THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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88 posts categorized "Romance languages"

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.

 

21 September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References/further Reading

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

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

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

18 September 2017

Bertillons and others: some language textbooks of the past

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Back in 1979 my introduction to the French language – and indeed to learning any foreign language – came via a textbook entitled Le français d’aujourd’hui (‘Today’s French’) and its central protagonists, the Bertillon family, whose adventures were generally recounted in picture stories, with commentary and vocabulary, opposite a page explaining new grammar points with related exercises.

Bertillons 1
‘Voici la famille Bertillon...’, from P.J.Downes [and others] Le français d’aujourd’hui (London, 1966) Cup.1254.w.31.

La famille Bertillon consisted of Papa, Maman and three children: Philippe, Marie-Claude and Alain. They lived in the – presumably fictional – town of Villeneuve, complete with Miquet the cat and, a little later, Kiki the dog, a stray adopted by Alain in an early adventure. M Bertillon (Jean) was a customs officer at Orly airport while Mme Bertillon (Annette) was a stay-at-home mum.

Bertillons 2
Alain acquires a dog

After M Bertillon caught a smuggler at work – leaping athletically over his desk and crying ‘Au voleur!’ – he was rewarded with a bonus, enabling the family to move closer to Paris and the authors of the textbook to introduce the future tense: ‘When we are living in Sceaux I will…’. The imperfect tense was introduced in a rather less obvious way, with Philippe, inspired by a history lesson, falling asleep and dreaming of the life he would have led at various periods in the past. Our French teacher actually apologised to us for this chapter.

Bertillons 3

M. Bertillon springs into action

After the move the Bertillons also acquired a car, which Mme Bertillon (who already had one cycling accident under her belt) managed to crash while taking Marie-Claude and Alain for a day out. On seeing the damaged car, M Bertillon, who had been at a rugby match with Philippe, exclaimed ‘Sacrebleu!’, translated by the book as the surprisingly mild ‘tut-tut’. Our teacher had another translation: ‘Never say this,’ she warned us, ‘It is the French equivalent of “Gadzooks.”’

Bertillons 4    Bertillons 5

Mme Bertillon’s transport misfortunes: a cycling accident and a damaged car

Although not usually so mediaeval, Le français d’aujourd’hui, was certainly outdated by the time it fell into my generation’s teenaged hands, having been first published shortly before we were born. One of the chapters not featuring the Bertillons was a plug for ‘Concorde – l’avion de l’avenir’ and the lesson when we studied it was almost certainly interrupted by ‘the aeroplane of the future’ passing over us on its regular daily flight, its sonic boom rendering audible speech briefly impossible.

For German we had something rather more up-to-date, illustrated for additional verisimilitude with photographs taken in the city of Göttingen where the stories were set – although the wing collars and flared trousers of its mid-1970s characters seemed as hopelessly outmoded to our mid-1980s sensibilities as the Bertillons’ badly-drawn 1960s outfits.

Audio-lingual German 1
C.C.B. Wightwick and H, Strubelt, Longman Audio-Lingual German. Stage 1 (London, 1974) X.0900/404. The cover features, clockwise from top, regular characters Herr Körner, Dieter Kollwitz, Jürgen Starnberger and Frau Schütze 

As the title (surely one of the dullest for a textbook ever) implies, Longman Audio-Lingual German was also more up-to-date in its use of audio material. Listening to stories and dialogues, following the spoken narrative of wordless picture stories, and repeating phrases and sentences, all using reel-to-reel tapes in the classroom, were an integral part of the course.

Audio-lingual German picture story
A picture story from Audio-Lingual German, designed to make more sense when you heard the accompanying tape

Unlike the nuclear Bertillon family of Le français d’aujourd’hui, Audio-Lingual German featured a wide cast of characters. There was teenager Dieter Kollwitz and his friends, but the main focus was actually on adult characters, notably journalist Herr Körner and his landlady Frau Schütze.

Audio-lingual German Dieter
1970s teenager Dieter, in his 1970s bedroom, with his 1970s mother: ‘hopelessly outmoded to our mid-1980s sensibilities’

Most of these characters’ adventures, like those of the Bertillons, were fairly humdrum, except on the occasions when the writers introduced the two bizarrely useless petty criminals, Adolf and Hermann, who were presumably meant to add comic relief. In a particularly ridiculous episode, Hermann was smuggled into Herr Körner’s rooms inside a new sofa, in order to raid the premises. When this plan failed, he and Adolf, having no money for food, broke into a car to steal a sausage, only to discover that it was a plastic theatre prop. Like Philippe’s dream, this whole story triggered an apology in advance from the teacher.

We all rather assumed that Herr Körner and the widowed Frau Schütze would eventually get together, but it was not to be. At the end of Book 2, Herr Körner got a publishing deal and left Göttingen for Berlin, although his departure was inevitably hampered by Adolf and Hermann stealing his motorbike at a motorway service station, where several key characters from the books had conveniently converged.

Audio-lingual German Bike theft
Adolf (pillion) and Hermann (driving) make their final getaway, pursued by Herr Körner and friends

Looking back at these two textbook series, published approximately ten years apart, it is clear how much the approach to language learning, and indeed to the kind of material likely to engage the interest of secondary school children, had changed between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s. With modern language studies sadly declining in UK schools, it is to be hoped that today’s textbook writers and selectors are finding ways to engage modern schoolchildren in new ways with the pleasure of learning a language.

 Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections