European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

Introduction

Discover the British Library's extensive collections from continental Europe and read news and views on European culture and affairs from our subject experts and occasional guest contributors. Read more

23 March 2021

Simon Vestdijk, 1898-1971

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Simon Vestdijk’s death at the age of 72. He was one of the most prolific and diverse authors of the Netherlands with 50 novels, 12 collections of poetry, numerous essays and he translated Emily Dickinson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allen Poe into Dutch. He also wrote essays and reviews for a number of literary journals and newspapers, such as the Nieuwe Courant (NRC) and Het Parool.

Portrait of Simon Vestdijk

Portrait of Simon Vestdijk. Source: Ontdek ons digitaal erfgoed | Geheugen van Nederland

Vestdijk nearly didn’t become a writer. For years he dithered between a career in medicine, music, or literature. In 1932 he both graduated as a doctor and published his literary debut, a collection of poems, which appeared in the literary journal De Vrije Bladen (P.P.4261.sa.) He still wasn’t sure which path to choose.

Then he met Menno ter Braak and Eddy Du Perron, the founders of the literary journal Forum (P.901/113.), and settled for literature. From then on he was unstoppable.

He won numerous prizes, the last one being awarded just a few days before his death.

Vestdijk himself divided his work into five categories:

1. Fiction with autobiographical elements around the character Anton Wachter, such as Terug tot Ina Damman (Back to Ina Damman)
2. Fiction with semi-autobiographical elements, for example De koperen tuin (The garden where the brass band played). See below
3. Contemporary psychological work, such as Else Böhler, Duits dienstmeisje
4. Historical work, such as De vuuraanbidders (The fire worshippers)
5. Fantastical work, such as De kellner en de levenden (The waiter and the living) and Bericht uit het hiernamaals (Message from the other side) 

Cover of the first edition of De Koperen Tuin

Cover of the first edition of De Koperen Tuin (Rotterdam, 1950). 12584.w.64. Source: Vestdijk.com 

This year will see a full programme of commemorations; a plaque will be fitted on his house in Doorn. Today a delegation from De Vestdijkkring, a society that commemorates Vestdijk and promotes his work, will lay a wreath on his grave in The Hague. And of course there’ll be plenty of literary events during the year.

You can get a taste of his works in English from the translations listed below.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

The Penguin book of Dutch short stories. (London, 2016). YKL.2017.a.14072

A sampling of Dutch literature. Thirteen excursions into the works of Dutch authors. Translated and adapted by James Brockway. (Hilversum, 1960). X.950/43674

The garden where the brass band played; translated by A. Brotherton; with an introduction by Hella S. Haasse. (London, 1992). H.93/3254.

‘My Brown Friend’, translated by M. C. Duyvendak, in New Writers. vol. 2, pp. 9-52. (London, 1962). 12521.d.1/2.

Rum Island, translated by B. K. Bowes. (London, 1963). 11769.g.20.

‘The Blind’; ‘The Jewish Bride’; ‘Saul and David’; ‘Rembrandt and Saskia’, translated by Jane Fenoulhet. In: Dutch Crossing, nr. 46 (1992) pp. 25-30. P.523/827

 

 

18 March 2021

A Burglarious Attempt to Declaw the Lion

Parisians woke up on 18 March 1871 to a military operation well underway. Incited by fear of insurrection after a desolate winter of siege, starvation and eventual capitulation to the Prussians, Adolphe Thiers sought to render Paris impotent by removing the cannons littered around the working-class districts of the city.

The sortie to prise away the arms of Belleville and Montmartre would be an utter failure. Arriving at Montmartre at 5:30am, a 6,000-strong force under the direction of General Claude Lecomte overran the National Guardsmen watching over the cannons. However, the troops had not brought a sufficient number of horses to help haul the arms away, and rather comically, were rendered impotent themselves.

By the more reasonable hours of the morning, Parisians had gathered in large numbers. They implored the inert soldiers to ignore their superiors’ orders to fire upon the crowd. Some handed over their rifles and sang ‘arm in arm’ with civilians. When what was happening became apparent, Thiers departed from the Invalides and headed to Versailles, but not before decreeing the army’s complete withdrawal from the capital.

A mass exodus followed, but not everyone got out of Paris. General Lecomte had been seized, as had General Jacques Léon Clément-Thomas. The latter, a prominent figure though the government’s repressions in 1848, had been recognised near one of the newly-erected barricades thrown together across the city. Both men were summarily executed by a crowd which included Lecomte’s former soldiers, National Guardsmen, and local civilians, though not in the solemn manner depicted in the staged photo below by Ernest Eugène Appert, which was not taken until June, 1871.

Staged photo depicting the assassination of Generals Clément-Thomas and Lecomte

Staged photo depicting the assassination of Generals Clément-Thomas and Lecomte. Picture by Ernest Eugène Appert. Source: Wikipedia Commons

This tumultuous period inspired a boom in the production, distribution and consumption of visual imagery and art of all forms. The British Library holds a rich collection of caricatures and images (14001.g.41, Cup.1001.i.1, Cup.648.b.2 and Cup. 648.b.8) produced during l’année terrible. Most are of French provenance, but the collections include prints from other European locales, most significantly Germany. The illustrations are impressive in terms of their artistic quality but also their sharp critique of a wide range of topics, as no social mœurs, political moment or figure escapes their remit.

The volumes are especially marked by the existence of similar collections across different libraries, including digitised collections at Cambridge and Heidelberg. The bindings and title pages of these collections imply they were each collected and curated by German-born Frederick Justen, who moved to London in 1851 and worked as a bookseller for Dulau & Co, one of the British Museum Library’s suppliers of foreign books at the time.

Though the production of satirical prints had been dominated by journals such as Le Charivari through the 19th century, the fall of Napoleon III and the subsequent winter of despair in the city meant that feuilles volantes, or single sheets, became the premier mode of printing illustrations. Despite this, prints were often produced in sets, and collected together in the years following. Here we see a lithograph, published as the first of a set a three in March 1871, from a printing house on rue du Croissant in the second arrondissement.

Caricature depicting Thiers and Paris as a lion

'Theirs le Dompteur!!!!', Heidelberg University Library: Collection de caricatures et de charges pour servir à l'histoire de la guerre et de la révolution de 1870-1871, [s.l.], [ca. 1872], Bd. 4, S. 133.

Approaching Paris, here depicted as a majestic lion, resting amongst its weaponry on Montmartre, Thiers looks down at the ground in a deferential manner. He tells Paris that ‘he’s not like the other trainers’ (“je ne suis pas Dompteur comme les autres”). However, behind his back he holds a decree, perhaps a reference to the document of surrender to the Prussians, but more likely to the laws passed by the National Assembly which harshly affected Parisians. For instance, a law passed earlier in March mandated the end of moratoriums on rent and overdue bills accrued in the city during the four months of the Prussian siege. The eagle-eyed amongst you will see that in his right hand, as well as poorly-hidden chains, his trainer’s whip is detailed with the word ‘armée’. No translation necessary.

Paris sees through this vain attempt at nullification. In the final two images of the set, the lion savages Thiers, forcing him to flee to Versailles bloodied and screaming for allies to come to his aid. The whip and decree stay firmly underneath the lion’s paws, and in the final image, a red flag flies next to the victorious Paris, who warns Thiers that next time he will not escape the lion’s claws.

Anthony Chapman, CDP Student at the British Library and Royal Holloway, University of London

Further reading:

Morna Daniels, ‘Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune’, Electronic British Library Journal, (2005), pp. 1-19, Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune - Morna Daniels (bl.uk)

Irene Fabry-Tehranchi, ‘Cambridge caricatures of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (1870-1871), European Collections, (2019), Cambridge caricatures of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (1870-71) | (wordpress.com)

Gay Gullickson, Unruly Women of Paris: Images of the Commune, (Ithaca, 1996), YC.1997.a.1077

Bettina Muller, ‘The Collections of French caricatures in Heidelberg: The English connection’, French Studies Library Group: Annual Review issue 8 (2011-2012), pp. 39-42, annual-review-issue-8-2011-12-current.pdf (wordpress.com)

David A. Shafer, The Paris Commune, (Basingstoke, 2005). YC.2006.a.16941

Bertrand Tillier, La Commune de Paris: Révolution sans images? (Paris, 2004). YF.2004.a.14526

Robert Tombs, The Paris Commune, 1871, (London, 1999). YC.1999.a.3641

 

12 March 2021

New Slavonic e-resources at the British Library

With the tentative but hopeful news that the British Library Reading Rooms will be able to re-open after 12 April, we wanted to highlight some new Slavonic e-resources. Like the Library's other subscribed resources, the following Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian-language digital collections and archives will be available to access onsite in the St Pancras and Boston Spa Reading Rooms. To view the full list of databases and to access them in the Reading Rooms, please use this link.

We are working on making these resources available remotely to all registered readers, but – bear with us – it is a mammoth job. In the meantime, you can find a number of (mostly) free digital resources via our blog and collection guide.

Cover of 30 Dnei from 1925 with an illustration of a steam train in a station

Cover of 30 Dnei from September 1925. Credit: East View

30 Dnei Digital Archive

Founded in 1925 in Moscow 30 Dnei (30 Days) was an illustrated Soviet literary journal famous for the serialised publications of works such as Il’f and Petrov’s The Twelve Chairs and The Golden Calf. It was also known for its visually striking covers designed by famous Soviet artists and photojournalists, including Aleksandr Rodchenko. After falling foul of the central government in later years, the journal ceased publication soon after Nazi Germany’s invasion of the USSR in June 1941.

30 Dnei originally appeared as a literary supplement to Gudok (The Whistle), the daily newspaper of Soviet railway workers. In the 1920s, Gudok became known for its satirical sketches, to which Il’f and Petrov were regular contributors. The Library holds imperfect runs of Gudok from 1921 and 1922 on microfilm (MFM.MF1284V).

 

Belarus anti-fascist resistance leaflet, 1942 

Belarusian anti-fascist resistance leaflet, 1942. Credit: East View

Belarus Anti-Fascist Resistance Leaflets and Press

These two collections consist of 97 World War II leaflets produced during the period of German occupation of Belarus in 1941–1944, as well as 30 newspaper titles published between 1942 and 1945. Most of the leaflets were published clandestinely by the multiple Soviet guerilla (partisan) detachments, as well as by the scores of underground resistance groups which operated in German-occupied cities and villages. The majority of the newspapers were printed by underground resistance groups in secret printing press facilities operating in small Belarusian towns in the territories occupied by the Germans, while others were distributed by Belarusian partisan detachments operating from remote areas of Belarus. The materials are in Belarusian and Russian.

 

Front page of Prapor peremohy from 1 January 1987

Front page of Prapor peremohy from 1 January 1987. Credit: East View

Chernobyl Newspapers Collection

Following the Library’s recent purchase of the digital archive, The Chernobyl Files, we have acquired an additional electronic collection of newspapers published in towns in the exclusion zone and its immediate vicinity. They include three previously unavailable local newspapers, Prapor peremohy, Tribuna energetika, and Tribuna pratsi, and cover the period 1979–1990.

 

Cover of Nedelia with a photograph of people sledging

Cover of Nedelia, 28 December 1963 - 4 January 1964. Credit: East View

Nedelia Digital Archive

Founded in 1960, Nedelia (Week) was a popular illustrated Soviet weekly newspaper that began as a Sunday supplement to Izvestiia under the editorship of Aleksey Adzhubey, the son-in-law of the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. It was one of the very few Soviet periodicals that kept the official Communist Party propaganda to a minimum, covering instead cultural, social, and political happenings with a certain degree of light-heartedness, which perhaps was the main reason behind its popularity.

 

Ogonek title page from 1903 with an Art Nouveau illustration of a woman reading

Ogonek, no. 1, 1903. Credit: East View

Ogonek (St. Petersburg) Digital Archive

Established in 1899 and in continuous print until 1918, Ogonek started as a weekly illustrated supplement to the influential St. Petersburg-based newspaper Birzhevye Vedomosti (British Library: Mic.B.1089). Ogonek later became a separate entity, attracting some of the most notable journalists, photographers and critics of the period.

Russia in Transition

This digital collection contains primary source materials, ranging from samizdat newspapers to flyers to posters to booklets and brochures from 1989 to 1993, encompassing a period of unprecedented social and political activism in Russia. In addition to this new collection, the British Library also has access to a large number of digitised election related materials from the countries of the former Soviet Union (see Social Movements, Elections, Ephemera).

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections, and Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

Materials republished from products originally made available by East View Information Services