European studies blog

76 posts categorized "Acquisitions"

30 December 2022

An A to Z of the European Studies Blog 2022

A is for Alexander the Great, subject of the Library’s current exhibition

B is for Birds and Bull fighting.

C is for Czechoslovak Independence Day, which marks the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak State in 1918.

D is for Digitisation, including the 3D digitisation of Marinetti’s Tin Book.

E is for Annie Ernaux, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in October.

Examples of Fraktur letter-forms from Wolfgang Fugger  Ein nützlich und wolgegründt Formular manncherley schöner Schriefften ... (Nuremberg  1533) C.142.cc.12.

Examples of Fraktur letter-forms from Wolfgang Fugger, Ein nützlich und wolgegründt Formular manncherley schöner Schriefften ... (Nuremberg, 1533) C.142.cc.12.

F is for Festive Traditions, from songs to fortune telling.

G is for Guest bloggers, whose contributions we love to receive! 

H is for Hryhorii Skovoroda, the Ukrainian philosopher and poet whose anniversary we marked in December.

I is for our series on Iceland and the Library’s Icelandic collections.

J is for Jubilees.

Cover of Abetka, a Ukrainian alphabet book for children

Abetka (Kyïv, 2005). YF.2010.a.18369.

K is for Knowledge systems and the work of Snowchange Cooperative, a Finnish environmental organisation devoted to protecting and restoring the boreal forests and ecosystems through ‘the advancement of indigenous traditions and culture’.

L is for Limburgish, spoken in the South of the Netherlands.

M is for Mystery – some bibliographical sleuthing.

N is for Nordic acquisitions, from Finnish avant-garde poetry to Swedish art books.

O is for Online resources from East View, which are now available remotely.

Pages from Giovanni Bodoni and Giovanni Mardersteig, Manuale tipografico showing letters M and N

Giovanni Bodoni and Giovanni Mardersteig, Manuale tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura di Giovanni Mardersteig. (Verona, 1968) L.R.413.h.17.

P is for our wonderful PhD researchers, current and future.

Q is for Quebec with a guest appearance by the Americas blog featuring the work of retired French collections curator Des McTernan. 

R is for Rare editions of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s Kobzar.

S is for Samizdat and the Library’s Polish Solidarity collection.

T is for Translation and our regular posts to mark Women in Translation Month.

Page from Alphabet Anglois

Alphabet Anglois, contenant la prononciation des lettres avec les declinaisons et conjugaisons (Rouen, 1639). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)

U is for Ukrainian collections and our work with Ukrainian partners.

V is for Victory – a contemporary Italian newspaper report of the Battle of Trafalgar. 

W is for Richard Wagner who wrote about a fictional meeting with Beethoven.

X is for... (no, we couldn’t think of anything either!)

Y is for You, our readers. Thank you for following us!

Z is for our former colleague Zuzanna, whom we remembered in February.

Church Slavonic alphabet from Azbuka, considered the first dated book printed in Ukraine.

Azbuka ōt knigi osmochastnye̡, sirěchʹ grammatikii (Lviv, 1574). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)

26 October 2022

An Encounter between Knowledge Systems: the Work of Snowchange Cooperative

The Nordic Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale has been transformed for the first time into ‘The Sámi Pavilion’. Three Sámi artists, with the guidance of Sámi elders, have created works that ‘celebrate the art and sovereignty of the Indigenous Sámi People’. One of the chosen artists, Pauliina Feodoroff, a ‘Skolt Sámi theatre director, artist and land guardian from Keväjäu’rr (Finland) and Suõ’nnjel (Russia)’, works with Snowchange Cooperative, a Finnish environmental organisation devoted to protecting and restoring the boreal forests and ecosystems through ‘the advancement of indigenous traditions and culture’. Honoured with the 2021 St Andrews Prize for the Environment, Snowchange, led by its President and leading climate scientist Tero Mustonen, have a long list of publications, most of which have recently been acquired by the Library.

Pauliina Feodoroff  performing 'Matriarchy' 2022
Still from a performance of Pauliina Feodoroff’s ‘Matriarchy’ as part of the Sámi Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2022. Photo: Chen Chen-Lun / Office for Contemporary Art Norway

As the Climate Emergency creeps up the priority list of governments, often reticent to disturb centuries-long systems of global extraction, indigenous and traditional communities at geographical extremes have been experiencing its devastating effects for decades. For hundreds of years, colonising economic powers have exploited the natural resources of the Arctic. That dispossession depended culturally on the imposition of new knowledge systems and languages that would normalise the exploitative relationship to the land. It is ironic and necessary that we now rely on ancient indigenous wisdom to re(dis)cover nature’s balance, beauty, wildness, in order to survive. Snowchange’s work tells us that by protecting the lands of Sápmi, we protect the Sámi peoples, and vice versa. In Pauliina Feodoroff’s words:

Sámi knowledge is knowledge about how to be with your environment, how to have your relationships with humans and with the world. Therefore, the most effective ways of controlling a people involve destroying the things that compromise the reality of that people. In the North this ancient knowledge has been beaten and destroyed for centuries in order to make the Indigenous peoples forget this knowledge. If there is nothing else to do to stop this, at least we can try to prolong things. To buy us a bit more time to survive. We can try to gather traditional knowledge from the elders who are still holding onto it. We can try to create safe havens of ecosystems, which can contain our knowledges – the fjells, forests, and lakes which remain in pristine condition. (The Eastern Sámi Atlas)

Eastern Sami Atlas cover

Cover of The Eastern Sámi Atlas (Awaiting Shelfmark)

Snowchange’s list of publications, many of which are available to read online, comprise not only scientific reports but also personal histories of significant community figures, hunters and fishermen, as well as novels and poems. This eclectic mix reflects the core idea that the environment, thought broadly, can only be changed by bringing together Western science and traditional knowledge, empirical research and storytelling, the intimately personal, the cosmic and the global.

The monumental Eastern Sámi Atlas ‘provides a clear view of the histories, land use and occupancy’ of the perhaps lesser-researched communities in the Kola Peninsula, speakers of Skolt, Kildin, Ter, and, before their recent extinction, Kemi and Akkala Sámi languages. It contains over 60 maps, unique artwork and photography, poems, songs, and chapters outlining the history, geopolitics and environmental developments in the region.

On the ground, Snowchange is involved in major restoration projects such as the Landscape Rewilding Programme, stretching over 52,000 hectares of which Snowchange owns 3100 hectares in five different areas across Finland, with its flagship site in Linnunsuo, North Karelia. Or, up in the Skolt Sámi area, the Näätämö River collaborative management project is described as the first of its kind in Finland, centring indigenous observations on biodiversity in the river basin to develop new models to protect a major Atlantic Salmon spawning site.

