European studies blog

13 posts from December 2014

31 December 2014

On the eve... Germans in Britain in 1913

Throughout 2014 we have been using posts on the European Studies blog to mark the twin anniversaries of the Hanoverian succession and the outbreak of the First World War by looking at Anglo-German cultural relations and the role of Germans in Britain during the two centuries between. As the year draws to a close, I turned to a publication of 1913, Die deutsche Kolonie in London, issued by the ‘Anglo-German Publishing Company’ (based, coincidentally, like London’s earliest German printers and booksellers, near The Strand), to see what Britain’s ‘German colony’ looked like at the end of those two centuries.

Cover of 'Die Deutsche Kolonie in London' with image of an imperial eagle and coat of arms
Die deutsche Kolonie in London
(London, 1913). British Library 8139.k.9.

The book was published to mark Kaiser Wilhelm II’s silver jubilee, and opens with a portrait of Wilhelm, fulsome tributes in prose and verse and an appeal for contributions to a commemorative ‘Imperial Jubilee Fund’ intended to support Germans and German institutions in Britain.  This is followed by a brief history of German settlement in Britain and a comprehensive overview of the German community and institutions in London and beyond, demonstrating the strength and vitality of this community on the eve of the First World War.

Some 15 German churches and congregations in London are described as well as 12 in other cities including Edinburgh, Bradford, Liverpool and Newcastle.  In London there is a German School in the south-eastern suburb of Forest Hill,  a location chosen because it and the neighbouring districts were popular with German families. (Today’s London German focus has stayed south of the Thames but moved westwards: the modern ‘Deutsche Schule in London’ is in Richmond-on-Thames.) Continuing the educational theme, the German professors Karl Breul of Cambridge and H.G. Fiedler of Oxford reflect on the study of German and the role of German academics in British universities and schools.

Exterior of St George's Lutheran Church in WhitechapelSt George’s German Lutheran Church, one of the oldest in London; the BL acquired its library in 1996

Social welfare comes next, with institutions including a benevolent society and an ‘Arbeiterkolonie und Altenheim’ in Hitchin, which accepts any needy German-speaker. Hitchin was also the location of a convalescent home attached to the German Hospital in Dalston (one of the few British German institutions revived after 1918). Orphanages in Dalston and Clapham, and sailors’ hostels and missions in various port cities are also described.

Recreation and culture are represented by the ‘German Athenaeum’ (a society for arts and sciences) and the ‘Turnverein’, a gymnastic society whose specially built London gymnasium still stands not far from the British Library. There are literary and gymnastic clubs outside the capital too, and a range of ‘Vaterländische Vereine’. The ‘Deutsches Volkstheater West-London’ founded in 1911 is described as enjoying some success and critical acclaim, although London’s German colony is not sufficient to support it as a permanent company playing every night. More popular are the many singing clubs. And gymnastics is not the only sport catered for: there are clubs for skittles and cycling, and the ‘Deutscher Fußball-Klub London’ has been ‘deemed worthy of taking its place in the 1st division of the North London league’. 

There is also a range of  professional clubs and societies for workers of all kinds, from bankers to waiters (the charmingly named ‘Union Ganymede’). As well as places to meet and socialise, these groups offered various kinds practical help to their members: lectures and training, help finding positions, and support when out of work.

Photograph of the headquarters of the German Waiters' AssociationThe London headquarters of the Kellnerverein (Waiters’ Association) ‘Union Ganymed’

Finally – and always worth a look in such publications – there are advertisements. Businesses catering specifically for Germans include bookshops, hotels, a photographer and J.C. Bell, ‘the German dentist’, who offers written guarantees on false teeth and promises that ‘a trained and experienced lady is always present when ladies are treated.’ Other firms advertise German products sold in Britain; I was struck by the proud claim by the makers of ‘König’s Liqueur-Gin’ that their product was ‘drunk by H.M. Kaiser Wilhelm II in the English House of Lords and House of Commons and at Buckingham Palace’, which gives a presumably unintended impression of the Kaiser boozing his way through a state visit.

Advertisemtn for a German dentist, including his photograph
The German dentist’s advertisement

Altogether the book paints a picture of a flourishing community, and one with a deep pride in a recently-unified native land. In their introduction the authors seem almost wilfully blind towards the rise in British anti-German sentiment at both popular and political levels, even suggesting that Wilhelm II is figure admired among the English. But one passage in the  introduction by Richard Pflaum is oddly prophetic. Praising Wilhelm for having gained international recognition for Germany by peaceful means, he adds:

Für die Deutschen in England hätte ein Krieg Deutschlands die unabsehbarsten Folgen hervorrufen können, weil ein solcher Krieg … zu einen Weltkrieg sich hätte entwickeln müssen, in dem das Volk, unter dem wir wohnen und dessen Gastfreundschaft wir seit Jahrhunderten genießen, an die Seite der Gegner Deutschlands gedrängt worden wäre.

[For the Germans in England a German war could have led to the most incalculable consequences, because such a war would surely have developed into a world war, in which the people among whom we live, and whose hospitality we have enjoyed for centuries, would have been forced on to the side of Germany’s opponents.]

The following year what most Britons saw as very much a ‘German war’ did break out, and the consequences were indeed incalculable for Britain’s German community and its institutions. In the century since, very different waves of German migrants, refugees and settlers have come and gone, but the ‘German London’ depicted in this book has become a thing of the past.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic studies

Some further reading on Germans in Britain and Anglo-German relations 1714-1914

Aneignung und Abwehr : interkultureller Transfer zwischen Deutschland und Grossbritannien im 19. Jahrhundert / Rudolf Muhs, Johannes Paulmann und Willibald Steinmetz (Hg.). (Bodenheim, 1998). YA.2000.a.20029

Anglo-German scholarly networks in the long nineteenth century / edited by Heather Ellis, Ulrike Kirchberger. (Leiden, 2014) YD.2014.a.909

John R. Davis, The Victorians and Germany (Bern, 2007). YD.2008.a.1627

Germans in Britain since 1500, edited by Panikos Panayi (London, 1996). YC.1996.b.5061

Rüdiger Görner, Dover im Harz : Studien zu britisch-deutschen Kulturbeziehungen (Heidelberg, 2012) 11823.t.3/299

James Hawes, Englanders and Huns (London, 2014). YC.2014.a.15194

»In unserer Liebe nicht glücklich« : kultureller Austausch zwischen Großbritannien und Deutschland 1770-1840 / herausgegeben von Uwe Ziegler und Horst Carl. (Göttingen, 2014) Ac.6431/2[Vol.102]

John Mander, Our German cousins : Anglo-German relations in the 19th and 20th centuries (London, 1974). 74/9820

Migration and transfer from Germany to Britain, 1660-1914 / edited by Stefan Manz, Margrit Schulte Beerbühl, John R. Davis. (Munich, 2007) YD.2007.a.9202

Philip Oltermann, Keeping up with the Germans : a history of Anglo-German encounters (London, 2012). YK.2012.a.24179

Panikos Panayi, German immigrants in Britain during the nineteenth century, 1815-1914 (London, 1995) YC.1996.a.721

Richard Scully, British images of Germany : admiration, antagonism & ambivalence, 1860-1914 (Basingstoke, 2012). YC.2013.a.465  

Miranda Seymour, Noble endeavours : the life of two countries, England and Germany, in many stories (London, 2013) YC.2015.a.8377

Susanne Stark, "Behind inverted commas" : translation and Anglo-German cultural relations in the nineteenth century (Clevedon, 1999) YC.1999.a.3194

Viktorianisches England in deutscher Perspektive / herausgegeben von Adolf M. Birke und Kurt Kluxen. (Munich, 1983) X.800/39562

29 December 2014

Tango with Cows – Mystical Images of War - Russian First World War posters: celebrating their centenary.

Before the year is out I thought I would reflect on some of the most notable Russian artistic publications held by the British Library that were published a century ago in 1914. Tango with Cows (Tango s korovami) has always been one of the most popular Futurist works with art students. They are initially fascinated by the brightly coloured original Russian flowered wallpaper from 1914 on which are printed poems by the Russian Futurist Vasily Kamensky.  This artist’s book with a corner deliberately cut off and held together by staples reflects the Russian Futurists’ desire to produce anti-aesthetic books made of rough materials such as newsprint, wrapping paper or even gingerbread, reproduced cheaply for an audience of artists, writers and students.

Pages from 'Tango s korovami', showing the pattern of wallpaper and a page of experimental typography                     Vasily Kamensky, Tango s korovami (Moscow, 1914) C.114.n.32.  

The collection is sub-titled “ferroconcrete poems” (not to be confused with the later Concrete Poetry movement).  Each poem is presented on a single page where the words are literally poured into segments. As there is no syntactic structure it would be difficult to read the poem in a linear way. Instead the text – mostly nouns and a few verbs – is organized by word association and visual links encouraging the reader to look at it as if it were a painting. In the poem Cabaret (see above) the reader’s eye is attracted to people, music, food, drink, sights and sounds in Maksim’s cabaret by the various types and sizes of font used for that person etc. For example the word MELLE (Mademoiselle) appears both in the upper and lower segments as if dressed in a different typeface. The text also includes the chemical formula H2SO4 (perhaps to indicate a danger area in a top left segment), and humour, as at the bottom right where it says entrance is 1 rouble and exit is 1000 roubles. The typographical innovations of this book show the influence of both Italian Futurist poetry and French calligrammes as for example the poem Vasya Kamensky’s aeroplane flight in Warsaw where the poem forms a visual representation of a plane taking off.       

Misticheskie obrazy voiny (Mystical Images of War; Moscow, 1914; C.114.n.24) by Natalya Goncharova has been much discussed this year in the context of World War 1 centenary events. Two of the 14 lithographs in this collection, Angels and Aeroplanes and A Common Grave, were included in the British Library’s exhibition Enduring War. This collection of lithographs is Goncharova’s response to the First World War and combines images based on Russian icons and popular prints (lubki) with aspects of modern life. This combination of the realistic detail with the metaphysical often calls to mind the works of the English artist Stanley Spencer. This is particularly so in Angels and aeroplanes which demonstrates an ironic approach to the war where the pilots and planes appear vulnerable in the hands of the angels. Unlike the Italian Futurists who glorified war, Goncharova expresses a more pacifist attitude to war here.

The Library also holds Russian First World War posters designed by the well-known artist Dmitry Moor (real name: Orlov). Moor took his pseudonym from the surname of three characters in Schiller’s drama The Robbers – no doubt this choice reflected his liking for biting satire and caricature in which he excelled in his posters.

Caricature showing vegetables and fungi morphing into the Austrian and German emperors and their armies Dmitry Moor, Kak chort ogorod gorodil (‘How the devil guarded the garden’). Poster [Moscow, 1914]. HS.74/273.(16)

Finally I’d like to mention a number of Russian First World War posters published in 1914 with captions by Vladimir Mayakovsky  held by the British Library.

Cavalry soldiers chasing infantry soldiers away from a stylised townSdal avstriets russkim L'vov... (‘Austrians surrended L'vov to the Russians...’] design by Aristarkh Lentulov; captions by Vladimir Mayakovsky. (Moscow, 1914). HS.74/273(10).

The Russian Futurists at first supported the war and created patriotic posters for the government when Russia was doing well at the beginning of the war. The project ‘Today’s Lubok’ employed Mayakovsky, Malevich and Lentulov in a scheme to make propaganda posters of the war in colourful lubok or folk styles for mass distribution. Although Mayakovsky is principally known as a poet, he originally studied at art school in Moscow and also designed posters as well as writing captions for posters designed by Malevich and Lentulov. You can find more examples on the Library’s ‘Images Online’ pages. For more information and images of those designed by Malevich with text by Mayakovsky see my earlier post. 

Peter Hellyer, Curator Russian Studies

Useful Sources

Breaking the rules: the printed face of the European Avant-Garde 1900-1937. Edited by Stephen Bury. (London, 2007).

Susan P. Compton, The world backwards: Russian futurist books, 1912-1916. (London, 1978). X.981/21715

Peter W.  Hellyer, A  catalogue of Russian avant-garde books 1912-1934 and 1969-2003. (London,  2006) YC.2008.b.251

Gerald Janecek, The look of Russian literature: avant-garde visual experiments, 1900-1930. (Princeton, 1984). X.955/3162

Vladimir Markov, Russian futurism: a history. (London, 1969). X.981/1801

Margit Rowell and Deborah Wye, The Russian avant-garde book, 1910-1934. (New York, 2002). LC.31.a.179


24 December 2014

Have yourself a scripturally correct Christmas

This Christmas the Nativity is back in the news. The BBC reports:

The traditional school nativity play is under pressure to modernise the story and remove religious figures, according to users of a parenting website.
Parents on Netmums have given examples of characters such as spacemen, Elvis Presley and footballers being introduced to the nativity story.
There are also claims Christmas plays are being called “winter celebrations”.
Netmums co-founder Siobhan Freegard said parents were concerned Christmas traditions were being “pushed aside”.

This is not a new problem. The Council of Trent (1562–1563), session 25, sought to reform religious painting. In 1730 Juan Interian de Ayala published a work which aimed to purge modern painting of various errors in iconography:

Title-page of 'Pictor Christianus eruditus'Joannes Interian de Ayala, Pictor Christianus eruditus; sive, de erroribus qui passim admittuntur, circa pingendas atque effingendas sacras imagines. Libri octo, cum appendice (Madrid, 1730)  4375.h.10.

This first edition is in Latin, a clear sign that it was aimed at an international readership. An edition came out in 1765 in the new international language, French. We also have a Spanish translation of 1883 (

Interián was one of the founders of the Real Academia Española  and contributed to its Dictionary.

Here is what he says about the imagery of the Nativity (Book I, ch. 2):

Paint the birthplace of Christ as a cave or hollowed rock, not a half-ruined house with broken beams supported by two worm-eaten posts.

