21 January 2022
On 21 July 2021, UNESCO added four new cultural sites to its World Heritage List. One of these four was the work of the architect Jože Plečnik on Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana in the years between the world wars, transforming it from a provincial town into a celebrated example of modern, “human centred design” that nevertheless maintained a “dialogue” with the older elements of the city centre.
Portrait of Jože Plečnik by Alenka KhamPičman. Reproduced with kind permission of the artist.
A few months later, the Slovenian government declared that 2022 would be considered “the year of Plečnik”, emphasising this honour and the 150th anniversary of his birth. There will be exhibitions, tours and new publications focusing on his oeuvre, which extends far beyond Ljubljana and can be found in every corner of the country. It will kick off with a series of events in the historic yet industrious town of Kamnik, where among other things he designed a memorial chapel to soldiers of both world wars, renovated the station, and – in the forest nearby – erected a hunting lodge for the first King of Yugoslavia, Alexander.
Hunting lodge in Kamnik designed by Jože Plečnik for the first King of Yugoslavia, Alexander. Photo: Janet Ashton
Slovenia is justly proud of Plečnik as the architect of a very recognisable national style, but he was also a true son of Central Europe, born in 1872 as a subject of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph and educated also in Graz and Vienna, where he studied under Otto Wagner. To Vienna he contributed the immediately noticeable Zacherlhaus in the city centre, and enjoyed a certain measure of favour in highest quarters, working on a fountain in honour of the mayor Karl Lueger, and collaborating with Lueger and the ill-fated Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg on building a church in the district of Ottakring, whose working class inhabitants they hoped to inspire with religious feelings that would immure them against radical activities. Plečnik had instinctive sympathy for the Christian Social movement Lueger represented, and throughout his life was interested in popular expressions of Catholicism and their links with national identity.
Given his success and his position in the political mainstream, he even hoped to succeed Wagner as professor of Architecture at the School of Fine Arts, but the style of the Holy Ghost Church fell foul of the heir to the throne, Franz Ferdinand, whose tastes were far more conservative and who likened the church to a stable crossed with a sauna. Plečnik found his appointment blocked.
Obelisk designed by Plečnik on the Moravian Bastion of Prague Castle. Photo: Janet Ashton
Convinced that his career in Vienna was over, he moved to Prague at the invitation of Jan Kotěra, another of Wagner’s pupils, and took up a post at the college of arts and crafts. He was teaching in Prague when the Habsburg empire split apart and the cities in which he had made his life and career found themselves in three separate countries. On a personal level, this was a traumatic experience for many people, never again sure to which nation they belonged, but for Plečnik it also afforded new opportunities in developing national styles with specific political overtones. His first major project for the successor states was to renovate Prague Castle, transforming the dilapidated and forbidding Habsburg fortress into a “democratic” residence for the new President of the Czechoslovak Republic, a seat and symbol of the liberal, middle class nation its leaders aspired to create. Whereas his contact with hereditary royalty was always awkward, he developed a great rapport with both the President, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, and with Masaryk’s daughter Dr. Alice Masaryková, who shared a profound involvement in the project. Symbolic of their complex national history, he and Alice corresponded in German, the language of the vanished empire, because despite his years in Prague Plečnik lacked confidence in his own Czech-speaking abilities.
Interior of the Sacred Heart Church in Vinohrady designed by Jože Plečnik. Photo: Janet Ashton
In 1921 he was invited to return to Ljubljana and take up a post at the School of Architecture at the new University. He was reluctant at first, fearing that he was moving to a backwater, but he also felt a patriotic obligation to the Slovenian people, and in the end he accepted. This post would lead to his celebrated impact on the whole of the Slovenian capital, where he remodelled bridges, built churches, and designed the national library, city stadium and cemetery. But at the same time, he also worked on projects in far more modest locations, renovating a church in the tiny north-eastern town of Bogojina, for example, simply in the hope of inspiring its townsfolk. He had limited impact on the wider Yugoslavia of which Slovenia was a component part, but did undertake two projects for the Yugoslav royal family for their visits to Slovenia. His relationship with the military-minded King Alexander was as awkward as that with Franz Ferdinand had been, however, and nothing ever came close to the rapport he had enjoyed with Masaryk and Alice.
Drawing of the National/University Library and Napoleon memorial in Ljubljana by Alenka KhamPičman. Reproduced with kind permission of the artist.
Jože Plečnik lived an ascetic and fairly reclusive life according to his own motto, “Minljiv si, le tvoja dela so tvoj spomin” (“only your work will be remembered”) at his home in Ljubljana (which is now a museum). He survived the occupation of the city by first Fascist Italy and then Nazi Germany, and continued to teach until the last days of his life. Alenka KhamPičman, now an artist who often paints her tutor’s buildings, recalls that he came on foot to the University every day and sat all morning marking projects and sketching out ideas for his students to take up. She admired him for his “imagination, knowledge, perseverance and discipline” and for his strict commentary on his pupils’ work.
Plečnik died aged 85 in 1957. Under Communism his architecture was unfashionable and often ignored (“he was pushed away by the modern world” says Alenka KhamPičman sadly), but from 1991 the independence of Slovenia brought a new focus on his work and the national spirit he had tried to embody, elevating him to the status of a national hero and symbol of his country.
