THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

8 posts from September 2019

28 September 2019

A Journey from St Petersburg to Moscow, or a story of Imperial glory, radical ideas and rare books

Banned Books Week (22–28 Sept 2019) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to the number of challenges to books in schools, bookshops and libraries. The theme for 2019 urges readers to ‘keep the light on’ to ensure censorship doesn’t leave us in the dark.

For over six months, from the beginning of January 1787, Empress of Russia Catherine the Great conducted an inspection of her newly-acquired lands in the south. The journey, known as the Taurida Voyage, was documented in an account kept by the Tsarina’s secretary Alexander Khrapovitskii (now digitised), but the itinerary with short descriptions of the places that she had intended to visit or pass by was published prior the trip.

Title page of Puteshestvie Ee Imperatorskogo Velishectva v poludennyi krai Rossii, predpriemlemoe v 1787 godu

Title page of Puteshestvie Ee Imperatorskogo Velishectva v poludennyi krai Rossii, predpriemlemoe v 1787 godu. (St. Petersburg, 1786) 1426.h.1

Map from Puteshestvie Ee Imperatorskogo Velishectva v poludennyi krai Rossii, predpriemlemoe v 1787 godu

Map from Puteshestvie Ee Imperatorskogo Velishectva v poludennyi krai Rossii, 

The purpose of the voyage was to celebrate the Empire, the Empress, and her victorious policies of expansion. Accounts of travels were a popular genre in 18th-century literature, but of course, Khrapovitskii’s ‘journal’ was also a distinguished piece of state propaganda.

We might speculate that the journal of Catherine’s travels ‘inspired’ Alexander Radishchev, a graduate of the University of Leipzig and therefore somewhat radical thinker, and a civil servant of the ninth rank (out of 14, first being the highest), to write his book A Journey from St Petersburg to Moscow and publish it in 1790.

Title page of the facsimile edition of Puteshestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu

Title page of the facsimile edition of Puteshestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu (Moscow; Leningrad, 1935) 010291.f.36

The last pages of the facsimile edition of Puteshestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu

The last pages of the facsimile edition of Puteshestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu 

An account of a routine journey from the capital city to the second most important city in the country and its ex-capital does not sound like an exciting new adventure that could capture readers’ imagination. And indeed, it meant to do the complete opposite – to show the dire state of social conditions in Russia where serfdom was as routine as a trip from St Petersburg to Moscow. If Catherine’s trip was a symbol of glory and victory of the ruling classes, Radishchev’s book presented an account of the misery and defeat of the people of Russia.

Map of the journey from Moscow to St Petersburg

Map of the journey (Materialy k izucheniiu “Puteshestviia”)

As one can see, there is no author’s name on the title page. In addition, the statement that the work had received approval from a censor – a mandatory condition for any print publication at that time in the Russian Empire – is put on the last page. It becomes obvious that Radishchev is playing some kind of trick here. The version he deposited for censorship was much lighter on criticism of the state than the version he eventually printed. Having received approval for printing, he reinstated the pages that contained his most radical, critical views.

Radishchev made use of Catherine’s decree on free printing, which from 1783 allowed individuals to set up private printing presses, and had a printing press in his own house. Between January and May 1790, he, his subordinate from the civil service, and domestics (mainly his own serfs) managed to produce 650 copies of his book. The first 50 copies were sent to the bookseller Zotov, and 30 of them sold. Quite unfortunately, one copy landed on Catherine’s desk. The Empress was infuriated, as she interpreted Radishchev's calls for reform as the most dangerous radicalism, and therefore all the remaining copies were confiscated and destroyed. Zotov was arrested and revealed the author’s name while being interrogated. Subsequently, Radishchev was also arrested and condemned to death, though the sentence was later softened and he was exiled to Siberia.

Out of the 650 copies originally printed, only just over a dozen survived. For decades, this book became the rarest and most desirable for any Russian bibliophile. Alexander Pushkin paid 200 Rubles for his copy. In 1858, Alexander Herzen published the book in his Free Russian Press in London. However, the Russian edition of 1872 was again banned by the authorities.

Title page of Herzen’s edition

Title page of Herzen’s edition. 9455c.11

In 1888, Aleskei Suvorin, one of the most prominent publishers of that time, managed to get permission to reprint 100 copies of Radishchev’s book. He borrowed a copy of the 1790 edition from a Moscow bibliophile, Pavel Shchapov, but his careless employees damaged and then disposed of this rare copy. To replace it, Suvorin first quietly tried to obtain a copy from antiquarian booksellers for around 300 Rubles, but did not get very far. He then published an advert in the newspaper Russkie vedomosti (No. 56, 1888) where he offered 1,500 Rubles for a fine copy. Eventually, he managed to get a copy for two thirds of this price and Shchapov was satisfied, although he died shortly after having received a new copy of Radishchev’s journey back into his collection. His friends and relatives were sure that the stress of losing the rarity contributed significantly to his premature death.

Newspaper advert in Russkiie vedomosti

Newspaper advert in Russkie vedomosti (N 56, 1888)

Thus, ironically, this criticism of social injustice became one of the most expensive collectors’ items on the market. The British Library does not hold the 1790 edition of Radishchev’s book.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The Library will be holding a number of events to mark Banned Books Week, and for more related posts, see our English and Drama and Americas blogs

27 September 2019

Ik, Jan Cremer – controversial, but not banned

Banned Books Week (22–28 Sept 2019) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to the number of challenges to books in schools, bookshops and libraries. The theme for 2019 urges readers to ‘keep the light on’ to ensure censorship doesn’t leave us in the dark.

This week is Banned Books Week. The Low Countries have always a reputation as a tolerant region, so it may come as a surprise that some books were banned, even in the 20th century. Banned foreign titles included Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Madame Bovary.

One of the most controversial Dutch novels of the 20th Century is writer and artist Jan Cremer’s Ik, Jan Cremer (I, Jan Cremer), which is sometimes compared to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Its publication in 1964 caused great furore, a tiny revolution even. Quite a feat for a debut. Most critics were shocked. ‘Blood and sperm are dripping off it’, wrote Clara Eggink in the Leidsch Dagblad. Adriaan Morriën from Het Parool called Cremer ‘fascist’, because of the references to S&M (boots and whips), the relish with which Cremer describes how he destroys the interiors of cafes and restaurants and ‘most of all’ his sleeping around with anybody.

Photograph of Jan Cremer on a motorbike

Back cover of Jan Cremer in Beeld, by Guus Luijters. (Amsterdam, 1985) YA.1994.b.4290

Others criticised Cremer’s self-promotion and the way the book was marketed; just like any other day-to-day commodity. This typifies the snobbery of the Dutch intelligentsia at the time. Author Willem Frederik Hermans, however, loved it: ‘I read it in one night.’ Hermans especially loved Cremer’s style in which he showed a high ability to find the right words for his ideas. He does so at breakneck speed, frantically switching between topics, between fantasies and memories, between seriousness and irony.

The book is a picaresque novel about Cremer’s life as a writer and artist. He travels, paints, tells stories, loves women and rides his motorbike. He lived in America for a time, where his book also sold many copies. The same was true in Germany. The novel paints a brilliant picture of the time in which everything became possible for the first time. Cremer was one of the first Dutch authors to write so openly about sex and violence in raw language. He opened the door for other younger authors.

Photograph of Jan Cremer in a sports car

Jan Cremer in a sports car. From: Ik, Jan Cremer 6th ed. (Amsterdam, 1964) X908/4821

Ik, Jan Cremer wasn’t officially banned, although Hendrik Koekoek, leader of the ‘Farmers’ Party’, argued that it should be. Many parents forbade their children to read it – naturally with the opposite effect. The first edition of 5,000 copies sold out in a week. It saw 14 editions in its first year alone and 44 in total, the last one in 1987. To date over 400,000 copies have been sold in the Netherlands. Most critics , even those who enjoyed the book, did not regard it as ‘Literature’, but Cremer did not see himself as a literary writer. On the contrary, rejecting the label ‘literary author’ was his way of opposing the establishment.

Cremer wrote 13 books in total. In 1966 a Second Book of Ik, Jan Cremer was published, which received the Amsterdam Literary Prize. So within a few years the shock had worn off. The Third Book (2008, YF.2009.8242) hardly caused a ripple. More of the same with nothing much new.

Cover of the Third Book of Ik, Jan Cremer

Cover of the Third Book of Ik, Jan Cremer (Amsterdam, 2008) YF.2009.a.8242.

Ik, Jan Cremer, once threatened with banning, has become a classic and a must-read for secondary school pupils as well as adults.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections (speciality Dutch languages)

References:

https://www.schrijversinfo.nl/cremerjan.html

The Library will be holding a number of events to mark Banned Books Week, and for more related posts, see our English and Drama and Americas blogs

25 September 2019

How the Index Librorum Prohibitorum ended up on an illustrated magazine

Banned Books Week (22–28 Sept 2019) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to the number of challenges to books in schools, bookshops and libraries. The theme for 2019 urges readers to ‘keep the light on’ to ensure censorship doesn’t leave us in the dark. 

The lists known as Index Librorum Prohibitorum, first issued in 1559 by the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, are regarded as the earliest systematically kept records of prohibited literature. They were compiled after the Council of Trent, with the intent to ‘Counter-Reform’ the Catholic Church and to ban ‘immoral’ ideas coming from the Reformation.

The books listed were banned from being: published, sold, purchased, kept, translated, circulated, and read. The offenders were worthy of excommunication by the Catholic Church.

Title-page of Index Librorum Prohibitorum from 1564

Title-page of: Index Librorum Prohibitorum, (Salamanca,1564). 1365.d.1.

Published for four centuries, the Index included endless works of Theology, as well as Philosophy (Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Hobbes, Baruch Spinoza, Voltaire, and many more), Science (Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Iohannes Kepler, Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande, Gerardus Mercator, amongst many), Literature (Giovanni Boccaccio, Honoré de Balzac, Alexandre Dumas father and son, Victor Hugo, Giacomo Leopardi, John Milton, Georges Sand, Stendhal), but also History, Law, Medicine.

The last of the 20 lists was published in 1948, with some additions made in 1961: this issue bans the opera omnia of some notable authors of the 20th century: Gabriele D’Annunzio, André Gide, Maurice Maeterlinck, Alberto Moravia, and Jean-Paul Sartre, as well as single works by Simone de Beauvoir, Nikos Kazantakis, and Curzio Malaparte.

Page from Index Librorum Prohibitorum, 1948

Page from Index Librorum Prohibitorum, 1948

1961 additions to the 1948 issue of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, HLR098.11

Quite interestingly, it is worth noting what was not banned. The increasingly political role of the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith left Adolf Hitler and Karl Marx out of the Index, but banned works by the fascist ideologues such as Giovanni Gentile and Alfred Rosenberg.

The Index was suppressed with a papal document after the end of the Second Vatican Council, in December 1965. However, the wider public overlooked the news at the time. Ironically, a prominent Cardinal, Alfredo Ottaviani, had to give an interview to the popular Italian illustrated magazine Gente, to publicise this decision.

Cover of Gente, 13 April 1966

A typical issue of Gente from the period (no. 15, 13 April 1966) 

He explained that the Index no longer had juridical value, that the list was not going to be updated, and that it was going to be considered only a historical document.

The Index died because the role of the book had profoundly changed since its inception in the 16th century. The Index died because the publishing world had become too complex, impossible to keep up-to-date with. The Index died because new media were emerging. The Catholic Church will continue censoring ‘dangerous’ ideas, but nobody is going to be excommunicated for reading Sartre!

Valentina Mirabella, Curator, Romance Collections

References / Further Reading:

Index Librorum Prohibitorum: SS.MI D. N. PII PP. XII. Iussu Editus ed. ([Vatican City], 1948). F8/4644

Jesus Martinez De Bujanda and Marcella Richter, Index Librorum Prohibitorum 1600- (Sherbrooke, [Québec], 2002) Index Des Livres Interdits; 11. YF.2018.a.21220

Giovanni Casati, L’Indice Dei Libri Proibiti. Saggi E Commenti. (Milan, 1936-39). 2709.c.12.

“Index Librorum Prohibitorum.” Index Librorum Prohibitorum, 1948. 

The Library will be holding a number of events to mark Banned Books Week, and for more related posts, see our English and Drama and Americas blogs

20 September 2019

Crusoe’s Adventures in Enlightenment Germany

Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was first published 300 years ago this year and swiftly became popular both in Britain and beyond. As well as the numerous editions and translations that followed the original publication, there were also many adaptations of the story, particularly for younger readers.

One such was Joachim Heinrich Campe’s Robinson der Jüngere (1779-80). Campe was an educational theorist, teacher, author and publisher in the tradition of the German Enlightenment. Like Rousseau, he believed that Robinson Crusoe could teach children valuable lessons in self-sufficiency and independence, but he thought that Defoe’s text was too dense for young readers and lacking in clear moral instruction. His wanted his own version to correct these supposed defects.

Title-page of Robinson der Jüngere (Braunschweig, 1835).
Title-page of an 1835 edition of Robinson der Jüngere, 1459.b.15.

Certainly nobody could accuse Campe’s version of lacking in instruction, moral or otherwise. The book is presented as a series of conversations between a father, who tells the main story over a number of evenings, and his extended family and friends, who chip in with questions and comments. Some of these relate to practical matters such as geography, natural history and survival skills, while others are moral and philosophical ones relating to Robinson’s actions and beliefs, with no opportunity missed to inform the listeners what course of action is right.

Campe’s Robinson is the youngest and only surviving son of a Hamburg merchant. (Oddly, Robinson is the family’s surname and ‘Krusoe’ the protagonist’s forename; even the narraor admits ‘I don’t know why’, and ‘Krusoe Robinson’ is referred to by his surname for most of the book). Over-indulged by his parents and allowed to neglect his education, he boards a ship bound for England on a whim, and without telling anyone. After various misadventures he finds himself the only survivor of a shipwreck, washed up on a deserted island. Unlike Defoe’s hero, he is unable to salvage tools and supplies from the wreck, and has to create shelter and find food using only his hands and his wits.

Picture of Robinson washed up on the rocky shore of an Island
Robinson is washed ashore. Woodcut by John Bewick from The new Robinson Crusoe ... (London, 1811)
Cup.403.a.26. an English translation made from  the first French translation of Campe’s text, 

Only quite late on in the story does Robinson, now accompanied by Friday whom he has rescued as in Defoe’s version, find another wreck from which useful supplies can be taken. Eventually both Robinson and Friday are able to return to Hamburg, where they establish a carpentry workshop (having become ‘accustomed to the pleasures of manual labour’), become model citizens, and remain lifelong friends.

Picture of Robinson and Friday building a wooden boat
Robinson and Friday build a boat, woodcut from  The new Robinson Crusoe

Although the book wears its didacticism rather heavily for modern tastes, it was hugely successful in its time. The British Library’s collections give some idea of the wide range of translations that appeared in the century after its first publication. We have editions in English, FrenchLatin, Yiddish, Hungarian, Greek, Italian, Estonian, Polish, Swedish, Russian and Spanish.

Title page and frontispiece (shopwing Robinson standing under a tree)  of a 1789 English translation, 'The New Robinson Crusoe'

Title-page (in Hebrew characters) of a 1784 Yiddish translation of 'Robinson der Jüngere'

Title-page and frontispiece (showing Robinson and a tame llama) of a Greek translation of 'Robinson der Jüngere'

Title page of a Latin translation, 'Robinson Secundus' 1794
Translations of Robinson der Jüngere, top to bottom: English (Dublin, 1789; RB.23.a.8790); Yiddish (Prague, 544 [1784]; 1978.c.22); Greek (Vienna, 1792; 868.c.12.); and Latin (Zullichau, 1794; 1578/5264.)

Like the Latin versions - and probably the Greek one - some of the other translations are also obviously aimed at language learners rather than native speakers, as is clear from the notes explaining vocabulary: we have English translations with notes in German and in Danish, and a French translation with Danish notes.

Opening of the text of 'Robinson the Younger', 1789, with copious footnotes explaining the vocabulary in German
Editions for language learners. Above: Opening of an English translation with German vocabulary, Robinson the Younger (Frankfurt am Main, 1789) RB.23.a.11543; Below: Title-page of a French translation with Danish vocabulary

Title page of a French translation of 'Robinson der Jüngere' with Danish notes 1817

Like Defoe’s original, Campe’s adaptation was itself adapted and changed. Some translations (and later German editions) jettisoned much or all of the framing discussion and and stuck to the basic story of Robinson’s adventures. Some translations even claimed to be versions of Defoe’s work rather than Campe’s. The book also inspired two sequels by Christoph Hildebrandt, Robinsons Colonie and Robinsons letzte Tage (RB.23.a.20778), in which the island becomes a European colony where Robinson eventually returns to live out his last days.

Unlike the slightly later, similarly moralising, German-language Robinsonade, Der schweizerische Robinson (The Swiss Familiy Robinson), Campe’s work has not maintained its popularity, but for many 19th-century children it would have been their first introduction to the character of Robinson Crusoe and the basic outline of Defoe’s story.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Book cover showing Robinson and Friday being rowed towards a ship
Cover of a Swedish translation (Stockholm, 1628. 12604.aa.12.)

13 September 2019

How to Catch a Whale? (And Some Herring, Too)

Sometimes an opportunity to net a big fish that is irresistible comes along. Last year a title appeared in a dealer’s catalogue that was similar to a title destroyed in the bombing of the British Museum in September 1940. Being able to replace a destroyed copy does not happen often, and I was able to acquire it with the help of funds from the British Library Members.
The book in question is a work on whaling:

Title page of Nieuwe beschryving der walvisvangst en haringvisschery.: met veele byzonderheden daar toe betreklyk

Nieuwe beschryving der walvisvangst en haringvisschery.: met veele byzonderheden daar toe betreklyk. (Amsterdam, 1792). RB.23.b.7844.

The book is interesting in quite a few ways. We do not know who the author of this whaling manual is. Joop Schokkenbroek, an expert on Dutch whaling history, believes the author was a whaler himself, who wrote from experience. 

The names on the title page refer to the artists who made the engravings: Dirk, or Diederik de Jong, Hendrik Kobell and Matthias de Sallieth.

Of Dirk de Jong we know very little. No date or place of birth is known. All that is certain is that he worked in Rotterdam from 1779-1805. He was an illustrator and engraver, especially of maps. However, none of the maps in the book carry his name, or any name for that matter, so I cannot say whether de Jong made them.

Engraving from the book depicting Spitsbergen

Engraving from the book depicting Spitsbergen, not Greenland. RB.23.b.7844

Hendrik Kobell lived from 1751 to 1779 and worked in London, Paris and Rotterdam. He came from a family of artists and draughtsmen. While some of his relatives specialised in drawing cattle, Hendrik preferred ships, seascapes and sea battles.

The third artist who contributed to the book is Matthias Sallieth (1749-1791). Originally from Prague he settled in the Netherlands in 1778. He copied Dutch artists from the past, such as Willem van de Velde the famous painter who witnessed sea battles first hand and then painted them.

Many of the engravings in the book bear both names: Kobell and Sallieth, indicating a close working relationship. From the names and dates on the engravings it seems likely that Sallieth was the artist and Kobell the engraver.

Engraving by Kobell (engraver) and Sallieth (artist) of a whaling scene

Engraving by Kobell (engraver) and Sallieth (artist) of a whaling scene. RB.23.b.7844

Sallieth did a nice little sketch of the heads of the four Dutch naval commanders who were involved in the Battle of Medway, in 1667, taken from earlier works. One of them is Michiel Adriaansz de Ruyter (1607-1676), who as a young sailor in 1633 served as pilot on board whaling ship De Groene Leeuw (The Green Lion) , hunting whales near Spitsbergen. He wrote an account of this expedition, a summary of which was re-issued in a collection of six other journals on whaling voyages.

Title page of the summary of the journal by Michiel A. de Ruyter of his expedition to the Isle of Jan Mayen

Title page of the summary of the journal by Michiel A. de Ruyter of his expedition to the Isle of Jan Mayen. In: L’ Honoré Naber, Walvischvaarten, overwinteringen en jachtbedrijven in het Hooge Noorden 1633 – 1635 (Utrecht, 1930) Ac.9017.b/8.

De Jong’s work saw two print runs in quick succession, one in 1791 and one in 1792. This copy is from the second issue. The destroyed copy was from 1791, so it is not an exact match, though close enough. The book consists of four parts: the first is about the history of whaling and the manner in which the whales, walruses and seals are caught, and it gives a description of the various species of these animals.

Engraving of a Sperm Whale

Engraving of a Sperm Whale. In: Nieuwe beschryving der walvisvangst en haringvisschery (Amsterdam, 1792). RB.23.b.7844

The Library holds many more whaling journals, dating as far back as the early 17th Century, describing expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic, from the late 16th Century onwards. Adventures and hardships endured by the whalers were very popular with readers back home. Our collections provide ample material for another blog.

De Jong’s book stands out for its attention to the wider context in which whaling took place. Apart from the practical aspects of whaling and herring fishing, it describes not only the seas where fishing occurred, but also the surrounding lands, the people that lived there and the flora and fauna.

Engraving of a Brent Goose and a Puffin

Engraving of a Brent Goose and a Puffin. RB.23.b.7844

Engraving of Icelandic woman

Engraving of Icelandic woman. RB.23.b.7844

The last chapter discusses the herring fishery, which includes a foldout engraving of the lifting of nets by Kobell and Sallieth. Why is herring fishing included here? I’m not sure. Herring fishing was certainly a major trade for the Netherlands; called the Big Trade.

Engraving of herring fisheries by Sallieth (artist) and Kobell (engraver)

Engraving of herring fisheries by Sallieth (artist) and Kobell (engraver). RB.23.b.7844

By the year 1800 whaling had declined, due to wars and competition. King William I tried to revive the industry with large subsidies. I wonder whether the King had read De Jong’s book. Schokkenbroek wrote a review of the facsimile edition published in 1992. In it he wonders whether the author’s intention had been to revive interest in the whaling industry once more. On the last page he refers to the glorious history of Dutch whaling “that from the oldest times onwards was held for a goldmine to this Commonwealth, will continue to flourish, and deposits its treasures in the lap of the Netherland’s inhabitants.”

It wasn’t to be. In the early 19th Century the industry collapsed once more. It was only after the Second World War that private companies decided to go out whaling again. There was a lack of foreign currency as well as margarine, so the best way for the Dutch was to get their own oil to make margarine. With help from the Dutch government the ship Willem Barents II completed eighteen expeditions to the Southern hemisphere. When this financial support was stopped whaling became unsustainable. In May 1964 the Willem Barents II returned to port with the very last oil.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections (speciality Dutch languages)

10 September 2019

A European Autumn at the British Library

This autumn, as part of our ‘European Literature Focus’, the British Library will be hosting a number of events featuring writers and writing from across the continent. So we thought we’d give you a quick taster here to whet your appetites.

Cover of Echoes of the City by Lars Saabye Christensen

Lars Saabye Christensen, Echoes of the Citytranslated by Don Bartlett (London, 2019). Awaiting shelfmark. Norwegian edition: Byens spor - Ewald og Maj (Oslo, 2017), YF.2018.a.9337 

First up, on Monday 7 October, you can hear Norwegian Lars Saabye Christensen in conversation with Georgina Godwin. In a rare UK appearance, he will be talking about his latest novel to appear in English translation, Echoes of the City, which traces an Oslo community’s slow recovery from a period of crippling austerity after the Second World War. Christensen is one of Norway’s most popular and critically-acclaimed writers; he has been awarded the country’s top literary prizes and his breakthrough novel Beatles (1984), a coming-of-age story about four teenage Beatles fans in 1960s Oslo, remains a bestseller in Norway over 30 years after its publication.

Photograph of Elif Shafak

Elif Shafak © Bjørvika Utvikling by Kristin von Hirsch

On Tuesday 8 October Rosie Goldsmith, director of the European Literature Network and a familiar and welcome face at British Library events on European literature, chairs ‘Future Library: Art, Ideas and Time’, a discussion with artist Katie Paterson, novelist Elif Shafak and philosopher Roman Krznaric about Paterson’s ‘Future Library’ project. This is a public artwork in Oslo, begun in 2014 and designed to unfold over a century. A forest has been planted just outside the city to supply paper for an anthology to be published in 2114. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unread and unpublished, until the anthology appears. Elif Shafak contributed a text in 2017; other contributors so far have included Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell and the Icelandic author Sjón.

Cover of The Cut Out Girl

Bart van Es, The Cut Out Girl (London, 2018). ELD.DS.290811

Fans of Dutch literature are in for a treat on Saturday 12 October, when Bart van Es, author of Costa Prize-winning The Cut Out Girl, joins bestselling novelist Herman Koch, rising literary stars Esther Gerritsen and Jeroen Olyslaegers, and historian Simon Schama at a special day of talks on new Dutch writing presented by the Dutch Foundation for Literature in association with Modern Culture. And if you’re not (yet) a fan of Dutch literature, a day exploring the complex history and current politics of the Netherlands, and the chance to discover the latest Dutch books in English translation will surely make you one!

Covers of recently published works by Balla, Uršuľa Kovalyk and Ivana Dobrakovová

Recently published works by Balla, Uršuľa Kovalyk and Ivana Dobrakovová

Two further events take the revolutionary changes in Europe in 1989 as a starting point. On Friday 25 October there is a rare chance to meet a new generation of Slovak authors at ‘Raising the Velvet Curtain’, part of a series of events under the same name presenting contemporary Slovak writers and artists to English audiences, organised with the support of Fond na podporu umenia (the Slovak Arts Council) and the Embassy of the Republic of Slovakia. Three leading contemporary writers – Balla, Uršuľa Kovalyk and Ivana Dobrakovová – will present their recently published works (translated into English by Julia and Peter Sherwood) and discuss with host Lucy Popescu how Slovakia has changed over the past 30 years.

Photograph of Rosie Goldsmith next to the Berlin Wall

Rosie Goldsmith, November 1989, Berlin Wall

On Tuesday 26 November Rosie Goldsmith returns for ‘Riveting Germans: After the Wall’, chairing a discussion of German literature and its translation into English since 1989. Prize-winning authors Durs Grünbein, Julia Franck and Nino Haratischvili, and translators Charlotte Collins, Karen Leeder and Ruth Martin will consider what what has or hasn’t worked for UK readers of German literature, and what the the impact of the East-West divide has been on German authors. The event is organised in collaboration with the European Literature Network, the British Council, Goethe-Institut London, Frankfurt Book Fair and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany London, and marks the publication of a German-themed issue of The Riveter, the magazine founded by Rosie with the aim of making European literature popular and accessible across the UK.

Self portrait, Leonid Pasternak

Self portrait, Leonid Pasternak

Finally, on Thursday 29 November, Doctor Zhivago: A Pasternak Family Affair’ looks at a much-loved Russian classic in a new light. Translator Nicolas Pasternak Slater and picture editor Maya Slater present their recent work on a new translation of Doctor Zhivago illustrated with 70 pictures by Boris Pasternak’s father, the Impressionist painter Leonid Pasternak, and just published by the Folio Society. They will also reveal how members of the Pasternak family living in England experienced the writing and publication of the novel.

Booking is now open for all these events and you can find full details and purchase tickets via the links above. We hope you’ll be able to join us to celebrate and discover some of the literatures of Europe this autumn.

05 September 2019

A ‘Colonial Anecdote’ in Translation: Jean-Baptiste Picquenard’s Adonis in Swedish

The Library has recently acquired Jean-Baptiste Picquenard’s first novel, Adonis, ou le bon nègre, anecdote coloniale, translated into Swedish by Sven Johan Collin in 1802 as Adonis, eller den förträfflige negern. It tells the story of the slave revolt on Saint-Domingue, what is now known as the Haitian Revolution, through a ‘colonial anecdote’ that follows the capture of the enlightened plantation owner d’Hérouville and his loyal slave Adonis by Biassou, the leader of the revolt. Victor Hugo was inspired to write his first novel Bug-Jargal (1826) after reading Adonis.

Map of Saint-Domingue 1722

Map of Saint-Domingue by Guillaume de L’Isle (Amsterdam, 1722) Maps K.Top.123.35

The book is an extremely rare copy of a work that was not translated into many languages. Swedish interest was not simply due to some residual francophilia around the Enlightenment but also due to the reading public’s own Caribbean imaginary, sparked by Sweden’s ownership of the island of Saint Barthèlmy since 1784. The copy once belonged to the library at Östanå Castle, which points to the ownership of once director of the Swedish East India Company, Simon Bernhard Hebbe.

Title page of the Swedish translation of Adonis

Title page of the Swedish translation of Adonis (Strengnäs, 1802) RB.23.a.38783

As Chris Bongie has discovered, Picquenard was intimately involved in ‘the revolutionary violence that accompanied the successful imposition of egalitarian principles in France’s most prosperous colony’. He was deputy secretary to the French Civil Commissioners Légér-Félicité Sonthonax and Étienne Polverel, who aimed to take over power from the white Saint-Domingue population on behalf of the new republican government. Picquenard voiced the revolutionary ideas of the commission in his newspaper L’Ami de l’Égalité, frequently defending the use of violence.

Yet, none of this is necessarily apparent when you read Adonis, which avows broad humanist principles that both support the abolition of slavery and admonish the violence that enabled it. The first paragraph sets out the position:

I will not start by deciding whether or not the sudden abolition of slavery in the French colonies has been of real benefit to humanity. It will be nice, undoubtedly, for the philosopher to see the fertile plains of Saint Domingue cultivated by free hands soon – but the terrible tremor that the Antilles felt in order to reach this happy outcome has caused the ruin of so many European families, and the deaths of many others, such that I would not dare even pronounce myself in favour of such principles without fear of being accused of injustice and inhumanity.

Title page of the original French version of Adonis

Title page of the original French version of Adonis by Jean-Baptiste Picquenard (Paris, 1798) RB.23.a.37666

With the archival knowledge of Picquenard’s early engaged and violent writings on the island, Bongie can reread Adonis as not simply exemplary of the active forgetting of the Terror that typified the turn of the 19th century in France, but as an agonized site of friction between Terror and Enlightenment. Picquenard’s authorship demands that we read what has been ‘written over’, that is, ‘the entanglement of revolutionary violence and the humanist projects of Enlightenment’.

S. J. Collin’s translation stays faithful to the French original, in other words staying faithful to a certain ambivalence and infidelity in the authorial voice. It would be worth investigating the extent of French slave narratives – a significant genre in the slim period when France first temporarily abolished slavery (1792-1802) – translated into Swedish. Adonis is at the very least a curious book that reveals a shared anxiety between colonial powers.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

Further Reading

Chris Bongie, Friends and Enemies: The Scribal Politics of Post/Colonial Literature (Liverpool, 2008) YC.2009.a.4169

Youmna Charara, Fictions coloniales du XVIIIème siècle: Ziméo; Lettres africaines; Adonis, ou le bon nègre, anecdote coloniale (Paris, 2005) YF.2011.a.12978

02 September 2019

Digging within digging: ‘Rosso Malpelo’

He was called Malpelo because he had red hair, and he had red hair because he was a bad, malicious boy, who gave promise of turning out a rascal of first order. Hence everyone at the mine of red sand called him Malpelo, and even his mother, by dint of always hearing the word, had almost forgotten his real name. Besides, she only saw him on Saturdays, when he brought home the few pence that made up his week’s earnings, and since he was Malpelo, there was always the fear that he might keep back some of the pence, so, given the doubt, and to avoid mistakes, his older sister would give him cuffs by way of a receipt. [Giovanni Verga, ‘Red-headed Malpelo’, from, Cavalleria Rusticana and other tales of Sicilian peasant life. Translated by Alma Strettel (London, 1893) 12600.d.d.1/29]

Photograph of a shepherd boy sitting on a heap of straw

Photograph by Giovanni Verga – ‘Tébidi, 1900: pastorello su un cumulo di paglia’, reproduced in Giovanni Garra Agosta, Verga: Fotografo. (Catania, 1991) YA.1995.b.1157

When Giovanni Verga published Rosso Malpelo (1878), child labour was high on the political agenda. In 1876, Agostino Depretis formed Italy’s first left-wing government, the so called Sinistra Storica, and swiftly introduced compulsory education for children aged between six and nine. In 1877, Depretis also launched the first ministerial inquiry into child and female labour in factories, highlighting the need for better legislation. A few months before the publication of Verga’s short story, Leopoldo Franchetti and Sidney Sonnino, two opponents of Depretis, had published their unofficial inquiry into the state of Sicilian society, Inchiesta in Sicilia. It described the working conditions in Sicilian mines, which Verga read carefully, as scholar Romano Luperini points out in his essay Verga e le strutture narrative del realismo. As his collaboration with the Rassegna settimanale, the journal funded by the authors of the inquiry shows, Verga was far from being a socialist. However Rosso Malpelo remains a fine literary denunciation of the horrible conditions of child labour during that time, as Luperini adds: “His political-social ideology precipitates into the artistic result through the mediation of a philosophy […] not reducible to that ideological level […] and in which elements of private existential reflection flow.” In other words: there is more humanity in Verga’s literary work than his political views might suggest.

Title page of Cavellerìa Rusticana

Title-page of Giovanni Verga, Cavallerìa Rusticana and other tales of Sicilian Peasant life, translated by Alma Strettell (London, 1893) 12600.d.d.1/29

From the very beginning of Rosso Malpelo, the reader is absorbed in the essence of Verismo: the author looks at the main character through the eyes of the people close to him. The popular superstition that redheads are bad people is not only left intact, but also enhanced by blending the boy’s red hair with the red sand at the mine where he works, and the mine itself is nicknamed ‘Malpelo’s mine’. We see Rosso Malpelo buried in his own destiny from the very beginning: “He was always ragged and soiled with the red sand”. The story unravels and the events follow one another “like concentric circular ripples caused by the fall of the fateful stone in a pond” as Vincenzo Consolo puts it in his introduction [Vincenzo Consolo presenta Rosso Malpelo… (Bari, 1996) YA.2001.a.35936 (My translation)].

Photographic self-portrait by Giovanni Verga

Photographic self-portrait by Giovanni Verga, 1887, reproduced in Verga: Fotografo.

For Malpelo, going from a state of metaphysical damnation to the awareness of social injustice, means to face a lower level of hopelessness: the death of his father, who also worked at the mine, and whose affection is the only human warmth Malpelo has ever known, marks this shift. He was nicknamed Master Misciu the Donkey, “the beast of burden of the whole mine”, as he would take on whatever job he was given, and he dies while digging around a pillar at the mine in order to remove it. The moment when Malpelo tries to save him is one the most poignant in the story:

In all the commotion and chatter, no one had paid any heed to a child’s voice, which had lost all human sound, and kept crying, – Dig here, dig here, quick, quick! – […] he was deep down in the hole, so that no one had seen him before, and they turned the light on him they beheld such a distorted face, with glassy eyes and foam at the mouth, as was enough to terrify one; his nails were torn off and hung from his bleeding hands. When the time came to get him away from the place, they had a bad job of it; being no longer able to scratch, he bit like a mad dog, and they were obliged to lay hold of his hair in order to drag him away.

Entrance to a 19th-century Italian mine

A 19th-century Italian mine, photograph by G. Verga “Stelvio, Braulio, 18 agosto 1892”, reproduced in Verga: Fotografo.

Rosso Malpelo’s hardship is claustrophobically condensed in just over 30 pages: “– For us who are made to work underground – thought Malpélo – it should be dark always and everywhere”. Even the only chance given him to get out of that metaphysical apnoea even just for a moment, Malpelo rejects with remarkable lucidity. One fine summer night, after a long day of work, Ranocchio (a poor boy who came to work in the mine soon after Malpelo’s father died) tries to talk about the stars shining in the sky, “delighted in explaining to Malpelo what they were doing up there, and he would tell him that Paradise is there on high, where the dead go who have been good […]”. “My father was so good, never doing any one any harm, that they even called him ‘Donkey’. And he is down there, underground; and they found his very tool and shoes, and the trousers I have on”, says Malpelo.

Malpelo is never told in which state his father’s body was found, “[…] he must have died a lingering death, as the pillar had formed an arch over him and buried him alive […] he was digging on that side, while his boy was digging in this side”.

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

References/Further reading

Giovanni Verga, Vita dei campi (Milan, 1880) 12471.cc.28

Romano Luperini, Verga Moderno (Rome, 2005) YF.2006.a.2953

Romano Luperini, Verga e le strutture narrative del realismo: saggio su Rosso Malpelo (Padova, 1976) YA.2000.a.35165

Alfred Alexander, Giovanni Verga: a great writer and his world (London, 1972.) X.981/3278.

Leopoldo Franchetti and Sidney Sonnino, Inchiesta in Sicilia (Florence, 1974) X.709/18934

Leopoldo Franchetti and Sidney Sonnino, ‘Sicily in 1876. Political and Administrative Conditions’. Rivista di politica economica, vol. 88 (1998), no. 3/4, pp. 347-367. 7992.730000