Americas and Oceania Collections blog

99 posts categorized "Literature"

13 September 2023

Machado de Assis, Portinari and the Bilingual Brazilian Book Club at the British Library

Rafael Pereira do Rego is the Interim Programme Manager and Area Specialist at the Eccles Centre for American Studies

It was a great pleasure for the Eccles Centre to welcome the Brazilian Bilingual Book Club to the British Library during the celebration of their 100th edition on Saturday 15th July. The Embassy of Brazil has been running the Book Club for the past nine years with a wide network of international members and friends. This special edition at the Library was an opportunity to deepen ties between our two institutions and to celebrate and invite discussion and reflection on Brazilian literature and culture through the Library’s collections.

A group of ten participants standing in front of the Klencke Atlas at the British Library.
Some of the attendees of the Brazilian Bilingual Book Club event during the tour of the British Library.

 

The star of the event discussed during the Book Club – and for which we brought a special edition for the show-and-tell presentation – was the classic novella O Alienista (translated in English as ‘The Psychiatrist’ or ‘The Alienist). Originally published in 1882, by the illustrious Brazilian writer Machado de Assis, it is a wonderful short satirical work with an elegant and concise style centred on Dr Bacamarte, an alienist – the designation of psychiatrist in the nineteenth century, from the French ‘aliéniste’ – and his scientific experiments in the town of Itaguai, near Rio de Janeiro. There he established the Casa Verde (Green House) – a cross between a 19th century prototype of a psychiatric asylum and a scientific laboratory – to conduct experiential studies on the human mind. Dr. Bacamarte used his scientific power to define which denizens of the town should be confined to the asylum according to his shifting ideas of normality. As the narrative unfolds, the alienist gets lost in a madness of his own making. O Alienista was included recently in Machado de Assis: 26 Stories (2019) translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson, which among other translations of the title, are available at the British Library.

Machado de Assis is the most celebrated classic Brazilian author, so it is natural that the Library’s holdings will encompass some of his works, but it was very exciting to see the scope and depth of our collections reflecting the interest that his books have attracted from the time of their first publications in Britain. There are over 300 copies of various works by and about Machado de Assis, including some of his earliest works acquired in the nineteenth century, many of which are rare volumes. Nadia Kerecuk, the creator and convenor of the Book Club, very kindly made a list of all of our holdings available. For instance, the British Library holds the first edition of one of his most famous novels Dom Casmurro published in 1889, and the poetry collections Chrysalidas (1866), and Phalenas (1869). In addition, we have some beautiful editions including the 1948 version of the novella with illustrations of one of my favourite Brazilian artists, Cândido Portinari1.

 

title cover of the publication with an illustration by Candido Portinari; black print on white paper.
Machado de Assis, C., & Portinari, Cândido. (1948). O Alienista. Illustrado por Candido Portinari. Rio de Janeiro: Imprensa Nacional. British Library shelfmark: L.R.416.r.18

 

Last year when I visited my hometown, Rio, there was a lovely and comprehensive exhibition at Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil providing an overview of the various facets and languages explored by Portinari – and including some of the illustrations that are present in the selected 1948 edition, as well as from other illustrated editions of Machado de Assis’ Memoria Postumas de Braz Cubas and Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha.

Both Machado de Assis and Cândido Portinari had this incredible capacity to capture the human condition and Brazilian-ness in ways that feel both universal and culturally specific. Portinari was a keen enthusiast of Machado de Assis’ work and both lived in one of the neo-colonial elegant houses in Cosme Velho, a bucolic neighborhood in Rio and perhaps one of my favourite areas of the city. They came from a rather deprived childhood but with unwavering talent and determination, came to represent big names in literature and visual arts.

Huge neocolonial houses within a square with tropical trees and plants
The Largo do Boticário (Apothecary's Square) is a square in the Cosme Velho neighborhood in Rio where Machado de Assis and Portinari lived.

 

The 1948 edition was sponsored by the bibliophile and executive Raymundo Ottoni de Castro Maya (1894-1968). It is part of a wider collection named Os Cem Bibliófilos do Brasil (100 Bibliophiles of Brazil) named after a bibliophilic society created by Castro Maya. The society was composed of a hundred personalities of the time, among intellectuals, executives and society figures, which met annually to produce and publish works by great authors of Brazilian literature, illustrated by notable visual artists. In 30 years, they published names such as Machado de Assis, Guimarães Rosa, Jorge Amado, José Lins do Rego, Lima Barreto and Mário de Andrade, with their literary work illustrated by major visual artists such as Di Cavalcanti, Portinari, Iberê Camargo, Cícero Dias, Carybé, among others.

The Brazilian media tycoon Roberto Marinho was part of the select society, alongside names that might be very familiar to Brazilians, such as Walter Moreira Salles, Maria do Carmo de Melo Franco Nabuco, Horácio Klabin, Gilberto Chateaubriand, Francisco Matarazzo Sobrinho, Lineu de Paula Machado, D. Pedro Gastão de Orléans and Bragança, Celso Lafer, Clemente Mariani and Niomar Moniz Sodré Bittencourt.

The artisanal publication of these beautifully illustrated editions was an important initiative, which resulted in the publication of authors and artists portraying Brazil in a variety of themes and motifs. At the same time, it is revealing of the Eurocentric references of Brazilian elites, importing values, techniques and cultural codes to the ‘developing’ country. Castro Maya based this collection on European publishing trends, especially from France where he lived. The publications were generally composed by hand and printed on manual presses. The paper had great quality specifications with rough texture and watermark, supplied by French manufacturers. Many books were engraved with different techniques such as etching, dry point, xylography and lithography.

 

Book image with engraved illustration by Portinari; black print in white paper.
Machado de Assis, C., & Portinari, Cândido. (1948). O Alienista. British Library shelfmark: L.R.416.r.18

 

Each edition took about a year to be completed and each member of the society would receive their own exclusive copy with their names identified and within loose sheets, so the binding could be personalised according to the owners’ tastes. Print runs were limited to about 120 copies. The Society launches took place at gala dinners at Rio’s most exclusive Country Club – established by British executives in 1916 and since then the meeting point of the crème de la crème of carioca society – when auctions were held of the original illustrations not included in the final edition. I was very pleased to find out that the British Library has 20 published copies of the collection Os Cem Bibliófilos do Brasil! Rare and exclusive copies of the beautiful pas-des-deux between classic authors of Brazilian literature and notable visual artists. I hope you can explore more the collection available at the British Library.

After the show-and-tell presentation, O Alienista was specifically addressed during the hybrid meeting of the Brazilian Bilingual Book Club, with members joining from overseas via MS Teams. Nadia Kerecuk prepared a historical background of the publication and a series of questions to direct the engaging discussion with the members of this successful bilingual and bibliophile ‘society’ with the welcomed accompaniment of delicious snacks and wine. Notwithstanding the indisputable differences between the Country Club in Rio and the British Library in London, we could say this was an exclusive gala afternoon!

Attendees of the event seating around a rectangular table; online attendees are joining the event with their images projected on the walls of the room.
Participants of the Book Club discussing O Alienista in the Foyle Room at the British Library.

Notes:

1To learn more about Candido Portinari’s work please check the five-volume catalogue raisonné available at the British Library organised by his son Joao Candido Portinari as part of the major Portinari Project which has the aim of cataloguing thousands of paintings, drawings and printings, as well digitally processing images and oral history outputs. Some of the audiovisual content of this project is also available via the online platform here.

08 August 2023

Cold War Whiteness: Literature and Race between Canada and Czechoslovakia

Františka Schormová is a post-doc researcher at the Institute of Czech Literature, Czech Academy of Sciences and an Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Hradec Králové and was a 2023 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.

To be a scholar outside of US/Canadian studies outside of North America means a transcultural perspective is a part of what we do and who we are. It allows us to think about the culture and region afresh and to reflect on our positions as mediators as scholars, educators, and public intellectuals. To be a scholar of US/Canadian studies from Central Eastern Europe and other regions outside of the usual trajectories of prestige might also mean that sources for our research are more difficult to obtain. This is why I went to the British Library to research Czech immigration to Canada.

In my previous research project, Translation and the Global Fifties: When the African American Left Went to Prague, I looked at the transnational journeys, exchanges, and allegiances between the African American Leftist intellectuals and early Cold War Czechoslovakia. One of the translators and mediators of African American literature in the 1950s and early 1960s, the Czechoslovak writer Josef Škvorecký, later became one of the almost twelve thousand people who fled to Canada after the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion to Czechoslovakia in 1968. Following Škvorecký and his wife, Zdena Škvorecká-Salivarová to Canada opened up a new set of questions for me some of which I tried to answer during my time in the British Library.

Škvorecký was awarded the Governor General's Award for English Language Fiction for The Engineer of Human Souls, a novel translated by Paul Wilson. This cultural moment became my entry point in the Canadian cultural field in the 1970s and 1980s. I explored magazines and journals I found out about in the United States and Canadian Newspaper Holdings in the British Library Newspaper Library (for example, Nový Domov: The New Homeland)1, conference proceedings from the time, fictional and autobiographical accounts of the Škvorecký’s and other Czechoslovak authors, diverse secondary sources on culture and politics of the era, multilingual sources published in various places. What I was looking for were interconnections between Canadian literature, quickly developing at this time as its own discipline tightly linked to the nation state, the official politics of multiculturalism, and the position of the so-called ethnic writers within this cultural field.

These interconnections support my broader project in the framework of which I look at how the notion of whiteness has operated within the Canadian cultural field in the late Cold War in connection to various immigrant groups coming to the country. It builds on critical whiteness studies but also asks whether these concepts can be applied and/or translated to Central Eastern European contexts. The ambiguous status of the Slavic and other groups in and from this region has been noticed by scholars such as Ivan Kalmar or Zoltán Ginelli; the historians of immigration have also noted the various ways racial discourses have transformed throughout the 20th century. The Cold War has introduced new challenges, trajectories, and allegiances, race refigurings, and vocabularies of whiteness that has shaped how both the immigrants and the domestic populations in Central Eastern Europe were perceived.

I found some of the answers I was looking for: yet I left with further questions. The British Library is its own little universe. In the weeks of the fellowship, one wanders in awe through the various reading rooms and the packed hallways. As a visiting researcher, one is not left to navigate this world on one’s own: the fellowship also gives one the opportunity to talk to the Eccles staff, people who work and research in the British Library and know many of its secrets. And while they are incredibly helpful, it is better to come prepared (the sheer quantity of the material at your fingertips can get intimidating!) but also keep one’s eyes open for surprising turns the research route might take.

The cover of a piece of sheet music, with a Black man in profile and writing that includes a couple of title words decorated with stars and stripes.
Image 1: Dvořáček, Jiří. I, too, am America : 7 songs on the poems of Langston Hughes, for a woman's voice, a man's voice, the trumpet and the piano (1966). Panton 1978. British Library shelfmark: Document Supply MUSIC H01/3169.

Searching through my keywords one day, I found sheet music based on the poetry of Langston Hughes, the African American poet, novelist, playwright, translator, and social activist . It was a 1966 composition by the Czech composer Jiří Dvořáček with lyrics in Czech, English, and German, published in 1978 (Image 1, above). Despite having dealt with Hughes’s Czechoslovak connections extensively, I have never known this sheet music existed and I could not help but hum the melody (albeit very quietly). Hughes was one of the writers Josef Škvorecký also translated before emigrating to Canada. This multilingual, translational, transmedial cultural artifact reminded me that it is important that our scholarship can cross the linguistic, cultural, and national borders in a similar way.

Notes:

Nový Domov: The New Homeland. Toronto. Vol. 9, no. 19 etc. (10 May 1958 - 21 March 1970). Imperfect. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection Microform MFM.MC271.D

18 May 2023

Tracked Changes: Looking for Migrant Editors in Publishing Archives

Ben Fried was a 2022 Eccles Visiting Fellow at the British Library; he recently completed his PhD at Cornell University and is currently a British Academy Newton International Fellow at the Institute of English Studies in the University of London, where he is working on 'Migrant Editors: Postwar Migration and the Making of Anglophone Literatures, 1967-1989.'

I came to the British Library in search of publishing archives—the records of how books come into the world and reach their readers. As an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow, I was beginning a new project on 'migrant editors,' on the postwar immigrants to London who created and reinvented the capital’s literary institutions. How did migrant-led publishing houses and magazines develop through the decades of decolonization and shape later twentieth-century fiction, both British and more broadly Anglophone? I was hungry to understand the extent to which these editors harnessed and redirected London’s cultural and commercial power. I wanted to learn how their own hybrid identities influenced the writers they cultivated and the works they released. I knew the answers lay in letters, memos, pleas for money, and the margins of manuscripts.

And so I spent my month sifting through three archives in particular: the Virago Press records,1 Carmen Callil’s personal archive,2 and the files of Granta magazine (which are still being catalogued).

White background with an image of a green apple with a bite taken out of it on the right, with the word Virago above.
Promotional pin badge for Virago Press; part of the Virago Press Archive (Add MS 88904).

The famed feminist Virago Press was founded in 1973 by the Australian Callil and later led by a Canadian, Lennie Goodings. Sitting in both the Manuscripts and Maps Reading Room, I opened folder after folder of author correspondence, business plans, reader reports, all of them illustrating the fates of individual works and the larger sweep of an upstart publisher’s progress. Callil died just a few months ago, in October 2022, and her courage (not to mention her crackling wit and energy) is everywhere apparent in these archives. The picture they paint is not a solitary portrait, however, but a scene of collective literary labour, illuminated by the sparks that fly off creative relationships. Callil was a necessary node in a much wider network of readers, professional and lay, mobilizing to bring women’s stories to the centre of literary life.

Take, for instance, the folders devoted to Angela Carter, perhaps the most emblematic of Virago’s contemporary authors.3 They reveal a Carter who was as important a reader to Virago as she was a writer. You can track not only the agonizingly slow development of Carter’s Sadeian Woman (1978)—a study of the Marquis de Sade and 'the culturally determined nature of women'4—but her backstage interventions on other writers’ behalf. She submitted reports on manuscripts; she connected aspiring authors to an ambitious publisher. She acted as a go-between, and practically a second editor, for her former student Pat Barker, passing along Barker’s first novel with twelve pages of luminously insightful notes. On 8 January 1981, Callil replied that 'I’m deeply grateful to you for getting the book to me; I’ve offered for it and asked at the same time that they will let me work with her incorporating your alterations and suggestions.'5 Barker’s revised Union Street was published in 1982 and quickly became one of Virago’s biggest sellers, proof that a press famous for reprinting forgotten classics could also launch startlingly original fiction.

Granta was similarly electrified by a fresh arrival’s energy. A venerable undergraduate magazine at Cambridge which ran out of steam in the 1970s, it was relaunched by the American graduate student Bill Buford in 1979. Initially a channel for American literary influence—its first issue purveyed 'New American Writing' and its third proclaimed 'The End of the English Novel'—it became over the course of the 1980s a much broader magazine for writing in English, one that has exhilarated generations of writers and readers. The Granta records open a window onto the alchemical process of bringing an issue together. Along with his co-founders Peter de Bolla and Jonathan Levi, Buford began by working his academic connections and wielding his university’s clout, coaxing established authors to contribute and letting would-be writers down gently, hustling for grant money and blowing past unpaid bills. Given such ingredients and such results, it’s rather fitting that Buford followed up his celebrated editorial career with an equally ravenous second act as a cooking-mad writer.

A type written letter from Susan Sontag to Bill Buford, 13 February 1979.
Letter to Granta from Susan Sontag, 13 February 1979; copyright, The Estate of Susan Sontag.

One of the most famous of all Granta issues—the Spring 1983 number devoted to 'The Best of Young British Novelists'—shows how vision and opportunism, readerly recognition and marketing flair, could combine in the editorial act. Buford neither initiated nor chose this list of promising young writers. Rather, the 'Best of British' began as a promotional ploy by the Book Marketing Council. But Buford and Granta seized the potential of the list as an issue-shaping, generation-defining, audience-enticing format.6 They built on the Council’s own marketing push, selected excerpts from each author’s work, and made the list palpable to the reading public. Buford’s textual suggestions were not universally welcome. William Boyd embraced the idea of shifting a story’s pronouns, while Maggie Gee 'rejected every one of the [editor’s] 47 emendations.'7 Nevertheless, the magazine reaped the reward. Its cachet as a cultural arbiter immeasurably enhanced, Granta has returned to the format every ten years to anoint a new cohort (its latest 'Best of Young British Novelists' issue dropped just weeks ago).

I think of editors like Callil and Buford as readers with power—the power to select, revise, and reject. Editorial reading can be a generous force, releasing the creativity of others and realizing the potential in the text. By the same token, it may also be damaging, turning the tap off as well as on. Insofar as they can be recovered in archives such as those held by the British Library, the editor’s contributions tell us a great deal about writers, readers, and publishing institutions—about where and how power and creativity intersect.

Notes

1. Add MS 88904.
2. Add MS 889178.
3. In the 1970s and 80s, Virago was primarily known for reprint publishing: recovering and reissuing the works of neglected women writers. The Virago Modern Classics series, with its beloved green spines, introduced a generation to the books of Sylvia Townsend Warner, Stevie Smith, Christina Stead, Rosamond Lehmann, and many, many others. See D-M Withers, Virago Reprints and Modern Classics: The Timely Business of Feminist Publishing (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2021).
4. The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography (London: Virago 1978), 1.
5. Add MS 88904/1/60.
6. See Myles Oldershaw, “Granta and the Advent of the Contemporary,” Journal of Modern Literature 43.1 (Fall 2019), pp. 150-168.
7. Deposit 11183 L. in 44.

 

07 February 2023

Outernational: Researching Black music and its transatlantic connections

Cassie Quarless is a filmmaker was a 2020 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.

As a documentary director, a large part of my job is mining my mind and my experiences for subjects that I am excited about and that I want to share with others. One such subject is the connection and exchange that exists between the music and musical cultures of the Caribbean, United States, United Kingdom and West Africa. During my time at the British Library I sought to research this further.

I was really struck by the British Library's collection and its wealth of Black British music, which spans a wide range of genres and styles, from early blues and jazz to contemporary grime and hip hop. The collection holds a wealth of resources for researchers, including sheet music, recordings, and concert programmes, as well as a range of scholarly publications and academic works on the subject.

A black and white photo of a woman singing in a recording studio, with three male instrumentalists playing around her.
This photograph shows vocalist Marie Bryant and bassist Red Callender at a recording session, for the 1944 short film Jammin’ the Blues. Copyright: Gjon Mili/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images. This image is featured as part of the British Library's Windrush Stories.

One of the main issues that I had at the British Library - coming from the film/moving image space and having had a background as a DJ - was that I really wanted to be able to riffle through the Library’s collections like one would in a friend’s home or in a record store. After having spoken to and met with various incredibly knowledgeable members of the British Library staff, I ultimately got the hang of the different systems that the Library uses to catalogue its extensive collections and was able to navigate them in a more natural way.

One particular non-recorded music gem for me was the unpublished collection of correspondences by Andrew Salkey, a Caribbean-born writer and publisher who played a crucial role in promoting Black art and literature in Britain during the 1960s and 70s. These letters offer a unique perspective on the experiences and thoughts of one of the leading figures in the Black arts movement, and provide valuable insights into the cultural, political, and artistic context of the time.

I was particularly struck by Andrew Salkey’s correspondences with the Jamaican poet and academic Kamau Braithwaite and what they suggested about the expressed sharing of knowledge and thoughts about art (whether they be visual, literary or musical). Much of the correspondence that I read was dated from the mid-60s and onward into the 70s.

Three men wearing winter clothing and standing in front of a brick building.
This photograph, entitled The Lime, captures Samuel Selvon, John La Rose and Andrew Salkey. The Trinidadian term ‘lime’ or ‘liming’ has a similar meaning to ‘hanging out’, and involves socialising without time constraints. The photo was taken by Horace Ové in 1974 and is featured in the British Library's Windrush Stories.

Both sides of my family are from the Caribbean (Grenada to be precise) and I was always regaled with stories of family ties and friendships that were lost through migration to the United Kingdom, other Caribbean islands or to Latin America. It had basically become a foregone conclusion for me that within the context of the Caribbean and its diaspora, the distance of the sea meant the death or at least serious atrophy of social connections during the 60s and 70s. When it came to music, it was felt that records from the Caribbean came to these shores with much of their context and intellectual intention removed - after all, only the most successful acts actually got to travel to the UK to perform and to spread their messages.

What Salkey’s correspondence with Braithwaite underscored was how much conversation was happening between interested parties across the Atlantic. People were not only exchanging art critique but also referring to their cross-nationally intermingled lives and social connections.

I am sad that my time as an Eccles Fellow at the British Library will end before the launch of its landmark exhibition centred on Black British music presented in collaboration with the University of Westminster. I was, however, definitely impressed by the British Library's collection and the breadth of materials that it contained. The collection not only documents the music itself, but also the broader cultural and social context in which it was created. This includes a range of materials that shed light on the experiences of Black musicians in Britain, including recordings of live performances, interviews with musicians and industry professionals, and articles and essays on the subject.

Two young men and two younger boys in a large room with music posters on the walls and a massive speaker system to the left of the image.
Notting Hill Carnival 1979, Sound System on Portobello Road under the Westway. August 1979. Photo by Adrian Boot. This image is featured in the British Library's Windrush Stories.

As a filmmaker and as a fan of music, my time at the British Library has definitely given me some new and valuable insights, but more importantly it has gotten me thinking even more deeply about the connections that I was looking to elucidate. I will be back here often as my project progresses.

17 January 2023

Sculptures, time machines and vampires: items from the Americas collections on display in Leeds

The Henry Moore Institute in Leeds is currently displaying seven items from British Library collections as part of their FREE exhibition, The Colour of Anxiety: Race, Sexuality and Disorder in Victorian Sculpture – open until 26 February 2023

Two of the items in the Institutes’ main galleries for this spectacular exhibition are from the Americas collections held here at the British Library. It’s always great to be able to loan items from the Library to other museums and galleries. For starters, it means more people gain access to viewing the works, those who might not ordinarily consult collection items in the Library’s Reading Rooms, or be in the London vicinity to see items on display at our St Pancras site. Secondly, it’s wonderful to see the items interpreted by a multitude of experts and curators, often placing the item in a completely different context from the library setting we’re used to. In this case, as the title of the exhibition suggests, the books are alongside an array of fantastic sculptures as the display brings into focus a rich yet largely overlooked body of sculptural work collected in Britain between 1850 and 1900. The exhibition examines objects that introduced colour and new materials into the sculptural process, situating them within the context of the anxiety which often weighed upon Victorian society in the face of social change and scientific advances.

The exhibition has had great reviews from The Observer and The Telegraph so don’t miss out on seeing it. Here’s a quick peek at the items from the Library’s Americas collections on display – if you want to find out more and see some remarkable sculptures do make time for a visit to Leeds.

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (BL shelfmark: 012629.de.20.)

This science fiction novella by H. G. Wells is generally credited with popularising the concept of time travel by using a device to travel forward or backward through time. Indeed, the term itself, ‘time machine’, was coined by Wells and is now commonly used to refer to such a vehicle. This edition of The Time Machine was printed in New York in 1895 by the American book-publishing house Henry Holt and Company.

This first American edition, first issue, preceded the British edition and you’ll see the author’s name is misspelled as H. S. Wells on the title page and on the Authors Note as ‘H.S.W.’ – something that was later corrected in the British edition. Unable to let the error slide, a past reader ever in search of correctness has at some point noted in pencil the correction of ‘H. G. Wells’ on the title page under the misprint, initialled simply by the letter ‘K’. As well as the misspelling of Wells’s name being corrected for the English edition, according to science-fiction editor Mike Ashley, this American edition is a shorter version than the English but was published two weeks earlier and is regarded today as particularly collectable[1]. It will certainly be interesting to see this item on display in the Henry Moore Institute Galleries as just one example illustrating anxieties about rapid social change and developments in science that were occurring during the Victorian era.

Front cover of first American edition, first issue, of The Time Machine (012629.de.20.) showing original publisher's tan cloth cover
Front cover of first American edition, first issue, of The Time Machine (012629.de.20.) showing original publisher's tan cloth cover
Title page with H. S. Wells typo and pencil correction, initialled with a ‘K’
Title page with H. S. Wells typo and pencil correction, initialled with a ‘K’
Illustration from The Time Machine showing depiction of a sculpture of a white sphinx
Illustration from The Time Machine showing depiction of a sculpture of a white sphinx

The Vampire. A poem ... Written for a picture by Philip Burne-Jones exhibited at the New Gallery in London, 1897. [With a reproduction of the picture.] by Rudyard Kipling (BL shelfmark: Cup.402.a.30.)

Also on display from the British Library Americas collections is The Vampire by Rudyard Kipling, printed by Woodward & Lothrop of Washington DC in 1898. Whilst doing some digging in the archives for approving this outward loan, I discovered the item was acquired by the Department of Printed Books at the British Museum Library in the spring of 1961. Purchased from a second-hand bookstore based in New York for the handsome price of £5 it was bought along with a scarce pamphlet on Rudyard Kipling entitled American Oats (BL shelfmark: Cup.503.l.26.). The Vampire was catalogued by the British Museum Library team swiftly as is shown by the red Library stamp dated 15 May 1961.

Kipling wrote the poem to gather publicity for what was then considered a mildly pornographic painting by his cousin, the artist Philip Burne-Jones, entitled ‘The Vampire’ (1897) – the piece would become Burne-Jones’s most famous work. The painting depicts a woman leaning over an unconscious man and was believed to have been modelled by the actress Mrs Patrick Campbell – with whom Burne-Jones had been romantically linked. This painting is an example of how, despite Victorian ideals of virginity and chastity circulating at the time, male artists responded to and reinforced an increasingly sexualised representation of the female body in art, reflecting fears regarding the changing role of women. Indeed, Kipling’s poem echoes this notion also.

The Vampire: A Poem (Cup.402.a.30.) by Rudyard Kipling showing the painting of the same name by Philip Burne-Jones
The Vampire: A Poem (Cup.402.a.30.) by Rudyard Kipling showing the painting of the same name by Philip Burne-Jones
‘We called her the woman who did not care, But the fool he called her his lady fair…’: Opening page of Kipling’s The Vampire
‘We called her the woman who did not care, But the fool he called her his lady fair…’: Opening page of Kipling’s The Vampire

Alongside items from British Library collections, visitors to The Colour of Anxiety: Race, Sexuality and Disorder in Victorian Sculpture will be able to see artworks from the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Collection Trust and Aberystwyth University School of Art Museum and Galleries and pieces created by artists sculpting during the Victorian period, as well as more contemporary spectacles from the likes of Sanford Biggers and Maud Sulter. The exhibition runs until 26 February 2023 and is free to visit. Find out more and plan your visit via the Henry Moore Institute website.

Blog by Rachael, Curator for North American Published Collections Post-1850

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[1] Out of this world: Science fiction but not as you know it by Mike Ashley, page 49 (London: British Library, 2011), BL shelfmark: YK.2011.b.8873

09 January 2023

On my desk: Night Fall in the Ti-Tree by Violet Teague and Geraldine Rede

The Americas and Oceania team is fortunate to work with some fascinating items that cross our desks for a variety of reasons from exhibition loans to Reader queries. Through the On my desk blog series, we ask the team three questions which will give you an insight into the work of curators and cataloguers at the Library and a behind-the-scenes peek at some of the items in the collections. Today’s post features Lucy Rowland, the curator for Oceania Published Collections Post-1850. 

Front cover of the book, Night Fall in the Ti-Tree, with cover illustration of landscape and trees
Night Fall in the Ti-Tree by Violet Teague and Geraldine Rede, Melbourne/London, 1906 (11649.h.6.)

What is the item? 

Night Fall in the Ti-Tree by Violet Teague and Geraldine Rede, an artists' book printed in Melbourne, Australia in 1906 (11649.h.6.). 

Image showing the title page of the book
The title page of Night Fall in the Ti-Tree (1906)

Why is it on your desk? 

This may come as a surprise to many people, but curators don't always know the full extent of the collections they look after! Yes, you can familiarise yourself with notable items by reading the lists, reports, and blog posts compiled by previous colleagues, or through the outputs of research into the collection. And you can learn plenty about the history of the collection through articles in the Electronic British Library Journal (eBLJ), but what you can’t do is to walk around a discrete section of the Library marked ‘The Oceania Collection’. The printed books and serials in this collection, as with many others, are not shelved together but are instead spread out over different levels of the basements at St Pancras and a range of storage buildings at the Boston Spa site in Yorkshire. Where they are stored is usually determined by a variety of factors including their arrival date, format, size, value, usage, and condition. Which means there are times when, just like Readers, we stumble on treasures completely by chance. Exactly like this one. Whilst reading a rare book vendor’s catalogue, I saw a listing for Night Fall in the Ti-Tree and wondered whether the Library had a copy. Excitingly we hold the 1906 printing (the original 1905 edition is extremely rare), so I called it up to my desk to have a look.  

Book open to show double-page colour illustration of frogs in a pond
An example of the double-page illustrations in the book

Why is it interesting? 

Night Fall in the Ti-Tree (1905) is considered to be the first Australian artists' book and is the earliest known example of colour relief printing in the country. This hand-bound book of colour woodblock prints with letterpress text was produced by the artists, Violet Teague and Geraldine Rede, at Teague’s home in Melbourne. The story is a cautionary tale about a family of rabbits in the Australian bush, with the illustrations leading from one page to the next in imitation of the Japanese children's crepe books of the late 1800s. The book itself is a remarkable tribute to the Japanese printmaking techniques Teague was introduced to during her time as an art student in Europe and the UK, and is a very early example of Japanese-style coloured woodcut illustrations in Australia. Night Fall in the Ti-Tree was exhibited in both the Victorian Artists Society Exhibition and the Federal Art Exhibition in 1905 and went on to collect an award in the 1907 First Australian Exhibition of Women's Work. In 1906, it was picked up by English publisher Elkin Mathews for a second edition, that held by the British Library, which included a revised title page, a green ribbon binding, and a custom-made box. What makes this book even more interesting is that this charming item came to the Library via legal deposit and, due to the restrictive collecting practices at the time, if the publisher had not deposited the book back in 1906, it is very unlikely that Night Fall in the Ti-Tree would be on my desk right now. Remember you just need a free Reader Pass to gain access to this and many more beautiful items in the Library’s collections.

Book open to show a blue ownership stamp at the end of the book
The blue stamp here indicates that the book was acquired through legal deposit

23 November 2022

Black Theatre Makers: Una Marson

The British Library has digitised and made available online the only known copy of Una Marson’s pioneering play ‘At What a Price’ (1932).

Una Maud Marson was born in Jamaica in 1905. Throughout her lifetime she would live and work in the Caribbean, the UK and the USA. An editor, poet, playwright, activist, writer and BBC producer, Marson had a versatile and prolific career. The phenomenal breadth and range of Una Marson’s creative and critical outputs are yet to be fully appreciated, but there has been a recent renewed interest in the contributions she made to the cultural landscape of the British Empire and North America. Una Marson was the subject of a BBC production, Una Marson: Our Lost Caribbean Voice, which brought to life her incredible career and creations. Many of those creations can be found here, in the British Library, including her poetry collections. However, some of her works are a little harder to find.

A young woman wearing a check dress standing and reading the West Indian Radio Newspaper.
Fig. 1: Una Maud Victoria Marson (1905–1965) by unknown photographer BBC Picture Archives, public domain.

Through a recent project at the British Library, the Eccles Centre for American Studies has been supporting the research of Professor Kate Dossett and her project ‘Black Cultural Archives & the Making of Black Histories’. Part of this project involved examining the Lord Chamberlain’s Play’s (LCP) collection for plays produced in Britain written by Black playwrights. The LCP’s are the largest collection of manuscripts in the British Library. The collection consists of plays collected by the Office of the Lord Chamberlain from the years 1824 to 1968. They were collected because the censorship laws which existed at the time specified that plays had to be approved for a licence before a performance. This collection therefore provides an illuminating record of drama performed in the UK up to 1968. The research project has utilised this collection to find and promote the, often hidden, work of Black theatre makers in the early twentieth century.

One of the plays within the collection is Una Marson’s, ‘At What a Price’. Marson first wrote this play whilst living in Jamaica where it staged in 1932. The play was so successful that she used the profits to travel to London, England, where it was staged before British audiences. In London she got involved in anti-racist activism and became secretary to the League of Coloured Peoples, which fought for racial equality in the UK. The league and its founder, Harold Moody, sponsored Marson’s London production of her play in 1933. Yet, despite its international popularity no copy of the play’s script is known to have survived beyond the one kept in the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays collection.

The typescript of the play At What a Price; the ink is blue.
Fig. 2: Add MS 66878 D, f.1. of ‘At What a Price’, by Una Marson, now available on BL Digitised Manuscripts.

The play follows Ruth Maitland, a young Jamaican woman who moves from the countryside to Kingston, Jamaica, to work as a stenographer where she is pursued by a white Englishman. The play examines women’s agency in love and work, as well as issues of interracial relations and sexual harassment. The unique play script that Una Marson and her production team sent to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office has now been digitised in its entirety and has been made accessible through the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website. Researchers can now view this play and the related reader’s report from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office which outlines the department’s response in terms of whether the play was suitable for licensing. These images are available to view here

With the digitisation of this play and related Lord Chamberlain’s Office correspondence, we hope to preserve and widen access to Una Marson’s many and varied cultural outputs. With the digitisation of this play, and others created by black theatre makers, researchers and audiences can discover ways in which black playwrights across the British Empire and Americas were frequently creating new cultural narratives and were at the forefront of movements for change that were an integral part of the British theatrical landscape in the early 20th century.

Jessica Gregory, Project Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Digitisation funded by the Eccles Centre for American Studies.


Further Reading:
Una Marson | The British Library (bl.uk)
The British Library MS Viewer (bl.uk)
Black Theatre and the Archive: Making Women Visible, 1900-1950 - Digital scholarship blog

14 November 2022

On my desk – On Spirit Lake: Georgian Bay Stories from Church Street Press

My thanks go to Alan Stein for granting permission to use images of his artwork in this blog

The Americas team is fortunate to work with some fascinating items that cross our desks for a variety of reasons from exhibition loans to Reader queries. Through the On my desk blog series, we ask the team three questions which will give you an insight into the work of curators and cataloguers at the Library and a behind-the-scenes peek at some of the items in the collections. Today’s post features Rachael, one of the curators for the Library’s North American Published Collections Post-1850.

What is the item?

On Spirit Lake: Georgian Bay Stories with wood engravings by Alan Stein and introduction by Tom Smart (RF.2022.b.35) – a fine press book from 2018 printed by The Church Street Press, based in Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada.

Why is it on your desk?

While standard Canadian monographs are processed by our teams in Boston Spa, the more delicate fine press items are invoiced, stamped, catalogued and stored at our London site in St Pancras.

On Spirit Lake: Georgian Bay Stories is on my desk because it's a new acquisition which needed to be stamped before passing onto the Americas Cataloguer who makes the item available and, very importantly, findable in the British Library catalogue.