Janet Ashton, West European Cataloguing Team Manager
With particular thanks to Alenka KhamPičman for her memories and permission to use her paintings
The British Library holds a very large number of books and journals in various languages that throw light on Plečnik’s life and work. They range from beautifully illustrated city guidebooks and exhibition catalogues to critical academic studies to facsimiles, memoir by associates, and biographies. A mere sample is as follows:
Maja Avguštin, Saša Lavrinc. Plečnik na Domžalskem in Kamniškem, [fotografije Drago Bac]. (Ljubljana, 2010). YF.2012.a.19139
Noah Charney. Eternal architect: the life and art of Jože Plečnik, modernist mystic. (Ljubljana, 2017). LD.31.b.4492
Great immortality: studies on European cultural sainthood, edited by Marijan Dović, Jón Karl Helgason [includes studies on the cultural and Catholic admiration for both Gaudi and Plečnik]. (Leiden, 2019). YD.2019.a.5108
Andrej Hrausky. Plečnik’s architecture in Ljubljana (Ljubljana, 2017). YF.2019.a.8928
Andrej Hrausky. Jože Plečnik: Dunaj, Praga, Ljubljana. (Ljubljana, 2007). LF.31.b.8502
Ivan Margolius. Church of the Sacred Heart. (London, 1995). LB.31.b.24563
Josip Plečnik: an architect of Prague Castle. [compiled by] Zdeněk Lukeš, Damjan Prelovšek, Tomáš Valen. (Prague, 1997). LB.31.b.17345.
O plečniku: prispevki k preučevanju, interpretaciji in popularizaciji njegovega dela. Tomáš Valena ; prevod iz nemščine Marjana Karer, Špela Urbas ; prevod iz češčine Nives Vidrih. (Celje, 2013). LF.31.b.10948
Plečnik na Loškem: Galerija Loškega muzeja Škofja Loka, 8. 6.-31. 10. 2007. besedila Damjan Prelovšek et al.; uvod Jana Mlakar; fotografija Damjan Prelovšek ... et al.. (Skofja Loka, 2007). YF.2011.a.12830.
Jože Plečnik, Jan Kotěra. Jože Plečnik--Jan Kotěra: dopisovanje 1897-1921, uredil, komentiral in prevedel Damjan Prelovšek. (Ljubljana, 2004). YF.2010.b.2359.
Jože Plečnik, Dunajske risbe =The Vienna drawings. text by Peter Krečič. (Ljubljana, 1994). HS.74/1194
Damjan Prelovšek. Josef Plečnik, 1872-1957: architectura perennis, aus dem Slowenischen von Dorothea Apovnik. (Salzburg, 1992). LB.31.b.17818
Lukeš Zdeněk. Jože Plečnik: průvodce po stavbách v České republice; současné fotografie Jiří Podrazil. (Prague, 2012). YF.2013.a.1546
20 December 2021
Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), the prolific Austrian author whose collection of autograph manuscripts is at the British Library, was fascinated by artistic creativity, and with it the drafts, scores, sketches and proofs that allow us a glimpse of a work of art coming into being. At once evidence of both sheer artistic labour and a kind of otherworldly genius, manuscripts had for him the potential to insert us into decisive moments, what he would call Sternstunden, whether they were creative breakthroughs or political turning points. He turns his attention to one such Sternstunde in a discussion on ‘The World of Autograph Manuscripts’ (1923):
The most powerful and harrowing must of course always be those autographs, where the moment of putting pen to paper was itself a historic, cultural, universally significant one. Elizabeth I’s signature underneath Mary Stuart’s death warrant – all of us have seen the scene in Schiller’s tragedy and now it suddenly lies before us, the original fateful page, the live stroke of the quill which brought a heroic life to its end.
Digitised copy of Mary Stuart’s death warrant. Add MS 48027, ff. 448r-450r
The British Library’s current exhibition Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, expands on Zweig’s quintessential example of the most powerful of manuscripts and brings to life the epic history through its personal and political documents. The signed death warrant – now in Lambeth Palace Library – does not appear in the current exhibition, but the act is represented by ‘A true Copie of the Proclamation lately published by the Queenes maiestie, under the great Seale of England, for the declaring of the Sentence, lately given against the Queene of Scottes, Richmond, 4 Dec 1586’ (Add MS 48027, ff. 448r-450r).
Title page of Stefan Zweig, Maria Stuart (Vienna, 1935), W14/4184
Zweig wrote a hugely popular biography of Mary Queen of Scots in 1935, adding to an already weighty Mary-bibliography. Of course, German-language interest in Mary was already longstanding and is most commonly associated with Friedrich Schiller’s play Maria Stuart (1800). While Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach wrote the drama Maria Stuart in Schottland (1860) as a kind of response to Schiller’s portrayal, interrogating her predecessor’s notion that femininity (Weiblichkeit) and political authority were incompatible qualities. Zweig returns somewhat to that theme in that he pits a hyper-feminised Mary against an unwomanly Elizabeth, a passionate martyr against a cold-hearted Queen. Although, as Ulrike Tanzer writes, Zweig’s dichotomising tendencies are not absolute, as he depicts both queens as political agents and victims, as leaders and subjects of manipulation, thrown into the political and religious power structures of the time.
Zweig moved to London in 1934 while in the process of finishing his biography of Erasmus von Rotterdam. He had had the idea to move his focus to the rival queens the previous year, his new Portland Place flat allowing him to consult the “enormous amount” of material at the British Museum. Despite the many accounts of the history already available, Zweig felt the book [‘das entscheidende Buch’] on Mary did not yet exist, hence his compulsion to write it. His interest was however already established, given the mention of the signed death sentence in our first quotation from 1923. A trip to New York in January 1935 brought Zweig, now an expert in his subject, face to face with Elizabeth at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “A remarkable portrait of Elizabeth I by Lucas de Heere, which shows her more nervous with a quite frightened expression, always an indecisiveness suppressed behind her pomp.” (Doubt was later cast on the identity of both sitter and painter, and the Met now describes the picture simply as a ‘Portrait of a Woman’ by a ‘British Artist’.)
‘Portrait of a Woman’ by a ‘British Artist’. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Zweig’s Maria Stuart devotes most of its pages to just the two or so years covering the murder of David Rizzio until Mary’s imprisonment in England, when “passion flamed up in her with elemental force, and what might have seemed an average destiny assumed the lineaments of a Greek tragedy as formidable as that of Orestes.” It is typical of Zweig’s biographies to draw attention to a central scene, a decisive moment, or in this case the decisive two years during which “Mary underwent the supreme experiences which led in the end to her destruction, and thanks to which, likewise, her memory has become so noteworthy.” Subsequent interpretation, the BL exhibition included, has no doubt nuanced Mary’s legacy to show her “noteworthiness” beyond the intrigue of those years.
On the famous casket letter debate, Antonia Fraser’s 1969 biography (London, 1969; X.700/3754), among others, attests to their forgery, whereas Zweig is convinced of their authenticity: “We, who know that Mary in times of stress always poured her heart out in verse, can have no doubt that she composed both letters and poems.” Zweig the biographer always takes a position, asserting the causes, intentions and consequences of events, even if that required some serious speculation, which was often the case for his psychological portraits.
Cover of Stefan Zweig, The Queen of Scots (London, 1950), W.P.8077/2.
The biography was incredibly successful and, as with pretty much all of Zweig’s work, was immediately translated into numerous languages, with the English edition, translated by long-time Zweig-collaborators Eden and Cedar Paul, appearing the same year. While Zweig’s legacy waned in the middle of the century, that same English translation was reissued by Pushkin Press in 2018, along with a raft of Zweig’s work, showing that there is a place for Zweig’s take on this much churned history. Its place is surely secured more as an example of Zweig’s hugely popular and gripping style, rather than an example of sober, historical analysis. It is of its time, a deeply psychological insight into a fascinating period, which complements the personal letters between the rival queens currently on display at the Library.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
Stefan Zweig, Maria Stuart (Vienna, 1935), W14/4184
Stefan Zweig, The Queen of Scots (London, 1950), W.P.8077/2.
Rüdiger Görner and Klemens Renoldner (eds.), Zweigs England (Würzburg, 2014), YF.2015.a.10030
Ulrike Tanzer, ‘11.4 Maria Stuart (1935)’, in Stefan-Zweig-Handbuch, edited by Arturo Larcati, Klemens Renoldner and Martina Wörgötter (Berlin, 2018), YF.2018.a.13186, pp. 415-424
Oliver Matuschek, Ich kenne den Zauber der Schrift : Katalog und Geschichte der Autographensammlung Stefan Zweig ; mit kommentiertem Abdruck von Stefan Zweigs Aufsätzen über das Sammeln von Handschriften (Vienna, 2005), YF.2006.a.13265
16 February 2021
It’s Shrove Tuesday, and that means pancakes in Britain, but not everywhere! Today we take a look at some Polish and German carnival traditions.
The last days of the Carnival season start in Poland on Fat Thursday (tłusty czwartek). It is widely celebrated by eating traditional doughnuts called pączki. Filled with rose jam or plum preserve, amongst other flavours, they should be light and fluffy. Around the country, people queue up to buy them from their local bakeries. Statistics show that some 100 million doughnuts are sold on this day. Historically, the reason for making them in large quantities was to use up all the leftover ingredients from the Carnival, particularly fat and eggs, before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, where such food was not allowed to be consumed. Pączki are believed to bring good luck for the whole year and the average Pole eats at least two of them on Fat Thursday. A search for ‘Polish Cooking’ in our catalogue will find a number of cookery books which might inspire readers to try and make their own!
A plate of pączki (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
Fat Thursday is followed five days later by Shrove Tuesday, called Ostatki meaning the last day of Carnival. It is also known as the Herring Night or śledzik, because the most favourite dish to consume that evening is pickled herring. Poles exuberantly celebrate Ostatki by indulging themselves in food, drinks, dance and music. A horse-drawn sleigh ride (kulig) through the snow-covered countryside is a popular way to end the happy Carnival season.
Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections
The Shrovetide carnival has a long history in the German-speaking countries There are three broad regional traditions: the Rhineland Karneval, the Alemannic Fasnacht in south-eastern Germany and Switzerland, and Fasching in Bavaria and Austria (the latter two are sometimes grouped together). Within these there are endless local variations, but all involve a spirit of misrule and anarchy which sometimes sits oddly with British perceptions of orderly Germans!
A central organising role is played by the various local Fools’ Guilds (‘Narrenzünfte’) which support and maintain traditional practices, including, especially in the southern regions, the making and wearing of grotesquely carved wooden masks and elaborate costumes. These costumes often represent jesters and fools, but devils, witches, and fantastical figures similar to the ‘Kurents’ of Slovenia’s carnival also feature. Many books are devoted to the history and design of these costumes, and to the traditions of carnival and of the guilds.
