European studies blog

9 posts from January 2016

29 January 2016

Playwright, peacemaker, polymath: Romain Rolland (1866-1944)

When Romain Rolland was born on 29 January 1866 into a prosperous middle-class family in Clamecy, Nièvre, there was little to indicate that he would grow up to be a dramatist, critic and pacifist who would one day win the Nobel Prize. His ancestors included solidly well-to-do farmers, and he would describe himself as an offshoot of an ‘antique species’ deeply rooted in la France profonde

From the first, his attempts to follow the predictable path towards a respectable calling as a schoolmaster were beset by problems; entering the Ecole normale supérieure at the age of 20, he rejected his course in philosophy to study history and, after two years in Rome, gained his doctorate in 1895 with a thesis entitled Les Origines du théâtre lyrique moderne. Histoire de l'opéra en Europe avant Lully et Scarlatti (British Library Hirsch 1877).

Photograph of Romain Rolland as a young man
Romain Rolland during his time at the Ecole normale supérieure. Reproduced in Stefan Zweig, Romain Rolland (Frankfurt, 1921)

This was to be the beginning of a distinguished career as a music critic and historian which had been launched by his encounter in Rome with Malwida von Meysenbug, governess to Alexander Herzen’s daughters and friend of Liszt, Wagner and Nietszche. After teaching at several Paris lycées while publishing studies of musicians past and present (Les musiciens d'autrefois and Musiciens d'Aujourd'hui ) he became the director of the newly-founded Ecole des Hautes Etudes Sociales and was appointed in 1903 to the first chair of the history of music at the Sorbonne.

However, at the same time he was developing a career as a dramatist. Like Wagner, he believed passionately in the power of theatre as a unifying social force rather than a mere pretext for pretentious display, and advocated a ‘people’s theatre’ going back to the dramatic tradition of the ancient Greeks. In his plays he portrayed the great events and personages of French history, from Madame de Montespan and Louis XIV (1904) to the French revolution in Le Triomphe de la raisonGeorges Danton and Le Quatorze juillet, convinced that a people which was truly happy and free would need festivities rather than theatres, and would ‘always see in itself the finest spectacle’, as he wrote in Le Théâtre du peuple. His ideas were enthusiastically adopted outside France, notably by Erwin Piscator and the Freie Volksbühne in Germany.

The transcending of national and cultural boundaries through art was a central theme of Rolland’s writings and of his whole life. Although his retiring nature did not make him a natural teacher, leading him to resign from the Sorbonne in 1912, he spread his pacifist internationalist beliefs through his writings, and, unable to tolerate the chauvinistic patriotism reigning in France during the First World War, he moved to Switzerland, where he published his anti-war essay Au-dessus de la mêlée (‘Above the battle’) published in the year in which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His principles enabled him to overcome his natural diffidence and to engage with Mahatma Gandhi  (on whom he published a study in 1923), Sigmund Freud and Stefan Zweig. The latter described their friendship extensively in his autobiography Die Welt von gestern, while Freud acknowledged the importance of Rolland’s influence in his Civilization and its Discontents (1929). He was also a close friend of Hermann Hesse, who dedicated his novel Siddhartha (1922) to him in tribute to their discussions of Eastern philosophy.

Sketch of Rolland's head
Rolland in 1919, portrait by Frans Masereel, reproduced in P.J. Jouve, Romain Rolland vivant (Paris, 1920) 011853.t.64.

Rolland’s great sequence of 10 novels Jean-Christophe (1904-1912) similarly explores the power of art to bridge cultural differences through the career of his hero, a gifted young German musician who settles in France and acts as the author’s mouthpiece for his ideas on the profound significance of music as a force for human understanding.

Rolland's manuscript of the preface to 'Jean-Christophe', with some lines crossed out in blue pencil
Opening of the preface from Rolland's manuscript of the last volume of Jean-Christophe Zweig MS 184, f.2r

In view of his achievements as a pacifist, including his work as a founding member in 1932 of the World Committee Against War and Fascism, it may seem startling that when, on a visit to Moscow three years later as the guest of Maxim Gorky, he met Joseph Stalin, he declared him to be the greatest man of his time. Although disillusionment set in as he became better informed about Stalin’s treatment of those who opposed him, he continued, with tact and fortitude, to represent the interests of French artists in his dealings with the U.S.S.R. and to campaign for the release of the writer Victor Serge and the Soviet politician Nikolai Bukharin, who was nevertheless executed in 1938.   

Handwritten dedication from Rolland's 'Jean-Christophe'
Dedication from the manuscript of the last volume of Jean-Christophe, ‘To the free souls - of all nations - who suffer, who struggle, and who will triumph’

Rolland returned in 1937 to make his home in Vézelay, where he remained in complete isolation throughout the German occupation, working tirelessly on his memoirs, his life of Beethoven, and a study of the Catholic poet Charles Péguy, which he completed not long before his death on 30 December 1944. His message of pacifism and the power of art to speak above narrow political and national interests continues to make him an author of lasting significance in an age which sorely needs to hear it.

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

Works by Rolland referred to in the text:

Les musiciens d'autrefois  (Paris, 1908) W19/0525

Musiciens d'Aujourd'hui: Berlioz - Wagner - Saint-Saëns - Vincent D'Indy-  Claude Debussy - Hugo Wolf - Richard Strauss - Le Renouveau de la Musique Francais depuis 1870 (Paris, 1908) W8/7005 

Le Triomphe de la Raison (Paris, 1899) 11736.f.54.

Danton (Paris, 1901) 11740.d.35.

Le 14 juillet (Paris, 1902) 12208.pp.1/13.

Le Théâtre du peuple (Paris, 1903) 12208.pp.1/44.

Au-dessus de la mêlée (Paris, 1915) W18/5841

Mahatma Gandhi  (Zürich, 1923) YA.1992.a.10990

Jean-Christophe (1904-1912) 12550.t.14.


27 January 2016

Crossing European Borders with Diego Marani’s ‘The Interpreter’

As in previous years, the British Library will host 2016’s European Literature Night on 11 May. As a taster, we look at a newly-translated work by an author who featured in 2014’s event.

Diego Marani’s The Interpreter (original Italian L’interprete, Milan, 2004y YF.2004.a.24136) begins in Geneva at the United Nations where an interpreter has developed a strange malady and starts speaking gibberish while claiming he has discovered the primordial language of mankind. Before he can be sacked he disappears, then his boss develops the same illness and goes to a sanatorium in Munich for a language cure. While at the sanatorium he decides his only chance of being cured is to find the missing interpreter and find out about the mysterious illness which has taken over his life. There now begins a journey through Europe which takes him as far as the Crimea. This is no travelogue but an exploration of cultural diversity, language, identity and crime.

Front cover of 'The Interpreter'

It is a very entertaining novel with a lot of humour but also dark and frightening. It shows how easily all the certainties of life can disappear and how an individual can be left defenceless to the buffetings of external forces beyond his control. The narrator in the novel loses everything but the power of the human spirit keeps him alive and he fights back. For him life is an obstacle race where the obstacles can change from day to day, and where you must adapt to survive.

As with Marani’s earlier novels, New Finnish Grammar and The Last of the Vostyachs, the importance of language and identity are at the heart of the novel:

Languages are like toothbrushes: the only one you should put in your mouth is your own. It's a question of hygiene... it's dangerous to let yourself be contaminated by the germs of another tongue.

It is your language and your culture which give you your identity and make you what you are. When times get tough it is a bulwark against chaos and adversity. Your language and culture help you belong in society and connect you to both the past and the future. Whatever journeys we undertake, we take with us our language and culture and we do not lose them however much our life changes. We can learn new languages and immerse ourselves in new cultures, but we still retain the language and culture which surrounded us in our formative years and in which we were educated. This is why exile is so painful for most adults. Indeed, people who have left their homes for work in foreign countries remain truer to the traditions that they grew up with than people who remain behind in a changing society. For the exile, a country can’t change as it exists only in his mind, frozen in aspic, and it is to this country of the mind that he wants to return. Indeed, as many returning immigrants discover, the country they left behind no longer exists and they can’t readjust to the country which has taken its place.

The themes of the novel are carefully embedded in a thriller plot and do not interfere with a cracking yarn rich in event and the unexpected. Diego Marani shows that he is at home with the detective story, so it is not a surprise that he has gone on to write detective fiction with God’s Dog. The issues raised in The Interpreter are answered, but what the narrator has learnt does not seem worth the price that he has paid and will continue to pay.

Covers of three of Marani's novels
Books by Diego Marani from the British Library's collections

Eric Lane, Dedalus Books

25 January 2016

Art and Politics: the work of Igor Cherchenko

The British Library has just acquired the recently-published debut catalogue by the Vitebsk-born Israeli artist Igor Cherchenko, Zhivopis’, grafika = Paintings, graphics (2015; British Library LF.31.a.5194).  I am grateful for an opportunity to introduce the book to the readers of the European Studies blog.

Cherchenko is an autodidact. Even though his pictures were regularly chosen for school exhibitions, he received poor marks in his art classes, because he’d always draw for all his classmates and never had time to draw for himself. This time arrived when he fell ill during his army service in Israel, and realised that art was a unique opportunity for him to “talk to the world seriously” (as he put it in a conversation with me, when I first met him in Tel Aviv in May 2013). In the Soviet Union, Cherchenko didn’t want to draw and paint to order. Instead, he went to a factory to work as an apprentice lathe operator. Now, in his new country of residence, the Tiroche Auction House in Herzliya sells his pictures for US $500-1,000 apiece. 

Photograph of Igor Cherchenko
 Igor Cherchenko (photograph by Andrei Rogatchevski)

Perhaps the most striking thing about Cherchenko’s book is that it has a special section on his political activism, with photographic illustrations. One does not find such sections in art catalogues very often. Since 2001, Cherchenko has been a member of the Israeli branch of the National Bolshevik Party of Russia (NBP), formed in 1993, banned in 2007 for extremism and subsequently reconstituted as the Other Russia party. It “started as an art project, became an anti-oligarch revolutionary party mixing Trotskyism and Fascism, and then transformed again to become a Kremlin ally” (Peter Pomerantsev, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible (London, 2015) YC.2016.a.5635; pp. 207-208).

