THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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65 posts categorized "Translation"

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

10 March 2017

The First Anthology of Belarusian Poetry in English: Sponsors and Censors

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For 57 years, from 1948 to 1985, UNESCO published its Collection of Representative Works, a series of books aiming to popularise major works of world literature written in lesser-known languages by translating them into more widely-used ones, particularly English and French. In 1971, the first anthology of Belarusian poetry in English appeared in this series. The book, Like Water, Like Fire: an Anthology of Byelorussian Poetry from 1828 to the Present Day, was jointly sponsored by UNESCO and the National Commission for UNESCO of the Byelorussian SSR, and published by the London imprint George Allen & Unwin.

Vera Rich, who translated all 221 poems in the anthology, came across the Belarusian community in London in October 1953 and since then took an active part in the life of the Belarusian diaspora in Britain and translated Belarusian poets. She also made an immense contribution to making Ukrainian poetry known in the English-speaking world. By the time Like Water, Like Fire appeared, Rich had already established herself as a poet, publisher of the poetry magazine Manifold, author of several books about Ukrainian and Belarusian literature, and a successful journalist.

LikeWaterTitle-pageTitle-page of Like Water, Like Fire. (London, 1971). X.981/2398

Like Water, Like Fire begins with the only known poem by Paŭliuk Bahrym (1812-c1891), ‘Play Then, Play’, which was taught in the schools of Soviet Belarus as the earliest example of peasants’ liberation literature. Already in this choice of the opening poem the influence of the anthology’s sponsors can be detected; it is even more obvious in the later sections of the volume.

This influence wasn’t absolute: the book contains a modest selection of persecuted authors such as Jazep Pušča, Uladzimir Duboŭka and Larysa Hienijuš. But there are no poems by Alieś Harun, a talented author deeply despised by the Soviet authorities. Vera Rich addressed this omission in 1982 when she published a volume of selected works by Harun, Maksim Bahdanovič, and Zmitrok Biadulia, The Images Swarm Free.

IMagesSwarmFreeTitle-page of The Images Swarm Free. (London, 1982) X.950/22024.

Arnold McMillin, who later became the most important scholar of Belarusian literature in the English-speaking world, welcomed Like Water, Like Fire as “an outstanding piece of work which will serve many English readers as an introduction to an unjustly neglected corner of European literature”. He noted that the book was the product of nearly 20 years of work and “the translations adhere closely to the form and rhythm of the original poems, and in many cases Miss Rich achieves felicitous results” . He was critical, however, of a misrepresentative – to a certain degree – selection of works, particularly from the 19th century:

No representation is given to such 19th-century poets as Ravinski, Čačot and Dunin-Marcinkievič, or to the anonymous Taras on Parnassus […] It is a pity that both by her selection of poems and by her introductory survey of the development of the Byelorussian poetry […] she creates the impression of a cultural void between 1828 and 1891.

Anton Adamovich of the Belarusian Institute of Arts and Sciences, New York, also noted that “Soviet Belorussian poetry is represented most extensively […] and is translated most adequately […] But the poetry of the 1920s, the ‘years of plenty’ […] is very poorly represented with just a dozen poems.” Adamovich refers here to the translator’s comment that the “years of plenty” of the 1920s – the years of immense richness and vibrancy in Belarusian literature – were followed by the “years of dearth” under Stalin’s purges and repressions. About 90% of Belarusian writers published in the 1920s and-1930s were shot, died in NKVD prisons, were sent to the Gulag or were forced to leave the country.

It seems that Vera Rich’s work wasn’t entirely accepted by the Belarusian diaspora which had had great hopes for this publication and contributed to the translator’s efforts, as is evidenced by an extensive acknowledgements list. The book must have been seen by Belarusians in the west as a victim of Soviet ideological pressure. The Reverend Alexander Nadson, head of the Belarusian Catholic community in London, who knew Vera Rich for many years and assisted her with translations, recalled that the translator kept the exact content of Like Water, Like Fire secret. One day archival materials may shed light on the circumstances of appearance of this first – and so far only – anthology of Belarusian poetry in English.

Two curious stories relate to its publication. The first is narrated by the translator herself, who thanked “last and most definitely not least (and in view of the title, most appropriately) […] the Enfield Fire Service who salvaged the manuscript during a flood-cum-electrical-fire shortly before its completion”. Reading these words, those who knew Vera Rich would easily recall a chaotic but immensely amusing person who lived from one disaster to another and somehow even thrived on all those challenges.

The second story relates to the fact that the book appeared with two different dustjackets. One, with the former Belarusian coat of arms, the Pahonia evidently didn’t get approval from at least one of the sponsors: the Pahonia was banned in the Byelorussian SSR. The dustjacket had to be reprinted and the copies that went on sale carried a plain sky-blue jacket. A small number of copies with the original dustjacket have survived and occasionally appear in antiquarian bookshops in English-speaking countries.

Like_water_1    Like_water_2
The two dustjackets of Like Water, Like Fire.

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


References:

A. Adamovich, Review of ‘Like Water, Like Fire.An Anthology of Byelorussian Poetry from 1828 to the Present Day’ by Vera Rich. Slavic Review, 32 (1973), 4, pp. 863-864. Ac.2684.e.

Leanid Marakoŭ, Rėprėsavanyia litaratary, navukoŭtsy, rabotniki asvety, hramadskiia i kulʹturnyia dzeiachy Belarusi, 1794-1991: ėntsyklapedychny davednik u trokh tamakh.
Volume 1. (Minsk, 2002-2005). ZF.9.a.2546

A. McMillin. Review of ‘Like Water: Like Fire. An Anthology of Byelorussian Poetry from 1828 to the Present Day’ by Vera Rich. The Slavonic and East European Review, 50 (1972), pp. 118-120. Ac.2669.e

Rich, V. (2009) The most significant event in my life. Available from: https://belbritain.wordpress.com/2009/12/29/1-15/.

 

27 February 2017

An irony-free zone: early French translations of Jane Austen

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The British Library holds a world-class collection of Jane Austen material. The Library’s manuscript materials include, for instance, a collection of comments about Mansfield Park by family, friends and acquaintances compiled by Austen soon after publication. The Library possesses at least one copy of each of the first English printed editions of her work, and also holds the first full French translations of Sense and Sensibility (1815), Mansfield Park (1816), Pride and Prejudice (1822), and Northanger Abbey (1824), as well as the first translation into German of Persuasion (1822).

Both Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park were first translated into French in a much abridged form in four instalments in the Swiss periodical Bibliothèque britannique (1813, 1815). (Unfortunately, the Library’s copy of this periodical, which disseminated British culture in continental Europe during the Napoleonic wars, was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.) By 1824, all of six of Austen’s major novels were available in French.

There are no known French reviews of these early translations, but the translators’ prefaces to the novels, the way in which they were translated and the changes that were made to the text can provide a great deal of information about the tastes and expectations of her readership and the reception of her novels in France and Switzerland in the early 19th century.

Raison et Sensibilité tp
Title-page of Raison et Sensibilité ou les Deux Manières d’aimer ‘traduit librement de l’anglais’ (Paris, 1815) British Library RB.23.a.30556

In 1815, Isabelle de Montolieu, a well-known and successful Swiss novelist, published her ‘free translation’ of Sense and Sensibility as Raison et Sensibilité ou les Deux Manières d’aimerThe Library’s copy includes the translator’s preface: Montolieu expresses her preference for this ‘new genre’ of English novel which has superseded that of ‘terreur’ and is confident that her French readers will enjoy a bit of ‘light literature’, ‘devoid of any political allusions’ after the troubled times they have lived through. 

Raison et Sensibilité preface
The opening of Montolieu’s preface to Raison et Sensibilité

She presents her translation as ‘reasonably faithful until the end, where I have allowed myself, as is my custom, a few slight changes which I have deemed necessary’. She changes some forenames: Elinor Dashwood remains Elinor, but her sisters Marianne and Margaret become Maria and Emma. She alters and moralises the ending: Marianne rejects the reprobate Willoughby, now a widower, and he, seeing the error of his ways, marries Caroline (Eliza in the original) whom he had earlier seduced and abandoned. Madame Smith, who has taken in Caroline, is ‘delighted to save a soul from eternal damnation’. Montolieu, catering for a readership still in thrall to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Nouvelle Héloïse, produced a didactic and sentimental version of Austen’s novel. At this time, too, her fame far eclipsed Austen’s and so it’s no surprise that the publisher reissued this translation in 1828, with added illustrations, in an edition of Montolieu’s works .

Parc de Mansfeld
Title-page of Le Parc de Mansfield ou les Trois Cousines (Paris, 1816) C.194.a.1345.

The title page of Le Parc de Mansfield ou les Trois Cousines, states that the novel is ‘par l’auteur de Raison et Sensibilité, ou Les deux manières d’aimer’, thus trading implicitly on the cachet of Montolieu. The translator, bashfully named as M. Henri V ******N., was Henri Villemain or Vilmain, a prolific translator and also a novelist in his own right.

Orgueil et Prévention
Title-page of Orgueil et Prévention (Paris, 1822) C.194.a.1254.

The Library holds one of the two early French translations of Pride and Prejudice, Orgueil et Prévention, also described as ‘par l’auteur de Raison et Sensibilité’, translated by ‘Mlle É…….***.’ This translator has been identified as Eloïse Perks, who, in her short preface, presents herself as a ‘jeune étrangère’ (young foreigner), and a novice writer imitating the ‘elegant pen’ and the ‘ good model’ of Montolieu, and adds that the translation of Raison et Sensibilité ‘eut en France le plus grand succès’. Perks also adds a few brief explanatory notes on English customs, food and place names, e.g. on mince pies (I, p.82) or the English Sunday (I, p. 94), and says that she intends to translate the as yet untranslated novels: this didn’t happen, so either her version wasn’t a success, or she was pipped at the post by other translators.

Abbaye de Northanger tp and frontispiece2
Title-page and frontispiece of L’Abbaye de Northanger (Paris, 1824) 12808.u.39.

The last novel to be translated was the posthumous Northanger Abbey, translated as L’Abbaye de Northanger by Mme Hyacinthe de F****, i.e. Hyacinthe de Ferrières, who was also a novelist. The author’s name is given on the title page, but Frenchified as Jeanne Austen. Henry Austen’s ‘Biographical Notice’ is included, though without the Postscript, and with some omissions and curious errors: notably, John for (Samuel) Johnson, Arbley for Arblay (Fanny Burney), and, significantly, the translator omits the sentence ending: ‘she partook largely in all the best gifts of the comic muse’. Despite this, it must be admitted that Henry’s notice on his deceased sister does emphasise her piety and decorum.

