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74 posts categorized "Translation"

17 October 2017

Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata

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In the 1880s Leo Tolstoy mainly focused on writing non-fiction; his novella The Kreutzer Sonata is one of the few exceptions. In February 1876 a woman calling herself ‘Slavyanka’ had written to Tolstoy her thoughts on the appalling situation of women in contemporary Russian society. This was one source of inspiration for the novella. Another was a story told to Tolstoy by a friend who had heard a fellow train traveller talking about his wife’s infidelity.

When the first draft had been written, a family friend performed Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata (Sonata No. 9 in A Major for piano and violin, Op. 47) at Tolstoy’s house in Moscow. Immediately afterwards, Tolstoy suggested that the actor Andreev-Burlak and the artist Ilya Repin, who were present, could help him express the feelings evoked by this music. Tolstoy’s original plan was to have his story read in public with Repin’s visual response to the music in the background, although this performance never took place. It occurs to me that had such a recital happened, we could have think of Tolstoy as one of the founding fathers of conceptual performance art.

1-Ilya Repin's picture of Tolstoy and his daughter Alexandra

Ilya Repin’s picture of Tolstoy and his daughter Alexandra at the piano

Tolstoy continuously reworked the plot of the story and it went through many transformations. In the final version, the protagonist tells his story as part of a conversation on a train concerning marriage, divorce and love. Although he loved his wife at first, he became unhappy with her when she was preoccupied by motherhood, but was also displeased when she started to prevent pregnancies. Nonetheless, having noticed his wife’s admiration for a violinist, he became consumed with jealousy which led him to kill her. Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata triggers all the emotions in the story, as this is what unites the protagonist’s wife with the violinist when they play it together, filling him with rage and misery. He blames the conventions which force people to stay together even after love has turned into hatred, and believes that women and men will never enjoy equal rights as long as men view women as objects of desire. Yet he also claims that women have a form of power over men, since much of society is geared towards women’s pleasure and wellbeing. Tolstoy’s message is confusing, but is usually interpreted as questioning the institution of marriage and celebrating the ideals of chastity and sexual abstinence.

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 Draft page of The Kreutzer Sonata, Zweig MS 191

In November 1889, the story was read in public at the publishing house owned by Tolstoy’s friend Chertkov. It made such an impression that, against Tolstoy’s will, the manuscript was copied on the same night. Three days later 300 lithograph copies were already in private circulation in St. Petersburg and many more were created on hectograph machines. In December 1889, rumours that the censors would ban publication were confirmed. Tolstoy had decided in 1879 to renounce his copyright and potential royalties for anything written thereafter, so was relieved that he did not have to deal with a moral dilemma: to allow his wife to support the family by publishing his work commercially or to publish it gratis according to his own principles.

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Opening (above) and last two page (below) of a clandestine edition of The Kreutzer Sonata ([St Petersburg?, 1889]) RB.23.b.6954.

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In 1890, when it became obvious that The Kreutzer Sonata would not be published in Russia, the Bibliographic Office in Berlin published the story in four languages – Russian, German, French and English – simultaneously. At least two other different English translations, by H. Sutherland Edwards and by Beni R. Tucker, were published in 1890 in England and America respectively.

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Above: The Berlin edition of The Kreutzer Sonata  (1890) 1608/5228. Below: English translation of The Kreutzer Sonata. (London, 1890) 012589.e.34.

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In 1891, Tolstoy’s wife Sofia Andreevna was granted personal permission by Tsar Alexander III to publish the novella in Russia. She did so to prove to herself and others that she had not been hurt by the story, although she admitted in her diaries that it was aimed at her life with Tolstoy, which certainly made her feel uneasy about it. She even wrote a “reply” to Tolstoy, a novella Ch’ia vina? (‘Whose was the blame?’), not published until 1994.

An almost immediate response to Tolstoy’s ideas on marriage and sexuality came from the German author Dagobert von Gerhardt, known under his pen-name Gerhardt von Amyntor. In 1891 he published his story Die Cis-moll-Sonate in which travellers on a train discuss Tolstoy and his Kreutzer Sonata, and one describes how Tolstoy’s ideas influenced his life in a negative way.

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Against The Kreutzer Sonata, by G. von Amyntor in Russian translation: Za pravdu i za chest’ zhenshchiny [For the truth and women’s honour]  (St Petersburg, 1898) 8410.ff.18.

Tolstoy’s son, Lev L’vovich, also argued with his father in his novella Preliudiia Shopena (‘Chopin ’s Prelude’). In 1890 Leonard Terry, writing as ‘Margrave Kenyon’ published a play entitled Madansema, Slave of Love; re Tolstoi, a counter-song to anti-marriage (London, 1890). On the inside cover of the British Library copy there is an inscription: “Tolstoi thinks – marriage is a sin (essay in “Universal Review”, 1890)”. Apart from the title, the play has only a loose connection with Tolstoy’s story. Mrs James Gregor’s novella, like Sofia Andreevna’s entitled Whose was the blame?, was published in London in 1894 and is subtitled A woman’s version of the Kreutzer Sonata. These are just some examples of contemporary responses to The Kreutzer Sonata.

The Czech composer Leo Janaček’s String quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata” was also inspired by Tolstoy’s story. When he wrote it in 1923, the composer’s own private life was tense and difficult: he had informally divorced his wife, and was passionately in love with Kamila Stösslová, who neither sought nor rejected his devotion. An image of a “tormented and run down” poor young woman from Tolstoy’s novel was very close to Janáček’s heart at that time.

The Kreutzer Sonata remains one of the most popular of Tolstoy’s works and continues to attract new translations and adaptations.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

References / Further reading:

Lawrence Kramer, “Tolstoy’s Beethoven, Beethoven’s Tolstoy : the Kreutzer Sonata” in his collection of essays Critical musicology and the responsibility of response : selected essays (Aldershot, 2006) YC.2008.a.856

Europäisches Ereignis "Kreutzersonate" : Beethoven - Tolstoj – Janáček, Ulrich Steltner … et al. (Jena, 2004) YF.2006.a.12001

Dawn B. Sova, Literature suppressed on sexual grounds (New York, 2006) YC.2007.a.2777.

Alexandra Popoff, Sophia Tolstoy: a biography. (New York, 2010) m10/.18612

The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy, translated by Cathy Porter. (London, 2010) YC.2011.a.630

 

12 October 2017

Righteous Gentile and honorary Irishman: Zdeněk Urbánek

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When Václav Havel, playwright and future president of the Czech Republic, was imprisoned in the 1970s, he came across a novel entitled The Road to Don Quixote (Cestou za Quijote; 1949), freely based on Cervantes’s experiences in an Algerian prison. As he read it, admiring the prophetically modern quality of the book and the author’s imaginative grasp of what it felt like to be a prisoner, he realised that he had actually met the author. At that time, when he was a young man in his early twenties attempting to break into the world of Czech literature and drama, the older man – a writer of short stories and essays, and a translator of Shakespeare and Joyce – inspired his respect, but little more. It was not until later, as they worked together as friends and co-signatories of Charter 77, that Havel came to appreciate the true qualities of Zdeněk Urbánek.

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 Portrait of Zdeněk Urbánek (Image from The Archive of Fine Arts, Creative Commons non-commercial use-Share-Alike 3.0)

Urbánek was born on 12 October 1917 in Prague. After graduating he became an editor, first at the publishing house Evropský literární klub and in 1945 of the periodical Svobodné slovo, before working in the Ministry of Information and the Czechoslovak state film company as a script reviewer. In 1957, however, he contracted tuberculosis and left full-time employment to devote himself to translation. He had a special affinity with Irish literature, describing himself as an ‘honorary Irishman’; his translation of James Joyce’s Dubliners (Dubliňané; Prague, 1959; 011313.kk.22) testifies to this.

Among the many British and American authors whom he translated were T. S. Eliot, Eugene O’Neill, Scott Fitzgerald and Charles Dickens, but his crowning achievement was his translation of seven of Shakespeare’s plays; the British Library holds a three-volume edition of these containing Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, Richard III, Julius Caesar, Hamlet and all three parts of Henry IV (Brno, 1992-95; YA.2002.a.740). Of these, Hamlet retained a place in the repertoire of the National Theatre in Prague from 1959 to 1965.

Urbanek Romeo and Juliet

Frontispiece and tittle-page from Romeo a Julie (Prague, 1964; 11760.a.6),translated by Urbánek, illustrated by Ota Janeček.

The British Library is also privileged to own a copy of Urbánek’s earliest published work, a collection of short stories entitled Jitřenka smutku (‘Mourning star’), which bears a dedication in the author’s own hand.

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 Manuscript dedication on the flyleaf of Jitřenka smutku (Prague, 1939; X.909/81940).

At the same time as he was embarking on his literary career and establishing himself in publishing, Urbánek was also becoming active in a very different sphere. Since the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia the previous year he had been living in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and the growing persecution of the Jews was brought home to him in a particularly forceful way when his friend Jiří Ohrenstein, a Jewish poet who wrote under the name of Jiří Orten, was knocked down by a German ambulance in 1941 and died after being denied hospital treatment on racial grounds. Urbánek could not save him, but he could at least preserve his work and his literary reputation, and wrote an introductory essay for a collection of his writings, Eta, Eta, žlutí ptáci (‘Eta, Eta, yellow birds’ ; Liberec, 1966; X.909/8664). On a more practical level, Urbánek and his wife Věra provided temporary shelter in their two-room apartment for several Jewish fugitives on their way to safer refuges, and also offered a collection-point for food parcels being sent to others who had already been dispatched to Terezín. In recognition of his efforts, Urbánek was subsequently designated as a ‘Righteous Gentile’ by the State of Israel.

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  Cover of Jitřenka smutku.

Urbánek never hesitated to put his personal safety at risk in the service of both humanitarian and literary causes. He was frequently subjected to police questioning, and even his work as a translator exposed him to danger through his choices of authors and the ideas which they expressed, leading him to publish them anonymously or under borrowed names. From 1972 onwards he contributed to various samizdat and exile literary publications, as after 1968 he had been placed on the list of banned writers.

In one of his short stories, ‘The Visit’, translated by William Harkins in On the Sky’s Clayey Bottom: Sketches and Happenings from the Years of Silence (New York, 1992; YA.1993.a.20757), he describes a visit from a State Security representative hoping to recruit Urbánek’s wife to spy on a guest coming to stay with their neighbours. When it turns out to be a mistake (the man was looking for a Party member with a similar name living two floors down), the unwelcome caller departs, grumbling; ‘We’re already loaded down with work and they send me another two floors up. Goodbye then. And keep quiet or you’ll get it.’ In just three short pages Urbánek pithily and trenchantly captures the atmosphere of claustrophobia and distrust which prevailed immediately before the end of communism in Czechoslovakia (the story was first published in May 1992, only months before the ‘Velvet Divorce’ which divided the Czech Republic from Slovakia). He himself had made a significant contribution to the downfall of the old regime through his work with the human rights declaration Charter 77, signed by many leading cultural figures who were punished by imprisonment or dismissal from their posts; Urbánek was forbidden to leave Czechoslovakia after returning in 1969 from a six-month stay at All Souls College, Oxford, and did not do so again until October 1989, when he was finally able to visit the USA as a guest of the Charter 77 Foundation.

Despite the fact that Urbánek was 90 when he died in 2008, Havel declared that he had died before his time. ‘Without him,’ he stated, ‘I can hardly form an adequate conception of what Czech fiction, Czech essay writing, or Czech translation today have to tell us’.

