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12 February 2018

1918 and the Eclipse of Populist Marxism

2017 saw a number of important milestones in the history of Russian Marxism, including the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first volume of Das Kapital and the centenary of the Russian Revolution. From 1 May to 5 August 2018, the British Library will be celebrating 200 years since Marx’s birth with an exhibition in the Treasures Gallery.

This year will also see the centenaries of the deaths of five central figures from the generation of ‘Populist’ Russians who began to engage with the ideas of Marx – V.V. Bervi-Flerovsky (b. 1829), Nikolai Danielson (b. 1844), Nikolai Liubavin (b. 1845), German Lopatin (b. 1845) and Vasily Vorontsov (b. 1847). The British Library holds original editions of many of their books, the manuscripts of the extensive correspondence between Danielson and Marx  (Add MS 38075), and the fruits of their work: Russian translations of the three volumes of Das Kapital, completed between 1872 and 1896.

Populism Capital

Above: Title page of volume 1 of Karl Marx, Kapital (St Petersburg, 1872-1896) C.185.b.12. The first translation of volume one of Das Kapital into any foreign language. Below: Inscription on the title-page of the second volume (completed by Danielson in 1885 after Marx’s death): ‘To the British Museum from the literary executors of Karl Marx. London 1.2.86. Presented by F. Engels & Eleanor Marx Aveling’.  

Populism Engels

These Populist ‘fathers’ represent something of a forgotten generation, overshadowed by the more familiar names of the Social Democratic ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’: the Mensheviks Georgi Plekhanov (who also died in 1918), Vera Zasulich, and Yuri Martov; and the Bolsheviks Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin.

Many commentators have depicted a rigid division between Populism and Marxism. Lenin  wrote that Populism was a ‘whole vision of the world whose history begins with Herzen and ends with Danielson’ – a precursor of his own revolutionary ideology, but essentially non-Marxist.

Populism Flerovsky  Danielson  Lopatin  Vorontsov
Top row, left to right: V.V. Bervi-Flerovsky (date unknown) and Nikolai Danielson (1908). Bottom row, left to right: German Lopatin (c.1895) and Vasily Vorontsov (date unknown). Images from Wikimedia Commons

The ‘Populists’ did not see it that way. As well as being involved in the translation of Das Kapital into Russian (in the case of Danielson, Liubavin, and Lopatin), they also sought to grasp what it meant for Russia. In the book, Marx vividly depicted what he called the ‘primitive accumulation of capital’, which shifted resources from pre-capitalist agricultural forms to the developing industrial capitalist sector - with devastating consequences for agricultural communities.

In Marx’s work, this is a historical account of a task already substantially achieved by the bourgeoisie – the subordination of agriculture to industry. For his Russian readers, however, this process lay not in the recent past but in their immediate future. They feared that the famines and social dislocation of industrialisation in the British Empire might be repeated in Russia.

Populism RepinA common experience for Marx’s early advocates in Russia. Ilya Repin’s Arrest of a Propagandist (1880-92). Image from Wikimedia Commons

Must Moscow travel the British road, ‘the expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, from the soil’? In the closing decades of the 19th century, Russian intellectuals drew on Marx to argue for various positions in relation to this question.

Though with differing emphases and political approaches, Bervi-Flerovsky, Danielson, Liubavin, Lopatin, and Vorontsov foresaw a ‘non-capitalist’ industrialisation in Russia, which would avoid the horrors of the ‘primitive accumulation of capital’. By exposing the economic mechanisms driving development in Western Europe, they argued, Marx opened up the possibility of a more self-conscious and planned process. They hoped for a more humane path which would allow the peasant commune to persist in some form, or at least enable the class of peasants to become modern socialist citizens without severe disruption.

Populism Vorontsov 1892

 Vorontsov’s  Krest'ianskaia Obshchina (‘The Peasant Commune’) (Moscow, 1892) 08207.k.30.

Other readers of Marx advanced a more fatalistic interpretation. For Nikolai Ziber (1844-88), known as ‘the first Russian Marxist’, there could be no path to socialism except through a long period of capitalist development exactly as depicted in Das Kapital. There must first be a bourgeois-democratic revolution to enable the unfettered accumulation of capital. A socialist revolution would follow only once more traditional economic forms had been dismantled, and the peasantry forcibly transformed into a wage-earning proletariat. This reading became known as ‘orthodox Marxism’, influencing the Social Democratic movement as well as the Legal Marxist intellectuals like Peter Struve.

By 1917, Lenin had resolved to cut the Gordian Knot by a third solution: to try to spark a world revolution, and contribute to the success of socialism in the developed capitalist countries. Socialist Russia would then be able to modernise in collaboration with the advanced economies of Socialist Europe.

Populism Lopatin 1926

 An early Soviet work about Lopatin. I. I. Popov, German Aleksandrovich Lopatin (Moscow, 1926) 010795.aa.85.

The daring actions of the Leninists in 1917 brought their particular strand of Russian Marxism to the fore, eclipsing all rival interpretations. In 1918 the Bolsheviks celebrated the centenary of Marx’s birth as the rulers of Soviet Russia, staking their claim to be his only faithful followers.

However, the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary ideology itself had emerged out of engagement with these older figures, albeit often in passionate argument with them. As the world socialist revolution failed in the years after 1917, the question of the fate of the peasantry along Russia’s path of industrial development, which had been so central for these early readers of Marx, returned with even greater urgency.

Mike Carey, Curator of East European Collections

References/Further Reading

Ewa Borowska, ‘Marx and Russia’, Studies in East European Thought 54, 1/2 (March, 2002), 87-103. 8490.413600

Henry Eaton, ‘Marx and the Russians’, Journal of the History of Ideas 41, 1 (January-March, 1980), 89-112. 5000.900000

Letters of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to Nikolai Frantsevitch Daniel’son (1868-1895) Add MS 38075.

Derek Offord, ‘The Contribution of V.V. Bervi-Flerovsky to Russian Populism’, The Slavonic and East European Review 66, 2 (April, 1988), 236-51.

Albert Resis, ‘Das Kapital Comes to Russia’, Slavic Review 29, 2 (June, 1970), 219-37. 8309.385000

Andrzej Walicki, The Controversy Over Capitalism: Studies in the Social Philosophy of the Russian Populists (Oxford, 1969) X.529/10228.

09 February 2018

Maria Prymachenko’s fantastic world of flowers and animals

Among the outstanding figures of 20th-century Ukrainian culture Maria Prymachenko (1909-97), the Honoured Artist of Ukraine and winner of the Shevchenko National Prize, occupies one of the highest places. Her name belongs to the line of outstanding artists of naïve art, such as Henri Rousseau, Niko Pirosmanishvili, Ivan Generalic and Nykyfor Drovniak

Maria Prymachenko devoted nearly 60 years to her beloved occupation, painting. Her works are spread among Ukrainian museums and private collections. The largest part of her legacy, nearly 650 works, dating from 1936 to 1987, is kept in the collection of the National Museum of Ukrainian Folk Applied Art in Kyiv.

PrymachenkoPhoto
Maria Prymachenko in 1936. Reproduced in Mariia Pryimachenko. Al'bom (Kyiv, 1994) YA.1997.a.1106.
  