Do not paint the Christ child naked (which reflects badly on the Virgin’s childcare), but in swaddling clothes.

An illuminated manuscript initial with a depiction of the Nativitiy          Cave and swaddling clothes: a mediaevel illuminator gets things fairly right in MS Add. 52539

He concedes that the ox and ass aren’t in the Gospels, but thinks it would be laughable to argue that they should not be included, as this is in accordance with the tradition of the Fathers.

It is absurd to show a midwife in attendance, as we know the Virgin had no helper.

It is ridiculous to show Joseph as an old man leaning on a stick looking at the Christ child from a distance. He should be kneeling next to Mary in adoration. He should be well dressed, not scruffy in clothes and hair (Bk V, ch. 10). But nor should he be too young and fashionable.

Depiction of the Nativity set in a ruined buildingNaked baby, ruined building, elderly Joseph … : Albrecht Dürer gets it all wrong in his Kleine Passion (Nuremberg, 1511) C.44.d.26.

There is no objection to the shepherds presenting gifts, provided due decorum is observed.

Painters who followed his advice would produce works that were pious, dignified and historically accurate, free of the fanciful accretions of medieval and renaissance art.

But please don’t let it spoil your Christmas.

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies


The Council of Trent, The Twenty-Fifth Session:

María Mercedes Virginia Sanz Sanz, ‘Los estudios iconológicos de Fray Juan de Interián Ayala’, Cuadernos de arte e iconografía, 8 (1991),102-2. ZA.9.a.6497

22 December 2014

‘Russian glory’ of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley

As part of the UK-Russia Year of Culture 2014, the exhibition “Oscar Wilde. Aubrey Beardsley . A Russian Perspective” was on show at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (23 September–30 November 2014). Six items from the British Library collections travelled to Moscow and were on display there this autumn.

Red-leather box with a brass handle and an inscription on the lid
 Red leather dispatch box given to Lord Alfred Douglas by Oscar Wilde with the inscription ‘Bosie from OW’. (Add Ms 81833 A)

Manuscript draft by Oscar Wilde of the poem 'In the Gold Room'
Draft of Oscar Wilde’s poem ‘In the Gold Room’, [1881]. First published among ‘Flowers of Gold’ in Wilde’s Poems (1881). - (Zweig MS 199)

Title-page of a prrof copy of ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ with manuscript annotations‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’, 1897-1898. Printed proof sheets with autograph corrections for the first edition. (Add MS 81634)

Photograph of the front facade of the Hotel d'Alsace in Paris

 Photograph of the Hotel D' Alsace, where Wilde died (Add MS 81786)

A letter from Oscar Wilde to Edmund Gosse, dated 23 February 1893 and sending a copy of his Salomé (Ashley MS 4610) and a lithographed design by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec for the programme for the first performance of Salomé in Paris in 1896, with a portrait of Oscar Wilde  (Add MS 81794) were also shown in the Moscow exhibition.

As a gift from the Museum the British Library received the exhibition catalogue, in which the curators Zinaida Bonami, Anna Poznanskaya, Olga Averyanova and Alexey Savinov explain that “in Russia, Wilde and Beardsley’s artistic aesthetics were a major influence on the formation of the style and concept of the Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) movement  in St. Petersburg in the 1890s”.

Cover of the journal 'Mir iskusstva' with a stliesed picture of a landscape and a vignette of two fish Mir iskusstva, cover by Konstantin Korovin (P.P.1931.pmb. and P.P.1931.pmo)

However, the first response to Oscar Wilde’s aesthetic views as formulated in his book Intentions (the British Library holds multiple copies of the 1891 edition, including copies with various inscriptions by owners and the author) was given in an article published in 1895 by the literary critic Akim Volynsky in the journal Severnyi vestnik (The Northern Herald;  RB.23.b.6255, also available on microfilm, Mic.F.622). Zinaida Hippius, at that time a young poet and recent literary debutant, was also close to the journal and in 1896 published a novella Zlatotsvet  (Oxeye) (No 2-4, 1896), where “the story’s main character, the Decadent Zvyagin, presents a paper on Wilde’s aesthetic theory (apparently based on Intentions) to a circle of wealthy literary dilettantes”. Published eight months after Wilde’s trial, the story “provides a lively satirical picture of the St Petersburg artistic circles that had begun to discuss both Wilde’s writings and his reputation”  (Evgenii Bernstein).

The first exhibition of English and Scottish watercolour painters was organised in St Petersburg by Diaghilev and  influenced the young Russian artists who formed the artistic circle of Mir iskusstva, such as Alexandre Benois, Léon Bakst, Konstantin Somov and others. The Moscow journals Skorpion (The Scorpion), Vesy (The Scales) and Zolotoe runo (Golden Fleece)  also paid tribute to both Wilde and Beardsley.

Aubrey Beardsley's illustration of Salome with the head of John the Baptist on a platter      Aubrey Beardsley’s drawings for Oscar Wilde’s tragedy Salomé

Coveer of 'Vesy' with an illustration of a figure holdign a lyre and being offered a laurel wreath by a puttoVesy. Cover by N. Feofilaktov (Available on microfilm, Mic.F.430).

One of the Russian artists Nikolai Feofilaktov, as well as working in a style close to Beardsley’s (see the example of his work above),  even tried to look like Beardsley in one of his profile portraits. Some of the images of the British Library collections of modernist Russian journals are available via the Russian Visual Arts project website.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator Russian Studies


Oskar Uail'd, Obri Berdslei: vzgliad iz Rossii [Exhibition catalogue]. (Moscow, 2014) YF.2014.b.2604

Evgenii Bershtein. ‘Next to Christ’: Oscar Wilde in Russian Modernism, in The Reception of Oscar Wilde in Europe, ed. Stefano Evangelista. (New York, 2010) p. 289. YC.2010.a.8522 and 18 (2010) 1765.882485).

Literary Journals of Imperial Russia, ed. by Deborah A. Martinsen.  (Cambridge, 1997)   YC.1998.a.1041 and m03/41941

Obri Berdsleĭ: izbrannye risunki, predslovīe i kommentarīĭ A. A. Sidorova (Moskva, 1917) LB.31.b.14196 and C.190.c.13

Sidorov, A. A. Obri Berdsleĭ: zhizn' i tvorchestvo (Moskva, 1917) C.190.c.14.

Evreinov, N. N. Berdsleĭ (S.-Peterburgʺ, 1912) YA.1994.a.12090




19 December 2014

Punishment as a Crime?

The British Library has recently acquired a collection of articles called Punishment as a Crime? Perspectives on Prison Experience in Russian Culture. In this guest post the volume co-editor,  Andrei Rogatchevski , introduces the book and its topic, in both the Russian and a wider context.

Cover of 'Punishment as Crime' with an illustration of a silhouetted figure with 5-bar gate counting symbols                                                                Cover of Punishment as a Crime?

