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90 posts categorized "Romance languages"

29 December 2017

2017: a Year in the Life of the European Studies Blog

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As the year draws to an end, we thought we’d take a look back over our blogging activity in 2017. If you’re an established reader of our blog, you might be reminded of some favourites or spot something you missed, and if you’re new to it, we hope this will give you an idea of the range of countries and topics that we cover, and of the different voices – both staff members and guest bloggers – who contribute. And if you think all this nostalgia is a bad thing, we hope you will at least enjoy the pictures, which we’ve not used before, of Christmas and New Year greetings cards from our collection of Russian postcards (HS.74/2027).

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Russia loomed large this year as European Collections were involved in one of the Library’s major exhibitions, ‘Russian Revolution – Hope, Tragedy, Myths’, marking the centenary of the Revolution. Many blog posts in the year picked up on the exhibition’s themes, focused on particular exhibits, or mentioned items that sadly didn’t make the final exhibition shortlist. You can find all of them here.

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The Revolution wasn’t the only anniversary we commemorated with an exhibition this year. In February we put on a display of manuscripts from the Stefan Zweig Collection in the Library’s Treasures Gallery to mark both the 75th anniversary of Zweig’s death and the publication of the catalogue of the literary and historical manuscripts in the BL Zweig collection. The exhibition was complemented by a study day and a wonderful evening of readings and music from the collection and from Zweig’s own works.

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The current Treasures Gallery display marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and can be seen until 4 February 2018. And next year items from our collections will feature in a display marking the bicentenary of Karl Marx’s birth.

Even when we weren’t directly involved with the Library’s exhibitions we complemented them with blog posts. During a display commemorating the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death we published posts on early French and German translations of her work. We also took a look at French material in the Evanion Collection to coincide with an exhibition about Victorian popular entertainment. And we have been on the trail of magical swords and other magical artefacts to coincide with the ongoing Harry Potter exhibition.

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Of course we marked plenty of other anniversaries on the blog: the Chatham Raid of June 1667 and the 500th anniversary of printing in Belarus to name just two. There were also anniversaries of births and deaths, some of fairly familiar figures such as the writer Mme de Stäel, or the creator of Esperanto L.L. Zamenhof, but others perhaps less well known outside their own countries such as Greek poet Takis Sinopolous.

One of the themes our department is interested in exploring and promoting is translation. Blog posts on this topic covered everything from the first Basque New Testament to Orwell’s Animal Farm. We have also been excited this year to welcome the British Library’s first ever Translator in Residence, Jen Calleja.

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We also contributed to a series of posts on various British Library blogs marking Banned Books week, with posts on censored writers in 16th-century Spain and 20th-century Russia.

But not all our posts mark anniversaries or complement BL exhibitions and themes. We’ve also told more general stories about our collections, such as this tale of a lost and found incunable or an overview of our Romanian collections.

Finally, with New Year’s Eve festivities approaching, we leave you with a recent post about Esperanto literary anthologies. If you learn the translation at the end, you can amaze your friends by singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ in Esperanto at midnight!

European Studies Blog Team

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07 December 2017

Magic in the inventories

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The medieval archives of the Crown of Aragon are generally said to be richer than those of neighbouring Castile. They’re an invaluable source for scholars of all aspects of cultural history, including the history of the book.

And of weird stuff.

In the inventory of the goods of Martin I (1356-1410) we find the following treasures: the arm of St George (p. 461); ditto St Barbara (461); and he must have had over 100 pieces of church vestments.

He had the Cid’s sword:

item una spasa ab son pom de jaspi apellada ne tisona sens fouro bo (p. 524)
[Item a sword with a jasper pommel called The Tizona without a good scabbard]

He had a piece of cloth decorated with the magical sign or seal or knot of Solomon:

primo una tovallola de lens prim brodada de fil d aur e de sede de diverses colors ab .IIII. baboyns de fil d or e de sede en mig VII. senyals salamons squinsada (p. 507)
[first, a fine linen cloth embroidered with gold thread and silk in various colours with four baboons in gold thread in the middle of seven signs of Solomon, torn]

Seal of Solomon

A version of the seal of Solomon from Pertus de Abano, Claviculae Salomonis, seu Philosophia pneumatica … (Bifingen, 1974). X.529/17795

Even these apparently harmless references to items showing the Armed Man turn out, as explained by Joan Evans, in her study, Magical Jewels of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance particularly in England, to be amulets: “in many instances those [stones] that include figures of armed men confer courage and victory in battle” (p. 49), “for alectorias, for instance, the sigil of an armed knight and consecration by nine masses is prescribed” (p. 71):

item una bossa de vellut carmesi dins la qual ha Ia empremte o ymatge pocha de I. hom qui te una spasa en la ma e un cap tellat en l altre ab un cordo de seda vermeya (p. 491)
[item a bag of carmine velvet in which is a small impression or image of a man with a sword in one hand and a detached head in the other with a red cord]

Ebermayer Gems

 Carved gems for use as amulets, from, Johann Martin von Ebermayer, Capita Deorum et illustrium hominum ... nec non Hieroglyphica, Abraxea et Amuleta quædam, in gemmis antiqua partim, partim recenti manu, affabre incisa (Frankfurt, 1721). 139.g.11.

