European studies blog

13 posts from June 2015

30 June 2015

Never use your employer’s printing office for your own writings

The Treaty of Amiens which ended the war between Britain, France, The Batavian Republic and Spain, prompted the Dutch to attempt to reclaim, amongst others, the Cape Colony in Southern Africa.

A former possession of the Dutch East India Company,  it had been taken by the British in 1795. The government of the Batavian Republic sent Commissioner General J. A. de Mist as head of a  new administration to rule the Cape according to the principles of the French revolution: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity!

One of the officials was a young nobleman from Ommen in the province of Overijssel  Andries van Pallandt van Eerde, whose father had lost his privileges in the new Batavian Republic.

AvPallportraitAndries van Pallandt pictured on the cover of Siem van Eeten,   Andries van Pallandt van Eerde, belevenissen van een 19e-eeuwse klokkenluider (Zutphen, 2015) YF.2015.a.11274

Upon arrival in the Cape, Andries was appointed private secretary to the Governor. He started his work full of enthusiasm, quickly establishing good relations with the English, among them probably John Barrow, the author of Travels into the Interior of South Africa. Barrow had a Dutch wife.

View of Cape Town from John Barrow, Travels into the Interior of South Africa (London, 1806) 10094.g.10.

Andries soon realized that the reality on the ground differed from the ideas of the Dutch policy makers and concluded that the Colony would never be self-supporting. What’s more, it would be extremely difficult to defend the Cape against the British enemy with the small number of Dutch troops, without support from indigenous people. However, the Dutch colonists, the Afrikaners, had treated the local tribes so badly, that they were considered more likely to support the English who treated them far better.  

Van Pallandt found it impossible to discuss his ideas with his superiors, so in 1803 he wrote a pamphlet, entitled Remarques générales sur le Cap de Bonne Espérance (English translation General remarks on the Cape of Good Hope; Cape Town, 1917;  09061.ff.55; picture below)  He had the pamphlet printed in the Government’s printing-office at his own expense, to be sent to the Netherlands in order to trigger a debate.

When De Mist found out about the pamphlet he was furious. He ordered an investigation by the Attorney General, Beelaerts van Blokland. To avoid a public shaming, which would mean the end of his career, Van Pallandt signed a confession and was found guilty of using the Government’s printing office without permission. All printed copies of the pamphlet were confiscated, apart from the three he had already sent to important people in the Republic.

Disappointed, Van Pallandt returned home. In the meantime, war had resumed between Britain and the Batavian Republic and on 1 January 1804 his ship was taken by a Guernsey privateer.  Andries was held captive on Guernsey for several months. There he wrote a journal about his adventures, which has now been translated from French into Dutch  as  Andries van Pallandt van Eerde, belevenissen van een 19e-eeuwse klokkenluider; a launch event for the book was held in the Castle of Eerde (Netherlands), the former home of the Van Pallandt family, on 29 April 2015, and the book is available for  consultation in the British Library.

Siem van Eeten, independent researcher.

References and further reading:

A. van Pallandt’s diary of his time on Guernsey:  Free online resource

Interrogation of Andries van Pallandt at St. Peters Port, Guernsey on 17 January 1804.
Free online resource

Eeten, S. van, ‘A captured Dutch nobleman in Guernsey: a chance discovery’, In: Report and transactions / Société Guernesiaise, Vol XXVII (2013) , Part III. DSC7638.242000.

26 June 2015

The people’s Book Fair: a personal view

There are two major book fairs in Spain annually. One (LIBER) takes place in the autumn, in Madrid or Barcelona alternately, and is aimed at professionals in the book trade world-wide.  The other caters for the general public and since 1933 has been held over in late May/early June and in recent years in the Buen Retiro park in Madrid.  This year it ran from May 29 to June 14. As many as 368 booths were hired by national publishers and bookshops and, as ever, there was great competition to secure those with most shade – and thus maximum possible sales – as the sun generally blazes down until early evening.  The books on display cover many genres and most subjects: comics, children’s books, maps and guides, literature, art books, expensive facsimiles, academic and even official publications. Unlike at LIBER, the books are readily on sale.

FeriaRetiro2Visitors browsing at the Retiro Book Fair (Photograph: Geoff West)

Arguably, the most notable feature of the Retiro Fair is the opportunity to have your book signed by one of your favourite writers. This year’s authors included the novelists Javier Cercas, Luis Goytisolo, Almudena Grandes and Arturo Pérez Reverte; the Swedish crime writer, Camila Läckberg; the polemical right-wing historian Pío Moa; and the lawyer and new Mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena. Other politicians were signing this year, particularly members of the various new parties.  A more familiar face to me was that of another novelist, Juan Pedro Aparicio, former Director of the Instituto Cervantes in London, who has just published an ironic and distinctly fantastical look at the English in a series of interlinked microfictions, London Calling.

There is also the opportunity to attend events similar to those at literary festivals.  This year, three ‘big names’, Elvira Lindo, Luis Landero and Javier Marías spoke about the three Ages of Reading (one’s first books; books for young people and books for adults).  There were homages paid to two famous authors who had recently died, Carmen Martín Gaite and Ana María Matute. There was space too for the less famous and for participation: opportunities for new writers; storytelling for children; a young poet who would write a poem for you to order; a wall where you could pin a microrelato (‘brief encounters’ seemed a popular theme) and compete for a prize.  

