THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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Exploring Europe at the British Library

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Discover the British Library's extensive collections from continental Europe and read news and views on European culture and affairs from our subject experts and occasional guest contributors. Read more

13 June 2017

Revolutionaries, spies and royals

William Melville was Head of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch and later a senior member of the British Secret Service MI5. While still at Scotland Yard, he was involved in intelligence operations against anarchists with suspected links to Russian revolutionary émigrés, such as Vladimir Burtsev, arrested by Melville in December 1897 when leaving the British Museum reading room. In his memoirs, Burtsev described this episode:

On 16 December 1897, when I was leaving the main British Museum Reading Room, I was arrested there by the chief of British Police Melville and sent to prison. In two hours, I was sent from prison to the preliminary court and indicted with accusation of plotting assassination of the person ‘who was not a subject of Her Majesty the Queen’, i.e. Nicholas II. The aim of that court was to decide whether my case could be heard by the jury court or not. I was taken to this court five times.

Melville
William Melville at his desk in Scotland Yard, ca. 1894. Reproduced in Andrew Cook, M: MI5's First Spymaster (Stroud, 2004) m07/.19673

In his letter to Petr Rachkovskii, the chief of the European intelligence department of the Okhrana, the secret service in Imperial Russia, Melville wrote:

If you found it possible to bring a case against Burtsev & Co you could only go about it in the following way. Send the aforementioned newspaper to the Russian Ambassador in London, having marked in it the most relevant passages, and accompany it with a letter in which you insist on the need to prosecute the editor. Ask the Ambassador to bring the letter to the notice of the Foreign Secretary, who surely pass it on to me. As you see, one will have to act through the diplomatic channel.

Sidney Reilly, who would be sent to Russia as an agent in the revolutionary years, was first recruited by Melville as an informer in an organization that was also involved with Russian anarchists. The rise of terrorist and anarchist activities alarmed the British public and became. For example, the central theme of Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel The Secret Agent, where the Russian links are prominent.

X808-38955 Reilly Ace of Spies TV tie-in   YKL.2016.a.1066 Reilly 2014 ed

 Left: Robin Bruce Lockhart, Reilly, Ace of Spies, a life of Sidney Reilly, first published 1967 (X.639/2067). The copy shown (X.808/38995) was published as a tie-in for a 1980s TV dramatisation which starred Sam Neill as Reilly. Right: Reilly’s partially ghostwritten memoir, Adventures of a British Master Spy (London, 2014) YKL.2016.a.1066. 

In 1902 Melville’s service was recognized by the Russian Imperial State and he received a silver cigarette case made by Imperial goldsmiths possibly subordinate to Fabergé and a watch with an enamelled double-headed eagle made by the Russian Imperial purveyor Paul Buhre. The gift was presented by the then heir to the Russian throne, Grand Duke Michael, Nicholas II’s younger brother who represented the family at the Coronation of Edward VII.

Michael-K.T.C.111.b.2

 Grand Duke Michael in the military uniform of the Russian Royals of the 17th century at the Costume Ball at the Winter Palace that took place in February 1903. From Alʹbom kostiumirovannago bala v Zimnem Dvortse v fevrale 1903 g. = Album du bal costumé au Palais d'hiver : février 1903. (St Petersburg, 1904) K.T.C.111.b.2

At the time, Michael was considered a suitor to British-born Princess Beatrice nicknamed ‘Baby-Bee’, the youngest daughter of Queen Victoria’s second son Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, and Grand Duchess Maria – Michael’s aunt, sister of his father Tsar Alexander III. And in 1913, Michael indeed came to live in England renting Knebworth House (pictured below) near London, but not as the husband of a British princess, rather as the husband of a divorced commoner, Natalia Sheremetevskaia.

IMG_1536

In a letter of 7 August 1911 to his lover Michael wrote:

My darling, I’m so afraid at the thought that I might not be allowed back into Russia, that we might be separated, when I think about it I literally pale with horror. What if I never, ever see you again or kiss, or embrace you again. You do understand how horrible it would be. I think of nothing else and in my thoughts and my dreams I am caressing you as if I was saying goodbye to you forever…

Having ignored the Tsar’s prohibition to enter a morganatic marriage, Michael was expelled from Russia and only granted permission to return on the outbreak of the First World War.

After Nicholas’s abdication on 15 (2) March 1917 Michael technically became Tsar, but called on the people to obey the Provisional Government. Historians still debate whether he was legally the last Tsar. His and Natalia Sheremetevskaia’s son Georgii (George) was smuggled out of Soviet Russia at the age of seven and, having settled in England with his mother, attended St Leonards-on-Sea College and Harrow School.

67-year old Melville and 39-year old Michael both died in 1918: the former of kidney failure and the latter shot by the Soviet secret police, the Cheka.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

References:

Andrew Cook, M: MI5's First Spymaster (Stroud, 2004) m07/.19673

Rosemary and Donald Crawford. Michael and Natasha: the life and love of the last tsar of Russia (London, 1997) YC.1999.b.4117

 The British Library’s 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

09 June 2017

‘A Man of Throbbing Vitality’: Leon Trotsky and the ‘Leatherites’

In a recent article for the Guardian, the ‘weird fiction’ author China Miéville raised the issue of historian Orlando Figes’s ‘disapproving fascination’ with the leather jackets habitually worn by Bolshevik revolutionaries during the period of the Civil War. Figes’s fascination with their leathers and the ‘macho culture’ they signified is not just a personal quirk, but was a key element in the militant image of Bolshevism established in opposition to the suited politicians of the other parties in the Russian Revolution.

More than any other iconic figure of the revolutionary period, the founder of the Red Army Leon Trotsky has become associated with this uniform of leather, a radical departure from his dapper intelligentsia style of fashion in the pre-1917 years. A brief clip of the revolutionary in military garb can be found on the Getty Images website. While Trotsky wore an imposing suit of black leather, the guards on the famous train from which he commanded the war effort were reputedly kitted out in similar uniforms of red. Trotsky himself attributed the Bolshevik craze for leather to the lesser known figure Yakov Sverdlov, a leading Bolshevik who died of illness in 1919:

In the initial post-October period the Communists were, as is well-known, called “leatherites” by our enemies, because of the way in which we dressed. I believe that Sverdlov’s example played a major role in introducing the leather “uniform” among us. At all events he invariably walked around encased in leather from head to toe, from his leather cap to his leather boots. This costume, which somehow corresponded with the character of those days, radiated far and wide from him… 

LeninSverdlov
A 1918 photograph of Lenin with Sverdlov, in his leather jacket, from Tsetsiliya Samoilovna Zelikson-Bobrovskaya, Yakov Mikhailovich Sverdlov (Moscow, 1938) 10797.b.7.

The leather-look seems to have worked for Trotsky. British visitors to revolutionary Russia were often struck by his sense of fashion and personal charisma. Ethel Snowden, a figure on the right-wing of the Independent Labour Party (a section of the Labour Party which had taken an anti-war position during the First World War), was one such unlikely admirer. She was the wife of the austere Philip Snowden, the man who would become Labour’s first Chancellor of the Exchequer in the minority government of 1924 and again in the ill-fated government of 1929 – certainly no Bolshevik sympathiser.

EthelSnowden
Photograph of Ethel Snowden from her memoir A Political Pilgrim in Europe (London, 1921) 08026.b.51.

Ethel Snowden had been selected as a member of the Labour Delegation to Russia of 1920, which sought to establish the facts about the new Soviet state through the distorting mists of propaganda and counter-propaganda from both its enemies and admirers. During the visit she had the opportunity to share a box in the theatre with the ‘remarkable fine-looking man’ Trotsky, enjoying a performance of Borodin’s Prince Igor. Trotsky has the reputation of a rogue, his affair with Frida Kahlo during his more settled post-revolutionary years is well-known having been depicted in the 2002 film Frida, but in Snowden’s account in her book Through Bolshevik Russia he comes across as a devilish flirt even in the midst of heavy civil war:

At one point in the performance there came a tender love-scene.
“There,” said Trotsky turning to me and speaking in English for the first time, “is the great international language.”
“Yes,” I replied, “you are right. But there is also another – Art. These two great international languages of Love and Art will unite the world in peace and happiness at last.”
I should think Trotsky is a man of throbbing vitality and of strong feeling; once of splendid vision.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell was also in attendance and was, if anything, even more struck. He wrote a description of Trotsky at the theatre in his journal entry for 17 May 1920:

Very Napoleonic impression. Bright eyes, military bearing, lightning intelligence, magnetic personality. Exceedingly good-looking, which surprised me. Would be irresistible to women, and an agreeable lover while his passion lasted.

Russell’s published account repeats much of this description, but probably knowing how prudish the English can be he chose to omit the final clause. Despite Trotsky’s personal appeal, both figures would become committed anti-Communists following their trip, and Ethel Snowden in particular was attacked by Communists as a traitor to the cause of the working class. Although they managed to bring back a wealth of material from the Soviet state, much of which has found its way to the British Library, the Labour delegation did not carry the fashion for leather back to the British working class movement, which long retained its preference for impeccably proletarian and anti-militaristic cloth flat caps.

Mike Carey, CDA Student, British Library and Nottingham University

References / Further Reading

Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 (London, 1997) YC.1997.b.5078.

Leon Trotsky, ‘Jacob Sverdlov’ (March 1925) online at https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1925/03/sverdlov.htm

Bertrand Russell, The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell vol. 15: Uncertain Roads to Freedom: Russia and China 1919-22 edited by Richard A. Rempel et al. (London, 2000) YC.2000.a.8045.

Bertrand Russell, The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism (London, 1949 [first edition: 1920]) 09455.de.91.

Ethel Snowden, Through Bolshevik Russia (London, 1920) 10290.bbb.47.

The British Library’s 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

05 June 2017

One World, One Script, Many Lects: Early Soviet Turkic Language Reform

The concept of a unified national language is very much a product of the modern era. Since antiquity, commentators, authors, scribes and others have complained about the quality of language use in literary and scholastic circles and everyday life. Such gripes motivated the creation of highly curated liturgical and sacred languages, such as Classical Arabic or Sanskrit. Nevertheless, the creation of a norm against which transgressions could be measured, and its adoption as a tool of the state – as opposed to a religious institution – are novelties of the last few centuries. Profane language tinkering was undertaken with vigour across much of Europe in the 19th century, from French to Hungarian and Greek. It was not until the 20th century that the trend took minority European languages and non-European idioms by storm. Among the Turkic peoples of the Russian Empire, it was the advent of Soviet hegemony that turned language reform from a topic of discussion among intellectuals into stark reality.

The Language Issue, as it is often known, was a subject of frequent conversation among Turkic intelligentsia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jadidists  and Qadimists – so called because of their adherence to new or old methods of education – fought over the means and content of education, including language. It was during the first few years of Soviet power, however, that such actors were enlisted to help delineate linguistic boundaries and compile “scientific” knowledge about speech communities across the Union.

ITA1986a1059 Xocayev Ottoman Kazakh Uzbek Grammar

Bekir Çobanzade, for example, wrote a grammar of the Kumyk language. Xalid Sǝid Xocayev’s Comparative Conjugations of the Ottoman-Uzbek-Kazakh Languages (pictured above) is another case in point . These fed into the broader process of understanding and standardizing linguistic structures, which culminated at the 1926 All-Union Turcological Congress. The collection of articles prepared for the Congress, the Bulletin for which is held by the British Library, show the degree to which language issues and linguistic reform dominated the proceedings.

14499tt26 Ileri Lenin Portrait

Portraits of Lenin (above) and Stalin (below) from İleri (Simferopol, 1926-[1927?]) 14499.tt.26

14499tt26 Ileri Stalin Portrait

Along with linguistic reform came change in orthography and writing systems. A quick glance through Turkic-language publications from the first half of the 1920s shows that experimentation with different means of Perso-Arabic spelling was common. Crimean Tatar publications such as İleri  and Yeşil Ada demonstrate just how much writers dabbled in such matters. Despite discussing the standardization of such experiments at length, delegates at the 1926 Baku All-Union Turcological Congress eventually settled on whole-sale Latinization as the most efficient alternative. Thus, the ‘Uniform Alphabet’ was born. This particular Latin-based writing system aimed to give all languages within a particular language family the same grapheme for the same sound. It was based, in part, on earlier Tatar efforts at Latinization known as Yañalif, although it did also incorporated important innovations from other languages. Unlike European alphabets, where the English sound sh as is ship could be written sch (German), ch (French), sci (Italian), sz (Polish) or just plain s (Hungarian), all Soviet Turkic languages would now use ş.

14499tt25 Yesil Ada Cover Page
Cover of Yeşil Ada (Aq Meşçid [Simferopol'],1920.) 14499.tt.25

14499tt25 Yesil Ada Article Milli AqintiArticle from Yeşil Ada (Aq Meşçid [Simferopol'],1920.) 14499.tt.25

The Soviet authories used readers such as Jeni Turmuş and Jaş Kyc, both from Uzbekistan, to promote aggressively the new alphabet.  These formed part of mass education movements aimed at eradicating illiteracy as well as pre-Revolutionary epistemologies.

ITA1986a1112 Jas Kyc Erkin Qbz

Page from Jaş Kyc (Samarqand,1929). ITA.1986.a.1112 

Even those members of the new élite who had actively opposed Bolshevik advances, such as Akhmet Baitursynov,  joined the effort. Baitursynov’s 1927 publication Alip-Ba (Zhanga Kural)  sought to teach students the new Latin orthography. It followed upon his efforts to compile a grammar of Kazakh, entitled Til Qural, in 1925. Together, they provided a complete corpus of texts for the fixing and propagation of Soviet Kazakhstan’s new national language.

ITA1986a1104 Baitursynov Grammar Cover Page

Cover of Til-qural by Akhmed Baitursynov (Qyzylorda, 1925). ITA.1986..a.1104

ITA1986a1138 Baitursynov Reader Cover Page

Cover of Alip-Ba (Zhanga Kural) by Akhmet Baitursynov (Qyzylordam 1927) ITA.1986.a.1138

Orthographic standardization was informed by both a desire to simplify literacy and printing, and the Marxian belief that as humanity marched towards Socialism, languages and national cultures would merge into one. This humanity-wide kulturbund, united in its pursuit of socio-economic well-being, would no longer be divided by the bourgeoisie’s artificial distinctions of nationality, race or language. The Soviet authorities’ wish to help this process along among the Turkic languages is very much evident in an article entitled ‘Turkmen edebi dilining esaası yaghdayları’ (pictured below) from Tyrkmen Medenijeti . K. Bööriyif wrote the piece in 1930, which leads us to believe that it was, at least partially, influenced by the dominant ideology of Stalinism. In it, the author argues for the creation of a standard Turkmen language through the selection of “ideal” linguistic elements from various vernaculars. This is language management at the extreme, precluding the sort of linguistic unification that comes from literary production and socio-political changes, as occurred in Italy and Spain. Such a suggestion only adds to the overwhelming evidence the state’s push to imbue all aspects of Soviet life with Stalinist elements.

Tyrkmen Medenijeti B+Â+Âriyif article

Language reform and management are tools utilized by a wide swathe of governments, not just totalitarian ones. What is unique about the Soviet experience, and the Soviet Turkic experiment in particular, is how all aspects of language came under scrutiny. The brief period of forced convergence in the 1920s and early 1930s came to an abrupt end around the time of the Great Purge, when Stalin employed terrible violence to cleanse the state and the country of perceived ideological enemies. Latin gave way to unique Cyrillic alphabets for each language at this point, and the creation of new linguistic standards lost steam. Today, the peoples of the Turkic republics of Central Asia, the Caucasus and Siberia live with the consequences of this turbulent period, while some – including the Uzbeks, Turkmen and most recently the Kazakhs – have sought to determine what would have happened, had the changes of the late 1930s never been enforced.

Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Curator

Further reading:

Kazakhstan sets out plan for alphabet swap,” Deutsche Welle, Berlin: 12 April 2017. http://www.dw.com/en/kazakhstan-spells-out-plans-for-alphabet-swap/a-38407769

‘Nursultan Nazarbaev. Bolashaqqa baghdar: rukhani zhangghyru’ Egemen Qazaqstan, Almaty: 12 April 2017. https://egemen.kz/article/nursultan-nazarbaev-bolashaqqa-baghdar-rukhani-zhanhghyru

The British Library’s 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.

02 June 2017

The Death of Lenin

Immediately after Lenin's death in 1924. Kazimir Malevich, most famous for his abstract painting ‘Black Square’, compared the revolutionary leader to Jesus Christ. He argued that Lenin’s death was ‘a new event’ whose significance could only be equal to the death of Christ. According to Malevich, it manifested the change from one world outlook by the other and this new outlook was ‘meant to change the image of the material reality’. Malevich suggested that Lenin’s body should be placed ‘in a cube, as if in eternity’ and that such a ‘cube of eternity should be constructed as a sign of its unity with the dead’. An installation based on Malevich’s idea has been constructed for the 57th Venice Biennale this year.

Lenin’s death in 1924 was presented by the Soviet state as a national tragedy. All newspapers and popular magazines came in special issues, as this issue of the illustrated magazine Prozhektor (Projector), that had a special title Smert’ vozhdia (The Death of the Leader).

Prozhektor (1)
Prozhektor (2)
Prozhektor (3)
Images from the commemorative issue of Prozhektor, no 2 (24), 1924. LOU.FMISC639

But Lenin’s death also marked by one of the first remarkable examples of Soviet ‘ceremonial albums’, the genre that would become very much known and valued primarily due to works of Russian constructivist artists. Following Lenin’s death, tributes were sent in from groups and institutions all over Russia to be laid on his coffin. A lavishly-produced book, ironically reminescent of the equally lavish commemorative albums once produced for Imperial coronations, was compiled immediately after Lenin’s funeral to record them. It contains images and descriptions of about 950 wreaths, banners, ribbons and other objects that had been collected, described in details, photographed, documented and put into multiple categories: wreaths and banners from state organisations, party committees, soviets, co-operatives, factories, schools, etc.

Here are some examples of funeral messages and words of remembrance and tribute:

‘Lenin’s grave is a cradle of freedom for mankind’ (from the Central Aero-Hydrodynamic Institute)
‘To our dear Ilyich – the teacher to the world and healer of social illnesses’ (from male and female staff of the Kashchenko mental hospital);
‘To our dear miner, to our dear Ilyich’ (from the Donbass miners);
‘We will fully and with honour fulfil your behest: be on guard!’ (from the Cheka-GPU of the Ukrainian SSR)
‘Lenin– the sun of the future’ (from the Moscow Arts Theatre)

Image 2-47-Lenin's funeral book-10790.pp.9
Above: Wreath from the pupils of  ‘School No. 2’ with a notebook containing the children’s messages to Lenin; Below: Wreath from the Gomel regional committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks). Reproduced in Leninu: 21 ianvaria 1924 goda (Moscow, 1924) 10790.pp.9.

Image 2a 47a-Lenin's Funeral book 10790.pp.9 page 111

Published in 13,000 copies, some of them with hard half-leather covers and some in paperback, the book was meant to immortalise one of the grandest funeral ceremonies in the 20th century. According to Churchill, Lenin ‘alone could have led Russia into the enchanted quagmire; he alone could have found the way back to the causeway. He saw; he turned; he perished’. Reflecting on Lenin’s death Churchill formulated his great role for the people of Russia: ‘Their worst misfortune was his birth: their next worst—his death.’