I always love visiting the stamping room; seeing the team delicately place a handstamp on an item means it’s one step closer to being made available to Readers. The stamping team make sure all new acquisitions display a British Library stamp in a way that clearly shows a mark of ownership but which is discreet enough to not invade or obscure the content on the item’s pages. A steady hand is needed, particularly where artists’ books, fine press and other visually appealing items are concerned, materials you might see displayed in exhibitions for example.

As you’ll notice, this book displays a small British Library (BL) stamp and crown (unlike the larger round stamps used on standard monographs) in red ink, indicating this has been a purchase – rather than a donation (green) or arrived via Legal Deposit (blue).

Photographs of British Library stamps
Photographs of British Library stamps

Why is it interesting?

For me this item is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, having lived in Canada for a short time in my youth, I always find it a bit of a treat to look through books which focus on the unique landscapes found there.

Front cover of On Spirit Lake: Georgian Bay Stories with wood engravings by Alan Stein and introduction by Tom Smart (RF.2022.b.35), on my desk
Front cover of On Spirit Lake: Georgian Bay Stories with wood engravings by Alan Stein and introduction by Tom Smart (RF.2022.b.35), on my desk

Painter and a printmaker Alan Stein established Church Street Press in 1998; through his private press, he hand prints limited edition books which feature his own illustrations in wood engravings, like the ones here, or stone lithography[1]. Alan states that much of his work ‘has been influenced by summers spent on Georgian Bay’[2], and this book, as the title implies, epitomises that. Alan’s archives are held at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.

Georgian Bay – a large bay of Lake Huron – is located entirely within the borders of Ontario. As Tom Smart (art historian and curator) explains in his introduction, the book comprises a number of authors whose ‘prose poems, fictional narratives, autobiographical episodes and…invented passages from historical records’[3] examine the influence the Bay has had on their lives and works. I find it fascinating how the same natural spectacle has had such deep connections with so many authors and artists, many more beyond the pages of this book I’m sure, and how that influence manifests itself so differently from person to person; inspiring them to write on topics from climate change to culinary encounters.

One contribution that stood out for me when reading this item is Manido-gaming by Waubgeshig Rice. An eight-year-old Anishinaabeg boy fishes on the side of his lake, his grandmother beside him, the boy asking the elder about the Anishinaabeg presence that has been at the lake before his lifetime, and before hers. Through their exchange, the lake becomes a kind of metaphor for the Anishinaabeg experience: ‘It gives us all life. It’s sacred. And it’s your home, my boy’ his grandmother tells him. But looking at the town of recreational homes across the bay, reminders of displacement are ever-present: the young boy observes that ‘[u]nder the wind-swept evergreens of its shoreline, Georgian Bay’s flowing contradictions whirled.’ The title of this story, Manido-gaming, refers to the name by which the innumerable Anishinaabeg generations who have lived on or near the Bay’s shores, know the body of water: “Manidoo gaming,” or “spirit lake”[4].

Wood engraving by Alan Stein illustrating Manido-gaming by Waubgeshig Rice; a boy’s fishing line creates ripples in the water
Wood engraving by Alan Stein illustrating Manido-gaming by Waubgeshig Rice; a boy’s fishing line creates ripples in the water

As well as being of potential research interest to those studying Canadian and Indigenous authors and Canadian landscapes in literature, I should also mention the beauty of this book physically. The mottled watery effect cover invites the reader to dive into the pages.

Blue hues on the book’s cover
Blue hues on the book’s cover

Stein’s prints not only interpret the words as image, but also ‘trace a personal iconography testifying to his own deep connection to the land and water and to the histories of the place’[5]. These comprise 14 wood engravings including one stunning hand-coloured in blue, green, yellow and red showing a more tempestuous scene printed on Gampi Torinoko[6]. Alan kindly gave me some insight into the inspiration for this frontispiece image: this being a tale Alan was told by his friend, Canadian poet and diplomat, Douglas Valentine LePan, about the dream of a local native Ojibway guide by the name Peter Pemajuan. The rough, rocky-coloured pages add a real tangible element to reading the book will no doubt appeal to researchers interested in paper- and book-making techniques, engraving, printing and binding. 

Hand-coloured wood engraving on the book’s frontispiece
Hand-coloured wood engraving on the book’s frontispiece

Remember you just need a free Reader Pass to gain access to this and hundreds more fine press items in the Library’s collections. Find out more about the titles available using our collections guide and the bibliographic guide from the Eccles Centre for American Studies.

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[1] Lithography being a ‘flat-surface printmaking process in which a design is drawn onto a flat stone, or prepared metal plate, usually zinc or aluminium, and affixed by means of a chemical reaction’. Definition provided by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for more details see https://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/collection-areas/drawings-and-prints/materials-and-techniques/printmaking/lithograph

[2] https://www.alanstein.art/

[3] From the book’s introduction by Tom Smart

[4] ‘Ancestral Waters’ by Waubgeshig Rice, an excerpt from Locations Of Grief: An Emotional Geography: http://hamiltonreviewofbooks.com/blog/2020/5/15/ancestral-waters

[5] From the book’s introduction by Tom Smart

[6] ‘Gampi Torinoko is a strong, crisp sheet that is translucent, with almost no visible fibres. Gampi is a bush found in the mountainous, warm areas of Japan’. Definition provided by Legion Paper, for more details see https://legionpaper.com/gampi-torinoko

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