Feria-del-libro-2015      The official poster for the 2015 Feria by Fernando Vicente, expressing the love of books and reading

The Feria is a very important cultural event – opened this year as in other years by Queen Sofía – for booksellers who boost their sales, the public whose appetite for books and reading is hopefully renewed, and for children who find more than enough to entertain them. By books, I do mean those on paper – the e-book is still conspicuous by its absence from the Feria.  

So what then is in it for the librarian from overseas?  I for one have made useful discoveries: the highly imaginative graphic re-working of Don Quixote by the German artist Flix, works of up-and-coming Spanish writers, new editions of classic works that are new editions.  As an employee of a major research library some publishers have generously donated books with a view to their output being better known, or with a view to future sales!  I have also been made aware of just what a small proportion of Spain’s total published output would come within our scope even with the most generous budget, but also how selective we are forced to be when budgets are as hard-pressed as they are now. There is nothing like actually having  a book in your hand before making the decision whether to buy.  So long may the Feria continue.

Geoff West, Former Curator Hispanic Studies

24 June 2015

Back to Belsen: Using the British Library’s Newspaper Collections

The British Library’s online and microfilm newspaper collections are an invaluable resource for the cultural historian. In a year of significant anniversaries related to the Second World War – from the liberation of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps to the rescue of 338,000 Allied troops from Dunkirk and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – these archives can provide an indirect glimpse of events as they unfolded.

Submerged in the mythological narratives, hackneyed rhetoric and clichéd images that have accumulated in the intervening decades, we are in danger of losing touch with the reality of these events. The reports, photographs and readers’ letters found in the newspapers can enable us to reconnect with that reality through the words of those who were living through it.

The liberation of Bergen-Belsen by British troops in April 1945 was one of the most momentous events of the war’s final months. Using online, word-searchable archives of the Daily Express and Daily Mirror alongside microfilm archives of the Evening Standard, three of the most widely read newspapers in 1940s Britain and all available to access in British Library reading rooms, I’ll take a closer look at reaction to this shocking event.

On 19th April 1945, the Daily Express printed some of the earliest photographs taken at Belsen after its liberation. These were evidence, the paper asserted, ‘of the vileness of the creatures we are fighting’ and of ‘the depths of sadistic brutality to which the German has reverted’. In other words, the unexpected and horrific revelations were taken as proof that anti-German wartime propaganda was rooted in truth, that Germany was a nation of barbarians.

Readers’ letters published in the Daily Mirror and the Evening Standard a few days later echoed these sentiments. ‘The evidence of the German maniacal guilt is for all the world to see’, wrote one, while another claimed, ‘The only decent German is a dead German’, echoing a popular wartime phrase. A Mirror reader suggested conducted tours of the camps for anyone who thinks ‘there are still any good Germans. Perhaps then they would change their minds’.

Sign erected by British forces at the gates of Bergen-Belsen after the liberation (Photograph BU 6995 from the Collections of the Imperial War Museum, via Wikimedia Commons)

Such reactions are perhaps unsurprising after six years of total war and a vigorous Ministry of Information propaganda campaign designed to arouse hostility among Britons towards the whole German nation, not just the Nazi elite.

What is more unexpected is the number of obstinately liberal voices that made themselves heard in the midst of a conservative clamour. The Very Rev. W. R. Inge, previously Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, argued in the Evening Standard against the wholesale denunciation of Germany. Germany is ‘a nation of decent people’, he claimed, and we must attempt to understand how they came to ‘acquiesce in these atrocities’. Others, such as cartoonist David Low, emphasised the number of German nationals imprisoned and killed in the camps, while a reader in south-west London demanded the end of ‘the nonsensical generalisation, so dangerous for the future peace of Europe, that Gestapo, Nazis and Germans mean all the same thing.’

‘Don’t forget some of us are Germans’: Cartoon by David Low, Evening Standard 19 May 1945 (© Solo Syndication, image from British Cartoon Archive. Reproduced with kind permission)

These brief examples offer a glimpse of the fascinating and diverse public debate in Britain in the days surrounding the liberation of Belsen. With the resources available at the British Library, we can push the clutter of history aside and return, through the words of journalists and readers, to this and thousands of other momentous events across the world and throughout history.

Judith Vonberg

Judith Vonberg is a PhD student in Cultural History and freelance journalist. You can read and follow her own blog here:

22 June 2015

John Wardell, a British Engineer in the Russian Revolution

According to John McKay in his book Pioneers for Profit (Chicago & London, 1970; British Library X.529/11627), one of the most striking aspects of Russia’s economic development in the decades before the First World War was the emphasis on direct foreign investment to fuel industrial modernization. In the years leading up to the outbreak of war the growth of heavy industries drew much British capital and personnel to the country.

Map of Russian MinesA map of mining concessions worked by British companies in 1916 Siberia, from Russian Mines; Covering Mining Concessions Worked by British Companies in Siberia  (London, 1916) British Library 07106.g.12.

John Wilford Wardell, a draughtsman from County Durham who ‘studied non-ferrous metallurgy in [his] spare time’, was one of these, taking a job for the Spassky Copper Mine Ltd  in 1913 and reaching its works in Siberia on 2 June 1914, his 25th birthday. As he later recollected in his memoir In the Kirghiz Steppes:

By good fortune or otherwise, my sojourn in southern Siberia coincided with one of the most critical periods in Russian history, when peace and war, revolution and counter-revolution passed in succession to that chaos from which a new Russia – since grown very powerful – ultimately emerged.

John Wardell         John Wardell in 1920, from In the Kirghiz Steppes (London, 1961)

The Spassky Copper Mine in Siberia was established by the New Zealand-born Englishman E. Nelson Fell and his older brother Arthur Fell (later Sir) in 1903. It  was situated in West Siberia on the Steppes, reached at that time by travelling first to the end of the Trans-Siberian Railway, then by horse and cart some 650 miles.

As he describes it, Spassk in 1914 (nowadays in Karaganda region of Kazakhstan) had a population of around 3,000, with 1,500 Kazakhs and Kirghiz, and 300 Russians employed by the company, managed by 18 Britons including himself. The Russian Revolution reached them gradually, and Wardell recalls the formation of workmen’s and peasants’ committees (Soviets) in June of 1917. By the end of the year the workers enjoyed an eight-hour day, a six-day week, and a 200 per cent rise in wages – and through the Soviets were increasingly controlling the day-to-day management of the mines.

Spassky Workers
 Workers at Spassky (from In the Kirghiz Steppes).

Despite banishing the ‘counter-revolutionary’ elements, the revolutionary workers were still fond of the British and left them unmolested, even giving them an equal share of the expropriated stores of vodka – nine pints to every male, making management of the copper works somewhat more difficult for a few days at least. When the Bolsheviks nationalized the works in spring of 1918, Wardell remembered it as ‘an enforced holiday’.

Their attempt to return home was more fitting for a time of such historical significance, as the province became a front in the civil war. While in Petropavlovsk (Kazakh – Petropavl) in May, the British woke to find White Guards rounding up the Bolsheviks who had controlled the town. Cossacks managed also to arrest and remove the Soviets in Spassk, and the company returned to take up the management of the de-nationalized copper works in October of 1918, dodging an outbreak of Spanish influenza on the way.

By now, all of the previous friendliness towards the British had disappeared:

The workers, although subdued and tractable, were sullen, and they longed for the return of Bolshevism; they were a changed people in many respects and they looked upon the Company, as represented by the British staff, as largely responsible for the collapse of their short-lived freedom.

As Wardell wrote, ‘the malcontent Russians’ spoke darkly of ‘what they would do to the British when the Reds came back to power’. Nevertheless, he remained at Spassk through the civil war for another 10 months, until advised to evacuate by the British Consul to avoid a Red advance, finally returning to Britain in November of 1919. He finally wrote and published his memoir of the period, alongside a short companion booklet about Russian history, The Russian Revolution, Its Causes and Effects (X.708/474.), in 1961.

Mike Carey, CDA Student


Peter Gatrell, ‘Industrial Expansion in Tsarist Russia, 1908-14’, The Economic History Review 35, 1 (Feb., 1982), 99-110.

Augustus Norman Jackman, Russian Mines; Covering Mining Concessions Worked by British Companies in Siberia (London, 1916). 07106.g.12.

E. Nelson Fell, Russian and nomad; tales of the Kirghiz Steppes (London, Duckworth, 1916) [Digital copy via Hathi Trust].

Melanie Ilič, ‘Preface: The diary and letters of Nelson Fell’, Revolutionary Russia, 12, 1 (1999), 115-56.

19 June 2015

Lisbon, 20 June 1647: assassination of king of Portugal foiled by miracle

John, Duke of Bragança, came to the throne of Portugal in 1640, putting an end to sixty years of Spanish rule under Philips II through IV, the ‘dominação filipina’.  Alongside his political life, he was also a composer and musicologist.

Luso-Hispanic relations remained tense for a good while, and when an attempt was made on the King’s life in 1647, Father Francisco Brandão had no doubt who the culprits were: Castile.  

The opportunity was the King’s attendance at the Corpus Christi procession at Lisbon cathedral on 20 June 1647.  The culprit, Domingos Leite Pereira, “unworthy of having been born in the noble and loyal town of Guimarães”, set out for the capital armed with a musket (“espingarda”) with twelve bullets and two phials of poison to make the shots even more deadly.  He set himself up in a good position to fire, and had two horses ready for his escape.  But at the sight of the pious monarch, he was overcome with “a happy stupor”, threw down his weapon and escaped.

Espingarda 1420.c.3 The potential murder weapon, from Cesar Fiosconi and Jordam Guserio, Espingarda perfeyta e regras para a sua operaçam (Lisbon, 1718). British Library 1420.c.3.

Brandão’s account has been digitised by the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal.

The British Library has just acquired another pamphlet on the assassination attempt, a self-styled Mercurius gratulatorius (celebratory newsheet):

RB23a36385Lucas Velloso, Pro Ioanne IV rege serenissimo Portucalensium: quem proditor auro corruptus occidendum suscepit in communi pompa celebritatis Eucharisticae … (Lisbon, 1647).  RB.23.a.36385.