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s 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

30 May 2017

Prize Papers Online

In January 2014 my colleague Annelies Dogterom wrote a blog post about a series of studies of the Prize Papers, a collection of letters and other documents taken from Dutch ships captured by the British during the many naval wars between the two countries. These documents form part of the High Admiralty Court Papers held at the National Archives in Kew.

Where Annelies’ blog discusses mainly the publications about the collections of letters and personal documents, the High Admiralty Court Papers also include a collection of court documents, in more standardised form.

When a ship was captured by the British the High Admiralty Court decided who the rightful owner of the ship and its cargo was. That is why everything found on board, including all forms of documents were kept until the case had finished. Crew members that had been captured were all interrogated by means of a standardised list of questions. The answers provide a treasure trove of information about ordinary and not so ordinary sailors: their country of origin, their profession, their ship and its cargo, the flag under which it sailed, the port of departure, the port it had tried to reach, the date the person was captured. And because it is in a standard form it is a very convenient research source.

Part of these papers, in particular the interrogations of crew members of Dutch ships, have been digitised by Brill Publishers and are available online from our Reading Rooms.

Prize Papers

Prize Papers Online Part 1 covers the American Revolution and the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1775-1784). The British Library has also acquired Parts 2 and 3, covering The Seven Years War and the War of the Austrian Succession and the First, Second and Third Anglo-Dutch Wars and the War of the Spanish Succession.

In the year that we commemorate 350 years of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, this resource might offer researchers a glimpse into the identities of the people who actually fought in this war.

Marja Kingma,Curator Germanic Collections

26 May 2017

Commemorating Russia’s last coronation

On 26 May 1896 (14 May old style) Nicholas II was crowned ‘Tsar of all the Russias’ in the Cathedral of the Dormition in Moscow. Nicholas had acceded to the throne in November 1894, on the death of his father Alexander III. The long period between his accession and coronation was not unusual in Russia. It allowed time both to mourn the previous Tsar and to prepare the new ruler’s coronation.

By this time in the history of the Romanov dynasty a coronation involved a long and elaborate series of events and festivities. A lavish souvenir album, published by the Russian Ministry of the Imperial Court, both captures and reflects the scale and grandeur of the coronation and accompanying events. It is illustrated with photographs and with drawings in both black-and-white and colour, and the pages of text include decorative borders and attractive vignettes.

Coronation Album titlepage
Decorated title page of Les Solennités du saint couronnement (St Petersburg, 1896) L.R.25.c.20.

The British Library’s copy of the album is one of 350 published in French. It was originally presented to one Colonel Waters who later donated it to the then British Museum Library. Waters attended the coronation as attaché to Arthur, Duke of Connaught, the official representative of the British royal family. His handwritten note records that the Duke and other British dignitaries also received copies.

Coronation Album provenance
Colonel Waters’ handwritten note recording the provenance of the album

Some of the pictures in the album show the solemnities of the actual coronation ceremony: 

Coronation Album arrival
Above: The Tsar and Tsarina arrive at the Cathedral. Below: The Coronation regalia, and images from the service

Coronation Album regalia

Coronation Album Tsar and priest

Coronation Album altar

Coronation Album Crown

Other images show the celebrations that continued over the following days. There are reproductions of menus for formal dinners and programmes for theatrical performances: 

Coronation album menu

Coronation Album Menu 2

Coronation album programme

There is even a page illustrating some of the invitations to these and other events:

Coronation Album cards and tickets

Most of these events, like the coronation service itself, were largely reserved for royalty, aristocracy and visiting dignitaries. But there were also festivities laid on for the wider populace. Contemporary paintings and photographs show crowds gathered to watch the processions to and from the cathedral, and on the night of the coronation people thronged to watch as the Kremlin was illuminated.

Coronation Album Red Porch
Crowds gathered to watch the Tsar and Tsarina appear in the Red Porch of the Kremlin

Coronation Albun illuminations
Illuminations in Moscow

Four days later another crowd assembled for a planned ‘people’s feast’ and celebration on the Khodynka field in Moscow. Gifts of food, drink and souvenirs were to be handed out and the Tsar and Tsarina would appear before the people. But this supposedly joyous event turned into an unprecedented tragedy when rumours began to circulate that the gifts were running out. There was a rush towards the souvenir booths and in the ensuing stampede over 1300 people were trampled or crushed to death and a similar number injured.

Coronation Album Khodynka
The packed crowd at Khodynka field

The royal couple were shocked to hear of the tragedy. They promised compensation and assistance for the bereaved and wounded and later visited some of the casualties in hospital. But the same evening they also attended a lavish ball at the French Embassy. Nicholas had wanted to cancel in the light of what had happened, but his advisors persuaded him not to. The Tsar’s instinct was wiser in this case: his attendance at the ball was seen as a display of callous indifference to the deaths of ordinary subjects. And whatever his personal feelings, he continued with the planned round of dinners, receptions and balls in the following days.

Coronation Abum Ball
The Tsar and Tsarina arriving at a ball

The coronation album shows the world of the Russian Imperial court at its most elegant, celebrating the power and glory of a dynasty. But the very celebrations it records were tainted by a tragedy which, with hindsight, seems like an omen of greater upheavals and disasters to come. This would be the record of the last Imperial coronation in Russia’s history.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Further reading:

Greg King and Janet Ashton, ‘"A Programme for the Reign": Press, Propaganda and Public Opinion at Russia’s Last Coronation’ Electronic British Library Journal, 2012, Article 9

Greg King and Janet Ashton, For the life of the Tsar: Triumph and Tragedy at the Coronation of Nicholas II (East Richmond heights, CA, 2016). YD.2016.b.891.

Mary Hickley, Gold, glitter and gloom: recollections of the Coronation of Czar Nicholas II and later travels in Russia, with a foreword by Brenda Marsault (Devon, 1997)  YC.1998.a.242

Aylmer Maude, The Tsar’s Coronation, as seen by “De Monte Alto,” Resident in Moscow (London, 1896) 9930.b.26.

Coronation Album night scene

The British Library’s 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

22 May 2017

The problem with Berlin Alexanderplatz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

19 May 2017

Dmitrii Moor interrogates: Have *You* Bought Your Ticket?

One of the main founders of Soviet political poster design, Dmitrii Orlov was born in 1883 in Novochekassk to the family of an engineer. In 1898 the family moved to Moscow. Although the young artist did not receive a systematic training, he started publishing caricatures in the satirical magazines that thrived during a short period after the first revolution in Russia in 1905. Early in his career, Orlov adopted the pseudonym D. Moor, alluding to Karl Moor, one of the protagonists in Friedrich Schiller’s romantic play The Robbers

Having started as a caricaturist in satirical magazines, Moor was very much influenced by the German satirical publication Simplicissimus (British Library LOU.F459) and the Norwegian artist and designer Olaf Gulbransson, known for his clear lines and emphasis on linking verbal and non-verbal messages. Moor’s artistic style also incorporated imagery from silent films with their exaggerated emotions, which can be seen on this film poster:

Image 1-Моор_кино_Убийца_афиша
Moor’s poster for the lost black-and-white film Ubiitsa (The Murderer)

It is interesting that he returned to a similar style in the 1930s: the worker on this poster bears a striking resemblance to the criminal from the film poster:

1899_c_12_(22)
‘Workers of the World Unite!’ Poster by Moor from the 193os. British Library 1899.c.12(22).

Today Moor is probably best known for his famous Red Army Recruitment poster of 1920, which appears on the poster for our current exhibition, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, MythsMoor is  also considered one of the main founders of that unique area of Soviet art – political poster design. His other striking  posters, well known to Soviet audiences, include ‘Wrangel is still alive! Finish him off without mercy!’ and ‘Be on Your Guard!’

Image 3-29-Far East-Krasnaia Armiia-Cup.1247.dd.20.
‘Wrangel is still alive! Finish him off without mercy!’ (left), as reproduced in the album Krasnaia Armiia (Moscow, 1938) designed by Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova. Cup.1247.dd.20.

Maps CC.6.a.38
‘Be on Your Guard!’ (1920) Maps CC.6.a.38

Here the right shoulder and raised leg of the Red Army soldier actually become the western state border, and thus the soldier personifies the state. His body is the body of Soviet Russia (his back rests against and fuses into the Urals, depicted as the bony ‘spine’ of the country – in Russian the same word means both ‘spine’ and ‘mountain range’). The vitality and resilience of the state is equated with the strength and will of its citizenry-in-arms.

Moor’s Alphabet for a Red Army Soldier, published in 1921, is a small book of cartoons intended to teach soldiers literacy as such and ‘political literacy’ at the same time: each letter is illustrated by a picture emphasising the special mission and the triumphs of the Soviet forces. The letter ‘G’ is the initial letter of the Russian word goret’ (‘to burn’), and the inscription to this picture reads: ‘The Earth burns with a fire lit by the worker’s hand.’ Trotsky and the other Bolshevik leaders hoped to instil in the Red Army a sense of historic mission, and an understanding that it was not simply a conventional national army but the custodian of world revolution.

Image 5 smaller cup_401_g_25_002v
Dmitrii Moor, Azbuka krasnoarmeitsa (‘Alphabet for a Red Army Soldier’), 1921 (shelfmark Cup.401.g.25)

In the image for the letter ‘IA’ (Я), which also means the pronoun ‘I’ in Russian, the artist emphasised the idea of the new world and the new man who from now on will dominate in space and time for the next century: “The new Man has come! Long live the century of the Commune!”:

Image 6 smaller cup_401_g_25_014v

And there are examples of Moor’s caricature style, where enemies of the Soviet state look miserable and laughable. However, in most of the cases Moor uses the narrative and graphical themes that were very common and reproduced in many variations, such as Lenin sweeping the counter-revolutionary elements out of the country or a collection of ‘typical’ enemies opposing the new way of life.

