European studies blog

12 posts from November 2014

28 November 2014

‘All Horrid’ – but not all German

One of the display cases in our current Gothic Exhibition shows a collection of books whose fame today rests largely on their being mentioned in a novel by Jane Austen (much like Kotzebue’s Lovers’ Vows, discussed in an earlier post).  These are the ‘Horrid Novels’ which Isabella Thorpe recommends to her new friend Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey as the two girls embark on a spree of gothic fiction reading.

The titles Isabella lists are:  ‘Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries.’ Unlike Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian, which the girls also read, these titles had pretty much sunk into obscurity by the time Northanger Abbey was posthumously published, and early literary critics believed that they were inventions of Austen’s, parodying typical titles of the genre. Later researchers, however, established that, although Austen (or Isabella) made some minor errors in transcribing the titles, all seven books were genuine products of the time.

However, one thing less than genuine about some of them is a claim to be of German origin. Of the seven, only Clermont offers no hint of German-ness on its title page. The Orphan of the Rhine clearly indicates a German setting, but goes no further, while the other five are all billed as ‘a German story/tale’ or ‘From the German.’ However, this is only strictly true of two: The Necromancer is an adaptation of Karl Friedrich Kahlert’s Der Geisterbanner, and The Horrid Mysteries is a translation of Carl Grosse’s Der Genius. The Castle of Wolfenbach, The Mysterious Warning and The Midnight Bell are only ‘German stories’ insofar as their action is at least partially set in Germany – and this was probably not all that the authors meant to imply

Title page of 'The Castle of Wolfenbach'
Title-page of The Castle of Wolfenbach, [not] a German story. (London, 1794) British Library C.192.a.187

Claiming a false (and often foreign) origin for a work of gothic fiction was not uncommon. The first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, purported to be translated from an Italian manuscript (and the device of an invented source goes back further still). Indeed, the original German editions of both Der Geisterbanner and Der Genius claim to be based on other sources: Danish accounts collected by ‘Lorenz Flammenberg’ and the ‘papers of the Marquis C* von G**’ respectively.

Title page of 'Der Genius'
The German title-page of Carl von Grosse, Der Genius (Halle, 1791) 12547.b.22.

But why such a German flavour in a list of English gothic novels? After all, the gothic novel began with Walpole’s supposedly Italian tale, and Ann Radcliffe’s novels also tend towards Italian settings. Italy, France and other southern, Catholic countries of Europe were popular backdrops for British gothic writers since sinister, conspiratorial monks, nuns and priests could be introduced as villains, pandering to the prejudices of a Protestant audience. Yet a German source was clearly a sign of gothic credibility for readers like Catherine and Isabella.

One reason is that there was a definite German influence on English gothic fiction. This came partly via the works of the Sturm und Drang movement and partly from the translations of the more popular and less literary ‘Schauerromane’ (literally ‘shudder novels’), themselves often influenced by British gothic models. (The false translation traffic could go both ways, too: a number of German gothic novels were ascribed to Ann Radcliffe in the first years of the 19th century.)  This German influence was not always welcomed. In 1807 the writer Charles Maturin wrote of literary ‘horrors’ reaching British shores on a ‘plague-ship of German letters’. Two years earlier The Critical Review had rather sarcastically described Matthew Lewis’s The Bravo of Venice as a ‘Germanico-terrific Romance’. The Bravo was an adaptation of a real German work, Heinrich Zschokke’s Abällino, although the reviewer, ‘not acquainted with the original’, and obviously on his guard against false claims of translation from the German, casts doubt on this. Nonetheless he still has some harsh words for the ‘writers of the German school’ and their constant desire to shock.

Frontispiece of 'The Mysterious Warning', showing a jug pouring water while suspended in mid-air, to the amazement of onlookers
Gothic goings-on in the frontispiece of The Mysterious Warning (London, 1796) 1153.f.32.

Apart from actual literary influences, the fact that ‘Gothic’ was still a synonym for ‘Germanic’ or Teutonic’ was no doubt another factor in the identification of Germany with things gothic, as was the Germans’ continued use of ‘gothic’ type. Interestingly, the Minerva Press, which published six of Austen’s ‘Horrid Novels’ and many other gothic works, printed its name in gothic type on its title pages – an early example of this kind of typeface being used as a kind of branding for the demonic and supernatural.

But perhaps another, although less easily demonstrable, explanation is that Germany simply lent itself more readily to gothic imagery in the popular imagination, with all the necessary forests, mountains and mediaeval buildings to furnish the scenery. Italy, despite its suspect Catholicism and its fair share of mountains and bandits, also carried connotations of fine art, classical civilisation and the Renaissance, all the antithesis of gothic. Perhaps even the idea of lowering North European skies as opposed to the sunshine of southern climes played a part: it’s harder to be gothic under a blue and sunny sky.

The continuing identification of German and gothic probably explains why Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein, despite coming from rational, Protestant, French-speaking Geneva, has a German surname, and conducts his anatomical experiments while studying in Germany.  And it survives to this day, not least in the use of gothic lettering (and oddly superfluous umlauts) in the marketing of heavy metal and gothic rock bands.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References/Further reading:

The seven ‘Horrid Novels’ as displayed in the current British Library exhibition are:

Eliza Parsons, The Castle of Wolfenbach, a German Story (London,  1794) C.192.a.187

Regina Maria Roche, Clermont, a Tale (London, 1798) 1152.h.1.

Eliza Parsons, The Mysterious Warning, a German Tale (London, 1796) 1153.f.32.

Karl Friedrich Kahlert, The Necromancer: or The Tale of the Black Forest: founded on facts, translated from the German of Lawrence Flammenberg by Peter Teuthold. (London, 1794)  C.175.i.8.

Francis Lathom The midnight bell, a German story, founded on incidents in real life… (London, 1798) C.117.ff.31.

