European studies blog

11 posts from August 2015

31 August 2015

Solidarity Collection

35 years ago, on 31 August 1980, the Gdańsk Agreement was signed between the strikers of the Lenin Shipyard and the government of the Polish People’s Republic. The Solidarity movement was born.

Poland was a signatory state of the Helsinki Final Act,  signed at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe in 1975. This had a tremendous effect on future developments in Poland and subsequently in other countries of the Eastern bloc. Inspired by the Helsinki agreement regarding human rights and civil liberties the dissident movement led to the rise of the unofficial publishing network in 1976. Independent publications produced underground began to infiltrate intellectual circles in Polish society.

The formation of the Solidarity movement in August 1980 resulted in the expansion of opposition publications on an unparalleled scale. Though it may seem strange, the declaration of Martial Law in December 1981 and the repressions that followed did not weaken the underground publishing output. It is estimated that between 1976 and 1990 some 3,000-4,000 independent periodical titles and over 6,000 books and pamphlets were published. The underground publishers and publications are known in Poland as drugi obieg (‘second circulation’).

Solidarity Ruch ,,Wolnosc i Pokoj,,, Sol. 212c
The collection that found its way to the British Library is named after the Solidarity movement. The name, however, does not reflect the pre-1980 holdings in the collection. Throughout the 1970s and 80s the main means of acquiring dissident material was via anonymous donations. Young Poles travelling to the West smuggled clandestine publications so as to distribute them to Western academic institutions. The British Library was one of the repositories. The curators of the Polish collections at the time also contributed to the growth of this collection.  Their visits to Poland created the opportunity to obtain illegal publications which they then took out of the country secretly.

The situation changed in 1990. The Library bought its first large collection of independent material, consisting of some 900 items, from a private collector in Lublin, Marek Szyszko. There are 808 books in this collection and all the records are tagged with the name of the collector. In 1999 the Library was offered part of the collection of Marek Garztecki, a Polish journalist exiled in London and director of the Solidarity Information Office in London. The collection consisted mainly of some 4,000 underground periodical parts, filling many gaps in the existing holdings. In 2007 a small collection of ephemeral Solidarity publications was purchased from John Taylor, a former London-based Polish Solidarity Campaign activist. Thanks to a generous donation in 2010 of some 1,700 journal parts and about 500 books from the Polish Library in London the collection expanded greatly.

As of in August 2015 the collection consists of 1,759 books, 831 periodical titles and 469 ephemeral publications. All the items are physically stored together at the range of shelfmarks with the prefix Sol. followed by the consecutive numbers 1-911. Books are stored at Sol. 200, 200 a,b,c,…270 w and journals at Sol. 1-199 and Sol. 271-911.  Most records include a note “Polish samizdat publication” and a keyword search enables identification of the relevant items in the catalogue. All the ephemeral publications are located at the shelfmark Sol. 764, and the collective title Polish ephemera applies to the group as a whole.

Solidarity Droga - Wolnosci i Niepodleglosc, Sol. 737

Solidarity Solidarnosc Nr 13, Sol. 103

Solidarity Kultura niezalezna 37, Sol 367

The collection includes uncensored works by Polish writers whose books were banned from the official market such as Kazimierz Orłoś, Tadeusz Konwicki or Marek Nowakowski. Then follow reprints of émigré publications and translations from foreign languages, including works of such outstanding writers as George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut and Josip Brodski. Newspapers, journals, bulletins, pamphlets, collections of documentary material and photographs, as well as the ‘flying university’ lectures, one-leaf factory news-sheets, posters, postcards, calendars and Solidarity postage stamps complete the holdings. Most of the material was published on very poor quality paper and in small formats due to paper shortage, although it is worth noting that some books were lavishly printed, e.g. George Orwell’s Animal Farm published in Krakow in 1985.  However, many books and pamphlets have incomplete imprints or no imprints at all.

  Solidarity Marek Nowakowski  Sol.239c

Magda Szkuta,Curator of East European Collections

28 August 2015

Poet in a landscape: the drawings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was born on 28 August 1749, is best known as Germany’s ‘national poet’, but he was a man of many parts. Among his various talents and interests, he was a keen amateur artist. Some 2,600 of his drawings survive, many from his Italian journey in the late 1780s. Goethe himself claimed that that he realised during these travels in Italy that he had ‘no talent for visual art’, but he continued to draw throughout his life, especially landscapes.

The British Library’s Stefan Zweig collection includes three such drawings. The first, Zweig MS 154 (below), depicts the Kammerberg near Eger (modern-day Cheb in the Czech Republic): there is a rocky hillside with a winding path leading up to a small building, perhaps an observatory, which stands on its summit.  Towards the bottom right hand corner two sketchily drawn figures can be seen, apparently working at the edge of a quarry sketched in such a way as to indicate the geological features of the terrain.

Picture of the Kammerberg, showing a rocky hillside with a path leading up to a small building

The drawing was made during Goethe’s first visit to the Eger region in 1808, an area that he visited 19 times in all.  Having a lifelong interest in geology and geological formations, he was particularly moved to investigate the historical origins of the Kammerberg (now known to be an extinct prehistoric volcano), tending at first to subscribe to the Vulcanist theory that the source of rocks was igneous, but later lending his support to the Neptunist theory of aqueous origins.  He spent his time there collecting samples, making close observations, writing descriptions and making drawings. 

The other two drawings, Zweig MS 217, are mounted back to back in a frame. One depicts castle ruins in a hilly setting with the sharp bend of a river in the foreground;  the other, slightly smaller, shows a river with partially wooded banks winding through an undulating landscape. These views have never been formally identified, but it seems very likely that they are taken from the countryside near Jena, a town for which Goethe had a special affection, regarding it almost as his second home. After his first visit in 1775 he became a frequent visitor, and over the course of his life the sum total of time that he spent there amounted to something like five years. 