Image 7-P1050733Images 8 P1050745

In the 1920s Moor worked for the anti-religious satirical newspaper The Godless and its reincarnation as the satirical magazine The Godless at the Workbench. The secularization of society and promotion of atheism was a crucial element of the ‘cultural revolution’ desired by the Bolsheviks, as Orthodox Christianity had been a pillar of support for the Tsarist state. Under Stalin anti-religious propaganda soon became quite aggressive. In 1925 the League of Militant Atheists, a volunteer organisation that promoted anti-religious views, was formed. In this image the peasant is sneezing out his religious beliefs under the supervision of the worker.

Godless P.P.8000.rs
Bezbozhnik u stanka (‘The Godless at the Workbench’; Moscow, 1923) P.P.8000.rs
.

Many art critics compared the aesthetics of Moor’s posters with the aesthetics and compositions of Sergei Eisenstein’s films and this is this is very true, as Moor was always thinking about perception of his works. For example, he wrote that a poster artist should not only be a complete craftsman in graphics, but also analyse the situation in which his art would be seen. He suggested that a poster artist should know the speed with which passers-by walk, the width of the streets in his town, the position of lights in the evening and many other things. It is not surprising then that his piece of agitation art invites you – or commands you – to come to our exhibition.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s 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

 

17 May 2017

Short words strike home

A monosyllable is a long word that means a short one. Some tongues have more of them, some less; some are rich, some poor. English and Catalan (Eng and Cat in the MARC language codes used by library cataloguers) have more than Spanish (Spa).

Some think they’re the soul of Eng: all the words we spell with * are short and stark.

But what a punch the short can deal! To quote:

Basic English, produced by Mr C. K. Ogden of the Orthological Institute, is a simple form of the English language which, with about 1,000 words, is able to give the sense of anything which may be said in English.

The Bible in Basic English:

1 At the first God made the heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was waste and without form; and it was dark on the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God was moving on the face of the waters.
3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4 And God, looking on the light, saw that it was good: and God made a division between the light and the dark,
5 Naming the light, Day, and the dark, Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Now, Cat or Spa? Let’s try some.

Spa             Cat
bueno         bo
cabeza         cap
lejos             lluny
plano           pla
vino             vi

And of course names such as Pep, places such as Vich and El Clot and shops such as Pans.

Ausiàs March (1400-59) loved short words:

Qui no es trist de mos dictats no cur
ó en algun temps que sia trist estat
é lo qui es de mals apassionat
per ferse trist no cerque lloch escur
lija mos dits mostrant pensa torbada
sens algun art exits d’hom fora seny,
é la rahó qu’en tal dolor m’enpeny
Amor ho sab quina es la causa estada.

Monosyllables March C.62.c.5.
Les obres de Mossen Áusias March ab una declaratio en los marges, de alguns vocables scurs. (Barcelona, 1543) C.62.c.5. fol. 1r

His Spanish translator, Jorge de Montemayor (1520-61) lived a short life but did a good job:

No cure de mis versos, ni los lea
quien no fuere muy triste, o lo aya sido;
y quien lo es, para que más lo sea
lugar no pida escuro, ni escondido.
Mis dichos puede oýr, y en ellos vea
cómo sin arte alguna me han salido
del alma, y la razón de mi querella
muy bien la sabe Amor qu’es causa d’ella

Monosyllables March trans 1072.c.18
Las obras del excelentissimo poeta Mossen A. March ... Traduzidas de lengua Lemosina en Castellano por J. de Montemayor. (Saragossa, 1562). 1072.c.18 fol. 1r

Here’s a punt of my own:

If
you’re
not
sad,
don’t
heed
my
verse,
or
if
you
weren’t
sad
once,
and
if
you’re
burnt
with
lover’s
ills
don’t
slink
to
dark
holes
to
make
you
sad,
but
read
my
words
that
show
tormented
thoughts ...

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

15 May 2017

Not Lenin and Trotsky - a Mystery Solved?

Last year we published a blog post asking for information on two photographs by the American photographer Donald C. Thompson, widely published as images of Lenin and Trotsky in the English-speaking world but, with the benefit of hindsight, clearly not pictures of the two revolutionary leaders. We knew for certain who they were not, but struggled to find out who they were and what they were doing.

After some digging, Katya Rogatchevskaia (Lead Curator of East European Collections and of the exhibition, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths) managed to find the photographs reproduced in Russian and French publications. The elusive revolutionaries were found in a Russian ‘album of current events’ for the years 1914 to 1917 Voina i Revolutsiia (‘War and Revolution’).

LeninTrotsky War and Revolution

Donald Thompson’s photographs as published in Voina i Revolutsiia ([Petrograd, 1918?]) British Library X.802/4756.

The top-left photograph identifies the speaker as ‘German agent’ Robert Grimm, leaving the other man unidentified. The bottom photograph identifies the figures as ‘internationalists’, including Christian Rakovsky, Grimm, and Angelica Balabanova. They are shown laying wreaths at the Field of Mars in St. Petersburg (then Petrograd), where victims of the February Revolution were buried on 23 May 1917. This fits perfectly with Thompson’s story about when and where he took the photographs of ‘Lenin and Trotsky’, even if the figures are not right.

Robert Grimm (1881-1958) was a Swiss socialist, and a chief organiser of the anti-war Zimmerwald movement during the First World War. He was allowed into Russia after the fall of the first Provisional Government, led by Lvov, in May 1917, and became active in the anti-war movement. Grimm was embroiled in scandal while trying to gauge the German response to the Soviet desire for peace, which was interpreted as trying to get Russia to pull out of the war unilaterally and seen as a betrayal of the Allied cause – hence, Voina i Revolutsiia describes him as a ‘German agent’. This was by no means the end of his political career, however. Grimm led the Swiss General Strike of November 1918, and in 1946 became President of the Swiss National Council.

LeninTrotsky Grimm

Robert Grimm (Image from Wikimedia Commons).

Angelica Balabanova (1878-1965) was another Zimmerwald activist of mixed Russian, Jewish, and Italian heritage. She joined the Bolsheviks and in 1919 became the secretary of the Communist International (Comintern), but grew critical of the authoritarian Bolshevik style of socialism and returned to Italy.

At first I was uncertain about the identification of Christian Rakovsky (1873-1941), even though he was a known friend and collaborator of Grimm and Balabanova – I had only ever seen pictures of him clean-shaven and looking much younger than the figure in the photograph. However, it would make sense for him to be present alongside his Zimmerwald comrades. Rakovsky was a Bulgarian revolutionary who was also involved in the Zimmerwald movement, who had been freed from imprisonment in May 1917 – explaining, possibly, his haggard appearance in the photographs later in that month.

LeninTrotsky Rakovsky
Christian Rakovsky in military uniform after the Bolshevik revolution (image from Wikimedia Commons.)

Other photographs and images do show him sporting a beard, like this piece of anti-Bolshevik and anti-Semitic propaganda, with leading revolutionaries (including Alexander Kerensky alongside the Bolsheviks as part of a putative Jewish conspiracy against the Russian state) engaged in a ritual murder, evoking the history of the ‘blood libel’ myth

LeninTrotsky International

 White movement propaganda poster showing Rakovsky with a beard, kneeling in the centre beneath Lenin, from Wikimedia Commons.

Rakovsky joined the Bolsheviks at the end of 1917 and took a number of leading roles, including as the leader of a failed Communist revolution in the Kingdom of Rumania and then the first head of government for the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. His fate was less happy than Grimm’s – Rakovsky aligned with Trotsky and developed a critique of Stalinist ‘bureaucratic centralism’ in the Soviet Union. He became a high-profile victim of the Moscow Trials in 1938, confessing to spurious charges of espionage on behalf of the British, German and Japanese imperialists during the show trials, and was executed in 1941.

So, the two pictures of ‘Lenin and Trotsky’ may actually be of three people – Grimm, Rakovsky, and another. One possible, though uncertain, identity of this ‘third man’ comes from the French source. The images also appear in the Histoire des Soviets series (Paris, 1922-3; 1854.g.15.).This album was edited by Jacques Makowsky (1894-1981), a Jewish master-printer to Tsar Nicholas II who fled Russia for France after the Revolution.

With the Nazi invasion of France in 1940 Makowsky was forced to flee once more to America, where his wife and he became famous for cross-breeding the Rock Cornish game hen – ‘a succulent bird with all-white meat, large enough for a single serving’. There is a compilation of this beautifully printed and illustrated series on YouTube here, with one of the photographs in question visible at 0:21.

LeninTrotsky Histoire

 One of the covers of the Histoire des Soviets series (Paris, 1922-3) 1854.g.15.

We get our third name from here: Mikhail Martinov  (1882-1919). Martinov was a Bolshevik revolutionary who had been elected chairman of the particularly left-wing Kronstadt Soviet. Not long after these photographs were taken Martinov was elected to the commission charged with planning the armed demonstration of workers, soldiers and sailors which developed into the violent July Days. Martinov himself met a violent end just two years later, killed in a counter-revolutionary uprising at Krasnaia Gorka during the advance of the White General Yudenich’s army towards Petrograd.

We can’t be certain that the Histoire is correct on this point, as although it correctly says that Grimm was in the photographs, it mistakenly identifies the wrong figure as him. As for Martinov, I know of no other photographs with which to compare, but it is perfectly feasible that he would have been present at this event. Much of the mystery has been solved, but this point still remains to be verified or supported with other evidence.

Mike Carey, CDA Student, British Library and University of Nottingham

Further Reading

Christo Boyadjieff, Racovski: The Vanquished Socialist (Rio de Janeiro, 1984) YA.1991.a.16859

Israel Getzler, Kronstadt 1917-1921: The Fate of a Soviet Democracy (London, 1983) X.529/54596

R. Craig Nation, War on War: Lenin, the Zimmerwald Left, and the Origins of Communist Internationalism (London, 1989) YC.1992.b.4587

The British Library’s 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.