Maria Prymachenko was born in the Kyiv region into a peasant family. In her childhood she suffered from polio, which left her an invalid for the rest of her life. But this severe illness did not break her spirit. Having learned embroidery from her mother during childhood, in the late 1920s and early 1930s the future artist started to work in the Ivankiv Co-operative Embroidery Association, where she brought her own interpretation to traditional ornaments as well as creating her own artistic designs. The Kyivan artist Tetiana Floru saw Maria’s embroideries in the Ivankiv market, and in 1935 invited the talented girl to work in the Central Experimental Workshop of the Kyiv Museum of Ukrainian Art. Here folk artists from the whole of Ukraine were assembled together for the preparation of the First Republican Folk Art Exhibition, which took place in Kyiv in 1936 (photo of Maria Prymachenko from 1936 above), and was later shown in Moscow and Leningrad. In 1937 some of Prymachenko’s drawings were presented in the International Exhibition in Paris.

PrymachenkoBirdOfPrayХижачка 1936Bird of Prey (1936).  Reproduced in  Mariia Pryimachenko. Al'bom 

From the start Maria Prymachenko showed herself to be an artist with a unique world view. In the creation of artistic images in her drawings from the 1930s a decisive role was played by line and by the principles of traditional Ukrainian ornaments, presenting flowers, plants and animals in two-dimensional forms.

PrymachenkoBlackBeastЧорний звір                                    Beast (1936) Reproduced in:  Mariia Pryimachenko. Al’bom.

This period of Maria Prymachenko’s life was brightened by two important events: after several successful operations in Kyiv, she could stand on both legs – and in Kyiv she met her beloved fellow countryman, the Red Army lieutenant Vasyl' Marynchuk. After productive activity in the Workshop, she came home to her native village, Bolotnya. In March 1941 she gave birth to her son Fedir. A few months later Ukraine was occupied by the Nazis. The artist experienced all the horrors of war: her brother Ivan was shot by the Germans, and later her husband also perished. The hard war years were exchanged for post-war poverty, constant work on a collective farm, and bringing up her son. She had neither the time nor the strength for painting. But her intensive artistic energy constantly sought realisation. At the beginning Maria embroidered a lot, and later took up painting again,predominantly small compositions with animals, birds and landscapes on leaves from school sketchbooks.

With time the format of her paintings increased. The white backgrounds of the 1930s works gave place to coloured ones in the 1960s-1980s. At the same time her technique changed: from the transparent watercolours with clear graphic contours of her early works to thick intensive gouache, which gave birth to wonderful full-toned depths of colour. But the world of her images remained unchanged, as well as the virtuosity of line and colour.

PrymachenkoBearsВедмедіувазі 1965Bears in Beegarden (1965).  Reproduced in  Mariia Pryimachenko. Al’bom

Flowers had a special place in her artistic heritage. Bright, decorative, unusual in shape and colour, they rose to the rank of the miraculous, and joined the aesthetic-philosophical interpretation of relations between human beings and the universe.

PrymachenkoPoppies Домашні маки  1965 (2)

 Poppies (1964) Reproduced in Mariia Pryimachenko. Al’bom

Images of birds, which for centuries have personified goodness, love, peace, and represent intermediaries between heaven and earth, occupy a significant place in her numerous compositions.

PrymachenkoFairyBird

 Bird (1962) Reproduced in: Mariia Pryimachenko. Al’bom

Decorative pictures with images of animals and fantastic creatures are a quintessential part of Prymachenko’s art. She impresses us by her talent for the creation of new unique images. Many critics noticed her specific 'philosophy of the good’, which she embodies in images of ‘kind’ beasts and birds (lions, hares, bulls, horses, storks, swallows etc.). In the 1970s an important innovation appeared – on the backs of her drawings she wrote captions, a kind of explanatory proverbs, organically linked to the images.

PrymachenkoCoverOstrovsky Cover of Grigoriii Ostrovskii, Dobryi lev Marii Primachenko (Moscow, 1990). YA.1993.a.25439

Many articles and albums with reproductions of her works were published, exhibitions held, films were made, coins and postage stamps issued in the independent Ukraine. The magic world of Maria Prymachenko continues to capture the imagination.

PrymachenkoPostalStamp PryjmachenkoPostalStamp2

 Two postage stamps with fantastic beasts by Maria Prymachenko (From Wikimedia Commons

Olena Shestakova, Head of Department, National Museum of Ukrainian Folk Applied Art

Further reading:

Oleksandr Naiden, Mariia Pryimachenko, Ornament prostoru i prostir ornamentu (Kyiv, 2011) YF.2012.a.9431

Oleksandr Naiden, Mariia Pryimachenko 100 (Kyiv, 2009). On order

Derzhavnyi muzei ukrains’koho narodnoho dekoratyvnoho prykladnohio mystestva URSR. Al’bom (Kyiv, 1983) L45/3278

Platon Biletsky, Soviet Ukrainian art. (Kyiv, 1979). X.421/20427

Natalia Brodskaia, Naïve Art. (New York, 2000). LB.31.c.12796.

07 February 2018

Exporting the Animals’ Revolt: Kostamorov - Reymont - Orwell

People say that there are only 3? (7? 11?) basic plots in the whole of world literature. Goethe claimed it was 36, but apparently he nicked the idea from a guy named Gozzi. I suspect the exact number will be argued as long as people tell stories but they can spin yarns of such striking likeness it makes one wonder how these plots travel, cropping up in different times and places, in seemingly disparate worlds.

Orwell’s Animal Farm is a good case in point. As discussed in two previous blog posts, for close on 60 years it was the prime example of a political allegory using the ancient form of animal fable to comment on 20th century politics, but the rediscovery of two earlier stories of animal revolutions, Władysław Reymont’s Bunt, and Nikolai Kostomarov’s Skotskoi Bunt  in recent years has raised the question of whether the three stories share the same genetic lineage. If they do, the next question is: how did the original idea travel from Russia to Poland to Britain?

The first possible route that immediately comes to mind is via Sonia Brownell, “the girl from the Fiction Department”, Julia from 1984, and Orwell’s future wife. They met in the early 1940s at Horizon magazine where Sonia was working as a secretary to Cyril Connolly, but already had solid editorial experience as assistant to Eugene Vinaver, a Russian post-revolutionary émigré and another specialist in fairy tales, though in his case they were Malory’s Arthurian tales.

Eugene was the son of Maxim Vinaver who was born, raised and educated in Warsaw before making a career as a lawyer in St Petersburg. He played an active role in the Russian Revolution but escaped to France before it could swallow him up. While settled in St Petersburg, the Vinaver family would almost certainly have subscribed to the legendary magazine Niva, which published Kostomarov’s story in 1917, as no respectable bourgeois family could function in society without it.

Maxim Vinaver RB.31.c.577
Maxim Vinaver as a member of the first Russian Parliament in 1905, from Pamiatnaia knizhka pervoĭ Gosudarstvennoĭ dumy (St Petersburg, 1906). RB.31.c.577

It’s practically certain too that Maxim Vinaver knew Reymont’s work; after all they went to school in Warsaw at the same time, a fact which wouldn’t have been lost on Maxim when Reymont won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. As a sociologist and a lawyer fighting for Jewish rights, he must have been familiar with Reymont’s rural and industrial novels of the Russian Empire, Chłopi (‘The Peasants’; Warsaw, 1904; 12591.b.52.) and Ziemia Obiecana (‘The Promised Land’; Warsaw, 1899; 12591.cc.39) and also with his journalism dealing with the rights of Polish minorities subjected to heavy Russification in the Lublin Governorate after 1912. Maxim might have even read Bunt, and would have shared both its anti-revolutionary sentiment and its interest in folklore – he was a founding member of the Russian Jewish Ethnographical Society and apparently infected his son with his interests badly enough for the young Eugene to study mediaeval literature and eventually to become an academic specialist in fables.

Clearly both Vinavers had good first-hand knowledge of both the mechanics of revolution and the art of fairy tales. Just as Orwell had towards the end of his spell at the BBC when he was working on radio adaptations of fairy tales. At that time he had already met Sonia Brownell. Could it be it was then she passed Vinaver’s infection (in-fiction?) on to Orwell?

Another possible route from 1920s Poland to 1940s Britain for the story of animal revolt as a parable of Russian Revolution could be via Teresa Jeleńska, Animal Farm’s Polish translator (in fact the first translator of Animal Farm into any language). Jeleńska was an aristocratic socialite in pre-war Poland, moving in European literary and political circles, who found herself as a refugee in London in 1941. Working as a journalist she met Orwell and the two became friends.

TeresaJelenska2
Photo of Teresa Jeleńska (Rome, 1924) from:  Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, Teresa Jeleńska, Konstanty A. Jeleński, Korespondencja (Warsaw, 2008). YF.2011.a.6916 

Jeleńska’s son, Konstanty, or Kot, later an influential essayist and translator of Witold Gombrowicz, after the war ran the Eastern European division of Congress for Cultural Freedom (its Manifesto was drafted by Arthur Koestler, a close friend of Orwell). In a letter to Jonathan Brent of 7 August 1985,  explaining the biographical introduction to his first collection of essays Zbiegi okoliczności (‘Coincidences’; Paris, 1982; X.950/16831), Konstanty recalled, “During my war years in England I discovered the Horizon and Partisan Review and met some English writers like Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman, Cyril Connolly, Raymond Mortimer and George Orwell (a friend of my mother…)”. It must have been at the same time that he met and befriended Sonia Brownell, though their shared interest then was probably more in painting than literature.

KonstantyJelenski

Title-page and frontispiece of Konstanty A. Jeleński. Chwile  oderwane (Gdańsk, 2008). YF.2009.a.16241

Jeleńska’s name doesn’t register in any biography of Orwell as one of his friends but only as a translator. Yet their paths apparently crossed quite frequently (probably after Jeleńska and Kot moved to Scotland in 1942), and their friendship, or at least their working relationship, was close enough for Orwell to trust her with the typescript of Animal Farm before publication. They may have been also Orwell’s Polish liaison behind his piece in Tribune (Sept. 1944) on the Warsaw Rising, in which he denounced the West for not helping the insurgents and Stalin for holding up the offensive and waiting for the Uprising to bleed to death. They corresponded regularly until Orwell’s death in 1950.

It’s unlikely that the Jeleńskis would not have known of Reymont’s story but whether they talked about it with Orwell remains unknown, as does whether Sonia Brownell regaled Orwell with stories heard from Eugene Vinaver about his years in St Petersburg or his father’s knowledge of a fellow Varsovian’s work on revolution. The readily available literature is mute on the subject, perhaps the secrets are still buried in the archives? These are mostly uncharted waters but perhaps one day someone out there will map them out. Sails up.

 Wiesiek Powaga, Polish translator

05 February 2018

10,315 x 2: the days of and after the Berlin Wall

5 February 2018 marks a curious anniversary: the date on which the Berlin Wall has been down for as long it stood. There were 10,315 days between 13 August 1961, when the first breezeblock-and-barbed-wire barriers appeared, and 9 November 1989 when crossing-points were opened and hundreds of East Berliners headed into the west of the city. Of course, the wall did not completely disappear until some months later, but after 9 November it would never again divide the city as it had for 28 years.

Bornholmer Strasse memorial plaque
Commemorative plaque at Bornholmer Strasse in Berlin, where the wall was first opened on 9 November 1989 (photograph by Susan Reed)

The British Library’s collections reflect the history of the Wall from its first appearance to its fall and its legacy, in academic studies, fiction and popular non-fiction, pictorial works, and more. We have a copy of one of the earliest collections of documentary photographs, Wolfdietrich Schurre’s Die Mauer des 13. August (Berlin, 1962; YA.1991.b.7307). This already shows the human cost of the Wall: families attempting to communicate across ever-rising barriers, and people climbing or leaping from houses on the eastern side to reach the west.

  Mauer Neues Deutschland
Headline from the official East German newspaper Neues Deutschland, 14 August 1961, (MFM.MF538H) describing the erection of the initial barriers the previous day as ‘measures for the protecion of peace and the security of the German Democratic Republic’

The Wall’s early years are also captured in the 2011 exhibition catalogue, Aus anderer Sicht, which contains official photographs taken for the East German authorities. Some are accompanied by short excerpts from the logbooks of East German border guards, ranging from the almost comical (such as a drunken westerner yelling ‘Happy Christmas’ from a viewing platform) to the grim and tragic: the deaths of would-be escapees.

Mauer aus anderer Sicht
Cover of  Annett Gröschner/Arwed Messmer (eds.) Aus anderer Sicht: die frühe Berliner Mauer = The other view : the early Berlin Wall (Ostfildern, 2011) YD.2012.b.142

The death toll at the Wall was notorious. A 1962 West German government report on the ‘violations of human rights, illegal acts and incidents’ in Berlin since the building of the wall already contains a long list of ‘homicidal crimes’ and other ‘deaths caused by the sealing-off measures’. A recent biographical handbook, The Victims at the Berlin Wall (Berlin, 2011; YC.2012.a.10023) links 136 deaths directly to the Wall – those killed or fatally wounded at or near the actual structure. But the editors point out that other deaths can also be connected more indirectly to the Wall, including many people who suffered fatal heart attacks during interrogation at checkpoints.

Mauer Greater Berlin Map
Map of Berlin showing the year-old wall and the places where related deaths had occurred since 13 August 1961, from Violations of human rights, illegal acts and incidents at the Sector border in Berlin since the building of the wall ... (Bonn, 1962) SF.583/444

To set against the terrible stories of the Wall’s dead, western writers were also keen to present a more optimistic narrative of successful escapes from East Berlin. Again, this began early: in their 1962 book The Berlin Wall, which otherwise emphasises the horrors of the situation, Deane and David Heller include stories and pictures of people who had managed to flee to the west.

Mauer tunnels
A successful and an unsuccessful attempt to escape from East Berlin by tunelling, from  Deane and David Heller, The Berlin Wall (London, 1962)

In the east, escape stories were officially spun very differently (if they were mentioned at all), as betrayals of the state. But they also circulated underground in their western guise as tales of hope, as illustrated by a Polish samizdat edition of a collection of true escape stories originally published in the UK.

Mauer Escape from Berlin samizdat Sol.202s
Anthony Kemp, Uciec z Berlina (Warsaw, 1988) Sol.202s. A samizdat edition of Escape from Berlin (London, 1987) YC.1987.b.5544

As well as dramatic true stories, there was plenty of fiction set around the Wall. German writers on both sides looked at the personal and social implications of a divided city in works such as Christa Wolf’s Der geteilte Himmel (Berlin, 1964; X.908/7267) or Peter Schneider’s Der Mauerspringer (Darmstadt, 1982; X.950/22618). In the English-speaking world, the Wall was more often a backdrop for tales of international espionage and Cold War tensions, as in the works of John le Carré and Len Deighton.

On its western side the Wall became a canvas for numerous graffiti artists, and as graffiti became more recognised as an art form, photographic books about ‘wall art’ began to appear, as well as books of art inspired by the Wall such as Maler interpretieren die Mauer (Berlin, 1985; YA.1994.b.1134) based on the collections of the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie Museum, or Peter Klasen’s Le mur de Berlin (Angers, 1988; LB.37.a.30).

Mauer Graffiti
Graffiti on the western side of the Wall, 1986. (Picture by Nancy Wong from Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0])

The fall of the Wall and the rapid political and social changes that followed led to a wave of celebratory publications, most of them richly illustrated. Perhaps the most fascinating, though far from the most lavish, in our collections is an A4 pamphlet of short pieces by pupils from a West Berlin school, describing their memories of 9-12 November 1989 and illustrated with photographs taken around Berlin later in the month. Although the individual texts and pictures are unattributed, the children’s signed forenames are reproduced on the back cover.

Mauer 89 front coverFront and back covers of Mauer 89 (Berlin, 1989) YA.1992.b.888

Mauer 89 back cover

The initial desire of Berliners after 1989 was to destroy the Wall completely. Few traces remain today, and in many places the landscape has changed so much that it is impossible to tell where the border once lay. More recently attitudes have changed and attempts have been made to preserve surviving traces and to create memorials to the Wall, its victims and the suffering it caused. Meanwhile, small fragments of the Wall (of increasingly dubious authenticity 28 years on) are still sold to tourists in Berlin, and large sections are preserved all over the world. The book Where in the World is the Berlin Wall? (Berlin, 2014; YD.2015.a.252) lists their locations.

Our fascination with the Berlin Wall has long outlasted the structure itself. Books of all kinds continue to appear about it, and every anniversary of its rise or fall creates new interest and brings new publications. Our collections will no doubt continue to grow accordingly.

 Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

To discover more about our collections relating to the Berlin Wall, see our online catalogue.

02 February 2018

Arians in the age of the Polish Reformation

In the 16th century the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual country and was renowned for its religious tolerance. It provided safety for religious refugees fleeing from prosecution in their own countries. Although Poland was predominantly a Roman Catholic country it quickly absorbed the new religious ideas and a Protestant movement was steadily growing. German citizens were followers of Lutheranism while native Poles adopted Calvinism.

Calvinism resonated well with the Polish nobility because of the egalitarian structure of the Calvinist Church. Furthermore, Jan Łaski, the leading Polish reformer, significantly contributed to the spread of Calvinism in Poland, which reached its zenith in the middle of the 16th century. However, 1562 marked the division of the Calvinist Church with the formation of the most radical group called Polish Brethren, also known as Christians, Arians, Antitrinitarians or Socinians. As a result of the split the Minor Reformed Church was created attracting the most outstanding theologians. 

Arians Portrait Socinus
Faustus Socinus, reproduced in David Munroe Cory, Faustus Socinus (Boston, 1932) 4868.f.14 

Among them was Faustus Socinus, an Italian refugee who arrived in Poland in 1579. He united the group ideologically but never formally belonged to the Church for his objection to water baptism. However, under his influence the Arians rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, infant baptism, the divinity of Christ and the doctrine of original sin.

Arians Vita Socinus
Title page of Samuel Przypkowski’s biography of Socinus, Vita Favsti Socini Senensis (Raków, 1636) 4887.aa.60 

The Warsaw Confederation of 1573 granted religious freedom to Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists and Bohemian Brethren, but not to the Arians. In addition, the latter were strongly opposed by both Catholic and Calvinist clergy. In Cracow the Arians were prone to attacks by Catholic mobs at the instigation of the clergy. Taking advantage of the tolerance promoted by the Polish kings the Arians left the unfriendly city and moved to the provincial town of  Raków, some 100 km away from Cracow.  The town became a religious and intellectual centre of the dissidents. The famous Racovian Academy, established in 1602, provided excellent education not only for fellow believers but also for Catholics and Protestants. Religion along with other subjects such as foreign languages, history, law, economics, mathematics, medicine and gymnastics were on the curriculum.

Arians Catechesis
Title page of Catechesis ecclesiarum (Raków, 1609) 3506.a.2 Known as the Racovian catechism, it includes the Socinian doctrine and is dedicated to King James I.

Arian publishing became to flourish when two printing presses transferred from Cracow to Raków. Numerous works in Latin, Polish and German were issued in the presses of Aleksy Rodecki and his son-in-law Sebastian Sternacki. The publications included Arian religious books and lay literature as well as some Calvinist prints. Soon Raków was well known in Western Europe as a printing centre and books with the Latinised form of imprint ‘Racoviae’ were in high demand. Arian religious literature was mainly of polemical character and consisted of theological tracts, catechisms and disputes with their antagonists. The most prolific authors, in addition to Socinus, were Hieronim Moskorzewski, Johannes Crellius, and Valentin Schmalz.

Arians De Vera Religione
Title page of Joannes Volkelius, De vera religione (Raków, 1630) 4225.cc.31 A full account of the Arian doctrine, and the most important Arianwork alongside the catechism 

A period of prosperity for the Polish Brethren ended in 1638 with the closure of the Academy and the confiscation of the printing press. Subsequently, the Arians were expelled from Poland by order of the Sejm (Polish Parliament) in 1658. They moved to the Netherlands and established their publishing centre in Amsterdam with the prominent series Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum, the collection of works of the Polish Brethren. Although small in numbers the Arians made a significant impact on political thought in Poland as well as philosophical thought in Western Europe.

Over 240 works are recorded with the Racoviae/Raków imprint of which the British Library holds 72 titles.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

References/Further reading:

Faustus Socinus and his heritage, edited by Lech Szczucki (Krakow, 2005) YF.2007.a.15720

Alodia Kawecka-Gryczowa, Ariańskie oficyny wydawnicze Rodeckiego i Sternackiego (Wrocław, 1974) X.100/12928

Stanisław Kot, Socinianism in Poland: the social and political ideas of the Polish Antitrinitarians in the sixteenth and seventeen centuries (Boston, 1957) 4696.de.23

 Thomas Rees, The Racovian Cathechism (London, 1818) 3554.a18

31 January 2018

Tolkien’s ‘Secret Vice’

J.R.R. Tolkien had a ‘secret vice’, which ceased to be secret from the moment he let the cat out of the bag in an essay of the same title, which has been reprinted many times.

Tolkien’s vice was inventing languages. He was introduced to this pleasure at an early age by his cousins Mary and Marjorie Incledon, who taught him the language Animalic which they had created themselves. He quotes a fragment of it in his 1936 essay ‘The Monsters and the Critics’: “Dog nightingale woodpecker forty = You are an ass”.

When the elder of the two girls lost interest, Tolkien, who was already learning Latin and French at school, collaborated with her younger sister to create a second and more sophisticated language called Nevbosh or ‘New Nonsense’. “I was a member of the Nevbosh-speaking world,” Tolkien proudly recalls. He even quotes part of a poem in the language, which begins with the lines: Dar fys ma vel gom co palt ‘hoc / Pys go iskili far maino woc? (There was an old man who said ‘how / can I possibly carry my cow?’)

During this time Tolkien also learnt Esperanto. Esperanto was still a new language, only five years older than Tolkien himself. (The first book of Esperanto  was published in 1887, while Tolkien was born in 1892.) When he was 17 years old he used Esperanto in a manuscript with the title The Book of the Foxrook, consisting of 16 pages in a a secret code using rune-like phonetic symbols and ideograms. The name of the code was Privata Kodo Skaŭta – ‘Private Scout Code’ (The correct word for ‘scout’ in modern Esperanto is skolta.)

A teenager with a passion for learning and creating languages could hardly fail to discover Esperanto, although the criteria which Tolkien followed for his own constructed languages were quite different from those which inspired Esperanto’s creator Zamenhof. The grammar of Esperanto aims to be as simple as possible, in contrast to the complex grammars of Tolkien’s languages. Tolkien was aiming to create word forms which would be aesthetically pleasing, and harmonize with their meanings. In accordance with these principles he invented at least 15 languages in the course of his lifetime. He also gave them different dialects and background histories showing how they had evolved over time,  and imagined the peoples who spoke them His grammars were very elaborate, making use of his linguistic knowledge of Finnish, Welsh, Ancient Greek and other languages. It might be difficult to learn to speak his languages fluently – but ease of learning was never his primary object in creating them.

Tolkien montage
A selection of books about Tolkien’s invented languages from the British Library’s collections

In the first period up to 1930 he worked on Primitive Quendian, from which the entire family of Elvish languages evolved. He followed this up with Common Eldarin, Quenya and Goldorin, which later became Noldorin. To these languages he later added Telerin, Ilkorin, Doriathrin and Avarin.

In the final stage, Noldorin evolved into Sindarin, which along with Quenya is one of his best known languages. Sindarin makes use of the same phonological system as Welsh, which was one of Tolkien’s favourite languages. The grammar is also inspired by Welsh, and the result is notably complex. For example some nouns form the plural with an ending (usually -in), e.g. Drû, pl. Drúin, ‘wild men’. Others do so through vowel change, e.g. golodh and gelydh, ‘lore master, sage.. Still others use some combination of the two, and a few do not change in the plural: Belair, ‘Beleriandic-Elf/Elves’ is singular and plural.

Tolkien Quenya
An example of Tolkien’s Quenya script and language (Image by TigerTjäder from Wikimedia Commons)

Compare this with Esperanto, which has only one plural ending for nouns, with no exceptions. Of course, the aim of Esperanto is that it should be easy to learn for speakers of all languages.

In spite of this, Tolkien recognized the poetic qualities of Esperanto, stating in ‘A Secret Vice’: “Also I particularly like Esperanto, not least because it is the creation ultimately of one man, not a philologist, and is therefore something like a ‘human language bereft of the inconveniences due to too many successive cooks[...];” .

At the phonological level, too, Tolkien’s languages stand in complete contrast to the simplicity of Esperanto. Sindarin is based on Welsh, but with elements of Old English and Old Icelandic, resulting in a rich abundance of vowels and consonants. Esperanto’s phonological system on the other hand is closer to that of Modern Hebrew, which consists of a simplified version of the phonology of European languages.

Tolkien’s connection with the British Esperanto movement continued in later years. In 1930 the World Esperanto Congress was held in Oxford, and the following year Tolkien was appointed to the Board of Honorary Advisers of the British Esperanto Association’s Education Committee.

TolkienBritishEsperantist1932

Letter from Tolkien to the Secretary of the Committee of the British Esperanto Association, printed in The British Esperantist,  2 May 1932.  PP.4939.ka.

In his letter of acceptance, Tolkien wrote that Esperanto was “in the position of an orthodox church facing not only unbelievers but schismatics and heretics.” The letter concludes with the well-known sentence: “My advice to all who have the time or inclination to concern themselves with the international language movement would be: ‘Back Esperanto loyally.’”

In 1933 he was one of the patrons of the British Esperanto Congress in Oxford, and signed a declaration about the educational value of Esperanto in schools.

TolkienLaMastroJ.R.R.Tolkien, La mastro de l'Ringoj (Kaliningrado, 2007). YF.2008.a.11686 

Two of Tolkien’s most popular works have been translated into Esperanto. The Lord of the Rings was translated by the major Esperanto writer and poet William Auld (1924-2006) as La mastro de l’ ringoj (first published 1995-1997). The Hobbit was first published in Esperanto in 2000 as La hobito: aŭ tien kaj reen, translated by Christopher Gledhill and William Auld.

TolkienLaHobito La Hobito: aŭ tien kaj reen (Ekaterinburg,2000). YF.2008.a.10159

Tolkien’s writings show that for him one of the most important qualities of invented languages was beauty of form. Sindarin achieves that ideal, possessing both educational and aesthetic value. Remembering his support for Esperanto, Esperanto speakers owe it to him to declare, “Ĝuu Sindarin plene” - Enjoy Sindarin to the full.

Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics, La Sapienza University Rome, and former President of the World Esperanto Association.

References/Further reading

A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins (London, 2016) YC.2017.a.9899.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Monsters and the Critics, and other essays, edited by Christopher Tolkien (London, 1983) X.950/22397.

29 January 2018

PhD placement opportunity at the British Library: First World War French Posters

PhD students are invited to apply for a placement which focuses on the British Library’s collection of French First World War posters. Working with the European and Americas collections curatorial team, this three-month placement offers an exciting opportunity to research, catalogue and promote the collection to the widest possible audience in the context of the anniversary of the First World War.

1

 H. Delaspre, L’infanterie française dans la bataille. Tab. 11748.a. Box 3, poster 238.

The collection, which spans the period 1914-1918, consists mostly of propaganda posters and includes advertisements for war loans, calls for donations to charitable causes, and official proclamations. One third of the posters are illustrated and the rest are text based.

2 Lucien Jonas, Debout: nos morts pour la patrie... Voici la France! 1914. Tab. 11748.a. Box 6 poster 314.

The project will enhance the discoverability and public awareness of this collection (there are some 350 posters, but only one generic catalogue record which hides the wealth and appeal of the collection). The posters constitute invaluable primary material for research. They promote national identity, aim to sustain the morale of the home front, and demonstrate solidarity between the French army and the Allies.

3

Andrée Médard, Fumeurs de l’arrière économisez le tabac pour que nos soldats n’en manquent pas. Tab. 11748.a. Box 6 poster 247.

During their placement at the British Library, the PhD student will produce descriptive records for the posters, researching and recording their key features (issuing organisation, artist, date, location, and context). These records will be made visible in the Library’s online catalogue.

The student will also promote the posters and their research findings by contributing posts about the collection to the  European Studies blog  and twitter account. They will also have the opportunity to write an article on the collection for publication and to contribute to Library events.

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 Daniel Ridgway Knight. 3e Emprunt de la Défense Nationale. Le bas de laine français. 1917. Tab. 11748.a. Box 3 poster 269.

The placement is open to PhD students from all disciplines and academic backgrounds; however, good knowledge of written French is essential, and knowledge of early 20th century European history and/or visual arts would be an advantage.

The closing date for applications is 4pm on 19 February 2018. You can view the full project description here. and details of how to apply here.

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Victor Prouvé. Hygiène de Guerre. 1918. Tab. 11748.a. Box 2 poster 302.

The research placements offered through this scheme are opportunities for current PhD students to apply and enhance research skills and expertise outside of Higher Education as part of their wider research training and professional development. They are training and development opportunities to be undertaken within this specific context and are therefore different to the paid internships or other fixed-term posts that the Library may occasionally make available.

Please note that – unlike for an internship or a fixed-term post – the British Library is unable to provide stipends or payment to PhD placement students. It is therefore essential that applicants to the placement scheme obtain the support of their PhD supervisor and Graduate Tutor (or someone in an equivalent senior academic management role) in advance and that, as part of their process, they consult their HEI to ascertain what funding is available to support them.

After the interview stage, students who have been offered a placement and are not able to cover the costs through funding from their university or other sources may apply to the Library’s PhD Placement Travel Fund to request help to cover day-to-day commuting expenses or one-off relocation travel costs only. Please note that this Fund is limited and the success of an application to it cannot be guaranteed.

To support self-funded and part-time students, the placements can be done on a part-time basis, and some remote working is possible.

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Lucien Jonas. Emprunt de la libération. Souscrivez. 1918. Tab. 11748.a. Box 6 poster 279.

 Teresa Vernon, Lead Curator Romance Collections / Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator Romance Collections

26 January 2018

Another Revolt of the Animals: Nikolai Kostomarov’s ‘Skotskoi Bunt’

As discussed in a previous blog post Władysław Reymont’s Bunt (‘The Revolt’) – a story of farm animals revolting against their master, first published in 1922 and re-discovered in Poland in 2004 – raised the question of whether and how this obscure story by a long-forgotten Polish writer could have inspired Orwell’s more famous treatment of the same theme in Animal Farm.  The recent rediscovery of  an even earlier story of an animals’ revolt on a farm in 19th-century Ukraine told as  political satire makes the question of how such strikingly similar plots travel, cropping up in such seemingly disparate worlds, even more fascinating.

Kostomarov portraitPortrait of Nikolai Kostomarov from Thomas M.Prymak,  Mykola Kostomarov: A Biography (Toronto, 1996). YC.1999.b.6922

Written in 1880 by Nikolai Kostomarov, the great Russian and Ukrainian historian, writer and ethnographer, the manuscript of Skotskoi Bunt (‘The Farm Animals’ Revolt’)  lay dormant long after the author’s death in 1885. It was finally published in 1917  in one of the most popular magazines of the time, Niva. The fact it was published just before October Revolution may explain why the story never gained much readership at the time. But it doesn’t mean it was not read by Niva’s devoted audience – even as some of them fled the Revolution, such as the Vinavers, Zinovieffs and Nabokovs, who would later be influential in the London literary and cultural scene.

KostomarovNIVAIssue4-371917

Cover of  issue 34-37 of Niva, September 1917, where Skotskoi bunt was first published. Available in our Reading Rooms via Electronic Resources

There are various ways in which the story might have travelled from revolutionary Petrograd via post-revolutionary Poland to post-Second World War Britain, each worth a story in its own right. But the interesting thing would be to compare these tales to see how much they have in common.

The basic plot and the main dramatis personae remain the same in all of them, though each story takes its own, different narrative route. Kostomarov’s rebellious animals rise against the landlord but never in fact gain control of the farm. The person in control turns out to be a trusty old farmhand, Omelko, who possesses the gift of understanding animals’ talk. While the master panics, running around with a rifle, Omelko jumps onto the wall and quickly outwits the leaders of the insurrection – the powerful bull and the beautiful stallion – by giving in to their fervent demands and granting them and their folk freedom. But soon some of the rebels are forced, shouted or talked into submission, with many confused beasts gratefully returning to the fold. When winter comes and the liberated “horns and hooves” run out of food, which for the most part they had destroyed themselves, the leaders are punished: the bull felled and sent to the slaughterhouse, and the horse neutered. Omelko is instructed to take every precaution to prevent the uprising ever happening again, and the world returns into the old rut.

In Reymont’s story there is also a character who understands animals’ talk, called Mute, but he is on their side. He too feels mistreated by his fellow men and joins the animals in their mass escape from man’s bondage. Later he and his friends fall out and go their separate ways. Mute dies alone in the wilderness, but the animals continue their exodus east, towards the promised land.

Orwell’s story has the line between man and beast clearly drawn, the two facing each other on opposing sides, as in Kostomarov’s, though never on  an equal footing as they are with Mute in Reymont’s story; that line later blurs as some of Orwell’s animals become all too human.

Although the stories have the same triumvirate (triumbrutat?) of leaders, the original stirrers among them are different. In Kostomarov’s it is the bull, so wilful and strong it has to be kept in fetters at all times and beaten into submission if need be; in Reymont’s it’s a dog named Rex, not so long ago the master’s favourite but through some unintended mischief fallen out of favour; in Orwell’s it’s Old Major, the wise boar, the philosopher of change. Their characters and motivations differ too – from the injured pride of a bull aware of his power, through the vengeful hurt of the rejected man’s best friend, to the wisdom of the old swine who dreams of a fairer world. Yet the way they inflame their brethren to rise and fight is the same – with long idealistic speeches. The most surprising one is given by Kostomarov’s brawny bull who sells pure Marx to his fellow bovines, calling on them to assert the ownership of their labour and the right to enjoy its fruit as they see fit. But perhaps it was not Marx but Blanqui,  since it is the original elite group of the revolutionaries, the cattle, who establish the dictatorship. Interestingly, this shows that in Kostomarov’s time, although the Age of Revolution had already dawned, the exact way of doing it was still being debated, the Blanquists and Marxists soon joined by the ever-growing number of theorists who claimed to have the know-how.

Kostomarov Oxen
‘Ploughing  in Ukraine’, painting by Leon Wyczółkowski, 1892. (Image from Wikimedia Commons. Also reproduced in Urszula Kozakowska-Zaucha, The Borderlands in Polish Art (Olszanica, 2009), LF.31.b.7294. )

Interestingly, only Kostomarov’s and Orwell’s stories try to set the animals’ rebellion on a proper ideological foundation. Reymont’s story, much closer to the actual Russian Revolution, emphasizes the psychology of hurt and vengeance which drives the rebellion to its tragic end. Orwell on the other hand concerns himself mostly with exposing the mechanics of power and how it corrupts, painfully knowledgeable as to how these things end. And while Kostomarov and Reymont stay with the simple formula of a cautionary tale – one funny in still a fairly theoretical argument, the other bleakly confirmed by eye-witnesses, Orwell upgrades it to a biting political satire more suited to the sophisticated 20th century reading public.

The shifts in emphasis in each story reflects the time in which it was written, their changing social and political context practically covering the entire Age of Revolution from the mid 19th to mid 20th century. For undoubtedly, the parable of the animals’ revolt as told by Kostomarov, Reymont and Orwell tells the same story of revolution - how the idea developed, how it came to pass and what happened to it when it actually won and died. And why.

 Wiesiek Powaga, Polish translator

 

24 January 2018

The Adventures of ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’

Of the comparatively few German-language children’s books that have become enduring classics in the English-speaking world, two are by Swiss authors: Johanna Spyri’s Heidi, and The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss, who died 200 years ago this month.

Robinson 1st ed tp
Title-page of the first edition of  Der schweizersiche Robinson (Zürich, 1812) C.108.aaaa.7

Like many famous children’s books, The Swiss Family Robinson originated as a tale told aloud to real children – Wyss’s four sons. He wanted both to entertain and to inform the boys, and also to depict their different characters (and hint at ways in which these could be improved). Indeed, his own title for the story was ‘Characteristics of my children. In a Robinsonade’. He did not intend the story for publication, but in 1812 one of the now adult sons, Johann Rudolf, edited the manuscript and published it as Der schweizersiche Robinson, oder, Der schiffbrüchige Schweizer-Prediger und seine Familie (‘The Swiss Robinson, or the Shipwrecked Swiss Preacher and his Family’). This was the first of many changes that Johann David’s original work would undergo.

Robinson shipwreck
Shipwreck! The family commend themselves to God in the storm. Illustration from the first French translation Le Robinson Suisse (2nd edition; Paris, 1816) 122835.c.21.

The book tells how the shipwrecked family of the title survive and create a new home on a desert island, involving many adventures and discoveries. Wyss describes in great detail how they salvage material from the wreck, build shelters and other amenities, and find (and later cultivate) food, all intended as a lesson in practical skills for young readers. Natural history lessons also have their place, with long discussions and lectures on the flora and fauna of the island, which is surprisingly varied: the place is home to an unlikely international menagerie of animals, including jackals, porcupines, buffalo, ostriches, tigers, kangaroos, walrus and even a duck-billed platypus. Most of these creatures are either domesticated or shot by the family.

Robinson Kangaroo
Shooting a kangaroo (clearly based on George Stubbs’s 1772 painting of ‘The Kongouro from New Holland’) from the first English edition The Family Robinson Crusoe (London, 1814) C.117.b.78. 

Less exciting and exotic are the lessons in morality and piety. The father in the story frequently reminds his sons to say their prayers, whether of supplication or thanks, and to be honest and hardworking. 

Robinson preaching
The father leads his family in Sunday worship, from The Family Robinson Crusoe

Despite its didacticism, the story is engaging and some of the passages of dialogue between the boys and their parents – such as a discussion of names for different sites around the island – seem to carry an echo of the way the Wyss boys might indeed have talked and joked together. The book certainly appealed to young readers and enjoyed great success.

Robinson Montolieu
Title-page of  Le Robinson Suisse. The frontispiece shows the translator reading the book to her grandsons and great-nephews, to whom she dedicated the translation.

Translations soon followed and further altered the original tale. The first English and French translations (1814 and 1813 respectively) both made some changes to the sequence of events and chapter numbering, but the French translator, Isabelle de Montolieu, went further still. When, over a decade after the first German edition, a promised continuation had not yet appeared, she wrote her own, based on brief notes provided by Johann Rudolf Wyss and published in 1824. Wyss’s own last two volumes appeared in 1826-7, but Montolieu’s continuation served as a basis for several other translations, including the most successful 19th-century English version, ascribed to the bestselling children’s author W.H.G. Kingston but actually the work of his wife Agnes.

Robinson map
Map of the island, from an 1826 edition of Le Robinson Suisse. 12807.bbb.26

Other changes were made to the book as time went on. Chapters were merged, split or rearranged, new adventures and characters were added, and the conclusion varied in different versions and translations. Names were often changed in translation, with different translators into the same language sometimes using different variants. There have been many retellings and abridgments, picture-book and comic-strip versions, and even a Swiss Family Robinson in Words of One Syllable (London, 1869; 12808.g.20). Modern editions jettison most of the religious and moral lectures, and I suspect that, in the 21st century, the family’s trigger-happy attitude to the animals they encounter may also be played down.

Robinson Kingston 012803.f.40
Cover of an 1889 English edition  (012803.f.40). 

Cinema and TV have also played a role in changing the story. A 1960 Disney film added pirates and a love triangle involving the older boys and a female castaway to the story. A 1980s Japanese animated series had as its main protagonist a newly-invented daughter of the family. In both of these versions Robinson is the family’s actual surname, a false assumption no doubt made by many English readers over the years. Robinson is not, of course, a Swiss surname, and in the original no family name is given (although Montolieu, in a short play appended to her translation, calls them ‘Bonval’). ‘Robinson’ in Wyss’s title simply refers to the fact that the preacher and his family were Crusoe-like castaways.

For most readers –in any language – in the two centuries since in its publication, the Swiss Family Robinson that they encountered has most likely been at several removes from the work of either Johann David or Johann Rudolf Wyss. But, despite all the accretions and alterations, the core of the original tale has survived and continues to appeal to young readers, unlike most other didactic Robinsonades of the period. A tribute, perhaps, to Johann David’s skills as a father and a storyteller.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator, Germanic Collections

References/further reading:

Entry for ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’ in Daniel Hahn, ed. Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature (Oxford, 2015) YC.2015.a.15862

Hannelore Kortenbruck-Hoeijmans, Johann David Wyss’ “Schweizerischer Robinson”: Dokument pädagogisch-literarischen Zeitgeistes an der Schwelle zum 19. Jahrhundert. Schriftenreihe der Deutschen Akademie für Kinder- und Jugendliteratur Volkach; Bd. 23 (Baltmannsweiler, 1999) YA.2002.a.4961

J. Hillis Miller, ‘Reading. The Swiss Family Robinson as Virtual Reality’, in Karín Lesnik-Oberstein (ed.) Children's literature: new approaches (Basingstoke, 2004) pp. 78-92. YC.2006.a.4061 

John Seelye, Introduction to Johann David Wyss, The Swiss Family Robinson. Penguin Classics (London, 2007) H.2008/132

22 January 2018

Three Alphabets of the Belarusian Language

The written culture of Belarus is over 11 centuries old. Many of us correctly associate the Belarusian language with the Cyrillic alphabet. However, many texts, in both Old Belarusian and the modern literary language (1850s onwards) were originally written and published in Latin characters. The existence of these two graphic systems in the Belarusian written tradition reflects the rich and complex cultural influences the country experienced at different periods. Many people may be surprised to learn that the Arabic alphabet was also used for writing in Belarusian. For that we should be grateful to the Tatars of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

For centuries, Cyrillic script (kirylica) was the most commonly used graphic system of the Old Belarusian language both for religious and secular literature. The oldest Belarusian book known to us is the Turaŭ [Turov] Gospel. Its only fragment, consisting of ten sheets, was discovered in 1865 in Turaŭ, a town in the south of contemporary Belarus. It is preserved in the Library of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences  in Vilnius. The manuscript is written in the Church Slavonic language, in uncial script (ustav) - the oldest type of Cyrillic writing.

Starting from the 14th century, a more economical half-uncial script was widely used in East Slavonic manuscripts. When the first Belarusian printer, Francysk Skaryna, established his press in the early 16th century, he chose a font based on handwritten half-uncial Cyrillic script.

All three versions (1529, 1566 and 1588) of the Statutes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were written in Cyrillic too. There is no academic consensus regarding their language. Most Belarusian scholars call it Old Belarusian, but others refer to it as Ruthenian or Chancery Slavonic. In any case, the texts of the Statutes became important precursors of the modern Belarusian language. Unlike the first two Statutes, the version of 1588 was printed; a Cyrillic font imitating an italic script (skoropis) of that time was used. This script was used for civil publications, while religious books continued to be printed in a more elaborate half-uncial script.

BelarusianAlphabetsStatute1588(2)
Title-page of the facsimile edition of the Statute of 1588 in : Statuty Velykoho Kniazivstva Lytovs'koho (Odessa, 2002-2004), Vol. 3, book 1,  ZF.9.a.951

The organic development of the Cyrillic form of the Belarusian language was interrupted by the increased use of the Polish language in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 17th-18th centuries. Polish was replaced by Russian in official use after the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Kingdom of Poland were partitioned by their stronger neighbours at the end of the 18th century.

A civil script, grazhdanka, developed for the Russian alphabet under Tsar Peter the Great’s supervision, was adopted by newspaper and book publishers after publishing in Belarusian became legal in the Russian Empire at the beginning of the 20th century. After a short period of experimentation, the Belarusian alphabet settled into its current form. It is very close to the Russian and Ukrainian alphabets, but has its own particularities, e.g. the letter ў (ŭ) which recently acquired a mascot status for the whole Belarusian language.

BelarusianAlphabetsПомнік_літары__Ў_

A monument celebrating the character in Polack, the oldest Belarusian city and the birthplace of the first Belarusian printer, Francysk Skaryna. (Photo by Pasacern7 CC BY-SA 4.0  from Wikimedia Commons)

The Latin script (lacinka) was used widely in Belarus for writing in Latin and Polish. From the 16th century, we also have examples of Belarusian texts, usually written in Latin script using the Polish alphabet.

19th-century publications in Belarusian are dominated by lacinka: the folklorist Jan Čačot, the author Jan Barščeŭski, the poet and publisher Alexander Rypinski, the first major Belarusian playwright Vincent Dunin-Marcinkievič, and the first major national poet, Francišak Bahuševič – all wrote and published their works in the Latin script. In 1862-63, the first – illegal then – Belarusian newspaper, Mužyckaja praŭda, was published by Kastuś Kalinoŭski, also using Latin script.

BelarusianAlphabetsRypinskiTitlepageCover of Alexander Rypinski, Niaczyścik, Ballada Białoruska ... Wydanie trzecie Akcentowane ([Tottenham, 1856?]). 11585.a.56.(7)


BelarusianAlphabetsDudka Cover of the facsimile edition of Frantsishak Bahushėvich, Dudka białaruskaja (Minsk, 1990). YA.1999.a.4633

The earliest Belarusian newspapers and books published legally under the Russian Empire used both Cyrillic and Latin scripts, which they referred to as “Russian and Polish characters”. Cyrillic was used to address the Orthodox Christian population and the Latin alphabet – for Roman Catholics. The Naša Niva weekly, the main voice of the Belarusian national revival, dropped its lacinka version for the kirylica one due to costs.

BelarusianAlphabetsNashaNivaPage from a facsimile edition of Nasha Niva (Minsk, 1992). ZA.9.d.379

The Latin script continued to be widely used in the western part of Belarus, which from 1919-1939 was under Polish rule. Here, the outstanding linguist Branislaŭ Taraškievič proposed a version of the Belarusian Latin alphabet which broke away from the earlier conventions; for example, instead of digraphs common in Polish (cz, sz), letters with diacritics (č, š) were introduced. This version was quickly and widely adopted by publishers in western Belarus.

In Soviet Belarus, the possibility of adopting the Latin script was discussed only once, during the Academic Conference for Reform of the Belarusian Grammar and Alphabet in 1926. The conference agreed that such a change would be the best solution, but premature at that time. Three years later, the Bolsheviks described such views as sabotage and tearing Belarusian culture away from that of Russia. Mass purges of the Belarusian intelligentsia followed soon after.

A slightly modified version of Branislaŭ Taraškievič’s lacinka has recently been adopted by the Belarusian government for transliterating Belarusian geographic names into Latin script and recommended for use by the United Nations.

From the 14th century, Tatars from Crimea, the Volga region and the Caucasus settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – some were invited to join the Duchy’s army, while others were refugees or prisoners of war. Many of their settlements survived until very recently in contemporary Belarus, and even now the small town of Iŭje is primarily known for its Tatar community. In literature, they are referred to as Lipka Tatars.

 The Tatars adopted the vernaculars of the peoples they lived among, and used them in their own manuscripts – translations of and commentaries on the Quran, prayer books and books of religious instruction. Belarusian dialects predominate in Lipka Tatar manuscripts, particularly in the oldest known to us, dating from the 17th-18th centuries. The Tatars preserved the Arabic script for writing and recorded phonetics of the language they – and people among whom they lived – spoke. These manuscripts are an important source about the development of the Belarusian language: many characteristics of the contemporary Belarusian language can be seen in Lipka Tatar writings from centuries ago.

Ihar Ivanou, Head of Learning Resources, QA Higher Education, London.

References / Further reading:

Peter J. Mayo, ‘The Alphabet and Orthography of Byelorussian in the 20th Century’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 4/1 (1977), pp. 28-47. ZC.9.a.9127 .

George Meredith Owens/Alexander Nadson, ‘The Byelorussian Tartars and their Writings’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 2/2 (1970), pp. 141-176.

Paul Wexler, ‘Jewish, Tatar and Karaite Communal Dialects and their Importance for Byelorussian Historical Linguistics’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 3/1 (1973), pp. 41-54.

Shirin Akiner, ‘The Vocabulary of a Byelorussian Tatar Kitab in the British Museum’, The Journal of Byelorussian Studies, 3/1 (1973), pp. 55-84.

Shirin Akiner, Religious language of a Belarusian Tatar Kitab: a cultural monument of Islam in Europe (Wiesbaden, 2009). EDM.2009.a.41

Barys Sachanka, Belaruskaia mova: ėntsyklapedyia (Minsk, 1994). YA.1999.b.2123

A. Susha, ‘Turauskae Evanhelle – samaia starazhytnaia kniha Belarusi’, Belaruski histarychny chasopis, no. 8 (2015), pp. 22–32. ZF.9.b.69