In the 19th-century Rhineland, carnival traditions came to be seen as an opportunity to assert local identity and resistance to first French and then Prussian rule. This gave the festivities a more political edge, reflected today in ‘Rose Monday’ processions with floats featuring caricatures of national and international politicians.
But however earnest the political satire or intense the dedication to maintaining local tradition, carnival is primarily about fun, celebration, and a few days when the world is turned upside down.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator German Collections
12 November 2020
Applications are now open for an exciting new PhD placement working with the German collections at the British Library. Under the title Interrogating German Collections, current PhD students are invited to spend three months (or part-time equivalent) challenging the conventional history of knowledge of German-speaking regions, and to explore under-represented perspectives. Co-supervised with Expanding German Studies, a group seeking to expand and diversify the German Studies curriculum across the UK, the placement offers an opportunity to understand how German culture has constructed categories of racial difference, and how the voices of racialised others (including Jewish, Eastern European, Black, East Asian, Turkish and Middle Eastern people) have been represented within the discipline. The British Library’s German Printed Collections are of worldwide importance and will serve as a comprehensive source.
A selection of books by German authors who feature on the Expanding German Studies interactive bibliography
While the student will be expected to propose a specific focus, the placement will involve researching the collections, writing blog posts on items and on methodologies around collecting and curation, improving catalogue records, presenting to different departments on the results. The student will also have the opportunity to work with Expanding German Studies on teaching resources, and on preparing translations of neglected works for German Studies undergraduates, among other potential outputs.
This placement project offers an opportunity for a PhD student to put their research and critical thinking skills into practice at a major cultural institution through a topic that will be crucial to every aspect of the Library and to the cultural sector more widely in the coming years.
Further information on eligibility, conditions and how to apply is available on the British Library website. The deadline for applications is 18 December 2020.
22 May 2020
Trieste is a city of writers, and it celebrates them loudly. It was writers who developed the current mythology and image of the city, and it is profoundly grateful to them for creating an atmosphere of pleasant melancholy and regret that draws a certain kind of visitor to the place and fuels an endless series of newspaper articles about an Italian city that is not quite Italian, but which would be much less noticed if it were.
James Joyce statue in Trieste. Photograph: Janet Ashton
At first glance, it seems to be foreign writers who define Trieste. James Joyce is perhaps the most physically obvious, his statue overlooking the Grand Canal and his name emblazoned on the cafes he drank in. But it may be Jan Morris, the Welsh travel writer, who has contributed most to perceptions of Trieste itself in the Anglophone world. It is Morris for whom the city’s name evokes the word “tristesse” and whose travelogue fuses impressions of the gentle backwater that is modern Trieste with the angry, beleaguered city she first visited in the immediate post-war period, and with the grand, cosmopolitan port of the Habsburgs.
Habsburg Trieste. View of the Piazza della Borsa and the Borsa Vecchia, now the Chamber of Commerce of Trieste. Photograph: Janet Ashton
That foreign writers loom large tallies well with Trieste’s cosmopolitan demeanour: it is, after all, a port, a “city of exiles”, as Morris calls it, and one famously situated at the crossing point between Germanic, Slavic and Romance cultures as well.
Yet when it comes to its own native authors, Trieste long seemed to be under the sway of Italian nationalism. Italo Svevo, Umberto Saba – Italophone writers like these were the most noted literary offspring of the city. It was as if the city’s multiculturalism was more a boast than an integrated element of its own identity, and as it drew exiles from other nations it simultaneously exiled many of its own offspring in either a spiritual or a physical sense.
Trieste – along with Trento – was one of the Austrian cities symbolically most coveted by Italy in the years before the first world war. After its annexation in 1918, it became a living memorial to this fact, complete with museums of irredentism and the inevitable array of squares and street names commemorating dates or individuals important to the Italian state. A policy of suppression was adopted towards the German and Slovene languages.
Photograph of Boris Pahor, 2015. © Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons
The best known of the writers who grew up in those years may currently be Boris Pahor, a 106-year-old Triestine Slovene, who is believed to be the oldest living survivor of a concentration camp. Pahor is also undoubtedly the only person alive who can recall the burning of the Slovene National Hall in Trieste in 1920, an event which now seems to mark the beginning of the Fascist period. For his own resistance to fascism, he was sent to internal exile in the city’s grim Risiera di San Sabba concentration camp, and from there to the several death camps he managed to survive. In 1946, Pahor returned to his native city and has remained there for most of his life since, but it is only in the last few years that it has begun to celebrate him as it does its Italian-speaking writers, holding public ceremonies in his honour and flagging his works in bookshops as those of a local author. Pahor is even beginning to be better known in the English-speaking world since appearing in a BBC documentary, though few of his works beside his renowned concentration camp memoir, Nekropola, known in English as Necropolis or Pilgrim among shadows, have yet been translated.
Trieste from the karst. Photograph: Janet Ashton
Jan Morris ruminates on the city’s relationship with the karst that surrounds it, characterising that harsh and stony territory where Slovene is the dominant language as a symbol of the “Slavic” wildness threatening the orderly Habsburg city. Even in the later visits she explores in her book, a border lay between town and countryside – not as impermeable as the Iron Curtain borders further east, but a border with troops and a different ideology on the far side nevertheless. But the image she evokes seems to me almost a reverse of the genuine relationship, in which the neat little farm houses and wineries of the karst provide a calm and safe retreat from the traffic noise and the mildly grubby streets below.
Manuscript of the poem Majhen plašč (A small coat) by Srečko Kosovel, 1926. From the Digital Library of Slovenia
Be this as it may, the city and countryside, with their topographical and linguistic contrasts, have always had an intense relationship that lends itself to literary metaphor. Srečko Kosovel, one of Slovenia’s most treasured national poets, was born in nearby Sežana in 1904 and received his cultural education at the doomed Slovene National Hall in Trieste. During the First World War trenches surrounded his home village Tomaj, marking his mental landscape as indelibly as did the natural features of the karst. After the war, the Treaty of Rapallo assigned the whole area to Italy. Kosovel moved to Ljubljana, now part of the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia, where he could at least speak his own language without repression, yet he soon felt alienated from the Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia as well. His poetry used the harsh scenery of the karst as a metaphor for his own loneliness and disorientation. His celebrated poem Majhen plašč (A small coat) is often read as a rumination on his need for a specifically Slovenian identity. He was actively associated with the earliest expressions of resistance of fascism, and this too appears in his work.
Kosovel died in 1926 from meningitis at the age of only 22. He has long been honoured in Slovenia, but it took until events marking the 90th anniversary of his death for him to gain much attention in Trieste. In 2019, there was much excitement and pleasure in the Slovene-speaking press when Patti Smith quoted him during her concert there, evoking him alongside Rainer Maria Rilke, whose Duino Elegies are one of the most famous works created there, as an emblem and child of the city.
Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager
Jan Morris, Trieste and the meaning of nowhere (London, 2010). YC.2001.a.15891
Srečko Kosovel, Stano Kosovel, Boris Pahor, Milko Bambič, Srečko Kosovel v Trstu ([Trieste], 1970) YF.2011.a.3347
Boris Pahor, Nekropola (Ljubljana, 2009) YD.2012.a.4385
Necropolis (Edinburgh, 2020) ELD.DS.496000
Tržaški mozaik: izbor občasnih zapiskov (Ljubljana, 1983) YA.1987.a.2951
Trg Oberdan (Ljubljana, 2006) YF.2007.a.34744
Srečko Kosovel, The golden boat: selected poems of Srečko Kosovel, translated by Bert Pribac & David Brooks with the assistance of Teja Brooks Pribac (Cambridge, 2008) YC.2010.a.8821
Srečko Kosovel, Pesmi (Ljubljana, 2004) YF.2005.a.15513
Ana Jelnikar, Universalist hopes in India and Europe: the works of Rabindranath Tagore and Srečko Kosovel (New Delhi, 2006) YC.2017.a.6504
11 October 2019
Polish author Olga Tokarczuk and Austrian writer Peter Handke have been awarded the 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prizes in Literature after the award was suspended last year due to a sexual assault scandal.
Born in Poland in 1962, Olga Tokarczuk, the winner of the 2018 Prize, is one of the most critically acclaimed contemporary Polish writers. Noted for the mythical tone of her writing, she is adored by her readers and highly praised by critics. Tokarczuk has won many prestigious literary awards for her works both in her native country and abroad. In 2018 she won the Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights, translated into English by Jennifer Croft (London, 2017; ELD.DS.228759). The book was first published in Poland in 2007 as Bieguni (). The Polish title refers to runaways, a sect of Old Believers, who believe that being in constant motion is a trick to avoid evil. Flights is a fragmentary novel consisting of over 100 episodes, each exploring what it means to be a traveller through space as well as time. Set between the 17th and 21st centuries, the novel includes some fictional stories and some fact-based, narrated from the perspective of an anonymous female traveller.
Cover of Bieguni (Krakow, 2007) YF.2008.a.36755
A trained psychologist, Tokarczuk spent a few years practising as a therapist before devoting her working life to her literary career. She is the author of nine novels and a few short stories and essays, and her books have been published into 30 languages including English, Chinese and Japanese. The main translator of her books into English is Antonia Lloyd-Jones, whose most recent translation is Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead (London, 2018; ELD.DS.325469), shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize. The novel, regarded as an eco-crime story, explores the issues of the animal rights and vegan movements unveiling the hypocrisy of traditional beliefs and religion. The book and the film Spoor by Agnieszka Holland based on this novel caused a political uproar in Poland.
Cover of Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych (Krakow, 2009) YF.2010.a.22348
Olga Tokarczuk was a speaker at two recent British Library events: “A life of Crime? Crime writing from Poland”, in 2017, and “Olga Tokarczuk: An evening with Poland’s best”, in 2018. Recordings of both events are available to listen in our Reading Rooms via the online catalogue.
Magda Szkuta, Curator East European Collections
The 2019 prize has been awarded to the Austrian writer Peter Handke. The Nobel Foundation cites his “influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.” He has won many of Austria’s and Germany’s major literary prizes over the course of a long career.
Born in 1942, Handke began to write while studying at the University of Graz. He became involved with the ‘Grazer Gruppe’, a group of writers (including another future Austrian Nobel Laureate, Elfriede Jelinek) associated with the literary magazine manuskripte (P.903/797).
Peter Handke (left) and magazine editor Alfred Kolleritsch at an event to mark the 50th anniversary of manuskripte, 2013. (Photograph by Dnalor_01 from Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA 3.0)
Handke became known in the 1960s for his experimental plays such as Publikumsbeschimpfung (Frankfurt am Main, 1967; X.907/8495. English translation by Michael Roloff, Insulting the Audience (London, 1971) 11663.l.2/42.). This begins with the words, “You will not see a play” and has the uncostumed actors address the audience from what is usually a bare stage. He has also written novels, poetry and essays. English-speaking audiences, although they may not realise it, are perhaps most likely to have come across his work as the screenwriter for Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin). Handke has also won awards as a film director.
From the start of his career Handke attracted controversy, although not necessarily for the experimental nature of his work. In an early public appearance at an event organised by the influential post-war writers group Gruppe 47, he gave an angry speech attacking the Group and the work of its members. More recently he has been criticised for his stance and his writing on the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. This has led to protests at the award of other literary prizes to Handke in recent years, and the Nobel award has attracted similar criticisms.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
09 August 2019
In May 1921 staff at the British Museum Library must have been rather surprised to receive a letter addressed to Sir Anthony Panizzi, the Museum’s famous 19th-century Principal Librarian, who had been dead for some 42 years. The letter was from Victor Patzovsky, a former officer in the Austrian army, who had been stationed at the Sigmundsherberg Prisoner of War camp in north-eastern Austria during the First World War, and it accompanied a parcel containing issues of newspapers produced by the Italian prisoners in the camp.
Such newspapers were produced in many internment and prisoner-of-war camps in the First and Second World Wars. They served various purposes: to communicate the latest news from the camp and the wider world, to publicise sporting and cultural societies and events organised by the prisoners, to alleviate boredom and frustration, to share experiences, memories and jokes, and to maintain a common cultural identity while in enemy captivity.
These things were particularly important in a camp like Sigmundsherberg where conditions were poor and prisoners particularly likely to succumb to the ‘barbed-wire disease’ that accompanied long, difficult and tedious incarceration. The camp had originally housed Russian prisoners, but after Italy entered the war against her former Austrian and German allies most of the Russians were moved out, and by the autumn of 1916 some 56,000 Italians were interned there. Since this was a far greater number than the camp had been built for, overcrowding was a constant problem, exacerbated by sickness, and shortages of food and fuel, creating miserable conditions for the prisoners.
In his letter Patzovsky writes of the prisoners’ ‘sad lot’ and says that he was ‘a real friend’ to them, enclosing testimonials from some of them to support this claim. He goes on to explain that he has now fallen on hard times himself, and is hoping to sell the newspapers to the Library to raise some money. He must have heard of Panizzi and, not realising that he was long dead, thought that an Italian-born librarian would have a particular interest in the newpapers and sympathy with a man who had tried to help Italians in distress. The letter was passed on to A.W. Pollard, one of Panizzi’s successors as Keeper of Printed Books, and a pencilled note on the first page, signed with Pollard’s initials, shows that the Library offered £2 for the collection. Clearly Patzovsky was content with this as the newspapers remain in the British Library today, although the testimonials were presumably returned to Patzovsky as he requested.
The run of newspapers is far from complete. As Patzovsky explains, ‘the few copies that were printed went from hand to hand among the thousands of Italians until the paper fell to pieces.’ The earliest in the collection is no. 3 of the weekly L’Eco del Prigioniero (‘The Prisoner’s Echo’), dated 21 January 1917. L’Eco del Prigioniero was reproduced from manuscript using a machine known as an opalograph and each issue has a different illustrated masthead.
The first editor was an A. Gori, but from no. 15 (6 May 1917) the role was taken over by Guido Monaldi. The content generally includes news and comment, essays poems and stories, and reports of camp activities, while a monthly supplement, L’Eco Umoristico/L’Eco Caricaturista, is devoted to jokes and cartoons.
In August 1917 L’Eco del Prigioniero became La Scintilla (‘The Spark’), but Monaldi remained as editor, the content was much the same, and there was still a humorous supplement, La Scintilla Caricaturista. Initially the same form of reproduction from manuscript was also used, but the difficulty of obtaining the chemicals needed for the process and the low quality of the available supplies made it impossible to keep up with the demand for copies and to maintain the quality of the reproduction.
By the beginning of November Monaldi and his team had succeeded in acquiring a proper printing press, and the remaining issues are all printed, losing somewhat in visual charm and variety but gaining greatly in legibility. A new and permanent masthead image soon appeared, with the image of a goddess-like figure striking sparks.
Somewhat confusingly, the series numeration restarts at 1 from the first printed issue; the last issue which we hold is no. 15 in this numeration (7 April 1918), although La Scintilla is recorded as having run until August 1918.
Incomplete as our holdings are, we must be grateful to Patzovsky for offering them to the Library and to Pollard for being willing to buy them from him.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Rudolf Koch, Im Hinterhof des Krieges: das Kriegsgefangenenlager Sigmundsherberg (Klosterneuburg, 2002) YA.2003.a.43771
14 December 2018
The Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser would have been 90 on Saturday. Functionality was not his priority and his thought might deserve to be re-thought unevenly, uninhabitably, uselessly. But, to quote Hundertwasser’s ‘Mouldiness Manifesto’, it’s hard to get away from the ‘straight-edged ruler’ of the page, to bend the blog format ‘with giant steps’ to approach ‘impractical, unusable and ultimately uninhabitable [literary] architecture.’ But let’s at least exercise the freedom to forego a straightforward biography of an artist whose work was anything but straightforward, and simply re-join him during the end of his 35 days in Sweden, an account published in 1967 following an exhibition in the Moderna Museet, Stockholm.
In the summer of 1956, Hundertwasser received a letter from his friend Hans Neuffer in Stockholm. Six days later the artist was there himself to begin a brief adventure. He moves from flat to flat, tries unsuccessfully to promote his artwork and the account culminates in two entries: ‘Als Tellerwäscher’ (‘As a dishwasher’) and ‘Als Matrose’ (‘As a sailor). Here are partial translations of these entries:
As a dishwasher
Then my friends said to me: why aren’t you working? Everyone works here. Us too. You should become a dishwasher. Actually, every Viennese student washes plates here. So I joined them. […]
I worked diligently in a restaurant on the Kungstgatan. But I soon noticed that the other dishwashers didn’t work too hard. They were up to their ankles in shards of broken dishes. Out of displeasure or maybe pleasure, they let nearly every third plate crash to the floor when they washed up, especially if there was a plate that seemed particularly dirty. Rarely, a dangerous supervisor would venture over the mountain of shards to check whether the glasses and plates were washed and dried well. She wasn’t too concerned about the mass of shards on the floor. Sweden is a rich country, I thought to myself. Only cleanliness is important. There were white plates like snow fallen from the sky and scrunching underfoot. […]
As a sailor
So a few days went by. Suddenly Hans Neuffer came to my apartment all agitated to say that I had to go with him to Casablanca straightaway. As a deckhand on an Estonian ship under a Liberian flag. […]
I put down the coffee spoons and went along. To the Estonian Seamen’s Company. They didn’t want me though. But then they didn’t want to engage Neuffer alone. I was supposedly too old to be a deckhand. But then they phoned around and sent me to the doctor for examination to see whether I was fit for service. […] But they didn’t look at me and just asked for a urine sample. I had suffered from jaundice before and I feared that they would notice this in the analysis. I managed, in an unobserved moment, to chuck away half the sample and replace it with tap water. […] I was deemed fit and received my train ticket to Söderhamn.
The ship, the “SS Bauta” was close to the station. […] To my surprise, all the seamen had to go and pick wild berries every day. After a week, we went out to sea. I was at the helm twice a day for two hours, 4am till 6am and 4pm till 6pm. I had never done it before and completely messed up the ship on the first day. Then I got better at it. I also had to wash dishes and turn the oven on at 6am to make coffee for the first mate. Everything had the addition of “FACKING”. For example, I once spoke to someone who was limping. He said: “I went to get the FACKING butter, I fell on the FACKING stairs, I got this FACKING wound. Here is no FACKING doctor on this FACKING ship.”
The stokers argued over whether the war was over yet. Some said yes, but the majority thought that Goebbels had taken over and the war had continued. I didn’t dare contradict them. […]
On board the SS Bauta, I painted the watercolours 274, 275, 276, and 277 , and wrote the novel “BLAU BLUM” together with Hans Neuffer. […]
I was witness to the fact that I really am a very good sailor.
Avoiding a progressive line through the Hundertwasser biography to home in on a scene and a limited edition of that scene might do justice to the anti-linear freedom of an ‘automatist’, 90 years old today.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Schöne Wege: Gedanken über Kunst und Leben (Munich, ) YA.1986.a.6708
Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Hundertwasser architecture : for a more human architecture in harmony with nature (Hong Kong; London, 2007) LC.31.b.4874
Wieland Schmied, Hundertwasser, 1928-2000: Persönlichkeit, Leben, Werk (Cologne, 2005) YF.2007.b.2545
Walter Koschatzky, with Janine Kertész, Friedensreich Hundertwasser: the complete graphic work, 1951-1986, translated by Charles Kessler (Zurich, 1986)
Pierre Restany, Hundertwasser (London, 2010) LC.31.b.9497
Friedensreich Hundertwasser: Gegen den Strich: Werke 1949-1970, herausgegeben von Christoph Grunenberg und Astrid Becker ... Anlässlich der Ausstellung in der Kunsthalle Bremen 20. Oktober 2012 - 17. Februar 2013 (Ostfildern, 2012) YF.2013.b.1960
14 May 2018
John Bax (1793-1863) was an administrator in the Bombay Civil Service. Throughout his working life he kept a meticulous record of his travels between England and India, as well as around Great Britain, and across continental Europe and the Middle East. Two volumes of Bax’s journals have been digitised for the Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme, thanks to Bax’s descriptions of Arabia and Persia. However, these volumes also offer us an insight into life in early 19th-century Europe.
Header for diary entries describing Bax’s journey from England to Persia during 1824/25. Mss Eur F377/1.
Bax’s overland journey from England to India during 1824 and 1825 is particularly illuminating, not least because it offers fascinating vignettes of life in the Habsburg Empire. Bax’s journey through the Empire’s dominions covered in excess of 1,000 kilometres. It took him from Salzburg to Vienna, where he stayed for several weeks over Christmas 1824, and then onwards to Buda and Pest, through Transylvania, stopping at the towns of Temeswar [Timisoara] and Hermanstadt [Sibiu], before passing into the Turkish province of Wallachia.
Bax’s diary entries reveal something of the internal contradictions and tensions of the Habsburg Empire; of the contrasts between its centre and far-flung frontiers, of strict religious codes versus cosmopolitanism, and the stark contrasts that existed between courtly opulence and provincial poverty.
Between Munich and Salzburg Bax noted that the ‘road is protected by whole troops of saints, several of whom were comfortably housed in a kind of sentry box.’ Of Salzburg itself Bax wrote that ‘the bigotry of [the town’s] inhabitants is of ancient date and no Protestant is permitted to domicile there.’ Bax added that ‘We were required to specify our religion immediately upon arrival’ (f 209).
Bax was ambivalent about Vienna. He described the ‘want of energy and activity of the inhabitants’ and the ‘changeless monotony of society’ as not befitting the capital of a large Empire. However, Bax did note that ‘all the finery and clothes of the city’ were on display at the Prater on New Year’s Day, and that the music of the carnival seasons was ‘universally of the superior order’. Bax appears to have thought the most ‘imposing spectacle’ of his stay was the funeral procession of an Austrian Field Marshal (ff 210-211).
When Bax arrived at Buda the town was still a distinctly separate entity from Pest, its modern neighbour, on the opposite bank of the Danube. 24 years elapsed after Bax’s visit before the Széchenyi Chain Bridge linked the two towns. In Buda, Bax wrote that during ‘the summer months, there is a bridge of forty-seven boats’ across the river, which were opened up for one hour each morning to allow the passage of other vessels up and down river (f 213).
In 1825, large parts of the Habsburg Empire had been liberated from Ottoman rule only a century previously. In Transylvania, Bax saw for himself past and present attempts to protect the region’s towns from the Turks. His journal indicates the contrast between the ‘strong fortified’ Timisoara and the ‘dilapidated’ red brick walls of Sibiu. On the road between Timisoara and Sibiu, Bax wrote of villages ‘built of wood and mud’, in which ‘poverty seemed to reign on every side in pale and wan squalidity’ (f 215).
When Bax arrived in Sibiu the carnival season was in full swing. He described dancing crowds of ‘Germans, Hungarians, Greeks, Saxons and Transilvanians [who] were nightly exhibiting a succession of the most intricate figures.’ On his departure from the town he witnessed a marriage procession, led by a man ‘bearing aloft a long pole to which streamers of various colours were attached’, followed by a fiddler, the bride and groom, and a ‘mob of men and women and children’ (ff 216-217).
You can read more of John Bax’s travels throughout Europe and elsewhere, in the first of his two volumes of travel journals, now available online on the Qatar Digital Library.
Mark Hobbs, Content Specialist, Gulf History, Qatar Project
05 July 2017
The Empire of Austria was created in 1804 when the last of the Holy Roman Emperors assumed the title Emperor of Austria as Francis I. This Empire was made up of heterogeneous political entities: kingdoms, archduchies and duchies, earldoms, and other administrative areas without a common purpose. The Habsburg dynasty ruled over these territories as a sole unifying power.
Ethnographic map of the Austrian Empire which shows the lands of the House of Habsburg according to the constitution of 1849. Maps 27727.(3.)
In 1855 the Austrian Empire held Balkan territories which included the Kingdom of Dalmatia, the Kingdom of Croatia and Slavonia and the Military Frontier, as a defensive zone along the Ottoman border.
Ethnographic map of the Austrian Monarchy. Detail shows the political structure of the Austrian Empire in 1855. Maps 6.b.53.
The population of the Austrian Empire according to the 1851 census was 36,398.000. The Slavonic peoples constituted 40.6%; Germans 21.6%; Italians and Rhaeto-Romanic speaking peoples 15.3%; Hungarians 13.4%; Romanians 6.8%; and Jewish, Romani and Armenian peoples just over 2% of the total population.
An 1858 Map. Peoples of the Austrian Monarchy: a survey of the nationalities. Maps 27727.(7.)
Slavonic languages were the most spoken languages in the Austrian Empire. Officially there were six Slavonic languages in the Empire: the Czech (spoken by Bohemians, Moravians and Slovaks), Polish, Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian (Serbs, Croats and Bosnians), Slovenian and Bulgarian.
An 1867 map of peoples and languages of Austria and lower Danube countries. Maps 27727.(13.)
The Austrian Empire was a multi-national and linguistically diverse Monarchy. At least 17 nations and minority groups were represented in it. In 1868 according to individual languages most people spoke German (25.2%) followed by the Czech, Hungarian and Romanian, among other national languages spoken in the Monarchy.
A 1868 ethnographic map of the Austrian Monarchy gives detailed statistics of the national and linguistic diversity. Maps 27727.(16.)
After the defeat in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, the Austrian Empire looked towards East for consolidation and imperial expansion. The Habsburg Monarchy was reshaped in 1867 as Austria-Hungary and in 1878 was allowed to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina.
An 1888 map of languages of Austria-Hungary (above, Maps 27727.(29.)) shows the addition of Bosnia and Herzegovina with a population of 1,336.091 according to the census of 1885, which increased the number of the Serbo-Croatian language speakers in the Monarchy. The map includes the statistical data in numbers and percentage of the nine languages spoken in the individual crown lands.
Austrian map showing peoples and languages of the Central Europe in 1893. Upper and Lower Sorbian designed as Wenden on the map in the area south of Berlin and Kashubian in the area south of the city of Danzig (now Gdańsk in Poland). The map also displays Slovak as a distinctive language from Czech. Maps 1065.(35.)
Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections
European studies blog recent posts
- “Only your work will be remembered”: the 150th anniversary of Jože Plečnik’s birth
- Stefan Zweig and the Rival Queens
- Doughnuts and Fools: Some Carnival Traditions
- PhD Placement Opportunity - Interrogating German Collections
- “City of exiles”: Trieste and its authors
- The 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prizes in Literature
- A Letter to Panizzi with Echoes and Sparks
- Hundertwasser’s 90th and 35 Days In Sweden
- An Eyewitness Account of Life in the Early 19th-Century Habsburg Empire
- Peoples and Languages of the Austrian Empire in 19th-Century Ethnographic Maps