The volume consists of seven articles by scholars from Italy, Sweden, the UK and the USA, and is devoted to the subject that has primarily been familiar in the West through Stalin’s Gulag. Back then, as a bitter joke had it, Russians could be divided into three categories: those who were imprisoned, those who are imprisoned and those who will be imprisoned. However, Russian prison experience had not begun and would not end with the Gulag. None other than the current Russian  Minister of Justice Alexander Konovalov admitted publicly in September 2011 that the modern “Russian prison system has retained some features of Stalin’s Gulag and even the pre-revolutionary katorga” (see The number of those in Russian jails, however, is not always in reverse proportion to how liberal the ruling regime is. A former adviser to President Putin, Andrei Illarionov, points out that in 1989-91 there had been 699,000-723,000 convicts in the USSR, yet in the mid-1990s, in what became the Russian Federation (i.e. much smaller territory), their number exceeded one million ( According to the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), as of 1 December 2014, there were 671,700 prisoners in Russian colonies and jails, 54,700 of them women (for information on a relatively recent documentary film about women’s experiences at a post-Communist Russian prison, see

Today’s situation is at variance with a popular pre-revolutionary Russian belief that “the punishment of criminals is not the business of man, but of God” (Fyfe). In the opinion of a Russian prison official, interviewed by a journalist, “our state and our nation have created only one efficient industry: putting people behind bars. It’s the only thing that works at present” (Svinarenko 190). To quote Allison Gill, director of the Human Rights Watch office in Russia, Russian prisons “are widely acknowledged to be troubled institutions with poor conditions, torture and ill treatment” (see here).  It is not yet clear whether the ongoing Russian penal reform will lead to any improvement in a foreseeable future.

Some would say that harsh conditions are necessary for prisons to serve as a deterrent, and criminals only get what they deserve anyway. Others would insist that such conditions only harden the criminals, instead of reforming them. Punishment as a Crime? examines the complex phenomenon of Russian prison culture from various angles, mostly on the basis of the evidence provided by the well known individuals with a first-hand knowledge of Russian penal institutions, from Fedor Dostoevsky and Vlas Doroshevich, via Andrei Siniavsky and Sergei Dovlatov, to Eduard Limonov and Igor Sutyagin (who has supplied the book’s opening participant-observer piece). Prison humour, film and popular songs, as well as theories of human motivation and philosophical musings by Arendt, Foucault, Cioran, Kierkegaard, Agamben and others, also have a role to play as material and/or methodology for analysis. An exercise in comparative penology is in evidence too, juxtaposing Russia and the UK in the 2000s (and finding quite a few things in common).

Needless to say, many penal systems across the globe face the same problems, such as overcrowded prisons and high reoffending rate (see, for example, and, showing some 2012-13 data for the UK and Sweden respectively). Moreover, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s famous 1962 book describing a typical day of a Gulag convict in the early 1950s), has been perceived, by some at least, as “a day in anybody’s life. The majority of the human race are trapped in a monotonous daily routine which differs from that of a concentration camp only in the degree of its unpleasantness and hopelessness” (Hayward). Furthermore, John Hillcoat’s  1988 Australian film Ghosts of the Civil Dead provides an ”existential vision of prison [in an unnamed country] as a metaphor for the human condition” in general (Johnston).

According to the proponents of such a view, prison (defined by Joseph Brodsky as “a shortage of space made up for by a surplus of time”, see does not do anything to human beings that the society at large could not do, when coercing them into submission. In prison the coercion process is merely accelerated and takes a highly concentrated form, not unlike radiation overdoses speeding the ageing process. Can incarceration serve as an answer to the challenges presented by crime? Many observers seriously doubt it. In the opinion of one, “Deprivation of freedom is a symbolic murder, a symbolic annihilation. Part of a person’s life is taken away. It’s like a temporary partial reversible murder, which doesn’t solve the problem” (Svinarenko 242). Using the example of a notorious Sao Paolo prison, demolished in 2002, Hector Babenco’s 2003 Brazilian film Carandiru seems to suggest that dispensing with prisons altogether is the only reasonable way forward.

However, it is highly unlikely that Russia (or any other country, for that matter) will be prison-free any time soon. Meanwhile, as the question mark in the volume’s title implies, readers are invited to form their own opinion about the pros and cons of the balance between the punitive and the reformative particularities of the Russian penal system from the 1840s onwards, in comparison with elsewhere.

Andrei Rogatchevski, University of Tromsø

References/Further Reading

Punishment as a crime? Perspectives on prison experience in Russian culture, edited by Julie Hansen and Andrei Rogachevskii (Uppsala, 2014). Uppsala Studies on Eastern Europe; vol. 5. ZA.9.a.1917.

Hamilton Fyfe, “Russia: The Genius and Simplicity of Its Peoples”, Peoples of All Nations: Their Life Today and the Story of Their Past, ed. by J. A. Hammerton ( London, 1922), W50/0816. Vol. VI: 4309 .

Max Hayward,  “Epilogue,” in Soviet Literature in the Sixties, ed. by Max Hayward and Edward L. Crowley (London, 1965) X.909/8120. P. 206.

Ian Johnston,  Bad Seed: The Biography of Nick Cave ( London, 1996) YK.1996.a.20413. P. 223

Svinarenko, Igor’. Russkie sidiat: Po zonam Rodiny. (Moscow, 2002) YA.2003.a.34306.

17 December 2014

A dish fit for the gods: 150 years of Offenbach’s ‘La belle Hélène’

When in the 1690s the Académie Française was rocked by the so-called Querelle des anciens et des modernes between two factions headed by Nicolas Boileau and Charles Perrault respectively, history might have regarded it as a short-lived conflict unlikely to have much lasting influence on the development of French culture. However, in a society with a long tradition of respect for classical learning and its place within the educational system, it was never completely extinguished, and continued to flare up in the most unlikely places – such as the Paris comic opera stage.

By 1858, when the restriction limiting the number of performers in such productions to three was finally lifted, Jacques Offenbach (1819-1860) had already achieved considerable success in the small theatre which he had leased at his own expense, the Salle Choiseul, to accommodate his troupe, the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens, when unable to make a breakthrough at the Opéra-Comique. His tastes, though, ran towards the lavish, and once free of the previous limitations he set about engaging a cast of 20 principals and making plans to stage his latest work, Orphée aux Enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld).

Photograph of Jacques OffenbachAn early photograph of Offenbach, from ‘Argus’ Jacques Offenbach (Paris, 1872). 10602.e.4.

It success exceeded all his dreams, but not, perhaps, for the reasons which he had anticipated. Most unlike Monteverdi’s Orfeo or Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, it presents the hero not as a noble tragic figure descending to the realm of Hades to rescue his beloved wife but as a lackadaisical violin teacher whose wife is driven distracted by his trills and arpeggios, so that her abduction by the sinister king of the underworld, disguised as a shepherd, comes as a relief to both. Indeed, it was so far removed from the marmoreal world of classical antiquity that it provoked a furious outcry in the pages of the Journal des débats and Le Figaro. No voice was louder than that of the critic Jules Janin, who accused Offenbach of making a mockery of the austere values of Roman mythology so revered by the great figures of the Revolution. Behind this, though, lay a more contemporary target for satire – no less than the figure of the Emperor Napoleon III and his court in the guise of Jupiter (familiarly tagged as ‘Jupin’, i.e. Joops) and his entourage. The notoriety, as much as the sparkling music and witty libretto by Hector Crémieux, did wonders for the box-office takings, and in April 1860 the emperor himself ordered a command performance – and presumably was not disappointed, as that year he made a personal grant of French citizenship to the Cologne-born Offenbach, followed in 1861 by the Légion d’honneur.

Inspired by this success, Offenbach proceeded to tackle another classical subject, the story of Helen of Troy, in La belle Hélène. The librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy showed no more respect for their theme than their predecessor Crémieux, and fell foul of the censor for their portrayal of the Grand Augur, Calchas, which was viewed as an attack on the clergy. Pompous and hypocritical, Calchas cheats outrageously while gambling, and was at one point intended to fall into the water until the censor insisted that this was taking irreverence too far. Nor do Agamemnon, Menelaus and the other heroes fare any better; they appear as a gang of ridiculous blockheads who are easily trounced by the debonair ‘shepherd’ Paris (‘l’homme à la pomme’) in a series of word-games designed to sharpen the dull wits of the Greeks.

  Page of the music manuscript of La belle Helénè
The chorus which accompanies Orestes’ entrance, from Jacques Offenbach, La belle Hélène, autograph score, 1864. Zweig MS 72

Most startlingly of all, perhaps, Orestes makes his entrance as a precocious playboy, flanked by two good-time girls, Parthénis and Léoena, dancing in to the refrain ‘Tsing-la-la! Tsing-la-la! Oyé Kephalé, Kephalé oh-la-la!’ and intent on emptying his father’s coffers in the pursuit of pleasure. The role is sung by a soprano, and its creator, the all-too-aptly-named Léa Silly, proved a major headache to Offenbach. In a situation reminiscent of Mozart’s Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario), a skit involving a hapless director and his two warring prima donnas which Offenbach had staged some years earlier, she antagonized the diva Hortense Schneider, a long-term star of the company who was cast as Helen, by upstaging and mimicking her, dancing a cancan behind her back as she sang a major aria, and so enraging Schneider that she threatened to quit not only the production but Paris altogether.

Photograph of Hortense Schneider in the role of HelenHortense Schneider as Helen in La belle Hélène, from Louis Schneider, Offenbach (Paris, 1923) 7896.t.20.

Yet despite these trials the first night went ahead on 17th December 1864 at the Théâtre des Variétés, delighting critics and public so much that it launched a run of 700 performances. Among its admirers was the famous chef Auguste Escoffier, who created a special dish in its honour – Poire Belle Hélène, a luscious confection of poached pears and vanilla ice-cream topped with chocolate sauce and crystallized violets. Like the opera itself, it is a treat for the connoisseur – and certainly fit for an Emperor.

Susan Halstead, Curator Czech and Slovak

15 December 2014

"I raised a fire in my heart": remembering Eroshenko

On 15 December each year Esperantists worldwide celebrate the birthday of L.L. Zamenhof, creator of Esperanto. Traditionally it is also celebrated as Esperanto Literature Day  – as  books have been written in Esperanto from its start in 1887. Many books have also been translated into Esperanto and, as original literature in Esperanto grew decade after decade, translations from Esperanto into other languages started to follow.

Many libraries worldwide collect Esperanto books. One of the biggest collections of Esperanto items  is in the Austrian National Library. The Esperanto Collection of the British Library is one of the finest in the world: it has British publications from the beginning of Esperanto received  by legal deposit as well as purchased and donated books and journals from many countries. It is a growing collection used by researchers from all over the world.

My own way into Esperanto started with a book. In 1973 the Ukrainian publishing house for children Veselka (‘Rainbow’) published a book by  Nadiia Andrianova-Hordiienko Zapalyv ia u sertsi vohon’ (‘I Raised a Fire in My Heart’, the first line of Eroshenko’s poem Ekbruligis mi fajron en kor’, written in Esperanto). It is fascinating story about the life and work of the blind Esperantist, traveller and writer Vasili Eroshenko (1890-1952). I was so taken by the history of his extraordinary life and his travels with the help of Esperanto that in the autumn of the same year I enrolled on an Esperanto course in my home town of Khmelnitskyi, Ukraine.

Painted portrait of Vasilii Yaroshenko by Tsune_Nakamura,_1920,_oil_on_canvas_-_National_Museum_of_Modern_Art,_Tokyo_-_DSC06549Portrait of Vasili Eroshenko by Tsune Nakamura (1887-1924)  (from Wikimedia Commons)

Years passed, and I met the author  in Kyiv, who signed the book for me. In 1988 for the first time I walked the streets of London – the same ones as Vasili Eroshenko during his 6-month stay in London in 1912. Later I found books by Margaret Lawrence Blaise (1878-1935), pioneer of the Esperanto movement in Britain, in the British Library (her book The Esperanto Manual was very popular and had a few editions). She and her Belgian husband Paul Blaise hosted Eroshenko during his first 10 days in England when he arrived from Moscow by train via many European cities to London Charing Cross. Eroshenko’s  arrival and stay in London were documented in British, Russian and Esperanto papers, as for example in The Daily Herald: “A Blind Russian, a member of a Moscow orchestra, having received six months’ furlough, has come to London, being passed on from town to town by Esperantists, and is engaged in learning English”.

The British Library holds about two dozen books by and about Vasili Eroshenko, published in the former Soviet Union (Serdtse orla, translations into Russian; Belgorod, 1962; 11769p.22 and a biography by Aleksandr Kharkovskii, Chelovek, uvidevshii mir (Moscow, 1978; X.908/85973)), in modern Ukraine (Kazky ta lehendy, translations into Ukranian; Kyiv, 2006; YF.2010.a.26418) and in Russia, as well as in China and Japan, where Eroshenko lived for many years and is very well known.

In Japan the publishing house Japana Esperanto Librokooperativo published a whole series of lovely books of short stories and tales by Eroshenko (written originally in Esperanto or Japanese):  Lumo kaj Ombro (Light and Shade;  1979; YF.2008.a.6621), La tundo  ĝemas. El vivo de  Ĉukĉoj  (The Tundra is Groaning, From the Life of Chukchi; 1980; YF.2007.a.9371), Cikatro de Amo (Love’s Scar; 1996; YF.2007.a.9358); Malvasta kaĝo (Narrow Cage; 1981; YF.2007.a.9374); Stranga kato (A Strange Cat;  1983; YF.2007.a.9372); La kruĉo de la Saĝeco (The Jug of Wisdom; 1995; YF.2008.a.6620) and others (see picture below).   

A selection of editions of Eroshenko's works in different coloured covers, each with a portrait of Eroshenko
An interesting study about  Eroshenko’s tales appeared recently in a book Developmental fairy tales. Evolutionary Thinking and Modern Chinese Culture by Andrew F. Jones (Harvard, 2011; YC.2011.a.7404). In Chapter 5 the author analyses the friendship between the great Chinese writer Lu Xun and Vasili Eroshenko and Eroshenko’s story ‘A Narrow Cage’ (Lu Xun translated Eroshenko’s story from Japanese into Chinese). Eroshenko himself features in Lu Xun's short story 'A Comedy of the Ducks'.

A group of three standing and three seated men, Eroshenko seated centre with Lu Xun to his righr                   Eroshenko with Lu Xun (Lu Sin) in 1922 (A photograph taken in Beijing at the Esperanto Society by Marco Sotgiu)

The oldest book in our collections which mentions Eroshenko dates from 1914 and comes from the pen of a keen helper of blind people, William Phillimore (1844-1934). In  his essay  La Graveco de Esperanto por la Blinduloj (The Importance of Esperanto for Blind; London, 1914; 875.r.6) he tells the story written by Eroshenko himself about his first travels abroad and published in  La Ondo de Esperanto (January 1913) as an example of great use of Esperanto for blind people.

  Cover of 'La Graveco de Esperanto por la Blinduloj'
Cover of La Graveco de Esperanto por la Blinduloj by W.Phillimore.

The memory of Vasili Eroshenko is alive: there is a small museum in his native village Obukhovka in Russia, the Charitable Foundation in Ukraine bears his name, conferences are organised to mark his anniversaries and study his works and ideas (like these virtual conferences in Russia Eroshenko i ego vremia – Eroshenko and his time), and new publications and translations appear regularly in various languages.

Every Esperantist has their own story to tell about “becoming an Esperantist”. I owe my fondness to the language and ideas of Zamenhof to a book about a life of one extraordinary man – Vasili Eroshenko.

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Esperanto Studies


Concise Encyclopaedia of the original Literature in Esperanto 1887-2007. (New York,  2008), pp. 107-113. YC.2008.a.12495

Kerziouk, Olga. Eroŝenko en Anglujo. In: La Brita Esperantisto, Autuno 2010, p. 7-14. ZK.9.a.8223

12 December 2014

From Sanatoria to Skis: Winter Holidays in Switzerland

At this time of year many people are dreaming of – perhaps even planning – a skiing holiday, and Switzerland is a popular destination.  But in the 19th century the idea of holidaying in the snow would have been considered very strange. Back then, if wealthy foreigners spent  the winter in Switzerland, it would almost certainly be because they were ill: the clean, cold, fresh mountain air of the Swiss alps was considered effective in curing various illnesses, especially lung diseases such as tuberculosis.

Book cover showing an icy mountain scene by night
An icy prospect for the sick: Alfred Tucker Wise, The Alpine Winter Cure (London, 1884) 7470.ff.36

The world of the Swiss sanatorium where these patients spent months or even years was most famously captured in Thomas Mann’s novel Der Zauberberg, set in Davos in the years before the First World War. But by the time Mann was writing – and even during the period when his novel takes place – Davos and other Swiss mountain resorts were just as well-known and popular for their winter sports as for their curative properties. 

How did this come about? A recent newspaper article about the Swiss resort of St Moritz described how in 1864 local hotelier Johannes Badrutt lured some English tourists to stay there in winter with an ‘enjoy your holiday or get your money back’ offer. His gamble paid off, and St Moritz soon became a winter playground for the rich of Europe who, when they tired of indoor games, started to pursue outdoor ones, including skiing and tobogganing. Suddenly the snow-covered alps became a world full of sporting possibility.

  Bird's eye view of St Moritz
St Moritz in 1904. Picture by H.J. Burger (1849-1917), reproduced in 100 Jahre Bobsport (Basel, 1990) YA.1992.a.11011

Badrutt and his guests may have been pioneers in St Moritz but they were part of a wider trend at the time. Skiing purely as a sport started in the mid-19th century in Norway, where it already had a long tradition as a practical methods of travelling in snow-bound landscapes. It soon spread to alpine regions elsewhere in Europe, particularly Switzerland (and further afield: one of the earliest ski clubs was founded by Norwegian immigrants in Australia). Skiing in the Alps led to changes in the cross-country skiing familiar in Norway, as the steep slopes encouraged the development of downhill skiing.

Book-covers showing a skier (left) and ski-jumper (right)
Two early 20th-century skiing manuals: H. Hoek & E.C. Richardson, Der Ski und seine sportliche Bentzung (Munich, 1906) YA.1991.a.4184, and Adolf Zarn, Der Skifahrer (Zurich, 1920) 7922.b.6.

Alongside the sport itself a whole literature of skiing grew up. The British Library holds many such works both in English and other languages (though sadly many others were among the books destroyed by bombing in the Second World War). There are guides to the art of skiing, describing equipment and techniques; accounts of the adventures and excursions of skiing pioneers; guidebooks to the best locations for those wanting to follow in their ski-tracks; and histories of the various ski clubs and skiing centres. Skiing even found its way into fiction – although not as memorably as the sanatorium of Mann’s Zauberberg – and by the 1930s works such as Skiløperen by the Norwergian Mikkjel Fønhus (Oslo, 1936; 012584.c.23.) or Schi-Novelle by the German Ludwig Barthel (Jena, 1938; F10/0893) were available for après-ski (or armchair skier) reading.

Book cover showing the head and shoulders of a skier against a mountain landscapeHellmut Lantschner, Die Spur von meinen Ski (Berlin, 1934). X.629/14808.

However, some of the most unexpected accounts of early 20th-century accounts of Swiss skiing turn up in a magazine for wounded British Prisoners of War interned in Switzerland to await repatriation during the First World War. Arnold Lunn, a British skiing pioneer and author of many books on the sport, worked as a volunteer among the internees at Mürren in the Bernese Oberland and led a number of skiing excursions to occupy time and to boost morale and physical fitness. Although the most severely wounded men could not take part, for others, learning to ski and accompanying Lunn to the slopes must have been a form of therapy both physical and mental, a meeting of the two concepts of Switzerland as a place for winter healing and winter sports.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

Cartoon showing skiing learners getting stuck in the snowLearning to ski at Mürren, cartoon from B.I.M. (British Interned Magazine) Vol. 1, no. 10, Xmas 1917. PP. 4039.wup.

10 December 2014

Velimir Khlebnikov – pioneer of trans-sense language

Velimir Khlebnikov is the co-inventor along with his fellow Russian poet Aleksei Kruchenykh of trans-sense or transrational language (zaum). This new approach to poetic language adopted by the Russian Futurists aimed at liberating sound from meaning to create a primeval language of sounds.

Photograph of Velimir KhlebnikovPhotograph of Velimir Khlebnikov from Wikimedia Commons

One of the first examples of Futurist trans-sense poetry is Khlebnikov’s Zakliatie smekhom (‘Incantation by Laughter’). This poem performs its title. It achieves this by using the one word stem, smekh or smeiat’sia (Russian for laughter/to laugh) to which prefixes and suffixes are added to generate new words without any external references or associations, so the poem becomes just the sound of laughter itself. It was first published in Studiia impressionistov (‘Impressionists’ studio’).

Text of Khlebnikov's experimental poem 'Zakliatie smekhom' Zakliatie smekhom by Velimir Khlebnikov in Studiia impressionistov, ed. N. Kul’bin (St Petersburg, 1910), p.47. British Library C.104.i.14.

Here is part of it in transliteration so that you can see the almost musical patterns that are formed:

O, razsmeites’, smekhachi! / O, zasmeites’ smekhachi!
Chto smeiutsia smekhami, chto smeianstvuiut smeial’no,
O, zasmeites’ usmeial’no!
O razsmeshishch nadsmeial’nykh – smekh usmeinykh smekhachei!
O izsmeisia razsmeial’no smekh nadsmeinykh smeiachei! etc.

Amongst the Russian Futurist artists’ books that celebrate their centenary this year are Te li le and Igra v adu, both jointly written by Khlebnikov and Kruchenykh. The second half of the handmade lithographed Te li le is devoted to the poetry of Khlebnikov with drawings by Olga Rozanova and Nikolai Kulbin.

Title page of Khlebnikov’s section of 'Te li le' with an abstract design in black and pale blueTitle page of Khlebnikov’s section of Te li le (St. Petersburg, 1914).

In Khlebnikov’s section appears the seminal poem ‘Bobeobi pelis’ guby’ (The lips sang red). Khlebnikov shows in this poem how he not only wanted to give the roots of words new emotional meanings (‘the word as such’) but also wanted to extend this and assign independent meanings to syllables and letters (‘the letter as such’).  For example the first word ‘Bobeobi’ consists of several “b”s linked by vowels to make it pronounceable. As Khlebnikov associated the letter “b” with the colour red (perhaps because of the b in guby = lips), the word bobeobi is used to mean red in this sentence (not the normal Russian word for red).  This kind of synaesthesia where colour is represented in terms of sound is reminiscent of the poetry of French symbolists such as Rimbaud who also assigned colours to letters (notably in his poem Voyelles).  

Text of 'Bobeobi' written in purple and yellowThe poem Bobeobi by Khlebnikov as it appears in Te li le.

Another important Russian artists’ book published on the eve of the First World War 1 in 1914 was Igra v adu (‘A game in hell’). The text of this lithographed book which depicts a game between devils and sinners in hell, was begun by Kruchenykh and finished by Khlebnikov. This work recreates the unity of words and image found in medieval manuscripts often written and transcribed by different people at different times.

Cover of 'Igra v adu' with an illustration of a stylised devil Cover of Igra v adu designed by K. Malevich (2nd ed., St Petersburg, 1914). Cup.406.g.2.

In attempting to create a universal language of sounds Khlebnikov did not confine himself to experimentation with Russian. He arranged his zaum languages into various types of made up language, as for example, the language of the gods (this includes non-Russian words such as ‘gamch’ and ‘gemch’ spoken by Eros) or of the birds (mostly onomatopoeic words) which he used in his play Zangezi (‘Beyond the Ganges’, Moscow, 1922; C.114.n.42). Khlebnikov was also interested in creating new alphabets; this is reflected in the cover of Zangezi by Petr Miturich which consists of flowering loops like the patterns of letters in Khlebnikov’s astral alphabet.

Cover of 'Ladomir' with an abstract design in blue and red Cover of Velimir Khlebnikov, Ladomir (Kharkov, 1920). C.114.n.47

Another interesting late work by Khlebnikov is Ladomir. The designer of the striking cover of this book is not named but it has been attributed to Vasyl Yermilov. The copy held by the British Library (C.114.n.47) also has a dedication in Khlebnikov’s handwriting to a person called Sergei.

Peter Hellyer, Curator Russian Studies

Books with texts by V. Khlebnikov and A. Kruchenykh held by the British Library:

Bukh lesinnyi. [‘Forestly rapid’] (St Petersburg, 1913). [22] leaves. Lithographed text, handwritten by O. Rozanova. Lithographed cover and 5 lithographs by O. Rozanova. Includes lithographed portrait of A. Kruchenykh by N. Kul'bin.  Includes a few poems by Khlebnikov.

Igra v adu: poema. [‘Game in hell: a poem’] 1st edition (Moscow, 1912), 14 leaves. Drawings by N. Goncharova.

Igra v adu. 2nd enlarged ed. (St Petersburg, 1914). [40] leaves. Lithographed text, handwritten by O. Rozanova. Cover and 3 lithographs by K. Malevich and 22 lithographs by O. Rozanova. Cup.406.g.2. and

Mirskontsa. [‘Worldbackwards’] (Moscow: 1912.) [41] leaves.  Lithographed text, handwritten by M. Larionov, A. Kruchenykh and others. Illustrated by N. Goncharova, M. Larionov, V. Tatlin and N. Rogovin. Cover of each copy has a unique collage by N. Goncharova. Six poems each by Khlebnikov  and Kruchenykh.

Slovo kak takovoe. [‘Word as such’]( [Moscow, 1913]) 15p. Cover illustration by K. Malevich and one illustration by O. Rozanova. Futurist Manifesto on trans-sense language written by Kruchenykh and Khlebnikov.

Te li le  (St Petersburg, 1914). [14] leaves. Reproduced by colour hectography []. Text handwritten by O. Rozanova and N. Kul'bin. Illustrated by O. Rozanova and N. Kul'bin. Cover by O. Rozanova.  Four poems each by Khlebnikov  and Kruchenykh

Books by Velimir Khlebnikov held by the British Library:

Izbornik stikhov s poslesloviem recharia, 1907-1914 gg. [‘Selected poems with an afterword by a wordsmith, 1907-1914] (St Petersburg, 1914). 48p. Ilustrated by P. Filonov, K. Malevich and Nad. Burliuk.

Ladomir. (Kharkov, 1920). 30p. Lithographed handwritten text. Cover designer is not named. Dedication in V. Khlebnikov's handwriting. C.114.n.47.

Neizdannyi Khlebnikov. [‘Unpublished Khlebnikov’] Ed. by A. Kruchennykh. (Moscow, 1928-33).

Noch' v okope. [‘Night in the trench’] (Moscow, 1921). Printed poem occupies 11 unpaginated leaves. X.909/5086.

Otryvok iz dosok sud'by. [Fragment from the boards of destiny] (Moscow, 1922). 1 poem. Cup.408.i.28.

RIAV! Perchatki, 1908-1914 gg. [Roar! Gauntlets, 1908-1914] (Moscow, 1914.) 29p. Poetry and prose. Illustrated by K. Malevich and D. Burliuk. BL copy lacks the cover which bears the title.

Zangezi. (Moscow, 1922). 35p. Cover by P. Miturich. C.114.n.42.

Zapisnaia knizhka… [‘Notebook’]. Collected and annotated by A. Kruchennykh. (Moscow, 1925). C.114.l.

Useful Sources:

Compton, Susan P. The world backwards: Russian futurist books, 1912-1916. (London, 1978). X.981/21715

Hellyer, Peter W.  A  catalogue of Russian avant-garde books 1912-1934 and 1969-2003. London, British Library, 2006.

Janecek, Gerald. The look of Russian literature: avant-garde visual experiments, 1990-1930. (Princeton, 1984). X.955/3162

Markov, Vladimir. Russian futurism: a history. (London, 1969). X.981/1801

The Russian avant-garde book, 1910-1934. By Margit Rowell and Deborah Wye… New York, 2002. LC.31.a.179 and m02/26181

08 December 2014

‘Say “Dracula” and you smile. Say “Nosferatu” and you’ve eaten a lemon’

Introducing the Germanness of all things Gothic in an earlier post, Susan Reed draws the borderline between the South – ‘fine art, classical civilisation and the Renaissance’ - and the gothic North, concluding that ‘it’s harder to be gothic under a blue and sunny sky.’ This separation has a lot to do with meteorological, agricultural and gastronomical particularities – the vines simply stop growing by the time you get to the North.

What this means for Northern life and its artistic and cultural responses is something quite different to the restrained pietism and often ideal imagined worlds of classicism. As Jonathan Meades has it, in his 2008 documentary Magnetic North, ‘The North is the unpromised land of darkness, the gothic in all its forms, the thrilling grimness, exhilarating harshness, inky canals, fog, glistening cobbles – of buildings which respond to vast lands and skies with spires.’ One needs only to compare, for instance, the Isenheim Altarpiece (Matthias Grünewald 1512-1516) to a Raphael alternative – take Crucifixion with the Virgin, Saints and Angels. The German representation of the crucifixion is plague-ridden, screaming pain, whereas the Italian version shows an almost peaceful death. The hostile conditions of the Northern world are, therefore, tangibly transmitted into its art forms, which seek to escape the same world through a fantastical imagination always already informed by everyday horror.

The Gothic Exhibition is tinged with, if not haunted by, this hostile northernness (and its particular German variety). Once you navigate around the black spaces of the exhibition, brushing past black diaphanous dividing curtains, you reach the Dracula room, separated off in a dark corner, to be greeted by the black and white of a film projection – F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922). Murnau’s film is self-consciously based on Stoker’s Dracula and yet critics argue that, had Murnau not admitted his source, the works differ so much that it might have been easy to forget the connection (Mayne). Anders Larsson – firmly in the pro-Nosferatu camp – understands Stoker’s Dracula as ‘sophisticated, culturally aware, aristocratic, and seductive’ even engaging in ‘banter, seduction, small talk.’ In other words, Dracula is decidedly a human type, an intelligent, attractive one at that.

Cover of a 1901 edition of 'Dracula' with a picture of Count Dracula crawling down the wall of his castle
Dracula, from the first illustrated edition of Bram Stoker's novel (London, 1901) C.194.a.862

A quick glance at the list of actors in the English-speaking role only confirms this Anglo-American conception of the monster: Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman, and Luke Evans (who is in this year’s Dracula Untold). Nosferatu, or Count Orlok, as he is known, is rather ‘repulsive in every way’ and certainly ‘not a sexy vampire’. Bald-headed, grotesquely exaggerated facial features, ever-lengthening fingernails, Orlok is (deliberately) rodent-like, far from conventional notions of beauty, yet perhaps far closer than Dracula to a shared concept of monstrosity. The difference is best articulated in the words of the film critic Roger Ebert: ‘Say “Dracula” and you smile. Say “Nosferatu” and you've eaten a lemon.’

Nosferatu (played by Max Schreck) standing in his castle gateway, from the 1922 film
Max Schreck as Count Orlok in Nosferatu (1922)

Countering the critical idea that Nosferatu is somehow Dracula avant la lettre, Saviour Catania attempts to show the already extant German romanticism and mysticism in Stoker’s work itself. The story is then Germanized both before and after the fact. Stoker has the vampire say, ‘I love the dark and shadow’, which Catania sees as a German romantic obsession with the ‘shadowy self, fragmenting into a more insubstantial parallel realm.’ If the story is indeed a play of dark and shadow, we begin to see the reasons for Nosferatu’s appeal, as film itself, in its earliest, silent, monochromatic form, is already a vampyric medium – a play of light and dark. In the scratchy, sketchy imprint of the remaining copies of Murnau’s film, the modern viewer is disturbed by default. Blackness engulfs the frame. Orlok becomes shadow, always hiding in them, rarely appearing in close-up, and Catania understands Murnau’s achievement as precisely the ‘ingenious ways of incarnating in visual images Stoker’s verbal descriptions of what is visible but incorporeal.’

Like the gruesome artworks of Grünewald, Bosch and northern Gothic in general, Nosferatu is inventive, fantastical and self-reflexive; it draws attention to its artifice, showing that both the horror and its representations are all the work of man, confining the horror to the ever-alienating and deadly potential of our world. We cannot escape. Shadow encroaches onto the edges of the film and re-asserts our uncertainty and the very real fears of the viewers’ worlds.

Florence Stoker, the wife of the author, immediately sought legal action after the appearance of Murnau’s film. A long drawn-out battle eventually saw the court order the destruction of all copies of the film. Living up to its name, Nosferatu (Romanian for ‘un-dead’), could not be destroyed and the film re-surfaced two years later. The film continues to haunt the legacy of Dracula as well as the Dracula room in the Gothic exhibition. We may even read the strong presence of (black and white) film in the exhibition, with its flickering play of projected light (and dark), as a nod to the ‘death-mask’ (André Bazin, in Catania) that is cinema itself, and the intangible shadowiness of our underlying horrors. However we understand the Dracula story and in whichever German, English, literary, or filmic mode, the vampire is here to stay, forever haunting the imagination. We can join Jonathon Meades in concluding, the Gothic ‘never went away, it never will.’

Pardaad Chamsaz, Collaborative PhD Student

References/Further Reading

F. W. Murnau, Nosferatu. Eine Symphonie des Grauens.  Sound collections 1DVD0006027

Henrik Galeen, ‘Nosferatu. eine Symphonie des Grauens: Scenario adapted from Bram Stoker's Dracula’ in Masterworks of the German cinema. Introduction by Dr. Roger Manvell (London, [1973].). X.989/24324.

Jackson, Kevin, Nosferatu : eine Symphonie des Grauens  (London, 2013.) YC.2014.a.7043

Thomas Elsaesser, ‘Six degrees of Nosferatu’,

Wayne E. Hensley, ‘The contribution of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu to the evolution of Dracula’. Literature Film Quarterly, 30 (1), 2002, pp. 59-64. 5276.721100

Judith Mayne, ‘Dracula in the Twilight: Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922)’, in German Film and Literature, (New York; London, 1986). YC.1986.b.2491

Roger Ebert, ‘Nosferatu’,

Anders Larsson, ‘Nosferatu as 20th century German zeitgeist’,

Saviour Catania, ‘Absent Presences in Liminal Places’, Literature Film Quarterly, 32 (3), 2004, pp. 229-236.

Jonathan Meades, Magnetic North, (BBC4, 2008). (available online at: