THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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88 posts categorized "Publishing and printing"

10 May 2017

A New Path, A New Dawn: Women’s Magazines in 1920s Soviet Uzbekistan

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The status of women in the Soviet Union and their role in the construction of the new Socialist society are issues that spur great enthusiasm and debate. Even for the less-studied regions of the USSR, such as Central Asia and the Steppe, a number of scholars are blazing new trails towards an understanding of gender and its impact on the Soviet experiment. Their research dissects the imbrication of gender, class, ethnicity, religion and political affiliation that went into constructing the identities of Soviet women during this period.

But what exactly did these identities look like? Given the myriad of experiences embodied by Central Asians during this period, we will never know for certain just what it was like to be a woman in Stalin’s Uzbekistan or Tajikistan. We do know, however, what the Communist Party wanted it to be like, thanks to a series of periodicals held at the British Library.

Yangi Yol - Cover of April 1927 Issue

 Cover of the April 1927 issue of Yangi Yo’l 14499.tt.16

Yangi Yo’l  (‘New Way’) was a monthly women’s and girls’ periodical published by the Uzbekistan Communist Party (Bolshevik) Central Committee for Women. The British Library holds only four issues, all from 1926-27: Volume 1, Nos 11-12 and 13-16; and Volume 2 Nos 4-7 and 9. The articles, supplemented heavily by photographs, sketches and diagrams, are all written in the old Perso-Arabic script. The new Latin alphabet  proposed for the Turkic languages in 1926 made only sporadic appearances, never in a form meant to teach readers how to use it.

While the magazine might not have been used to keep women and girls up to date with pedagogical innovations, it did seek to broaden their horizons far beyond the traditional domestic arena. An article on ‘Women-Girls’ Services in World Production’, which appeared in Nos 10 and 11-12, provides ample evidence of women’s participation in professions previously reserved for men. Photographs illustrate unveiled, smiling women operating machinery, lugging barrels, laying bricks and making horseshoes over a large anvil.

Yangi Yol - Women Workers of the World 2  Yangi Yol - Women Workers of the World

These pictures all show white women at work, rather than “emancipated” Uzbek or Central Asian women. They form part of a complicated and checkered history in which cultural imperialism and feminism intersected in a concerted effort to change the status of non-Western women. The images raise the question of how exactly the readers of these periodicals would have identified the new modern Soviet woman. Was she healthy, happy and productive on her own, participating in the construction of a Socialist paradise; or were light skin and large eyes a necessary component of that portrait too?

Indeed, Uzbek women workers strike a stark contrast with their Russian counterparts when we consider their representation in other articles. A photograph in No. 15 shows Uzbek silk makers at work: a group of middle-aged women, all but one with her hair covered, and none using machinery. Similar to this is the picture of a group of Samarqandi female artisans, also deprived of modern labour-saving devices.

Yangi Yol - Samarqandi Female Artisans

This is a far cry from the smiling, independent woman of the earlier piece, but it is likely a truer depiction of Uzbek women in the 1920s. Compare these with the images of veiled women attending a new school or the Turkmen village women watching children at a communal crèche.

Yangi Yol - Veiled Female Students at a New School in Uzbekistan

Yangi Yol - Peasant Women and a Cr+¿che in Turkmenistan

The reality of Central Asian women was evidently less rosy and progressive than the image promoted by Moscow and local Communist Party cadres. That utopia, apparently, belonged to the generations yet to come, as in the scene of new graduates observing a science experiment. These girls are dressed as their Russian counterparts in Moscow or Leningrad would have been, and they demonstrate the manner in which the construction of a new Soviet society would involve the importation of social and cultural norms from the centres of Soviet power, rather than a liberalization of local contexts and restraints.

Yangi Yol - This Years New Graduates observe an Experiment at the Uzbek Peoples Science Village

 Yangi Yol :  This Years New Graduates observe an Experiment at the Uzbek Peoples Science Village

Foreign Asian women were also featured in articles about liberation, albeit in a different context. The piece from No. 11-12 that follows the exposition of women’s participation in the workforce looks at ‘The Family Question in Tibet (Mongolia)’ . The work contains information that surely would have shocked many conservative women in Central Asia, including socially sanctioned pre-marital sexual relations and fornication, and female as well as male polygamy. It also recounts in detail marriage customs, education patterns and inheritance laws among the peoples of Tibet, as if to acquaint the girls and women of Central Asia with their sisters abroad. Similar articles about the women of China and Java and the girls of India would lead us to believe that Yangi Yo’l replicated a common Soviet strategy: building class-based solidarity among the dominated peoples of the world with Moscow, or at least the USSR, as the lynchpin of resistance.

Yangi Yol - The Women and Girls of China along with sketch of bound foot

The Women and Girls of China along with sketch of bound foot

Yangi Yol - The Women and Girls of Java

 The Women and Girls of Java.

In general, there is not much in Yangi Yo’l that we would identify as typical of a contemporary women’s magazine. There are articles about women’s social status, the education of girls, the eradication of child marriage, domestic issues and hygiene, but these are not the core of the publication. Much of the content is taken up with standard class warfare writing tinged with gender issues: the working woman fighting the faceless bourgeoisie and beys; elegiac poetry about Lenin and his importance for proletarian and peasant women; and the meaning of land reform for women workers. They fight for space with articles that might be classified more as general knowledge than women’s issues. These include pieces on the indigenous peoples of the Indian Ocean and an explanation of solar eclipses; an account of the Paris Commune; an exposé on climate and its science; and the wonders of Tutankhamen’s tomb. As much as the periodical was intended to educate and elevate women, it was also a means of broadening their horizons, introducing them to a common (largely Western) culture, and to entertain them with stories of the fabulous and awe-inspiring.

The Library’s collections of Yangi Yo’l do not extend past 1927. Indeed, it is unclear if the periodical continued to be published past this date. This dearth of information deprives us of knowing how the presentation of women and their role within the new Soviet society changed once Joseph Stalin cemented his grip on the reins of the Communist Party. What we do have, however, is a window onto the tail-end of a grand – and perhaps naïve – experiment that sought to remodel Central Asian women according to the prototype of the ideal revolutionary proletariat.

Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Curator

Contemporary Soviet Turkic Periodicals of Interest:

Yer Yuzu (Uzbekistan) 
Bezneng Yol (Tatarstan) 
Maorif va O’qutg’uchu (Uzbekistan) 
Maarif ve Medeniyet (Azerbaijan) 

 

08 May 2017

Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages 2017

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

11.00     Registration and Coffee

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

12.15     Lunch (Own arrangements).

1.30     Pardaad Chamsaz (London): A murky business: the composition of Honoré de Balzac’s Une Ténébreuse Affaire.

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

3.00     Tea

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

4.30     Barry Taylor (London): Allegorical title pages.

The Seminar will end at 5.15 pm.

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

Narrenschiff 1499 Unnutzen Bücher

25 April 2017

French Medieval Tales in the 19th Century

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A two-volume copy of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, a collection of tales delivered by different historical characters, has recently been acquired for the British Library French collections. 

Robida Fig 1
Cover of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles illustrated by Albert Robida, (Paris, 1888) RB.23.a.37261

This collection of 100 entertaining and often licentious short stories was written at the court of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, who was presented with a now-lost manuscript copy of the text in the 1460s. The main surviving manuscript copy of the work is in Glasgow University Library, (Hunter, 252 (U. 4. 10)), also produced in the 1460s at the court of Burgundy. The collection is anonymous, though it was (wrongly) attributed to Antoine de la Salle, author of the late medieval chivalric novel Jean de Saintré, by Antoine Vérard, who published the first (illustrated) edition of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles in 1486. The text was reprinted by Vérard in 1498-99, and led to new editions throughout the 16th century.

Robida Fig 2
Antoine Vérard’s 1499 Paris edition of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, IB.41194

In the first half of the 20th century, the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles have been attributed by their editor Pierre Champion to ‘Mgr de la Roche’, Philippe Pot, Chamberlain to the Duke of Burgundy, who is responsible for the highest number of short stories in the compilation (15 in total). The text, which bears the influence of the medieval genre of the fabliau, is modelled on Boccaccio’s highly influential Decameron, which was disseminated in French through its translation by Laurent de Premierfait in the 1410s, published by Vérard in 1485, and reprinted c. 1499-1503.

The newly acquired copy of Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles is a merger of two items: 50 leaves of colour illustrations by Léon Lebègue, dating from 1900, have been inserted into the 1888 first edition of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles originally illustrated with over 300 black and white engravings by Albert Robida.

Robida Fig 3
Illustrations in Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, by. A. Robida (left) and L. Lebègue (right)

Robida was a well-known caricaturist. He wrote and illustrated a science fiction trilogy imagining life in the 20th century, featuring modern warfare and scientific inventions (Le Vingtième Siècle, La Guerre au vingtième siècle, Le Vingtième Siècle: La vie électrique, 1883-1890).

Robida Fig 4
Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles
, ill. A. Robida, 1888

Robida had a particular interest in the Middle Ages and contributed to several works relating to the period. He engaged in illustrated youth fiction, authoring Le roi des jongleurs (1896) and Les Assiégés de Compiègne, 1430 set around the story of Joan of Arc, and illustrating Georges Trémisot’s Le bon roi Dagobert  (1918).  He also illustrated the collection Contes et Fabliaux du Moyen Age (1908), as well as the works of the 15th century poet François Villon (1897;  12237.k.5.). In Les escholiers du temps jadis (1907), Robida tells the story of students in Parisian and provincial universities from the Middle Ages to his own time.

Robida Fig 5
Cover of A. Robida, Les Assiégés de Compiègne, 1430 (Paris, 1906) 12518.p.1.

Robida illustrated the very successful play by Frédéric Gaillardet and Alexandre Dumas, La Tour de Nesle, first performed in 1832, which tells the scandalous story of the daughters-in-law of Philip IV of France (the plot reappears in Maurice Druon’s 1955 bestseller Les Rois Maudits, 011306.gg.15.). The British Library holds a copy of the play, printed for the Société des Amis des Livres, donated and signed by its president, Henri Beraldi.

Robida Fig 6
F. Gaillardet / A. Dumas, La Tour de Nesle (Paris, 1901) 11739.g.106.

Robida also produced several series of books encompassing the history and architecture of old European cities (Les Vieilles Villes 1878-1880, 10129.ee.1.) and regions of France (La Vieille France) as well as of Paris, about which he was particularly prolific. He was the instigator of the monumental and hugely successful ‘Vieux Paris’ reconstituted historical quarter at the International Exhibition of 1900.

Robida fig 7
Cover of A. Robida, La Vieille France: La Bretagne (Paris, 1890-1893) 2362.dd.1.

Our copy of the Lebègue plates for the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, issued by Charles Carrington, is number 104 of an edition of 120 copies. A folded advertisement for this edition is bound at the end of the second volume, along with its preface by Jules de Marthold.

Robida Fig 8
Advertisement for Lebègue’s 50 illustrations of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles

The pages of the Lebègue volume fit within four red lines which delimitate a central space, a feature which is strongly reminiscent of the rulings on the folios of medieval manuscripts.

Robida Fig 9
Cover of Lebègue’s illustrations of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles

This concerted medievalism, which agrees with the content and setting of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles is immediately apparent on the book cover, with a Gothicising script printed in red ink, framed by two tournament spears and a scroll at the bottom. At the centre of the page are depicted a lady with a distinctive headdress and a knight in armour jointly reading a book in between two rose windows. On top of the illustration, the title is printed in a vegetal frame and ornamented by two lilies, and under the image feature the names of the artist, the writer of the preface and the printer, as well as the date of publication. Despite the anonymity of the author of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, the front cover designed by Lebègue contains a wealth of information, which contrasts with the paucity of bibliographic information provided in medieval manuscripts.

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator Romance Collections.

References:

Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, ed. Pierre Champion (Paris, 1928) W.P.8406/5.

Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, ed. Franklin P. Sweetser (Geneva, 1966) W.P.2063/127.

Philippe Brun, Albert Robida, 1848-1926: sa vie, son œuvre: suivi d'une bibliographie complète de ses écrits et dessins (Paris, 1984) YV.1986.a.430.