Velloso is not narrative but elegiac: though he gives the detail that the traitor was corrupted by gold (“proditor auro corruptus”) he does not name him or give the date of his attempted crime.  He describes the criminal as being not happily stupefied but terrified, either by the majesty of God apparent in the king, or by the king’s majesty itself.  Brandão in contrast describes in great detail  the route of the Corpus procession through the streets of Lisbon.  If challenged, Velloso would doubtless have quoted Aristotle: “poetry is more philosophical and more elevated than history, since poetry states more universal things whereas history states particular things” (Poetics IX).

This is a rather modern concept of the miraculous: a sudden change of heart is a more subtle miracle than the speaking babies and reattached limbs of medieval tradition.

Stop press: while working on this post I discovered that the BL has another pamphlet on this topic:

Antonio de Sousa de Macedo. Panegyrico sobre o milagroso sucesso, con que Deos livrou a el Rey nosso senhor da sacrilega treiçaõ dos Castelhanos ([Lisbon?, 1647]) 1444.g.4.(3.)

Previously wrongly dated to 1642 in our catalogue, it has now been corrected to 1647.

Macedo is light on facts but knows his Scripture: he ranks the miracle of the king’s deliverance with the sacrifice of Isaac, David’s victory over Goliath and the conversion of Saul to St Paul.  

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

17 June 2015

Waterloo’s Prussian Hero: Blücher and the British

In the summer of 1814, with Napoleon defeated and exiled to Elba, Britons were eagerly welcoming a military hero of the campaign against the French to their shores. It was not (or not only) Wellington’s  name that they shouted in the streets, but that of ‘Old Blucher’, the 71-year-old Prussian Field Marshal who had led the victorious allies into Paris and done so much to secure their victory.

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (his British admirers seldom wrote and probably never pronounced the umlaut) had enjoyed a long and successful military career, despite over a decade of enforced retirement after he got on the wrong side of Frederick the Great. During the Napoleonic Wars he led Prussian troops with mixed success but great courage, and was instrumental in what was believed to be Napoleon’s final defeat in 1814.

Caricature showing Blücher beating Napoleon‘Old Blucher beating the Corsican Big Drum’, 1814 Caricature by George Cruikshank celebrating Blücher’s role in defeating Napoleon. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

It was following this triumph that Blücher visited Britain with other allied leaders and commanders. A trawl through the British Newspaper Archive confirms that he was the most enthusiastically fêted of the visitors, drawing crowds wherever he went. A satirical poem, ‘Blucher and the British Ladies’, in the Morning Chronicle of 23 June 1814 claimed that he could barely go outside without being mobbed by female admirers. Ladies could also show their admiration by wearing the ‘Blucher bonnet and spencer’ and ‘Blucher boots and slippers’, or by dancing to a ‘Blucher Waltz’. Indeed Blücher’s name became attached to many things, including George Stephenson’s first steam locomotive and a racehorse which won the 1814 Derby - while the Field Marshal himself looked on.

Blücher being carried on the shoulders of a crowd in LondonBlücher celebrated by British admirers, reproduced in Tom Crepon, Leberecht von Blücher : Leben und Kämpfe (Berlin, 1988) YA.1991.a.19653.

Blücher had hoped to retire to his Silesian estates after the triumphs of 1814, but he was recalled following Napoleon’s return from Elba in March 1815. Despite defeat and injury at the Battle of Ligny on 16 June 1815, he went on to lead his forces to Waterloo two days later. The Prussians’ arrival was decisive in securing the allied victory, and when Wellington and Blücher met late in the evening they saluted each other as victors.

Wellington and Blücher shaking hands as they meet on the battlefieldMeeting of Wellington and Blücher, from The Wars of Wellington, a narrative poem. (London, 1819) 838.m.7

Following Waterloo, Blücher at last retired for good. He did not visit Britain again, but he was still  celebrated by the British as the joint victor of Waterloo: in a travelling display of Madame Tussaud’s waxworks he was even placed alongside the national heroes of the Napoleonic wars, Nelson and Wellington. However, as the 19th century progressed, popular British accounts of Waterloo began to play down the role of the Prussians and attribute the victory solely or primarily to Wellington. Today Blücher’s name is little known among the general British public, and some might be surprised – perhaps even indignant – to learn that Wellington and his forces needed German assistance to win the day. 

However, Wellington himself seemed in no doubt at the time. In his official dispatch of 19 June 1815 he wrote, “I shall not do justice to my feelings or to Marshal Blücher and the Prussian army, if I do not attribute the successful result of this arduous day, to the cordial and timely assistance I received from them.”

Perhaps this year’s Waterloo anniversary will remind the British public of Blücher again, and win him back some of the respect he enjoyed here in 1814 and 1815.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

15 June 2015

Pasolini and St Paul

Roger Fry, the Bloomsbury art critic, thought that Caravaggio would make a superb “cinema impresario”. With his dramatic use of light and dark, the Italian painter pretty well invented cinematic lighting. His great altarpiece of 1601, The Conversion of St Paul, glowed with such a photographic sharpness that contemporaries suspected some trick.In a revolutionary re-telling of the scriptures, Paul lies prone beneath his horse on a dirt road to Damascus, his arms outstretched in proto-filmic shafts of light. There are no heavenly visions in Caravaggio, only humans on the long, grubby pilgrimage of life.