Drawing of a a river winding through an undulating and partly wooded landscape; with a handwritten inscription in German in the top left-hand corner

The river landscape in the smaller drawing (above) seems to bear quite a strong resemblance to the valley of the Saale, while the ruined castle in the larger drawing (below) may perhaps be the Lobdeburg, a 12th-century fortress above Jena whose medieval owners were credited with founding the town, and which fell into decay around the end of the 16th century. For many years Goethe was accustomed to stay with his friends, the Ziegesar family, in Drackendorf, an area of Jena just below the Lobdeburg, and the ruins were a favourite destination for walks with the young daughter of the house, Sylvie von Ziegesar, one walk in particular delighting him so much that he celebrated by composing the poem ‘Bergschloss’  in 1802.

Drawing of a landscape with a ruined castle on a hill

The dimensions of the two landscapes suggest that one or both of the drawings could have been intended for an album, perhaps Goethe’s  ‘Rotes Reisebüchlein’, an album made in 1808 for 18-year old Wilhelmine Herzlieb, one of the many young women who attracted him and on whom he is said to have modelled the character of Ottilie in his novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften.  

These represent three of the seven Goethe drawings owned by Zweig at various stages of his collecting career, and are the only three of the seven known to be in a public collection. Thanks to the recent digitisation of the literary manuscripts from the Zweig collection, they will soon be available to view via the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts catalogue.

Pamela Porter, Former Curator of Manuscripts

26 August 2015

Mystic musings and Thomas Cook: Esper Ukhtomskii in the Orient

August 26th is the anniversary of the birth of Esper Esperovich Ukhtomskii, Russian orientalist scholar, collector, journalist and poet. His most famous and lasting work is Puteshevestvie na vostok Ego Imperatorskogo Vysochestva Gosudaria Naslednika Tsesarevicha, 1890-1891, highly competently translated into English as Travels in the East of Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia when Cesarewitch, 1890-1891.

Portentous title apart, the book is readable and beautifully written, a cross between a lush evocation of tropical travel and a manifesto for his pupil, the young Nicholas II. Ukhtomskii accompanied Nicholas on his educational “grand tour” as an informal tutor, and the book expounded both foreign and domestic policy. Ukhtomskii was as convinced as Nicholas was that Russia could only thrive under the Tsar’s autocratic rule, and both men believed that this gave their country a mystical link to Asia. “[Russians have] a totally different character from the spirit of the average modern European, stifled as it is by rational materialism,” Ukhtomskii writes. “Countless times has Asia flooded Russia with her hordes, crushed her with her attack, transforming her into something akin to Persia and Turkestan, India and China. To the present day, beyond the Caspian, the Altai Mountains and Lake Baikal, we cannot find a clearly defined border … beyond which our rightful land ceases to be.”

PamiatPamiat Azova, the Russian cruiser which carried the imperial party from destination to destination

His “Asianist” views coloured his perception of every country they visited. The party passed through Greece before setting sail for North Africa, and Ukhtomskii was notably unimpressed by the remains of classical civilization: “our imagination still sleeps. It does not see the majesty of bygone days, nor has the dry list of ancient names anything to say to it.” His ennui was probably at least in part because he did not think that Russia had any classical roots.

In British-run Egypt, he sat on the deck of their Nile cruiser dreaming of “hundreds of ships, bearing to Thebes the treasures of the south and of the east” - only to be rudely interrupted by “the unsightly outline of one of [Thomas] Cook’s narrow two-storied steamers, bearing a party of foreign tourists, who with feverish haste attempt to ‘do’ Upper Egypt.” Herein lies an irony, for Ukhtomskii’s own lush writings are quite similar to the guidebooks that the other foreign tourists consulted as they swarmed the decks of Cook’s steamers and rode donkeys into the desert in search of ruined temples. All are preoccupied with oldness and exoticism, with colours and smells; all talk nostalgically, as visitors have done since the dawn of time, of the days when sites were less crowded and true travellers not forced to share their holidays with groups of ignorant trippers!

PyramidNicholas’s party climb the pyramids at Giza, where, like many less exalted tourists, they scratched their names

In India, where he was closely watched by a British agent, Ukhtomskii dismissed “the supposed brotherhood between the Anglo-Saxon and the Aryan race of India,” as “no more than a sentimental fiction,” before claiming that Russia’s village communes were remarkably like India’s. Yet, just like other mystically-inclined Europeans of his age, he revelled in the mythology of Rajputana, "a civilization which has survived many and many a revolution, retaining the purity of its blood and of its spirit....That real, almost prehistoric India, of which each one of us has had his unconscious daydreams as he read extracts from Ramayana and Mahabharata.”

AlwarThe princely city of Alwar, Rajasthan

As the convoy of ships bearing the imperial party steamed on across the Indian Ocean, he immersed himself in the scenery. “The nights! What words can describe the phosphorescent glow on the stormy horizon. The silver crests of the waves rise with a measured motion out of the impenetrable gloom beneath it; furrows of sparks spread, like a diamond fan, in the wake of the frigate. The whole of the Milky Way seems to be reflected in the mysterious blue depths beneath us and above us, while in the distance the lightnings blaze and flash.”

MathuraThe ancient Indian city of Mathura, birthplace of Krishna

Ukhtomksii most enjoyed the countries which were not under colonial rule, notably Siam. In China, he was saddened by the degeneration of the great civilization, but heartened to think that the Mongols provided a cultural and religious link between Russia and China. Here, he decided (in this nation whose territory happened to be useful to her trans-Siberian railway project!), Russia would play her vital role as the empire which straddled eastern and western civilizations. “Who and what can save China from dismemberment and the foreign yoke? Russia alone, I am inclined to think.”

His view of Japan was less benevolent, and more nuanced than his opinion of some other eastern nations. He found it a country with “a very peculiar past and a very problematic future…a rooted tendency to exalt in their most secret thoughts and feelings their ancient world, while carrying the imitation of contemporary Europe and America to the greatest extremes…despising the stranger in their hearts yet submissively learning of him.”  Nicholas followed an eastward-focused foreign policy in the early part of his reign which would culminate in a disastrous war with this nascent modern power.

SailorsOne of the less formal illustrations: Pamiat Azova’s sailors take a rest from tropical heat 

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager, Metadata Creation Programmes

References/further reading

Ukhtomskii, E. E. Puteshevestvie na vostok Ego Imperatorskogo Vysochestva Gosudaria Naslednika Tsesarevicha, 1890-1891 (St Petersburg, 1893-6). Two copies at 1790.a.11 and X 691

Ukhtomskii, E. E. Travels in the East of Nicholas II., Emperor of Russia, when Cesarewitch, 1890-1891, translated by R. Goodlet (London: 1896-1900).Two copies at Tab.439.a.7. and Wf1/0786


24 August 2015

“No longer a borderland”

The last chapter of the second edition of Anna Reid’s famous book Borderland. A Journey through the history of Ukraine has the following paragraph:

“The biggest change since I lived in Ukraine is that it now feels like a real country. Though plenty of people would have got cross if you had said so, it used to have something of a make-believe, provisional air. With nearly quarter of a century and two patriotic revolutions under its belt, that has all gone. Ukraine is no longer a borderland. It is its own place and here to stay”.

I would be one of those people who would get cross – as for me,  a Ukrainian, my beloved native country was always a very real one (so real that it is physically painful) and never ever a “Borderland”. The same feeling was shared by Ukrainian chroniclers and historians thorough centuries, yet their works, due to lack of translations and financial reasons, were not widely known. The works of the eminent Ukrainian historian Mykhailo Hrushevsky  are now  available in English translation. The British Library holds his monumental multi-volume work Istoriia Ukrainy-Rusi (History of Ukraine-Rus’; Edmonton, 1997-;  ZD.9.a.1557) translated and published by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies.

                        Hrushevskyi, Mykhailo. Istoriia Ukrainy-Rusy. Tom 1. (Lviv, 1898) Ac.763

For many outsiders the history of Ukraine often appeared merely as an appendix to greater imperial histories or later that of the USSR (often misnamed “Russia”). No wonder that when in 1991 Ukraine emerged as an independent state it came as a shock to some Western scholars. The British historian Andrew Wilson published a book with the telling title The Ukrainians: unexpected nation, which has now been translated into Ukrainian. The observations of travellers and discoverers of Ukraine are very revealing and helpful. Yet Ukraine, which is celebrating its 24th anniversary of its independence in 1991 today, remains Terra Incognita for many people, although a lot was written about its rich history over the centuries in many countries and in various languages and collected in libraries throughout the world.  Type the word “Ukraine” in our catalogue  – and a surprising variety of items will present itself for your research: old maps, books  and pamphlets, musical scores and oral history, journals and newspapers,  microfilms and microfiches,  electronic resources and archived websites.

For many years map enthusiasts delighted to look at the famous 17th-century maps by Sir Guillaume de Beauplan  held in our Map Collections (Maps 39780.(1.); Maps 39780.(2.); Maps K.Top.110.73.) and read his  Description d’Ukranie, qui sont plusieurs provinces du Royaume de Pologne; contenuës depuis les confins de la Moscovie jusques aux limites de la Transilvanie; ensemble leurs moeurs, façons de vivre, & de faire la guerre (Rouen, 1660; 1056. l.14.(3)) or its translations into English, Russian and Ukrainian.

BeauplanUkraineGeneral Depiction of the Empty Plains (in Common Parlance, Ukraine) Together with its Neighboring Provinces created 1648 by Beauplan (image from Wikimedia Commons)

 The medieval state of Kievan Rus, Ukraine as part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Cossack state, gradual absorption by the Russian empire, bloody 20th century with two world wars, Holodomor, Holocaust, Stalinist persecutions etc. – all these subjects have been studied by numerous historians, especially in  the last two decades.  Ukraine’s rich history – “one of the bloodiest histories in the world” (in the words of Anna Reid) – inspired many poets, philosophers, writers and composers.  Just check the entries about Ivan Mazeppa in our catalogue. Works by Byron, Victor Hugo, Aleksandr Pushkin, Juliusz Slowacki, Liszt, Tchaikovsky and others who were inspired by some aspects of Mazeppa’s life (or rather legends about him) are an integral part of our collections.

The British Library holds various materials about state-building in Ukraine. Amongst rare editions we have the text of the first Ukrainian Constitution 1710 Pacta  Constitutiones Legum Libertatumque Exercitus Zaporoviensis (Lausanne, 1916; 9454.h.8; pictured above) and books about its author Pylyp Orlyk, 19th-century Geneva editions by political thinker Mykhailo Drahomanov, an early translation of Hrushevsky into English (The Historical Evolution of the Ukrainian Problem, translated by George Raffalovich and published in London in 1915; 9455.bbb.32; pictured below), various publications by the League of Liberation of Ukraine, some of them digitised for Europeana 1914-1918, interwar periodicals (in print and/or on microfilms) published  outside Soviet Ukraine etc.


The most recent history of Ukraine (the Orange Revolution in 2004, Maidan in 2013-2014, the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas) are also represented in numerous articles, books and photo albums published in and outside Ukraine. As Ukraine celebrated its “fragile independence” (the title of a charity photo exhibition soon to be opened in London) it is worth remembering its powerful national anthem Shche ne vmerla Ukraina (Ukraine has not yet died, nor her glory, nor her freedom) and following the developments in Ukraine more closely than ever before. “Ukraine is no longer a borderland. It is its own place, and here to stay”. And ready to be studied more deeply by the younger generation of scholars.

NezalezhnaUkrainaDSC_6812Periodical Nezalezhna Ukraina (Independent Ukraine) Issue 1 November 1928. Published in Geneva by Ukrainskyi Revoliutsiinyi Komitet.  P.P.3554.nx

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Ukrainian studies 

References and further reading

Applebaum, Anne. Between East and West: across the borderlands of Europe (London, 1995). YC.1996.a.2541

IAkovenko, Natalia. Narys istoriï serednʹovichnoï ta rannʹomodernoï Ukraïny (Outline history of medieval and early modern Ukraine) (Kyïv, 2006) YF.2008.a.9009

Polonska-Vasylenko, Natalia. Two conceptions of the history of Ukraine and Russia. London, 1968 X.709/3687

Plokhy, Serhii. Ukraine and Russia: representations of the past (Toronto, c2008). m08/.19199

Plokhy, Serhii. The origins of the Slavic nations: premodern identities in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. (Cambridge, 2006). YC.2007.a.12739 and m06/.33417

Reid, Anna. Borderland. A Journey through the History of Ukraine. (London, 2015). Online resource ELD.DS.12324

Snyder, Timothy. The reconstruction of nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999. (New Haven, Conn.; c2003). YC.2005.a.5172 and m03/22676

Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin. (London, 2010).  YC.2011.a.10280

Yekelchyk, Serhy. Ukraine : birth of a Modern Nation. (New York-Oxford, 2007) YK.2008.a.13391 and m07/.24664

Wilson, Andrew. The Ukrainians: unexpected nation (3rd edition;   New Haven, Conn.; 2009) YC.2010.a.15137



21 August 2015

A lion at my feet

In the 1440s Juan de Mena dedicated a central section of his long political-moral allegory Laberinto de Fortuna (Labyrinth of Fortune, not apparently its original name), to the portrait of his patron John II of Castile:

Al nuestro rey magno, bienaventurado,
vi sobre todos en muy firme silla,
digno de reino mayor que Castilla:
velloso león a sus pies por estrado,
vestido de múrice, ropa de estado,
ebúrneo ceptro mandava su diestra
e rica corona la mano siniestra,
más prepotente que el cielo estrellado (Stanza 221)

[I saw our great blessed King
above all,on a firm throne,
worthy of a kingdom greater than Castile:
a furry lion at his feet for a footstool,
dressed in purple, clothing of state,
his right hand commanded an ivory sceptre
and his left a rich crown,
more powerful than the starry heavens.]

 Commenting on the text in 1499, Hernán Núñez, professor of Greek at Salamanca, says:

El rey don Juan, segund dizen, tenía consigo un león manso y familiar, en el qual, estando él assentado en la silla real, ponía los pies

[King Juan, so they say, kept by him a tame and friendly lion, on which, when he was seated on the royal throne, he put his feet.]

Reading this the other day I thought Núñez was guilty of taking as historical fact what was obviously a piece of royal symbolism of the sort the Middle Ages loved, an example of which can be seen on the tomb of King John of England, a replica of which is displayed in the Magna Carta exhibition, though his lion looks more like a draft-excluder.

King_John's_Tomb,_Worcester_Cathedral_-_geograph_org_uk_-_486814Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]
King John’s tomb in Worcester Catherdral (Photo by Bob Embleton from the Geograph Project via Wikimedia Commons)

But in a further note in De Nigris’s edition I was proven wrong:

Después desto vinieron allí los embaxadores del Rey Charles de Francia ... El Rey estaba en su estrado alto, asentado en su silla guarnida, debaxo de un rico doser de brocado carmesí, la casa toldada de rica tapicería, e tenía a los pies un muy gran león manso con un collar de brocado, que fue cosa muy nueva para los embaxadores, de que mucho se maravillaron ... los embaxadores se partieron del Rey contentos e alegres (The Chronicle of Juan II, cited by De Nigris, p. 294, referring to events of 1425)

[After this came the ambassadors of King Charles of France ... The King was on a high dais, seated on a garnished throne, under a rich canopy of crimson brocade, the house hung with rich tapestries, and at his feet he had a big tame lion with a brocade collar, which was a very new thing for the ambassadors, at which they marvelled greatly.  ... The ambassadors left the King feeling contented and happy.]

Philip the Good Yates Thompson 32
Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (1419-1467) portrayed with a lion at his feet, from Chroniques abrégées des Anciens Rois et Ducs de Bourgogne (late 15th century), British Library Yates Thompson MS 32

I wonder: was this a tame lion, or an elderly one?  Thornton Wilder, author of the novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey and the plays Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth, also taught modern languages at Harvard.  He has an article that reveals that lions appear no less than three times in the plays of Lope de Vega:

For a year or two [the actor-manager] Pinedo was in possession of a lion or a costume made from a lion-skin.   [...] I am inclined to think that Pinedo enjoyed the services of a poor aged and edentate beast, simply because the lion is always called upon to do the same thing – to come to the feet of a leading player and lie down.  Were it an actor in a skin the lion would certainly have been given more varied and more thrilling things to do.

But a senior lion can look no less regal for being of pensionable age: remember the MGM lion, so tame the stars happily had their photos taken with him.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies


Juan de Mena, Laberinto de Fortuna y otros poemas, ed. Carla De Nigris (Barcelona, 1994) YA.1995.a.643

Thornton Wilder, ‘Lope, Pinedo, Some Child Actors, and a Lion’, Romance Philology, 7:1 (Jan. 1953); 19-25. P.P.4970.gc.




18 August 2015

Kafka’s Menagerie

One of the exhibits in our current Animal Tales exhibition is a translation of Franz Kafka’s Die Verwandlung (Metamorphosis) illustrated by Bill Bragg. In what is probably Kafka’s best-known work, travelling salesman Gregor Samsa wakes one morning to find himself transformed into – well, it’s never made quite clear. The German text initially refers to an ‘ungeheures Ungeziefer’, literally  ‘monstrous vermin’, and the description of Gregor’s transformed body definitely suggests some kind of insect. English translators sometimes refer to a ‘cockroach’ and illustrators tend to depict a beetle of some kind, although Kafka himself apparently vetoed any idea of showing an actual insect on the cover of an early edition.

Cover of 'Die Verwandlung' ('Metamorphosis') from 1916, showing a man recoiling in horror from an open doorThe (insect-free) cover illustration from the 1916 edition of Die Verwandlung (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

If Gregor Samsa is the most famous ‘animal’ in Kafka’s work, he is not the only one. Indeed, Kafka’s stories contain a veritable menagerie of creatures, and Gregor’s is not the only case where metamorphosis plays a role. Ein Bericht für eine Akademie (A Report to an Academy), for example, is narrated by an ape who, having been captured by a hunting expedition, began learning to imitate his captors, continuing this ‘education’ as part of a music-hall act. He now considers that he has left ape-hood behind and become to all intents and purposes human.  In the short piece ‘Eine Kreuzung ‘ (‘A Crossbreed’) the narrator possesses a creature which is part lamb, part kitten, the kitten-like characteristics having increased since he inherited the beast from his father.

An uncertainty about the species depicted in Kafka’s animal stories is also a recurrent theme. The fragment  ‘In unserer Synagoge’ (‘In our Synagogue’) features a strange marten-like creature with blue-green fur which lives in the synagogue of a dwindling Jewish community, while in Der Bau (The Burrow) an unspecified tunnelling animal becomes obsessed with securing its elaborate burrow against a supposed enemy or predator. 

  Photograph of Franz Kafka with a dog which has moved and become blurred during the shot
Franz Kafka with (appropriately blurred and undefined?) dog, 1905. Reproduced in Klaus Wagenbach, Franz Kafka in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten (Reinbek, 1965) British Libray X.908/8786

Like Ein Bericht für eine Akademie, Der Bau is narrated by its animal protagonist. The same device is used in Forschungen eines Hundes (Investigations of a Dog), where a dog tries to make sense of the world around it but is hampered by its inability to recognise the presence and influence of humans in its own life and those of other dogs. Another animal narrator is found in Josefine die Sängerin oder Das Volk der Mäuse (Josephine the Singer or the Mouse People), although here uncertainty creeps in again: only the story’s title makes a clear reference to mice, and without it we would not be able to clearly identify the community described as any particular species or type, animal or human.

Although we often associate animal stories with children, Kafka’s works are not generally seen as suitable childhood reading.  So I was surprised to come across a book called My First Kafka which retells three of his stories, including Metamorphosis and Josephine... in simplified versions and language, with striking and intriguingly detailed black-and-white illustrations. Kafka for the kiddies? Surely not! But the stories work surprisingly well in this format and the retellings do not talk down and do not shy away from Gregor’s death or Josephine’s disappearance.

Cover of 'My First Kafka' showing a large, patterned beetle wearing a pair of shoes
Cover of My First Kafka (Illustration © Rohan Daniel Eason, reproduced by kind permission of One Peace Books)

The book seems to recognise that, while adult readers may come to Kafka’s works primed to do anything but take them at face value, a child can read them simply as animal tales, as many have similarly done with Orwell’s Animal Farm, only understanding any deeper meaning in later years.  I saw a hint of this childish approach when walking round the exhibition: a little girl, held up in her father’s arms, was pointing and chuckling delightedly at the picture of Gregor-as-bug lying in his bed. Perhaps in 15 years’ time she’ll be a student of German, reading themes of alienation and family conflict into Die Verwandlung. But perhaps she’ll remember it simply as a strange nonsense tale of a man turned into an insect – and who knows which approach Kafka would have preferred?

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References/further reading:

Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis and Other Stories, translated by Michael Hofmann ; introduced by Will Self ; illustrated by Bill Bragg. (London, 2010) Nov.2011/1170  [The edition displayed in ‘Animal Tales’]

My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents, & Giant Bugs, retold by Matthue Roth, illustrated by Daniel Eason (Long Island City, NY, 2013) YD.2015.b.127

Richard T. Gray [et al.], A Franz Kafka Encyclopedia (Westport, Conn., 2005) m07/.28338

Kafka’s Creatures: Animals, Hybrids, and other Fantastic Beings, edited by Marc Lucht and Donna Yarri  (Lanham, Md., 2010) m10/.21890

‘Kafka’s Metamorphosis: 100 thoughts for 100 years’, The Guardian, 18 July 2015

13 August 2015

Was Stalin "The Monster Cockroach"?

It is very touching to find a copy of your first book in the National Library of a different country. Many people of my generation who were brought up in the Soviet Union might remember the 1967 edition of Korney Chukovsky’s poems and fairy tales. Of course, my copy looked much  more ‘lively’ – it was well read all over, torn and glued together again, and significantly thicker than this BL copy that no child ever touched, because the pages were heavily thumbed and soiled. I then read the same poems and stories to my younger sister, and later  to my sons. I hope the book is still somewhere in my parents’ flat in Moscow and that  I will be able to bring it over here to read to my – as yet hypothetical! – British middle-class grandchildren.

Image1Kornei Chukovskii. Chudo-derevo. Serebrianyi gerb. Moskva: Detskaia literature, 1967. X.990/1514)

The poem Tarakanishche, translated into English as ‘The Monster Cockroach’ or ‘Cock-The-Roach’, was written by Chukovsky in 1921 and was one of the first editions was illustrated by Ilya Repin’s student and a younger member of The World of Art movement Sergey Chekhonin.

Image2Kornei Chukovskii. Tarakanishche, illustrated by Sergei Chekhonin (Petrograd, 1923) (Image from RARUS'S Gallery)  

One of the first Soviet animated cartoons for children was also based on this fairy tale (1927; director Aleksandr Ivanov, 1899-1959). The Russian Jewish poet  Elizaveta Polonskaya who in the early 1920s attended the literary studio where Chukovsky taught creative writing, later wrote in her memoirs how Tarakanishche came into being. Chukovsky initiated writing, together with his students, a funny book for children. He didn’t say what it should be about, but suggested that it should start with a scene of total chaos where animals are rushing and moving about somewhere for no apparent reason. Each of the students formulated a funny line and Chukovsky put them together reciting: 

Bears went to the hike
A-riding on a bike.
Then came Tom-the-Cat,
Back-to-front he sat.
Spry mosquitoes drifted by
In a big balloon on high. (etc. )

Later Chukovsky turned it into a story where a Cockroach appears in the middle of this funny anarchy and becomes a dictator who demands sacrifices. The animals, including bears, wolves and elephants, surrender and only an innocent sparrow, who has not heard about the new regime, accidently eats the dictator. Written according to all the rules of Greek tragedy – the chorus of animals, the deus ex machina (impersonated by a sparrow) and catharsis – this fairy tale, of course, could not have been meant to point the finger at Joseph Stalin, who had not even seized the Communist Party throne by that time.  Chukovsky certainly didn’t escape party criticism for inappropriate creativity which was initiated by Lenin’s widow Nadezhda Krupskaia in 1928, but he didn’t want to disguise a political satire aimed at a certain person under funny verses. In response to this criticism Chukovsky publically promised to write a children’s book ‘The merry little collective farmers’, but instead stopped writing for children until the 1940s. 

However, much later, the link was bound to be made. The features of a dictatorial Cockroach were firstly applied to Stalin by Osip Mandelshtam in his satire Kremlevskii Gorets (‘The Kremlin Highlander’) in 1933:

His fingers plump as grubs.
His words drop like lead weights.
His laughing cockroach whiskers.
The gleam of his boot rims.  (Translated by Darran Anderson)

 Mandelstam,_Cukovsky,_Livshiz_&_Annenkov_1914_Karl_BullaLeft to right: Osip Mandel’shtam, Kornei Chukovsky, Benedikt Livshits, Iurii Annenkov (photo by Karl Bulla, 1914 from Wikimedia Commons)

In the imagination of people who lived through the Stalin era Chukovsky’s story about a monster became associated with the regime. In her memoirs Evgeniia Ginzburg described how it was happening:

‘And the cockroach became the victor and the master of the seas and forests. The animals bowed and scraped before Mr Whiskers, hoping the wretch would perish’. Suddenly I started laughing. Anton simultaneously started laughing. Yet Krivoshei became deadly serious. The lenses of his glasses flashed and sparkled. ‘What is it you’re thinking?’ he exclaimed with unusual emotion ‘… surely not! Surely Chukovsky would not have dared!’ Instead of answering, I read on, putting more expression into it: ‘And he went around among the animals, stroking his gilded breastplate…’ (Ginzburg, p.  341).

Even those who didn’t read this book can guess by now that certain Krivoshei who was so worked up about this story was a KGB informer, and laughing at the cockroach’s moustaches cost the memoirist her job. 

Now I know what I’ll tell my – as yet hypothetical! – British middle-class grandchildren when I’m going to read them funny fairy tales about the monster cockroach and other animals.

Image 3  Various Russian and English-language editions of Tarakanishche from the British Library’s collections

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

References/Further reading:

Vospominaniia o Kornee Chukovskom / Sostaviteli i avtory kommentariev, Elena Chukovskaia i Evgeniia Ivanova.  (Moscow, 2012) YF.2013.a.18834

M. Tskokotukha. Eshche raz o Tarakanichshe, in Nezavisimaia gazeta (23.11.2000):

K. Chukovskiĭ. Diary, 1901-1969. Edited by Victor Erlich ; translated by Michael Henry Heim. (New Haven, Conn., 2005) YC.2007.a.1240

Evgenia Ginzburg, Within the Whirlwind, translated by Ian Boland. (London, 1989) YC.1989.a.1567

Kornei Chukovsky, Cock-the-Roach, translated by Tom Botting. (Moscow, 1981) X.992/5087


11 August 2015

A Scotsman abroad: Walter Leslie in the Habsburg lands

I am always interested in the connections between different people, places, things - so my trips abroad can be like a game of “Six Degrees of Separation” in history!  Very boring for travelling companions, possibly, but it helps me place and understand the things I see. Recently, a friend’s Facebook posts on the fabulous Czech castle Nove Mesto nad Metuji  got me excited. It wasn’t just the beautiful interiors with painted ceilings and art deco bathrooms, or the circular tower room with windows on all sides and views for miles around. It wasn’t just the covered walkway in the perfectly-kept gardens. What caught my interest was the fact that the castle had once belonged to a Scot named Walter Leslie. 

Walter Leslie 1048.b22  Walter Leslie, towards the end of his life, from Paul Tafferner, Caesarea legatio ... Walterus S.R.I. Comes De Leslie ... Succincta narratione exposita ...  (Vienna, 1672) British Library 1048.b.22

I have “met” Walter Leslie before. He was a Scottish aristocrat who crossed the Channel as a young man to become a mercenary in assorted continental armies. This was a popular choice of career for younger sons with few expectations of inheritance, and the rewards, as far as young Walter was concerned, were phenomenal.  By 1630, he was in the entourage of the Habsburg generalissimo, Albrecht von Wallenstein, fighting the Thirty Years’ War across Bohemia.  There was no chance of Leslie feeling isolated: entire regiments of Scots and Irishmen surrounded Wallenstein, and when his motivation and loyalty became suspect to the Emperor Ferdinand II, they decided to prove their own loyalty by murdering their boss. Walter Leslie did not issue the fatal blow, but he admitted to killing the bogyguard, allowing an Irishman named Devereux to kill the now-defenceless Wallenstein. The dramatic event gave rise to countless rumours and speculation about what exactly had happened and about the motives of the foreign killers. It is possibly best known as the subject of a play by Schiller, which, ironically, fails to name Leslie, alone among the ringleaders.

Death of Wallenstein 1853.e.5.(34.)
The murder of Wallenstein, from a contemporary broadside (ca. 1634)  1853.e.5.(34)

Leslie set off for Vienna to report, and was richly rewarded for his efforts. He became an imperial chamberlain and subsequently a count (Reichsgraf), receiving the estate at Nove Mesto (then Neustadt an der Mettau) and other lands around Hradec Kralove (Koeniggratz).  He engaged in much diplomatic work involving his native Britain, with a particular interest in promoting Stuart interests on the continent (he was involved with the so-called “Winter King”, Friedrich of Bohemia, and his wife Elizabeth Stuart, as well as with their famous son Rupert of the Rhine), and continued to work as a Habsburg commander, eventually taking charge of troops on the Military Frontier  against the Ottoman Empire. Leslie bought himself new lands convenient to his posting, in the Styrian cities of Graz and Ptuj (Pettau), and married Anna Franziska von Dietrichstein, a daughter of one of the Holy Roman Empire’s most powerful families.