There are nine or so references to “serpents’ teeth”. These were actually prehistoric arrow heads or fossils, and were used to test food for poison. Martin had some mounted on a branching piece of coral, to form what in English we call by the French name of languier:

item diversos trosos de branchas d coral ab algunes lengues de serps encastades en argent (p. 528)
[item various pieces of coral branches with some serpent’s teeth set in silver]

Coral was used as a teething ring, because it too was thought to have protective powers:

item una brancha de coral ab una virolla d argent per a portar a infants (p. 490)
[item a coral branch with a golden ring for children to wear]

And how could he fail to have:

item .I. tros de unicorn encastat en .I.a virolla d aur ab son cordo vermey (p. 541)
[item a piece of unicorn set in a gold ring with its red cord]

As Roca tells us, citing a letter of 1379, unicorn horn too was proof against poison : “la qual val contra verí” (p. 54).

Unicorns Pomet

 Unicorns, from Pierre Pomet, Histoire générale des Drogues, traitant des plantes, des animaux et des mineraux (Paris, 1694) 37.h.7.

Martin wasn’t some dark-age wizard who crammed his palace with superstitious rubbish, although he might have been unduly afraid of poisoning. He was also a patron of medical schools in the modern sense, and it’s likely many of these gewgaws were family heirlooms, as they also appear in the inventory of James II (1267-1327), his great grandfather. And these old beliefs died hard and in the 1720s the existence of the unicorn was still a matter of debate.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References:

J. Massó Torrents, ‘Inventari del bens del rey Martí d’Aragó’, Revue Hispanique, 12 (1905), 413-590. PP.4331.aea

J. M. Roca, La medicina catalana en temps del Rey Martí (Barcelona, 1919) YA.1990.a 16394

Joan Evans, Magical Jewels of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance particularly in England (Oxford, 1922) W2/7263

You can discover many more magical artefacts in our current exhibition Harry Potter: a History of Magicwhich runs until 28 February 2018

13 November 2017

Magic swords just aren’t cricket

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Did you have to hand in your wand when you came to the British Library to see Harry Potter: A History of Magic? There’s a reason for that.

When Arnau de Cabrera entered judicial combat with Bernat de Centelles in Barcelona in 1274, both parties had to declare before King Jaume I “I swear I am carrying no magical weapons” [quod non deferebant aliquid quod haberet virtutem].

Swords combat Harley 4418 f56

Mediaeval knights in combat from Jean d'Arras, Roman de Mélusine, c. 1450. MS Harley 4418, f. 56.

Arnau de Cabrera however denounced his opponent for bearing the sword of Vilardell: no-one who bore it could be defeated or killed [“portavit ensem de Villardello, qui quidem ensis habet virtutem ut nullus subcumbere vel superari possit qui illum in bello detulerit”]. It also had the quality that if it was put point down it righted itself.

Apparently, Bernat’s father, like any good parent, had bought the sword for him for 500 maravedis. He had also asked the Prior of St Paul’s in Barcelona for a shirt which again prevented its owner from being vanquished in battle.

And what’s more Bernat was wearing an iron cap which contained a precious stone called diamas, supplied by his brother Gilabert: the bearer’s bones could not be broken.

The king found for Arnau.

The Sword of Vilardell acquired its powers because it was forged at a particularly propitious astrological conjunction.

Swords Villardel and Griffin
Relief from Barcelona Cathedral showing Vilardell fighting a griffin with his magical sword. (Photograph by Pere López from Wikimedia Commons.

The sword’s original owner, Vilardell, went out one day with an ordinary sword to cut wood. He did a kind deed for a poor man who replaced his old sword with a new one and then disappeared. Vilardell tested the new sword by splitting a rock with it (still to be seen) and then slayed a dragon. So in the early accounts it was a holy weapon not a magic one.

The sword eventually found its way to the Musée de l’Armée  in Paris, where you can see it.

Virtually nobody in the Middle Ages doubted the existence of magic, or its efficacy. What the Church for instance objected to was the use of magic for evil ends.

Modern-day surveillance equipment will (hopefully) pick up any concealed weapons, but magic ones (and I don’t want to alarm you) might be beyond its reach.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References/Further reading

Martí de Riquer, Llegendes històriques catalanes (Barcelona, 2000) YA.2001.a.38498

Robert Bartlett, Trial by Fire and Water: The Medieval Judicial Ordeal (Oxford, 1988) YC.1988.a.7138

Sword

 

09 November 2017

Alberto Savinio. The social utility of Surrealism

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

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

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

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

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

Savinio Nonna

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

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

Savinio Adamo Eva

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Savinio L45-2089 cover

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

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

References/Further readings

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

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

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

03 November 2017

Domesticating the Goddess ‘Liberty’ during the First World War

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Ahead of her talk for the British Library’s Feed the Mind lunchtime lecture series  on Monday 20 November 2017 (12.30-13.30), Collaborative PhD student Cherie Prosser delves into the British Library’s French poster collection to discuss the changing female representation of ‘Liberty’. Tickets for Cherie’s talk can be purchased online, or in person at the box office.

Liberty and her Republican compatriot Marianne are perhaps among the most enigmatic of the French national symbols. Liberty was known in France since Roman times as the goddess who freed slaves while her compatriot Marianne became popularised during the French Revolution as the mocking nickname of the French Republic. Significantly, the French Revolution opened to the door to the reinvention and popularisation of imagery representing new Republican France. Yet rarely is there any discussion of change or challenge to the assumption that female figures of nationalism are important trans-historically and remain a force today.

In my forthcoming Feed the Mind talk, I will demonstrate the transfiguration of Liberty and Marianne in the pictorial poster imagery during the First World War. Shadowing the progression toward modernism, how were these allegorical figures of strategic importance in the redefinition of French political, social and moral values? While continuing to occupy a key role in the popular imagination throughout the war, Liberty and Marianne were able to transcend this catastrophic time.

Feed the Mind Cherie Prosser Marianne La France Libre from Images OnlineLéon Reni-Mel, La France libre, journal socialiste (Paris, 1918). Tab. 11748.a

Their use in poster propaganda during the First World War, as shown in the British Library’s French poster collection, invites an analysis of the ways in which allegories were used to negotiate complex political and social change. Throughout the war, Liberty and Marianne provided a perspective on historical social values as well as current events of the war as they unfolded. Posters were a primary source of propaganda during the war in all the belligerent countries and provide an insight into communication of social and political narratives during war time and beyond.

Feed the Mind Cherie Prosser Marianne with drummerMarcel Falter, 4e Emprunt de la Défense nationale (Paris, 1918) Tab. 11748.a

When we compare Liberty and Marianne with International female counterparts, Columbia, Italia and Britannia, we see the way that France became connected to an allied response to the war. Taking this comparative approach, I want to suggest new insights into the use of posters as a source for understanding socio-cultural and historical change, with a particular focus on the First World War as well as the progression to Modernism.

So join me on 20 November and take a journey back in time as we uncover a series of events that background the significance of these posters from the British Library collection in Paris during the First World War 

References/further reading

Maurice Agulhon, Marianne into battle, republican imagery and symbolism in France, 1789-1880 (Cambridge, 1981) X.800/30696

Marina Warner, Monuments and maidens, the allegory of the female form (London, 1985). YC.1986.b.12

Cherie Prosser is undertaking a collaborative PhD with the British Library and University of Sheffield on visual propaganda in France and Britain during the First World War.

10 October 2017

Text into image: Quevedo and the Table of Cebes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An example is the image below:

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

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

Francisco de Quevedo was no exception.

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

They were translated by Sir Roger L’Estrange.

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

Quevedo 1
Above and below: illustrations from Francisco de Quevedo, Obras ... Nueva impression corregida y ilustrada con muchas estampas muy donosas y apropriadas à la materia. [Edited by Pedro Aldrete Quevedo y Villegas.] (Antwerp, 1699)  635.g.3-5#

Quevedo 3

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

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

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

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References

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

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

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

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

06 October 2017

Montalbano’s Rice Balls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

References

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

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

 

03 October 2017

Le rose et le noir: Jean Anouilh

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Visitors attending the British Library’s event Greeks: Classic to Contemporary this evening will have the privilege of hearing Kamila Shamsie, among others, discussing her new novel Home Fire, a reworking of the legend of Antigone. It is appropriate that this timeless parable of civil disobedience should be re-examined on the 30th anniversary of the death of a man who brought it to the stage at a crucial point in European history: Jean Anouilh.

Anouih portrait YF.2014.a.17873

Portrait of Jean Anouilh from Anca Visdei, Jean Anouilh: une biographie (Paris, 2012) YF.2014.a.17873.

It may seem odd that such a classic figure of the modern French theatre died as recently as 1987, but Anouilh began his creative life and established his reputation at a comparatively early age. He was born on 23 June 1910 in the little village of Cérisole near Bordeaux, and registered as the son of François Anouilh, a tailor of Basque descent, and his wife Marie-Magdeleine, a violinist. During the summer she would augment the family finances by playing in music-hall, casino and theatre orchestras in the seaside resort of Arcachon, and years later her son discovered that he was actually the result of an affair which she had had there. A more tangible influence was the exposure to the world of the theatre where young Jean attended rehearsals, read scripts, and even experimented with playwriting on his own account.

When Jean was eight the family moved to Paris, where he was educated at the famous Lycée Chaptal and gained admission to the Sorbonne to read law. The family’s finances, however, were still too precarious to allow him to continue his studies, and in his second year he left to seek employment with the advertising firm Publicité Damour. This apparent blow actually stood him in good stead and provided him with a training in pithy and concise use of language, equally applicable to writing for the stage.

After a period of military service and an early and troubled marriage to the actress Monelle Velentin, in 1935 Anouilh became secretary to the actor and director Louis Jouvet at the Comédie des Champs-Elysées. This brought him into contact with Jean Giraudoux, who encouraged him to return to writing, and in 1932 Anouilh completed L’Hermine (the British Library holds the 1934 edition: 12208.ee.151, and also a first edition of Y'avait un prisonnier (Paris, 1935; P.P.4283.m.(2.)). Anouilh also collaborated with the Russian director Georges Pitoëff, with whom he achieved his first commercial success, Le Voyageur sans bagages (Paris, 1937; P.P.4283.m.(2.)). He also worked closely with the set designer André Barsacq, director of the Théâtre de l’Atelier, who created an exquisite series of illustrations for a limited edition of Anouilh’s play L’Invitation au château.

Anouih Invitation 11740.n.8.

Illustration by André Barsacq for L’Invitation au château (Paris, 1948) 11740.n.8.

This play, memorably adapted by Christopher Fry under the title Ring Round the Moon (London, 1950; 11740.n.11) was one of many which gained wide popularity on the English-speaking stage.

It belongs to the group classified by Anouilh as his pièces roses, comedies with an almost whimsical fairy-tale quality, in strong contrast to his pièces noires, where a darker, more cynical tone prevails. The bitter years of the German occupation and the Vichy regime had led Anouilh to reflect on the recurrent motifs and archetypes of human folly and cruelty in history and myth, crystallized in a series of dramas including Antigone (Paris, 1946; W22/1129) and L’Alouette (1952; BL copy Paris, 1953; 11740.m.34) dealing with the conflicts surrounding idealistic young protagonists facing a choice between integrity and death in a corrupt society. Despite belonging to a third group described by the author as pièces costumées, this play, like Becket, does not merely seek refuge in the safe past but emphasizes the eternal and vividly topical nature of the moral choices which the characters confront.

Anouilh was equally unsparing of himself in his final cycle of pièces secrètes in which he analyses the predicament of the dramatist or director and the dilemmas which it poses. As well as the conflict between life and art, these were also of a political nature; Antigone, for example (a theme which had also been interpreted by Brecht) escaped censorship under the Vichy government and thus attracted criticism on the grounds of moral ambivalence, as did Anouilh’s public disagreements with Charles de Gaulle and his support of the author Robert Brasillach, executed in 1945 for collaboration with the Nazis. Despite the numerous honours which Anouilh received, these considerations may have had a bearing on the fact that despite being shortlisted for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, he never won it. Moreover, in the 1960s, as the Theatre of the Absurd gained ground, his plays began to lose their appeal despite his own highly individual approach to existential crises as profound as anything to be found in the works of Beckett or Ionesco (both of whom he defended); the Belgian critic Hubert Gignoux, for example, sums up Antigone as ‘drame psychologique en marge d’une tragédie’.

Anouilh biog Gignoux 11867.e.29

Cover of Hubert Gignoux, Jean Anouilh (Paris, 1946; 11867.e.29).

However, he retained his vitality as a man of the theatre and the cinema well into his seventies, turning to directing (he was also a translator of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde). Although he remarked in 1946 to Gignoux that he had no biography and was content with the fact, he could surely have had no quarrel with his biographer Anca Visdei’s comment in her biography of Anouilh: ‘Anouilh est devenu omniprésent dans la vie théâtrale française … Incontournable.’

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

29 September 2017

'Poema a fumetti' by Dino Buzzati

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

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

Wait, literary work? Is it a literary work?

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

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

Buzzati Eura

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

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

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

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

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

 References/further reading

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

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

 

Buzzati Cover
The uncensored cover of Poema a Fumetti

27 September 2017

A Salamanca scholar defies the Inquisition

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Fray Luis de León (1527-91) was one of Spain’s most prestigious scholars and one of its greatest poets. Unfortunately for him his area of expertise was Hebrew. This in itself was enough to make him suspicious to the Inquisition. And he was of Jewish extraction, which made him even more open to attack. As you’ll recall, the principal targets of the Spanish Inquisition were Protestants and Jews. A knowledge of Hebrew was the sign of the potential fellow-traveller.

Catholicism defended the Latin of the Vulgate against all comers: never mind that the Old Testament was translated from the Hebrew, the Vulgate was superior.

In the 17th century Cornelius à Lapide pondered that in the account of the Flood Noah’s dove had in its beak not an olive branch (Vulgate) but an olive leaf (in Hebrew):

Pro illo: Portans ramum olivae virentibus folii[s]: Graeci libri habent κάρφος, id est, festucam. S. Ambrosius legit, ramum, Augustinus, surculum. Hebraice est: Ecce folium oliuae raptum erat in ore eius. Vox (haleh) proprie significat folium, quod denotat, ascendere: vnde haleh, dicitur foliũ, quia vento ascendit in altum, & licet magis conuenire videatur imbecillitati rostri columbae, folium ex arbore decerpere quam ramũ, potuit esse ramus ille perquam paruus & tener, pauculis constans foliis.
Where [the Vulgate] says: carrying an olive branch flourishing in leaves: the Greeks have rod, S. Ambrose reads branch, Augustine twig. In Hebrew it is: Behold a plucked olive leaf was in its mouth. The word haleh literally means leaf, which by extension means to rise: hence haleh is said leaf, because it ascends on high on the wind, and although it might seem that it was more suitable to the weakness of a dove’s beak to pluck a leaf rather than a branch, this could have been a branch, albeit a small and thin one, with just a few leaves.

Miguel de la Pinta Llorente told the sad tale of the destruction of the Salamanca school of Christian Hebraists, condemned one by one to imprisonment in the name of orthodoxy.

Fray Luis spent five years at trial and in prison. On his release he wrote a poem, ‘Aquí la envidia y mentira / me tuvieron encerrado ... ’ (though some now don’t think it’s his.)

He was also an admirer, translator and imitator of the Roman poet Horace. When he came to devise a personal emblem, he chose a motto from Horace: ‘ab ipso ferro’.
The source is Odes IV, 4:

Duris ut ilex tonsa bipennibus
Nigrae feraci frondis in Algido,
Per damna, per caedes ab ipso
Ducit opes animumque ferro.

Rendered by Henry Coxwell, Gent.:

These [the early settlers in Italy] like an elm, lopt with an ax, will grow,
and spring afresh where it receiv’d the blow;
like growing Hydra by Alcides slain,
lop off one head another sprouts again

Thus the accompanying picture shows a tree stump with the axe embedded and sprouting new growth.

Perfecta Casada 698.d.36
Fr Luis, La perfecta casada (Salamanca, 1583)  698.d.36.

It’s worth pointing out that it wasn’t common for authors to display their devices on the title pages of their publications: that space was normally reserved for the printer’s device or the patron’s arms.

And if further proof were needed that this was Fr Luis’s choice, Michael J. Fulton shows that the emblem wasn’t used until Fr Luis came out of jail, and after that he used it repeatedly.

A cultured act of defiance to Fr Luis’s persecutors: Cut me down and I’ll be stronger.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References:

Commentaria in Pentateuchum Mosis auctore R. P.Cornelio Cornelii A Lapide (Antwerp, 1714) 3.g.12

Michael J. Fulton, ‘The Ab Ipso Ferro Motif in the Works of Fray Luis de León’, Romance Studies, 21:1 (2003), 11-23. P.903/861

The odes of Horace, translated into English verse by Henry Coxwell, Gent. (Oxford, 1718). 011388.c.32

Miguel de la Pinta Llorente, Proceso criminal contra el hebraista salmantino Martín Martínez de Cantalapiedra (Madrid, 1946) 05107.i.49.

Miguel de la Pinta Llorente, Proceso criminal contra el biblista Alonso Gudiel (Madrid, 1961) 4869.c.15.

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

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