European studies blog

13 posts from October 2014

31 October 2014

A Variety of Vampires

The average English-speaking reader, if asked to draw a picture of a vampire, would probably be inspired by Bram Stoker’s description of Count Dracula as portrayed in our current exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination – a suave, sinister figure inhabiting a mysterious castle from which he makes nocturnal sorties to spread terror throughout Transylvania, returning at daybreak to lurk in his coffin, replete with blood which trickles from a corner of his mouth. But Transylvania does not have a monopoly on vampires – and not all vampires have fangs.

Stoker, of course, was an Irishman, from a country with a rich tradition of eerie stories of its own. However, much closer to the home of Dracula (remember those sheepskin-clad Slovaks whipping up their horses to carry their mysterious load on the first stage of the Count’s voyage to Whitby), two authors writing in Czech conjured up their own versions of the legend – as different as the writers themselves.

At first sight Jan Neruda (1834-91)  seems an unlikely character to spin tales of the supernatural. Although he is best known today to non-Czech readers for his short stories, it is his Povídky malostranské (‘Tales of the Lesser Quarter’) which secure his reputation, with their lively accounts of the people and streets of old Prague. However, he was also a widely-travelled writer of feuilletons, and it is not Prague but the Greek island of Prinkipo which provides the setting for his story Vampýr (‘The Vampire’), published in an 1880 edition of his collection Arabesky (British Library YA.1997.a.13960(2)).

The narrator and a friend have been enjoying a holiday in Istanbul, and at the end of their stay they decide to make an excursion by boat to Prinkipo, accompanied by a Polish family – father, mother, a delicate daughter with a slight dry cough, and her fiancé. Neruda describes the idyllic landscape, with its leaping dolphins and the fragrance of the ancient pines, in detail, and the party decides to take lodgings in a local hotel run by a Frenchman. While relaxing in the sunshine, they catch sight of a mysterious artist, a Greek with flowing black hair, pale face and deep-set dark eyes, sketching nearby; he had travelled on the same boat, but slips away almost unnoticed, only to be heard quarrelling with the innkeeper as they return. The latter explains that he is known as  ‘the Vampire’ because whenever anyone dies in the area he appears at once with a likeness captured in advance, ‘like a vulture,’ as the disgusted innkeeper remarks. At a sudden shriek from the mother, holding her fainting daughter in her arms, the bridegroom races after the artist and hurls him to the ground. From his portfolio flutters a sheet of paper – a sketch of the young girl, eyes closed, a myrtle wreath encircling her brow.

Karel Hlaváček (1874-98), who himself succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 23, might appear a more likely creator of vampires despite being one of the founder members of the athletic Sokol movement and the president of its Libeň branch in Prague. He was also, however, a representative of both the Decadent and Symbolist movements, and published several collections of poems in this spirit. One of these, Pozdě k ránu (‘Late towards morning’; Prague, 1896; X.907/10067, published in a limited edition of 200 copies), includes a poem entitled ‘Upír’ (The Vampire), in which the poet describes his vision of an unknown country ‘without shadow, without light’ which no-one had ever visited before. Here a strange being appears ‘in the pale colours of a delicate old lithograph’, his heavy brows overshadowing green eyes with pupils huge and black as if from atropine, hovering on black wings at once velvety and metallic. The last descendent of a once mighty line of dukes, kings and magnates tremble before him, and their daughters long for him silently and secretly. The poet apostrophizes him as a ‘proud white barbarian, lover of all that is sick and pale … living off the vital force of the juices of virgins … symbol of decadence!’, returning  ‘late towards morning from mystical orgies’ just as ‘in the accursed yesterday and rotten tomorrow’…

Frontispiece from 'Pozdě k ráno' with a rear view of a reclining nude male figure watching the moon rise over a landscapeFrontispiece from Karel Hlaváček, Pozdě k ráno; X.907/10067.

The haunting nature of these lines, at once alluring and repellent, encapsulates the spirit of Decadence and reveals the qualities which make the figure of the vampire so irresistible to members of that movement. With no need to resort to gory exaggeration, both Neruda and Hlaváček evoke a figure whose compelling blend of the erotic and the morbid continues to exert a lasting fascination.

Susan Halstead, Curator Czech and Slovak

29 October 2014

Language and the making of nations

On 14 November the British Library will be hosting a study day  ‘Language and the Making of Nations’, organised by the Library's European Studies Department and examining the relationship between majority and minority languages in the countries of Europe and the creation of national literary languages

The creation of a unified language has been significant in the formation of the nations of Europe. Part of the process has been the compilation of standard grammars and dictionaries, an initiative often followed by linguistic minorities, determined to reinforce their own identity. This seminar will look at the relationship between majority and minority languages in the countries of Europe, the role of language in national histories, and the creation of national literary languages. Specialists in the history of the languages of Europe will explore these issues in relation to Czech, Georgian, Italian, Serbian and Ukrainian, as well as Catalan, Dutch, Frisian, Silesian and the Norman French of Jersey.

A ninetheenth-century map showing the languages of Europe


10:30  Registration; coffee

10:50  Welcome

11:00-12:00   Donald Rayfield (Emeritus Professor of Russian and Georgian, Queen Mary, University of London), ‘The tongue in which God will examine all other tongues — how Georgians have viewed their language.’

Marta Jenkala (Senior Teaching Fellow in Ukrainian, UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies), ‘Ukrainian language and nation: a cultural perspective’.


12:10-13:10   Mari Jones (Reader in French Linguistics, Cambridge University), ‘Identity planning and Jersey Norman French.’

Peter Bush (Literary translator), ‘Josep Pla and the making of contemporary literary Catalan.’


14:10-15:40 Giulio Lepschy (Hon. Professor, UCL, London, School of European Languages, Culture and Society), ‘The invention of standard Italian.’

Prvoslav Radić (Professor, Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade), ‘The language reform of Vuk St. Karadžić and the national question among the Serbs.’

Rajendra Chitnis (Senior Lecturer, School of Modern Languages, Bristol University), 'We are what we speak. Characterizations of the Czech language during the Czech National Revival.’


16:00-17:30 Roland Willemyns (Emeritus Professor of Dutch, Free University, Brussels), ‘The Dutch Congress of 1849 and the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal.’

