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17 January 2020

‘How delightful to be a governess’ [not]: Anne Brontë in Translation

‘Parson’s lass ’ant nowt, an’ she weänt ’a nowt when ’e’s deäd,
Mun be a guvness, lad, or summut, and addle her breäd.’

Those hard-headed words of Tennyson’s ‘Northern Farmer: New Style’ rang bitterly true in a family where ‘parson’s lass’ was the youngest of four surviving children out of six. The Rev. Patrick Brontë’s daughter Anne, born on 17 January 1820, had no choice but to earn her own living, and a teaching position, whether as a governess or in a school, offered respectability and an income, albeit a modest one. In her first post Anne earned £25 per year. Meagre as the material rewards were, though, her months with the Ingham and Robinson families provided her with others – a fund of experience and a determination to expose the humiliation and exploitation suffered by other women in her situation.

Pencil portrait of Anne Bronte
Anne Brontë, drawn by her sister Charlotte

As the youngest of three sisters, plus a scapegrace elder brother, Anne might have been expected to be accustomed to deferring to others and displaying the submissiveness required by her employers. If we are to believe her sister Charlotte’s account of her, she had all these qualities; the picture which Charlotte paints of her in the most delicate pastel tones suggests a muted meekness and piety which nowadays seems dangerously close to mawkishness. Samantha Ellis, in Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life (London, 2017; DRT ELD.DS.181944), describes how the taxi driver taking her to Thorp Green, the site of Anne’s second post, was unaware that there was another sister besides Charlotte and Emily.

This state of affairs is reflected to some degree in the British Library’s holdings of translations of Anne Brontë’s two novels and her poetry. Their scantiness contrasts strongly with the numerous versions of Jane Eyre or Emily’s single novel Wuthering Heights, and the fact that the majority of them are 20th-century publications suggests the slow growth of international awareness of her significance. The earliest in the collections is a French translation of Agnes Grey dating from 1859 in which Anne is not even accorded the dignity of a book to herself but shares it with a translation of her elder sister’s Shirley – both novels being attributed to ‘Currer Bell’, Charlotte’s pen-name, while poor ‘Acton Bell’ is completely obscured.

Title-page of a French translation of 'Shirley' and 'Agnes Grey'
Title-page of the translations of Shirley and Agnes Grey by Ch. Romey and A Rolet (Paris, 1859) 12602.d.3.

Another French translation, Agnès Grey, was published in 1949. It is easy to see the appeal of this work in a society where the governess was also a familiar figure in middle- and upper-class families, and where, indeed, French was, like music and drawing, one of the obligatory subjects in a curriculum designed to fit eligible young ladies for the marriage market. However, superficial accomplishments did little to enable them to choose wisely, as Agnes’ former pupil Rosalie Murray laments after becoming Lady Ashby, deploring her husband’s ‘carnet de paris, sa table de jeu, ses filles de l’Opéra, sa lady une telle, sa mistress une telle, ses bouteilles de vin et ses verres d’eau-de-vie et de gin!’ In contrast, Agnes, after two miserable experiences as a governess to charges who are spoilt, odious or uncontrollable, returns home to run a successful school with her widowed mother, and makes a happy marriage when independence has rendered her able to make a free choice.

Anne’s other novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, similarly highlights the importance of education in enabling a woman to make a life for herself, escape an abusive marriage and support herself and her children. Helen, its heroine, is at first dazzled by the handsome and wealthy Arthur Huntingdon, and convinces herself that the flaws in his character are due to neglect by his unsatisfactory mother. The marriage rapidly deteriorates through his drinking and mental and physical cruelty, and Helen finally leaves him, taking their child, and adopts a new identity under her late mother’s maiden name. She is able to make a living from painting because she treats it as a serious pursuit, taking lessons to develop her talent (one of the most painful scenes in the novel is that where Arthur burns her work), and becomes a well-regarded (and saleable) artist. Likewise, Agnes Grey’s elder sister Mary develops her artistic gifts and by doing so not only earns a decent living but lifts herself out of the depression which envelops her after the family’s decline into poverty. Nor does this preclude a happy marriage, as we learn when Agnes goes home to help with the preparations for Mary’s wedding to a young clergyman.

The title of this second novel provides some interesting challenges for the translator. In a French translation by Maurice Rancès (Paris, 1937; 12643.a.41) Helen becomes La Dame du Château de Wildfell, suggesting the banks of the Loire rather than rugged Yorkshire, while a 1985 Hungarian translation (YF.2006.a.11670) makes her simply Wildfell asszonya (‘The Lady of Wildfell’). A Russian translation which also includes Agnes Grey makes her Neznakomka iz Uaĭldfell-Kholla (‘The Unknown Lady of Wildfell Hall; wisely, translators have avoided attempts to tackle the name of her residence which produced some bizarre results in the case of Wuthering Heights). This translation appeared in 1990, and also contains her poetry.

Cover of a Russian translation of Anne Bronte's works
Cover of a Russian translation of Anne Brontë’s novels and poems (Moscow, 1990); YA. 1995.a.15633.

The strangest ‘translation’, though, is one purporting to be a Spanish version of a joint production by Charlotte and Anne Brontë from a German translation of a text never published in English. Adversidad (Barcelona, [1946]; 012643.tt.74.) is the work of one Ricardo Boadella, who in his preface claims that the novel, set during the Napoleonic wars, bears the unmistakeable stamp of the sisters’ admiration for Nelson, their interest in education and their devotion to duty as illustrated by the hero, ‘Rockhingham’ [sic], who becomes a martyr to it. One would like to think that Anne – a far more courageous and spirited character than she is conventionally perceived – would have relished this preposterous pastiche.

Susan Halstead Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services

08 January 2020

Mysterious, Fierce and Fragrant: a 15th-Century Encounter with a Civet

What would you do if you saw an animal in your garden which you’d never seen before? You might say, ‘It had the head like a cat’s and the body of a dog …’

This was the method used by European travellers and writers who had to describe the new fauna of the Indies.

Amongst the most remarkable things at the Indies of Peru, be the vicugnes, and sheepe of the countrie, as they call them, which are tractable beasts and of great profit. … Some thinke that the vicugnes are those which Aristotle, Plinie and others call capreas, which are wilde goats, and in truth they have some resemblance, for the lightnesse they have in the woods and mountaines, but yet they are no goates, for the vicugnes have no horns … These vicugnes are greater than goates and lesser than calves. Their haire is of the colour of dried roses, somewhat clearer (Purchas’s Pilgrims, cited Phipson 120).

Four animals of the Llama family, described as Guemul, Chillihueque, Vicogne and Huanaco
The vicuña and other goat- or sheep-like creatures, from Compendio della storia geografica, naturale e civile del regno de Chile (Bologna, 1776) 9773.aaa.28

Nuremberg physician Dr Hieronymus Münzer, writing in Latin and calling himself Monetarius, described his travels in Spain in 1494-95, including a visit to the palace of Prince Henry (cousin of King Ferdinand the Catholic) in Valencia.

The prince, more given to leisure and enjoyment [otio et voluptate] than to war, has built by St Francis’s Church a house so proud and noble that there is nothing superior. All the rooms are hung with tapestries with coloured figures and the cloths are embroidered with gold.

And there he saw

a ‘gazella’, an animal larger than a fox; its head, mouth and ears are like an ermine’s; it is grey with whitish and dark patches; it has the tail and feet of a dog: a bad-tempered and fierce beast [animal colericum et furiosum est].

We understand what made it colericum et furiosum when we read on:

It was in a wooden cage, on a chain. Its keeper ordered it to be dragged by the head to the cage door, and pulling its hind legs lifted its tail and showed us its ‘priapus’ (for it was a male), and taking its testes, which were large, turned them inside out as one would turn a money bag.

Woodcut of a civet cat with some lines of Latin text describing the animal
A civet, from Icones animalium quadrupedum ... quæ in Historiæ Animalium Conradi Gesneri, lib. I. et II., describuntur ... Editio tertia ... auctior (Heidelberg, 1606)  1505/137.(1.)

(Münzer’s three travelling companions were merchants, so they knew a thing or two about money bags.)

Thus there appeared two cavities, one on each testicle. Into one of them he introduced a small spoon of smooth glass, and three times extracted a quantity of sweet-smelling humour of civet about two drams [duarum dragmarum] in weight and anointed my hand with it, which continued to smell for a number of days.

The prince also showed them a number of birds, including

A starling of the colour of lasuri [lapis lazuli?] and blue, which he said could imitate various sounds, although I never heard it speak the hour we were there.

Münzer doesn’t say where the Prince got his civet from (they’re natives of Africa and Asia), but exotic animals were often used as diplomatic gifts: that was how Alfonso X of Castile-Leon came by a giraffe, a gift from the Sultan of Egypt (Crónica de Alfonso X, p. 28). So perhaps this was such a gift.

A woodcut of a civet, showing a slimmer and less clumsy beast than above
An alternative version of the civet from Icones animalium quadrupedum 

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References/Further reading:

Emma Phipson, The Animal-Lore of Shakespeare’s Time (London, 1883) 2252.c.1

Hieronymus  Münzer, Itinerarium hispanicum, ed. Pfandl, Revue Hispanique, 48 (1920 ) PP.4331.aea; Spanish translation by Julio Pujol, Boletín de la Real Academia de la Historia, 84 (1924) Ac.6630.

Crónica de Alfonso X, ed. M. González Jiménez (Murcia, 1999) YA.2001.a.20194

30 December 2019

Theodor Fontane’s British Wanderings

Theodor Fontane is one of those authors who gives hope to middle-aged would-be novelists who have yet to take up their pens: his first novel, Vor dem Sturm, was not published until he was 59. However, middle-aged would-be novelists should also be warned that, before embarking on the novels for which he is now most famous, Fontane had served a long literary apprenticeship as a poet, critic, journalist and travel writer. In these last capacities, he wrote in some detail about the three visits he made to Britain in the 1840s and 1850s.

Born in the town of Neuruppin in Brandenburg on 30 December 1819, Fontane initially followed his father’s career as a pharmacist, serving an apprenticeship in Berlin where he also began to develop his literary interests. It was during his year of compulsory military service that he was invited to join a friend on a two-week trip to England in the summer of 1844. Thanks to a sympathetic commanding officer, he was able to accept.

Portrait of Theodor Fontane in 1844
Theodor Fontane during his first stay in London in 1844. Sketch by J.W. Burford, reproduced in Josef Ettlinger, Theodor Fontane: ein Essai (Berlin, [1904]) 011852.ff.16/18.

On this first visit to England, Fontane was very much a tourist, making planned visits to the sights of London – a city which impressed him with its size compared with the still relatively provincial Berlin – and going on an excursion to Windsor. However, he also made some more independent trips, including a visit to fellow German pharmacist Hermann Schweitzer in Brighton. Schweitzer apparently promised to look for a possible job in England for Fontane, suggesting that Fontane was interested in settling here, although nothing came of this.

A side-effect of this first visit to England was Fontane’s increased interest in historical ballads, and ballads on English and Scottish themes were among the poems he published in 1851, by which time he had given up his pharmaceutical career to live by his pen. The following year, he returned to London as a correspondent for a Prussian newspaper, with a brief to write about conditions in England. This time he stayed for five months, writing articles on a range of subjects from the streets and sights of London to an election in Brentford, which were later collected into the book Ein Sommer in London. During this stay he again considered making a more permanent home in England, possibly by acquiring his own pharmacy business. However, the only work readily available appeared to be as a German tutor and, after some weeks of dithering about whether or not to seek employment in London, he returned to Berlin.

Cover of 'Aus England'
Cover of Theodor Fontane, Aus England (Stuttgart, 1860) 10348.d.3

Three years later he returned again on a longer-term basis with a mission from the Prussian Government to promote a more pro-Prussian line in the British press. He remained until 1859, and once again wrote about England for the German press. A selection of this journalism was also later published in book form as Aus England. Unlike the varied and shorter sketches of Ein Sommer in London, this collection focuses in three longer sections on the London theatre, British art and the British press. The second section was inspired by a visit to the 1857 Art Treasures Exhibition in Manchester, and Fontane adds some impressions of Manchester, which he found ‘not quite so dreary a place as it had been described to me in London’, and Liverpool, where he was very impressed by the docks on the River Mersey’s ‘vast expanse of water’.

These excursions are rare exceptions to the usual focus on London and its surroundings in Fontane’s published accounts of Britain. However, in the summer of 1858 he and his friend Bernhard von Lepel set off on a 14-day tour of Scotland which Fontane described in his book Jenseits des Tweed, again compiled from articles originally written for newspapers. Although his anglophilia had become somewhat jaded by the realities of London life, Fontane described himself setting off for Scotland with much of the same excitement that he had felt on first leaving for England 14 years earlier. The travellers fitted a lot into a short time, starting in Edinburgh before travelling on to Inverness, their northernmost stop, via Stirling and Perth. They then travelled down the Caledonian Canal to the West Coast, taking in the Islands of Iona and Staffa before returning to Edinburgh.

Map of Fontane's Scottish tour
Map of Fontane’s Scottish tour, from Theodor Fontane, Beyond the Tweed, translated by Brian Battershaw (London, 1998) YC.2001.a.8037

Like many Germans, Fontane’s idea of Scotland had been shaped by the works of Sir Walter Scott, by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, by romantic tales and legends, and by picturesque historical anecdotes, several of which he repeats in his descriptions of the places he and Lepel visited. However, a ‘pilgrimage’ to Scott’s old home at Abbotsford, the final visit on their tour, and perhaps saved until last as a particular treat, left Fontane somewhat underwhelmed. He found the house, preserved as a museum, something of a ‘waxwork show’ without the living writer’s spirit to animate it.

Despite this rather anticlimactic end to the trip, Fontane retained fond memories of Scotland, and his Scottish tour inspired him, on his return to Germany, to start writing similar travel pieces about his native Brandenburg. His Wanderungen durch die Mark Brandenburg ran to five volumes and played a role in the development of his writing style towards that of a novelist.

Portrait of Fontane as an older man
Fontane in later life, reproduced in Josef Ettlinger, Theodor Fontane

After leaving London in early 1859 Fontane never returned to Britain, but he wrote at least one more piece about Scotland, a poem in response to the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879. Harking back to his love of Shakespeare and Scott, he wrote it in the style of a ballad, framed by three Macbeth-style witches who plot and rejoice in the bridge’s destruction. Sadly, this is less well known in Britain than William McGonagall’s hilariously inept verses on the same theme, but in the year that marks the 140th anniversary of the disaster as well as the bicentenary of Fontane’s birth, it seems an appropriate note on which to end our look at Fontane in Britain.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

References/further reading:

Theodor Fontane, Ein Sommer in London (Berlin, 1854) 10350.c.1.

Theodor Fontane, Jenseits des Tweed: Bilder und Briefe aus Schottland (Berlin, 1860) 10370.c.26

Theodor Fontane, A Prussian in Victorian London, translated by John Lynch (London, 2014) YC.2016.a.11501

Petra E. Krüger, Fontane in London (Berlin, 2012) YF.2017.a.16769

Gordon A. Craig, Theodor Fontane: literature and history in the Bismarck Reich (New York, 1999) YC.1999.b.9426