Eleanor Sleath, The Orphan of the Rhine, a Romance (Dublin, 1802) Loan from University College Cork Library

Carl von Grosse Horrid Mysteries, a story from the German of the Marquis von Grosse, translated by P. Will (London, 1796) Loan from the Taylor Institution Library, Oxford


Michael Sadleir, Things Past (London, 1944) 12359.f.26.

Patrick Bridgwater, The German Gothic Novel in Anglo-German Perspective (Amsterdam, 2013) ZA.9.a.5563(165)


26 November 2014

Are you afraid of the fairies? You should be.

A visit to the Gothic exhibition and reading reviews of Marina Warner’s latest book, Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale  have spirited me away to the popular literature which Dillon’s University Bookshop in Torrington Place used to keep in the section labelled “Folk and Fairy”.

The corpus of old Spanish folk ballads (in Spanish, romances) is vast. They are known from early printed books, from the oral tradition (recorded from the 19th to the 21st centuries) of communities including the Sephardi of Salonika (victims of the Nazis) and North Africa (still surviving) and from a tiny number of medieval manuscripts.

The assumption is that they were conveyed by word of mouth from illiterate poet to illiterate listeners and finally consigned to paper. It is also sometimes thought that ballads started out as reports of the latest news of battles etc. fought on the frontier with Moorish Andalusia (the parallel is often drawn with the English-Scottish border ballads). And it was also commonly thought that Spanish literature, like the Spanish people, had a granite strain of realism in it, unlike the exaggerations of the French.

There is also a huge body of ballads composed by learned authors such as Góngora and García Lorca.

They’re often studied on Spanish courses in British schools and universities, as they are usually quite short, the language is direct and the themes of love, sex and violence are of immediate interest.

Special attention is paid to the ballads on magical themes, but these are only a tiny proportion of the corpus. Smith’s student anthology has 15 ‘novelesque’ ballads (nos. 56-70), of which only two feature otherworldly beings.

My two favourites are Conde Arnaldos and La Infantina.

On the morning of St John’s Day (the summer solstice) Count Arnaldos is out hunting with his hawk on his hand on the coast. He spies a faery-ship: its sails of silk and its rigging of gauze, its anchor of silver and its decking of coral.  Aboard a sailor’s song is so powerful that it calms the waves of the sea and draws the birds to settle on the mast. Arnaldos says to the sailor: ‘Tell me your song.’  The reply: ‘I do not tell my song but to him who comes with me’ (‘Yo no digo esta canción / sino a quien conmigo va.’)

The ballads often break off at a point of mystery.  Did Arnaldos ever find out what the song was, and at what price?  

Woodcut illustration of a sailing ship at seaSailing ship from Llibre de Consolat dels fets maritims … (Barcelona, 1627) British Library 501.g.6.

My second has an explicit ending, and it’s not good news:

A knight goes hunting: his dogs grow tired and he loses his hawk. He takes cover under an oak (are you listening, Sir James Frazer?) and in the highest branches he sees a little princess (infantina).  ‘Do not be alarmed, Sir Knight, I am the daughter of the King and Queen of Castile: seven [NB] fairies [fadas] put a spell on me when I was in my nurse’s arms to spend seven [NB] years alone on this mountain. I beg you, Sir Knight, take me into your company, if you wish as your wife, or, if not, as your mistress [llévesme en tu compañía,/ si quisieres por mujer, / si no, sea por amiga].’  The knight asks her to wait while he consults his mother. She replies: ‘Woe be to the knight who leaves the girl alone.’  

Illustration of a knight on horseback with a hawk in his handA king out hawking, from British Library MS Royal 10 E IV

Mother advises him to take her as his mistress (she obviously doesn’t want a fairy in the family). When he returns, the knight finds that the princess is with another knight and his company.  He faints, and when he comes round the last words he hears are from the fairy princess: ‘The knight who loses such a thing deserves a mighty punishment. I will be the judge, I will be the executioner: cut off his feet and hands and drag him through the town.’

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies


Harriet Goldberg, Motif-index of Folk Narratives in the Pan-Hispanic Romancero (Tempe, AZ, 2000)  5534.264500 vol 206

Colin Smith (ed.), Spanish Ballads, 2nd edn. (Bristol, 1996), nos. 67 and 70.  YC.1996.a.5047.

24 November 2014

When Cavafy met Marinetti

Constantine Cavafy (1866-1933) is the best-loved modern Greek poet whose life and work has inspired a legion of artists, men of letters, and film-makers. Already a legend during his lifetime, friends and admirers held regular literary gatherings in his apartment in Alexandria, where foreign visitors also paid their respects. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944) was one of those visitors and his meeting with Cavafy must count as one of the most surprising encounters in literary history, comparable to the friendship between T.S. Eliot and Groucho Marx  or the encounter between Guy de Maupassant and Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Photograph of Marinetti       Photograph of CavafyMarinetti (top) and Cavafy (bottom) ca. 1930

The two men were temperamentally very different. Cavafy was retiring, patient and gentle, Marinetti brash, ebullient, theatrical. They were both united, however, in their love for Alexandria, their shared birthplace. Marinetti was introduced to Cavafy by Atanasio Catraro, the scion of a distinguished Triestine family (he was a great-grandson of Ciriaco Catraro, the founder of the Stock exchange in Trieste). A friend of Cavafy and an habitué of his salon, Catraro translated some of Cavafy’s poems into Italian and in the 1960s wrote a memoir about Cavafy, published only in a Greek translation in 1970.

The meeting with Cavafy came about in 1930 during Marinetti’s visit Alexandria to give a series of lectures on Futurism to the city’s Italian community. Marinetti’s account of the meeting was first published in the Gazzetta del popolo in Turin on 2 May 1930 and was included in the volume Il fascino dell’Egitto, a collection of articles about his visit to Egypt, first published in 1933. Another account is given  in Catraro’s book and it was probably Catraro who provided Marinetti with information about the Greek writers discussed.

In his article Marinetti evokes, with a few deft strokes, the atmosphere of Cavafy’s salon. The head of the poet is maliciously described as that of “the small, grey head of a sweet and intelligent tortoise whose slim arms are rowing out of its immense Greco-Roman shell of learned shadow”;  the room has dark red velvet walls and is hung with paintings encrusted with “the dust of centuries”. After whisky and soda and the traditional cheese meze are served, conversation begins with Cavafy praising Futurism and the merits of free verse. Marinetti points out  that Futurist poetry goes much further than free verse, into the simultaneism of words-in-freedom which are the expression of “our great mechanical civilization of speed.”

The ensuing discussion about modern Greek literature shows how French literature, especially poetry, was, at the time, the yardstick used in assessing the merits or otherwise of all literary works. Kostēs Palamas, the great rival of Cavafy, is deemed to be verbose like Victor Hugo and sentimental like Lamartine, Miltiadēs Malakasēs a cross between Alfred de Musset and Sully-Prudhomme, Lampros Porfiras  a cross between Baudelaire and Verlaine, the sonnets of Giannēs Gryparēs like those of José Maria de Heredia. Contemporary Greek playwrights like Grēgorēs Xenopoulos and Paulos Nirvanas are deemed to be under the spell of Ibsen. By contrast,  Spyros Melas  and his “Scena libera” (Eleutherē Skēnē), headed by Marika Kotopoulē (“the Greek Eleonora Duse”), are praised for their performances of French avant-garde plays.

The conversation also touches on the merits of Demotic language in poetry, the language of Giannēs Psycharēs, its dynamism and its use of foreign words, especially Italian ones. Cavafy recites, for the benefit of Marinetti, some verses where Italian words like ‘porta’, ‘cappello’, ‘calze’, ‘guanti’, ‘carriera’ are harmoniously incorporated into the Greek text as necessary neologisms whereas English, French or Spanish words would  have a jarring effect.

The assembly then  asks Cavafy to recite one of his new poems. He finally obliges with “God abandons Antony”, his slow recitation accompanied by gestures tracing minute arabesques in the air.

In Catraro’s account Marinetti, pacing up and down and gesticulating, filled the room with his presence, like an actor on stage. He suddenly declared Cavafy a Futurist, an honour the poet gently declined, remarking that the little he knew about Futurism made him think that he would be considered a passéist. Marinetti conceded that Cavafy was, to a certain extent, a passéist in that he was not impressed by the beauty of machines and he still used verbs and punctuation: a passéist in form but intellectually a Futurist, like Michelangelo, Leonardo, Wagner and all other artists who revolted against tradition.

Marinetti’s article omits his unsuccessful attempt to proselytise Cavafy and it ends on an unexpectedly lyrical and wistful note. After leaving Cavafy he drives to the beautiful gardens of the Villa Antoniadis. In the full moon, he hears the song of nightingales which are, however, interrupted by the noise of machines demolishing the old villa to erect in its place a modern one destined for visiting foreign sovereigns. In a typical Marinetti simile, the funereal crash of demolitions is likened to the sound of exploding grenades. When the noise finally dies out, Marinetti movingly concludes his article by assimilating the landscape of Alexandria to the poetry of its great poet: “the Mahmoudieh Canal is  full of liquid nostalgia-inducing moons, like the free verses – modern and at the same time ancient – of Cavafy, the Greek poet of Alexandria.”

  Black-and-white photgraph of the gardens of the Villa AntoniadisThe Gardens of the Villa Antoniadis in the 1920s, from Alec R. Cury, Alexandria: how to see it  (4th edition; Alexandria, 1925) British Library 10094.b.7.

The Villa Antoniadis, where Marinetti had his nocturnal reverie, was built in 1860, as a miniature Palace of Versailles, by Sir John Antoniadis (1818-1895), a wealthy Alexandrian of Greek origins, and in 1918 was bequeathed to the city of Alexandria by his son together with the family’s collection of Egyptian and Graeco-Roman antiquities. At the time of Marinetti’s visit its gardens formed part of  a green area which also included zoological and botanical gardens. In antiquity this area was a suburb of the city, the residents of which included Callimachus, the librarian of of the ancient Library of Alexandria. Appropriately, the villa and its gardens now form part of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.  Cavafy's apartment is now a Cavafy museum

Chris Michaelides, Curator Italian and Modern Greek Studies


Atanazio Katraro, Ho philos mou ho Kavaphēs  (Athens, 1970). Awaiting shelfmark

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti,  Il fascino dell’Egitto. (Milano, 1981) X. 809/66786


21 November 2014

The Death of a Countess and the Draw of Local History

Some time ago, in my blog post about the Austro-Italian Front of the First World War, I mentioned the accidental death of Lucy Christalnigg, which occurred in the tense months before war broke out, and rather presaged it.

Shortly after my post was published, I was contacted by the author of a new book about Lucy, who then kindly donated a copy to the Library (The Last Summer: the story of Lucy Christalnigg and the end of a world, by Nello Cristianini, now at YK.2014.a.19718).

Dr Cristianini gave us the English version, since we’re the British national library, but it is also available in Italian, German and Slovene, reflecting the complicated history of the borderland area in which Lucy’s story took place. My colleagues tell me that mine is the first European Studies blog entry which has led to a donation, and, to me, this illustrates the symbiotic relationship between the Library and authors. The BL is eligible to receive a copy of all books published annually in the UK and Ireland, and uses many acquisition processes for tracing and claiming these books. Overseas publications come to staff attention through publisher catalogues, approval plans and other means, but there are always books which slip through the net, whether they be UK or overseas publications. These are often items from small publishers, whose output is not listed as systematically as that of the big ones. We are still reliant on authors to contact us and let us know about these books. Even in this day and age, the computer cannot completely replace interpersonal contact, in-depth collection knowledge, or the ability to acquire it.

I had assumed, finding her story in newspapers on the centenary of her death, that Lucy Christalnigg’s story was quite well-known. In fact, although known along the Italian-Slovenian border where she died, it had never been fully researched until Dr. Cristianini, who was born in Gorizia himself, went to search the archives of three countries for this piece of his local history. Lucy’s story is a snapshot of her time and place. As an Austro-Hungarian aristocrat, she represented a class which did not survive the War, yet she was also a thoroughly modern woman, a racing driver who won many prizes and had apparently taken her own car at great speed around the hairpin bends of pitch-black mountain passes the night she died.  Ironically, it was on the straight valley road where she was shot that she probably least expected to die.

Photograph of Lucy Christalnigg at the wheel of a car with two passengers and a dogLucy Christalnigg at the wheel of her car. (Photo courtesy of Dr Nello Cristianini)

Lucy’s husband, Oskar Christalnigg von und zu Gillenstein, was a scion of a Carinthian family who were apparently of Slovene blood. Count Christalnigg was active in the Slovenian publishing society, the Slovenska Matica, and encouraged education in the Slovene language. His close political contacts included Ivan Hribar, the Liberal mayor of Ljubljana and a renowned pan-Slav. Count Christalnigg is likely to have been of a less radical inclination than Hribar, like the many other Austro-Hungarian aristocrats who sponsored “national revivals” in their local areas, expecting these to reinforce the empire. However, the awakening of local patriotism had unintended consequences, and after 1918 the old, trans-national Habsburg aristocracy found itself living in a variety of brand new states, some of which suspected their loyalty. The best-known case is that of the Bohemian nobility, which had to learn to be Czech, with mixed results (a substantial number later aligned with the Sudeten German cause and then became Nazis), but others faced similar dilemmas.

Oskar Christalnigg’s family seat lay in a part of north-east Carinthia that in 1919 was substantially Slovene-speaking. As the empire split apart and reformed as new states, it was claimed by both German Austria and Yugoslavia, to which the majority of Slovene lands had already been assigned (though the western-most lands were occupied by Italy as a consequence of the War). The resulting plebiscite left his main home just inside Austria, but his properties to the south were now in Yugoslavia and Italy, and Yugoslavia quickly embarked on land reforms which aimed to break up the old Austro-Hungarian landed estates, with compensation to landowners as long as they were not members of the Habsburg dynasty. Oskar Christalnigg quietly retired to his Austrian castle   with his second wife, no doubt relieved that the Austrian Republic had stripped him of only his title.

Schloss Erverstein, a castle on a rocky hillSchloss Erverstein, Oskar Christalnigg’s Austrian Castle (picture by Johann Jaritz from Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Local history books seem to me to be rooted in the same enthusiasm for particular places that motivated “national revivals” and their patrons. It is this enthusiasm and sense of place which brings the past to life through hunting down information on obscure or forgotten tales, and gives it a human face.

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager

20 November 2014

A postmodern ‘War and Peace’

During the summer I attended a cinema relay of a new production of Prokofiev’s opera War and Peace based on Tolstoy’s novel, broadcast live from the Mariinsky II Theatre, St Petersburg. Today's anniversary of Tolstoy's death (on 20 November 1910) seems an apt moment to reflect on this. The performance, conducted by Valery Gergiev, was directed by Graham Vick with set designs by Paul Brown. In Vick’s second production of War and Peace we are offered a postmodern version of the work with references to both early 19th century Russia and to a modern world of dissolution and drug-taking.  The costumes range from 19th century military and court dress to modern designer label jackets and jeans.

Vick’s angle in this production is to show the penetration of elements of war into the “Peace” section of the opera and vice versa. Thus in the first part tanks move across the stage while the chorus are dancing in period costume with the addition of gas masks; and in the second part (entitled War) a board with the word “mir” (peace) is on the stage all the time (as if it were a goal to aim for). The treatment of war in the second part is generalised to include references not only to the Napoleonic wars but also to the First and Second World War s, the invading forces having elements of both German and French uniforms and helmets. The production also includes film clips of 20th century wars.

The treatment of the military leaders is interesting: while Napoleon changes from his imperial costume to modern dress, Kutuzov wears a similar period costume to the one worn in Vick’s earlier production in 1991 (he is also played by the same singer). Though, unlike the previous one, this Kutuzov goes out and fraternizes with the audience in a Brechtian fashion.  Throughout there is a juxtaposition of the extremely colourful, conveying an intense feeling for life, and a more austere black and white, evoking a feeling of spiritual desolation. One striking use of colour is the yellow screen above a modern washroom. (You can see some images from the production here)

The relay also gave us an opportunity to experience the inside of the new Mariinsky II theatre with its splendid interior and acoustics. The vocal and orchestral performances of this performance under Gergiev were up to the Mariinsky’s usual high standard. I do hope this production will be released on DVD to complement Vick’s already highly valued earlier production.  If you are interested in Tolstoy and music take a look at the British Library web pages written for the centenary of Tolstoy’s death in 2010. These include sections on Tolstoy’s attitude towards music and contemporary composers together with lists of musical adaptations of Tolstoy’s works (scores and recordings held by the British Library). They also include information on early and rare editions of Tolstoy’s works held by the British Library.    

Peter Hellyer, Curator Russian Studies  

Photograph of Tolstoy wearing a peasant smockPortrait of Tolstoy, 1880s. British Library Add. MS 52772 f.120.

17 November 2014

Mysterious Manuscripts, lost and found

In the current British Library exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination’, pride of place is occupied by Horace Walpole’s foundational 1764 shocker, The Castle of Otranto.

Walpole’s preface reads:

The following work was found in the library of an ancient Catholic family in the north of England. It was printed at Naples, in the black letter, in the year 1529. How much sooner it was written does not appear. [...]. The style is the purest Italian. [...]

Whatever [the author’s] views were, or whatever effects the execution of them might have, his work can only be laid before the public at present as a matter of entertainment. Even as such, some apology for it is necessary. Miracles, visions, necromancy, dreams, and other preternatural events, are exploded now even from romances. That was not the case when our author wrote; much less when the story itself is supposed to have happened. Belief in every kind of prodigy was so established in those dark ages, that an author would not be faithful to the manners of the times, who should omit all mention of them. He is not bound to believe them himself, but he must represent his actors as believing them.

It is natural for a translator to be prejudiced in favour of his adopted work [...]  yet I am not

One day, as I was in the Alcana of Toledo, a boy came up to sell some pamphlets and old papers to a silk mercer, and, as I am fond of reading even the very scraps of paper in the streets, led by this natural bent of mine I took up one of the pamphlets the boy had for sale, and saw that it was in characters which I recognised as Arabic, and as I was unable to read them though I could recognise them, I looked about to see if there were any Spanish-speaking Morisco at hand to read them for me; nor was there any great difficulty in finding such an interpreter, for even had I sought one for an older and better language I should have found him. In short, chance provided me with one, who when I told him what I wanted and put the book into his hands, opened it in the middle and after reading a little in it began to laugh. I asked him what he was laughing at, and he replied that it was at something the book had blind to my author’s defects.

So Walpole is but the translator from a found (and then lost) original, and therefore cannot be held responsible for its contents.

Where could Walpole have drawn inspiration for this preamble? Perhaps in one of the best-sellers of his time: Don Quixote. In Book I, chapter ix, Cervantes breaks off his narrative, or rather, he comes to the end of his original:

In the First Part of this history we left the valiant Biscayan and the renowned Don Quixote with drawn swords uplifted, ready to deliver two such furious slashing blows that if they had fallen full and fair they would at least have split and cleft them asunder from top to toe and laid them open like a pomegranate; and at this so critical point the delightful history came to a stop and stood cut short without any intimation from the author where what was missing was to be found. [...]

This reflection kept me perplexed and longing to know really and truly the whole life and wondrous deeds of our famous Spaniard, Don Quixote of La Mancha [...] The discovery of it occurred in this way.written in the margin by way of a note. I bade him tell it to me; and he still laughing said, ‘In the margin, as I told you, this is written: ‘This Dulcinea del Toboso so often mentioned in this history, had, they say, the best hand of any woman in all La Mancha for salting pigs.’

When I heard Dulcinea del Toboso named, I was struck with surprise and amazement, for it occurred to me at once that these pamphlets contained the history of Don Quixote. With this idea I pressed him to read the beginning, and doing so, turning the Arabic offhand into Castilian, he told me it meant, ‘History of Don Quixote of La Mancha, written by Cide Hamete Benengeli, an Arab historian’. It required great caution to hide the joy I felt when the title of the book reached my ears, and snatching it from the silk mercer, I bought all the papers and pamphlets from the boy for half a real; and if he had had his wits about him and had known how eager I was for them, he might have safely calculated on making more than six reals by the bargain. I withdrew at once with the Morisco into the cloister of the cathedral, and begged him to turn all these pamphlets that related to Don Quixote into the Castilian tongue, without omitting or adding anything to them, offering him whatever payment he pleased. [...]

And from then on Cervantes cites Cidi Hamete as his source.

Where did Cervantes get this idea for framing his text? We need look no further than the romances of chivalry of which Don Quixote is in large part a critique. Such subterfuges were a staple of the genre. This section from Baldo has all the elements which Cervantes picked up. In summary:

We three masters and three great rabbis, knowledgeable in herbalism, set sail in search of a great antidote. Off Alexandria we saw an island, more the work of artifice than of nature.  There we found splendid buildings overgrown with wild vegetation: lizards and snakes fled from our sight.  In time we reached a cave, unlit by the sun, where darkness and dampness reigned.  Inside we found a great hall, and in it tombs of marble, one of which showed a statue of an old man with a scroll in his hand reading ‘Here lies Merlino Cocayo, poet of Mantua’. His other hand pointed to a cavity in the wall, with a iron chest labelled ‘Here are the books of the poet Merlino’.  Inside were many books on magic, astrology, medicine and alchemy. At the sound of a great thunder we fled, taking the chest of books with us: these were the herbs we sought. I gave this book to the printers so that it could be better known, in translation.  (Baldo (Seville, 1542); Alvar and Lucía 79-83).

While the author of Baldo uses the lost manuscript to tease the reader in right at the start,  Cervantes was too canny to waste the topos of the lost manuscript right there in the prologue, where he slily says he is not Don Quixote’s father but his (its?) stepfather: he waits until he’s built up the suspense before breaking off to give a false origin to his book.

By way of pictorial illustration  we can only offer a fanciful portrait of  Cidi Hamete, as no authentic likeness of him is known: not is there any authentic portrait of Miguel de Cervantes.

  Imaginary portrait of Cide Hamete BenengeliCide-Hamete Benengeli, from Jacinto María Delgado,  Adiciones a la historia del Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha, continuación de la vida de Sancho Panza (Madrid, 1845), facing p. 205. British Library Cerv. 480 (H. S. Ashbee’s copy)

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies


Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto, A Story. Translated by William Marshal, Gent. From the Original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto (Dublin, 1765). RB.23.a.5931

A. Ramos García Rojas, ‘Variciones en centro y periferia sobre el manuscrito encontrado y la falsa traducción en los libros de caballerías castellanos’, Tirant, 11 (2012), 47-60

Sir Henry Thomas, Spanish and Portuguese Romances of Chivalry. The revival of the romance of chivalry in the Spanish peninsula, and its extension and influence abroad. (Cambridge, 1920).  011853.s.70.

Carlos Alvar and J. M. Lucía Megías (ed.), Libros de caballerías castellanos: una antología (Barcelona: Debolsillo, 2004)

Miguel de Cervantes,  The ingenious gentleman: Don Quixote of La Mancha: a translation with introduction and notes by John Ormsby. (London, 1885). 12489.k.4. (Available online at

14 November 2014

Silesia: a borderland in Central Europe

Silesia is a region now located mainly in Poland with small strips in the Czech Republic and Germany. Historically the province has been divided into the north-western Lower Silesia and the south-eastern Upper Silesia with the two biggest cities Wrocław (Breslau) on the Oder and Katowice respectively.  In the early Middle Ages Silesia was populated by various Slav tribes and was part of Great Moravia and Bohemia.  

At the end of the 10th century it was incorporated into the Polish state by Mieszko I. Over the course of the next few centuries Silesia was ruled by the Silesian Piasts. In the 13th century the Piasts brought in a large number of German settlers and since then Silesia was under the influence of German culture and language.  Eventually it became part of Bohemia in 1335, and two centuries later fell under Habsburg rule. Its rich natural resources, especially coal and iron-ore deposits, and its important strategic position for Prussia were the cause of  wars with Austria for the possession of Silesia in the mid-18th century. Consequently, Frederick the Great of Prussia conquered most of Silesia and only a small part of the south-eastern corner was retained by Austria.

A man and woman wearing traditional Upper Silesian costumes in blue, white and redTraditonal Upper Silesian costumes, from Eduard Duller, Das Deutsche Volk in seinen Mundarten, Sitten, Gebräuchen, Festen und Trachten (Leipzig, 1847) 10256.d.20.

Prussian Silesia was then subjected to Germanisation, particularly strong during the implementation of the ‘Kulturkampf’ policy in the second half of the 19th century.  Lower Silesia was predominantly inhabited by Germans and was Protestant, while Upper Silesia had a mixed population of Germans, Poles and Silesians with Catholicism as the prevailing religion. The latter are regarded as an ethnic group of Slav origin speaking in Silesian. There is now an ongoing debate whether Silesian is a distinctive language, a Polish dialect or a regional language. Upper Silesians spoke Silesian at home and either German or Polish in public and clearly emphasized that they were neither Germans nor Poles.  Although Silesians had never created their own state, they built a society with a distinctive culture and language. In the 19th century there were unsuccessful attempts to codify Silesian, and only in 2003 was the first publishing house founded to publish books in Silesian.  

Upper Silesia was an arena of political clashes between Polish and German nationalist movements at the turn of the 20th century. Each aimed to win the support of the local population regarding  its ownership. Ironically, the Kulturkampf served to strengthen Polish nationalism in the region, which eventually led to the inclusion of the eastern part of Upper Silesia into the newly-reborn Poland in 1922. This followed three Silesian uprisings in 1919-1921 and a 1921 plebiscite organised by the League of Nations. The aim of the uprisings was to win autonomy for Upper Silesia either within the Polish or German state. The uprisings were, however, considered by some Silesians as a civil war. The plebiscite was to decide its national status.  Both Germany and Poland wanted this territory due to its heavy industrialisation and strong economic development.

Map showing the results by region of the 1921 Silesia plebisciteThe results of the plebiscite held in 1921 in Upper Silesia from Stefan Dziewulski, Wyniki Plebiscytu na Górnym śląsku. (Warsaw, 1921)  X.700/15938. The red areas voted to be part of Poland, the blue ones to be part of Germany

The solution was thus to divide it between the two countries. Subsequently, the Prussian Province of Silesia within Germany retained Lower Silesia and the western part of the disputed territory of Upper Silesia. Austrian Silesia was mostly awarded to the newly-created Czechoslovakia, with a small area included in Poland. The region granted to Poland formed the Silesian Voivodeship and received significant autonomy from the Polish government, with its own legislative body and treasury. Polish Upper Silesia (the eastern part) was economically most important as it comprised three-quarters of Silesia’s coal production. The demographic structure of the divided territory, with the Poles and Germans living on both sides, was, however, politically disadvantageous.

At the beginning of the Second World War Upper Silesia was immediately annexed by the Nazis to the Third Reich and the extermination of the Polish population took place. After the war the German inhabitants were expelled, with Poland shifting westwards in 1945. Nowadays, in a free Poland, there are political movements seeking autonomy, separation or even  full independence for Silesia.

Magda Szkuta, Curator East European (Polish) Studies

References/further reading

Tomasz Kamusella, Silesia and Central European Nationalisms: The Emergence of National and Ethnic Groups in Prussian Silesia and Austrian Silesia, 1848-1918 (West Lafayette, 2007) m07/12120

The Problem of Upper Silesia (London, 1921) 08072.c.6

Stefan Dziewulski, Wyniki Plebiscytu na Górnym Śląsku (Warszawa, 1921) X.700/15938.

12 November 2014

“Cursed orthography”: Revolution, Language and Identity

Writing in his diary in spring 1919, the Nobel Prize-winning Russian writer Ivan Bunin bitterly condemned the Izvestia newspaper’s use of what he called “Bolshevik orthography”. Introduced after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the Russian orthographic reform of 1917-1918 streamlined the written Russian language to its current form. Yet while the reform was introduced by the Bolsheviks, changes to the orthography had been discussed, and even endorsed, by leading academic authorities long before the revolution.

Poster with a cartoon of a Russian cavalryman attacking a giant Kaiser Wilhelm Russian First World War propaganda poster entitled “Wilhelm's Nightmare” (Moscow, 1914). H.S.74/273.(24).

From the Bolsheviks’ perspective, the aim of the reform was to improve literacy among Russian speakers, including speakers of Russian as a second language, and thus foster a national and collective identity among its disparate peoples. The reform effectively simplified Russian orthography by replacing a number of letters with existing letters that had the same pronunciation. In addition, the changes also significantly economised the printing process by greatly restricting the use of ъ (tverdyi znak).

Propaganda poster showing a Red Army soldier pointing to a giant book in front of a crowd of workersRed Army propaganda poster in the new orthography (Moscow, 1921). The caption reads “From Darkness into Light; From Battle to Books; From Misery to Happiness”.  Cup.645.a.6, plate 21

Despite its pre-revolution origins the reform became a focus of anti-Bolshevik sentiment among the Russian émigré community which emerged after the revolution. White propaganda and émigré publications across the world continued to be printed in the old orthography right up until the Second World War. Effectively, as Marc Raeff argues, “one’s stand on the issue of orthography became symbolic of one’s opinion on the Soviet system or to the revolution”.

Propaganda poster showing Bolshevik leaders feasting while people starve outsideWhite Army propaganda poster in the pre-revolutionary orthography (date unknown). 1856.g. 8.

Similarly, a number of émigré writers insisted on their work being published in the pre-reform orthography, complaining that the new system tarnished the purity of the Russian language.  Bunin himself swore that he would “never accept the Bolshevik orthography. If only because the human hand has never written anything like what is being written now in this script”. This unapologetic disregard for the new orthography can be seen in the wider context of the relationship between language and identity. For the Russian émigré community, the pre-revolutionary orthography represented a tie with their homeland and life before emigration. For them, accepting the new orthography would in effect not only indicate their support of the Bolsheviks, but also a break with the past.

Cover of Bunin’s diary, 'Okaiannye Dni' with the title in pre-revolutionary lettersBunin’s “Diary of the Revolution” published in 1935 in the pre-revolution orthography. Ivan Alekseevich Bunin, Okaiannye Dni (Berlin, 1935), YA.1989.a.15918

The new orthography was not fully adopted by the émigré community until after the Second World War and the corresponding “second wave” of Russian emigration. The new émigrés were familiar with the reformed orthography and attached far less cultural and political significance to it. Émigré publishers and editors did however begin to accept the new orthography prior to the new wave of emigration. The reform particularly found support among younger émigrés due to its simplified rules and the availability of books printed in Soviet Russia. Changes in the attitude among the older émigré generation can also be seen as early as the mid-1930s. Alexander Kerensky, the prominent pre-revolutionary politician, adopted the new orthography for his émigré publication Novaia Rossiia as early as 1936. Bunin, on the other hand, was still very much standing his ground against the “cursed orthography”.  

Front page of the émigré newspaper 'Novaia Rossia', 3 April 1936Émigré newspaper Novaia Rossiia from April 1936 edited by Alexander Kerensky, NP000451448.

Katie McElvanney, CDA PhD student, Collections Division


Ivan Alekseevich Bunin, Okaiannye Dni (Berlin, 1935), YA.1989.a.15918

Ivan Alekseevich Bunin, Cursed Days: Diary of a Revolution, trans. by Thomas Gaiton Marullo (London, 2000). YC.2001.a.5248

Marc Raeff, Russia Abroad: A Cultural History of the Russian Emigration, 1919-1939 (New York; Oxford, 1990), YC.1991.b.4698

For more details about the reform see Marc L. Greenberg, The Writing on the Wall: The Russian Orthographic Reform of 1917–1918

10 November 2014

NISE – Providing an instrument for the comparative transnational study of national movements

As sponsor of the seminar ‘Language and the Making of Nations’  this Friday, NISE’s coordinator Luc Boeva explains the role of NISE in safeguarding archives on national movements in Europe.

Since the end of the 18th century nationalism has played an important role in the history of Europe. Its protagonists, assembled in national movements, were involved in the construction of nations and national identity, contributing both to the constitution and the dissolution of states. Also today, it remains a complex phenomenon that exerts an important influence on the cultural and political evolution of Europe.

Nationalism is the object of sustained and intensive research. However, although national movements are in fact pre-eminently transnational, researchers often remain unaware of results from studies of other national movements. Case studies are therefore often carried out without a contextual or comparative dimension. Moreover, theory formation is insufficiently based on the results of comparative empirical research. Comparative studies tend to be complicated, due to language barriers and the unavailability of controlled and systematically presented data. And there has not been any coordinated effort on a European level to collect sources on national movements, nor to conserve and disclose them for research.

Photograph of a shopping trolley full of ring-bindersImage by permission of NISE

That is why NISE (National movements and Intermediary Structures in Europe) was established in 2008, providing an interdisciplinary research, heuristic and archival platform for sustained cooperation at European level between academics as well as research and heritage organizations from all over Europe. The main objective of the organization is to enable comparative and transnational studies of national movements. Mapping out institutional and personal relations between them enables researchers to study political and cultural transfers.

Photograph of shelves of archival boxesImage by permission of NISE

NISE collects, checks and structures data about the intermediary structures (political parties, organizations, societies and the people involved) of national movements in Europe. This information is linked in an English-language database with four other types of information: archival, bibliographical, institutional and contextual.

Front page of the French-language newspaper 'Pan' with cartoons of Flemish nationalistsImages of Flemish nationalists in the Francophone satirical magazine Pan, an example of the kind of material collected by NISE (Image by permission of NISE)

The data are harvested as a result of projects, conferences and workshops, migration from other databases, etc. NISE also accompanies the collection, conservation and disclosure of the historical and current archival and printed sources from and about national movements. The organization issues various publication series, including the online journal Studies on National Movements - SNM.

Photograph of delegates at a meeting of the at a meeting of the Algemeen Katholiek Vlaams Studentenverbond sitting in a large hall
Photo taken during the interwar years at a meeting of the Algemeen Katholiek Vlaams Studentenverbond (AKVS), a student organisation connected with the Flemish movement [source: BE ADVN VFA6770]

Luc Boeva, Coordinator NISE,

Further reading:

Boeva, Luc, Rien de plus international. Towards a comparative and transnational historiography of national movements, (Antwerp, 2010). YD.2015.a.2492. An abridged version is available in English, Dutch, French, Spanish, German and Russian.

Boeva, Luc, Introduction: a database, a heuristic guide and an archival instrument for transnational comparative research into the national movements in Europe = Introductie = Introduccion = Einführung. (Antwerp, 2010). YF.2015.a.6849

Boeva, Luc, De beste plaats : de collectie nationale bewegingen in het ADVN. (Antwerp, 2009) YF.2013.a.15117

Boeva, Luc, “Pour les Flamands la même chose” : hoe de taalgrens ook een sociale grens was. (Gent, 1994) YA.1995.b.4720 

For more information, see or contact the coordination center in Antwerp (Belgium) (

07 November 2014

Is your governess really a spy?

Ever since Baroness Lehzen taught the young Princess Victoria, German governesses had occupied a place in 19th-century British consciousness. Many German women came to Britain during the century to teach either in schools or private homes, and a Verein deutscher Lehrerinnen in England  was founded in 1876 to offer them advice and assistance. By the beginning of the 20th century it was common – and fashionable – for upper-class families to employ a ‘Fräulein’ to help educate their daughters, even against the background of rising of anti-German sentiment.

Vereinsbote PP.1215.fb
Der Vereinsbote. Organ des Vereins deutscher Lehrerinnen in England
. Vol. 26, no. 1, February 1914 (P.P.1215.fb). The journal of the Association of German Teachers in England. Like other British German newspapers and periodicals, it ceased publication in August 1914.

On the outbreak of war, however, governesses were among the Germans in Britain viewed with particular suspicion. Because some lived closely with the families of well-connected employers, they could easily be demonised as potential spies or fifth columnists.  A browse through contemporary newspapers via the British Newspaper Archive reveals a number of stories, or variations on the same story, about German governesses whose trunks were found to conceal bombs or secret documents. A report in the Lichfield Mercury of 21 August 1914 even claims that a German ‘secret order book’ had been discovered which recommended the placing of ‘handsome German governesses’ in the families of British military officers to gather information; presumably their handsomeness was intended to help tempt the officers into indiscretions  of various kinds.

These stories may strike us as faintly absurd, but their underlying message was taken seriously at the time, even in high places. In 1916, the Prime Minister of New Zealand specifically mentioned governesses, alongside waiters and clerks, as Germans employed in Britain who had used their position to collect information which was ‘promptly conveyed to Berlin.’ And of course these attitudes could have serious consequences for the women who suddenly found themselves designated ‘enemy aliens’, perhaps after many years as part of a British family, and suspected of spying.

Families who employed a German governess sometimes themselves fell under suspicion. A Mr Cunningham was still pursuing damages from the War Office in 1923, claiming that his business had collapsed when it was boycotted following a military search of his house in 1914, triggered in part by the presence there of a German governess. Even the British Prime Minister was suspected of harbouring a spy in the form of his children’s long-serving governess Anna Heinsius.

A popular example of the ‘governess as spy’ theme was the 1914 play The Man who Stayed at Home, set in a small seaside hotel where the hero, a British secret agent, affects a languid and flippant air to disguise his true mission as a spy-catcher. One of the first characters we meet is Fräulein Schroeder, described in the stage directions as ‘a tall, angular and unattractive spinster with a dictatorial manner and entirely unsympathetic soul.’

A modern audience might expect, or even hope, that such an obvious candidate as Fräulein Schroeder would turn out not to be a villain. But the popular stereotypes of the day prevail: she is in fact in cahoots with the hotel’s owner, Mrs Sanderson (German widow of an Englishman), her ‘son’ Carl (actually ‘Herr von Mantel, son of General von Mantel, and paid spy of the German Government’) and the waiter Fritz (who, despite a thick stage-German accent, manages to convince everyone that he is Dutch), all spies in the service of their ‘Imperial Master’ in Berlin.

Cover of  'The Man who Stayed at Home', showing a warship firing on a U-Boat
Cover of a 1916 acting text of The Man who stayed at Home.The image was also available as a poster for groups wishing to stage the play.

The play clearly pleased the British public. It had a long run in London and was filmed twice (1915 and 1919) and adapted as a novel (1915). The novel is somewhat kinder about Fräulein Schroeder’s appearance: initially, at least, she radiates  ‘all the placid good nature and quietude of spirit of the best of her race’ and has ‘small, kindly brown eyes’. But her fanaticism and ruthlessness are far more strongly emphasised and, in a change from the play, she poisons herself when the German plot is foiled, a ‘sordid and ugly’ death depicted as encapsulating the inglorious nature of her cause.

Amidst all these tall tales and spy-panics it is comforting to encounter stories of those who supported and defended such ‘enemy aliens’ trying to continue a teaching career in Britain during the war years. The Daily Mail of 3 September 1914 reported that a man who applied to the International Women’s Aid Committee for a governess for his children was shocked to be sent a German woman. But, the report continues, the Committee’s secretary responded that, ‘Our object is to help foreign women of any nationality who are the innocent victims of the war. We do not consider that we are helping the enemy in assisting a non-combatant German governess.’ A refreshing sentiment to set against the popular jingoism of the time.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References/further reading

Lechmere Worrall / J.E. Harold Terry, The Man who Stayed at Home: a play in three acts. French’s Acting Edition No. 2535 (London, [1916]). 2304.h.71.(4)

Beamish Tinker [i.e. F. Tennyson Jesse], The Man who Stayed at Home ... From the play of the same name. (London, 1915) NN.2687

Panikos Panayi, The Enemy in our Midst : Germans in Britain during the First World War (New York, 1991) YC.1991.a.4196

This piece was posted live from Selwyn College Cambridge as part of the Women In German Studies Postgraduate workshop in November 2014.