By Cherchenko’s own admission, he was attracted to the NBP by its fusion of “the hard left and the ultra-right” (Marc Bennetts, Kicking the Kremlin: Russia’s new dissidents and the battle to topple Putin (London, 2014); YC.2014.a.13537. p. 35). For him and his fellow Israeli party members, a union of left- and right-wing radicalism seemed a chance to find new directions in life, away from the routine. Moreover, Cherchenko believes that the desirable societal and spiritual changes could only be achieved via Russia, because Israel is a small and dependent state, and has to manoeuvre to survive. The artist took part in many NBP-related protest actions against the Putin/Medvedev regime and in spring 2013 was even temporarily banned from entering Russia.

Yet he denies that his art is an NBP art. “I am a painter of aphorisms and short stories”, he says. Space precludes me from retelling them all. Let us for now concentrate on one of Cherchenko’s central themes, that of memento mori.

Painting of Death putting his hands over the eyes of a smiling man
Guess Who
(©Igor Cherchenko; reproduced by kind permission of the artist) 

Before joining the NBP, Cherchenko was part of an art project called Organisatsiia po bor’be so smert’iu (OPBSS) (‘The Foundation against Death’ (FAD). It seems paradoxical that this movement merged with the NBP, whose favourite slogan (borrowed from Franco’s Falange) is ‘Yes to Death!’ It has to be said, however, that sometimes NBP slogans indicate a direction, opposite to where the party intends to go. On this occasion, its members apparently welcome death for the sake of achieving immortality.

Many NBP members regularly apply a kind of death test to themselves, as they tend to live dangerously (dozens have been jailed and a few have died for their political beliefs). The NBP even refers to itself sometimes as a “party of the dead”, adding the deceased NBP activists to the editorial board of the party newspaper Limonka (‘The Hand Grenade’, 1993-2010; LOU.FMISC2690(1)).

Pursued by the Kremlin for its so-called ‘direct actions’, such as peaceful occupations of government offices while protesting against various government policies, the NBP regularly needs new recruits to reinforce its ranks, depleted by arrests and imprisonments. That is why, irrespective of its neo-Nazi roots, it has always welcomed Jews – as well as Gypsies, Muslims and just about anyone prepared to suffer in the name of the party agenda, based on social concern-cum-nationalism.

The contradiction between the NBP’s neo-Nazi leanings, on the one hand, and its acceptance of Jewish members, on the other, can be observed in Cherchenko’s picture ‘The Flying Nazi which fuses several visual motifs (such as Jews flying over a shtetl) characteristic of another Vitebsk-born artist, Marc Chagall, with a highly ambivalent image of an airborne trigger-happy stormtrooper bringing death and destruction to the world of East European Jewry.

Painting of a flying Nazi soldier bringing destruction to small Jewish village
The Flying Nazi  (©Igor Cherchenko; reproduced by kind permission of the artist). Compare, for instance, Chagall’s ‘Over Vitebsk’ (1915-20)

In Cherchenko’s world, death may sometimes be hidden from view but it is rarely too far away, as his ‘Apotheosis of Spring’ demonstrates.  

Painting of a pile of watermelons with crows flying and perching around itThe Apotheosis of Spring (©Igor Cherchenko; reproduced by kind permission of the artist) 

The picture was inspired by Vasily Vereshchagin’s ‘The Apotheosis of War’ (1871), with human skulls replaced by watermelons. Only the red fragments of watermelon flesh hint at a violent tension behind the deceptively joyous title.

If these memorable images by Cherchenko are sufficient to arouse the reader’s interest, there’s more where they came from. Whatever people may think of Cherchenko’s politics, his art seems worth writing about.

Andrei Rogatchevski (UiT – the Arctic University of Norway)

21 January 2016

Imagining Don Quixote

‘Imagining Don Quixote’, a free exhibition focusing on how Cervantes’ novel has been illustrated over time, opened in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery on 19 January and runs until 22 May. It explores how different approaches to illustrating the work have reflected changing interpretations both of Don Quixote, the novel, and of its eponymous protagonist. The most significant shift has been in the perception of Don Quixote as figure of burlesque fun to noble idealist brought low. This blog post looks at the depiction of Don Quixote himself.

Miguel de Cervantes’ El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha, published in two parts (1605, 1615), tells how Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, his squire, set out to win fame by righting wrongs and succouring the weak and distressed. Cervantes gives succinct descriptions of Don Quixote: ‘approximately fifty years old; his complexion was weathered, his flesh scrawny, his face gaunt’ (DQ I, 1); later Don Diego de Miranda was ‘amazed by the length of his horse, his height, his thin, sallow face… a form and appearance not seen for many long years’ (DQ II, 16). Even so depictions of Don Quixote have varied over time and differences reflect changing views of the novel. In the 17th century it was appreciated for its burlesque, often physical humour, and character was subordinate to narrative. Illustrators do portray Don Quixote as tall and elderly, Sancho as shorter and more stout, but the contrast is not an exaggerated one, as in this anonymous English illustration:

Engraving of Don Quixote on his horse and Sancho Panza leading his donkey
Frontispiece of Miguel de Cervantes, The History of the Most Renown’d Don Quixote (London, 1687) Cerv.336

In the 18th century the editors of the first scholarly edition (1738) saw the novel as a satire directed against fantastical literature which caused readers to confuse fiction with history. They restricted the physical humour in the illustrations and sought to elevate the character of Don Quixote. Here he courteously greets two women as noble ladies, although Cervantes’ text indicates that they are prostitutes (DQ I, 2).