Daniel Compère (dir.), Albert Robida du passé au futur : un auteur-illustrateur sous la IIIe République (Amiens, 2006) Awaiting shelfmark.

Albert Robida et son blog… http://albert-robida.blogspot.co.uk

31 March 2017

Wagenseil, Wagner and the Mastersingers of Nuremberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nachtigall  

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

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

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

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

References/further reading

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

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

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

05 December 2016

The Brothers Jovanović National Library

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In 1920 the Serbian Legation in London donated 250 small size unbound fascicles of Serbian literature to the British Museum Library. This donation was a welcome addition to the Library Serbian collections, which then consisted hardly of a few hundreds Serbian literary works.

These issues were part of a collection of Serbian literature published in Pančevo, a small town in the then Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, from 1871 to 1912. The works were published by the Brothers Jovanović, Kamenko (1843-1916) and Pavle (1847-1914), printers and booksellers from Pančevo. In 1870 the Brothers Jovanović established a Serbian printing-press, and in 1872 a bookshop in their hometown. Their aim was to publish and sell Serbian school textbooks and literature, the long awaited educational and cultural needs of the Serbian people in Austro-Hungary.

The Brothers Jovanović’s bookshop was the first major Serbian publishing bookshop in the Monarchy, and with the bookshops funded earlier in Belgrade, in the neighbouring Princedom of Serbia, were the first to establish modern Serbian publishing and book trade.

Between 1871 and 1912 the Brothers Jovanović published about 400 Serbian titles of which about 100 were school textbooks.
The collection of works donated to the Library had been published in the series called: “The Brothers Jovanović National Library” from 1880 to 1890.

NBBJCover

 Front cover of a volume in the series. The Brothers Jovanović National Library. Jovan Rajić, Battle of Dragon and Eagles. (Pančevo, 1884). British Library 012265.e.5/44.

Above is the layout of the cover of the Brothers Jovanović National Library series: their bookshop was shown here as a cultural edifice built on the pantheon of Serbian and world literature presented and promoted in this series. Front of their national library are the Corinthian columns adorned in ribbons bearing the names of the greats of Serbian and world literature (the text in Cyrillic on the left column reads: Dositej, Kraszewski, Hugo, the right column bear the names of: Njegoš, Gogol and Goethe. The name of the series is inscribed across the arc which sits on the columns. In the left-hand corner is a roundel portrait of Dositej Obradović (1739-1811), a Serbian philosopher and writer, and in the right-hand corner is a roundel portrait of Prince Bishop of Montenegro Petar II Petrović Njegoš (1813-51).

The Brothers Jovanović published literature in affordable paper-back issues in small octavo format, printed in a small font. The majority of works in the series were made up of separately published issues. These were published in non-consecutive instalments usually over a several-month period. Up to 24 issues were produced per year and in total the series comprises 216 such issues published from 1880 to 1890.

The set of 250 issues donated to the Library also includes issues published by the Brothers Jovanović’s bookshop from 1871 to 1912, which were subsequently added to the Brothers Jovanović National Library series (they are numbered in the series from 217 to 348), when the bookshop was sold to the new owners in 1913. This set of 250 issues is incomplete as 11 issues are missing.

The Library’s set was bound in 124 volumes placed at shelfmarks 012265.e.5/1-149 and a number of works are bound together. It is the only single set held in a British public collection, and one of the most complete in Britain and Serbia. The Library’s set holds 158 separate works. The whole collection is described in 168 catalogue records

This collection has a historical significance for the British Library as the donation notably boosted its existing collections of Serbian literature. Today this collection is relevant for the study and research into the development of modern Serbian literacy, language and literature. It is a very useful survey of primary sources for the development of Serbian literature.

Radicevic

Frontispiece and title page with the author’s portrait and his autograph. Branko Radičević, Poems. (Pančevo, 1880). British Library 012265.e.5/95.

The collection contains works of the major Serbian writers of the Enlightment, Classicism and Romanticism who, in their lexical and stylistic innovation, contributed greatly to the development and promotion of modern Serbian literary language. This new literary form was based on the principles of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić’s language reform.

Pucic
Frontispiece and title page with the author’s portrait. Medo Pucić, Poems. (Pančevo, 1879 [reissued in the series 1913]). British Library 012265.e.5/101.

Đorđe Popović-Daničar, editor of the Brothers Jovanović National Library series,  saw that the modern writers of all periods and those who wrote in Russo-Slavonic and in Slavonic-Serbian were represented in the series thus showing the continuity in Serbian literature. He contributed greatly to the series by writing introductory texts, compiling works of lesser known writers, translating and transliterating from Russo-Slavonic and in Slavonic-Serbian into the contemporary Serbian language and the new orthography, and by translating from a number of major European languages. Popović-Daničar was remembered as the first translator of Don Quijote from Spanish into Serbian.

The presentation of Serbian national poetry is another strong feature of this collection.

Boj na Kosovu

 Frontispiece. From Battle of Kosovo. (Pančevo, 1880 [reissued in the series 1913]). British Library 012265.e.5/121.

A great prominence of Serbian national poetry in the series pointed not only to the significance and influence of spoken national language for the creation of the new literary language, but it also reflected the contemporary national and political aspirations and struggles in the Balkans and the rest of Europe of that period, leading up to the First World War.

Hajduci
Frontispiece. From Serbian Outlaws in National Poems. (Pančevo, 1882 [reissued in the series 1913]). British Library 012265.e.5/110.

The fact that in this series the Brothers Jovanović ventured to showcase Serbian literature, together with other works of world literature in Serbian translation, was surely a sign of confidence and trust they had for the future of the Serbian literature and its readers.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

Reference:

Žarko Vojnović, Iz Sparte svetlost, to jest, Život i podvizi Kamenka i Pavla braće Jovanovića: ujedno i bibliografija izdanja. (Pančevo, 2010). YF.2014.a.12874

 

01 December 2016

Ukrainians Mark 70 Years of AUGB

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To mark the 70th anniversary of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (AUGB), an academic conference was held earlier this month at the Association’s Central Office in London. Academics from both the UK and Ukraine considered various historical aspects ranging from prominent personalities to émigré publications to highlighting a rich array of data and source archival documents.

AUGBConferenceBLOG

Speakers at the conference (Photo by Ihor Polataiko, reproduced by kind permission of the AUGB)

The origins of the AUGB go back to 1945 when Ukrainians serving in the Polish Armed Forces under British command came up with the idea of creating an official body to cater for their ethnic and spiritual needs. With the help of the Ukrainian Canadian Servicemen’s Association, based in London’s Sussex Gardens, they coordinated activities from late August 1945 up to the AUGB’s inaugural General Meeting in Edinburgh in January 1946. A Central Office was purchased in March 1947 which provided a base from which to help incoming Ukrainians settle in Britain.

In early 1949 an Invalids Fund was also established after the British Government decided (December 1948) to transport some 300 sick and injured Ukrainian former prisoners of war to Germany (and from there back to the USSR to face almost certain death). The decision was ultimately reversed in the face of Ukrainians threatening all-out strike action in protest, though the London Times of 30 December 1948 suggested that it was the hunger strike of the individuals concerned, coupled with the ‘repugnant’ nature of the government’s decision, that ‘naturally’ aroused objections among ‘ordinary Englishmen’. During that year alone, AUGB members donated a shilling a week to raise over £17,000 - the equivalent of well over £1.3 million today. This enabled the purchase of a property in Chiddingfold, Surrey, to provide care for those who were unable/unfit to work, or who simply required respite care. The property also accommodated summer youth camps until the 1960s and subsequently became a residential care home until its closure in 2012.

Over 300 Branches of the Association were created in the late 1940s but this number became substantially reduced by the mid-1950s as Ukrainians settled in closer proximity to each other in major towns and cities. Within these clusters they formed amateur cultural groups – choirs, dance ensembles, orchestras, theatre groups  - and also collected funds to purchase community centres.

UkrainianSongsBlogKurliak

 From the collection of 40 postcards Ukrains’ka Pisnia (Ukrainian Song; London, 1969)

As AUGB activities expanded, the AUGB Library (1947), the Association of Ukrainian Women (1948) and the Association of Ukrainian Teachers and Educators (1955) were established. The last coordinated community nurseries and language schools for a growing second generation. To facilitate consistency the AUGB published practical guidelines (in 1955) on methods of education, notably in four volumes of Materiialy Vykhovannia i Navchannia (Educational and Teaching Materials) dedicated to different aspects of Sunday school teaching.

I am often asked what drove that first generation of Ukrainians to be so generous with their time and the little money that they earned. The answer lies among the many resolutions adopted during the Association’s Annual General Meetings, illustrated by this example from 1948: “The AUGB, as a non-party generally-national organisation, calls on all Ukrainians to work together, irrespective of faith and political persuasion, to attain our ultimate goal – a Free, Independent and Sovereign State of the Ukrainian Nation”.

This love of Ukraine made the preservation of language, culture, and devotion to the homeland an important goal. Amongst other things it inspired regular publications of: a newspaper from November 1945 to the present, initially Nash Klych (‘Our call’) and then from spring 1947 Ukrains'ka Dumka (‘The Ukrainian Thought’; LOU.1165 [1994]); an annual calendar booklet, Kalendarets' ukraintsia u Velykii Brytanii (1947-2004; P.P.2458.lo.); a satirical magazine, Osa (‘Wasp’) (1947-1948); an English-language quarterly The Ukrainian Review (1954-2000; P.P.4842.dns.) and a school children’s magazine, Iuni Druzi (‘Young Friends’; 1955-1984; P.P.5992.gan.).

OSABLOGKURLIAKBi-weekly Osa (Wasp),  issue 1/46 1947

The latter was supplemented by the publication of children’s books, such as the alphabet and early reading text-book Bukvar (1958), or popular national tales, such as ‘Grandad’s Turnip’ (1954-55), or indeed the delightful narrative poems of the exceptional Leonid Poltava – Zhuchok-Shcherbachok (‘The little beetle Shcherbachok’; W.P.9391/3.), Slon po Afrytsi khodyv (‘The elephant walked through Africa’; 1955; W.P.9391/2) and others.

PoltavaBooksBlogBooks by Leonid Poltava from the British Library’s Collections

The books were published predominantly in Ukrainian but there were exceptions. Perhaps of particular note was the publication of Song out of Darkness, a collection of poems by the national poet, Taras Shevchenko translated by Vera Rich  to mark the centenary of the poet’s death, which we are now working on to update and republish.

SongOutOfDArknessTitlepage Frontispiece and title-page of Song out of Darkness (London, 1961)11303.bb.3.

The AUGB’s Library and Archive was also named after the Ukrainian bard. Today it works closely with the British Library and its collection of over 35,000 books is open to all students, academics and casual visitors interested in studying Ukrainian diaspora publications.

HOLODOMORCOVERBLOGCover of the catalogue Holodomor 1932-33 movoiu dokumentiv (London, 2003; YF.2012.a.16782) published for the exhibition commemorating 70 years of the Great Famine in Ukraine

As Ukrainians celebrate the 25th anniversary of the independence referendum vote of 1 December 1991 and simultaneously focus on events in Ukraine over the past three years (notably the annexation of the Crimea and the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine), we continue to face fresh challenges, adapt and seek new ways of developing, communicating and working with our members and the wider community. Our newspaper, website and social media aim to bring news and events to wider audiences and promote a greater understanding, not only of our heritage, but the contribution that we can make to academic research and cultural diversity.

Fedir Kurlak, AUGB CEO

26 October 2016

Studying migration and diaspora through Russian language publishing

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Dear Sir,
I take the liberty of sending you our catalogue of Russian books and pamphlets forbidden by the Russian censorship. Should you wish to order anything from us for the Russian department of the British Museum Library, we could give a discount of 10 per cent on all prices. We have also some new works of Leo Tolstoy, also forbidden in Russia.

This letter was registered in the British Museum as incoming post on 10 October 1892. It was written on Russian Free Press Fund headed paper and signed by one J. Kelchevsky, the pseudonym of a Polish revolutionary and bibliophile, Wilfrid Voynich, probably now better known not for his revolutionary activities, but for the famous mysterious manuscript formerly in his possession. The Keeper of the Department of Printed Books, Richard Garnett, replied expressing interest, and so “some orders [were] given”. These books, periodicals and brochures, mostly published outside the Russian Imperial borders, contributed to the British Library’s now considerable collection of Russian émigré and Diaspora publications.