Pasolini 1 Caravaggio
Caravaggio ‘The Conversion on the Way to Damascus’, 1600-01.  Rome, Santa Maria del Popolo (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Much has been made of Caravaggio’s influence on the fierce pauperist Catholicism of Pier Paolo Pasolini. At the end of his film Mamma Roma (1962), staring Anna Magnani, the working-class hero lies dying on a prison bed like a sanctified Jesus, a stark image that also refers to Mantegna’s Dead Christ. The implied blasphemy of Caravaggio’s low-life Christs and Virgin Marys thrilled the iconoclast in the Italian film-maker, whose miserable death was somehow foretold in his own work.

On the morning of 2 November 1975, in slumlands outside Rome, Pasolini was found beaten beyond recognition and run over by his Alfa Romeo Giulia. A 17-year-old rent boy was charged with the killing – a homosexual tryst gone murderously wrong. Or was Pasolini the victim of a political hit? His presumed killer turned out to be affiliated to Italy’s neo-fascist party; the verdict is still open. Pasolini was 53.

Pasolini 2 la rabbia
Pier Paolo Pasolini, from La Rabbia. (Photograph by Mario Dondero, ©1963. With the kind assistance of the Ccentro Studi Pier Paolo Pasolini di Casarsa delle Delizie, Pordenone)

Saint Paul, published posthumously in 1977 and presented for the first time in English in 2014 (translated by Elizabeth A. Castelli, British Library. YC.2015.a.592), is Pasolini’s screenplay for the life of the apostle Paul. Drafted in 1966 and re-written subsequently, it was intended to form a sequel to his film The Gospel According to Matthew (1964), shot in the lunar landscape of Italy’s remote Basilicata region. The screenplay, with its New Testament voiceover, typically mingles an intellectual Leftism with a Franciscan Catholicism: blessed are the poor, for they are exempt from the unholy Trinity of materialism, money and property. The film was never made for lack of funds.

Pasolini’s solidarity with the Italian poor was at heart romantic. La Ricotta, his 35-minute episode in the collaborative movie RoGoPag (1963), features Orson Welles as an American director shooting a film in Rome about the Passion of Christ. Stracci (“Rags”), the sub-proletarian actor who plays the part of the good thief, dies on set from a case of real-life starvation. For all its manifest compassion, the film led to a suspended prison sentence for Pasolini on blasphemy charges. Over a tableau vivant inspired by Rosso Fiorentino’s painting of the Deposition Welles cries out sacrilegiously: “Get those crucified bastards out of here!” 

The deposition tableau from Pasolini’s La Ricotta (left) and Rosso Fiorentino’s painting (right).

Like La Ricotta, Saint Paul champions those who have been disinherited by capitalism and the “scourge of money”. The consumerist “miracle” of 1960s Italy had undermined the semi-rural peasant values of l’Italietta (Italy’s little homelands), Pasolini believed. In his retelling of the Bible, St Paul stands as a bulwark against the “corruption” brought to Italy by the trappings of American-style consumerism.

Nevertheless, as a Pharisee and former persecutor of Christianity, Paul was an ambivalent figure for Pasolini. After his conversion Paul took his mission round the world and became the founding father of the Christian Church in Rome with its hierarchy of prelates and pontiffs. In some measure, then, Paul lay behind the Catholic church that Pasolini had come to know in 1960s Rome, with its Mafia-infiltrated Christian Democrat Party and pursuit of power and political favours. In the screenplay, Paul is by turns arrogant and slyly watchful of his mission.

The saint’s story is updated, cleverly, to the 20th century. Cohorts of SS and Vichy French military collaborationists  stand in for the Pharisees of the first-century Mediterranean. With a fanatic’s heart, Paul oversees the killing and mass deportation of Christians. The action then fast-forwards to 1960s New York, where the post-Damascus Paul is preaching to Greenwich Village “beats”, “hippies”, “blacks” and other outcasts from conformist America. His attempts to overturn capitalist values in Lyndon Johnson-era America are met with hostility by FBI operatives and White House flunkies. In the end he is murdered on the same hotel balcony where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. Pasolini’s approximation of the apostle of black liberation to the apostle of Orthodox Christianity just about works.

Though fascinating, Saint Paul is not the “literary work of the first magnitude” that the French philosopher Alain Badiou would have in his foreword to the screenplay. (Rather, it reads like a preliminary sketch for something to be coloured in later.) Inevitably one scans the screenplay for clues to Pasolini’s murder. The novelist Italo Calvino believed that Pasolini was killed from a “D’Annunzian”  hankering after redemption through violence. The scene of the film-maker’s murder, the shanty town of Idroscalo near Fiumicino airport, presents a typically Pasolinian pasticcio of the poetic and the squalid: shacks lie scattered across a filthy, blackened beach and in the distance rise the tenement slums of Nuova Ostia. At best, Pasolini’s was a sleazy kind of martyrdom; at worst, it was a bludgeoning out of tabloid crime-sheet.

Ian Thomson, University of East Anglia


Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mamma Roma. (Milan, 1962) X24/8626.

Pier Paolo Pasolini  Per il cinema. (Milan, 2001). YA.2002.a.5985.

Ian Thomson will deliver the Italian Studies Library Group Annual Lecture ‘Pasolini and Rome’ at the British Library  on 29 June 2015


12 June 2015

The guinea-pigs of a new era: Ludvík Vaculík (1926-2015) and the Czech dissidents

Ludvík Vaculík  died on 6 June at the age of 88 – exactly three weeks before the anniversary of the manifesto which established him as one of the most significant figures of the Prague Spring in the fight for a more free and open political climate which ended as the Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia on 21 August 1968.