Don Quixote on horseback greets two women
Miguel de Cervantes, Vida y hechos del ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (London, 1738)  86.l.2-5

John Vanderbank’s illustration adds a nobility of gesture to Quixote’s height, as prescribed by Cervantes. 

One artist was crucial in establishing a sympathetic image of Don Quixote: Gustave Doré (1832-1883). The illustrations of his monumental edition (Paris, 1863) have been reproduced in many later editions. Doré’s Quixote is elongated and thin indeed but his bearing is altogether more heroic, especially in outdoor scenes. This portrayal – looking upwards, lance pointing skyward - accords with the growing Romantic tendency to see Don Quixote as an idealist brought low by harsh reality and the mockery of others (DQ I, 3).

Don Quixote standing in the moonlight with his lance raised
Miguel de Cervantes, The History of Don Quixote…. (London, 1876-1878)

Until around the middle of the 19th century not only book illustration, but also prints, drawings and paintings had depicted specific episodes of the novel. However, Doré’s contemporary Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) focused almost exclusively on the two protagonists. The skeletal figure of the tall, thin knight on a painfully bony horse is instantly recognizable and has become part of our collective imagery. Here, Sancho Panza is represented only by the smaller, rotund figure in the background.

Painting of Don Quixote on horseback in a landscape
Honoré Daumier, Don Quixote (1868). Neue Pinakothek, Munich.

Mention Don Quixote and Sancho today to most people and the image of a tall, thin man, accompanied by a short, fat man will come to mind. And that is without having read Cervantes’s novel. The image they are recalling, however vaguely, is most probably Picasso’s pen-and-ink drawing of 1955.

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in a landscape with windmills
Picasso  ‘Don Quixote’ (1955) (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Don Quixote is long of face and body; his horse, Rocinante, more haggard still; by contrast, rotund Sancho Panza sits comfortably on his donkey. Picasso’s drawing continues the restricted representation begun by Daumier in the previous century. Picasso also includes the windmills that appear in the best-known episode, when Quixote mistakes them for giants. The sun makes the drawing more emblematic of Spain.

Separation of the image of Don Quixote from the novel’s narrative has also enabled its use in many other contexts: propaganda, advertising, postcards, playing cards, ceramics, porcelain figurines…  All of which serve to keep the picture of the tall, thin knight and his rotund squire in our collective mind. 

Geoff West, former Head of Hispanic Collections

References/further reading

Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, translated by Edith Grossman (London, 2004). Nov.2005/1526

La imagen del ‘Quijote’ en el mundo (Barcelona, 2004). LF.31.b.1670

Patrick Lenaghan, Imágenes del Quijote: modelos de representación en las ediciones de los siglos XVII a XIX (Madrid, 2003). LF.31.a.88

Rachel Schmidt, Critical Images: the Canonization of Don Quixote through Illustrated Editions of the Eighteenth Century (Montreal & Kingston, 1999 2708.h.767


19 January 2016

Tolstoy’s Anglophone Admirers: British, Irish and American visitors to Yasnaia Poliana

“The Englishman or American who wishes to know what the man [Tolstoy] was like in the environment - how he saw himself and was seen by those who shared it, cannot do better than read the long and detailed biography of the great Russian which was prepared by Paul Birukoff from material furnished by Tolstoy himself and often written by him.” (New York Times 25 February 1912).

Photograph of Tolstoy wearing a white tunic Portrait of Tolstoy, 1880s. British Library Add. MS 52772 f.120

Of course, some Englishmen and Americans were prepared to travel a long way to be able to see Tolstoy and speak to him. This should not be surprising at all, if we remember that from the mid-1890s Tolstoy’s articles were frequently published in major British newspapers. The majority of his essays, both in Russian and English, first appeared in England as a result of the publishing activities of Tolstoy’s friend and supporter Vladimir Chertkov.

One of Tolstoy’s English visitors was Sir Charles Theodore Hagberg Wright (1862-1940), Secretary and Librarian of the London Library. He translated Tolstoy and had the reputation of being a liberal Russophile. Wright visited Tolstoy four or five times from 1890. On 13 September 1908 Tolstoy’s wife Sofia Andreevna noted in her diary that he was among the guests on one of those busy days of Tolstoy’s 80th jubilee. Wright presented Tolstoy with a letter signed by more than 700 English admirers. Apart from books on the London Library, catalogues, and translations from Russian, Wright wrote an essay ‘Books for Russian prisoners of war in Germany’ (T. W. Koch, Books in camp, trench, and hospital) and an introduction to C. E. Vulliamy’s selection of Russian state papers and other documents relating to the years 1915-1918, published in English as The Red Archives (London,  1929; 09455.ff.55.).

The American author Ernest Howard Crosby (1856–1907) was also very much influenced by Tolstoy and visited him in Yasnaia Poliana in 1894. He became the most devoted among Tolstoy’s nearly 70 American correspondents and did much to to promote Tolstoy’s ideas in America. In 1903, Crosby published a book Tolstoy and his Message (012203.e.7/1.) and a year later Tolstoy as a Schoolmaster.

Title-page of 'Tolstoy as a schoolmaster' with frontispiece portrait of Tolstoy
E.H. Crosby, Tolstoy as a Schoolmaster (London , 1904). B.6.b.31

Crosby recommended to Tolstoy certain friends who also wanted to see the great man. One of them was Robert Hunter (1884-1942), an American sociologist, public figure and and socialist, who  left a detailed account of a visit to Tolstoy on 12 July 1903 (Add. MS 52772 ff. 95-108). Hunter wrote what Tolstoy said about the dilemma that was preoccupying him at that time. Tolstoy felt that he should have disposed of his property and renounced all wealth and luxuries, but could not do so because of his wife and family. In the last decades of his life Tolstoy was painfully aware of the fact that his teaching was not in keeping with his family’s lifestyle. The thought that his inability to give away his material goods compromised his principles and beliefs brought him a lot of suffering and finally became the cause of his flight from home in 1910.

Robert Hunter (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Hunter’s description of his visit to Yasnaia Poliana is kept among the papers of Sydney Carlyle Cockrell (1867-1962), later Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. He visited Tolstoy in the company of “two American friends” (one of them was Hunter) and also left notes on this visit (Add. MS 5277, ff. 80-87v.). As an art historian, he was particularly interested in Tolstoy’s essay ‘What is art?’ (‘Chto takoe iskusstvo?’) and wanted to know Tolstoy’s opinion on William Morris and the John Ruskin who, in Cockrell’s view, had already said many of the things that Tolstoy stated in his essay. Cockrell’s file also contains photographic postcards of Tolstoy (Add. MS 5277, ff. 109-121).

The first Irishman to visit Tolstoy was the journalist and politician Michael Davitt (1846-1906). He came to interview Tolstoy in June 1904, but also appealed for his support of Ireland against England. Davitt visited Tolstoy again in February 1905, this time accompanied by another journalist and translator, Stephen MacKenna (1872-1934), who interviewed Tolstoy about ‘Bloody Sunday’. MacKenna’s account of this visit was published in The Irish Statesman of 1 October 1927. In his book Iasnopolianskie zapiski: 1904-1910 gody (ZF.9.a.5897) Tolstoy’s doctor Dushan Makovitskii noted that Tolstoy had called the Irishmen “lovely (slavnyi), vigorous and merry people”. In the entry of 19 November (2 Dec) 1907 Makovitskii wrote: “At 5.30 p.m. Mr Leslie arrived, a 22-year-old aristocrat and Irish nationalist. Wants to see a ‘simple life’. LN spoke to him in his study about important issues (ser’eznye voprosy)”.

Sir John Randolph Leslie (1885-1971), who wrote under the pseudonym of Shane Leslie, left accounts of his meeting with Tolstoy in his notes of conversations with him and in a letter to his mother Leonie dated 4 December 1907 (both in the National Library of Ireland). It was also later reflected in his fictional and autobiographical books The Cantab, and Long Shadows.

  Title-page of Shane Leslie's 'The Cantab'
Shane Leslie. The Cantab (London, 1926). X14/7513

In both books Leslie gives fictionalised versions of his conversation with Tolstoy and sometimes he is slightly ironic. His protagonist “became a confirmed vegetarian and promised to learn to plough”. In real life, the meeting had little influence on either of them: Leslie converted to Catholicism in 1908, never abandoned either nationalism or ‘worldly riches’, and embraced pacifism only after his brother’s death in the First World War.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

References/further reading:

The diaries of Sofia Tolstaya, translated by Cathy Porter. (London, 1985) 85/24964

Leo Tolstoy: his life and work: autobiographical memoirs, letters, and biographical material, compiled by Paul Birukoff and revised by Leo Tolstoi. (London, 1906)

L.N. Tolstoĭ i SShA : perepiska , sostavlenie, podgotovka tekstov, kommentarii, N. Velikanova, R. Vittaker.( Moscow, 2004) 2005.a.18966

14 January 2016

West African Literature and Thought in French

Some of the most important contemporary writing in French has emerged from West Africa. As part of the programme of events accompanying the current British Library exhibition West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song, the Library is holding a seminar on West African Literature and Thought in French on Friday 22 January from 10.30-1700 in the Conference Centre.

This event will bring together authors (including leading writer from the Côte d’Ivoire, Véronique Tadjo), publishers, translators and other specialists to explore topics including the history of the Francophone West African book as well as the complex processes of translation between oral and literary cultures and across various other linguistic, historical and political contexts.

The programme for the seminar is:

10.30-11.00  Registration. Tea/ Coffee

11.00-11.10  Welcome: Janet Zmroczek (Head of European and Americas Collections, British Library)

11.10-12.00  Opening Panel:  West Africa at the British Library

  • Marion Wallace (British Library), Overview of the British Library’s current major exhibition ‘West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song’ 
  • Jody Butterworth (British Library), Introduction to the Endangered Archives Programmes based in Francophone West Africa

12.00-12.50  Panel: Introducing West African literature and culture (Chair: Patrick Corcoran)

  • David Murphy (University of Stirling), Négritude and the rest? A brief history of West African Literature in French
  • Chérif Keita (Carleton College), The Sunjata Fasa (The Epic of Sundiata) as the Matrix of Mande Personhood

12.50-13.45  Lunch. A sandwich lunch will be provided.

13.45- 14.45  Round table: Translation and reception (Chair: Charlotte Baker)
With Kathryn Batchelor (University of Nottingham), Georgina Collins (University of Glasgow), Michael Syrotinski, (University of Glasgow), Wangui Wa Goro (SIDENSI)

14.45- 15. 45  Round table: Publishing translated fiction in the UK (Chair: Ruth Bush)
With Becky Nana Ayebia Clarke (Ayebia Clarke Publishing), Suzanne Diop (Présence Africaine Editions), Samantha Schnee (Words without Borders), Audrey Small (University of Sheffield)

15.45-16.00  Tea/Coffee

16.00-17.00 Véronique Tadjo : a reading and a conversation with Nicki Hitchcott (University of Nottingham)

Covers of five books by Veronique Tadjo
A selection of Veronique Tadjo’s books from the British Library’s collections

The seminar has been organised by Teresa Vernon (British Library) and Charles Forsdick (University of Liverpool/AHRC) in partnership with the AHRC ‘Translating Cultures’ theme and The Society for French Studies, with the support of the Institut Français. A book stall provided by the Africa Book Centre will be available on the day.

You can book by following the link to our ‘What’s On’ page or by contacting the British Library Box Office ( +44 (0)1937 546546; Prices are £25 (concessions £15-18, see ‘What’s On’ for full details).

The seminar will be followed in the evening by a performance at 19.00 by acclaimed Malian band Trio Da Kali, who will be performing from their own repertoire, before accompanying Chérif Keita’s recitation of the Epic of Sundiata. Please note that separate tickets are required for this event and for visits to the Exhibition itself (open 09.30-18.00) on the day.

Photograph of the Trio Da Kali underneath a tree
Trio Da Kali (photograph: Youri Lenquette)


11 January 2016

East is East

European attitudes to the East have ranged from maurophobia and sinophobia to maurophilia and sinophilia, as we know from Edward Said’s superstellar work Orientalism and Robert Irwin’s lesser-known reply.

But where is the East? What we used to call the Near East is now called the Middle East. (The Far East seems to have stayed more or less where it was.) The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, founded 30 years ago, is dedicated to “Improving the Quality of U.S. Middle East Policy”.

It is generally accepted that the literature of short fiction such as fables and novelle owes as much to eastern sources as classical. The Spanish are naturally proud of Petrus Alfonsi (Chaucer calls him Piers Alfonce, which makes him sound like a British public schoolboy), born Moses Sefardi in Aragon and converted from Judaism to Christianity in 1106. His Disciplina clericalis is a Latin translation “partly from the sayings of the philosophers and their counsels, partly from Arabic sayings and counsels and fables and verses, partly from bird and animal similitudes”. He is one reason why the Spaniards see themselves as the link between Christianity and Islam, in Menéndez Pidal’s memorable phrase.

Manuscript of 'Disciplina clericalis' written in two columns with decorated initials and marginsThe opening of the Disciplina clericalis from a late 13th/early 14th cent. English manuscript. (British Library Royal 10 B XII)

Other texts such as the Tales of Bidpai (alias Pilpay, etc.) travelled westward from Sanskrit to Arabic to Spanish and Latin.

Map showing how the story collection 'Calila e Dimna' was transmitted westward from the India to EuropeMap showing the westward journey of Calila e Dimna from Gonzalo Menéndez Pidal, Atlas Histórico Español. (Barcelona, 1941) Maps 17.b.48.

The Spanish version, Calila e Dimna, c. 1250, is broadly contemporary with the Latin Directorium vitae humanae of John of Capua. Said John of Capua in his prologue writes:

This is the book of the parables of the ancient sages of the nations of the world. And it is called the Book of Kelila and Dimna; and previously it was translated into the language of the Indians then into the language of the Persians, and then the Arabs translated it into their language; and lastly it was put into the Hebrew language; and now our intention is to turn it into the Latin language.

  Woodcut of a crowned lion before a group of other animalsWoodcut illustration from Directorium vitae humanae ([Strasbourg, ca. 1489]) G.7812. 

In another wisdom tale, the clever servant girl Doncella Teodor (Maiden Theodora), in order to save her master’s life, is cross-examined by a committee of scholars on what the Middle Ages called “natural questions”:

Question: What was the first ship that went on the sea?
Answer: Noah’s Ark.

Q: Who is the man of most perfect goodness?
A: He who masters his wrath and and defeats his will.

Q: What is the cause which puts in debt the man who owes nothing?
A: He who uncovers his secret to another man or woman.

Q: Who was it who lived in this world in two bellies?
A: The prophet Jonah, who was in his mother’s womb and in the whale’s belly three days and three nights.

The Dialogue of Doncella Teodor was translated from Arabic (where she is Tawaddud) into Spanish and indeed into Mayan.

The advance of wisdom from east to west continues in the 18th century: as if Tawaddud were not eastern enough, Schiller makes her into a Chinese girl, by the name of Turandot.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections


Margaret Parker, The story of a story across cultures : the case of the Doncella Teodor (Woodbridge, 1996) YC.1996.b.7242

Edward W. Said, Orientalism (London, 1979) X.800/27520

Robert Irwin, For lust of knowing: the orientalists and their enemies (London, 2006) YC.2007.a.6196

Menéndez Pidal, Ramón, España, eslabón centre la Cristiandad y el Islam (Madrid, 1956)

06 January 2016

Indefatigable Pioneer, Zealous Propagandist, Organizer, Financier, Leader

 The title of my blog is taken from ‘An Appreciation’ for an extraordinary Englishman, published for his funeral in the winter of 1916. Captain Harold Bolingbroke Mudie, born in January 1880, was accidentally killed in France “while on active service” on January 6, 1916.

Title-page of '“H.B.M”. An Appeciation' with a frontispiece portrait of Mudie
 “H.B.M”. An Appeciation. (Letchworth, 1916)

The carefully-prepared Appreciation is published in two languages, English and Esperanto, which reflects how important they both were in Mudie’s life. English was his mother tongue in which he received a good education; he used it working as a successful financier. At the age of 22 he discovered another language, Esperanto, and fell in love with it. Soon he became an ardent advocate for the promotion of Esperanto worldwide. In November 1903 he founded the gazette The Esperantist with a financial guarantee from William Thomas Stead. Fourteen issues were published; all of them are now available in Project Gutenberg. W.T. Stead’s editorial, which opens the first issue in 1903, is worth reading. The spirit of the pioneering period of the Esperanto movement, full of hope and belief that the solution for the multilingual diversity of humankind was finally found, is alive there.

Cover of the first issue of 'The Esperantist'
   The Esperantist Issue 1 1903 (British Library P.P.4939.k.)

In January 1906 The Esperantist united with The British Esperantist, published by the Esperanto Association of Britain. Mudie joined its editorial committee, and took part in the first Esperanto congress in 1905.

Issue 1 of 'The British Esperantist' with a masthead image of a winged figure seated on a globe and holding a star
The British Esperantist Issue 1 1905 (P.P.4939.ka)

Then in 1907 Mudie himself became one of three legendary Esperantists (together with John Pollen and George Cunningham) who organized the very memorable Third World Esperanto congress in Cambridge. La Kongresa Libro (012902.eee.22) is one of the most interesting in the history of the Esperanto movement. It includes not only a lovely description of Cambridge and its wonderful colleges, and a translation of ‘God save the Queen’ but gives also menus and advertisements, including ones for whisky and cigarettes called ‘Esperanto’!

Advertisement for 'Esperanto Whisky'
 Viski Esperanto from La Tria Universala Kongreso de Esperanto. Kongresa Libro. (London, 1907). 012902.eee.22

Photograph of John Pollen, George Cunningham and Mudie seated at a table with British and Esperanto flags

Postcard  La Trio por la Tria (from Wikimedia Commons)

In 1903 Mudie was among the founders of the London Esperanto Club. In 1908 he became the first president of the newly-founded World Esperanto Association. A good linguist and an excellent orator, he was also a member of the Lingva Komitato, the precursor of the current Akademio de Esperanto. Alongside these numerous activities he found time to translate from Latin. The British Library holds his translation of Swedenborg, La dogmaro pri la vivo por la Nova Jerusalemo (London, 1908;, published by the Swedenborg Society.

Even during his holidays he used Esperanto a lot. A very interesting report in two languages is published in The Esperantist vol. 2, nr 6 for 1905 entitled Mia libertempo:

But, for my present readers, it is not well that I should describe this city, but better that I should hasten to beautiful Malta, the fruitful island whose past history has been so bloody and full of interest. Even ere the ship had come to a standstill in the harbour I recognised our energetic comrades, Dr. Busuttil and Messrs. Agius and Dominic Chiantar. These three devoted friends kindly drove me over the beautiful surroundings, and took me into the luxurious hall of the Knights of St. John of olden time, and into various churches. Will they kindly accept my renewed thanks! And ever the same language, intelligible without difficulty! But it was not in Malta that I terminated my Esperantic wanderings, for, after a broiling visit to the interesting Syracuse, I found in Palermo the genial Dr. Nalli, Secretary of the Sicilian Society. He kindly devoted a whole day to me, and proved that he who has not visited Palermo has missed a city of many charms. There also I enjoyed an excellent lunch à la Palermo, while my fellow tourists lost more than two hours waiting in vain at a French hotel.

“As A Leader – noble and large-hearted – he commanded the respect of all his colleagues, who will greatly miss his capacity and calm judgement” (from ‘Appreciation’). Harold Bolingbroke Mudie is buried in the cemetery of Forges-les-Eaux . To commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death, French and British Esperantists are gathering today at his grave in this small town in Normandy. This blog is my poppy laid on his tomb.

Caricature of Mudie sitting in a boat and waving an Esperanto flag
Bolingbroke Mudie. Caricature from 1912 (From Wikimedia Commons)

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Esperanto studies

04 January 2016

Definitely Not Lenin and Trotsky: Donald C. Thompson’s Photographs of 1917

The images of Lenin and Trotsky have become iconic, and it seems impossible to think of the Russian revolutions of 1917 without calling to mind what their fellow revolutionary Anatoly Lunacharsky described as ‘the colossal dome of [Lenin’s] forehead’. Yet, when they were first introduced to the English speaking world by photographer Donald C. Thompson at the end of 1917, their appearance was strikingly different…

  Photograph of a group of men, captioned 'Lenine & Trotzky'
Photograph of “Lenine and Trotzky” in Donald C. Thompson, Donald Thompson in Russia (New York, 1918) 10292.bbb.15.

Thompson was an American freelance photographer, arriving in Russia in January 1917 on behalf of the Leslie’s Weekly magazine shortly before the first revolution in February. He remained until the end of July, capturing many interesting images of the Russians in war and revolution, many of which can be viewed on the Alexander Palace website.

  Photograph of two men captioned 'Lenin and Trotzky'
Another of Thompson’s photographs, here reprinted in Catherine Radziwill’s The Firebrand of Bolshevism (Boston, 1919)

Despite looking little like Lenin and Trotsky, these two mysterious figures crop up a number of times throughout his work, ending up in large-circulation journals like the Illustrated London News and books like Catherine Radziwill’s The Firebrand of Bolshevism (Boston, 1919;, most often alongside the argument that the two revolutionary leaders were either working for Germany or were even secretly Germans themselves. They are among the earliest representations of the Bolshevik leaders in broad circulation.

Photograph of Donald Thompson
Photographer Donald C. Thompson, from Donald Thompson in Russia

In December 1917, the same month that his photographs began to be printed in the English-speaking press, Thompson released his film The German Curse in Russia in New York, purporting to show Lenin and Trotsky’s ‘vile German intrigue working in the unthinking masses’ (See the blog post by Ron van Dopperen at ‘First World War on Film’). Unfortunately, it is one of the ‘lost’ films of the First World War.

Caricature of Trotsky as a blood-soaked demon presiding over a scene of murder
An unsympathetic caricature of Trotsky - still more accurate than Thompson’s photographs. Миръ и свобода въ Совдепіи [A cartoon against Trotsky and the Red Army.] (1920?) 1856.g.2.(46.).

So why were these images circulated as ‘Lenine and Trotzky’? Thompson claims to have taken them on 15 July 1917 (just before the beginning of the July Days) at the mansion of the famous dancer Mathilde Kschessinska, then in the possession of the Russian Social Democrats. As he wrote:

I went out to Lenine’s place and tried to see him and make a picture of him. I saw him after a wait of two hours and asked him to pose for a picture. When Boris told him I was from America, he told Boris to tell me he would have nothing to do with me and that we had better leave Petrograd. I told Boris to tell him that I was not going to leave Petrograd and that I would stay as long as I wished.
I have made photographs of Lenine and a man named Trotzky who has come from New York. Trotzky I find a very mysterious man. He does not commit himself. (Thompson in Russia, p. 284.)

Cartoon of Lenin holding two agruing politicians in his hand
Lenin as we know him… British Cartoon of Lenin from Communist Cartoons (By “Espoir” and others) (London, 1922) 1878.f.26

Was Thompson deceived by his translator Boris into thinking he had met the Bolshevik leader? Were Lenin and Trotsky using body doubles, ‘political decoys’ as fellow Bolshevik Joseph Stalin would later allegedly do? Or, we might be tempted to ask whether there were any financial incentives in spuriously claiming to have photos of Lenin and Trotsky for immediate use by newspapers after the October revolution.

Photograph of two men alleged to be Lenin and Trotsky
‘Not recognised by the Allied governments… ’: Thompson’s photograph illustrating a G.K. Chesterton column,  ‘Our Notebook’, Illustrated London News, 15 December 1917. P.P.7611.

So, we may know who the figures in these photographs are not, but figuring out who they are is a more difficult question. Despite their distinctive style of dress, facial characteristics and their seemingly high level of importance, the true identity of these supposed revolutionaries has eluded me, so if anybody has any information or can speculate as to who they could be it would be interesting to hear your comments.

Mike Carey, CDA Student

References/further reading:

Anatoly Lunacharsky, Revolutionary Silhouettes (London, 1967). X.700/2555.

David Mould, ‘Donald Thompson: Photographer at War’, Kansas History 5, 3 (September, 1982), 154-67.