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

 

02 October 2017

Luther the translator

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In 1521, having been excommunicated by the Pope and declared an outlaw by the Holy Roman Emperor, Martin Luther was given refuge at the Wartburg Castle near Eisenach by Elector Friedrich III of Saxony, one of the first German princes to support the ideas of the Protestant Reformation. While in hiding there Luther set about translating the New Testament into German, as first part of a proposed translation of the whole Bible.

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Luther disguised as ‘Junker Jörg’ while in hiding at the Wartburg. Engraving by Lucas Cranach, reproduced in Alfred von Sallet, Luther als Junker Georg ... Separatabdruch aus dem 52 Bande des “Neuen Lausitzischen Magazins.” (Berlin, 1883) 4888.bb.8.

Luther chose to tackle the New Testament first as it was the less difficult task. He was not the first to translate the Bible into German: 18 translations had appeared in print between 1466 and the early 1520s. But unlike these, which were based heavily on the Latin ‘Vulgate’, the canonical Bible text for the Catholic Church of the day, Luther went back to the original Biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew. For the New Testament he worked mainly from Erasmus’s Greek edition.

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The first Bible printed in German (Strasbourg, 1466) IC.506

The work was finished in 11 months and the first edition of Luther’s New Testament appeared in September 1522. It was a great success: the first edition of 3,000 copies sold out within 3 months, and a new edition appeared in December, by which time Luther had already made many changes and corrections to his translation (he would continue to revise and amend his translations throughout his life).

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Title-page of the ‘September Testament’, the first edition of Luther’s New Testament translation (Wittenberg, 1522)  C.36.g.7.

The first part of Luther’s Old Testament translation appeared in 1523. Over the next 12 years, working with a group of associates, he completed the translation of the whole Bible, which was published in 1534. In that time at least 22 new editions of the already-published translations had appeared, and it is reckoned that around a third of all literate Germans would have owned a copy of one or more parts.

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Title-page of the first complete edition of Luther’s Bible (Wittenberg, 1534) 1.b.9.

An important aspect of Luther’s translation was that he wanted it to reflect the cadences not of Latin, or of Greek and Hebrew, but of contemporary spoken German. He set out  this idea in the Sendbrief vom Dolmetschen, published in 1530 in response to critics such as Hieronymus Emser, who in 1523 had produced a book arguing that Luther’s Bible should be ‘forbidden to the common man’ and identifying 1400 alleged errors and heresies in Luther’s text.

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Martin Luther, Ein Sendbrieff. Von Dolmetschen... (Wittenberg, 1530)

A particular target of Luther’s critics was his use of the term ‘allein durch Glauben’ – ‘only by faith’ – to translate Romans 3.28 in which neither the Vulgate nor the Greek text has any equivalent of the word ‘only’. Although the concept of justification by faith alone was in fact of great theological importance for Luther, here he defended his use of ‘allein’ on purely linguisitic grounds, claiming that it was so natural in the context of a spoken German sentence that not to use it would sound foolish. He famously stated that:

We do not have to ask the literal Latin how we are to speak German, as these donkeys do. Rather we must ask the mother in the home, the children on the street, the common man in the marketplace. We must be guided by their language, by the way they speak, and do our translating accordingly. Then they will understand it and recognise that we are speaking German to them.

Luther also points out in the Sendbrief that Emser himself made heavy use of Luther’s German New Testament when commissioned by the Catholic Duke Georg of Saxony to provide a heresy-free Catholic alternative to Luther’s translation. Emser’s reliance on Luther’s text meant that Luther’s Biblical language became familiar and popular among Catholic as well as Protestant Germans.

As the Sendbrief suggested, Luther had found a way to make the Bible speak to ordinary Germans. His translation would greatly influence the German language – as the King James Bible later would English – so that today’s German speakers of all confessions and religions, and those of none, owe a debt going back to the fugitive monk who devoted his days in hiding to translation.

 Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

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.) 

14 September 2017

150 Years of Capital

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The British Library claims an important relationship with Karl Marx and his associates. Arriving to London as an exile in 1849, Marx became a familiar face in the reading rooms of the British Library (then part of the British Museum), making use of their extensive collections to pursue information that would later prove foundational to his famous critique of political economy, Capital. The first edition of this canonical work was received with little fanfare, selling only 1000 copies in its first four years. In 1872, Marx himself presented a copy, published in German, for our collections (C.120.b.1). The donation was acknowledged like any other, with a cursory record in a large, leather-bound index that now sits in our corporate archives. Now, 150 years since its original publication date on 14 September 1867, it is among our most treasured texts.

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Marx’s donation index entry. BL Corporate Archives DH53/6

In preparation for the 2018 bicentenary of Marx’s birth, we have been tracing the course of his time with the British Library. It is a well-trodden path; few figures have been subject to as much intense historical and ideological scrutiny, and it is hard to believe that after two centuries our explorations may yield new discoveries. But it would seem that the Library still has secrets to give up. This week, consulting the donation indexes led to the discovery that Marx also presented a second copy of Capital, this one in French.


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Title page of Le Capital (Paris, 1872) C.120.g.2.

The text, with its intricately-embellished chapter headings and impressive title page, is a thing to behold. Closer inspection also reveals various handwritten annotations in the margins of the page. Words are crossed out, better alternatives suggested, and minor errors deleted. In his search for a common unit of value between two comparable commodities – cloth and coat – the word toile (‘linen’) is substituted for the less accurate drap (‘sheet’): 

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Handwritten corrections in the donated copy of Le Capital

There is good reason to suspect that these annotations are written in the author’s own hand. The birth of the French edition was, for Marx, lengthy and tortuous. In his opinion:

although the French edition…has been prepared by a great expert in both languages, he has often translated too literally. I have therefore found myself compelled to re-write whole passages in French, to make them accessible to the French public. It will be all the easier later on to translate the book from French into English and the Romance languages. (Letter to Nikolai Danielson, 28 February 1872, MECW, vol.44, p.327)

One is inclined to feel some sympathy for the long-suffering translator, Joseph Roy, working as he was from the second German edition of Capital handwritten in Marx’s famously dreadful scrawl. Marx was a ruthless editor, and it is easy to imagine the famously rigorous intellectual leafing through the copy en route to the library, unable to resist making a few last-minute alterations.

Marx was also a constantly evolving writer, and the ideas contained in the French edition differed significantly from those of its predecessor. Notably, the much-discussed section outlining the fetishism of commodities was refined. Where the German edition concerns itself with the fantastical appearance of the commodity, the French edition foregrounds the necessary reality of ‘material relations between persons and social relations between things’. In short, then, this is a work unpopulated by phantoms; instead, we begin to see how the workings of capital come to modify the essence of human personhood. Marx himself claimed that the French edition ‘possessed a scientific value independent of the original and should be consulted even by readers familiar with German’. Still, it was long neglected by the Anglophone world, largely due to Engels’s own preference for the earlier German incarnation.

  Marx Register 2
Donation index entry for the final instalment of Le Capital. BL Corporate Archives DH53/7

The donation registers show that the French edition was delivered to the British Library in six instalments, between 12 October 1872 and 8 January 8 1876. This period corresponds with various complications in Marx’s life, with frequent bouts of insomnia and liver disease affecting his ability to work. In a letter to Friedrich Sorge on 4 August 1874 (MECW, vol.45, p.28), Marx lamented that ‘that damned liver complaint has made such headway that I was positively unable to continue the revision of the French translation (which actually amounts almost to complete rewriting)’. So the staggered delivery of the manuscript likely reflects these intellectual and physical obstacles, but it is also revealing of the audience that Marx had in mind for his work. The French edition was initially published in a serialized format in workers’ newspapers between 1872 and 1875. ‘In this form,’ Marx wrote,‘the book will be more accessible to the working-class, a consideration which to me outweighs everything else.’ However, he fretted that the French public, ‘always impatient to come to a conclusion…zealously seeking the truth’, would be frustrated by the wait between instalments. A puzzling concern for a man whose work had hitherto been received with so little public zeal.

For the Library’s administrators, these piecemeal instalments of Capital, and interactions with its author, only proved something of a mild inconvenience. In a letter dated 17 July 1873, the Library’s Assistant Secretary wrote to William Butler Rye, Keeper of Printed Books, with the following request:

Dear Mr. Rye,
I am directed by Mr. Jones to forward to you fasc. IV of the French edition of Das Kapital. In a letter received from Dr. Karl Marx on the 15th, he says: “I feel not sure whether or not I have sent the 6th and last fascicile [sic] of the first volume of the German edition” (of Das Kapital). Would you be so good as to communicate with Dr. Marx on the object: he writes from No.1 Maitland Park Road.
Believe me,
Yours truly,
Thomas Butler

Butler letter 1 Butler letter 2 Butler letter 3
Letter to William Butler Rye, BL Corporate Archives DH4/13

Izzy Gibbin, UCL Anthropology.  (Izzy is working with the British Library on a doctoral placement scheme looking at ways to mark the bicentenary of Marx’s birth)

References

Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, Collected works (MECW) (London, 1975-2004) X.0809/543.

04 September 2017

No mean achievement: the first Basque New Testament

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The British Library possesses a fine copy of the New Testament in Basque, printed at La Rochelle in 1571. The principal translator was Joanes Leizarraga (1506-1601). Born at Briscous in the French Basque province of Labourd, he trained as a Catholic priest. However, by 1560 he had converted to Protestantism, later taking refuge in the territory of Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre. She herself had converted to Calvinism in 1559 and was the leading promoter of the Huguenot cause.

Leizarraga undertook the translation in 1563 at the behest of the Synod of Pau of the Reformed Church of Navarre-Béarn. The work is dedicated to Jeanne d’Albret, who financed the translation, and her coat of arms appears on the title page. Subsequently, in 1567, she appointed Leizarraga minister of the church of Labastide in Lower Navarre in 1567.

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Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre-Béarn, by François Clouet (1570) (Image from the Gallica Digital Library via Wikimedia Commons)

As elsewhere in Reformation Europe, making the Bible available to the laity in the vernacular was a priority. Leizarraga, however, faced particular difficulties. The earliest surviving book in Basque was printed in Bordeaux as late as 1545. No copy has survived of a reported second book, a Spanish-Basque catechism, printed in Spanish Navarre in 1561. He was thus unable to draw on an established form of written Basque in producing his translation. Moreover, at this period Basque was spoken in a number of dialects and varied noticeably from village to village, ‘almost from house to house’ as Leizarraga himself remarks in the preliminaries addressed to ‘Heuscalduney’, the speakers of Basque. He resolved to create a generalized form of the language, based on three dialects: largely that of Labourd, plus Lower Navarrese and Souletin.

He was assisted in this by four other Basque ministers, of whom at least two came from Soule. Leizarraga and his collaborators based their text on a version of the French Geneva Bible but with regard also to the Vulgate and to the Greek. In so doing they effectively created a Basque literary language, although one that took many words directly from Latin. This is evident in a comparison between the opening verses of the Lord’s Prayer in Leizarraga’s version (L) and one in modern Basque (B). The borrowings from Latin are in bold:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew VI: 9-10).
L: Gure Aita ceruëtã aicena, sanctifica bedi hire icena. Ethor bedi hire resumá. Eguin bedi hire vorondatea ceruän beçala lurrean-ere.
B: Gure Aita zeruetan zaudena, santu izan bedi zure izena. Etor bedi zure erreinua, egin bedi zure nahia, zeruan bezala lurrean ere.

Subsequently, Basque developed in a less learned, more popular direction. Nonetheless, the work is of considerable value to grammarians and philologists when studying the language of Leizarraga’s day and its subsequent evolution.

The 1571 volume contains a number of additional texts. These include glossaries (e.g. of Hebrew and Greek proper names); a topical index to the New Testament; instructions on conducting various religious ceremonies, e.g. marriage; and a catechism for children. Two smaller works by Leizarraga were also published by the same press in La Rochelle in 1571: a religious calendar, including Easter Tables, and a Protestant catechism.

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The Basque New Testament, Testamentu berria (La Rochelle: Pierre Hautin, 1571) 217.d.2.

It has been estimated that some 25 copies of the 1571 Basque New Testament survive. Four are in the UK: at the British Library, Bodleian Library, John Rylands Library and Cambridge University Library (from the collection of the British and Foreign Bible Society, presented by Louis Lucien Bonaparte). The BL copy is in the King’s Library and was thus acquired for George III’s collection and then donated to the British Museum in 1823. Its earlier history is unknown. In recent years, two copies have been auctioned in London and acquired by institutions in the Spanish Basque Country. The copy that belonged to the Marquis of Bute was sold at Sotheby’s in 1995 and bought by a Spanish bank, the Caja de Ahorros de Navarra. Since 2014 it has been deposited in the Biblioteca Nacional de Navarra. In 2007 another copy was purchased at Christie’s by Euskaltzaindia, the Basque Language Academy. The high prices paid for these copies at auction, particularly in 1995, indicate the iconic status that Leizarraga’s translation now has for the Basque people.

Geoff West, former Curator Hispanic Collections

References/Further reading

Historia de la literatura vasca. Ed. Patrizio Urquiz Sarasua. (Madrid, 2000) HLR. 899.92

Lafon, René, Le système du verbe basque au XVIe siècle. (Bordeaux, 1943) X.902/3245

Leizarraga, Ioannes, Iesus Christ gure iaunaren Testamentu berria… ed. Th. Linschmann & Hugo Schuchardt. (Bilbao, 1990) [A reprint of the 1900 Strasburg edition] YA.2003.a.33511

Olaizola Iguiñiz, Juan María de, El Reino de Navarra en la encrucijada de su historia: el protestantismo en el País Vasco. 2nd ed. (Pamplona, 2011) YF.2011.a.26524

Villasante, Luis, Historia de la literatura vasca, 2nd ed. ([Oñate?], 1979) YA.1986.a.6853.

22 July 2017

Esperanto as an Asian language

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Linguists are undecided about Esperanto: is it closer to the Asian or the European languages? Its vocabulary is certainly more European, but its structure is similar to that of some Asian languages. In any case, Esperanto started to be known in Asia at almost the same time that it appeared in Europe.

The first mention of Esperanto in Japan was in the late 1880s in relation to a brief flurry of interest in another artificial language, Volapük. It really arrived in 1906 in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War. A body of learners, advocates, and users emerged which was notably diverse right from the outset. A sample of some of the early participants serves to illustrate this: Futabatei Shimei, the Russophile and novelist, encountered Esperanto in Vladivostok. His textbook, translated from Russian, was one of the most popular of the early ways to learn. Osugi Sakae, one of the most significant Japanese anarchists, was in prison in 1906 when the first Esperanto meetings were being held, but while there he began to study the language and on release was a very active participant, writing the first Japanese to Esperanto translation, setting up an Esperanto night school, and introducing the language to a number of expatriate Chinese students who went on to form the foundation of the Esperanto (and Anarchist) movement in China.

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 Cover of: Victor Garcia. Three Japanese Anarchists: Kotoku, Osugi and Yamaga (London. 2000). YC.2000.a.4780

In 1907 a Chinese-language magazine was published in Paris with the title Hinshi-gi (New Century), in which anarchist Chinese students called for Esperanto to come into general use in China. The first Esperanto courses in China began in 1906 in Shanghai.

EsperantoAzioOrientaAzioDSC_5227 Five issues of Orienta Azio in the British Library's collection. Hand written, hand-bound, printed on Washi paper. (Tokyo, 1913-1914). YF.2016.a.7793

And then there was Ho Chi Minh, a young revolutionary who was travelling the world. In 1915 he was living in Crouch End, London, and he learned Esperanto at around this time. He would go on to make use of it in 1945 when the Vietnamese radio service informed the world of the state’s declaration of independence.

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Title page of the collection of poems of Ho Chi Min Tagkajero en prizono (Prison Diary) in Esperanto translation (Hanoi, 1966). YF.2016a.7793.

Esperanto was introduced into Korea by students who had learnt it in Japan. However, it would take too long to describe Esperanto’s fortunes in every country in Asia.

Just after the First World War, one of Esperanto’s early heroes was the Japanese Nitobe Inazo. When the League of Nations was established in 1920, Nitobe became one of the Under-Secretaries General of the League. He became a founding director of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation (which later became UNESCO).

EsperantoAzioNitobeInazoDSC_5229Title page of:  Nitobe Inazo. From Bushido to the League of Nations. Edited by Teruhika Nagao (Sapporo, 2006) YD.2006.a.3871

In August 1921, Nitobe took part in the 13th World Congress of Esperanto in Prague as the official delegate of the League of Nations. His report to the General Assembly of the League was the first objective report on Esperanto by a high-ranking official representative of an intergovernmental organization. Although the proposal for the League to accept Esperanto as their working language was accepted by ten delegates, mainly from Asian countries, the French delegate used his power of veto to block the issue.

In honour of Nitobe, a regular feature of World Esperanto Congresses over the last twenty years has been the Nitobe Symposium, in which well-known linguists discuss global language problems.

EsperantoAzioNitobeSimpozioDSC_5230Cover page of: Al justa lingvopolitiko en Azio. Towards Equitable Language policy in Asia. (Tokyo, 2008). YF.2009.b.2191

Esperanto also prospered in China during the same period. Among its supporters was the famous writer Lu Xun. The Chinese Esperanto movement soon became linked to other progressive cultural movements, and the language was learned by numerous intellectuals and revolutionaries.

