04 January 2022
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, 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.
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 (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
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, (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
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
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.
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’ / 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), 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 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 (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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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’).
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.
Volker Resing, Angela Merkel, die Protestantin: ein Portät (Leipzig, ) 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”.
Nicolas Barotte, François et Angela: Hollande contre Merkel: histoire secrète d'un couple en crise (Paris, )
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.
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
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
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 (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 (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 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 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.”
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
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 (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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
21 July 2020
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, we hear from Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator of East European Collections.
What my predecessor Dr Christine Thomas left for me was unprecedented: in a small Slavonic book, offered to the British Library by a rare books dealer, she recognised a copy of the first dated Slavonic Primer (Azbuka C.104.dd.11(1)) printed in Lviv in 1574. It was not just another copy – it turned out to be the second surviving copy of this book. The second in the world, and nobody had known about its very existence! Before the British Library acquired this book in 1982 on Chris’s recommendation, only one surviving copy had been recorded at Harvard University Library. A facsimile edition of the Primer had been published just several years earlier, and therefore Chris could match the items and could not believe her luck.
Of course, to be completely honest, this wonderful curatorial success story has been a constant source of melancholy envy for me. On the other hand, it was a real present from Chris, as it provided me with a wide variety of creative opportunities. I can proudly report that I followed in my predecessor’s footsteps by writing an article and a couple of blogs promoting and interpreting this collection item and co-organising a conference Revisiting Ivan Fedorov’s Legacy (UCL SSEES-British Library, 2014). In the digital environment it was only natural that, as part of the conference outcomes, the Primer was fully digitised and is now available via the BL catalogue. During the lockdown, when I suddenly had more time on my hands, my colleagues suggested a tool that can cope with OCR, and I decided to give it a try. This is a new and exciting skill to acquire and I am really enjoying the project. I hope the text will be available alongside the images very soon.
Working on transcribing the Primer using Transkibus
One of my memorable acquisitions is linked to one of the strengths of our collections – Russian futurist and constructivist books. There was no mystery or drama associated with this acquisition, although the story is quite sad, like many stories that originate from the period of early Soviet history.
The Soviet propaganda journal USSR in Construction (P.P.7500) is probably quite well known, not only among those who have a special interest in Soviet history. The style of the journal was visual and cinematographic, and became iconic among designers. Not only were photographs ‘constructed’ using photomontage as a major tool, but some of the issues were really ‘assembled’ containing, for example, pieces of fabric, aluminium foil or vinyl disks.
I acquired a set of the magazine that was a ‘little brother’ of the famous USSR in Construction project. This Soviet art-illustrated monthly magazine has a long and peculiar title Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov (‘At the Construction of Machine Tractor Stations and State Farms’; HS.74/2243). It did not have international editions in various languages and was quite short-lived: 1934-1937. However, despite this, full sets are extremely rare in library collections.
Front covers of Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov.
The magazine covered just one sector – Soviet agriculture. It specialized in promoting the achievements of state farms and collective farms and stood out as a separate edition of the magazine USSR in Construction. Magazine photo essays advocated ‘the best examples of honest work on the farm, the best examples of organizational activity in the MTS and state farms, and the best achievements in raising agriculture, culture and life of the collective and state farms’. Seven issues were designed by El Lissitzky.
The bold and powerful covers by talented artists and designers, and the essays written by gifted journalists and writers tell lies about life in the Soviet Union. The lives of these artists and writers tell a more truthful story about this time:
Semen Borisovich Uritskii (chief editor) – arrested in 1938 and executed in 1940;
Petr Petrovich Kriuchkov (author) – executed in 1938;
Artemii Bagratovich Khalatov (author) - executed in 1938;
Boris Fedorovich Malkin (member of the editorial board) – executed in 1938.
Na stroike MTS i sovkhozov has been already researched and cited, but certainly lends itself to further enquiries.
Christine Thomas. 'Two East Slavonic Primers: Lvov, 1574 and Moscow, 1637'. eBLJ, 1984. https://www.bl.uk/eblj/1984articles/article2.html
Ivan the Terrible, primers, ballet and the joys of curatorship https://blogs.bl.uk/european/2014/05/ivan-the-terrible-primers-ballet-and-the-joys-of-curatorship-.html
Classroom curiosities https://blogs.bl.uk/european/2013/11/classroom-curiosities-.html
E. Rogatchevskaia. ‘“A Beautiful, Tremendous Russian Book, and Other Things Too”:
An Overview of Rare Russian Books from the Diaghilev-Lifar Collection in the British Library.’ Canadian-American Slavic Studies (2017, 51:2-3) https://brill.com/view/journals/css/51/2-3/article-p376_10.xml?language=en
Victoria E. Bonnell, Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters Under Lenin and Stalin (Berkeley, 1997) YC.1998.b.1122 (Limited preview available)
Margarita Tupitsyn, Matthew Drutt, El Lissitzky, Ulrich Pohlmann. El Lissitzky: Beyond the Abstract Cabinet: Photography, Design, Collaboration (New Haven, 1999) LB.31.b.17233 (Limited preview available)
Victoria Bonnell. “Peasant women in Political posters of the 1930s” In: Public Sociology at Berkeley, 2nd edition (1997) https://publicsociology.berkeley.edu/publications/producing/bonnell.pdf
Erika Wolf, ‘When Photographs Speak, To Whom Do They Talk? The Origins and Audience of SSSR na stroike (USSR in Construction)’ Left History, Vol 6 No 2 (1999) ZA.9.a.9420 https://lh.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/lh/article/view/5382/4577
07 July 2020
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. This week, Janet Ashton, West European Cataloguing Team Manager, explains her two choices.
My job as team manager to the West European cataloguers focuses on the languages I’ve studied the longest and spoken most often, but my personal interests extend much further across the collections. In common, I suspect, with my colleagues, I had a real struggle to come up with just two items for this blog, and the “inherited” one proved especially difficult.
Cover of Jon and Rumer Godden, Two under the Indian Sun (London, 1966) X.809/2495
I could have chosen any one of a number of children’s books that inspired a love of reading or a curiosity about certain themes. I could have picked an obscure primary source I have used in my own research, and of which the Library holds the only copy. In the end, however, I opted for a commercially published, Legal Deposit item that made a mark on me very early in life, although it’s not a children’s book: Two under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden.
This book is the sister novelists’ memoir of their childhood in India during the First World War. Growing up as an expatriate child in Sudan in the 1970s and 80s, I recognised many elements of their experience, from the annoyance of prickly heat behind the knees, through the whir of electric fans, to the surreptitious pleasure of a cold bottle of a fizzy soft drink, stolen from parents’ supplies while they took their rest in the heat of the afternoon and the wakeful children sneaked around engaging in forbidden pleasures. The sights and smells of the market, the curious nostalgia for a UK that could never live up to expectation when one returned, and the colonial grandeur of the “Club” whose library furnished so much of the available reading material – all were familiar to me. It was Khartoum’s Sudan Club (actually the British Club) which provided me with the first copy I knew of this book, along with much more mildly old-fashioned reading matter – and of course the BL has one too. From a world in which new and needed books were quite hard to come by, I moved eventually to a job that allowed me easy access to the whole of the world’s knowledge. What remained was an enduring pleasure in travel literature and rich description of hot places and times past.
Cover of Janet Ashton and Greg King, A life for the Tsar (East Richmond Heights, 2016) YD.2016.b.891.
The item I’m pleased to pass on is one that draws hugely on the BL’s resources, and for that reason I make no apology for mentioning my own book, co-written with my friend Greg King: A life for the Tsar. This is a US publication, not eligible for legal deposit, so I donated a copy – another one of the most usual routes by which items arrive at the BL. It’s the story of the disastrous coronation of Russia’s last Emperor, at which several thousand peasants were killed or seriously injured while queuing for coronation mugs, permanently damaging the image of both Tsar and regime. The tragic event seemed an inversion of Glinka’s classic coronation opera, in which a peasant willingly dies to save his future Tsar, leading to a reign of glory, and for that reason and others we chose re-use Glinka’s title. We based the book on innumerable British Library resources, from the official coronation albums (works of extraordinary detail and sumptuousness that were presented to all official guests) through well-known studies of the reign and contemporary newspaper accounts to obscure self-published memoirs written by those who attended. And then of course we supplemented these with manuscript and other material from other archives too. Our publisher supplied some remarkable photographs to complement our own personal collections, and worked them into a format that sought to echo that of the original album, with page decorations and inset images. The resulting book has all of our favourite things: it’s very pretty as an object, and it is full of accounts of wonderful architecture and costume, cultural history (especially of travel and of the press), real farce and in-fighting among the great and good, with a deeply serious dose of high politics as well. We are proud to have a copy in the Library for perpetuity and hope that readers enjoy it as much as they find it useful.
05 June 2020
The British Library works with eight local suppliers in the procurement of books and serials from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia and Romania. This blog post draws on their reports about the book trade since 1990 and the effects of the current Covid-19 Pandemic. It follows a recent post exploring the British Library's historical ties with libraries and librarians in Southeast Europe and the ways in which they are dealing with the pandemic.
The book trade recovered valiantly from the turbulent times of the 1990s and we are fortunate to have suppliers who are dedicated partners and experts not only in the book trade and publishing but also in the literature, art and scholarship of their respective countries. Together with our library partners, they are credited with procuring up to 3,000 selected titles for the Library annually. Their considerable assistance in building up our collections of south-east European material is highly valued and appreciated.
As we contemplate our past and plan for the future, we would like to shed some light on the background to collection development in this very considerable area and the challenges which it is facing at present.
Detail of a bookshop in Tirana. Photo credit: Edvin Bega.
The publishing industry in Albania has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. While in the early 1990s original literature accounted for 75% of all published literary works, by 2019 the figure was less than 20%. In 1997 the Albanian government collapsed and a mass exodus from the country followed, including gifted writers and translators. Albania is yet to recover from it.
The new private publishing houses began to publish the classic works previously denied to readers in the totalitarian state. Undoubtedly this was inspired by the success of Ismail Kadare, and several other writers, translated into more than 100 languages.
Academic publishing has suffered from mismanagement and politicization, and a lot of research remains unpublished.
The earthquake in 2019 and Covid 19 in 2020 have caused several publishing houses to close, and the book trade has come to a halt. At present the number of new titles is very small. Some signs and activity give hope, though. Book sales during the pandemic have not fallen. It is to be hoped that this trend will continue after the reopening of the country.
A book launch in 2019 in Sarajevo City Hall (formerly National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina). Photo credit: Dragan Marković.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina the production and distribution of books and serials in the period from 1992 to 1997 can be characterized as a patriotic publishing period. Commercial and independent publishers, independent bookstores in south-east Europe and one in Bosnia were saved for the future thanks to the support of the Open Society.
However, patriotic publishing has continued to the present day. In recent years about 2,000 original titles have been published in Bosnia and Herzegovina per year, of which about 70% come from commercial publishers.
In 2019 Bosnia and Herzegovina saw a slight upward trajectory in the number of published titles. This year was also marked by the proactive work of the Association of Publishers to improve the status of writers, publishers and books.
Since the pandemic, bookstores have been closed and publishing houses have significantly reduced production. It is a very uncertain situation for the book market, and reminds our supplier of the siege of Sarajevo in 1992 with a notable difference – this time the enemy is invisible. A book supplied to the British Library that stands out is Bosanska knjiga mrtvih ('The Bosnian book of the dead' (Sarajevo, 2012) ZF.9.a.11211) which gives the names of 95,940 victims of war, and presents detailed data analysis of human losses.
Blossoming Japanese morello cherry-trees in front of the Bulgarian National Library “Sts. Cyril and Methodius”, a gift from the Japanese Embassy in Sofia. They are celebrated in April at the beginning of the springtime, symbolizing new life and hope. Photo credit: George Asenov.
Publishing and the book trade in Bulgaria have managed to stay afloat in the turbulent sea of the market economy in the last 30 years of transition. The main trends during this period have been an increase in the number of published titles, from 3,000 to 10,000 in recent years, and a significant reduction in print runs.
Literary publishing consists of about 70% original material and 30% translations. Contemporary Bulgarian literature is the bearer of national values and identity, tales of the nation’s joys and pains, and of one’s social outlook and personal experiences.
In the state of emergency, the activities of bookstores have stopped. Literary events have been cancelled. Many publishing projects are on hold. The number of books published in 2020 will be smaller, with a decrease of about 20-30% expected.
A recent selection of Bulgarian books for the British Library included the complete works of classical Bulgarian poets and writers such as Peio Iavorov (7 volumes, Sofia, 2010-2013; ZF.9.a.10476) and Nikolai Khaitov (17 volumes, Sofia, 2009-2015; ZF.9.a.8322). The newly-acquired Zografski subornik (Sofia, 2019; awaiting pressmark) documents research into the archives and library of the Bulgarian Holy Zograf Monastery on Mount Athos.
Interior of the Croatian Music Institute in Zagreb. Photo credit: Zvonimir Ferin.
Since the independence of Croatia in 1991, the number of publishers and publishing activities has been constantly on the rise. Many publishing houses disappeared in the years following the crisis of 2008, but the situation improved after 2014, bringing better times for the Croatian book trade.
Unfortunately 2020 has brought new challenges, and publishing is currently in a precarious position. Until April it seemed that the pandemic would not affect the book trade in the country or internationally, but all that has now changed. In Croatia printing of new titles has been reduced by almost 80%, bookstores have been closed, and international partners have stopped ordering.
In addition to this, in March a powerful earthquake hit Zagreb, paralysing the economy and causing damage. Among other historic buildings, the Croatian Music Institute, which houses one of the oldest and most important music collections, was affected.
Povijest hrvatskoga jezika (Zagreb, 2009-2015) ZF.9.b.1424.
The British Library has been carefully selecting Croatian books for years, building a collection which grows by about 300 titles a year, mostly in the fields of social sciences, arts, humanities and literature. A fine example of this diligent collecting is the major multi-volume Povijest hrvatskoga jezika (‘History of the Croatian Language’).
Clouds over the bridges and cranes in Belgrade reflect the mood in the city during the pandemic. Photo credit: Bojan Vukmirica.
Publishing in Serbia since 1992 has seen drastic changes caused by political upheavals. With the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the big state publishing houses collapsed. Soon a large number of private publishing houses resumed their role in the market.
In addition to new private publishers, a distribution centre was established in Belgrade in 2002 to offer publishers a single point from which books could be delivered quickly and safely. The distribution of Serbian and Montenegrin books has been growing ever since, reaching bookstores, university and national libraries and international partners.
For many years the British Library has been acquiring books from Serbia and Montenegro in the fields of history, art, linguistics, literary theory, primary sources, literature and books and serials relevant for research. A good example is the series ‘Koreni’ (‘Roots’) a 35-volume anthropological and geographical study of the settlements, population and customs of Serbian lands (Belgrade, 2010-2017; separate shelfmarks starting with YF.2019.a.15009 for volume 1).
After a two-month break caused by the global infection, publishing in Serbia seems to be returning to normal.
A selection from the Opere fundamentale collection. Photo credit: Ileana Dumitrache.
In Romania publishing and the book trade exploded in 1990 as public demand was huge – everybody wanted to read as much as possible, to buy books and journals, to make up for the void felt in communist times. The growth of this industry has been constant even if the rate is now lower than in the first decade.
The pandemic put a stop to growth in this sector for about three months. Books were still being published, but the book trade suffered tremendously. Fortunately, things now seem to be returning to normal. Our Romanian supplier has continued to collect books for the British Library during this time, so there will be no effect on the quality or quantity of Romanian books supplied once the British Library resumes its activity.
The series supplied to the British Library, which stand out for its research and editorial work are Manuscrisele Mihai Eminescu, a facsimile edition in 24 volumes of Mihail Eminescu’s manuscripts (ZF.9.d.239), Biblia 1688, a facsimile edition in 24 volumes of the Romanian 1688 Bible (ZF.9.d.265), and Opere fundamentale, an ongoing multi-volume collection of the ‘fundamental works’ of the most important Romanian writers (separate shelfmarks for different publishers, starting with ZF.9.a.10739).
Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections
20 April 2020
Over thirty years ago, it might have been possible to say that the Faroes were only on the radar of ‘ornithologists, folklorists, epidemiologists even […] But among the anthropologists, “excursionists” par excellence, the Faroes are practically unknown’ (Wylie). Now, with the help of publicity ventures like the viral Google Sheepview campaign, the Faroes are comparatively well-trodden by the average off-the-beaten-track traveller. The Islands now also boast a reputation for fine-dining and, in the political sphere, are fast attracting ‘strong interest from the world’s most powerful states’, along with other North Atlantic territories. But, where’s Faroese literature in all this?
Map of The Faroes from Lucas Jacobsen Debes, Færoæ & Færoa reserata. Det er: Færøernis oc Færøeske Indbyggeris Beskrivelse (Copenhagen, 1673), 980.d.11.
The British Library has recently acquired nearly around 80 modern Faroese publications, mostly literary fiction, to ensure we continue to represent the global literary landscape, especially now given the recent prominence of the Faroes. Writers represented in that selection include Carl Jóhan Jensen, Jóanes Nielsen, Tóroddur Poulsen, Hanus Kamban, and Jens Pauli Heinesen.
It is safe to say that Faroese writers have a difficult task to become known beyond their shores. As the Faroese nominee for the 2020 Nordic Council Literature Prize, Oddfríður Marni Rasmussen, writes, ‘only a half-dozen or so can make a living off their writing. And in order to do that, a writer has to be translated into a bigger language, but publishing houses in other countries do not want to spend money on some book from the Faroe Islands.’
The capital city, Tórshavn, from Joseph Russel Jeaffreson’s The Faroe Islands (London, 1898) 10280.i.1.
Marni Rasmussen’s award winning Ikki fyrr enn tá (Not until then) is available at the library (YF.2020.a.207) along with another 11 of his works, mostly poetry collections. He also co-edits the literary journal Vencil, which, thanks to the translations of Marita Thomsen, put out an English-language issue for the first ever Faroe Islands stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2011. One legacy of that initial promotional step-change was the FarLit organisation, which has since been devoted to promoting awareness of Faroese literature internationally.
Whaling in the Faroes, from Jeaffreson (above)
The belatedness of this international orientation has a lot to do with the relative novelty of not only a Faroese literary culture but also of a standardized Faroese written language. The first Faroese novel is traced back to 1909 and Regin í Líð’s (Rasmus Rasmussen) Bábelstornið (Tower of Babel) and the first poetry collection, J. H. O. Djurhuus’s Yrkingar (‘Poems’) followed in 1914 (X.900/2189., 1961 edition). The library also holds a copy of Regin í Líð’s 1910 Plantulæra, which is the first Faroese botany textbook (X.319/2657.)
Stamp from 2004, one of ten commissioned in honour of J. H. O. Djurhuus’s poems, designed by Anker Eli Petersen. This one depicts the Return of Nolsoyar Páll, the Faroese national hero. (Public Domain)
The Faroese language established an orthography courtesy of Venceslaus Ulricus Hammershaimb in 1846, with the help of many philologists engaged in the linguistic independence of the Islands as part of a broader claim to self-determination. That did not immediately spark a wave of literary expression in the Faroese language, however. In many ways, the creation of a Faroese written language reinforced the separate domains in which people used Danish and Faroese. As Wylie writes, ‘In 1846 the Faroes acquired a written language in which little was written. At about the same time, they attained a “national” identity even as they were reduced to a Danish province’.
Cover of Jeaffreson (above)
Yet, that does not mean Faroese culture was until recently an un-literary one, in fact quite the opposite. Oddfríður Marni Rasmussen admits ‘the legacy of our written literature, with only 5,000 published works, only goes back a hundred years or so’, but underlines the fact that ‘our oral literary tradition, which encompasses ballads, legends, and myths, is ancient and so just as significant to us.’ There are four different of oral literature: kvædir (famous heroic ballads), tættir (satiric ballads), both verse forms; and ævintyr (folktales) and sagnir (legends with a more matter-of-fact tone, often addressing local characters and stories), both prose. This oral tradition cannot simply be seen as a phase along the path to a twentieth century written literary culture but should be understood as the fundamental basis of a distinct Faroese culture. It was the ‘institutionalized telling of tales [that] insured the survival of Faroese as a literary language’ (Wylie).
First Page of Andrew James Symington’s Pen and Pencil Sketches of Faröe and Iceland (London, 1862), BL 10281.b.18.
It is no coincidence that the first major published works in the Faroese language were collections of kvædir. Of course, these heroic ballads were collected and reproduced in even earlier publications, but these editions were rendered in Latin or Danish. Even before Hammershaimb’s orthography, there are examples of Faroese stories in the native language. Hans Christian Lyngbye’s Færoiske Qvæder om Sigurd Fofnersbane og hans Æt (Randers, 1822; 1462.h.7.) is a parallel Faroese-Danish edition of possibly the most popular kvædi about Sigurd (Siegfried) the dragon-slayer and was published as early as 1822, making it the earliest Faroese book. Ten years later, Johan Henrik Schrøter, already integral to Lyngbye’s kvædir book, published the first Faroese translation of the Icelandic saga about the Christianization of the Faroe Islanders, the Færeyinga Saga (590.h.23). Both of these are available to read online thanks to the Google Books digitisation project.
First page of Schrøter’s trilingual Icelandic-Faroese-Danish edition of the Færeyinga Saga
According to Wylie it was the 1890s that brought the works that would help catalyse the Faroese literary tradition. Hammershaimb’s Færøsk Anthologi (1891) and Jakob Jakobsen’s Færøsk Folkesagn (1896) (both at Ac.9057) ‘were not just scholarly exercises […] They were also specifically Faroese cultural monuments, grounding modern Faroese culture in written recollections of traditional life […] their appearance was exceedingly timely; for by the 1890s, memorializing the past was felt to be an urgent task, especially, perhaps, in [the capital city of] Tórshavn’. The creation of foundational Faroese editions of local literary history, much like the earlier examples of National Romanticism across Europe, went hand-in-hand with a renewed sense of nationhood, accelerated by the industrialization and urbanization of society in the 1880s.
We shouldn’t forget that, alongside the local development of a written literary tradition, the Faroes have captured the imagination of those beyond and many early texts present in the British Library collections mention the Islands. The Icelandic scholar, Arngrímur Jónsson, points to the many sheep on the Faroes in both his Brevis Commentarius de Islandia (1593) (572.b.2.) and Crymogæa (1610) (151.c.24.), noting that it is the sheep (før or fær in Old Norse) that give the Islands their name. The first comprehensive history and geography, Færoæ & Færoa reserata, was published by Lucas Jacobsen Debes in 1673, and, again, is available online. Debes’ account was of enough interest to an English audience for it to be translated three years later under its full title, Færoæ & Færoa reserata, that is, A description of the islands & inhabitants of Foeroe being seventeen islands subject to the King of Denmark, lying under 62 deg. 10 min. of North latitude: wherein several secrets of nature are brought to light […] (London, 1676; 980.d.12). The 19th century also saw a rise in travel literature to the North Atlantic, along with publications associated with scientific expeditions in the region, such as Charles Frederic Martin’s Voyages de la Commission Scientifique du Nord, en Scandinavie, en Laponie, au Spitzberg et aux Feröe (10281.g.7-16.).
Title Page from Debes’ Færoæ & Færoa reserata
The Faroes’ literary traditions are therefore both long-established and yet still novel; they are also both local and yet inextricably tied to Denmark and the wider world. These tensions have defined the distinctiveness of Faroese literature. Trygvi Danielsen, also known as the Faroese rapper Silvurdrongur (‘The Silver Kid’) and the most recent recipient of the Ebba Award, touches on the novelty of Faroese when he describes his practice as orðsangur, or wordsong, and how his writing ‘focuses towards the language itself, playing with words, rearranging, reinventing, reinvigorating, re-examining the language and how we use it’. This is no doubt possible in many languages but perhaps there is something in the artist’s proximity to the comparatively recent construction of a Faroese written language that allows a certain freedom of linguistic creativity. Danielsen’s collection of poetry, fiction and music, The Absent Silver King (2013), was also recently acquired by the library and is currently awaiting cataloguing.
William Heinesen (left) and Jørgen-Frantz Jacobsen in 1918. (Public Domain)
The second tension, between the local and the national, the Faroese- and the Danishness of society, is best encapsulated in the most significant Faroese literary figure, William Heinesen. Marni Rasmussen credits Heinesen as the inventor of Magic Realism and his pioneering style found an international audience, along with his contemporary best-selling compatriot Jørgen-Frantz Jacobsen. Many of Heinesen’s novels have recently been translated into English by W. Glyn Jones and published by Dedalus Books. Both authors were able to inspire the interest of twentieth century readers in the Faroe Islands, however, precisely because both wrote in Danish. In fact, it is well-known that Heinesen made sure he was not considered for the Nobel Prize in 1981, about which rumours were circulating, for the very reason that it would have taken attention away from independent Faroese culture. In a curious way, the long-standing official Danishness—in the realms of politics, religion, law— enabled the sustenance of a Faroese vernacular culture, and Heinesen’s literature is testament to that tension. As Wylie has it, ‘Denmark, on the one hand, and the land and the sea, on the other […] like all rural peoples, the Faroese have found themselves looking two ways at once’. Or, in Heinesen’s paean to all small nations at the beginning of De fortabte spillemænd (The Lost Musicians):
Far out in the radiant ocean glinting like quicksilver there lies a solitary little lead-coloured land. The tiny rocky shore is to the vast ocean just about the same as a grain of sand to the floor of a dance hall. But seen beneath a magnifying glass, this grain is nevertheless a whole world.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
Johan Henrik Schrøter, Faereyinga Saga eller Faeröboernes Historie i den Islandske Grundtext med Faeröisk og Dansk oversaettelse (Copenhagen, 1832), 590.h.23
Jakob Jakobsen, Færøsk Sagnhistorie (Tórshavn, 1904), 11826.q.13.
Jens Christian Svabo, Indberetninger fra en Reise i Færøe 1781 og 1782 (Copenhagen, 1959), 10109.v.9.
J. H. O. Djurhuus, Yrkingar (Tórshavn, 1961), X.900/2189.
Varðin : føroyskt tíðarskrift. [Literary Journal] (Tórshavn, 1921-), complete holdings at P.901/404
William Heinesen, De fortabte spillemænd (second edition, Copenhagen, 1954), 012557.k.11., English translation by W. Glyn Jones (Dedalus Books, 2017), ELD.DS.164233
Christian Matras, Føroysk-dansk orðabók [First comprehensive Faroese-Danish Dictionary] (Tórshavn, 1927-28), 12995.bb.16.
Jonathan Wylie, The Faroe Islands: interpretations of history (Lexington, KY, 1987), Document Supply 87/15819
Oddfríður Marni Rasmussen, Ikki fyrr enn tá (Vestmanna, 2019), YF.2020.a.207
‘Oddfríður Marni Rasmussen Spoke to Us About the Imaginative Potency of Faroese Literature’, Culture Trip (2 August 2017), https://theculturetrip.com/europe/faroe-islands/articles/oddfridur-marni-rasmussen-spoke-to-us-about-the-imaginative-potency-of-faroese-literature/, accessed 16 April 2020
‘Meet the Faroese Rapper Spitting Into a Sea of Cliches’, Culture Trip (24 November 2017), https://theculturetrip.com/europe/faroe-islands/articles/meet-the-faroese-rapper-spitting-into-a-sea-of-cliches/, accessed 16 April 2020
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