It was at Ptuj castle in present-day Slovenia that I first encountered Walter Leslie’s name. Built on and around a hill overlooking the wide sweep of the Drava/Drau river and its plain, Ptuj occupies a prime defensive and trading position, and it was there in Roman times. The Romans left some interesting archaeological remains, including several Mithras shrines, and one particular legacy of continuing economic importance: miles and miles of vines, covering the rolling green hills all around the city and across eastern Slovenia. Later, Ptuj belonged to the Archbishops of Salzburg, and was as important in the Emperor’s internal power struggles with them as with the Ottoman invaders to the east. Leslie’s family would live there for two centuries, and are today the castle’s most “visible” owners, for they remodelled it extensively and left an art gallery full of their portraits of Habsburgs and Stuarts. The building is now part of Ptuj's regional museum. They continued to intermarry with the highest Habsburg nobility, and acquired several more castles in the Ptuj area (there were certainly plenty to go around, and all of them are highly evocative).

Ptuj Castle (photo, Janet Ashton)

I’ve also encountered Leslie family history in Moravia, at Mikulov, his wife’s family seat, for the Dietrichsteins eventually inherited the Leslie lands and titles as collateral descendants. This is yet another small, charming central European town built around a castle, and the terrain here is remarkably similar to Ptuj: rolling green hills covered in vines. What this says about the family’s tastes I am not quite sure!

Mikulov Castle (photo, Janet Ashton)

Walter Leslie was not particularly popular with contemporaries, who derided him as a boastful foreigner, but his story appeals to me as an instance of Britons’ cosmopolitan connections to Europe several hundred years ago. His castles aren’t too bad, either. Nor, it must be said, is the wine.

Janet Ashton, West European Cataloguing Team Manager


David Worthington, Scots in Habsburg service, 1618-1648 (Leiden, 2004). ZA.9.a.9590

Polona Vidmar, ‘Under the Habsburgs and the Stuarts: the Leslies’ portrait gallery in Ptuj Castle, Slovenia’, in British and Irish emigrants and exiles in Europe, edited by David Worthington (Leiden, 2010). 6151.340000


07 August 2015

Monkeys ahoy!

In Lisuarte de Grecia, Book VII of the Amadis de Gaula cycle, what should heave into view but a ship crewed by monkeys, sent by the damsel Alquifa to summon Perion, son of Amadis, to her aid:

Amadis MonkeysThe ship crewed by monkeys, from Le quatriesme liure d'Amadis de Gaule (Paris, 1560). British Library RB.23.a.36495

The medievals knew well how good imitators monkeys were (Peter of Blois called wine “simia vini”, according to Curtius) and discerned a resemblance between man and monkey, but did not consider there was a genetic relationship.

Don Juan Manuel, among other things a keen huntsman, classified the animals according to their way of getting food: Some animals hunt each other, such as lions and leopards;

Et otras bestias [ay] pequennas que caçan caças pequennas, et de noche, a fuerça o con enganno, asy commo xymios et adiues et raposos et maymones et fuynas et tessugos et furones et gardunnas et turones, et otras bestias sus semejantes. Libro del cavallero e del escudero, ch. xl.

(there are other small animals that hunt other small animals, and by night, by strength or cunning, such as monkeys and jackals and foxes and apes and weasels and badgers and ferrets and martens and stoats, and other animals like them)

The author of the Orto do esposo, the Old Portuguese  (14th century?) compilation of ascetic, exemplary and pseudozoological literature, was not a hunting man but he was a chauvinist: he classifies the animal kingdom by their human-serving function:

todalas geerações das animalias forom criadas pera bõo uso e proveito do homen, segundo diz o filosafo e Joaham Demaceno, doctor catolico mui grande.  Ca algūas animalias forom criadas pera comer e mantiimento do homem, assi como os gaados e os cervos e as lebres, e as outras animalias semelhantes a estas.  E outras forom creados pera serviço do homem, assi como os asnos e os cavalos e as outras taes animalias.  (IV, iii, p. 96)

(all the generations of animals were created for the good use of man, as the philosopher [Aristotle] and St John Damascene, a very great Catholic doctor, say.  For some animals were created for the eating and nourishment of man, such as cattle and stags and hares, and other animals like them.  And other animals were created for the service of man, such as donkeys and horses and other such animals.)

And he was also something of a poet:

E outras forom criadas pera solaz e prazer do homem, assi como as simeas e as aves que bem cantam e os paãos

(And others were created for the consolation and pleasure of man, such as monkeys and beautifully singing birds and peacocks.)

Monkeys and birds (Harley 3469)‘Consolation and pleasure’: Monkeys and birds in the border of a 16th-century German manuscript of Salomon Trismosin, Splendor Solis (Harley 3469)


Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies


Ernst Robert Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages [German original 1948] (Princeton, 1990) HLR 809.02

H. W. Janson, Apes and ape lore in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (London, 1952) Ac.4569/6.(20.)

Horto do Esposo; coordenação, Helder Godinho (Lisbon, 2007)  YF.2010.b.34

Don Juan Manuel, Obras completas, ed. J.M. Blecua (Madrid, 1982-83), vol. I.  X.0800/1790


05 August 2015

Daguerrean Excursions

On 19 August 1839, the astronomer François Arago demonstrated to the French Academy the startling new photographic process invented by Louis Daguerre, by which an object was imprinted on a metal plate without human intervention, through the action of light alone. Within just a few weeks, budding daguerreotypists had learned the technique and set off to try their luck in far-flung destinations across Europe, Africa and the Near East.

This was no easy task: the travellers had to transport nearly 300 pounds of equipment, dangerous chemicals and inconvenient supplies; with no precedents to guide them in climates very different from that of Paris they had to experiment with lighting, aspect, exposure times, chemical combinations and conditions for developing the pictures; they often had nothing to show for their efforts but a blank plate. Where they succeeded, however, they produced the first photographic images ever made of these regions, having enormous historical and aesthetic importance, and inaugurated a practice which would forever alter the experience of travel.

But for the foresight of an enterprising Parisian optician and maker of scientific instruments named Noël-Paymal Lerebours, there would be little evidence of this pioneering photographic activity: the daguerreotype process does not allow the plate to be reproduced and few originals survive. Lerebours gathered together over a hundred of these daguerreotypes, had them traced and then engraved: the resulting Excursions daguerriennes: Vues et monuments les plus remarquables du globe (Paris, 1841-42; British Library 1899.ccc.18) was the first book to be illustrated from photographs. The images represented sites throughout Europe, from Russia and Sweden to Spain (fig. 1) and Greece; around the Mediterranean from Algiers to Beirut (fig. 5); and further afield to the Americas (fig. 2). 

Daguerrotype of the Court of the Lions in the Alhambra
Above:Fig. 1.  Edmond Jomard, The Alhambra (1840); Below:
Fig. 2.  Hugh Lee Pattinson, Horseshoe Falls, Niagara (1840), both from Excursions daguerriennes

Daguerrotype of the Horseshoe falls at Niagara Falls
Each image was accompanied by a text signed, in most cases, by a professional critic or man of letters. The photographers, on the other hand, are not indicated and most are therefore unknown.

There are two notable exceptions. Gustave Joly de Lotbinière, a Swiss-born Canadian seigneur who was in Paris en route to the Near East when Daguerre’s invention was announced, and Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet, a student of the French painter Horace Vernet whom he was preparing to accompany to Egypt and the Levant, both grasped the potential of the new process and quickly availed themselves of it. Joly left for Greece on 21 September 1839 and became the first person ever to photograph Athens; over the following eight months he took daguerreotypes of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Cyprus, Rhodes, Istanbul, and Malta. Goupil-Fesquet left for Egypt with Vernet in October, taking a slightly different route through the Levant and back to France by way of Izmir and Rome. Both photographers kept journals of their travels and drew upon them for the texts that they wrote to accompany their images in Excursions daguerriennes. Joly contributed the chapters on the Parthenon, the Propylaeia, the temple at Philae, the Temple of the Sun at Baalbek and the Muslim cemetery at Damascus. Goupil-Fesquet produced those on Pompey’s Pillar, the harem of Mehmet Ali in Alexandria, Luxor, the Great Pyramid, Jerusalem, Beirut, Acre and Nazareth. 

Photography offered unprecedented benefits over other means of recording travel.  As a process in which the object or site imprinted itself upon the plate, it was considered to have a realism, immediacy and authenticity unavailable in other media. Not that anyone was naïve about this: for example, the Introduction to the Excursions states openly that human figures were added to the engraving to “enliven” the picture. And Joly and Goupil-Fesquet both emphasise the limitations of the new medium: its restricted frame, its inability to reproduce colour, its dependence on variable conditions of light and atmosphere, the ways a view could change in the long exposure times necessary. On the other hand, photography could provide a useful corrective to previous travel albums, in which the views were “always modifed by the taste and imagination of the artist”. 

Both Joly and Goupil-Fesquet called the daguerreotype to witness in this assault on the myths and clichés of the picturesque tradition. The ultra-rational Joly is especially sarcastic, mocking the lyrical fantasising of his Romantic predecessors such as the poet Alphonse de Lamartine, author of a famous Voyage en Orient (1835), and stating the more prosaic truth. His images, striking as they are, take an unsentimental approach: his view of the Parthenon from the northwest, for example (fig. 3), shows the crumbling building surrounded by rubble, with a modern hut in the foreground, the mosque which stood in its centre until 1842, and the marks on the columns made by cannonballs during the Greek War of Independence. 

Daguerrotype of the ParthenonFig. 3.  Gustave Joly de Lotbinière, The Parthenon (1839), from Excursions daguerriennes

Goupil-Fesquet was more polite but no less keen to avoid the stale conventions of travel literature. Of his image of Luxor, he states: “The reader will look in vain […] for some propylaeum, sphinx, obelisk or other gigantic fragment which is indispensable to every Egyptian site.  However, it is Luxor, nothing can be truer […].”  Instead of these tropes, “well known to everyone,” the image depicts an ordinary scene of boats on the Nile being repaired or prepared for sailing, modern houses in the centre, and a minaret on the right (fig. 4). 

Daguerrotype of Luxor with a boat moored by the riverbankFig. 4. Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet, Luxor (1839), from Excursions daguerriennes

His impressive view of Beirut (fig. 5), looking over the rooftops toward Mount Lebanon with the Palace Mosque in the centre, retains the laundry hanging on the lines and between the crenellations on the walls, while modern villas in the light, airy countryside of the background contrast with the dense, strongly shadowed jumble of buildings in the old city, cut off at the bottom, in the front.

Daguerrotype of the view across the rooftops of BeirutFig. 5.  Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet, Beirut (1840), from Excursions daguerriennes

Travel photography would soon establish its own clichés and stereotypes. But in this initial stage, it offered a new approach to travel literature, one which exposed the old falsehoods while also making clear the contingency of the picture, plunging the reader into the immediacy and unpredictability of the experience itself. With its 111 images from the earliest period of photography, the Excursions daguerriennes is an especially significant example from the British Library’s outstanding collections of both foreign-language and photographically illustrated books. 

Michèle Hannoosh, Professor of French, University of Michigan


Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet, Voyage en Orient fait avec M. Horace Vernet en 1839 et 1840 (Paris, 1843).  1425.k.6

Pierre-Gustave Joly de Lotbinière, Voyage en Orient: Journal d’un voyageur curieux du monde et d’un pionnier de la daguerréotypie, ed. Jacques Desautels, Georges Aubin and Renée Blanchet (Quebec, 2010). YF.2014.a.664

Le Daguerréotype français. Un objet photographique, ed. Quentin Bajac and Dominique Planchon de Font-Réaulx (Paris, 2003).  LF.31.a.4688