Ludvík Vaculík in 2006 (photo by Vitjan from Wikimedia Commons

Vaculík was born on 23 July 1926 in the Moravian village of Brumov as the son of a carpenter, and worked in a shoe factory before moving to Prague after the Second World War. He embarked on a literary career, and as a member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party he attended the fourth Congress of the Union of Writers in July 1967, a year after the publication of his first major novel Sekyra (‘The Axe’: Prague, 1966; British Library X.909/8373). This account of a middle-aged journalist revisiting his Moravian childhood home in the country and discovering letters which cast a new light on his father’s past and cause him to re-evaluate their relationship, with its portrayal of the pressures on family loyalties in a changing world, foreshadowed the speech which Vaculík made at the congress. His criticism of the Party’s restrictive cultural attitudes and failure to tackle social issues led to his being expelled from it, and a year later he continued his attack on its moral bankruptcy in his manifesto Two Thousand Words to Workers, Farmers, Scientists, Artists, and Everyone, published in several  Prague newspapers. Although his fellow writers had welcomed his outspoken address but doubted whether it would have any lasting effect, many of them signed the manifesto, setting themselves firmly against the conservative stance of the country’s president Antonín  Novotný, who had tried but failed to control the union’s activities.

Vaculík’s fears that Warsaw Pact forces might intervene in Czechoslovakia’s internal affairs proved only too well founded. He called on his readers, if this should happen, to hold their own and not indulge in any provocation, but his outright rejection of the Communist Party’s leading role attracted the attention of Leonid Brezhnev and his followers  and led to the ‘Brezhnev Doctrine’ of applying force when socialism was perceived to be under threat.

As censorship tightened following Gustáv Husák’s rise to power in 1969, Vaculík launched the samizdat  press Edice Petlice (‘Padlock Editions’) in 1973, publishing works by Václav Havel and other dissident authors. (The British Library holds several examples of Vaculík’s own feuilletons in its Czech samizdat collections at Cup.410.f.816, YA.1996.a.2010 and YA.1991.a.6612.) In 1977 they banded together to formulate and sign Charter 77, leading to police interrogations of Vaculík, Havel and other signatories. Vaculík was aware of the danger that the charter might lose its relevance to those outside Prague intellectual circles, and did much to prevent this through his lively criticism.

Vaculik montage

Although the ban on Vaculík’s writings was lifted in 1989 and he continued to address cultural and political questions in his weekly column in the newspaper Lidové noviny, it is the novels which he wrote before this which have been most widely translated in the West. These include, as well as The Axe, Morčata (‘The Guinea Pigs’; Toronto, 1977; X.907/18130; English translation X.989/30871), the story of a banker whose increasingly arbitrary experiments on his sons’ pets (spinning them on revolving gramophone records and forcing them to swim under water) mirror the manipulative practices of the Czechoslovak authorities under Communism. His memoirs of his experiences as a dissident, A Cup of Coffee with my Interrogator: the Prague chronicles of Ludvík Vaculík  (London, 1987) is also available to English-speaking readers (YH.1988.a.401). They bear witness to the resilience of spirit and acute sense of the absurd which enabled him to survive the soul-crushing repression of the Novotný and Husák years, and to support the people of Czechoslovakia in their progress towards a society where freedom of speech and truth could finally prevail.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities & Social Sciences), Research Engagement

10 June 2015

A reluctantly modern voice from the 17th-century Russian storm: Archpriest Avvakum and the Life written by himself

Many have maintained the Life of the Archpriest Avvakum, written by himself [Zhitie Protopopa Avvakuma, im samym napisannoe] (ca. 1670) to be the first modern work in the history of Russian literature, for its harshness, bitterness and powerful imagery, which seem to have been handed down through unknown paths to later writers, such as Pushkin and Tolstoy:

And I came up, and she, poor soul, began to complain to me, saying, “How long, archpriest, are these sufferings to last?” And I said, “Markovna! Till our death”. And she, with a sigh, answered, “So be it, Petrovich. Let us be getting on our way”.

IMAGE 1An autograph drawing by Avvakum, from f. 2 of  the 1675 Pustozerkii sbornik I.N. Zavoloko MS (Pushkinskii dom, St Petersburg). The British Library has a facsimile edition with a  transcription of the MS (Leningrad, 1975; shelfmark: 2702.a.59).

Avvakum Petrov lived and wrote in the second half of the 17th century, a politically and religiously stormy period, which opened with one of the deepest political crises in Russian history (the interregnum known as the ‘Time of Troubles’, 1598-1613) and culminated with probably its deepest religious one, the Great Russian Schism (1653). In this context, Avvakum was a representative of the first generation of religious dissidents who opposed the liturgical reforms of  Patriarch Nikon (1605-1681) in the Russian Orthodox Church, which created a split not only within the Church, but on a wider scale between large parts of the population and higher ecclesiastical hierarchies.

Though most probably an unconscious talent, or maybe just not capable of producing a finer product of art, due to a lack of higher education (as suggested by one scholar), Avvakum nonetheless produced an impressively ‘modern’ piece of literature.

His accomplishments in the literary use of the language are such that Dostoevsky numbers him alongside Pushkin as one of the Russian writers who cannot be properly translated into any European language. But while in Pushkin’s case this is due to his  exploring and exploiting the potential of the language to the full, Avvakum is a different kind of innovative writer. To contemporary eyes, one of his achievements was the ability to disentangle himself from the ‘anonymity’ of the Middle Ages, so that writing an autobiography would represent an extraordinary innovation itself. However, we may consider this to be its main innovative feature only if we weigh it with the rules and structure of the hagiographical genre, which Avvakum’s work superficially follows. The idea of a writer as an original author, and not only as a compiler or as the ‘hand of God’, was in fact already gaining acceptance at the end of the 17th century — for instance in the work of Symeon of Polotsk,  to name one of its best-known representatives.

Avvakum is instead still deeply mediaeval in his theoretical conception of writing. Although he produced an innovative literary work, he still pursued the old Russian aim of being dushepoleznoe [‘useful for the soul’]:

Avvakum, archpriest, was bidden by the monk Epiphanius, in that he was my ghostly father, to write down my life, that the word of God should not be given over to forgetfulness, and for this reason was I bidden by my ghostly father to write for the glory of Christ our God. Amen!

But to reach this aim he used a language shaped after his vernacular, with vivid and rough images and expressions, only at times interrupted by Church Slavonic, when the subject matter ‘required’ it:

And you, for God’s sake, who read and listen, do not despise our popular speech, for I love my native Russian tongue, I am not used to embellish my discourse with philosophical verses, because God does not listen to our refined words, but it’s our deeds that he wants … There is nothing much to ponder over:  our Lord does not look for words in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, or in any other language, but he wants Love and other virtues; for this reason, I shall not concern myself with rhetoric and I’m not ashamed of my Russian language.

IMAGE 3F. 162v from the Pustozerkii sbornik I.N. Zavoloko (1675) showing Avvakum’s famous defence of  his ‘simple speech’.

Despite the pride and love he shows for his ‘simple’ mother tongue, unprecedented in the history of Russian literature, the way he weaves together the unrefined, rough tones of the physical or everyday descriptions, and the stern or even prophetic voice of some more solemn passages, is not a ‘literarily conscious’ one. And yet, this is paradoxically one of the reasons why Avvakum’s Life is considered a remarkable literary achievement and a fascinating case study.

For nearly 200 years, the manuscript of Avvakum’s Life circulated privately in Old Believers  communities. It became more widely known only in 1861, when the Russian historian N.S. Tikhonravov published the first ever printed edition.

IMAGE 4                                       Title page of the first printed edition (St Petersburg, 1861) 4886.b.4.

For a further insight into the long way that led, after two centuries, to the first printed edition of Avvakum’s Life see V.I. Malyshev, ‘Istoriia pervogo izdaniia Zhitiia protopopa Avvakuma’, Russkaia Literatura, 1962, no.2, p. 147. (Ac.1125.o/33; also available online).

Nilo Pedrazzini, Trainee


The Life of the Archpriest Avvakum by Himself, translated from the Seventeenth Century Russian by Jane Harrison and Hope Mirrlees, with a Preface by Prince D.S. Mirsky, London : The Hogarth Press, 1963. X.108/431.

Aleksandr Mikhailovich Panchenko, ‘Avvakum kak novator’, Russkaia Literatura, 1982, No. 4, pp. 142-152. Ac.1125.o/33 (also available online)

Aleksandr Mikhailovich Panchenko, Russkaia kul’tura v kanun petrovskikh reform, (Leningrad, 1984). X.529/66294

Pierre Pascal, La Vie de l’Archiprêtre Avvakum écrite par lui-même. Traduite du vieux russe avec une introduction et des notes par Pierre Pascal, (Paris, 1938). 20043.df.8.

Pierre Pascal,  Avvakum et les débuts du raskol. La crise religieuse au XVIIe siècle en Russie, (Paris, 1938). Ac.1117.

08 June 2015

The Passion of Christ considered as an uphill bicycle race… and what should women wear?

Jésus démarra à toute allure.

En ce temps-là, l’usage était, selon le bon rédacteur sportif saint Mathieu, de flageller au départ les sprinters cyclistes, comme font nos cochers à leurs hippomoteurs … Donc, Jésus, très en forme, démarra, mais l’accident de pneu arriva tout de suite. Un semis d’épines cribla tout le pourtour de sa roue avant.

[Jesus got away to a good start.

In those days, according to the excellent sports commentator St Mathew, it was customary to flagellate the sprinters at the start the way a coachman whips his horses … Jesus, then, got off in good form, but he had a flat right away. A bed of thorns punctured the whole circumference of his front tyre.]

The playful pataphysician Alfred Jarry published ‘La Passion considérée comme course de côte’ (‘The Passion of Christ considered as an uphill bicycle race’) in April 1903 in the satirical Le Canard Sauvage, three months after the inaugural Tour de France was advertised in the newspaper L’Auto, as ‘la plus grande épreuve cycliste du monde entier’ (the biggest cycling challenge in the whole world). Extreme competitive cycling, still relatively new at this point, becomes an ordeal of epic proportions – tantamount to the suffering of Christ, or at least to something never before experienced by man. Late 19th- and early 20th-century French literature absorbs the new image of the bicycle into its pages, as the Realism of Zola and others attempts to present the preoccupations of contemporary society in parallel, and the alternative literature of Jarry sees symbolic potential in the new machine.

Alfred Jarry cycling. (Picture from Wikimedia Commons)

Jarry’s last novel Le Sûrmale (The Supermale; 1902), thematises the bicycle once more, using it to transport a narrative exploration of man’s virility, power and death. André Marcueil, the protagonist, undertakes the impossible 10,000 mile cycle from Paris to Irkutsk, powered by perpetual-motion-food, a substance which allows constant muscular regeneration during activity – and which allows Marcueil the energy for a record-breaking sexual performance on the way (89 ‘conquests’, for those who might be interested). Jarry’s perpetual mover is an ‘coupling of man and machine’, to use Paul Fournel’s description of five-time Tour-winner Jacques Anquetil in his 2012 book Anquetil tout seul. As Freud might have it, the man(-machine) has become a kind of ‘prosthetic God’ – returning us, then, to the demiurgic realm of cycling where we began.

Indeed, cycling, according to French thinkers, can elevate man to the point of transcendence. Roland Barthes, in ‘Le Tour de France comme épopée’ (‘The Tour de France as Epic’, from Mythologies), suggests that, ‘The Tour too, at several points, brushes against the inhuman world: on the Ventoux, we have already left the earth, there we are next to unknown stars’. Cycling is self-discovery for the anthropologist, Marc Augé:

The first stroke of the pedal is the acquisition of a new autonomy, the great escape, palpable freedom, the movement of the point of the toe, when the machine responds to the body’s desire and almost pre-empts it. In a few seconds, the marked horizon frees itself, the landscape moves. I am elsewhere. I am an other, and yet I am myself like never before; I am what I discover. (Eloge de la Bicyclette)

But perhaps all this continental abstraction detracts from a more concrete freedom afforded by the bicycle, one which might temper the Supermale’s authority over it. In Emile Zola’s Paris (1897-8), Marie is confounded by some women upholding dress codes while cycling:

Can you understand that? Women, who have the unique opportunity to put themselves at ease, to fly like a bird, legs finally freed from their prison, and who refuse! If they believe to be more beautiful with a shortened schoolgirl’s skirt, they are wrong! And as for modesty, it seems to me that one ought to be more comfortable showing one’s calves than one’s shoulders […] There are only culottes, the skirt is abominable!

Women have the opportunity to wear short trousers – a freedom that the introduction of the bicycle demands! 1898 also saw the publication of Miss F. J. Erskine’s Lady Cycling (reissued by British Library publications in 2014) which joins Zola’s Marie in carving a space for women cyclists… ‘in moderation’. For Miss Erskine, ‘on no point… has a hotter controversy raged’. On fashion, however, the author cannot concede to the comforts of Marie in Paris. ‘Cycling dress was not the fine art it is now,’ writes Erskine, ‘for park riding we must have an artistically cut skirt, artfully arranged to hang in even portions each side of the saddle’.

Perhaps we need to travel once again to find the answer to the eternal question, succinctly phrased as ‘Rock oder Hose?’ (‘Skirt or Trousers?’), in Der Radfahrsport in Bild und Wort, published by Dr Paul von Salvisberg in 1897. Which is it to be? ‘Both, and, in fact, each have their appropriate time’. A practical compromise.  

Loden Sport-Costüme
Cycling gear for ladies (and gents), advertisement from Der Radfahrsport in Bild und Wort (Munich, 1897), British Library YA.1989.b.4724

Whether physically free from the dress and the corset, or free from terrestrial conventionality in a ride amongst the stars, cycling is freedom. That freedom is gained through joining the self (and machine) with nature, as one moves through it. As Dr Ludwig Ganghofer, in Der Radfahrsport in Bild und Wort, enthusiastically writes of a cycling tour:

On the leaves and grass, the dew sparkles; you hear a hundred birds, as if it were a single song; fresh air breathes all around you, and you drink it deeply in thirsty sips.

The poetical Dr Ganghofer, from Der Radfahrsport in Bild und Wort

As summer approaches, we too need to reunite ourselves with nature, ride amongst the stars… This may prove difficult in the city, and we should end here with a word of warning from Miss Erskine:

In the vicinity of large manufacturing towns the rowdy element may at times annoy ladies riding alone, though I have, myself, always met with the greatest kindness and courtesy; still, this may have been by exceptional good fortune, and I have no wish to boast of it.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Collaborative Doctoral Student


Alfred Jarry, The Supermale: A modern novel, trans. Barbara Wright, (London, 1968; X.908/14696)

Alfred Jarry, La passion considérée comme course de côte, available via Wikisource; English translation available at:

Paul Fournel, Anquetil tout seul, (Paris, 2012) ; YF.2014.a.22730

Marc Augé, Eloge de la bicyclette, (Paris, 2008) ; YF.2009.a.37308

Emile Zola, Paris, (Paris, 1898) ; B.26.a.12

Miss F. J. Erskine, Lady Cycling, (London, 1898) BL; (2014 reissue: YKL.2014.a.3213)

Dr. Paul von Salvisberg, Der Radfahrsport in Bild und Wort, (Munich, 1897) YA.1989.b.4724