Tomasz Kamusella (School of History, University of St Andrews), ‘Silesian: a language or a dialect?’

Alastair Walker (Emeritus Research Associate, Department of Frisian Studies, University of Kiel), ‘North and West Frisian: Two beautiful sisters, so much alike, but yet so different.’

The event has received most generous support from NISE (National Movements and Intermediary Structures in Europe), the Polish Cultural Institute, and the international publishing house Brill

Attendance is £25.00 Full Price;  £15.00 for under 18s. To book please email or call +44 (0)1937 546546

There is an additional free event, following the study day, from 18:15-20:00.  Maclehose Press and the Institut Ramon Llull will be launching Joan Sales’ novel of the Spanish Civil War, Uncertain Glory, translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush.  Professor Paul Preston (Historian, Director of the Catalan Observatory at the LSE) will be in conversation with Peter Bush.  A wine reception will follow courtesy of Freixenet.

As places are limited, please RSVP to  if you would like to attend the evening event.

27 October 2014

Félicien Rops, Baudelaire and skeleton passions

Félicien Rops (1833-1898), painter, printmaker, and illustrator, was active in both his native Belgium and in France, where he moved in 1874; his vast and varied output included landscapes, portraits, and, above all, representations of modern life, often caustic and disconcertingly frank. A leading figure of the Belgian avant-garde, he is perhaps best known for his etchings and book illustrations of the 1870s and 1880s which, with their heady mixture of of erotic (or frankly pornographic) and macabre imagery, make him one of the great figures of the late 19th-century Decadent Movement, and an artist whose work often reflects  the themes investigated in the British Library’s current exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: the Gothic Imagination’.

His friendship with Baudelaire during the two unhappy years (1864-66) the poet spent in Belgium had a profound and lasting influence on Rops, and determined much of his later imagery. Baudelaire went to Belgium in April 1864 to give a series of lectures and to evade his creditors. Already seriously ill, plagued by money worries and a broken man, his despair there manifested itself in ferocious misanthropic attacks on Belgium and the Belgians. Rops was well-known by then as a caricaturist, his lithographs of social and political satires in the style of Daumier and Gavarni published in various Belgian newspapers and magazines, and also for realist subjects inspired by Courbet. Rops was introduced to Baudelaire in May 1864 by Auguste Poulet-Malassis, the poet’s publisher and friend and, like him, in self-imposed exile in Belgium evading his creditors. Rops and Poulet-Malassis were the only persons whose company, in the words of the poet, “lightened [his] sadness in Belgium”.

Images of skeletons are evoked in Baudelaire’s poetry and described in his art criticism (for example Alfred Rethel’s series of engravings Auch ein Todtentanz). They evidently influenced Rops who confided to Poulet-Malassis that he shared the poet’s “…love for the primary crystallographic form: the passion for the skeleton”. He was accordingly commissioned to execute the frontispiece of Les Épaves, a collection of incidental verse by Baudelaire which would include the six censored poems from the 1857 edition of Les Fleurs du malLes Épaves was finally published in 1866 with the Rops frontispiece illustrating the complex iconographic programme elaborated by Baudelaire. It depicts a skeleton, symbolising the tree of good and evil, in whose feet grow flowers representing the seven deadly sins. Angels and cherubs are flying high above around a medallion of the poet carried away by a chimera.

Image of a skeleton with branches sprouting from its arms
Frontispiece by Rops from Baudelaire’s Les Épaves (Paris, 1866). British Library 011483.c.19

This was the first of a series of skeletons that would feature regularly in Rops’ work over the next three decades, most of them direct or indirect evocations of Baudelairian themes, showing the lasting effect of the poet’s work. They include La Mort qui danse  (‘Death Dancing’, ca 1865), and the painting La Mort au Bal (‘Death at the Ball’, 1865-75), both of which show a skeleton dressed as a woman and evoke Baudelaire’s poem ‘Danse macabre’. Mors Syphilitica (1875) shows the grim reaper masquerading as a prostitute in a doorway whereas La parodie humaine (1878) shows death hiding behind the elegant appearance of a young fashionable woman (another syphilis warning).

'Death at the Ball' - a skeleton in a bloodstained dress
Félicien Rops, La Mort au bal. (1865-75) (Otterlo, Kröller-Müller Museum)

  'La Parodie humaine' - picture of a man approaching a prostitute whose face is a mask hiding a skull
Félicien Rops, La parodie humaine (1878) (Namur, Musée provincial Félicien Rops)

Satan is also sometimes depicted as a skeleton, as in the two versions of Satan semant l’ivraie (‘Satan sowing seeds among the wheat’), one pastoral and one urban. The earlier of these images (1867, below left) shows Satan dressed as a peasant sowing the seeds of discord, in the later print (1882, below right), a gigantic Satan is crossing Paris, his right foot resting on the towers of Notre-Dame; in this case the seeds of discord, sown with his right hand, are women (a typically misogynistic image of woman as the instrument of the devil).

A skeleton sowing seeds in a field (left) and from the sky over Paris (right)
The two versions of Satan semant l’ivraie (Musée provincial Félicien Rops, Namur)

Finally, skeletons appear in various guises in Rops illustrations to literary works by, among others, Joséphin Péladan’s Le Vice suprême (1884). Curiously, Rops never illustrated a work by Edgar Allan Poe, whose prose works would have been known to him through Baudelaire’s translations.

A headless skeleton in male evening dress opening a coffin to reveal an elegantly-dressed female skeleton
‘Le vice suprême’ from Josephin Aimé Péladan, Études passionnelles de décadence. Le vice suprême (Paris, 1884) Tab.603.a.29.

Postscript: It was while visiting the baroque Jesuit church of Saint-Loup in Namur on 15 March 1866, in the company of Rops and Poulet-Malassis, that Baudelaire had a seizure which led ultimately to aphasia, paralysis and, the following year, his death. His collapse occurred as he was praising the elaborate confessionals of the church the interior of which he had earlier described as a “terrible and delightful catafalque” and as a “catafalque embroidered in black, pink and silver”. Four years earlier Baudelaire had an ominous warning, which he described in his diaries in apocalyptic terms – “I constantly suffer from from vertigo, and today… I felt pass over me the wind of the wing of imbecility”; he must have now realised that the end was imminent.

The Church, a masterpiece of Belgian architecture, has recently been deconsecrated and is currently being restored. A stone’s throw away, the Musée provincial Félicien Rops, houses a rich collection of the artist’s  work. Its façade is adorned with a street sign showing Pornokratès, Rops’s most famous work, its rather curious putti bearing a distinct resemblance to those of his frontispiece of Baudelaire’s Les Épaves, an appropriate reminder of the poet in this neighbourhood redolent with baudelairian associations.

Chris Michaelides, Curator Italian and Modern Greek

  A naked woman with a pig on a leash
Félicien Rops, Pornokratès (Museum Félicien Rops, Namur)


Charles Baudelaire, Les Épaves: Pièces condamnées – galanteries – épigraphes – pièces diverses – bouffonneries. (Brussels, 1866). 011483.c.19.

Félicien Rops, 1833-1898, lithographies, gravures, dessins, peintures. (Namur, [198?]). YA.2000.a.15029

Michel Draguet, Rops. (Paris, 1998). LB.31.b.17754

Bernadette Bonnier, André Guyaux, Hélène Védrine, Autour des Épaves de Charles Baudelaire (Antwerp, 1999) YA.2001.b.1454

Bernadette Bonnier, Véronique Carpiaux, Museum Félicien Rops (Oostkamp, 2003) YF.2006.a.5513.

Bernadette Bonnier (ed.), Le Musée provincial Félicien Rops, Namur (Brussels, 2005). LF.31.b.2064

24 October 2014

Person from a portrait: Ira Frederick Aldridge, the first black Othello

Growing in a provincial town in Soviet Ukraine in the 1960s, when the world was less globalised and foreign students were present only in main universities, I had very little opportunity to meet a black person in flesh.  The first black person that I, aged 5, became aware of  was ... Ira Frederick Aldridge! The portrait of a very sympathetic man, with big eyes and moustaches, adorned every book about the national poet of Ukraine, Taras Shevchenko (my parents had a very good library of Ukrainian literature). It was painted  in black and white Italian pencil and finished by Shevchenko on 25 December 1858.

 Portrait_of_Ira_Aldridge,_by_Taras_Shevchenko_(1858)Shevchenko’s portrait of Ira Aldridge (image from Wikimedia Commons)

 On 10 November 1858 Aldridge played Othello in one of St Petersburg’s theatres for the first time, and Shevchenko, a keen reader of Shakespeare and an ardent theatregoer, was in the audience, together with his Russian friends (the family of Count Fyodor Tolstoy and others). He was very excited by the acting and reduced to tears. 

Portrait of Ira Aldridge in costume as OthelloIra Aldridge as Othello, frontispiece from Leben und Künstler-Laufbahn des Neger Ira Aldridge (Berlin, 1853; 10881.a.1)

On November 12 Shevchenko met Aldridge personally in the house of Count Tolstoy where Shevchenko was a frequent guest. They became great friends (Aldridge called Shevchenko “an artist” finding difficult to pronounce the Ukrainian surname). Two young daughters of Count Tolstoy, Katya and Olya, often served as interpreters for them. On 6 December Shevchenko sent a letter to his Russian actor-friend (a former serf, like Shevchenko himself) Mikhail Shchepkin, full of admiration about the talent of Aldridge, “who does miracles on the stage”. “He shows live Shakespeare”, wrote Shevchenko.  Friend of Shevchenko artist Mikhail Mikeshin made a satirical sketch of  Shevchenko in awe before Aldrigde and Shevchenko himself added “My mute awe before Ira Aldridge” (picture below).

Cartoon of Shevchenko 'in awe before Aldridge'

In 1913 Leonid Pasternak made his drawing of Aldridge and Shevchenko which is reproduced in books about them. The original is kept in the Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum in Moscow.

In 1861-1866 Aldridge visited many places in Ukraine: Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, Zhytomyr, and Elisavetgrad. He learned Russian and German and successfully performed using these languages too. His performances attracted large audiences everywhere. The well-known Ukrainian dramatist Ivan Karpenko-Karyi walked miles from the village of Bobryntsi to Elisavetgrad to see his performance.

The biography of this extraordinary African-American actor (especially famous in Shakespearean roles) is fascinating and continues to attract well-deserved attention. His bicentenary in 2007 was celebrated in many countries and the proceedings of a seminar about him were published in Germany in 2009: Ira Aldridge 1807-1867. The Great Shakespearean Tragedian on the Bicentennial Anniversary of his Birth (Frankfurt am Main, 2009; YD.2009.a.9405).

In 2012, Red Velvet, a play by Lolita Chakrabarti about Aldridge and his taking the role of Othello (published as a book; London, 2014;  YK.2013.a.13939) was premiered at the Tricycle Theatre in London, with Aldridge played by Adrian Lester. (The play returned in 2014; see excerptss here). More and more people are now discovering  Aldridge's extraordinary life.

The British Library holds books about Aldridge in various languages. The oldest English booklets date from the 19th century, when young Ira, after leaving New York, was acting in Dublin, Edinburgh, Bath, and London: John Cole, A Critique on the Performance of Othello by F. W. K. [or rather, Ira] Aldridge, the African Roscius (Scarborough, 1831; 11794.g.29) and A brief memoir and theatrical career of Ira Aldridge, the African tragedian. (London, ca. 1855; 1608/4459 - picture below).

Title-page of 'A brief memoir and theatrical career of Ira Aldridge'

The 20th- and 21st-century biographies and critical studies about Aldridge include: Herbert Marshall, Ira Aldridge : the Negro tragedian  (London, 1958; 11799.e.34); Owen Mortimer, Speak of me as I am: the story of Ira Aldridge (Wangaratta, 1995; YA.1996.a.22306); Ira Aldridge: the African Roscius, edited by Bernth Lindfors (Rochester, N.Y., 2007; v.28 8001.250050); Martin Hoyles, Ira Aldridge: celebrated 19th century actor (London, 2008; YD.2007.a.8267); Bernth Lindfors, Ira Aldridge: The Early Years, 1807-1833 (Rochester, NY, 2011; YC.2012.a.22286) and the same author’s three-volume Ira Aldridge (Rochester, NY, 2011-2013; 8001.250050)  

Herbert Marshall’s book was translated into Ukrainian during Soviet times by the Mystetstvo (Art) publishing house (Aira Oldridzh: nehrytianskyi trahik (Kyiv, 1966) X.898/2832). Ukrainian authors mainly explored the friendship of Taras Shevchenko and Ira Aldridge, as in Ivan Kulinych’s Poet i trahik (Kyiv, 1964; X.908/1462) where the author collected memoirs of witnesses of this great friendship.

The Library holds the Russian original of a book by theatre historian and critic Sergey Durylin (1886-1954) about the life of Aldridge (Moscow-Leningrad, 1940; 11797.a.32) and its recent translation into English by Alexei Lalo (Trenton, 2014; awaiting shelfmark). A Hungarian-language book was published in Romania in 1969 (Ernő Igeti, Az idegen csillag. Ira Aldridge regényes élete (Bucharest, 1969)  X.989/6820).

This well-travelled and much-loved actor (he also played in Germany, Hungary and Serbia) died while on tour in Poland on 7 August 1867. His plans to return to his native USA after the end of the Civil War there (he was also an outspoken abolitionist) were never realised. Aldridge was given a state funeral in Poland and his tomb is in the Old Cemetery in Łódź.

 Aldridgetomb Tomb of Ira Aldridge in Łódź (picture by Jan W. Raczkowski from Wikimedia Commons)

Every October, during Black History Month it is heart-warming to pay tribute to this great life which touched the lives and imagination of other people in many countries and cultures. Taras Shevchenko, whose bicentenary we celebrate this year, was one of them.

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Ukrainian Studies

22 October 2014

Two Languages, One Nation?

I’ve no need, or desire, to give you here potted histories of the vicissitudes of the Catalan language and its literature, with their controversial political aspects and problems of definition, as they’re well covered by Wikipedia. In anticipation of the conference ‘Language and the Making of Nations’ to be held at the British Library on 14 November, I thought it would be more interesting to look at a few examples of the happy relationship between Spanish (alias Castilian) and Catalan as reflected in the BL’s collections.

Nobody nowadays is monolingual in Catalan, although it is of course perfectly possible for people outside Spain to be bilingual in, say, Catalan and German.

Bilingualism may well be more common than monolingualism, although bilingualism doesn’t necessarily mean equality of status for both languages or that both are used in all contexts.  For centuries educated people were as fluent in the Latin they learned at school as in the vernacular they imbibed with their mother’s – or even their wetnurse’s – milk.  But of course Latin and the vernacular had different spheres of activity.

Spanish was spoken at the Catalan court from the 15th century onwards, when poets composed in both languages; and linguisticians study the dialect of Spanish now spoken in Catalonia (see Sinner, below).

1. The oldest Catalan-Spanish dictionary in the British Library appears to be:

Joaquin Esteve, Joseph Belvitges and Antonio Juglà y Font,  Diccionario Catalan-Castellano-Latino (Barcelona: en la oficina de Tecla Pla viuda, 1803-05). 828.h.19.

Title-page of 'Diccionario Catalan-Castellano-Latino'

These three gentlemen have all the qualifications one could wish for (wouldn’t you like to have doctor utriusque iuris on your c.v.?). Their audience is Catalans who need to express themselves in Spanish in ‘tribunals, academies and pulpits’ not only in Spain as a whole but also ‘without leaving their houses’.


Pedro Martyr Anglès, OP, Prontuario orthologi-graphico trilingue. En que se enseña á pronunciar, escribir, y letrear correctamente en latin, castellano, y catalan: con una idiagraphia, ò arte de escribir en secreto ... (Barcelona: Mariano Soldvila, [1743]).  1568/2820.

Title page of  'Prontuario orthologi-graphico trilingue.'Writing in the medium of Spanish (after all, he says, the grammar of Greek, Hebrew  and oriental languages are expounded in Latin), Anglès treats Spanish and Catalan on equal terms, though both have to cede prestige to Latin.

3.  Last but not least, the popular drama of  19th-century Barcelona and Valencia abounds in short pieces (sainetes/sainets, entremeses/entremesos) described on the title page as ‘pieza bilingüe’.  So far as I can determine, the linguistic divisions are drawn accurately: characters speak Catalan among themselves, and when joined by a Spanish speaker pass into Spanish as a matter of courtesy.

Don M. P., El memorialista. O Lo que vale un buen hombre, pieza bilingüe en un acto y en verso (Barcelona: Juan Llorens, 1859).  11726.g.11 (35)

Title-page of 'El Memorialista' with a woodcut of the letter-writer talking to the maid outside his shop

Gregori is a letter-writer and matchmaker, who matches Doña Clara and Don Eugenio; Pauleta is a maid. The characters mostly  speak in Catalan. Doña Clara is a fine lady, who speaks only Spanish; when addressing her, Don Eugenio speaks good Spanish and wins her hand; Gregori speaks to her in humorously bad Spanish. Although there is a class division by language, the atmosphere is more one of One Nation.

The conclusion is suitably bilingual:

Don Gregori: Long live Gregori (CATALAN)
Doña Clara, Don Eugenio and Pauleta: Let him live long (SPANISH)
Doña Clara, Don Eugenio: For he is a good man  (SPANISH)
Pauleta: For he is a good man (CATALAN)

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies


Carsten Sinner, El castellano de Cataluña: Estudio empírico de aspectos léxicos, morfosintácticos, pragmáticos y metalingüísticos, Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie, 320. (Tübingen, 2004).[320]

Pedro-Manuel Cátedra (ed.),  Poemas castellanos de cancioneros bilingües y otros manuscritos Barceloneses (Exeter, 1983). X.0909/545(34)

Maurizio Fabbri, A Bibliography of Hispanic dictionaries: Catalan, Galician, Spanish, Spanish in Latin America and the Philippines Appendix: A bibliography of Basque dictionaries (Imola, 1979).  X.950/20122

20 October 2014

Ukrainian printing in the Russian empire

As a result of the Union of Lublin in 1569, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was formed, and Kiev (Kyiv) with other Ukrainian territories were transferred to the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland. Lviv and its neighbouring territories had already been part of the Polish Crown from the 14th century. A series of uprisings, the most successful one being under the command of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, resulted in the creation of a Cossack state. Between 1654 and 1667 a series of treaties between the newly formed Cossack Hetmanate, the Russian Empire and  the Kingdom of Poland led to the agreement, according to which part of Ukraine on the left bank of the river Dnieper became part of the Russian Empire with the administrative status of ‘Hetmanate’. Although Lviv was also stormed and taken by the Khmelnytsky army, the city and the rest of the Western Ukrainian territories remained under Polish rule until the First Partition of Poland in 1772, when Lviv became the capital of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria within the Austrian empire.

The eastern territories of Ukraine became part of the Russian Empire and Ukrainian presses became subject to Russian Imperial censorship carried out by the Holy Synod, although it took some time to tighten restrictions.

The output of the Kiev Monastery of the Caves press apart from liturgical literature traditionally included sermons, poems, original works on philosophy and theology. In the mid-17th century, the press was managed by Innokentii Gizel’ (1620-1688), a prominent scholar and public figure. He was an author of a  Synopsis, the first popular history of the East Slavonic nations.

Illustration of Noah and his family praying and offering sacrifices beneath a rainbow
Noah's Ark – illustration from Synopsis, Kiev, 1681 (the British Library holds a facsimile edition (Cologne, 1983) X.0900/189(17))

Another prominent clergyman, Lazar Baranovych,  initiated the opening of a new printing house in Novgorod-Siverskii (1674), which was later relocated to Chernihiv (1680). The British Library holds the 1691 Chernihiv edition of Runo oroshennoe by Dimitry of Rostov  (C.192.a.222) – a book of miracles performed by the icon of the Mother of God of Chernihiv (picture below).

ITitle-page of 'Runo oroshennoe' with a frontispiece woodcut of two saints by a monastery and an icon of the Virgin and Child

In Western Ukraine, the press at the Uniate Monastery in Pochaiv (in operation between 1730-1918), became the most productive. This press published books in Church Slavonic, Ukrainian, Russian, Greek, Latin and Polish, serving Orthodox Christians, Uniates, and Catholics. It specialised in liturgical books and literature related to the Holy icon of Mary, Mother of God of the Pochaiv Monastery. The British Library has several Pochaiv editions, including two of the 18th century.

Title page of a 1794 'Irmologion' printed in red and blackAn Irmologion – a  book of texts for liturgical singing – published in Pochaiv in 1794 (474.d.10)

The Pochaiv Monastery press competed with the Lviv Brotherhood press and until the first Partition of Poland tried to transfer exclusive rights to print liturgical books from Lviv to Pochaiv. In 1772 the Lviv Brotherhood press won the court case, but it was no longer relevant, as Lviv became part of Austria, and Pochaiv remained in Poland. Ironically, the Partition of Poland helped to boost printing activities in Pochaiv, as before 1772 the Pochaiv Press could not publish certain liturgical books that the Lviv Press had exclusive rights for. As a result of the next Partition of Poland Pochaiv ended up in the Russian Empire, and of course, the press had difficulties with printing and distribution of Uniate editions, although it escaped such strict control as publishers in the territories of the Hetmanate. At the end of the 18th century, the press signed contracts with Old Believers to produce their books. The Russian officials soon found out about these contracts, and the press was almost closed. In 1830-31 the monks supported the Polish uprising, printing leaflets and pamphlets for the Poles. As a result, the monastery was transferred to the Orthodox Church, and printing which by the mid-19th century became the main source of income for the monastery, fell under control of the Orthodox Church.

As printing and publishing in the Russian empire was very much focused in the two capitals, civil Cyrillic types appeared in Ukraine only in the second half of the 18th century: in 1764 a press opened in Elisavetgrad (now Kropyvnytskyi), in 1793  in Kharkiv, in 1787  in Kiev, and in 1793 in Ekaterinoslav (now Dnipro). The end of the 18th century and first half of the 19th was a period of establishing a network of Russian state publishers in Ukraine. A new printing house in Mikolaiv became very active at the end of the 18th century.

Ukrainian culture became subject to enforced russification, so the formation of a modern Ukrainian literary language was delayed till the beginning of the 19th century. The first book in literary Ukrainian – Ivan Kotliarevskii’s mock-heroic version  of Virgil’s  Aeneid – was published in St Petersburg in 1798. Unfortunately, the British Library doesn’t hold the first edition of this work, but of course, numerous consequent editions are available.

A private St Petersburg publisher V. Plavil’shchikov produced some books in the Ukrainian language, including a Ukrainian Grammar (Grammatika malorossĭskago nari︠e︡chii︠a︡, 1818; 1332.e.5.(1.)) compiled by A. Pavlovskii. As many Ukrainians moved to the two Russian capitals, works of contemporary Ukrainian authors who later became classics of Ukrainian literature – Taras Shevchenko, Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnov’ianenko (1778-1843), Mykhaylo Maksymovych (1804-1873) – were first published in St Petersburg and Moscow. The first collection of works by the prominent Ukrainian public figure and writer Hryhorii Skovoroda  (1722-1794) appeared in St Petersburg in 1861. A short-lived Ukrainian journal Osnova (‘Basis’) was also published in St Petersburg.

The leading academic publisher in Ukraine was Kharkiv University Press (opened in 1805), but its production was primarily in Russian. The press issued several works on Ukrainian studies, original Ukrainian historical documents and some classical Ukrainian authors. Ukrainian modern journalism in Russian and Ukrainian also started in Kharkiv, where 12 periodical titles appeared between 1812 and 1848.

The Kiev Monastery of the Caves Press kept publishing liturgical and religious texts in Church Slavonic, but also catered for primary schools, seminaries and the general public, publishing calendars and serials. The Kiev-Mohyla Academy was shut by the Russian authorities in 1817, and Kyiv University was opened instead in 1834. A year later a university press was set up, which supplied textbooks for secondary and higher education institutions and published scholarly works by the university professors. Another state publishing house was established in Odessa in 1814. It specialised in literary almanacs and scholarly works. In 1839 the Odessa Society for History and Antiquities set up a press to publish their proceedings.

The liberal reforms of Tsar Alexander II made it possible for Ukrainians to publish in their language. The period of liberalisation was short-lived, and already in 1876 a decree that prohibited printing (including ‘lyrics’ for printed music) in Ukrainian was issued. The types of material that were exempted were historical documents, ethnographic sources and very selective fiction and poems, subject to censorship. Export of books from abroad was also banned. Some works by Ukrainian authors did not pass Imperial censorship and appeared abroad in uncensored editions; for example Shevchenko’s Kobzar’ was published in Prague in 1876 (11585.k.11; see picture below).  

Title-page of Shevchenko’s Kobzar’ with a frontispiece portrait of the author
However, new private publishing houses became active at the end of the 19th century. These enterprises aimed to popularise literature among the lower classes, and therefore their books were produced cheaply with small print runs. See, for example, a collection of Ukrainian poetry and prose published in Kyiv in 1902.

Page woth a portrait of and lyrics by Mykola VerbytskyiThis page opening from vol. 1 of this three-volume collection (012265.i.7) shows a portrait of and lyrics by Mykola Verbytskyi, also a contributor to the journal Osnova.

Making books accessible for the wider public was the main goal of the publishing activities of various Ukrainian cultural organizations, such as societies for literacy in Kyiv and Kharkiv and the St Petersburg-based ‘Charity for publishing useful and cheap books’ (1898-1917). Apart from these organisations and other publishers who produced some Ukrainian books, in 1909, there were almost 20 Ukrainian publishing houses, and the overall number of Ukrainian books published between 1798 and 1916 is about 2,800 titles.

During the First World War production figures fell dramatically, but the printing industry quickly revived in the independent Ukraine  (1917-1921): about 80 titles appeared in 1917, compared with over a hundred in 1918.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead East European Curator

17 October 2014

One book, many faces: the Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano

When the French novelist Patrick Modiano (b.1945) was announced as the winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature, many readers in the English-speaking world reacted with incomprehension. Even allowing for the notoriously low percentage of publications each year represented by foreign literature in translation, this might be understandable, as none of his books has aroused  the international curiosity or controversy as those of Michel Houellebecq or Michel Tournier. Revisiting the same themes and employing similar stylistic devices, he has instead provoked certain critics to see this as recourse to a tried and tested formula or lack of imagination. At the very outset of his career, in 1975, Modiano himself remarked in an interview that he did indeed have the feeling that he had been repeatedly writing the same novel from the beginning.

There is no excuse for those with a limited knowledge of French to neglect his novels, as several have been translated, including Le quartier perdu as A trace of malice (1988; Nov. 1988/2400) and Voyage de noces (Honeymoon, 1992; YK.1993.a.1120).  The more one reads, the more apparent it becomes that instead of rehashing old material for want of new ideas, Modiano is probing more profoundly into subjects of timeless significance and constantly honing and refining the tools which he employs.

Interestingly, for an author whose use of language is so subtle and polished, Modiano’s first tongue was not French but Flemish, in which he was raised by his maternal grandparents who cared for him during the frequent absences of his mother, the actress Louisa Colpijn, and father Albert Modiano who, despite his Sephardic Jewish origins, had evaded deportation during the Second World War, trading on the black market and actively associating with the Paris Gestapo. This clouded background influences many of Modiano’s writings, including the one for which he may be best known outside France:  the screenplay for  Louis Malle’s film Lacombe, Lucien (1973; screenplay published Paris, 1974: X.909/29206), which explores the protagonist’s involvement with the French Gestapo when he is rejected by the French Resistance. Modiano’s very first novel, La place de l’Etoile (Paris, 1968; X.908/17202), is the initial statement of a theme which so enraged his father that he attempted to buy up the entire print-run, experiencing this wartime story of a Jewish collaborator as a personal attack.

Three of Mondiano's books with uniform paperback coversSome of Modiano’s books in the typical livery of his French publisher Gallimard

Throughout his career Modiano returns to the themes of, memory and loss, the fallibility of recollection, the fragile nature of identity and the many ambivalent elements of which it is composed. He sometimes draws on factual material, as in Dora Bruder (Paris, 1997; YA.1999.a.11146. English translation Berkeley, Calif., 1999; m00/17481), inspired by an item in a 1941 number of Paris Soir which set him on a search for a 15-year-old Jewish girl who escaped from the convent which had sheltered her, only to end up on a transport to Auschwitz. His characters struggle with amnesia or with troublingly persistent memories; they search for the families, loves and past which they have lost or remember only in fragments. Yet amid this atmosphere of rootlessness and displacement   Modiano also displays a startlingly detailed sense of place, most evident in his vivid evocation of the landscape of Paris. Appropriately, he received the telephone call from his daughter announcing his award, the crown of a career in which he had also won the Prix Goncourt, Austrian State Prize for European literature and  Prix mondial Cino Del Duca, as he was walking near the Jardin du Luxembourg.

It was a meeting with the writer and critic Raymond Queneau which launched Modiano’s career by bringing him into contact with the Parisian publishing house Editions Gallimard. His style, however, has little in common with that of the author of Exercises du style and Zazie dans le métro; indeed, he has been described as the Marcel Proust of his time. Outside French literature, though, one might compare him to another European writer whose work is tinged and haunted by the same feeling of loss and hallucinatory quality of wandering through a landscape which is now bewilderingly strange, now painfully familiar – W. G. Sebald. Both share an ability to act as the remembrancers and consciences of an age threatened by the consequences of an amnesia which is all too deliberate.

Susan Halstead Curator Czech & Slovak

15 October 2014

Lermontov – 200 years since the birth of the great Russian writer

The Russian writer Mikhail Iur’evich Lermontov was born on 15th October 1814. As a poet he is ranked with Pushkin as one of Russia’s greatest and as a novelist and playwright he is regarded as one of the earliest exponents of Russian psychological realism. He was born in Moscow into an aristocratic family, his mother being a Stolypin and his father being descended from the Scottish family of Learmonth that had settled in Russia in the 17th century.  

Portrait of Lermontov seated at a desk, with a facsimile signature and four lines of verse beneathPortrait of Lermontov from A.G. Bil’derling, Lermontovskii Muzei Nikolaevskogo Kavaleriisskogo Uchilishcha (St Petersburg, 1883)

His early poetry shows the influence of Pushkin, German Romanticism and the works of the English poet Lord Byron. The most famous of these is Demon which he started in 1829 and worked on for 10 years.  It tells the story of the Demon, a fallen angel who attempts to seduce Tamara, a Georgian princess. After finally yielding to him she dies from his fatal kiss and he is left alone again at the end. The poem was banned for its carnality and for being sacrilegious by the Russian censors and was only published for the first time in full in Berlin in 1856. The British Library holds this edition.

Ilustration of the Demon embracing Tamara on a couchIllustration from an English translation of The Demon (London, 1875). 11585.g.28

It was first translated into English by A. C.  Stephen in 1875 and in the same year was made into an opera with music by Anton Rubinstein  (libretto: Pavel Viskovatov).  The opera was popular in its day and ha been revived several times in recent years (notably in a performance given by the Mariinsky Theatre conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Barbican, London in 2009). The British Library holds the original score of the opera (St Petersburg, 1876;  H.754.e), and the 1974 recording conducted by Boris Khaikin, just released on CD, will soon be acquired. The Demon was also the subject of  The Demon Seated (1890), one of the most powerful and influential paintings by the Russian painter Mikhail Vrubel.

Costume from 'Maskerade' for a woman with hat and veil

Costume for a man from 'Maskerade' with a tunic and feathered turbanCostume designs for Masquerade by Aleksandr Golovin from Maskarad Lermontova v teatral’nykh eskizakh A. IA. Golovina. (Moscow, 1941). 11797.f.44.

Lermontov’s most famous dramatic work is Maskarad (Masquerade), a play in verse written in 1835. The main character is Arbenin, a wealthy aristocrat who after a fit of jealousy at a masked ball has to face the consequences of murdering his innocent wife – the result is his descent into madness. This play also had a difficult time getting past the censors and it was only staged after Lermontov’s death in a revised version in 1852 at the Aleksandrinsky Theatre.  At the time of the February Revolution in 1917 a landmark production of the play took place in the Aleksandrinsky Theatre with designs and costumes by Aleksandr Golovin.  Produced by Vsevolod Meyerhold  with music by Glazunov it featured innovatory theatrical devices such as “tall mirrors that flanked the proscenium opening in order to break down the barriers between stage and audience” (see Meyerhold, On Theatre, translated by Edward Braun; London, 1969; X.900/4423.). This production was revived frequently until 1941.  In that year Aram Khachaturian wrote his famous incidental music for a production of the play at the Vakhtangov Theatre, Moscow. In 1954 Khachaturian recorded the waltz, nocturne and mazurka from the Suite conducting the Philharmonia orchestra for Columbia (BL Shelfmark 1CD0058649). The Kondrashchin version from 1958 (1CD0149609) is also recommended.  

Title-page of 'A Hero of our own Time' with a frontispiece illustration of a man and woman on horseback in a mountain landscape Title page and illustration “The Princess Mary” from Mikhail Lermontov, A Hero of our own Times (London, 1854). 12590.f.14

For a period of his life Lermontov was exiled to the Caucasus, the scenery, people and customs of which provided a background to many of his works including his great novel Geroi nashego vremeni (A Hero of our Time). Pechorin, the hero (or rather anti-hero) of the title is an example of the psychological type in Russian literature known as “the superfluous man” (Lishnii chelovek). This type, usually a well-educated young man from the upper echelons of society who has no outlets for his talents in contemporary life, is condemned to roam the world cynically playing with the ambitions and emotional lives of others just out of boredom and a sense of the futility of life (an embryonic existentialist in fact!).  However like his forerunner Eugene Onegin, this Byronic hero is not only manipulative and pleasure- seeking, but also sensitive and intelligent and deeply aware of his own contradictions. The novel consists of five interlocking stories with Pechorin as the main protagonist. In  the longest story, Princess Mary, Pechorin not only flirts with Princess Mary (whom he doesn’t really desire) at the same time as having an affair with his ex-lover Vera, but in the process also manages to kill his best friend in a duel. Even at the end when he believes his true feelings lie with Vera, he gives up chasing after her when his horse collapses. Perhaps the key to the meaning of the title of the novel is in Lermontov’s foreword “A Hero of our Time … is in fact a portrait, but not of an individual; it is the aggregate of the vices of our whole generation in their fullest expression”.

The British Library holds the first part of the original publication of Geroi nashego vremeni and the second part in the third edition (St Petersburg 1840, 1843; 12590.e.2.) It was first translated into English as Sketches of Russian Life in the Caucasus (London, 1853; 12590.f.18), and as A Hero of our own Times (London, 1854; 12590.f.14). A notable later translation was made by Vladimir Nabokov in 1958 (the British Library holds an edition published Oxford, 1984; X.958/21060).

The British library also holds two rare early editions and two fine art editions of Lermontov’s poetry:

Stikhotvoreniia. (St. Petersburg, 1840, 1842). C114.h.13 and C.114.h.14.

Kaznacheisha. With a frontispiece, title page and vignettes by M. V. Dobuzhinsky. (St Petersburg, 1913). Cup.501.g.19.

A song about Ivan Vasilyevich … translated by John Cournos. With decorations by Paul Nash. (London, 1929). C.98.h.30.

Peter Hellyer, Curator Russian Studies

13 October 2014

A German lesson for Europe: Siegfried Lenz (1926-2014)

Those searching on the map of Germany for the birthplace of Siegfried Lenz, who died last week at the age of 88, will seek in vain. Lyck in East Prussia, where he came into the world on 17 March 1926 as the son of a customs official, no longer exists; under its new name of Ełk, it is firmly on the other side of the Polish border. This symbol of displacement and dislocation is characteristic of the Europe, and more specifically the Germany, which he chronicled in his novels, plays and essays.

Lenz is probably best known for his novel Deutschstunde (1968), Cover of Siegfried's Lenz's 'Deutschstunde'translated into English as The German Lesson in the year of its publication. The story of a young boy and his friendship with Nansen, an artist whose paintings were condemned as ‘degenerate art’ and shares many features with the painter Emil Nolde, it unfolds as a series of reflections as the narrator tackles an essay entitled ‘Duty as Joy’ which he has to write as a punishment. Its apparent simplicity covers a wide range of moral and ethical issues explored elsewhere in Lenz’s work as he endeavoured to ‘take preventative actions against any danger of a recurrence’ of the Hitler era, as he declared in his acceptance in 2000 of the Goethe Prize, awarded to him on the 250th anniversary of Goethe’s birth.

Material released in 2007 suggested that Lenz, together with other German writers, might have joined the National Socialist Party on 20 April 1944, although he later claimed that he had been unwittingly signed up as part of a collective ‘joining’. Whatever the truth of this, his writings repeatedly address the theme of the responsibility to acknowledge the past and protect one’s historical and cultural heritage without attempting to deny its darker side. This is strikingly expressed in another of his most notable works, the novel Heimatmuseum (1978) in which a museum curator’s duties and moral dilemmas stand for those of an entire nation.

Photograph of Siegfried Lenz holding a pipeSiegfried Lenz at a poetry reading in 1969. Photograph by Lothar Schaak from the German Federal Archives, (Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F030757-0015 / Schaack, Lothar / CC-BY-SA) taken from Wikimedia Commons

Lenz himself had fled to Denmark and spent a short time as a prisoner of war just before the end of the Second World War, and acted as a translator and interpreter for the British army before studying in Hamburg and joining the editorial staff of Die Welt (1950-51). His interest in current affairs led him to spend the royalties from his first novel Es waren Habichte in der Luft (‘There were Hawks in the Air’; 1951) on a visit to Kenya, documented in a novella, Lukas, sanftmutiger Knecht (‘Luke, gentle servant’).

Lenz was an outspoken critic of the German orthographic reforms of 1996, and was equally forthright in his support for Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik after his involvement with the Social Democratic Party. His frank expression of his sometimes controversial views did not prevent him receiving numerous honours, including the honorary citizenship of his birthplace in 2011 and of Hamburg (2001), as well as the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, awarded at the 1988 Frankfurt Book Fair. Yet in his evocation of the landscapes of remote corners of Masuria and Schleswig-Holstein and his playful and humorous writings for children, he reveals himself to be not only the guardian of his country’s conscience but of its half-forgotten past and its hopes for the future.

Susan Halstead, Curator Czech & Slovak


Siegfried Lenz, Deutschstunde (Hamburg, 1968). X.909/17297. (English translation, The German Lesson, translated by Ernst Kaiser and Eithne Wilkins (London, 1971) X.989/13226.)

Siegfried Lenz, Heimatmuseum (Hamburg, 1978). X.989/79411. (English translation The Heritage, translated by Krishna Wilson (New York, 1981). X.950/19347.)

Siegfried Lenz, Es waren Habichte in der Luft (Hamburg, 1951). X.989/30264.

Siegfried Lenz, Ansprachen aus Anlass der Verleihung des Friedenspreises des Deutschen Buchhandels (Frankfurt am Main, 1988). YA.1989.a.9017.

10 October 2014

Legendary Goths (of Spain)

Unless they’re tourists you won’t see many Spanish goths haunting the current big BL exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’, but for centuries the Goths loomed large in the Spanish imaginary.

In the eighth century Christian Spain was weakened by the sexual shenanigans of King Roderick (perhaps you saw Oliver Tobias in this role in the musical La Cava).  He took as his mistress the daughter of Count Julian: she is known to this day by her soubriquet La Cava, Arabic for a scarlet woman (ahem) (according to Wikipedia).  

Engraved imaginary portrait of King Rodrigo in a helmet and armourKing Roderick. Image from vol. 1 of  Manuel Rodríguez, Retratos de los Reyes de España desde Atanarico hasta ... Don Cárlos III. … (Madrid, 1782) 1199.c.15

The disaffected Count opened the gates of Spain to the Moors  in 711 and they quickly overran the Peninsula, driving the Christians into the northern mountains.

Roderick, according to legend, was imprisoned in his own tomb and gnawed by a huge snake: ‘Ya me come, ya me come, en la parte do pequé’, says the ballad, ‘Now it eats me, now it eats me, in the part wherein I sinned’.

The Christians under Pelayo started fighting back in 718, and by 1492 it was all over.

Engraved imaginary portrait of Pelayo with a shield and plumed helmetPelayo, from vol. 2 of Rodríguez, Retratos de los Reyes 

Medieval Spain never lost the memory of the Visigothic golden age but interest in the period experienced a definite surge in the 16th century.  As Sebastián de Covarrubias ironized in 1611:

de las reliquias dellos [los godos] que se recogieron en las montañas, bolvio a retoñar la nobleza, que hasta oy dia dura, y en tanta estima que para encarecer la presuncion de algun vano, le preguntamos si deciende de la casta de los godos.

[The residue of the Goths took cover in the mountains, nobility began to sprout again, and survives to this day, and in such esteem that in order to praise the presumption of a vain man, we ask him if he is descended from the caste of the Goths.]

Philip II’s royal chroniclers were at pains to emphasize the continuity of the royal blood from the Goths to the present.  In 1571 Alvar Gómez de Castro  (1515-80), churchman and professor of Rhetoric and Greek at Toledo, wrote to the king proposing an edition of the works of  St Isidore of Seville, pointing out that Philip was a relative of the saint ‘with 80 and more degrees of consanguinity’.

There was much uncertainty about the origins of the Spanish Goths: some said Scotland, some said Scandinavia (presumably because Escocia can be misread as Escandinavia, and vice versa).

As late as the Franco regime, faced with the threats of local nationalism and atheism, it was pleasant to think back on a time when Spain was a unitary state, and a Christian one.

And although they might be wreathed in mountain mist, it was important to know what these illustrious forebears looked like. Rodríguez’s Retratos de los Reyes de España desde Athanaric  (Portraits of the Kings of Spain since Atanarico), from which the images in this post are taken, uses coins as a source, topped up with a good dose of poetic licence.

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies


Barry Taylor, ‘Gothic Revival: The 1599 Opera of St Isidore’, in Manuscripts, Texts and Transmission from Isidore to the Enlightenment: papers from the Bristol Colloquium on Hispanic Texts and Manuscripts, ed. David Hook (Bristol, 2006), pp. 131-46. YC.2008.a.2215