EsperantoAzioLuSinCover of: Lu Sin, Elektitaj noveloj. (Hong Kong, 1939). YF.2010.a.24509

Esperanto speakers accompanied Mao Zedong on the Long March, and after visiting an exhibition about Esperanto, Mao wrote, “If Esperanto is used as a means for presenting ideas which are truly internationalist and truly revolutionary, then Esperanto can and should be studied.” Mao’s comment opened the way for Esperanto in China.

EsperantoAzioMaoDSC_5231

 Covers of: Prezidanto Mau Zedong. Pri popola milito (Pekino, 1968) YF.2014.a.16361 and Vortoj de Prezidanto Mau Zedong (Pekino, 1967) YP.2011.a.378

In the meantime Esperanto had found adepts in most other Asian countries. Some phenomena are difficult to explain. Iran is one of the Asian countries where the movement has done well from the early 20th century onwards throughout all political upheavals and revolutions. Both the Shah and the Ayatollahs approved its use, and the national movement celebrated its centenary in 2016. And what about Pakistan? The national Esperanto association formally joined the World Esperanto Association in 1978, and continues to hold conferences and publish textbooks in Urdu. For more detailed information about the movement in other Asian countries the best source is Gvidlibro pri Esperanto-movado en Azio (Guidbook to the Esperanto movement in Asia) by Chieko Doi (Yokohama, 1995; YF.2009.a.6158; Cover below).

EsperantoAzioGvidlibroDSC_5233

There is no country in Asia without its Esperanto speakers, from Mongolia to Myanmar, including Kazakhstan, Indonesia, the Philippines and others. An Asian congress of Esperanto takes place every three years. The 8th Asian Congress took place in the Chinese city of Quanzhou in November 2016 with participants from 20 countries. The 9th Congress will be in the Vietnamese city of Da-Nang in 2019. In addition, the Chinese and Japanese are the most prolific publishers of books in Esperanto. The Chinese Esperanto magazine El Popola Ĉinio (From People’s China;  ZF.9.a.6337)  is produced by the Foreign Languages Press in Beijing which has also published almost 200 books in Esperanto. China Radio International  broadcasts regularly in Esperanto and recently has also started producing films for distribution on the Internet.

EsperantoAzioInfanajlibrojDSC_5234Books for children published in China and South Korea, from Esperanto Collections of the British Library.

Considering the strength of the Esperanto movement in Asia, on the day when the 102nd World Esperanto Congress is opening in Seoul we can certainly claim that Esperanto is as much an Asian as a European language.

Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics at La Sapienza University in Rome, former president of the World Esperanto Association.
Inumaru Fumio, Vice President of the Commission for the Asian Esperanto Movement of the World Esperanto Association.

01 May 2017

‘Workers of all lands, unite!’: The Communist Manifesto

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The Communist Manifesto, a political pamphlet by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, was first published in London in 1848. Here for the first time, the founders of the political theory later called Marxism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels predicted violent anti-capitalist revolution as the final stage of the class wars between proletariat and bourgeoisie. They could not imagine that what they called ‘the spectre of communism’ would first triumph in Russia – geographically and economically the furthest eastern European periphery. Marxism, however, was adopted by the Russian Social Democrats as the cornerstone of their ideology and adapted by Lenin and other Bolsheviks to the real conditions of the Russian Revolution.

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The extremely rare first edition of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published in London in 1848. British Library C.194.b.289.

Originally written in German the 23-page brochure was produced in three print runs just in February 1848, and then serialised in the Deutsche Londoner Zeitung, a newspaper for German émigrés (London, 1845-1851; NEWS14530). In March, the brochure reached Paris and in April it was available in Germany, as the 1848 Revolution was unfolding in Europe. As initially planned, the Manifesto was soon translated into Polish, Danish, Swedish and English. However, it failed to make any great impact, and after the defeat of the Revolution only a few editions appeared until the next rise of the social-democratic movement that culminated in the Paris Commune (1871). Among the editions that did appear was the first Russian one, published in Geneva in 1869. The translation was traditionally attributed to Mikhail Bakunin, although his name was not on the title page. Several years earlier, in 1861, Bakunin had escaped from his Siberian exile and reached London via Japan and America.

Even before revolution turned victorious in Russia, translations and editions of this work had become ubiquitous. Before 1917, around 60 editions of the Manifesto were published in Russia alone. It was published at least 85 times in English and around 50 times in French. In 1964, Soviet historians and bibliographers claimed that they had recorded around 700 editions in 49 languages outside the USSR only. By 1973, the Soviet Union was leading in this race by publishing 447 editions in 74 languages and 44,341,000 copies.

Manifesto Russian
An edition of the Manifesto in Russian, published in Geneva in 1900. C.106.b.7.(13.)

The 1869 Russian translation, although it made its way to Russia, did not get popularity, and it was not until 1882, when with the second translation by the ‘first Russian Marxist’ Georgii Plekhanov . Marx and Engels wrote a special preface for this Russian edition where they discussed the peculiarities of the Russian economic and social system. In Soviet historiography it was believed that Lenin also translated the Manifesto and his translation was in clandestine circulation in Marxist learning groups in Samara, where he used to live in 1889-1890. The translation apparently did not survive.

Among other translators who endeavoured this work were revolutionaries Vladimir Posse (1903), Vatslav Vorovsky (1906), the founder of the Marx-Engels Institute David Riazanov, and the deputy manager of the Central Archives Board Vladimir Adoratskii.

