a dedication in the author’s own hand.

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 Manuscript dedication on the flyleaf of Jitřenka smutku (Prague, 1939; X.909/81940).

At the same time as he was embarking on his literary career and establishing himself in publishing, Urbánek was also becoming active in a very different sphere. Since the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia the previous year he had been living in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and the growing persecution of the Jews was brought home to him in a particularly forceful way when his friend Jiří Ohrenstein, a Jewish poet who wrote under the name of Jiří Orten, was knocked down by a German ambulance in 1941 and died after being denied hospital treatment on racial grounds. Urbánek could not save him, but he could at least preserve his work and his literary reputation, and wrote an introductory essay for a collection of his writings, Eta, Eta, žlutí ptáci (‘Eta, Eta, yellow birds’ ; Liberec, 1966; X.909/8664). On a more practical level, Urbánek and his wife Věra provided temporary shelter in their two-room apartment for several Jewish fugitives on their way to safer refuges, and also offered a collection-point for food parcels being sent to others who had already been dispatched to Terezín. In recognition of his efforts, Urbánek was subsequently designated as a ‘Righteous Gentile’ by the State of Israel.

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  Cover of Jitřenka smutku.

Urbánek never hesitated to put his personal safety at risk in the service of both humanitarian and literary causes. He was frequently subjected to police questioning, and even his work as a translator exposed him to danger through his choices of authors and the ideas which they expressed, leading him to publish them anonymously or under borrowed names. From 1972 onwards he contributed to various samizdat and exile literary publications, as after 1968 he had been placed on the list of banned writers.

In one of his short stories, ‘The Visit’, translated by William Harkins in On the Sky’s Clayey Bottom: Sketches and Happenings from the Years of Silence (New York, 1992; YA.1993.a.20757), he describes a visit from a State Security representative hoping to recruit Urbánek’s wife to spy on a guest coming to stay with their neighbours. When it turns out to be a mistake (the man was looking for a Party member with a similar name living two floors down), the unwelcome caller departs, grumbling; ‘We’re already loaded down with work and they send me another two floors up. Goodbye then. And keep quiet or you’ll get it.’ In just three short pages Urbánek pithily and trenchantly captures the atmosphere of claustrophobia and distrust which prevailed immediately before the end of communism in Czechoslovakia (the story was first published in May 1992, only months before the ‘Velvet Divorce’ which divided the Czech Republic from Slovakia). He himself had made a significant contribution to the downfall of the old regime through his work with the human rights declaration Charter 77, signed by many leading cultural figures who were punished by imprisonment or dismissal from their posts; Urbánek was forbidden to leave Czechoslovakia after returning in 1969 from a six-month stay at All Souls College, Oxford, and did not do so again until October 1989, when he was finally able to visit the USA as a guest of the Charter 77 Foundation.

Despite the fact that Urbánek was 90 when he died in 2008, Havel declared that he had died before his time. ‘Without him,’ he stated, ‘I can hardly form an adequate conception of what Czech fiction, Czech essay writing, or Czech translation today have to tell us’.

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

 

10 October 2017

Text into image: Quevedo and the Table of Cebes

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The Greeks had two words for us: ekphrasis (the verbal description of a work of art) and topothesia (the description of an imagined place).

As topothesia is the less common, look it up in your copy of Erasmus De copia:

Quae si verae sint, τoπoγραφιας appellari volunt, sin fictae, τoπoθεσιας. Prioris formae sunt: Carthiginis et portus apud Maronem descriptio; apud Plinium in Epistolis Laurentis villae; apud Statium Surretinum Polii et Tibertinum Manlii; posterioris: sedes Somni apud Ouidium; domes Famae et regia Solis apud eundem; inferorum et Caci domus apud Vergilium; Tenari apud Statium; domus apud Lucianum; regia Psyches apud Apuleium.
[If these descriptions are true, they are called topographias; if imagined, topothesias. In the first category are: the description of Carthage and its port in Virgil; of his Laurentine villa in the letters of Pliny; the villas of Polius in Sorrento and Manlius in Tivoli in Statius. The imagined include: the House of Sleep, the House of Fame, and the Palace of the Sun in Ovid [Met. 11.592; 12.39; 2.1]; Hell and the House of Cacus in Virgil [Aen. 6.268; 8. 225 ss]; Taenarum in Statius [Thebaid 2.32]; the house in Lucian [De domo]; and the Palace of Psyche in Apuleius [5.1-2].]

As nobody has seen the next world and lived to tell the tale, descriptions of the Other Side count as imagined descriptions.

A once well-known ekphrasis is the Table (or Tablet) of Cebes, alias Pinax. This describes a metal plate on which is depicted the whole life of man:

It was rather a circular enclosure, with two other such enclosures within it, one larger than the other. On the first circle was a gateway, near which was pictured a crowd of folk, and within it we saw a multitude of women. [...]
[An old man explains:]
This circle is called life. The great crowd you see standing beside the gate are those about to journey into life. The old man standing above the crowd holding a paper in his hand [...] is called Genius. He is giving advice [...]
That woman of affected appearance and smooth, plausible manner [...] is called Deceit and leads all men astray [...]

So, decidedly a text: what image could incorporate so much teeming detail?

But many people took ekphrasis as a challenge: various sculptors attempted the Shield of Achilles on the basis of Homer’s text; and some tried to make visual the Table of Cebes.

An example is the image below:

Cebes
Theatro moral de toda la philosophia de los antiguos y modernos, con el enchiridion de Epicteto (Brussels, 1669-73) 28.g.11.

All educated people in the 17th century knew the Pinax: Milton, in his treatise Of Education includes it among the ‘easy and delightful books of education’.

Francisco de Quevedo was no exception.

In 1627 he issued his Sueños (Dreams), apocalyptic visions, loosely arranged but always biting vignettes of the folly and sins of man and woman, grotesque in a very baroque way. They were censored in subsequent editions because among other things Quevedo attacked priests. Like the Good Lord, he was no respecter of parsons (Acts 10.34), a biblical pun that would have been OK in the 15th century but would have got me into trouble in the 1600s.

They were translated by Sir Roger L’Estrange.

The first illustrations of the Dreams came in Brussels in 1669 in vol. I of Quevedo’s works.

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Above and below: illustrations from Francisco de Quevedo, Obras ... Nueva impression corregida y ilustrada con muchas estampas muy donosas y apropriadas à la materia. [Edited by Pedro Aldrete Quevedo y Villegas.] (Antwerp, 1699)  635.g.3-5#

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The plates are by Gaspar Bouttats (1640?-96?), who ‘invenit et fecit’, i.e. they are his own designs.

I was struck by the resemblance between the engraving of the Table and the depiction of Hell and the Last Judgment in the Dreams, particularly the numerous figures crowded into a steeply raking landscape.

The resemblance is almost certainly because both images are the work of artists from the Low Countries. Perhaps when reading the text of the Dreams Bouttats’s visual memory recalled images of the Pinax.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References

The Characters of Theophrastos. The Mimes of Herodas. The Tablet of Kebes. Translated with an introduction by R. Thomson Clark and 34 full page illustrations from Francis Howell’s edition of 1824. (London, [1909]) 8464.aa.28.

 Sagrario López Poza, ‘La Tabla de Cebes y los Sueños de Quevedo’, Edad de Oro, 13 (1994), 85-101. P.901/3635

Erasmus, De copia verborum ac rerum, ed. Betty I. Knott, Opera omnia Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami, Ordo I, tom. 6 (Amsterdam, 1988), p. 214

Enrique Gacto Fernández, ‘Sobre la censura literaria en el s. XVII: Cervantes, Quevedo y la Inquisición’, Revista de la Inquisición, 1 (1991), 11-61. ZA.9.a.6465

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.” ()”).

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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

25 September 2017

Alexander Krasnitskii – a Labourer of Literature

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He did not live to celebrate his 51st birthday and died of a longstanding illness. He published his first piece in a popular magazine when he was 17, and during his 33 years-old career as a journalist and writer used over 50 pseudonyms, including such playful names, as ‘Grumpy Grandfather’, ‘Frivolous Petersburger’, ‘Retired Cupid’, ‘Alef Omegovich’, etc. Apart from articles, poems, short stories, plays, essays and letters to the editor, with which he would sometimes fill an entire issue of cheap popular serials with extra-slim portfolios, he also wrote over 100 novels, including popular histories, biographies, romances, and crime fiction, as well as prefaces and commentaries to new editions of Russian and world classics. He was born in Moscow and died in St Petersburg. He wrote in Russian and was not translated into other languages. The Russian public loved his texts often not knowing who the author was, but quickly forgot them when the new ‘Time of Troubles’ in the form of the Russian Revolution struck Russia in 1917. As Krasnitskii himself quite rightly defined it, his literary work was a labour of love and a ‘literary suicide’ at the same time.

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Portrait of Alexander Krasnitskii (from Wikimedia Commons)

Alexander Krasnitskii (1866-1917) had to work hard for his entire life, earning a living, as they say in Russia, ‘by his nib’, but he is fairly little known. He received a mention in Dan Ungurianu’s Plotting History: The Russian Historical Novel in the Imperial Age (Madison, 2007; m08/.10879), and a handful of new paper and electronic editions has appeared in the post-Soviet decades.

Some of Krasnitskii’s historical novels and biographies of prominent Russians, such as Tsar Peter the Great, the military leader Alexander Suvorov and General Skobelev, came out as lavish editions, illustrated by the best contemporary artists, including studio painters and war field artists like Nikolai Samokish, who reported on wars from the front lines in 1904 and 1915.

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Cover (above) and illustration by illustration by E.K.Sokolovskii (below) from the Krasnitskii’s biography of General Skobelev, Belyi general (St Petersburg, 1904) 12590.m.21.

  Image 3- IMG_6772

Krasnitskii’s father, an artist by training, was acquainted with several Russian authors and intellectuals, including Nikolai Gogol, Prince Petr Viazemskii, Ivan Aksakov, and many others. His father’s passion for archaeology and photography which made him travel across Russia documenting sites and antiquities also contributed to Krasnitskii’s interest in journalism, adventures and historical literature. Always contributing to several publications simultaneously and editing quite a few of them, in 1891 Krasnitskii became an employee of the magazine and publishing house ‘Rodina’ (Homeland) owned by the successful German-born entrepreneur Alvin Kaspari. In a couple of years Krasnitskii started editing all Kaspari’s newspapers and magazines – over a dozen at one time. Most of his own writings were also published by Kaspari’s publishing house, usually under the name of Aleksandr Lavrov.

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An illustration by Nikolai Samokish from Krasnitskii’s Russkii chudo-vozhd’ about Alexander Suvorov (St Petersburg, [1911?]) 10795.ee.28. The picture shows one of the most dramatic of Suvorov’s battles – the crossing of the Devil’s Bridge
 

This ‘Aleksandr Lavrov’ was known to the Russian public as a creator of the Russian Sherlock Holmes, or rather Monsieur Lecoq, as Krasnitskii himself called him after the popular French novel by Émile Gaboriau which was translated into Russian in 1880, and led to the name Lecoq becoming a common term for any detective. The Russian Lecoq was called Mefodii Kirillovich Kobylkin and was a ‘little, plump, clean-shaven man’ with a funny surname that derives from the Russian word for ‘mare’:

All his life, almost from childhood, he had dedicated to the desperate struggle with criminal nature. In this struggle, what mattered was not strength, but skills, resourcefulness, and cunning. He had become so sophisticated in it that he got the reputation of someone who could feel where and when a crime must be committed a month before it would happen... And it was a justified reputation. Kobylkin had developed a special scent; he knew the criminal soul very well and predicted the conditions under which predatory instincts are played out.

Kobylkin’s adventures and extraordinary abilities were very popular with the contemporary public. In the Soviet Union, though, crime fiction was not a genre that could easily get the Communist Party’s approval. From light reading it turned into a propaganda tool focused on the rehabilitation of criminals, rather than solving crimes. Soviet readers longing for light entertainment went as far as copying Krasnitskii’s books and distributing them via existing Samizdat networks, along with criticism of the Soviet political system, banned literary works and religious texts. In the British Library we have six typewritten books (not first copies!), that were copied from Kaspari’s editions of the early 20th century.

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Above, Soviet Samizdat: detective novels of the early 20th century; below, a typewritten list of novels from the Kobylkin series, inserted in one of the books as an added title page.

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We would like to hope that the ‘labourer of Literature’ Aleksandr Krasnitskii might not only find new readers, but maybe even critics and scholars.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

This blog is published as part of Banned Books Week 2017 (24-30 September). Banned-Books-Week-Logo

Banned Books Week was first initiated by the American Library Association in 1982 in response to an increasing number of challenges in the US to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. The 2017 UK contribution to Banned Books Week features events staged by a variety of cultural organisations including the British Library, Free Word, Royal Society of Literature and Islington Library and Heritage Services. British Library events can be found here.

 

21 September 2017

Candide or Candidus? A Swedish translation of the English translation of the French ‘translation from the German’

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The British Library has recently acquired the first Swedish translation of Voltaire’s Candide, ou l’Optimisme, translated as Candidus, eller alt til det bästa (1783). Voltaire’s 1759 philosophical picaresque novel about its eponymous hero’s gradual disillusionment from an unfettered optimism in the world has been called the ‘the most clandestine work of the century’. So clandestine, in fact, that scholars continue to debate the first place of publication and the first version of the text. The critique of the religious and political establishment ever-present in Voltaire’s works made them too dangerous to publish openly and Voltaire and his publishers honed the art of clandestine publication and circulation.

Candidus title page
Voltaire, Candidus eller Alt til det bästa. öfwersättning af engelskan (Västerås, 1783)  RB.23.a.37745

Ira O. Wade, in his article on the first edition of Candide, explains the methods developed by Voltaire and his publishers to avoid the censors of Paris and Geneva, where he had moved by this point:

Clandestinity was practiced in many ways: a book could be published, for instance, in Paris and place-marked Amsterdam; in London and Amsterdam and smuggled to Paris; or in some provincial French city (Lyons, Avignon, Rouen) and circulated through a Parisian colporteur. Voltaire had used all these methods. In every one of these places there were printers, or at least a printer, eager and willing to serve him. […] In the case of a very clandestine work, Voltaire would use multiple printers and simultaneous editions.

Wade’s forensic analysis of no less than 17 editions, all published in 1759, allows him to create a schema that identifies which was logically the first edition, from which the others originated. Multiple printers in different countries meant that the English-speaking world did not have to wait long for their Candid or Candidus, published the same year, while new and variant editions of the French were simultaneously being produced. The British Library has eight 1759 Candides in English, six published in London and one each in Edinburgh and Dublin.

Our Swedish edition, was printed in Västerås in 1783 by Johan Laurentius Horrn and is one of only three known copies, the other two belonging to the Kungliga Biblioteket in Stockholm and the Universität Greifswald. The text is however a translation from an English edition rather than the original French, whichever the original might be. This then poses the question, which English edition did the 1783 Swedish translation derive from? Thankfully, Wade can help us here too. He tells us that there are two groups of 1759 English editions; one group which translated Wade’s bet on the first edition – with the English title, Candidus – and another group descending from a variant of that first edition – with the English title, Candid. Wade delineates the differences between the variant and the original and it suffices to look at just one example for us to decide on the origins of the Swedish translation.

In chapter V, ‘Tempête, naufrage, tremvlement de terre, & ce qui advent du docteur Pangloss, de Candide, & de l’anabatiste Jacques’, Doctor Pangloss is attempting to console some victims of the Lisbon earthquake by explaining how things could not have been otherwise in the best of all possible worlds. Pangloss utters the lines: ‘Car […] tout ceci est ce qu’il y a de mieux’, in other words, ‘all this is for the best’. Except, in the original French edition, we find the words ‘car […] c’est une nécessité que si un Univers existe’, or, ‘it is necessary for such a universe to exist’. Wade shows how those 1759 English editions entitled Candid, rather than Candidus, correspond to the variant rather than the original, and contain the translation of Pangloss’s clause, ‘because, said he, all this is fittest and best’, corresponding to ‘tout ceci…’ It is this version of the line that we find in the Swedish translation, which it renders, ‘alt detta är tjenligast och bäst’. Thus, we at least know that our Swedish first edition has come from this particular strand of Candide translations into English.

In the anonymous Swedish translator’s preface, addressed to the also unknown ‘Herr J. L.’, the translator points to the lack of masterpieces of translation. They are all too often produced by those without and intimate enough understanding of the original or translation languages or both, he says. Assurances are given that the text has been written ‘by a man who understands the language from which the translation has been made’. The preface ends with the self-effacing respect of the translator:

If my essay has only been able to entertain You in Your moments of leisure, I assure You that it would be my greatest delight. My purpose would then have been fully achieved and with the great Westphalian philosopher Doctor Pangloss I could with complete certainty say: All is for the best.

But our small investigation has inspired more questions than answers. Why does the Swedish first edition translate from the English and not the French? For a country so clearly under the influence of French ideas in the 18th century, the answer is not obvious. Is there a connection between translator and the very anglophile city of Gothenburg? Is the idea of a ‘Öfwersättning af Engelskan’ (‘Translation from English’) actually an ironic addition to complement Voltaire’s own misleading subtitle, ‘Traduit de l’allemand de Mr. le docteur Ralph. Avec les additions qu’on a trouvés dans la poche du docteur lorsqu’il mourut à Minden l’an de grace 1759’ (‘translated from the German of Dr. Ralph with additions found in the doctor’s pocket when he died, at Minden, in the year of our Lord 1759’)? Why did it take until 1783 for Candide to be translated into Swedish and why then? Who might the anonymous translator be and to whom is his preface dedicated, the mysterious Herr J. L?

With so many questions left, it is hard not to feel more like Candide, l’Optimiste, at the end of the novel rather than at the beginning, when faced with the challenge of understanding the story behind this translation!

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections (translation of the translator’s preface by Peter Hogg, former Curator Scandinavian Studies)

References/further Reading

Ira O. Wade, Voltaire and Candide: A Study in the Fusion of History, Art, and Philosophy (Princeton, 1959) W.P.8969/10.

Ira O. Wade, ‘The First Edition of Candide: A Problem of Identification’, The Princeton University Library Chronicle, 22 (2), 1959, pp. 63-88. Ac.1833.h/2.

Candid: or, All for the best. Translated from the French. The second edition, carefully revised and corrected (London, 1759), Cup.406.i.5.(1.) 

24 August 2017

The Aeneid of Bazylevych – celebrating Kotlyarevsky's masterpiece

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The 7th International Arsenal Book Festival was held from 17-21 May 2017 in Kyiv, in the National Cultural-Artistic and Museum Complex ‘Art Arsenal’. New publications from more than 150 publishing houses were presented there.

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Above and below: Photos from the  festival. With a kind permission of  Oleksiy Bazylevych

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This year the Festival, entitled ‘Laughter. Fear. Strength’, provided an opportunity for discussion of the nature of laughter, its many-faceted forms, its decisive role in periods of crisis, and the way in which we laugh now. An important occasion relating to this theme was the 175th anniversary of the publication of the complete edition of the Aeneid by Ivan Kotlyarevsky – a shining example of Ukrainian humorous culture.

The poet and playwright Kotlyarevsky was the creator and father of modern Ukrainian literature. He devoted the major part of his life to the creation, in burlesque travesty style, of the poem Aeneid, which parodies Virgil’s epic. The Aeneid of Kotlyarevsky is a true encyclopaedia of the popular life, domestic affairs and customs of contemporary Ukrainian society.

BazylevychKotliarevskyiEneida1989  Portrait of Kotlyarevsky by Anatolii Bazylevych from : Ivan Kotliarevskyi, Eneida. (Kyiv, 1989) YF.2013.a.26059.

The depiction of the characters of Kotlyarevsky’s Aeneid in visual art has a long history. Its first illustrator was the Ukrainian painter, graphic artist and student of folklore and ethnography Porfyriy Martynovych, who in 1873-4 created several drawings for the Aeneid. In 1903-4 a jubilee edition of the Aeneid was published with 10 black-and-white illustrations by the painter and graphic artist Vasyl' Kornienko. A single colour illustration was created in 1919 by the outstanding graphic artist Heorhiy Narbut;  however, it became a permanent treasure of Ukrainian art.

BazylevychNarbut_Eneida
Narbut’s illustration to Kotliarevsky’s Aeneid (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

In 1931 Ivan Padalka,  professor of painting at the Kyiv Art Institute and one of the Ukrainian artists of the Boychuk school, illustrated the Aeneid. In 1937 the Aeneid was published with illustrations by the graphic artist and painter Mykhailo Derehus (1904-1997), and in 1949 with illustrations by Ivan Izhakevych and Fedir Konovaliuk (1897-1984).

The largest project illustrating the Aeneid is that by Anatolii Bazylevych, differing in the number of the illustrations – 130 drawings in colour – and the depth of his understanding of the poem. An outstanding master of book art, the creator of numerous illustrations for classical works of Ukrainian and world literature and those of contemporary writers, Bazylevych is rightly considered one of the artists who determined the image of Ukrainian art in the second part of the 20th century.

BazylevychBlogBazylevych

   Photograph of Anatoliy Bazylevych, from the periodical Ukraina (Kyiv, 1966).  By kind permission of Oleksii Bazylevych.

Bazylevych was born on 7 June 1926 in Zhmerynka in the Vinnytsia region, into the family of an engineer. Later his family moved to Mariupol where he spent his childhood and had his first art lessons in a school art study group. He survived the Nazi occupation and forced labour in factories in Germany, where he was deported with his family and where his father perished. Despite all these hardships, Bazylevych did not abandon his dream of becoming an artist. He received his education at the Kharkiv Art Institute in 1947-1953, afterwards moving to Kyiv, where for many years he worked with several publishing houses.

BazylevychNarodniPisniUkraïnsʹki narodni pisni (Kyiv, 1966). YF.2012.a.29456,  a set of postcards by Bazylevych illustrating Ukrainian folk-songs.

The work of illustrating the Aeneid occupied nine years of the artist’s life: three variants of the book’s design, hundreds of sketches from nature, and the creation of his own original fonts. He finished his work on the Aeneid in 1967. In the Aeneid Bazylevych was not just an illustrator: he was a creator of images, who by his own methods opened up the real core of the text to a wider audience. In a way he was the co-author of the Aeneid in his own genre. This is the key to the huge popularity of the editions of 1968-70. ‘Have you seen Bazylevych's Aeneid?’ people asked one another at this time. There were queues for the book in the shops; the first edition quickly sold out, and in 1969-70 there were two more editions. The British Library holds that of 1969.

BazylevychEneida1969Title-page

                       Above: Title-page of: Ivan Kotliarevskyi, Eneida. (Kyiv, 1969). YF.2013.a.13059 Below: Enei and his Cossacks (from Ivan Kotlarevskyi, Eneida (Kyiv, 1989). YF.2013.a.26059

BazylevychEneidaCossacks1969

Altogether Bazylevych’s Aeneid was published in dozens of editions in different designs and with different numbers of illustrations, in both colour and black and white variants, published in Germany, Canada and Georgia as well.

BazylevychEneida1989Cover Cover of: Ivan Kotliarevskyi. Eneida. (Kyiv, 1989) YF.2013.a.26059

 

BazylevychBlogVenera

Anatoly Bazylevych. Venus visiting Zeus. 1989. Paper, indian ink, watercolour. Collection of O. Bazylevych. Photograph M. Bilousov. By kind permission of Oleksii Bazylevych.

BazylevychBlogEneiandDidona

Anatoly Bazylevych. Aeneas and Dido. 1989. Paper, indian ink, watercolour. Collection of O. Bazylevych. Photograph M. Bilousov. By kind permission of Oleksii Bazylevych

The Aeneid was the greatest of Bazylevych’s works. After 1968 he continued working on the Aeneid, copying images, designing calendars and cards with images of Cossacks until his death in 2005. This year the publishing house Artbook published a new book: Eneida Bazylevycha (The Aeneid of Bazylevych; edited by Pavlo Gudimov, Diana Klochko), dedicated to the history of the creation of Bazylevych’s illustrations. ‘A book about the book’, the Aeneid of Bazylevych includes material from the family archive, a memoir by the artist's son Oleksii, original illustrations and sketches, and the author’s layouts. In the competition for the best book design which was held for the third time during the International Arsenal Book Festival in cooperation with the Goethe Institute in Ukraine and with the support of the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Buchkunst Fund, The Aeneid of Bazylevych was one of the three best books about art.

BazylevychNEWBOOK                                          Cover of Eneida Bazylevycha (Kyiv, 2017). New acquisition. Waiting for shelfmark.

Oleksii Bazylevych, Member of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Drawing in the Boychuk Kyiv State Institute of Decorative-Applied Art and Design

 

18 August 2017

Devil, Rascal, Love Machine? The Afterlives of Rasputin

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One of the exhibits in our current exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is a cartoon from the satirical magazine Novyi Satirikon. It shows the religious mystic Grigorii Rasputin sitting on a throne, gazing out with his trademark intense stare. Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra crouch at Rasputin’s feet while the German Kaiser Wilhelm II stands behind the throne.

Rasputin Novyi Satirikon
Novyi Satirikon
,  No. 23,April 1917. RB.31.c.900

This reflects the popular view at the time that Rasputin had undue influence over the Russian royal family and that he and the German-born Alexandra plotted against Russian interests during the First World War. The same belief is reflected in a Japanese cartoon of the period, which shows the Tsarina, Kaiser and Rasputin (in the guise of a demon) sitting conspiratorially round a table.

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Cartoon from Itō Chūta, Ashurachō (Tokyo, 1920-21). ORB.30/757 

But one interesting point about the Novyi Satirikon cartoon is that it was actually published in April 1917, four months after Rasputin’s death (and two after Nicholas’s abdication). Such a caricature would of course have been hard to get past the censors while Rasputin was alive and enjoying the patronage of a still-intact monarchy. But it is striking that, even after his death and the fall of the monarchy, his image was a powerful enough symbol of corruption to make the front page of a satirical magazine.

This is an early example of Rasputin’s afterlife in propaganda, history, conspiracy theory and popular culture. Rumours and legends – such as his wartime plotting and the belief that he and Alexandra were lovers – had grown up before his death but afterwards they were given ever freer rein, with stories of a criminal youth, of wild parties and orgies in St Petersburg, of hypnotic powers, and of an almost supernatural resistance to his murderers’ poison and bullets.

Rasputin's Diary
‘Rasputin's Diary’, a White Russian propaganda leaflet published in Rostov-on-Don (private collection)

A look at some of the books about Rasputin in our catalogue give an idea of his reputation. Titles describe him as ‘Holy Devil’ (10790.pp.22.), ‘Prophet, Libertine and Plotter’ (010795.aaa.7.), one of ‘Twelve Monstrous Criminals’ (06055.ee.17.), an ‘All-powerful Peasant’ (010795.a.52.), ‘Satyr-monk and Criminal’ (10796.aa.37.) and ‘Rascal Monk’ (10796.a.28.). This last was by the thriller-writer and conspiracy theorist William Le Queux who, perhaps thinking that ‘Rascal’ might sound rather playful, followed it up with the more strongly titled The Minister of Evil.

Rasputin Le Queux
William Le Queux, The Minister of Evil (London, 1918) 010795.a.9. 

However lurid and fanciful some of their claims, these works were presented as factual – even George Sava’s bizarre Rasputin Speaks (London, 1941; 10795.p.27), supposedly Rasputin’s own story told to Sava through a Russian spirit medium. But of course Rasputin made his way into works defined as fiction too, beginning as early as 1923 with Ivan Nazhivin’s Rasputin (English translation New York, 1929; 010795.aa.66). Since then he has featured in everything from straightforward historical novels to elaborate conspiracy thrillers where he wields supernatural powers or works evil from beyond the grave. More recently Rasputin has appeared in graphic novels, usually in his more fantastical guise as in the Hellboy universe or Alex Grecian’s Rasputin series  (vol. 2, 2016 at YKL.2017.b.2935).

Rasputin in fiction
A selection of Rasputin-related fiction from the BL collections

Rasputin appeared on film even before he appeared in fiction, starting in 1917 with The Fall of the Romanoffs, featuring Rasputin’s former ally and later antagonist, the Monk Iliodor, as himself. The 1932 film Rasputin and the Empress led to a lawsuit from Prince Felix Yusupov, one of Rasputin’s assassins, and his wife Irina, angered in particular that a character believed to represent Irina was portrayed as Rasputin’s lover. A curious, if indirect, aspect of Rasputin’s legacy is that the lawsuit resulted in the introduction of the now-familiar disclaimer in film credits that the characters ‘bear no resemblance to living persons’.

Rasputin Yusopov trial
Some of the press coverage of the Yusupovs’ libel case, reproduced in Sir David Napley, Rasputin in Hollywood (London, 1989) YC.1990.b.3188.

Of course Rasputin is a gift for any actor with a powerful presence and intense gaze – step forward, among the Brits, Christopher Lee (Rasputin the Mad Monk, 1966), Tom Baker (Nicholas and Alexandra, 1971) and Alan Rickman (Rasputin, Dark Servant of Destiny, 1996). While the latter two are straight historical dramas, the first is at the lurid end of the scale. But perhaps the nadir of Rasputin’s film career is the 1997 animation Anastasia in which he returns from limbo (with a wisecracking bat sidekick) to pursue the surviving Grand Duchess Anastasia.

In Anastasia, Rasputin gets to sing, as he also does in at least three operas: Rasputin’s End (1958; F.1256.q) by Nicolas Nabokov, and two works simply entitled Rasputin by Jay Reise (1988) and Einojuhani Rautavaara (2003). He has been sung about too, perhaps most famously in Boney M’s 1978 hit ‘Rasputin’ which immortalised him for a generation as ‘Russia’s greatest love machine’. But 45 years earlier Allie Wrubel and Joe Hoover had come up with a similar concept in ‘Rasputin, that Highfalutin’ Lovin’ Man’ (VOC/1933/WRUBEL).

Rasputin and women
Rasputin surrounded by women, reproduced in Rasputin goes to Hollywood.  His elite female admirers were fascinated more by Rasputin’s  mysticism than by any supposed sexual magnetism.

Reputable modern non-fiction tends to reject the more lurid stories about Rasputin or to engage seriously with their origins and likely veracity. However, as so few facts are known about parts of Rasputin’s life and so many things reported as facts cannot be proven or otherwise, we can never know the whole truth. Clearly he was not the evil mastermind depicted by many writers, nor was he the kindly and slandered saint recalled by his daughter Maria in her two books attempting to clear his name of any scandal or wrongdoing. But even for those who seek a balanced and scholarly view of the real Rasputin, there is much fascination in exploring his enduring afterlife in popular culture.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

The exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website

27 July 2017

Robotic and Quixotic

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The current exhibition at the Science Museum on Robots and their history prompts some thoughts about robots in Spain.

Probably the most famous robot in Spanish literature is the bronze head in the house of Don Antonio Moreno, which appears in Don Quixote (Vol. II, ch. 62). Don Antonio leads Don Quixote into a room with “a table, apparently of jasper, resting on a pedestal of the same, upon which was set up, after the fashion of the busts of the Roman emperors, a head which seemed to be of bronze.” Swearing his guest to the strictest secrecy, he explains:

“This head, Senor Don Quixote, has been made and fabricated by one of the greatest magicians and wizards the world ever saw, a Pole, I believe, by birth, and a pupil of the famous Escotillo of whom such marvellous stories are told. He was here in my house, and for a consideration of a thousand crowns that I gave him he constructed this head, which has the property and virtue of answering whatever questions are put to its ear. He observed the points of the compass, he traced figures, he studied the stars, he watched favourable moments, and at length brought it to the perfection we shall see to-morrow, for on Fridays it is mute, and this being Friday we must wait till the next day. In the interval your worship may consider what you would like to ask it; and I know by experience that in all its answers it tells the truth.”

Quixote Bronze head 1730

 Don Antonio shows the talking head to Don Quixote, from Vida y Hechos del Ingenioso Cavallero Don Quixote de la Mancha ... (Madrid, 1730) 89.b.18.

The next day, Don Antonio takes his wife, Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, and two other gentlemen and ladies to test the bronze head. He approaches first and asks it what he is thinking of:

The head, without any movement of the lips, answered in a clear and distinct voice, so as to be heard by all, “I cannot judge of thoughts.”
All were thunderstruck at this, and all the more so as they saw that there was nobody anywhere near the table or in the whole room that could have answered. “How many of us are here?" asked Don Antonio once more; and it was answered him in the same way softly, “Thou and thy wife, with two friends of thine and two of hers, and a famous knight called Don Quixote of La Mancha, and a squire of his, Sancho Panza by name.”

The guests then ask their questions in turn: one woman wants to know how she can be beautiful and is told, “Be very modest.” The other asks whether her husband loves her and is advised to “Think how he uses thee”

One of the gentlemen asks the straighforward question “Who am I?”:

“Thou knowest,” was the answer. “That is not what I ask thee,” said the gentleman, “but to tell me if thou knowest me.” “Yes, I know thee, thou art Don Pedro Noriz,” was the reply.
“I do not seek to know more,” said the gentleman, “for this is enough to convince me, O Head, that thou knowest everything”.

The other gentleman asks about the wishes of his eldest son and receives the disturbing answer: “to bury thee.”

Don Antonio’s wife wants to know whether she will “have many years of enjoyment of my good husband” and is assured: ‘“Thou shalt, for his vigour and his temperate habits promise many years of life, which by their intemperance others so often cut short.”’

Don Quixote’s turn comes next:

“Tell me, thou that answerest, was that which I describe as having happened to me in the cave of Montesinos the truth or a dream? Will Sancho's whipping be accomplished without fail? Will the disenchantment of Dulcinea be brought about?”
“As to the question of the cave,” was the reply, “there is much to be said; there is something of both in it. Sancho’s whipping will proceed leisurely. The disenchantment of Dulcinea will attain its due consummation.”
“I seek to know no more," said Don Quixote; “let me but see Dulcinea disenchanted, and I will consider that all the good fortune I could wish for has come upon me all at once.”

Finally Sancho asks his questions and is less impressed with the answers than his aristocratic companions:

Head, shall I by any chance have another government? Shall I ever escape from the hard life of a squire? Shall I get back to see my wife and children?” To which the answer came, “Thou shalt govern in thy house; and if thou returnest to it thou shalt see thy wife and children; and on ceasing to serve thou shalt cease to be a squire.”
“Good, by God!” said Sancho Panza; “I could have told myself that; the prophet Perogrullo could have said no more.”
“What answer wouldst thou have, beast?” said Don Quixote; “is it not enough that the replies this head has given suit the questions put to it?”
“Yes, it is enough," said Sancho; “but I should have liked it to have made itself plainer and told me more.”

Quixote bronze head 1755
 Sancho interrogates the head and is rebuked by Don Quixote, from The History and Adventures of the Renowned Don Quixote. …(London, 1755) 12490.k.6.

This episode can be seen as a parody of the talking head of Friar Roger Bacon  but the romances of chivalry which Cervantes mocks consistently are full of automata. Given the magic which pervades the chivalresque genre, all these automata are presented as genuine.

Bronze Head of Friar Bacon
The legendary brazen talking head of Roger Bacon, from Robert Greene, The honorable historie of Frier Bacon and Frier Bongay (London, 1630) 11773.bbb.2.

But what we know and Quixote and Sancho do not is that Don Antonio’s marvellous head is a fake.

Quixote is easily taken in by humanoids: recall the the puppets of Maese Pedro (I, 22), and the windmills (I, 8).

Quixote puppets 1808Don Quixote attacks Maese Pedro’s puppets, from Historia del Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (Barcelona, 1808) 1070.e.17.

I’ve seen a street performer imitating a living statue of the Man of La Mancha in the streets of Cervantes’s home town of Alcalá.

And in 1621 the guild of silversmiths of Mexico City organised a procession of characters from the novel, in which Quixote himself wore a ‘mask of silver’ (máscara de plata) and carried a silver lance.

Superhuman’, a recent exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, examined how the human body has been improved and extended by prosthetics.

Rendered invulnerable (in his own estimation) by his plate armour, his grasp extended by his lance and his speed multiplied by his horse (likewise armoured), is not the Don himself a type of automaton?

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References:

Miguel de Cervantes, The ingenious gentleman : Don Quixote of La Mancha : a translation with introduction and notes by John Ormsby. (London, 1885). 12489.k.4. (Available online at: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Don_Quixote)

Jesús Duce García (ed.), Antología de autómatas en los libros de caballerías castellanos (Alcalá, 2016) YF.2016.a.16418

José Rojas Garcidueñas, Presencias de Don Quijote en las artes de México (1965)
X.0972/39.b.(1.)