The British Library’s copy includes the engraved frontispiece illustrating and telescoping the episode where the heroine first sees the large chest in her room and then tries to open it when she is interrupted (the figure at the door). Our copy, in three volumes, bears the stamp of the ‘cabinet de lecture’ (circulating library) of G. Dufour et Cie in Amsterdam. It has a British Museum stamp dated 16 September 1876, and is housed in modern box with the label ‘Conserved under the Adopt a Book  Appeal [by] The Jane Austen Society of North America’. The other early translations into French and German that the Library holds were, by contrast, all acquired relatively recently.

Cumulatively, these translations enable us to study how Jane Austen was interpreted in early French culture and how they convey the spirit of the original text. This early French Jane Austen is a somewhat formulaic novelist of sensibility devoid of her trademark sense of irony and social satire.

Teresa Vernon, Lead Curator, Romance Collections.

References/Further Reading

The Reception of Jane Austen in Europe, edited by Brian Southam and A.A. Mandel (London, 2014). YC.2016.a.4133

Lucile Trunel, Les éditions françaises de Jane Austen 1815-2007. L’apport de l’histoire éditoriale à la compréhension de la réception de l’auteur en France (Paris, 2010). YF.2014.a.5858

Valérie Cossy, Jane Austen in Switzerland: a study of the early French translations (Geneva, 2006). YD.2006.a.4670

 

20 February 2017

BeLgoLab 2017: Belgian Translations

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Translation plays a major role in Belgian culture, both domestically, by enabling Flemish speaking readers to access work produced in French and vice versa – and internationally, by disseminating work to wider audiences.

In its second year BeLgoLab 2017 is devoted to translations of different kinds. It combines formal papers and discussions with practical workshops, where published English translations are compared with the originals (guidance materials in the form of collections items will be supplied).

The event is aimed at researchers and postgraduates in Comparative Literature and Translation Studies, as well as those in French and Dutch studies, and anyone who is interested in the topic! Attendance is free and open to all, but registration is required as detailed below.

BeLgoLab01

 ‘Vers5’, by Paul van Ostaijen, taken from Verzameld Werk. Poëzie Vol 1. ([Antwerp, 1952]) British Library X.900/1631. A French translation can be seen on the website of the journal nY 

The programme is as follows:

Monday 6 March 2017: British Library, Knowledge Centre, Eliot Room
Bookings for this session via dutch-enquiries@bl.uk

13.30-14.00 Registration

14.00-14.10 Welcome Adrian Armstrong (Queen Mary University of London), Marja Kingma (British Library)

14.10-15.25 Workshop on translation: Amélie Nothomb, ‘Fear and Trembling’ (‘Stupeur et tremblements’) Adrian Armstrong

15.25-15.45 Tea/coffee

15.45-17.00 Workshop on translation: Paul van Ostaijen, ‘Occupied City’ (‘Bezette Stad’)  Jane Fenoulhet (University College London)

17.00-18.00 Reception, kindly supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Belgium in London

BeLgoLab03

 Books by Belgian authors will be featured at the event from the British Library’s collections

Tuesday 7 March 2017: Institute of Modern Languages Research (Senate House G35)
Bookings for this session via http://www.sas.ac.uk/events/event/7189

09.00-09.15 Welcome Adrian Armstrong, Marja Kingma

09.15-09.45 Translator’s choices in the literary field: Alex Brotherton’s translation of Gerard Walschap’s ‘Marriage/Ordeal’ (‘Trouwen’, ‘Celibaat’) Irving Wolters (University College London)

09.45-10.15 From Mobutu to Molenbeek: Cultural Translation in Contemporary Belgian Ethnic-Minority Writing in French Sarah Arens (University of Edinburgh)

10.15-10.30 Discussion

10.30-10.45 Tea/coffee

10.45-11.45 Round table: Translation and Belgium Adrian Armstrong, Marja Kingma.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

 

25 January 2017

Unsuccessful Persuasion: Jane Austen in 19th-century Germany

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Jane Austen’s huge popularity today makes it easy to forget that for the first few decades after their publication her novels were comparatively little read even in the English-speaking world. In continental Europe, this lack of interest was even more pronounced. Although translations of Austen’s novels were published in a number of countries during the 19th century, they generally failed to make much impact.

This was particularly true of Germany. Prior to 1948 only three Austen translations appeared in German. The first of these was her last completed novel, Persuasion, translated by Wilhelm Adolf Lindau.

Unlike some early translations, which adapted or abridged Austen to suit local tastes, Lindau’s is an extremely faithful one. The main change that he made was to germanise the characters’ forenames (although their surnames remain resolutely English): Anne Elliot becomes Anna, Frederick Wentworth is Friedrich, the Musgrove sisters are Henriette and Luise, and so on. Even the author becomes ‘Johanna Austen’ on the title-page and in Lindau's summary of the ‘Biographical Notice’  from the first English edition of Persuasion. Lindau also adds a few footnotes to the text, explaining, for example, that Lyme is ‘a coastal town in Dorsetshire’ and that Mr Elliot’s travelling on a Sunday counts against him with Anna because it breaks the observance of the Sabbath, ‘which is very much respected in England.’

Jane Austen Anna RB.23.a.21555
Title page of Lindau's translation of Persuasion (Leipzig, 1822). British Library RB.23.a.21555.

Lindau did change the book’s title, calling it Anna, ein Familiengemählde (‘Anna, a family portrait’). Perhaps he thought Austen’s own title too oblique or not sufficiently appealing – and it is worth noting that this alone of Austen’s novels still appears under different titles in the German-speaking world, most commonly as Anne Elliot or Überredung (a literal translation of Persuasion) or some combination of these, but at least once under the unlikely title Verführung (‘Seduction’). But Lindau may also have deliberately chosen to emphasise the family ties and interrelationships among the Elliots, Musgroves and Wentworths/Crofts.

A review in the Morgenblatt für gebildete Stände (PP.4735) of 21 December 1822 certainly picked up on this aspect, describing the novel as ‘a family portrait in every respect’, with well-drawn everyday domestic situations and conversations, and with a lead character who will win readers’ hearts. The translation is praised, but the novel is criticised overall for being too slow and drawn-out for German tastes. The Wegweiser im Gebiete der Kunst und Wissenschaft of 4 September 1822 also praised Lindau for capturing Austen’s ‘simple but cultivated style.’ The reviewer here, while admitting that the novel will ‘gently arouse’ rather than ‘actively grip’ the reader’s mind, was clearly less bored and states that the work ‘fully deserved to be translated.’

Although the very few reviews of Anna were mainly positive, the book does not seem to have been a great success and no further Austen translations appeared until Stolz und Vorurteil, Louise Marezoll’s version of Pride and Prejudice, in 1830. This was a freer translation than Lindau’s and sacrificed many nuances of Austen’s original, possibly to avoid the criticisms levelled against the slow pace of Anna, but again the novel enjoyed little success. 

Jane Austen Stolz und Vorurteil
Title-page and opening of Louise Marezoll’s Stolz und Vorurteil, reproduced in Detlef Münch, Illustrierte und kommentierte Bibliographie der deutschen Buchausgaben von Jane Austen 1822-2011 (Dortmund, 2011) YF.2013.a.1280

Germany, it seemed, was just not interested in Jane Austen. Although both Lindau and Marezoll were prolific translators of Anglophone literature, neither produced any further German translations of Austen’s work. Nor indeed did anyone else until 1939 when Karin von Schab published a new Pride and Prejudice translation under the title Elisabeth und Darcy.

After the Second World War, more of Austen’s work gradually began to appear in German, but it only in the last couple of decades that she has begun to reach a wider German-speaking audience, due in part (as indeed is Austen’s current phenomenal popularity in Britain and America) to the film and television adaptations of the 1990s and 2000s. Although some of these may be more in the manner of Marezoll’s free adaptation of Austen than Lindau’s more faithful rendition, let us hope that Lindau would nonetheless be gratified to see an author he first tried to introduce to the Germans finally receiving their attention.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References

The Reception of Jane Austen in Europe, edited by Brian Southam and A.A. Mandel (London, 2014) YC.2016.a.4133

Beiträge zur Rezeption der britischen und irischen Literatur des 19. Jahrhunderts im deutschsprachigen Raum, herausgegeben von Norbert Bachleitner (Amsterdam, 2000) ZA.9.a.5563(45)

 

11 January 2017

Father Manuel Alvares, the Portuguese Jesuit who taught the British Latin

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When John Aubrey, best known for his unbuttoned biographical sketches Brief Lives, drew up the programme of studies for his ideal school, he referred no less than five times to the work of a Portuguese Jesuit:

In the first year (age 10) the boys should learn “the rules of Emmanuel Alvarus’s Grammar” (p. 64)
The library should include “Emmanuel Alvarus, Grammatica” (p. 71)
“Let them learn the XXI Praecepta de Constructione (translated into English) Institutionum Linguae Latinae, Emmanuelis Alvari” (p. 89)
“When they understand Latin pretty well, then they learn the second part of Alvarus’s Grammar. Many of the priests go no further than the first part.” (p. 93)
“Let them repeat the Latin Alvarus and Greek grammar every month or six weeks: only that memoriter, except in a week or fortnight some good short speech by way of narrare in the hall at diner time” (p. 94-95).

These references are to Father Manuel Alvares (1526-1583) SJ and his De institutione grammatica libri tres. Born in Madeira, he was ordained priest in 1538 and was persuaded to join the Society when a Jesuit stopped off on the island on the way to India. Adept in the three biblical tongues, he was a successful teacher and was commissioned to write a Latin grammar for the Jesuit schools. (A Jesuit education, you will remember, was the best schooling a Catholic boy could get at this period.)

Alvarus tp

Title page of Alvares’s Grammar (Evora, 1599). British Library 1509/4497. Note the device of the Society of Jesus. 

He was Rector of the Colégio das Artes in Coimbra from 1561 to 1566. The Colégio had been founded by John III in 1548 in a spirit of liberal openness to Europe: top scholars were recruited from France and Scotland. But this golden age was not to last: in 1550 the teachers were persecuted for heresy and in 1555 the College handed over to those Cerberuses of orthodoxy, the Jesuits, one of whom was Alvares.

The ESTC lists 26 British editions of his various grammatical works, in Latin or in translation, from 1671 to 1794. A Japanese translation was produced for Jesuit schools in the East.

Alvarus English tp

 An early 18th-Century English edition of Alvares’s Grammar (London, 1707) 1568/3623.

But Alvares thrived into much more recent times. James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus  learned “what little he knew of the laws of Latin verse from a ragged book written by a Portuguese priest” (cited Schork, p. 21).

What this shows is the international quality of Latin in the modern period. Nobody seemed to care that Alvares was a Jesuit: knowledge is knowledge regardless of the vessel which contains it. (I hope that doesn’t sound too sententious.)

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance collections.

References:

R. J. Schork, Latin and Roman Culture in Joyce (Gainesville’, 1997) YC.2001.a.5813

J. E. Stephens, Aubrey on Education (London, 1972) X.529/13983

B. Taylor, ‘Recent Acquisitions: a Rare Work by Jacobus Tevius’, eBLJ, 2003, Article 5

09 January 2017

European Literature Network Salon: Three Wise Women

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On 23 November 2016 I had the honour of chairing a conversation with two Polish writers: Julia Fiedorczuk and Magdalena Tulli, and the British author Deborah Levy, at Waterstones Piccadilly. I was invited to do so by Rosie Goldsmith and Anna Błasiak of European Literature Network, who masterminded this Salon to highlight the Polish Market Focus at the 2017 London Book Fair. The event was also supported by the British Council.

DZIUROSZJF_Fot_Radek-Kobierski-1024x575
Julia Fiedorczuk (photo by Radek Kobierski)

Julia Fiedorczuk has published five volumes of poetry, three collections of short stories and many critical and academic texts. A fragment of her debut novel, Nieważkość (‘Weightless’) – read by the author in Polish and by the translator Anna Zaranko in English – emphasised Fiedorczuk’s tender, yet unsentimental attention to all living creatures. There is a child, an ugly dog, some carefully observed plants; but also a charged mother/daughter relationship, sour small-town observations about a neighbour, and unsettling intimations of the adult world from a child’s perspective.

A question about Fiedorczuk’s ecological worries and interests, and the interconnectedness of characters and tropes in her writing, made her think of the metaphor of mycelium – a mass of ideas manifesting above the ground of consciousness as images, characters and so on.

FiedorczukBooks
Two books by Julia Fiedorczuk from the British Library's collections

As for Magdalena Tulli (author of seven novels), we read a fragment of Flaw in the original and in Bill Johnston’s beautiful translation: a meditation on a refugee family arriving to an imaginary town and being perceived as essentially alien in every way. Tulli’s clear-eyed description of the process of displacement is informed by wartime chaos, but her description of people finding themselves at the mercy of indifferent events strikes an awfully modern note in the times of Calais and Aleppo.

 

MTulli_A Błachut
Magdalena Tulli (photo by A.Błachut)

Tulli pointed out that the world has always been full of refugees, but societies ignored them – and now it is impossible not to see them. She also said that although she does not like history, it cannot be forgotten, especially in Eastern Europe.

DziuroszTulliBooks  Some books by Magdalena Tulli from the British Library's Collections 

Deborah Levy read Placing a Call from her short story collection, Black Vodka (High Wycombe, 2013; YKL.2015.a.5196): a lyrical account of a difficult encounter, which – in its obsessive concentration on detail that may serve, paradoxically, as an evasion of reality – seems to weave in and out of focus and leads to a moving finale.

Levy discussed her European and Polish inspirations – Black Vodka, Swimming Home (High Wycombe, 2011; H.2013/.8738) and Hot Milk (New York, 2016, ELD.DS.71605) share vivid continental landscapes and settings, and Polish accents throughout (as it turns out, she travelled widely in Poland and is a devotee of Tadeusz Kantor’s theatre). She mentioned that she finds hybrid identities interesting because she herself identifies as a hybrid, and her personal story and artistic lineage are complex, indelibly entwined with the history of Europe.

DziurorzDeborah-Levy-by-Sophia-Evans

  Deborah Levy (photo by Sophia Evans)

I was fascinated to hear my guests’ views on whether they perceive themselves as representatives of a certain literary heritage or if they aim for universality. Tulli’s answer, “My country is Polish language”, found an echo in Levy’s comment that continental modernism is really her language. Fiedorczuk mentioned her love-hate relationship with the Polish literary tradition.

We also discussed a theme that all three writers have explored: the relationship between mothers and daughters. It features in Tulli’s as yet untranslated Włoskie szpilki (‘Italian Pumps’; Warsaw, 2011; YF.2012.a.26877), in Fiedorczuk’s Weightless and her short stories, and in Levy’s Hot Milk and Swimming Home. Fiedorczuk talked about her view of it as reproduction of trauma, one that daughters inherits from mothers. The mother in Tulli’s (autobiographical?) book is, as she said, rendered so empty by her trauma that she has nothing left to give to her daughter. The characters of Isabel in Swimming Home and Rose in Hot Milk explore the cost of the mother/daughter relationship to both sides. Related to this is the unsentimental perspective of childhood the authors share, which we also discussed.

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From left to right: Deborah Levy, Julia Fiedorczuk, Magdalena Tulli and Marta Dziurosz  (photo by Rosie Goldsmith, via Flickr)

We finished the discussion by exploring whether there is a difference between male and female writers creating the sort of experimental, unapologetically literary writing that my three guests excel at. Fiedorczuk pointed out that the genre considered “appropriate” for female writers is middle-brow fiction, and those reaching beyond are frequently punished – however, she is not ready to betray her own style by conforming to those expectations. Tulli, on the other hand, emphasised the importance of being able to communicate her ideas; she discussed the changes she made to her style to make it possible. Levy pointed out that a reading experience is not diminished if the reader floats in and out of understanding.

The lively Q&A session proved that the topics discussed resonated with the audience – and, I hope, meant that the “wise women” found new readers for their unique writing. A full recording of the discussion can be heard on the European Literature Network Soundcloud page: https://soundcloud.com/eurolitnetwork/eurostars-three-wise-women-with-deborah-levy-magdalena-tulli-and-julia-fiedorczuk

Marta Dziurosz, literary translator and interpreter from and into Polish, Free Word Centre Associate. 

You can find all the books mentioned and much more modern Polish literature and secondary literature about it in the rich Polish collections at the British Library.

 

21 December 2016

The Lettered Bridge: Aleksandr Kazem-Bek

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Long before the Soviets began their process of korenizatsiia, Imperial Russia boasted a small but prominent cadre of indigenous non-Russian academics. Among those from the 19th century is Aleksandr Kasimovich Kazem-Bek, a colourful mid-century scholar of Turkic and Persian. Kazem-Bek was born Muhammad Ali Kazem-Bek in 1802 in Rasht, Iran, the son of a prominent Shi’ite scholar and daughter of the local governor. At the age of 9, his family moved from Rasht to his father’s native Derbent in contemporary Dagestan. It was here that he met Scottish Presbyterian missionaries, and eventually decided to convert to Christianity.

Kazem-Bek portrait X.809-1671

Portrait of Kazem-Bek from Mirza Kazem-Bek by A.Rzaev (Baku, 1965). X.809/1671

Kazem-Bek’s conversion caused concern among Muslims and Russian Christians alike. The local authorities were worried that he would act as a bridgehead for British influence among the local populations, and he was exiled to Astrakhan. Although punitive, the move allowed him to begin his career in service of the Russian Imperial government as a translator from Persian and Azeri into Russian. It was first step that led to posts in both Kazan – the seat of one of the country’s largest Oriental Studies departments – and St. Petersburg, the Imperial capital. His immersion in both the Islamic and Christian faiths (notwithstanding his occasional polemics against Islam) and his mastery of Russian, Turkish, Tatar, Arabic and Farsi allowed him to act as a conduit of knowledge from the newly conquered regions on the southern fringe of the Empire to the Imperial centres of military, political and economic power.

Kazem-Bek memoir 864.g.43

Among the earliest of his works was an autobiographical account of his conversion from Islam to Christianity entitled A Brief Memoir of the Life and Conversion of Mahomed Ali Bey, a Learned Persian of Derbent (Philadelphia, 1827; 864.g.43; title-page above). This essay was more than simply an ego project: it marked the first of a number of endeavours over the next thirty years to explain and scrutinize the faith of Russia’s new Muslim populations for the benefit of Russian-speaking readers. From 1844, for example, we have his translation of the Kitab mukhtaṣar al-wiḳāyā fī masā’il al-hidāyā (‘The Book of the Collection of Consciousness in the Questions of Gifts’), a 12th century tract dedicated to the examination of the Shar’ia, or Islamic law. There is even a work in the Library’s collection from as late as 1859 entitled Miftāḥ kunūz al-Ḳur’ān (‘Key to the Treasures of the Qur’an’) (St. Petersburg, 1859; 14514.d.13), demonstrating that inter-religious comparison ran like a thread through Kazem-Bek’s oeuvre.

  Kazem-Bek MS notes 306.412.B.7

Kitab mukhtaṣar al-wiḳāyā fī masā’il al-hidāyā (Kazan, 1844; 306.41.B.7). An introduction to the work including autobiographical details by the editor, Aleksandr Kazem-Bek, with grammatical corrections to the Arabic, possibly in Kazem-Bek’s own hand.

The scholar’s two most passionate interests, however, were history and language. In many ways, Kazem-Bek’s writings adumbrated the shift in emphasis from religious community to ethno-linguistic belonging that would grow apace following the 1905 Revolution in Russia. This is exemplified by his insistence on studying the vernacular cultures of Russia’s Turkic subjects. The earliest of his historical works held at the Library is the Asseb" o-sseĭiar" / Sem' planet" soderzhashchii istoriiu  Krymskikh" khanov" (‘The Seven Planets Comprising the History of the Crimean Khans’) 

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Title-page of Asseb" o-sseĭiar"(Kazan, 1832) 14456.h.21

 This is followed by an English version of his Derbend-Nâmeh, or The History of Derbent. His choice of topic is an indication that, despite his conversion and exile from Azerbaijan, Kazem-Bek never forgot his childhood home or the territory of his ancestors. Finally, among the later works produced on the history of the region, we hold his Bab" i babidy:  religiozno-politicheskiia smuty v" Persīi v" 1844-1852 godakh" (‘Babas and the Babids: Politico-Religious Turmoil in Persia’ 1844-1852) (St.Petersburg, 1865; 4504.f.30). Even as a professor and an eminent scholar, Kazem-Bek did not tire of analyzing the social environment of the Caspian region.

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Derbend-Nâmeh, or The History of Derbent (St. Petersburg, 1851) 14456.h.14. Title-page (above) and signed; inscription by Kazem-Bek (below)

Kazem-Bek 14456.h.14 inscription

Within the realm of language and linguistics, among his most passionate topics was the typology of Turkic languages and cultures. The Library holds both the original 1846 Russian version (12906.c.34) and the 1848 German translation (T.6887) of his primary work of historical linguistics, Obshchaia  grammatika Turetsko-Tatarskago iazyka (‘General Grammar of the Turco-Tatar Language’). Whatever the value of Kazem-Bek’s theoretical approaches to the study of language, his interest in the languages and dialects of the Eurasian steppe – particularly Kazan Tatar and Uighur – helped focus contemporary minds on the distinctive characteristics of the various Turkic idioms. This too translated into socio-political action, especially cultural and social reform. Indeed, Kazem-Bek is known to have been in contact with another Azeri linguistic reformer, Fathali Akhundzade, about issues of modernization and popular education.

Kazem-Bek Grammar Russian 12906.c.34 Kazem-Bek grammar German T.6887
Russian and German editions of Kazan-Bek’s Turko-Tatar grammar

 Aleksandr Kazem-Bek was no stranger to controversy, and it is indeed partly thanks to this controversy that his memory has lived on through the Soviet and post-Soviet periods. The works of his housed at the British Library and other institutions, however, demonstrate that he was a formidable part of 19th century Turkic intellectual history, and an important builder of the foundation of Russian Oriental Studies.

Michael Erdman, Curator of Turkish and Turkic Collections

 

19 December 2016

Stones, Coffins and Violin Cases: Andrey Platonov

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I began translating Andrey Platonov (1899-1951) over 40 years ago. Joseph Brodsky saw him as at least the equal of Proust, Joyce, Musil or Kafka. I myself feel the same. I am hoping that a few quotations may be enough to make readers wish to learn more about him.

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Andrey Platonov in 1922

The son of a railway worker who also gilded the cupolas of churches, Andrey Platonov was born at the turn of a century – on 1 September 1899 – and between town and country, on the edge of the central Russian city of Voronezh. He was a talented engineer and many of his heroes are craftsmen of some kind, often eccentric and lonely. Here are the first lines of his novel Chevengur (1927-28; the British Library holds a 2008 edition with illustrations by Svetlana Filippova:  YF.2009.a.29735):

Old provincial towns have tumbledown outskirts, and people come straight from nature to live there. A man appears, with a keen-eyed face that has been worn out to the point of sadness, a man who can fix up or equip anything but who has himself lived through life unequipped. There was not one object, from a frying pan to an alarm clock, that had not at some time passed through the hands of this man. […] But he had never made anything for himself – neither a family, nor a dwelling.

There is a great deal of pain, a sense of brokenness, in Platonov’s earlier work. Many of his heroes and heroines are orphans. This is from the second paragraph of his novel Schastlivaia Moskva (‘Happy Moscow’, 1934-36; British Library editions at: YA.2000.a.35626 and YF.2011.a.168):

Her father died from typhoid; the hungry, orphaned girl went out of the house and never went back there again. Remembering neither people nor space, her soul gone to sleep, for several years she walked and ate up and down her country, as if her mother land were an emptiness, until she came to herself in a children’s home and at school.

This girl goes on to become a glamorous flying instructor, but her traumatic childhood remains with her, dragging her down. She loses her job. Working as a manual labourer on the construction of the Moscow metro, she then loses one leg in an accident.

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Andrey Platonov, Happy Moscow, translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler (London, 2013) H.2014/.6789 

Platonov was a passionate supporter of the 1917 Revolution and remained sympathetic to the dream that gave birth to it, yet no one wrote more searingly of its consequences. He treats collectivisation and the Terror Famine with black humour:

‘The coffins!’ the peasant announced. ‘We stacked those wooden coffins into the cave for future use – and now you’re digging up the whole gully. Give us our coffins back! […] Them coffins are made to measure – we’ve marked each one so we know who goes where. Our coffins are what keep us all going. Yes, they’re all we’ve got left – a coffin’s an entire livelihood to us. And before we buried them in the cave, we lay down in them – we’ve got them worn in!’

Platonov writes equally vividly about the lives of a member of the Moscow elite and of a railwayman in a remote northern forest, about the lives of a baby hare and a steam engine. The tenderness and precision of his description of the baby hare makes me think of D.H. Lawrence at his best. Here, though, are a few lines about Platonov’s favourite bird, the proletarian sparrow:

In the depth of winter, near midnight, a blizzard began. The old man was playing his last piece – Schubert’s Winterreise – and then he intended to go off to rest. Just then, from the middle of the wind and snow, appeared the familiar, greying sparrow. With his delicate, insignificant little feet he settled on the frosty snow; then he walked a little around the violin case, fearless and indifferent to the whirls of wind buffeting him over his entire body – and then he flew right inside the case. There the sparrow began pecking the bread, almost burying himself in its warm softness.

Platonov’s place in the Soviet literary world was always borderline. Some of his works were published—and subjected to fierce criticism. Others were accepted for publication—yet never actually published. Unable to publish original work during his last years, he received a commission for a book of adaptations of Russian folk tales. With only the subtlest of changes, he was able to make these his own:

‘Thank you, young man,’ he said. ‘There was charm in the forbidden dress and wisdom in the book. The mirror showed all things visible – all that seems in the world. I thought I’d collected a good dowry for my daughter, only I didn’t want to give it to her too soon. I thought I’d brought her gifts of every kind, but I’d left out the one kind that matters, the kindness that was there inside you. I went far away in search of this gift, but it was close at hand all the time. It’s never a given, nor can anyone give it – it seems we must each seek it out for ourselves.’

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Andrei Platonov. Ivan-chudo: rasskazy, skazki (Cheliabinsk, 1986). YA.1995.a.4659

The death of Platonov’s son – from tuberculosis caught in the Gulag – was only one of many tragedies that he endured with extraordinary courage. He did not intend it as such, but I see this description of a plane tree as a self-portrait:

During its spring floods, the river must have flung mountain stones at the very heart of the plane, but the tree had consumed these vast stones into its body, encircled them with patient bark, made them something it could live with, endured them into its own self, and gone on growing further, meekly lifting up as it grew taller what should have destroyed it.

 Robert Chandler, translator (All translations by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler)

Robert Chandler will be talking about Platonov and about his recent translation Fourteen Little Red Huts and other plays at an event at Pushkin House on 14 February 2017. Further details and how to book here.  

 PlatonovNewTranslation

12 December 2016

'An absolutely essential handyman and busybody in Russian literature’…Nikolai Karamzin (1766-1826)

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These were the words in which Andrew Field, in his The Complection of Russian Literature (1971; X.981/2277) described Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin, who was born 250 years ago on 12 December 1766, and without whom Russian literature and the Russian language would never have developed as they did.

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 Portrait of the writer and historian N.M.Karamzin (1818)  by Tropinin (From Wikimedia Commons)

 Ironically, perhaps, he was not of Russian but of Tatar stock, as his name indicates, though his father was an officer in the Russian army, serving in the Simbirsk governate at the time of his son’s birth in the village of Znamenskoe. However, young Nikolai did not remain in the provinces but was sent to study in Moscow and later moved to St. Petersburg, where he made his first literary contacts and began to experiment with translations into Russian. Among these was Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1787), one of the first of his plays to appear in Russian. In the introduction, his first foray into historical literary criticism, Karamzin acclaimed Shakespeare’s capacity to fathom human nature, and noted that the average Russian reader was wholly unfamiliar with English literature, a situation which he set out to remedy. He also produced a new translation of Lessing’s Emilia Galotti (1788) which was successfully staged in Moscow.

He also identified another serious gap in the reading material available in Russian: literature for children. In 1785 he launched Detskoe chtenie dlia serdtsa i razuma (Children’s Readings for Heart and Mind), the first Russian periodical for young readers. Containing lively articles on science, history and geography as well as stories and fables, many translated from German, it drew on Karamzin’s earlier experience as an educational publisher. Together with his co-editor Aleksandr Petrov, he also included translations of tales by Madame de Genlis and prose versions of James Thomson’s The Seasons.

In 1789 Karamzin decided to embark on extensive travels through Germany, France, Switzerland and England, which would later provide material for his Pis’ma ruskago puteshestvennika (Tales of a Russian Traveller). It is available to English-speaking readers in an excellent translation by Andrew Kahn (Oxford, 2003; YC.2004.a.2638), with an introduction in which he points out that the book `represents an ambitious attempt to join Enlightenment discourses and literary modes…producing nothing less than an anthropology of the Enlightenment.’ Of special interest to such readers is his account of visiting London in 1790, including Hamlet at the Haymarket Theatre, `the lovely village of Hampstead’, Parliamentary elections and the Tower of London, where he records that `we were shown the axe with which Anne [sic; actually Jane] Grey’s head was cut off!!’.

Karamzin Traveller 1455.a.15

Pis'ma ruskago puteshestvennika  (Moskva, 1797; 1455.a.15

In his attempts to link Russia into a wider European literary tradition, Karamzin also experimented with novel-writing, though his efforts in this genre are, to modern tastes, less successful than his traveller’s tales, and more interesting for their contribution to language and style than their intrinsic merits. In the interest of greater suppleness and fluidity he started the process of introducing Gallicisms to replace Slavonic expressions and aid him in transmitting the high-flown elegance of Sentimentalism to Russian readers. Unfortunately the results smack less of Sentimentalism than sentimentality, and one of his most famous tales, Bednaia Liza (Poor Liza; 1792), ends in typically melodramatic style: `Liza’s mother heard of the dreadful death of her daughter, and her blood went cold from the horror – her eyes closed forever. – The cottage became deserted. Now the wind howls through it, and hearing this noise at night, superstitious villagers say: `There moans the dead one; there moans poor Liza!’ (tr. David Gasperetti; Three Russian tales of the eighteenth century: DeKalb, Illinois, 2012; YC.2012.a.13725).

 

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Aonidy, ili Sobranie raznykh novykh stikhotvorenii (St. Petersburg, 1797) 1491.d.36. 

However, if Karamzin was a less than distinguished novelist, he was a pioneer as a historian. This field was comparatively undeveloped until he began his twelve-volume Istoriia Gosudarstva Rosiiskago. After a successful career as an editor and publisher, launching the Moskovskii zurnal (Moscow Journal) in 1791 followed by the poetical almanac Aonidy (The Aonides; picture above) in collaboration with Derzhavin and Dmitriev, in 1803 he decided to retire to Simbirsk to concentrate on his new venture. Learning the reason for his withdrawal from public life, Tsar Alexander I invited him to Tver to read the first eight volumes. Not surprisingly, he was a strong advocate of autocracy, and his wish that `there should be no Poland under any shape or name’ strikes a startling and sinister note to modern readers. Yet these considerations should not detract from his achievement as one of the first Russian authors to gather and annotate historical materials systematically and thoroughly. Despite his rational Enlightenment views (he was also an active Freemason), Karamzin was not immune to the spirit of an age which enthusiastically devoured Scott’s historical novels and uncritically swallowed the Ossian forgeries, and as such was a man of his time whose glamourizing of the reign of Ivan III is typical of the period.

He did, however, express a great admiration for the attainments of Catherine the Great, and the British Library possesses a copy of a German translation by Johann Richter (picture below) in which he pays fervent tribute to her work as an innovator, reformer and patron of the arts and philanthropy.

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Lobrede auf Catharina die Zweyte; Riga, 1801: 10790.aa.1

Karamzin ended his days happily on 22 May 1826 at the Tauride Palace, where he had lived as a guest of the Tsar who had eagerly awaited the appearance of every new page of the histories. Though the conservative views which strongly influenced Alexander, such as his criticism of Speransky’s reforms, undoubtedly had a detrimental effect on the course of Russian political history, his accomplishments in forging links between Russia and the West and even giving its alphabet a new letter (ë) make him a figure of lasting significance and continuing interest.


Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities & Social Sciences), Research Services