Publicatrions-1

Publications-2
A selection of uncensored brochures published by the Russians abroad

The output of printing activities by the first wave of Russian post-revolutionary émigrés is also well represented in the collections, from rare book art items and newspapers, such as, Novaia Rossiia (‘New Russia’), started in 1936 by Alexander Kerensky, a key political figure in the Russian Revolution of 1917, to popular periodicals.

Zvorykin's Boris Godunov
Title-page of an an art book edition of Pushkin’s drama Boris Godunov, with plates by Plates by Boris Zvorykin, published in Paris. RB.23.b.5893

Kerensky's Novaia Rossiia
 Kerensky’s periodical Novaia Rossiia; NEWS 15932

Zaria Kharbina
An advertisement in Russian from Zaria Kharbina (‘The Dawn of Harbin’), a popular newspaper published by the Russian community in China (PP.7611.ccd)

In the 1980s and 1990s the British Library continued building its collection of Russian émigré publications from various sources, including donations, and several commercial vendors, one of whom – André Savine – was a dedicated bibliophile who created a personal database of Russian publications abroad.

We actively continue collecting material produced by Russians abroad.

New batch

 New Russian books just arrived from North America.

Whether uncensored or banned by political regimes in Russia and the Soviet Union, or produced for the local Russian language community by various Russian language publishing enterprises aboard, the British Library’s collections of such material have never formed a discrete unit. The materials were not acquired at any single point in time and they have no name that one can refer to (such as ‘free Russian press, ‘Russian underground collection’, etc.). The materials are not stored together in one place but scattered among the Library’s general collections. Moreover, since the material was not always easy for cataloguers to deal with, it is sometimes not obvious under what headings to look for relevant items in the catalogue. Research into these collections can bring to life many interesting stories, change our understanding of the mechanisms of publishing (including new media and digital formats) in the diaspora and by local communities, and help in formulating new challenges in the world of digital media.

Collaboration is important for us. We have invited academics at UK universities to submit proposals for AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships with the Library. One of the topics this year is ‘Studying migration and diaspora through Russian language publishing’, a project which will help to meet some of the challenges described above. Please visit our website for more information and application form or contact details


Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator of East European Collections

03 October 2016

Pavlo Kovzhun or ‘adopt his enthusiasm...’

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When Filippo Tommaso Marinetti explained his view of the beauty of the contemporary world, in his first Manifesto of Futurism (1909), Pavlo Kovzhun was only thirteen. A few years later he already considered himself to be a Futurist, but at the same time did not care for the radical Italian’s desire to “exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap”.

In a short time this fact became the main point of difference in the experience of Ukrainian and Italian Modernism. However this was never a point of contention between Western European and Ukrainian artists – later Kovzhun, already an experienced artist, promoted Italian artistic classics of the 1900-1910s with admiration, showing his understanding of the audacity of this avant-garde movement.

In the history of Ukrainian modern art it is difficult to find a figure with equal enthusiasm and devotion to his art as Pavlo Kovzhun. The inheritance which he took from his idol Heorhii Narbut committed him to the exhausting work which drove him to his grave at the age of 43. But the scale of his creative work is enormous compared to the shortness of his life.

PavloKovzhunPortraitPavlo Kovzhun was born on October 3, 1896 in the village of Kostiushky in the Zhytomyr region. He studied at  the Kyiv Art College from 1911-1915, where his teachers were Hanna Kliuer-Prakhova, Mykola Murashko, and Ivan Seleznov. From 1913 he began to show his works in exhibitions. Aged 18 he was one of the founders of the Futurist Literary Artistic Group.

His first artistic works (mostly graphic) were under the influence of the St Petersburg artistic group Mir Iskusstva, and its leading representative, Heorhii Narbut. The direction introduced by this outstanding graphic master appealed to the young artist – the recreation of the heritage of the old Ukrainian engravers. Kovzhun wholeheartedly shared the ideas of the young Kyiv intellectuals that new qualities of Ukrainian art should be built on the spiritual and aesthetic basis created in former times. This appeal to the period of the climax of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, recognized throughout Europe, seemed to Pavlo Kovzhun and some of his student friends (Robert Lisovs'kyi, Vasyl' Kryzhanivs'kyi and Anatol' Petryts'kyi) the best choice as a basis for their art. Later Kovzhun developed this idea theoretically, analysing some aspects of contemporary Ukrainian graphics, and also presented his own formal-aesthetic arguments to prove it. His first graphic works, marked by modernist stylistics, appeared in the prestigious St Petersburg journal Apollon (British Library P.P.1931.pmf), and in some periodicals in Kyiv.

With the start of the First World War, and the Ukrainian National Liberation struggle, Kovzhun was at the front, creating printed matter for the army units, promoting Ukrainian national identity. He was one of the co-founders of the Hrunt publishing house and the Muzahet literary-artistic group. After the retreat with army troops and the government of the UNR (Ukrainian People’s Republic), in 1921 he edited the satirical humorous journal Izhak (Hedgehog) in Stanislav (then in Poland; now Ivano-Frankivsk). In the same year he moved to Lviv. ‘From now I begin to work,’ he wrote in a letter to the Ukrainian poet and intellectual  Mykola Voronyi. ‘I nearly lost my faith. I lived through the war in fire and revolution in blood, but still holding our banner. This is my nature. Now there is no blood, no fire, I pulled up my sleeves and took my brush and pen.’

In Lviv he initially worked on some private commissions (interior design, artistic decoration). In 1922 he became a member of the literary-artistic group Mytusa, and was a founder member and Secretary of the Group of Representatives of Ukrainian Art. As well as taking part in numerous art exhibitions, he cooperated with the editors of the periodicals Mytusa, Moloda Ukraina, Budiak, Masky, Zyz, Kul'tura, Nova Kul'tura, Svit, Mystetstvo, Universal'nyi Zhurnal, and Nova Heneratsiia. He was a member of the artistic group ‘Artes’ (Lviv, early 1930s), co-founder of the Association of Independent Ukrainian Artists (1931), of which he was also Secretary.