Delegates_of_the_8th_Congress_of_the_Russian_Communist_Party_(Bolsheviks)

In this photograph of Lenin and Stalin with the delegates of 8th Bolshevik party Congress of 1919 Riazanov is the fourth from the right in the top row. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The special reverence for the Manifesto that was common among Russian Marxists is described in the diary of an astronomer and scientist Daniil Sviatskii, who was arrested for his role the 1905 unrest. In January 1906 he wrote:

I came [to the office]. There was a whole bunch [of books] on the table. I started examining them with admiration. ‘You are allowed to take only three’ – said the officer, and I was hesitating for a long time which ones to take. Among my three books, I took the Communist Manifesto and will be reading this New Testament of Socialism for the tenth time. While I was choosing other books, the office examined the copy of the Manifesto is case of any notes. I was looking at him and thinking: ‘Only three years ago, when I still was in the seminary, I first read this work by the great Marx and Engels. I was reading a clandestine copy of the Manifesto and was afraid that the authorities in the seminary would notice and expel me from the college, or when I was at home, I was afraid of gendarmes who could arrest me. Three years ago! In March 1905, just 10 months ago, I was reading the Geneva edition at night and every night I used to take it out of the room and hide in snow. And now the same book with the forward by the veteran of our Social-Democratic movement Plekhanov just passed censorship and the Public Prosecutor’s Office. And the prison officer in front of me, having examined it, handed it to me! I took it, brought to my solitary confinement cell and put it on the desk. I tore out Marx’s portrait and for a long time was gazing at our great Teacher of life.

 Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths opens on 28 April 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the fall of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website

11 April 2017

Translator in Residence

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Today we’re delighted to announce the British Library’s inaugural Translator in Residence initiative, which is being undertaken in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s ‘Translating Cultures’ theme. In this blog, Jen Calleja, our first resident, introduces herself and writes a bit about what she hopes to achieve with the Library over the coming year:

I am overjoyed to be the first ever Translator in Residence at the British Library and it feels like both the culmination of my last seven years engaging with translation (though you could argue that it has actually been about a dozen, or maybe my whole thirty years) and a new phase of amplifying that engagement with renewed commitment and energy.

When I saw the call-out for the residency it was as if it had been written specially for me. I had been thinking more and more about how action was needed on a larger scale against the heavy lean towards monoculturalism and monolingualism in the UK, and then this appeared. This is the right moment to be bringing translators and cultural mediators into the spotlight and I plan to be as ambitious, vocal and visible as possible in the residency’s inaugural year. It feels more vital than ever to be exploring foreign, globalised and multilingual subjectivities – and the perception of them – through the ‘impossible possibility’ of translation and other creative practices, and I consider the creation of this role to be a great step forward for translation and socio-political activism.

Jen Calleja c Robin Silas Christian
Jen Calleja (photo (c) Robin Silas Christian)

I’ve been a freelance literary translator from German of fiction, non-fiction, books for young people, poetry and essays since 2012 – though I’ve worked full and part-time jobs alongside that for most of the time. I moved to Munich when I was eighteen after my A-levels (something that the younger generation might not have the opportunity to do) and started reading German-language novels while doing my undergraduate degree in Media and Modern Literature at Goldsmiths in London. I went on to study an MA in German Studies, specialising in translation theory and practice, and translated my first book while finishing my Masters. My recent projects include Gregor Hens’ essay-memoir Nicotine (Fitzcarraldo Editions; YK.2017.a.1058), essays on art and culture by filmmaker Wim Wenders collected as Paul Cezanne’s Pixels (Faber & Faber), and I’m currently editing my translation of Kerstin Hensel’s novella Dance by the Canal (Peirene Press).

In 2012 I also founded my Anglo-German arts journal Verfreundungseffekt, which collates art and writing at the intersection of German-language and English-language culture and experience; reportage and personal essays on cross-cultural projects and the Anglo-German self; as well as translations. A couple of years later I became the acting editor of the journal New Books in German, where I spent two years immersed in the German-language and English-language publishing scenes, helping the best German-language books gain a platform in the English-speaking world and becoming familiar with how books make it into translation.

In early 2015, the Austrian Cultural Forum London invited me to become Guest Literary Curator, and inspired by a talk I had attended at International Translation Day at the British Library, I asked the ACF London if I could be ‘upgraded’ to Translator in Residence six months into my two year curatorship. This meant I could translate work by the as-yet-untranslated Austrian authors I invited to participate in events, discuss the craft of translation, and elevate ‘the translator’. The events I curated spanned an exhibition of multimedia translations of a translated short story and a performative reading of a crime novel, to a conversation series between British and Austrian authors and founding and co-judging the ACF London Translation and Writing Prizes.

Around the same time as my curatorship began, I successfully pitched a column on literary translation to online arts journal The Quietus. I had been inspired by translation publications like Asymptote and Words Without Borders, and wanted to do my bit to bring the kind of conversations taking place in the translation scene to a general literary readership. My aim was to focus on a different language and/or translation approach or issue with each column, and it’s still going strong. I wanted to demystify translation, and this has also been my motivation when I’ve given talks and workshops. Translation is a highly nuanced practice, but I’m constantly aware that we cannot only preach to the choir: we must engage with those for whom translation is still an abstract and invisible mystery in innovative, imaginative and generous ways.


Beyibouh_Al-Haj_Lo_Res2_1442753688_crop_550x778
Portrait of Beyibouh-al-Haj by Richard Phoenix, based on photograph by Emma Brown from a column by Jen Calleja on Saharawi poetry in translation

Throughout my residency, I hope to consistently explore translation at the intersection of the theoretical, the educational, and the practical, allowing for perspectives onto what translation has been, is, and could be within society and culture. I already have a long list of ideas and themes – working groups and workshops; a mentorship; archive creation; ‘translating’ the spaces of the British Library; accessibility as translation; translation, power and protest; translation as writing and writing as translation – but I’m sure that once I get up to speed with the Translating Cultures project and the British Library’s own ground-breaking ventures, my ideas will morph.

Translation is – or should be – an exercise and expression of empathy. This will be what I will return to throughout my time at the British Library, but much of what the residency will be is very much still to be discovered. I couldn’t be more excited about the next year of unfolding translation as our way of reading foreign literatures and as creative writing in its own right; as an embedded and largely invisible practice that influences our everyday lives; and as the foundation for communication and our connection with others – not to mention something that brings joy, creates strong bonds between people, and makes the inaccessible accessible.

Jen Calleja is a writer, literary translator and musician based in London and is the inaugural Translator in Residence at the British Library @niewview

Charles Forsdick (AHRC Theme Leadership Fellow, ‘Translating Cultures’) said: “I am delighted that Jen Calleja has been appointed as the inaugural British Library / AHRC ‘translating cultures’ translator-in-residence. The scheme will allow us to develop already fruitful collaborations between the AHRC ‘translating cultures’ theme and the British Library. The AHRC has funded a number of projects that explore the practice of the translator, as well as the growing field of translation and creativity. We hope that Jen will be able to work with some of our award holders to develop further activity in these areas. In recent years, a growing public interest in questions of translation, multilingualism and creativity has become increasingly apparent, and we are keen to demonstrate through the residency the centrality of research and scholarship in these areas.”

Janet Zmroczek (Head of European and American Collections at the British Library), said: "At the British Library, we aim to bring inspiration and enjoyment through our translation-related projects and events, where participants engage with our collections covering an extraordinary range of world languages and many formats. The breadth of our resources, from translators’ archives to spoken word recordings and a wealth of printed materials from all periods and most world languages, makes us an ideal home for those interested in how stories travel between languages and cultures. We’re delighted that, with support from the AHRC, we’re able to offer Jen Calleja, out first Translator in Residence, the opportunity to put down roots in the multilingual community of staff, readers and visitors at the heart of the British Library. By giving Jen the opportunity to get to know our collections from the inside, we hope her residency will contribute to opening up this multilingual treasure-house for new groups unfamiliar with our collections and events and encourage wider understanding of the value of translation and linguistic diversity."

 

13 March 2017

Polish Noir on the Rise

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This year Poland is the guest of honour at the London Book Fair. Consequently there will be a series of cultural events featuring Polish writers at the Fair and other locations. Within its rich programme the British Library is hosting the Crime Writing from Poland event on Tuesday 14th March with two outstanding writers, Olga Tokarczuk and Zygmunt Miłoszewski.

Crime fiction is one of the most popular and widespread literary genres in Poland. It has recently followed in the footsteps of Nordic Noir and includes some excellent writers whose novels are well received both at home and abroad. They represent all forms of crime writing from period drama through thrillers to modern crime addressing contemporary social issues. In 2003, only four thrillers were published, while ten years later over a hundred crime novels made their way into bookshops.

What makes Polish crime writing distinctive? It is inevitably the excellent use of Poland’s diverse and tumultuous 20th century history as a background, exhaustive research and credible characters – all combine in the attractive form of a crime story. The first recognised crime fiction writer of that generation is Marek Krajewski. He made his name with a retro series of four novels featuring Inspector Eberhard Mock masterfully solving criminal mysteries in pre-war Breslau, a German town, which in 1945 became Wrocław in Poland. Krajewski, a fan of the city, superbly recreated the spirit of Breslau, making it the second character in his series. As early as 2005 Krajewski received a literary reward for his crime novel The End of the World in Breslau (London, 2009; NOV.2010/950). This was the turning point – crime fiction, previously regarded as lowbrow literature, was now accepted as a distinct literary genre.

Polish Noir Krajewski

Cover of Dżuma w Breslau by Marek Krajewski. (Warsaw, 2007). YF.2008.a.704

One of the best-selling authors is Zygmunt Miłoszewski, famous for his trilogy with the phlegmatic Teodor Szacki, State Prosecutor, as the main character. He successfully investigates a murder case in modern Warsaw, Uwikłanie (‘Entanglement’; Warsaw, 2007; YF.2007.a.16937), and he next moves to Sandomierz, a provincial town in south-east Poland, to face the sensitive issue of Polish anti-Semitism Ziarno prawdy (‘A grain of truth’).  Miłoszewski also tackles Polish-German relations in Gniew (‘Rage’; Warsaw, 2014; YF.2015.a.6087), the last in the series, setting the plot in the provincial town of Olsztyn in north-east Poland, formerly a German territory.

Polish Noir Miloszewski
Cover of Ziarno prawdy by Zygmunt Miłoszewski (Warsaw, 2011). YF.2012.a.26350.

A rising star in the genre of crime fiction is Katarzyna Bonda, named the ‘Queen of Crime’ by Miłoszewski. She has so far published four crime novels featuring the Silesian police psychologist Hubert Meyer and the female profiler Sasza Załuska as the main protagonists. Bonda touches upon various social issues in her novels such as alcoholism in women, the trauma caused by the loss of a child, or problems concerning ethnic minorities. Her meticulously- researched books make use of police criminal records and the expert knowledge of consultants. She also wrote a non-fiction book, Polskie morderczynie (‘Polish female murderers’; Warsaw, 2013; YF.2015.a.8534), portraying women sentenced for heinous crimes.

Crime fiction appeals not only to readers but also to writers. Olga Tokarczuk, the most popular Polish author of her generation whose literary output includes over a dozen highly acclaimed books, applied crime conventions in Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych (‘Drive your plough over the bones of the dead’). As in her other novels she mixes mythology with reality to convey important messages about the condition of modern society.

Polish Noir Tokarczuk

Cover of  Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych by Olga Tokarczuk (Kraków, 2009) YF.2010.a.22348.

Crime writing, which explores all facets of human nature together with historical and social issues, is a very interesting and diverse form of Polish modern literature. So it is not surprising that some of the novels were made into films, e.g. Agnieszka Holland’s latest Pokot (Spoor), inspired by Tokarczuk’s book mentioned above. For the same reason a significant number of Polish crime novels have been translated into other languages, including English.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections