European studies blog

13 posts from May 2014

07 May 2014

Hell hath no fury… : More wrongdoing and further foul deeds in Spain

In an earlier blog post, I briefly described the story of Rosaura of Trujillo, which was told and re-told throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in one of the most frequently printed Spanish chapbooks (pliegos de cordel). However, women in the pliegos did not always remain passive victims of ill-treatment at the hands of a male-dominated society. A number of stories tell of women who exacted extremely violent redress for offences against them or for cruel treatment. Not content with killing their immediate persecutors, some women embarked on wholesale slaughter.

An example with a low body count is the story of Doña Elena, a noblewoman of Granada, and Don Francisco, a married caballero from Málaga. He seduces her, gets her pregnant, and then deceives her into following him back to Málaga. En route, he assaults her, stripping off her clothes and stabbing her four times, before abandoning her, making off with her money and jewels. Rescued by a cowhand, Elena survives and is subsequently discovered working as a wetnurse by a noblewoman who turns out to be Francisco’s wife. Informed now of his whereabouts, Elena confronts Francisco and shoots him dead. Elena is not brought to justice and she retires to a convent.

More typical, however, of the vengeful women in the pliegos is Sebastiana del Castillo. She was kept locked away by her family to prevent her from seeing her lover. Driven hysterical, she arranges for him to come to her home, armed, whereupon she murders both her parents before cutting out and frying their hearts. She then kills the lover himself ‘pues que tu la causa ha sido’ (‘as you have been the cause’). Now disguised as a man, she becomes a bandit and commits further murders: of her brothers, who have come looking for her, then of her fellow bandits, and of two alcaldes. Finally Sebastiana is captured and executed by hanging.

Title page of a chapbook with a woodcut of a woman shooting three menThe vengeful Sebastiana from an undated Barcelona chapbook, G.11303(17) 

The fate of Margarita Cisneros is similar. Forced into marriage by her father, she despatches her husband, a lover, and some 14 further victims. She is executed by garrotting but not until she has confessed and issued a warning to fathers about going against their daughters’ wishes.

Other pliegos contain examples of thoroughly ‘bad’ women. Ana Contreras, for example, was evil from the start, ‘un áspid emponzoñado’ (‘a poisonous snake’). She murders her husband and two children, dismembers the corpses, and salts them before cooking the remains, which she and her lover then enjoy as a meal. Both went to the gallows.

In spite of the extreme violence that they have wrought, some avenging women are ultimately spared execution and pardoned. One of the most popular stories was that of Teresa de Llanos. It exists in two versions, one set around Seville, the other around Valencia. Teresa is victim of her brothers, who murder her lover in order to prevent her marriage. After killing them, dressed as a man, she goes on to commit several murders, but of guapos, thugs or bullies, who are all guilty of various relatively minor wrongdoings. She rights wrongs but in a disproportionately violent manner. Arrested and sentenced to death, she reveals that she is a woman. Teresa is subsequently pardoned and retires to a convent.

Woodcut of a woman in armour, on an armoured horse, brandishing a swordTeresa de Llanos sets out to right wrongs, from T.1957(1) ([Valencia,1760?])

The story of Inés de Alfaro has parallels with that of Teresa de Llanos. Her brothers murder her lover, but in an argument. Inés kills her brothers and a number of guapos. When arrested, she too repents, but is miraculously saved because of an earlier act of charity when she gave alms to a hermit.

Woodcut of Ines Alfaro with a hermit and a gallows in the backgroundInes de Alfaro from 11450.f.26(18) (Barcelona, 1831).

The happy fate of Isabel Gallardo is more remarkable. She avenges the murder of her father by killing the perpetrator, then her own cousin and some 30 other people besides. After her detention in the familiar masculine disguise, she confesses, reveals herself to be a woman, is spared and marries a capitán de caballos.

How can the different outcomes for these murderous women be explained? All are victims of cruel and unjust treatment on the part of men. However, Sebastiana is described as a ‘muger más desalmada’ (‘a most heartless woman’), while Margarita Cisneros was a spoilt child and confesses to her ‘pensamiento vil’ (‘base intent’). Inés de Alfaro was motivated by the Devil himself, but was later shown to be capable of charity. Teresa de Llanos, on the other hand, was initially virtuous and good natured and Isabel Gallardo was ‘an angel’ who chose not to marry. When embarking on their acts of vengeance, they all adopt male clothing, in itself a deviation from the norm and a seeming denial of their femininity. Their fates change after their gender is revealed and the ‘good girls’ are spared the worst.

Many of the violent women in the pliegos have evident antecedents in Spanish Golden Age drama: the bandolera, the avenging female and the mujer esquiva. Melveena McKendrick studied each as a manifestation of the mujer varonil. There is no adequate translation of this concept. ‘Mannish’ or ‘manly’ woman would be wrong, as it refers to a woman adopting a role normally performed by a man, or choosing to reject the conventional social role expected of her sex. The woman-turned-bandit (bandolera), a type created by Lope de Vega, was almost invariably a victim of rape, who abandoned society for a life of crime and committed numerous acts of violence before repenting. The avenging female assumed the male role in redressing her own dishonour or an act of violence against her family. The mujer esquiva was a feisty woman who spurned the conventions of marriage and mocked her suitors, but eventually succumbed to love. In the pliegos, however, any subtleties of the plays have been stripped away leaving the bare bones of the more sensationalist plots.

Geoff West, Lead Curator Hispanic Studies

Melveena McKendrick, Woman and Society in the Spanish Drama of the Golden Age: a Study of the ‘mujer varonil’ (Cambridge, 1974). X.989/26427.

05 May 2014

A Translator in New York, and other adventures in language and identity

In a guest post for European Literature Night 2014, Fiona J. Doloughan, Lecturer in English (Literature and Creative Writing) at the Open University and chair of the panel discussion at this year’s event, considers the role of language and translation in our society.

As someone who grew up in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles, issues of language, culture and identity have always been part of my psychological as well as my intellectual make-up and development. Whether a speaker of Gaelic or not, it would be difficult not to register relationships between language and culture and to be aware of the various ‘translations’ that take place when A dictionary entry with translations of the word 'translate'situating yourself in relation to your place of birth depending on who you are talking to and the extent of their knowledge of and/or familiarity with the source culture or, should I say, 
cultures. One might go so far as to say that coming from Northern Ireland, one is already primed to understand something of what it means to translate and be translated.

In my case, this was at more than just a metaphorical level: as a student first of Modern Foreign Languages, then of Comparative Literature, I moved first to England, incorporating a year abroad in France, then to the US and back to England again, arriving at a time when, sadly, Modern Foreign Languages were already on the wane in the UK and English was extending its global reach. European Studies Centres, where the focus was on high-level knowledge of the culture, politics and linguistic and institutional history and habits of European nation states, were being replaced by Language Centres where a range of (mostly) European languages was offered at (mostly) lower levels. Meanwhile, the rest of the world, or so it seemed, was acquiring (a variety of) English in addition to their first language or languages, such is the more complex linguistic reality in parts of the new world order.

A recent trip to the US for a translation-themed seminar confirmed this changing world order: every other person on the streets of Nueva York seemed to speak a language other than English and of the non-English speakers, every second person seemed to be of Hispanic origin; bus drivers and barmen switched effortlessly between American English and some variety of Spanish, leaving me thankful that at my Northern Irish grammar school in the 1970s they had had the foresight to introduce Spanish alongside French and German. If this all sounds a little fanciful, a look at the US Census Data for 2010  confirms the general trend: of the 308.7 million residents in the US, 50.5 m or 16% declared themselves to be of Hispanic or Latino origin, while figures for NY are about 28.5% of the total population.

So what has all this to do with European Literature Night and a panel discussion on ‘Stories in Translation: Translating the Untranslatable?’ It reminds us, I think, if we need reminding, that even supposedly monolingual countries like the US are anything but; it also helps situate the place of English in the greater scheme of things. For all its resistance to Modern Foreign Languages, neither is the UK monolingual. Indeed parts of it (e.g. Wales) have a commitment to bilingualism; and much contemporary writing draws on other languages and cultures, if not overtly, then certainly covertly. A glance at the writers and writing in Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists from spring 2013 is sufficient evidence of the diverse provenance, themes and settings experienced and explored. Perhaps what is really changing is an understanding of translation at a time when assumptions about particular languages in relation to particular cultures are being challenged in the wake of increased migration, both voluntary and enforced. What it means to translate in more multilingual, multicultural settings and how translation, as a mode of reading and writing, helps constitute, rather than merely reflect, cultural identities are just some of the issues to be discussed with our writers, translators and publishers.

Road-sign in Welsh and English for the town of Hay-on-Wye
British bilingualism: a  Welsh English road sign from Hay-on-Wye (Photo by Aloys5268 from Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

02 May 2014

Ivan the Terrible, primers, ballet and the joys of curatorship

Printing in the Old Church Slavonic language using Cyrillic and Glagolitic scripts started in the late 15th century, about 50 years after moveable type was introduced to Europe by Johannes Gutenberg. The first Cyrillic printing office was established in Kraków by Schweipolt Fiol (fl. 1479-1525/6)  of Neustadt. Four liturgical works originated from Fiol’s press. An Octoechos  (a liturgical book that contains a repertoire of hymns ordered in eight parts according to the eight tones)  and a Horologion (Book of Hours) were printed in 1491.

Cyrillic printing in Muscovite Russia started only in the mid-16th century on the initiative of Tsar Ivan the Terrible  and Metropolitan Makarius. From the start printing and publishing in Russia was linked closely to political agendas. In 1547 Ivan proclaimed himself Tsar, having previously borne the title of Grand Duke. The new title symbolised the divine origin of secular power, established a direct link between Russian rulers and Emperors of the recently fallen Byzantium, and was supposed to put Russia much higher in the European hierarchy of states. The change of title was supported by a number of internal reforms, including a revised code of laws (1550) and a church code (Stoglav - The Book of One Hundred Chapters) produced by a Church council called the Council of One Hundred Chapters held in 1551.

Developments in state and Church politics instigated printing. It is believed that the first Russian press (now referred to as ‘Anonymous’) operated in Moscow in 1553-1565. Although early Russian imprints lack date and place of publication, other primary sources contain information about the press and its employees. It is probable that Ivan Fedorov, who bears the title of the ‘father of Russian printing’, because he produced the first dated imprint, also worked there. Between five and  28 copies of each of the seven titles attributed to this press are known. Five different typefaces were used, but all are reminiscent of the semi-uncial handwriting originating from Moscow scriptoria. Ornaments and initials were produced from woodcuts. 

The first dated book printed in Moscow in 1564 was the Apostol (Liturgical Acts and Epistles), now known in 66 copies held in libraries and archives around the world. 

  Opening of the 'Apostol' with an illustration of a saint at a writing-deskThe Liturgical Acts and Epistles, or ‘Apostol’ (Moscow, 1564) C.104.k.11

Although the book was printed at the ‘Anonymous’ press , the names of the printers are known – Ivan Fedorov  and Petr Timofeev Mstislavets. The British Library acquired a copy of the Apostol at auction in November 1975 from the sale of the collection of the famous Russian impresario and founder of the Ballets Russes Sergei Diaghilev.

Photograph of Sergei DiaghilevSergei Diaghilev, impresario and book collector. (Picture from Wikimedia Commons)

Diaghilev developed a passion for rare books towards the end of his life and between 1926 and 1929 amassed an extremely valuable collection of print rarities and autographs. As he hoped to use his collections and the archives of the Ballet Russes as a foundation for a Russian cultural centre, the French government took care of all these valuable materials. However, to show respect for Diaghilev's memory the French Ministry of Education offered his collections and archives to his close friend and younger colleague, the dancer and choreographer Serge Lifar, who bought it from the French state. Over the years Lifar carried on adding to the library, and it became known as the Diaghilev-Lifar collection. However, in the 1970s, Lifar, then in his 70s and on a small pension, could not cope with financial pressure and sold the library and the Ballet Russes archives.

Some of the books from the Diaghilev collection, however, ended up in the possession of his secretary Boris Kokhno who sold them individually. That is how the first dated book printed in Ukraine, the so called Lviv Bukvar’ (Primer) of 1574, found its way to the special collections of Harvard University Library in 1953. Apparently it was sold for only $2,000, as the seller did not fully understand the importance of this copy, which was printed by the same Ivan Fedorov, who left Muscovy for the Duchy of Lithuania where printing was privately sponsored, and subsequently moved to Lviv, where in 1572 he opened the first press on Ukrainian soil. Once the Primer became known to the academic community it became a real sensation and remained the only known copy in the world until in 1982 when Dr Christine Thomas, then Head of the British Library’s Russian and Ukrainian collections, acquired the second known copy. 
A page from Ivan Fyodorov's primes

Ivan Fedorov’s Primer (Lviv, 1574). C.104.dd.11.(1).

On 9 May we will celebrate the 450th anniversary of Ivan Fedorov’s edition of the Apostol and the 440th anniversary of his publication of the Primer with a conference, Revisiting Ivan Fedorov’s Legacy in Early Modern Europe. If you would like to learn more about early printing in Eastern Europe, please join us; the conference is free, but booking is essential.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator Russian Studies


Cyrillic books printed before 1701 in British and Irish collections: a union catalogue / compiled by Ralph Cleminson et al. (London, 2001) 2708.h.903

The Diaghilev-Lifar Library. [Sale catalogue, Sotheby Parke Bernet] (Monaco, 1975)

Nemirovskii, E. Slavianskie izdaniia kirillovskogo (tserkovnoslavianskogo) shrifta, 1491-2000 : inventarʹ sokhranivshikhsia ekzempliarov i ukazatelʹ literatury ( Moscow,  2009- ) ZF.9.b.1317

Christine Thomas. ‘Two East Slavonic Primers: Lvov, 1574 and Moscow, 1637’ in: British Library Journal, 1984. Pp.32-47