PAVLOKOVZHUNAWARDEXLIBRISDSC_2994Exlibris of the Ivan Franko  Society of Writers and Journalists by Pavlo Kovzhun. From: Ekslibris. Zbirnyk asotsiatsii nezalezhnykh ukrainskykh mysttsiv. Pershyi vypusk. (L'viv, 1932) Cup. 936/2190) 

Kovzhun’s artistic legacy consists of hundreds of graphic works, dozens of paintings, and more than a hundred publications on art. In cooperation (mostly with M. Osin'chuk) he created frescoes in twelve churches in Galicia, which became exemplars of this type of work for his contemporaries, and have not lost their artistic value even at the start of the 21st century. But the most remarkable contribution of Kovzhun is in the area of book illustration and periodical design. He was responsible for the design of the most prestigious books published in Ukraine between the wars: books by Ivan Franko, Volodymyr Vynnychenko, Pavlo Tychyna, Osyp Makovei, Borys Hrinchenko, Mykhailo Staryts'kyi, Mykola Holubets' and others, and dozens of calendars and periodicals. Among his works are posters, caricatures, book-plates, publishers' logos and emblems, theatre designs and more.

PACLOKOVZHUNBOOKCOVERSDSC_2985Covers of books designed by Pavlo Kovzhun from the British Library's collections: Chykalenko, Ievhen. Spohady (L'viv, 1925-1926).20003.f.45 (on the left) and Franko, Ivan. Boryslav smiiet'sia (L'viv-Kyiv, 1922) YA.1988.a.15528 (on the right).

In his stylistic designs Kovzhun’s graphic works absorb in themselves a combination of the leading concepts of European visual art between the wars: Futurism, Expressionism and Constructivism. The basis of his artistic creations which he developed systematically as plastic equivalents of Ukrainian national style, was the concept of Neo-Baroque. In combination with these leading universal styles the majority of Kovzhun’s works are marked by his interpretation of Art Deco, which was recognized by famous artists and critics: articles about Kovzhun appeared in prestigious art journals, such as Grafika (Poland), Umeni Slovanu (Czechoslovakia), Gebrauchsgraphik (Germany) and others.

PAVLOKOVZHUNBACLEXLIBRIS2DSC_2993Bookplates for various Ukrainian authors designed by Pavlo Kovzhun (from: Ekslibris. Zbirnyk asotsiatsii nezalezhnykh ukrainskykh mysttsiv. Pershyi vypusk. L'viv, 1932. Cup. 936/2190) 

Pavlo Kovzhun died on May 15, 1939 in Lviv, and was buried in the historic Lychakiv Cemetery . He left a huge and varied artistic and theoretical legacy. His art and his mentality were full of the pathos of the creation of new values in Ukrainian aesthetic culture, which unites with the realities of 21st century art.

PAVLOKOVZHUNMOSTRECENTBOOKTITLEPAGEDSC_2989Title page of Pavlo Kovzhun. Tvorcha spadshchyna khudozhnyka: materialy, biobibliohrafichnyi dovidnyk. (L’viv, 2010). YF.2012.b.406

Dr Roman Yatsiv, Pro-Rector, Lviv National Art Academy

Further reading:

Sviatoslav Hordynskyi. Pavlo Kovzhun. 1896-1939. (Krakiv-Lviv, 1943). Available at: http://www.ovruch.info/svyatoslav-hordynskyj-pavlo-kovzhun/

Roman Iatsiv. “Pereimemo ioho entuziazm..”. In Dzvin, issue 12/1991, pp. 93-98. P.P.4842.dpt

Myttsi Ukrainy. Entsyklopedychnyi dovidnyk (Kyiv, 1992). YA.1999.a.172

Syrota L. Literaturna hrupa “Mytusa” i Pavlo Kovzhun. In : Narodoznavchi Zozhyty. Issue 5/1998. ZA.9.b.1768

Kis-Fedoruk, O. Knyzhkova hrafika Pavla Kovzhuna. In : Narodoznavchi Zoshyty. Issue 1/2000. ZA.9.b.1768

Kis-Fedoruk, O. Z istorii vzaiemyn Pavla Kovzhuna i Mykoly Voronoho. In : Vidkrytyi arkhiv. Tom 1, 2004. ZF.9.a.3222

Pavlo Kovzhun. Tvorcha spadshchyna khudozhnyka: materialy, biobibliohrafichnyi dovidnyk. (L’viv, 2010). YF.2012.b.406

Mitchenko, Vitaliĭ. Estetyka ukraïnsʹkoho rukopysnoho shryftu. (Kyiv, 2007). YF.2008.b.2188

30 September 2016

‘The only censor is honesty’: Press Freedom and its Limits in Revolutionary Vienna

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For many who took to the streets in the European revolutions of 1848 press freedom and an end to government censorship were key demands. When these were granted – if only, as it often turned out, for a limited period – both the revolutionaries and their opponents took the opportunity to express their arguments and opinions in a torrent of printed material.

A look at the British Library’s collection of ephemera from Vienna during the period clearly demonstrates the importance of this aspect in the discourse of the revolution. Among the first publications to appear following Emperor Ferdinand’s promise of more liberal press laws on 15 March, were poems celebrating the achievements of the revolution, including Friedrich Gerhard’s ‘Die Presse frei’, which declares that now ‘The only censor is – honesty’. Like various other pieces dated on and around 15 March, it proudly claims to be the first uncensored work issued by its printer.

Wien Presse frei  11526
Friedrich Gerhard, ‘Die Presse Frei’ (Vienna, 1848), with the proud boast ‘Erstes censurfreies Gedicht’. British Library  
11526.f.46.(9.)

As well as poetry, there were prose declarations of gratitude. A ‘Manifest der Schriftsteller Wiens’, also dated 15 March, is signed by 27 writers who proclaim that they are ‘taking formal possession of the rights of a free press guaranteed by our most gracious monarch’. The first signatory, Ignaz Franz Castelli, later wrote a series of didactic pieces to educate the wider public about the gains of the revolution. In the first, ‘Was ist denn jetzt g’schehen in Wien?’ (1899.m.19.(170)), he calls freedom of the press ‘the most excellent of all freedoms.’

Castelli was neither a radical or an active revolutionary (he would spend much of 1848 in the quiet seclusion of his country estate). But he believed that wise and good citizens, now permitted to judge for themselves about the reading-matter on offer, would reject anything ‘unworthy’. Many conservatives were less optimistic, such as the anonymous author of the pamphlet Hoch lebe die Preszfreiheit! Nieder mit der Preszfrechheit, who praises the principle of a free press but bemoans the what he sees as, ‘insolent, salacious, lying, bilious and pernicious pamphlets’ appearing on the streets as a result of the lack of censorship.

Wien Pamphlets Preszefreiheit
Hoch lebe die Preszfreiheit! Nieder mit der Preszfrechheit
([Vienna, 1848]) RB.23.a.33764

This criticism was aimed at writers such as Sigmund Engländer, a more radical fellow-signatory of Castelli’s petition and editor of Wiener Charivari-Katzenmusik, one of the many new critical and satirical journals that sprang up in the course of the year. But despite the criticism thrown at them, these writers were in many ways the heroes and pioneers of the free press during the Revolution. Even if their satires were sometimes crude or potentially libellous, like opponents of censorship throughout the ages they were pushing boundaries, mocking sacred cows and raising the question of what could or should be said, a bolder and more creative approach to new freedoms than Castelli’s somewhat patronising and paternalistic lectures.

Wien Granaten-Fürst
Mocking sacred cows: a cartoon from October 1848 satirising the Austrian General Windischgrätz as ‘Grenade-Prince Bombowitz’ and a ‘long-nosed monster’ , October 1848, 1899.m.19.(172)

Writers like Engländer were inevitably diasppointed when the promised new press law was published. Lèse majesté, libel, treason or incitement to unlawful activity were still punishable by up to five years imprisonment, and the law demanded that all works must bear the name of an author, editor publisher or printer, who could be identified as responsible for any offence. In a skit on the new guidelines (1899.m.19.(153)), Eduard Leidesdorf posed a riddle: ‘Why was the Press Law rejected? Because no author, publisher or printer was named’ (as was often the case with official documents). By 16 August Engländer clearly thought things had got so bad that he added ‘A few days before the reintroduction of censorship’ to the masthead of his journal, and devoted the front page to an attack on the press law.

Wiener Charivari 16 August
Wiener Charivari. Katzenmusik
no. 31, 16 August 1848. 1899.m.19.(248)

But as early as April, when the press law was first published, an article in Der große Peter had printed a satirical ‘letter from Metternich’ in which the former Chancellor claims that the new law is a better means of preventing free speech than his own system of censorship. In fact Der große Peter is almost exclusively focused on questions of press freedom and press law. In its opening number, the editor claims to have discovered an ingenious way of avoiding taxes levied on political periodicals issued more than once a month: he will re-name the journal for each day of the month, making it ‘thirty newspapers instead of one!’. However, only one further issue was published, under the title Der Stutz-Peter. While very short-lived periodicals were typical of the period, in the case of Der große Peter it is possible that the whole exercise was a satire on the press law and never intended to be a genuinely long-running publication.

Grosse Peter 1
Der große Peter
, no. 1, 9 April 1848. 1899.m.19.(202) 

Radicals might have thought that the 1848 press law was too draconian, but far worse was to come. Following a second revolutionary uprising in October 1848, Vienna was besieged by the Imperial army under General Windischgrätz. In a series of ultimatums to the city, Windischgrätz demanded the banning of all newspapers and periodicals (with the exception of the long-established Wiener Zeitung, which was only to print official proclamations). When the army finally gained control of Vienna on 31 October, this was reiterated, and the printing, posting and circulation of broadsheets and pamphlets also forbidden. Gradually newspapers began to reappear, mostly established and conservative titles. Only one of Vienna’s new satirical journals survived: Johann Franz Böhringer’s Die Geißel, the only one to have been on the side of the establishment throughout. In 1849 a new and stronger press law was introduced, and press censorship continued in Austria until the proclamation of a republic in 1918.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

This blog is part of series for Banned Books Week 2016. See also Melvin Burgess’s blog on Censorship and the Author, curator Christian Algar on the ‘corrected’ Il Decamerone, curator Tanya Kirk on The Monk, the Bible and Obscenity, The Book Banner who inspired Banned Books by curator Alison Hudson and Banned From the Classroom: Censorship and The Catcher in the Rye by curator Mercedes Aguirre.

Banned Books Week was initiated by the American Library Association in 1982 in response to an increasing number of challenges in the US to books in schools, bookstores and libraries, and in particular, books aimed at children or young adults. For the first time in the UK we are holding events, activities and publishing a series of blogs, all on the topic of Censorship and Banned Books, made possible by the partnership between The British Library, Free Word and Islington Library and Heritage Services and in association with the ALA.

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26 September 2016

Il Decamerone – “Corrected” by Rome

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Giovanni Boccaccio, poet, Humanist, orator, narrator and ambassador, father of the Italian novel, is one of the greatest storytellers known. He composed Il Decamerone (The Decameron)  in the mid-14th century and it  was first circulated in manuscript form in the 1370s. Despite being one of the most meddled-with texts to have endured, its ‘Frame story’ structure – ten tales told by each of ten people gathered together for a fortnight – has become canonised as a model for literary prose. Two texts in particular, one prepared by Ruscelli in 1552 and one by Salvati in 1587, are notorious for their meddling emendations. The Decameron is also widely known for its erotic components and it has quite unfairly led to its author and his work bIl eing associated with ‘obscenity’.

A common perception is that it is this supposed obscenity which has led to the book having been banned and suppressed here and there by the usual powerful groupings of offended sensibilities. The Roman Catholic Church did indeed ‘ban’ The Decameron but knew that they could not simply obliterate such a well-known and widely circulated work; the 15th and 16th centuries saw an estimated 192 printed editions alone. Faced with the Reformation, the Catholic Church needed to defend itself and reconsolidate its position of authority. To this purpose, one of the several measures taken by the Council of Trent was to create a commission to assemble and manage a list of forbidden books resulting in the fabled Index Librorum Prohibitorum which  identified books which were heretical, anti-clerical or explicitly sexual.

But how was the Church to manage The Decameron? Quite craftily was how. In the early 1570s, under the leadership of Vincenzo Borghini, a team of clerical scholars in Florence set about emending its text. They cloaked their expurgations by trying to convince people that they had kindly corrected existing editions, enhancing the language and in the process arriving at the ‘true’ text written by Boccaccio; original authorial intent had been revealed, “By Order of the Inquisition”.

So in 1573 the Florentine printers Giunti issued Il Decameron ... Ricorretto in Roma, et emendato secondo l'ordine del Sacro Conc. di Trento, et riscontrato in Firenze con testi antichi & alla sua vera lezione ridotto da' deputati…

Decameron 1573 tp C.7.a.8. The title page of the 1573 Florence edition of Il Decameron (C.7.a.8).

Borghini’s approved edition implied that manuscripts of The Decameron had been mischievously distorted to include outrageous slights against the Church and its servants. The erotic elements, the ‘obscenity’, often key to a tale’s plot and meaning, remained but all the references to the clergy had been removed. The crux of the problem for them was the dignity of the Roman Catholic Church and they managed it by simply removing references to priests, monasteries and so on; generic terms served their purpose with nuns becoming ‘ladies’ or ‘dames’, abbesses becoming random figures of aristocracy.

The British Library has three copies of this ‘corrected’ edition.  One  exposes clearly the motivations of the Church expurgations and emendations. A century after its publication another scholar called Marco Dotto systematically went through it annotating the pages: re-inserting the censored details and re-correcting Borghini’s emendations. Dotto wrote a short explanatory essay voicing his outrage at the mutilation of Boccaccio’s great work by the ‘scalpel’ of the Inquisition. He viewed himself as a ‘physician’ repairing their butchery, healing it and restoring the text to its true, we could say, rude health.

Decameron Day 3 story 1 annotated Day Three, Story One (Masetto, gardener at a convent) annotated by Marco Dotto. ‘Garden of Ladies’, or Convent? (C.7.a.8)

The story of Masetto of Lamporecchio told by Filostrato on Day Three is a favourite tale from The Decameron and illustrates  how the book has been meddled with. Masetto, a handsome young man, schemes to get a job as a gardener at a convent by pretending to be deaf and dumb. Two nuns talk of what they have heard rumoured to be the best pleasure a woman can get and scheme to meet Masetto in the garden’s woodshed. Other nuns witness this and insist on their share also. One day, the Abbess passes Masetto, spent and asleep on a bank in the garden. The wind happens to blow his shirt up and reveals all his glory to the head of the convent; consumed with desire she takes him to her quarters believing she can sleep with the young gardener with impunity as, deaf and dumb, he can tell no tale. All this is draining for Masetto so he decides to reveal he is cured. It is claimed as a miracle, nurtured by his tending the convent gardens. We can see how Dotto’s annotations restore the expurgated ‘munistero di donne’ used by Boccaccio which the clerics had rendered as ‘giardino di damigelle’. Borghini frequently anonymised particular named locations to protect reputations and often removed them entirely to places in France.

The last uncensored Decameron of the 16th century was printed in 1558 and with so many early editions it is interesting to make comparisons between them. Here we can see a folio with the start of Masetto’s story in an edition printed in Venice by Manfredo Bonelli in 1498. The text and the woodcuts faithfully assert the setting as a convent and its characters as nuns.


Decameron Day 3 story 1
 Masetto of Lamporecchio in the ‘Garden of Ladies’, Day Three Story 1. (C.4.i.7)

But censorship comes from many sources, individual sensibilities may be offended as much as organised, institutional interests; a fact that can be seen in this mid-15th century manuscript of The Decameron where the concluding sentiment on Masetto’s tale, has been heavily censored and obscured by another hand.

Decameron Add MS 10297
Censored mid-15th century manuscript (Add MS 10297 f.46r)

Such are the fascinations with obscenity and censorship, the simple fact that Boccaccio is one of the greatest storytellers ever to be printed can be in danger of being overlooked. We can celebrate this year’s Banned Books Week  by appreciating a good read of unexpurgated editions of this great collection of stories; though it can be fun to read the censored efforts too. But do remember that original authorial intent should never be taken for granted – sometimes it is wrested away by the operations of power and can be lost forever because of some individual’s  or organisation’s disapproval and assault.

Christian Algar, Curator, Printed Heritage Collections.

Decameron storytellers C.4.i.7
 The storytellers; the woodcut illustrated title page of Manfredo Bonelli’s Decamerone o ver Cento Nouelle, Venice, 1498 (C.4.i.7)

References/further  reading:

Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron. Translated with an introduction by G.H. McWilliam (London, 1972). X.908/23609

Pisanus Fraxi, Bibliography of prohibited books. Index librorum prohibitoru (3 Vols) (New York, 1962). RAR 808.803

David Wallace, Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron. (Cambridge, 1991)YC.1991.a.4224

Giuseppe Chiecchi, Luciano Troisio, Il Decameron sequestrato: le tre edizioni censurate nel Cinquecento. (Milan, 1984) ZA.9.a.636 (4)

Giuseppe Chiecchi, “Dolcemente dissumulando”: cartelle laurenziane e “Decameron” censurato (1573)(Padua, 1992)./WP.16966/53     

Giuseppe Chiecchi (ed.),  Le annotazioni e i discorsi sul Decameron del 1573 dei deputatii fiorentini. (Rome, 2001) YA.2003.a.9884

This blog is part of series for Banned Books Week 2016. See also Melvin Burgess’s blog on Censorship and the Author.

Banned Books Week was initiated by the American Library Association in 1982 in response to an increasing number of challenges in the US to books in schools, bookstores and libraries, and in particular, books aimed at children or young adults. For the first time in the UK we are holding events, activities and publishing a series of blogs, all on the topic of Censorship and Banned Books, made possible by the partnership between The British Library, Free Word and Islington Library and Heritage Services and in association with the ALA.

BannedBooksWeekLogos