Cover of 'Drowning reindeer, drowning homes'

Covers of (above) Drowning Reindeer, Drowning Homes and (below) Kotoperäinen maailma. Kuivasjärven ympäristöhistoriaa, an environmental history of Kuivasjärvi Lake in the Pirkanmaa region (both awaiting shelfmarks).

Cover of 'Kotoperäinen maailma'

While the organisation regularly updates through scientific reports available online, the research often leads to longer form publications, such as the Atlas mentioned above and the significant Life in the Cyclic World: A Compendium of Traditional Knowledge from the Eurasian North. In the latter, Tero and Kaisu Mustonen ground the two-volume collection of Indigenous observations and perspectives on biodiversity in ‘an attempt for a dialogue, a meeting, perhaps an encounter between the knowledge systems’. In acquiring and promoting these books, we hope the library is doing its small part in surfacing traditional knowledge and joining the conversation.

Indeed, while we have to accept that ‘Indigenous societies of the Arctic feel their viewpoints and understanding of their worlds and cultures has not happened’ when it comes to a matter of ‘decisions regarding the North’, cultural organisations in Northern Europe and beyond are recently engaging in more and more projects that bring to the fore the heritage of Europe’s only Indigenous population. Sámi literature was a focus of the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2019, when Norway was guest of honour. The British Museum’s exhibition Arctic: Culture and Climate worked closely in collaboration with Arctic communities. And, most relevant to the Library perhaps, the Digital Access to Sámi Heritage Archives project seeks to locate and make available Sámi cultural heritage in archives and collections across Europe on their upcoming platform, Nuohtti.

Cover of 'It is the Sámi who own this land'

Cover of It is the Sámi who own this Land (Awaiting Shelfmark)

Inspired by such projects, we have begun the process of assessing the library’s own Sámi items, identifying our own potential contributions to Nuohtti, and thereby furthering that dialogue between cultural worlds. But that’s the subject of another post. For now, we thank Snowchange for sharing with us their publications and their knowledge, as only when we try to understand those different cultural worlds, can we start to live justly in the world we share.

We were delighted to hear from Tero Mustonen, chair of Snowchange Cooperative, who wanted to comment on this collaboration:

Whilst initially being pleasantly surprised by the contact from the British Library, we responded swiftly to the exchange and deep understanding the Curators saw in our work. Now all publications by the knowledge holders, scientists, reindeer herders, Indigenous women, fishers and Elders are in the esteemed British Library. Acts of kindness, learning and cultural dialogue can only be achieved by individuals who offer the first gesture. This has now happened. We thank the Library and especially Pardaad Chamsaz for being the guiding light in creating a connection between small northern villages and the Library. For these efforts we will dedicate a recovering boreal peatland – a central site in the fight against climate change and maintenance of northern biodiversity – to the British Library in the spring 2023 to mark the dialogue, mark the courage and ultimately, mark the understanding across cultures that the world needs. In this way, this will be remembered and there will be a physical, natural symbol of this act. We thank the Library.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections   

Boreal Peatland Restored

An area of boreal peatland restored by Snowchange (photo: Tero Mustonen)

19 July 2022

Reporting Victory

As part of the events programme accompanying our current exhibition, ‘Breaking the News’, curators from the European, Americas and Oceania Collections department took part in an online 'Meet the Curators' event to introduce some stories about news media in the countries they cover. This blog post is based on one of the talks given at that event.

‘Breaking the News’ also means reporting events of historical importance. Battles often are. The Battle of Trafalgar was one of the most famous battles in British naval history, worth reporting internationally. On the 21st of October 1805 the victory of the British fleet, led by Admiral Lord Nelson, contained Napoleon’s ambitions to invade Britain. Lord Nelson was mortally wounded during the battle and the official despatch was written by his second, Admiral Collingwood.

How was this event reported in European news? How long it did it take for the ground-breaking news of the victory to circulate, in an age of slow-travelling information?

Cover of Relazione della battaglia navale seguita ne’ giorni 22 e 23 del passato Ottobre 1805

Cover of Relazione della battaglia navale seguita ne’ giorni 22 e 23 del passato Ottobre 1805 nanti Cadice, tra le squadre combinate Gallo-Ispana e l’Inglese (Genoa and Turin, 1805). Awaiting shelfmark

We have recently acquired a very rare Italian account of the battle, a bifolium published in Italy, by the Frugoni printing-house in Genoa and by Carlo Bocca in Turin, in 1805. It is titled Relazione della battaglia navale seguita ne’ giorni 22 e 23 del passato Ottobre 1805 nanti Cadice, tra le squadre combinate Gallo-Ispana e l’Inglese [...]. Not many other copies of this account are recorded in Italy, and this is the only one in the UK.

Trafalgar 3

Last page of the Relazione with a list of the English ships and the imprint details

The account opens with a description of the composition of the Royal Navy fleet against the combined fleets of the French and Spanish navies, followed by a report of the circumstances in which Lord Nelson lost his life. The description is in accordance with Admiral Collingwood’s despatch from the battle, published in the London Gazette on the 6th of November 1805. This proves that the author of this document read Collingwood’s despatch. Perhaps the news arrived by postal ship from Spain to Genoa and from there it was carried by horse to Turin, where it was translated to Italian and then printed. The only thing we know for sure is that this account was published in the same year 1805, so sometimes between November and December.

The age of the Napoleonic wars was the moment communication started to become global; transmitting information and news from various corners of the empires become essential for the European powers.

Trafalgar 2

I would like to draw your attention on my favourite element of this document, which you can see in the image above. This is an illustration showing, by means of typographic elements, the order of battle of the two sides, and their two successive changes of formation, for a total of three positions. I find this a rather clever use of typography, which visualizes Nelson’s strategy better than prints, or his manuscript memorandum that is held in our collections [https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/admiral-nelsons-trafalgar-memorandum].

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections


Further reading
https://blogs.bl.uk/untoldlives/2015/10/trafalgar-and-the-death-of-nelson.html
https://www.qdl.qa/en/london-basra-twenty-two-days

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections

14 July 2022

Christian Boltanski’s ‘Les Habitants de Malmö’ (1994)

One of the most influential artists of the last century, Christian Boltanksi, died one year ago today. Although, he would have had you believe he actually died many times before: ‘When you are asked to make a retrospective, it basically means you’re dead’ (from an interview with Alexis Dahan for the Brooklyn Rail). The son of Holocaust survivors, Boltanski was born in 1944 in Paris, where he continued to be active throughout his life. His work was often preoccupied with memory, memorialisation and the archive, using everyday objects, personal or administrative material, and the concepts of listing and cataloguing to evoke the profundity of what is lost by displaying the infinity of what we know, have and record.

For an exhibition at Malmö Konsthall in 1994, Boltanski made the artist’s book Les Habitants de Malmö, a copy of which has recently entered the British Library’s collections. It comprises the city’s real telephone directory from 1993 only with a new cover displaying its new title and a four-page insert of errata that Boltanski introduces with the line: ‘You can’t reach these inhabitants of Malmö on the phone anymore. They died in 1993.’

Cover of Les Habitants de Malmö

Cover of Christian Boltanski, Les Habitants de Malmö (Malmö, 1994) YF.2022.b.994

Looking at it now, this directory (if not all phone directories) has lost its functionality in the internet age, as its function is more aesthetic and metaphorical. However, Boltanski’s point was that its pragmatic function was already in question in 1994 when he issued a bunch of them with his front cover. As Ernst van Alphen has suggested, ‘the finiteness of pragmatic listing is illusionary’, the directory is merely ‘the temporary fixation of an ongoing process’, which soon ‘over time […] becomes a memorial of all the former inhabitants of Malmö’. Besides, when removed from its original context, the 90s Malmö phone box say, the hundreds of pages of names and numbers lose any referentiality. We simply take stock of a long list of people who may now have joined the ranks of the errata list of deceased. This is what van Alphen terms the ‘Holocaust effect’, an experience of a certain aspect of the Holocaust, here evoked somewhere between the sheer mass of names (like public memorials that list the names of the deceased in full) and the memorialisation of these former inhabitants.

Boltanski - auction list

Title Page of an 18th-century Danish auction catalogue for the possessions of …, 821.b.11.(4.)

As Boltanski’s work stages the archival, making once functional lists into memorials, we might ask ourselves at the library about the endless lists and catalogues housed in our collections. For example, some 17th- and 18th-century catalogues for auctions of the estates of deceased persons have recently come to light via our collection audit colleagues. Cataloguing these lists of personal effects, whose title pages list every single category of item for sale, you can’t help imagining them in a Boltanski exhibition. With their referential function lost in time and space, we might see these lists more symbolically as the things that represented someone’s life as opposed to items for sale. At the very least, Boltanski’s lists allow us to dwell on the natural imperfection of our own archives, lists and catalogues, reminding us of the ongoing process of describing our items for new times and new readers.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References

Ernst van Alphen, Staging the Archive: Art and Photography in the Age of New Media (Chicago: 2014) YC.2016.a.1489

04 January 2022

Art, poetry and social action – some of 2021’s less conventional Nordic acquisitions

In European Collections, where we focus on printed books post-1850, many of our acquisitions come through regular contracted suppliers. These suppliers are equipped to provide the breadth of publications the Library needs to stay relevant as an international research organisation. Occasionally, however, we acquire by different means, perhaps when the publication is more niche, or second-hand, or when we have a connection to a publisher or author, amongst other reasons. As we enter a new year, I wanted to reflect briefly on the quirkier material that has entered the BL’s Nordic collections in just such ways in 2021.

Valtatiet (‘Highways’) is an early example of the Finnish avant-garde, an illustrated poetry collaboration between Mika Waltari, Olavi Lauri Paavolainen and the artist Sylvi Kunnas, who provided its striking front cover.

Cover of Valtatiet (1928) by Sylvi Kunnas

Cover of Valtatiet (1928) by Sylvi Kunnas, awaiting shelfmark

Waltari and Paavolainen were prominent members of the Tulenkantajat (‘Torch Bearers’) group of artists and writers, who introduced the trending movements of European modernism to Finland. Valtatiet was itself inspired by Filippo Marinetti’s Futurism in its manifesto-like poetry of ‘machine romanticism’ (Kaunonen), while Kunnas’s cover certainly betrays an interest in Cubist style. Both poets increasingly became more politically engaged, despite their early preference for the aesthetics and experience of modernity and modern life, and both visited Nazi Germany in the 1930s, with Paavolainen producing perhaps his most famous work as a result, Kolmannen Valtakunnan vieraana (‘Guest of the Third Reich’, 1936). This acquisition complements an extensive European avant-garde collection at the Library and importantly expands it to incorporate an example of its unique Finnish expression.

Black-and-white image of a stlylised human figure

Illustration by Sylvi Kunnas accompanying the poems entitled ‘Credo’ by Olavi Lauri Paavolainen

Our Finnish collections also recently welcomed a much more contemporary literary work, Fun Primavera by Elsa Tölli, which we kindly received directly from the author. Elsa won this year’s Tanvissa karhu (‘Dancing bear’) prize for poetry, the first time it has gone to a self-published work. Thrilled to be asked for a copy by the Library, Elsa sent us a beautiful note along with the book, which she described as her “wild and extravagant poetry explosion”. Thank you, Elsa! And for those of us still needing to hone our Finnish, an English translation by Kasper Salonen is available. 

From Fun Primavera by Elsa Tölli

From Fun Primavera by Elsa Tölli (awaiting shelfmark)

Reaching out to creators has been an interesting way to learn about contemporary publishing in the region. I came across the work of Johannes Samuelsson through conversations around Swedish art books and projects centred on social action. Samuelsson, an artist and photographer, has developed an art practice that is directly concerned with uplifting his community in Umeå, making books that document but also form part of that social action. Johannes generously sent his work to the Library and I was particularly struck by the book Skäliga anspråk på prydlighet: En bok om kampen för en korvvagn (‘Reasonable claims for neatness: A book on the fight for a hot dog stall’).

Cover of Johannes Samuelsson’s Skäliga anspråk på prydlighet, featuring hot dog stall owner, Helmer Holm

Cover of Johannes Samuelsson’s Skäliga anspråk på prydlighet, featuring hot dog stall owner, Helmer Holm

When the Umeå authorities introduced new regulations for the design of hot dog stalls, Helmer Holm fought to retain his stall, which contravened the new rules. Samuelsson documents what he calls the “hot dog war”, amplifying Holm’s campaign, which was eventually successful, and the project is brought to life in the photobook. Attempting to represent the cultural life of the Nordic region, our collections need to be broad and relevant, identifying projects that also speak to universal issues and therefore that cut across the Library’s collections. With this Swedish perspective on local activism, on gentrification of common urban space, on art as social practice, we are hopefully adding richness to collections that interrogate similar ideas.

Cover of Art of Welfare

Cover of Art of Welfare, (Oslo, 2006) YD.2021.a.1210

We are always keen to incorporate independent publishing and smaller presses, especially where the publications complement the collections we already hold and the themes central to them. Art publishing tends to be produced with an international market in mind, with many books from the Nordic region appearing in English. After acquiring the Office for Contemporary Art Norway’s recent trilogy of new Indigenous writing, following a survey of contemporary publishing related to Sámi culture, we were fortunate to receive all outstanding issues of the publisher’s Verkstad series from them directly. Exhibition catalogues are often the place for leading thinkers to be creative, and there are unique essays throughout this series. Take, for example, Art of Welfare, produced for Elmgreen & Dragset's exhibition, ‘The Welfare Show’ – initially produced by Bergen Kunsthall, – at the Serpentine Gallery in London in January 2006.

As we constantly shape our collections to reflect the worlds they represent, working with authors, artists and independent publishers is an indispensable way to get at the heart of these cultural landscapes and to broaden the perspective of our own. We hope to continue to supplement our Nordic collections in this way, developing this unofficial “acquisitions through conversations” approach.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections 

References

Leena Kaunonen, ‘Avant-Garde Moments in Nykyaikaa etsimassa by Olavi Paavolainen’, in A Cultural History of the Avant–Garde in the Nordic Countries 1925–1950 (Leiden, 2019) Avant-garde critical studies; 36. pp. 746-760. 1837.116580

08 November 2021

Tove Jansson’s illustrations for Carroll and Tolkien

Naturally, we tend to focus on the Anglosphere legacies of English-language literary classics, but when it comes to fantasy fiction, like the works of Lewis Carroll and J. R. R. Tolkien, their international reception and illustrated editions are very much part of the phenomena. The worlds evoked transcend age- and language-barriers, with illustrations often inflected by specific geographical, cultural and historical contexts, given the genre’s endless capacity for reinterpretation.

Mosaic of covers of new acquisitions of works illustrated by Tove Jansson

Covers of new acquisitions of works illustrated by Tove Jansson

The Library has recently acquired a number of books illustrated by the genius that was Tove Jansson - the Finnish-Swedish creator of the Moomins, and also ‘novelist, short-story-writer, memoirist, painter, illustrator and cartoonist’, as the volume Tove Jansson Rediscovered importantly underlines. These acquisitions include translations of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, Alice in Wonderland, and Tolkien’s The Hobbit, as well as a 1946 issue of the short-lived journal Litteratur, Konst, Teater.

Image accompanying Roger Richard’s poem ‘The Sleeping Woman’

Image accompanying Roger Richard’s poem ‘The Sleeping Woman’ / Den sovande kvinnan in Litteratur, Konst, Teater 1946, RF.2021.a.10

Jansson’s work never departs from view for too long in the UK’s cultural events landscape, as evidenced by the recent exhibition and walking trail at Walthamstow Wetlands and The William Morris Gallery, or by the big-budget Moomins animation, or the 2017-18 Jansson retrospective at Dulwich Picture Gallery. This goes alongside the stream of reissues, biographies, edited scholarly volumes and translations, including Letters from Tove and Tove Jansson: life, art, words: the authorised biography, both translations published by Sort Of Books in the last decade. Unattributed quotations in this blog are taken from the latter.

Tove Jansson’s illustration for the cover of Solveig von Schoultz’s Nalleresan (Teddy Bears’ Journey)

Tove Jansson’s illustration for the cover of Solveig von Schoultz’s Nalleresan (Teddy Bears’ Journey), originally 1944, here the 2007 facsimile reprint, YF.2008.a.5876

While Jansson illustrated a dozen or so books early in her career, she would devote most of her illustrative output to her own iconic creation. That is, apart from when the opportunities to illustrate Carrol and later Tolkien were presented to her. Unable to resist collaborating with publisher and translator, Åke Runnquist, and co-translator, Lars Forsell, on a book of ‘pure modern nonsense verse’, Jansson accepted the commission for The Hunting of the Snark (Snarkjakten) in 1958 and it was published a year later.

Jansson’s illustration for ‘The Hunt’ (‘Jakten’) from Snarkjakten

Jansson’s illustration of ‘The Beaver’s Lesson’ (‘Bäverns läxa’) from Snarkjakten

Jansson’s illustrations for the sections, ‘The Hunt’ (‘Jakten’) and ‘The Beaver’s Lesson’ (‘Bäverns läxa’) from Snarkjakten, RF.2021.a.7

While it wasn’t reprinted, the publishers deemed the collaboration a success, with the illustrations considered of the ‘highest class’. Jansson had not seen the original illustrations by Henry Holiday and their respective styles could not be more different, evident in their interpretations of ‘The Landing’ (‘Landstigningen’), the first “fit”, or part of the poem (rendered frossbrytning in the Swedish, almost a fit of shivering, or chill).

Henry Holiday’s original illustration of ‘The Landing’

Tove Jansson’s illustration of ‘The Landing’

Henry Holiday’s original illustration (above) and Tove Jansson’s (below) of ‘The Landing’

Jansson depicted a cast of large-eyed, long-snouted moominesque figures in contrast to Holiday’s caricatured, large-headed humans, both bringing the absurd to life in their own ways.

The year after the publication of Snarkjakten, Jansson received a letter from the author of Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren, who aimed to entice her fellow author to illustrate a new Swedish translation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit (Bilbo: En Hobbits Åventyr, RF.2021.a.8). Much has been written on Jansson’s illustrations by Tolkien fans and much of it critical of her inventive departure from the author’s descriptions. For Jansson, it was a chance to move away from the Moomin figures, while building on affinities between her own world and Tolkien’s landscape, what she describes as ‘Forests of living horror, coal-black rivers, moonlit moors with fiery wolves – a whole world of catastrophe […]’.

Bilbo surveys the Misty Mountains

Bilbo surveys the Misty Mountains

Indeed, Tove’s hopes to capture the dark immensity of Tolkien’s world were slightly clipped by Lindgren and the publishers, as they wanted it to be situated firmly within children’s literature and for it to make Bilbo more prominent and therefore less awed by his environment. The world of catastrophe had to be seen as navigable to the book’s young readers.

Gollum according to Tove Jansson

Gollum according to Tove Jansson

One particular bone of contention for Tolkien fans is the depiction of Gollum, who is nothing like the later film’s rendering. Jansson shows us a friendlier, perhaps more human figure, twice the size of the Gollum we can all picture. All in all, as Westin puts it, many readers ‘saw Jansson, where they would have preferred Tolkien’. The book was no success by any objective measure and only one edition appeared.

Bear vignette from The Hobbit

Bear vignette from The Hobbit

Whatever superfans make of the fidelity of the illustrations, they are undoubtedly fine achievements, down to the small vignettes used to head chapters, figures which Jansson drew iteratively ’20, 40, 60 times till it looked fairly free’ and then glued them together, giving them a real dynamism.

Alice down the Rabbit-Hole

Alice down the Rabbit-Hole

The lack of reception for her Hobbit illustrations might have stunted the desire to collaborate on works that were not her own. Jansson was however drawn back to Carroll in 1965, this time Runnquist’s translation of Alice in Wonderland (Alice I Underlandet, RF.2021.a.9), Carroll’s original manuscript of which we hold here at the BL. Like what she found compelling in Tolkien, Jansson read Alice as a ‘horror’, telling Runnquist, ‘the story is terrifying and can in no way be seen as an idyll, but it causes shivers of pleasure’. The translator however could not agree and sought something altogether more pleasant.

Alice, cat and bats in the tall grass

Alice, cat and bats in the tall grass

The horror is still there in Jansson’s illustrations, in the uncanny, magnified or magnifying underworld, as the artist gives pictorial life to Carroll’s inherently uneasy and confounding fantasy. Jansson’s use of colour, often rendered quite light on the page, makes them almost dreamlike.

Alice encounters a blue caterpillar on a mushroom

Alice encounters a blue caterpillar on a mushroom

Runnquist hailed the work as a masterpiece. As Mikiko Chimiori writes, Jansson captures the ‘the transitional period between childhood and adolescence’, often proving ‘even more imaginative and fantastic than the original’. To understand that comment, we should bear in mind that the ‘original’ was illustrated by Carroll himself, with engravings by John Tenniel for the published first edition, illustrations which Jansson herself thought definitive.

The Mock-Turtle’s Story

The Mock-Turtle’s Story

Tove Jansson was a prolific and multitalented writer and artist rightly best known for her Moomins but quickly becoming so much more than that in our cultural landscape, such is the richness and continued relevance of her oeuvre.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections 

Further Reading:

Tove Jansson, Letters from Tove, edited by Boel Westin and Helen Svensson, translated by Sarah Death, 2019, ELD.DS.463620

Boel Westin, Tove Jansson: life, art, words: the authorised biography, translated by Silvester Mazzarella, 2018, YK.2018.a.7552

Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull, The art of the Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (London, 2011), LC.31.a.13046

Maria Popova, ‘Vintage Illustrations for Tolkien’s The Hobbit from Around the World’

Mikiko Chimori, ‘Tove Jansson’s Alice Illustrations’, in Tove Jansson Rediscovered, ed. by Kate McLoughlin and Malin Lindström Brock (Cambridge, 2007), m08/.23195

27 September 2021

Angela Merkel - a leadership in books

Last weekend’s German Federal election marked the beginning of the end of Angela Merkel’s 16 years in office as Chancellor. Although she will remain in a caretaker role while the German political parties negotiate to form a ruling coalition, once agreement is reached she will stand down and retire from active political life. As the first woman and the first politician from the former German Democratic Republic in the role, Merkel has been the subject of great interest and many books. The following is an overview of some of the many that the British Library has acquired over the years.

Book cover with a photo of Angela Merkel at a press conference

Angela Merkel, In unruhiger Zeit: Reden und Aufsätze aus drei Jahren deutscher Einheit (Düsseldorf, 1994) YA.1995.a.651

Merkel first arrived on our shelves in 1994 via a collection of her speeches and essays, In unruhiger Zeit (‘In Unsettled Times’). The book bears witness to her swift rise in politics: she only became politically active in late 1989, joined the Christian Democratic Union party (CDU) the following summer, and was appointed Minister for Women and Young People in the newly-united German government in 1991. As the journalist Fides Krause-Brewe says in her introductory essay, Merkel’s was “a career that only a revolution could produce”. The first ‘political biography’ of Merkel in the BL, by Wolfgang Stock, followed in 2000.

By 2005 we had acquired two more biographies and a book based on interviews with Merkel herself, Mein Weg (‘My Path’). After Merkel became Chancellor that year there was naturally an explosion of interest and publications. A theme often highlighted was the fact of Merkel being a woman, sometimes contrasted with male election rivals such as Gerhard Schröder (2005) and Peer Steinbrück (2013). Merkel is also sometimes compared to other women in positions of power and to contemporary female heads of state, for example in Patricia Lessnerkraus’s Merkel, Macht, Politik (‘Merkel, Power, Politics’).

Cover of a book about Merkel for young readers

Clare Throp, Angela Merkel (London, 2014) YKL.2014.a.394

As one of the world’s most powerful women, Merkel is often depicted as a role model. She features as one of the ‘Extraordinary Women’ in an educational series aimed at 9-11 year olds, and Joyce Marie Mushaben’s Becoming Madam Chancellor is “dedicated to girls everywhere looking for positive political role models”. Two of Merkel’s political nicknames show how such role models are still needed. Her mentor, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, called her his ‘Mädchen’ (‘girl’), despite the fact that Merkel was a professional woman in her mid-30s with a doctorate in quantum chemistry. A 2001 study of her background and her rise in the CDU was titled Das Mädchen und die Macht (‘The Girl and Power’). In recent years she has often been referred to as ‘Mutti’ (‘mum’), a title perhaps affectionately meant but which can also be read as patronising: it’s hard to imagine a male politician being referred to by equivalent masculine terms.

Merkel’s GDR background has also been subject to much study and speculation. In a ‘collective biography’ from 2010 Michael Lühmann compares her with two other politicians from the East, Matthias Platzeck and Wolfgang Thierse. He defines all three as ‘Wendepolitiker’ – figures who only became active in politics around the time the Berlin Wall fell but who quickly became familiar and influential in the years that followed. Meanwhile Ralf Georg Reuth and Günther Lachmann go in search of Merkel’s GDR life in Das erste Leben der Angela M. (‘The First Life of Angela M.’). The famously reticent Merkel once said of this period “People know hardly anything about 35 years of my life”, but it is well known that her father was a Lutheran pastor, and her own faith is the focus of a study by Volker Resing, Angela Merkel, die Protestantin (‘Angela Merkel, the Protestant’). Resing later edited a collection of speeches given by Merkel at national church meetings, shedding further light on her beliefs and how they influence her politics.

Die Protestantin

Volker Resing, Angela Merkel, die Protestantin: ein Portät (Leipzig, [2009])  YF.2012.a.8103

The majority of our holdings about Merkel are in German, but of course she also attracted international attention. We have a biography in French from 2006, but our earliest English-language work, rather surprisingly, dates from as late as 2013, and was written in the context of the 2008 financial crisis and its lasting negative effects in the Eurozone. In the same year a biography by Stefan Kornelius was translated into English, with an additional chapter for a UK audience entitled ‘The British Problem’. The problems in the Eurozone also form the background to Nicolas Barotte’s François & Angela, a study of the relationship between Merkel and French President François Hollande during the period. Despite the affectionate relationship implied by the cover photograph, Barotte highlights the tensions and disagreements between the two, calling them a “couple in crisis”.

Book cover with a photo of Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel YF.2016.a.15938

Nicolas Barotte, François et Angela: Hollande contre Merkel: histoire secrète d'un couple en crise (Paris, [2015])

Although the Eurozone crisis and then Merkel’s welcoming of Syrian refugees to Germany in 2015 did considerable damage to her popularity at home, most of the publications we hold about her appear even-handed in their allocation of praise or blame. One of the exceptions is a study by Gertrud Köhler, a fierce critic of Merkel. Its title Die Patin (‘The Godmother’) with its mafia overtones gives an idea of Köhler’s opinion. Her latest book on Merkel is described as a ‘requiem’, and claims that Merkel’s leadership has weakened Germany. Another critical voice is Dirk Kurbjuweit, editor of news magazine Der Spiegel whose book Alternativlos (‘No Alternative’ – a term Merkel used to defend her handling of the Eurozone crisis) accuses her of failing to rise to the challenges of office, preferring a reactive to a proactive approach when faced with problems.

Despite this, Merkel’s approval rating in Germany is high as she leaves office, and in a YouGov poll this summer she was rated the most popular world leader by voters in six countries. Furthermore, a sense of affection for the former chancellor in Germany is reflected in the success of the ‘cosy crime novel’, Miss Merkel, by David Safier, which has Merkel retiring to a rural village near her childhood home and solving a murder mystery. And a limited edition commemorative Merkel teddy bear swiftly sold out this year.

Book cover with a cartoon of Angela Merkel and a pug

David Safier, Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark (Hamburg, 2020) On order

No doubt we will continue to acquire books in coming years about Angela Merkel, her time in office, and her legacy (a collection of her major speeches is on order – and dare we hope for her memoirs?), building on our collections about perhaps the most significant figure in recent German and European history.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

References/Further reading

Wolfgang Stock, Angela Merkel: eine politische Biographie (Munich, 2000.) YA.2002.a.21061

Mein Weg: Angela Merkel im Gespräch mit Hugo Müller-Vogg (Hamburg, 2004) YF.2005.a.8655

Marcus Maurer [et al.], Schröder gegen Merkel: Wahrnehmung und Wirkung des TV-Duells 2005 im Ost-West-Vergleich (Wiesbaden, 2007) YF.2008.a.4259

Janis Eitner, Macht Macht männlich? Das Bild von Angela Merkel und Gerhard Schröder in der deutschen Tagespresse (Marburg, 2007) YF.2009.a.11222

Merkel gegen Steinbrück : Analysen zum TV-Duell vor der Bundestagswahl 2013 ed. byThorsten Faas, Jürgen Maier, Michaela Maier (Wiesbaden, 2017) YF.2019.a.6423

Florence Absolu, Les femmes politiques dans la presse: mythèmes, biographèmes et archétype : les représentations genrées de Ségolène Royal et Angela Merkel dans la presse française et allemande pendant leurs campagnes électorales = Politikerinnen in der Presse: Mytheme, Biographeme und Archetyp : Die gender-betonte Darstellung von Angela Merkel und Ségolène Royal in den deutschen und französischen Printmedien während ihrer Wahlkampagnen (Würzburg, 2014) YF.2015.a.3012

Regina Richter, Angela Merkel und andere kluge Frauen : Selbst- und Fremdbilder von Frauen in politischen Spitzenpositionen (Saarbrücken, 2007) YF.2010.a.3328

Joyce Marie Mushaben, Becoming Madam Chancellor: Angela Merkel and the Berlin Republic (Cambridge, 2017) YC.2018.a.511

Evelyn Roll, Das Mädchen und die Macht: Angela Merkels demokratischer Aufbruch (Berlin, 2001) YA.2002.a.38421

Michael Lühmann, Der Osten im Westen, oder, Wie viel DDR steckt in Angela Merkel, Matthias Platzeck und Wolfgang Thierse? Versuch einer Kollektivbiographie (Stuttgart, 2010) YF.2011.a.25124

Ralf Georg Reuth & Günther Lachmann, Das erste Leben der Angela M. 2nd ed. (Munich, 2013) YF.2016.a.1155

Angela Merkel, Daran glaube ich: christliche Standpunkte, ed. By Volker Resing (Leipzig, [2013?]) YF.2017.a.14480

Baudouin Bollaert, Angela Merkel (Monaco, 2006) YF.2008.a.25729

Alan Crawford & Tony Czuczka, Angela Merkel: a chancellorship forged in crisis (Chichester, 2013) YC.2013.a.12600

Stefan Kornelius, Angela Merkel: the chancellor and her world, translated by Anthea Bell and Christopher Moncrieff (Richmond, Surrey, 2013) YC.2014.a.7686. Original German edition: Angela Merkel : die Kanzlerin und ihre Welt (Hamburg, 2013) YF.2015.a.20431

Gertrud Höhler, Die Patin: wie Angela Merkel Deutschland umbaut, 2nd ed. (Zurich, 2012) YF.2014.a.8445

Gertrud Höhler, Angela Merkel: das Requiem (Berlin, 2020) Awaiting shelfmark

Dirk Kurbjuweit, Alternativlos: Merkel, die Deutschen und das Ende der Politik (Munich, 2014) YF.2015.a.3659.

Angela Merkel, Die grossen Reden, ed. Caroline Draeger (Munich, 2021) On order

Gerd Langguth, Angela Merkel. 2nd ed. (Munich, 2005) YF.2006.a.16958

Matthew Qvortrup, Angela Merkel: Europe’s most influential leader, Expanded and updated edition. (London, 2017) YK.2018.a.1175

29 July 2021

Inheritance Books: Annelies Dogterom, Cataloguer West European Languages

This post is part of our 'Inheritance Books' series, where colleagues choose an 'inherited' item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to 'pass on' to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they're important to us.

When I started as a cataloguer, the debut novel De avonden by Simon van het Reve, pseudonym of Gerard van het Reve, was already in the collection. The subtitle ‘een winterverhaal’ (a winter’s tale) suggests sitting around a warm fireside telling stories of legends. Instead of being set in homely surroundings, the novel is set against the cold of winter outside and characters forever lighting a stove inside. The protagonist is called ‘de held van deze geschiedenis’ (‘the hero of this story’) but he is not heroic. The tone of the novel would have been much darker if it was not for the irony and humour as expressed by the subtitle and continued throughout the novel.

Cover of De avonden by Simon van het Reve showing a person entering a building

Cover of De avonden by Simon van het Reve (Amsterdam, 1947). YA.1991.a.15442

The story describes ten days in the life of Frits van Egters, a 23 year old office clerk, during December 1946. These ten days are written in ten chapters and are also the last ten days and evenings of the year. The strength of the novel lies in how it has been written rather than what happens. Ironically the ‘narrative’ of the story is that nothing happens: there is no action, everything is static ‘de lege uren’ (empty hours) and expressed for instance by constantly checking clocks and watches that hardly seem to move. It is static because the focus is on the introspection and self-analysis of the protagonist. This leads to a sense of entrapment, disillusionment, loneliness and is exaggerated by Frits’s cynicism. Much of this negativity is expressed in his relationship to animals and his parents but also in disturbing dreams. What makes the novel interesting is the way it has been written with a clear focus on realistic detail.

Portrait of Van het Reve

Portrait of Van het Reve (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Although De avonden has much to offer to any reader in any language, it took nearly 70 years for the novel to be translated into English. Tim Parks, novelist and translator, ends his review of the translation: “So, huge respect to Pushkin Press for finally doing the business, and in particular to Sam Garrett for a translation that avoids a thousand pitfalls to give us this enfant terrible of Dutch genius in an entirely convincing English.”

In the 15 years that I have been cataloguing Dutch books, there is one publication that stands out in particular. It is a six volume work of the complete letters by Vincent van Gogh: De brieven: de volledige, geïllustreerde en geannoteerde uitgave. This edition is the product of 15 years of research by the Van Gogh Museum  and the Huygens Institute.

There is also a freely available web edition of Van Gogh’s complete letters. All letters have been translated into English and are extensively annotated and set in their biographical and historical context.

Van Gogh regularly embellished a letter with a small drawing or enclosed a freehand sketch. “The value of the sketches lies in the fact that they forced him to depict the essence of a drawing or painting. He usually drew them with ordinary writing ink, and in some cases he added colour notations, which can be compared to the actual paintings.”

In a letter of 6 April 1885, addressed to his brother Theo, he wrote, “I desire nothing other than to live deep in the country and to paint peasant life … I plan to make a start this week on that thing with the peasants around a dish of potatoes”. In a letter written 3 days later, he includes a small drawing of the ‘Potato Eaters’.

Sketch of Potato Eaters in a letter

Sketch of Potato Eaters in a letter of 9 April 1885

The scene is set in Nuenen in his home country of the Netherlands. The colours are dark and earthy unlike the bright canvases that most people are familiar with and that belong to his later works. In this same letter, Van Gogh shows an awareness of characteristics of his work that will come to define in particular his later works. He writes: “I see a chance of giving a felt impression of what I see. Not always literally exactly — rather never exactly — for one sees nature through one’s own temperament”.

A good example of a ‘felt impression’ of what Van Gogh saw is the painting of his bedroom. Vincent was living in Arles, France at the time. In a letter to Theo of 16 October 1888, he gave a very detailed description of his bedroom in particular of the colours used and also included a detailed sketch:

The walls are of a pale violet. The floor — is of red tiles.
The bedstead and the chairs are fresh butter yellow.
The sheet and the pillows very bright lemon green.
The blanket scarlet red.
The window green.
The dressing table orange, the basin blue.
The doors lilac.

Sketch of bedroom by Van Gogh

Sketch of bedroom in a letter of 16 October 1888

Vincent van Gogh died on 29 July 1890. In the last few years before his death, the range and intensity of colours in his paintings increased dramatically confirming what he had stated five years earlier: “for one sees nature through one’s own temperament.”

References:

Gerard Reve, The Evenings: a Winter’s Tale, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (London, 2016). Nov.2018/1916

Tim Parks, “The Evenings by Gerard Reve review – a masterpiece, translated at long last” (The Guardian, 9 November 2016) 

Vincent van Gogh, De brieven: de volledige, geïllustreerde en geannoteerde uitgave, onder redactie van Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten en Nienke Bakker (Amsterdam, 2009). LF.31.b.6957

 

17 November 2020

Feminism in Early Modern Venice: Lucrezia Marinella

In the light of the current exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, I want to show a new acquisition, an Italian poem printed in Venice in 1618.

This religious, heroic and allegorical poem has an extraordinary feminist subtext and its title is Amore innamorato, et impazzato poema di Lucretia Marinella; con gli argomenti, & allegorie a ciascun canto. Alla serenissima [...] Caterina Medici, Gonzaga, duchessa di Mantova [...] – “Poem on enamoured and mad love by Lucretia Marinella, with topics and allegories before each canto. Dedicated to Catherine de’ Medici Gonzaga, Duchess of Mantua”.

References to the author’s intentions are already clear in the choice of the dedicatee, a female patron, Caterina Gonzaga, whom she actively encourage to read the poem.

Title-page of Amore innamorato, et impazzato

Title-page of Amore innamorato, et impazzato (Venice, 1618). RB.23.a.39414

The poem tells the story of Cupid’s conversion to Christianity. The literary form is inspired by Ariosto, Boiardo, Tasso and the epic poems of the Counter-Reformation. The author’s aim is indeed to promote the values of the Church, through the allegory of Cupid’s religious journey and conversion. The poem at a first glance follows the religious constraints of its time, but its main female character, Ersilia, is an independent woman fully in charge of her destiny. She will reject Cupid’s love and the passive role of the ethereal donna angelicata provided by the Italian literary canon of Dante and Petrarch.

Ersilia is stronger than Cupid, and her resistance to his advances asserts her religious values, but is also imbued with feminism. Religion had to be used to validate work and ideas and to get published.

The author, The author, Lucrezia Marinella (1571-1653), was the daughter of the writer and physician Giovanni Marinelli, and is usually known by the feminine form of her father's surname. Her father encouraged her to study poetry, music and philosophy. She became the most versatile, prolific, and learned woman writer of her generation. She was close to the Accademia Veneziana, but led a reclusive life of private study. She married a physician and had two children.

Engraving of Lucrezia Marinella

Lucrezia Marinella by Giacomo Piccini, 1652

Lucrezia Marinella’s fame as one of the very first feminist writers ever is mostly due to the treatise Le Nobilità et Eccellenze delle Donne, et i Diffetti, e Mancamenti de gli huomini.. (Venice, 1600; 1080.k.7.(2.)) ‘The nobility and excellence of women’, recognised as a landmark in the history of women’s contribution to the querelle des femmes

Engraving of Moderata Fonte

Moderata Fonte, anonymous 16th-century engraving

Marinella’s work will sit alongside that of another Venetian author of the same period: Modesta Pozzo or Moderata Fonte (1555-1592). Although little known to modern criticism before around 1980, Fonte is recognised as one of the most accessible and appealing of 16th-century Italian women writers. Her best-known work is the posthumously-published dialogue Il merito delle donne ‘The Worth of Women’ (Venice, 1600; 721.f.17.), which is one of the most original contributions to early modern debate on sex roles, as well as one of the earliest to have been authored by a woman. Other women writers who preceded and inspired Marinella are Gaspara Stampa and Vittoria Colonna.

Amore innamorato, et impazzato has been purchased with the generous help of the British Library Collection Trust.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections

References/Further Reading:

P. Malpezzi Price, Lucrezia Marinella and the "querelle des femmes" in seventeenth-century Italy ( Madison, c2008.) YC.2009.a.11706

S. Kolsky, ‘The literary career of Lucrezia Marinella (1571-1653)’, in: F.W. Kent & Ch. Zika, eds. Rituals, images, and words: varieties of cultural expression in late medieval and early modern Europe (Turnhout, 2005) pp. 325-342. YC.2006.a.12963

A. Cagnolati, A portrait of a Renaissance feminist : Lucrezia Marinella's life and works ( Rome, 2013.) YD.2013.a.3057

Stephen Kolsky, ‘Moderata Fonte, Lucrezia Marinella, Giuseppe Passi: an early seventeenth-century feminist controversy’, The Modern Language Review, Vol. 96, No. 4 (Oct., 2001), pp. 973-989. P.P.4970.ca.

Paola Malpezzi Price, ‘A Woman's Discourse in the Italian Renaissance: Moderata Fonte’s “Il merito delle donne”’ Annali d’Italianistica, Vol. 7 (1989), pp. 165-181. 1014.600000

Prudence Allen and Filippo Salvatore, ‘Lucrezia Marinelli and Woman’s Identity in Late Italian Renaissance’ Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance et Réforme, New Series / Nouvelle Série, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Fall / Automne 1992), pp. 5-39. 7356.865100

28 July 2020

Inheritance Books: Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

This post is part of our ‘Inheritance Books’ series with the Americas blog, where colleagues choose an ‘inherited’ item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to ‘pass on’ to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they’re important to us. This week, Susan Reed, Lead Curator of Germanic Collections, shares her selections. 

The book I have inherited is one that I have never actually read in the form in which I have inherited it, but which was indirectly responsible for my interest in the German language and, by extension, for my choice to study German at university and the path of my career ever since. It is a 1930s adaptation of Emil Kästner’s children’s classic Emil und die Detektive, simplified for English-speaking learners of German. Why have I inherited it? It’s a slightly long story.

Cover of the 1933 edition of Emil und die Detektive

Erich Kästner, Emil und die Detektive, adapted and edited by Dorothy Jenner (London, 1933). W.P.8659/4

On the outbreak of war in 1939 my mother Jean, then 12 years old, was evacuated from her home in North London. Like many early evacuees, she returned home after a few months as the feared attacks on cities failed to materialise, although ironically the family house was in fact bombed early in the Blitz. Thankfully the whole family – including Tanner the dachshund – survived, but that’s another story. The point of this story is that, while Jean and others were away, the pupils at her school who had not been evacuated had started learning French. Those returning were simply given a textbook and told to catch up. It was Jean’s first experience of learning a language and she did not enjoy it. She always remembered being baffled by the teacher repeatedly saying what she heard as ‘on cauliflower’ – in fact ‘encore une fois’, the request to repeat a sentence.

So when Jean started learning German from scratch in the following school year, it was a bit of a revelation. Her textbook was the long-lived Deutsches Leben by A.S. Macpherson (first published 1931-34; 12964.de.4.) but what really stuck in her mind was that, as early as they were able, they started reading the simplified Emil und die Detektive. Even in a much abridged and simplified form it made her realise that it was possible to read something in another language that was a real story and genuinely entertaining.

Although Jean never pursued language studies beyond school, her stories of the difficulty of French and the relief of learning German must have planted a seed in me. Although I actually found French initially easier to learn at school, I was far more excited about starting German, and German was the language that I pursued and still love. In a strange and indirect way, the Second World War, with help from Emil und die Detektive and my mum, made me a Germanist.

After 27 years in the BL there are many books I could pass on, and the one I have chosen is perhaps over-familiar, having often been featured in blogs, in exhibitions and on the website, but it remains the most memorable and exciting acquisition of my career.

When I started researching the history of German-language printing in 19th-century Britain, I was surprised to discover that the first edition of the Communist Manifesto was published in London by a group of German radical exiles and immigrants in February 1848. I was less surprised (although disappointed) that the BL didn’t have a copy: it was after all a clandestine publication and none of those revolutionaries in neighbouring Fitzrovia would have thought of dropping a copy off at the British Museum Library to comply with legal deposit legislation (then not particularly rigorously enforced even for mainstream publications). Also, the Manifesto quickly faded from view after its first publication following the outbreak of European revolutions based on more moderate calls for change and largely led by middle-class liberals rather then the united proletariat. It was only in the 1870s and 80s that European socialists rediscovered the Manifesto and started to spread its message.

Cover of the first edition of the Communist Manifesto

First edition of the Communist Manifesto (London, 1848). C.194.b.289

Ironically, by the early 21st century the few surviving copies of the first edition of the Manifesto were highly expensive and sought-after items – potentially luxury purchases for rich collectors. The then Lead Curator of 19th-Century British printed books and I kept our eyes open for copies on the market, and in late 2008 we spotted one that fulfilled all our requirements regarding condition, printing and provenance. It was to be sold at auction in Paris and, by a fortunate coincidence, I was travelling to Paris shortly before the auction date for a work-related visit, so was able to go to the auction house and meet the agent who was going to bid on our behalf in order to inspect the book together. Auction houses near the Champs-Élysées are not my usual stamping-ground and I had mixed feelings of excitement and heavy responsibility as we examined the book and agreed that the BL would go ahead with our bid.

On the day of the auction I was back in the office doing routine things when my 19th-century British collections colleague came rushing in to say “We’ve got it!” Uncharacteristically for two rather restrained Brits, we hugged each other for joy, and I remember feeling thrilled that this important piece of world history and Anglo-German publishing history was finally going to find a home in the BL. And I was the one who got to catalogue it!

Since then my path has continued to cross with the Manifesto. It was featured in the British Museum’s 2014 exhibition Germany: Memories of a Nation, and readers in the UK can hear me (among other more expert voices) talking about it in the accompanying radio series here. And of course it had to be part of our own Russian Revolution exhibition in 2017. There it was displayed at the start of the exhibition between two large maps showing the extent of the Russian Empire at the start of the 20th century. We wanted to illustrate the fact that this flimsy, obscurely-published pamphlet was like the pebble that started the avalanche that would destroy that vast empire.

Photograph of the Manifesto displayed in the BL's 2017 Russian Revolution exhibition
The Manifesto as displayed in the 2017 BL exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths (Photograph: Sam Lane Photography)

Whatever you think of the Communist Manifesto and its legacies, it was probably the most influential (for good or ill) foreign-language work ever printed in Britain, and I will always remember the excitement and pride I felt at bringing a copy of the original, London-printed edition to the BL.

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