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4 posts categorized "Comics-unmasked"

01 December 2015

Two bad boys, seven pranks and one children’s classic

The British Library is currently marking the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland with an exhibition, but Alice is not the only children’s classic to turn 150 this year. In Germany the focus has been on Wilhelm Busch’s much-loved Max und Moritz. Busch published a number of illustrated, rhymed tales in the course of his career, but this was the most successful and enduring.

The story tells how bad boys Max and Moritz terrorise their small village with seven ‘pranks’. First they kill Widow Bolte’s chickens, and when the widow tries to make the best of things by roasting the birds, the boys’ second prank is to steal them from the oven. 

Widow Bolte weeping at the sight of her chickens hanged from a tree
Widow Bolte mourns her chickens (above) and the boys steal the roasting birds (below). From Wilhelm Busch, Max und Moritz: eine Bubengeschichte in sieben Streichen (Munich, [1930]) 011528.m.97.

  Max and Moritz catch the roasting birds by fishing down the chimney

Next they lure the local tailor onto a bridge which they have sawn through so that he falls into the stream:

Max and Moritz laugh as the bridge breaks beneath the tailor


For two such bad boys a teacher is an obvious target, and in the fourth prank they fill schoolmaster Lämpel’s pipe with gunpowder:

The schoolteacher relaxes with his pipe, which then explodes

Prank five is tame by comparison: they put cockchafers in Uncle Fritz’s bed:

Uncle Fritz finds giant beetles in his bed


Things start to go wrong in prank six, when the boys try to steal from a bakery. They fall into the dough and are baked themselves, but miraculously survive and eat their way out of their crusts:

Max and Moritz nibble their way out of pastry crusts in which they have been baked

However, their seventh prank is their last: they cut holes in a farmer’s grain sacks, but the farmer catches them and takes the boys to the mill instead of his spilt grain. There they are ground into meal and eaten by the miller’s geese:

The outlines of Max and Moritz in crumbs of meal are eaten by geese

And nobody in the village is sorry.

Busch tells his story in lively and witty verses, accompanied by his own illustrations. Like Heinrich Hoffmann’s earlier Struwwelpeter, the book can be seen as a forerunner of the modern comic strip – something borne out in the case of Max und Moritz by the fact that the early American cartoon strip The Katzenjammer Kids was inspired at least in part by Busch’s story and characters.

After a slow initial reception, Max und Moritz soon became established as a classic in Germany. The stories, and in particularly their illustrations, are still much reproduced and instantly recognisable. There have also been many parodies and imitations of the work, the latter including a ‘Max und Moritz for girls’ by Wilhelm Herbert entitled Maus und Molli, first published in 1925. This has been reissued for the anniversary of the original, attracting a review in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, cleverly written with the same metre and rhymes as Busch’s and Herbert’s stories.

An advertisement for the book 'Maus und Molli'
An advertisement for Maus und Molli from the 1930 edition of Max und Moritz

An English translation first appeared 1871, and while Max und Moritz never became as popular with British audiences as Struwwelpeter and is currently out of print in the UK, there were a number of English translations, including one by Arundell Esdaile, more famous as a bibliographer, librarian and historian of the British Museum Library (sadly, alone among translators, Esdaile drops the trochaic tetrameter form which gives the original verses much of their vivacity). The British Library also holds two translations into Scots dialects, where the heroes become ‘Dod and Davie’ or ‘Jarm an Jeemsie’.

Cover of an English translation of Max & Moritz
The cover of Arundell Esdaile’s English translation (London, [1913]) 11650.i.43.

Indeed, translations of the book into local dialects and smaller or ancient languages seem surprisingly common. As with several children’s classics (including Struwwelpeter and Alice) there have been various Latin versions. The British Library holds a Yiddish version (Shmul und Shmerke), and a study published in 1997 lists over a hundred versions in various German dialects, although some were published in, and perhaps written for, specific anthologies of such translations. There seem to be plenty of academic linguists who are Busch enthusiasts, most notably Manfred Görlach who edited The True Story of Max und Moritz, a clever pastiche of philological studies which traces the ‘textual tradition’ of the story back to ancient Egypt and includes versions in early languages including Gothic, Anglo-Saxon and Old English.

Front covers of Yiddish, Latin and Scots translations of 'Max und Moritz'
Translations of Max und Moritz into Yiddish, Latin and Scots dialect

Max und Moritz may not mean much to a British audience in its centenary year, but it is certainly not forgotten in Germany, and for the curious Anglophone reader, it is worth taking a look at a translation to find out why the Germans still enjoy this tale of boys behaving badly.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References/further reading

Wilhelm Busch, Max und Moritz polyglott (Munich, 1994) YA.1998.a.2931. [The original text with English, French, Spanish, Italian and Latin translations]

Wilhlem Busch, Dod and Davie, translated by J.K. Annand (Edinburgh, 1986) YC.1986.a.409.

Wilhlem Busch, Jarm an Jeemsie. A tale o twa reebalds in seven pairts, owreset ta Shetlandic bi Derick Herning (Lerwick, 1984) YK.1994.a.1497

Wilhelm Busch, Max und Moritz auf jiddisch: eine Bubengeschichte in sieben Streichen = Shmul un Shmerke : a Mayse mit Vayse-Khevrenikes in Zibn Shpitslekh, ibergezetst fun daytsh durkh Shmoyl Naydorf un Leye Robinson ; aroysgegebn fun Walter Sauer. (Nidderau, 2000) YF.2009.a.21510

Manfred Görlach, Max und Moritz in aller Munde: Wandlungen eines Kinderbuches: eine Ausstellung in der Universitäts- und Stadtbibliothek Köln, 27. Juni-30. September 1997 (Cologne, 1997) YA.2000.a.19624

The true story of Max and Moritz: ancient and medieval texts before W. Busch, very critically edited by Manfred Görlach ; with contributions by Walter Arndt ... [et al.] (Cologne, 1997) YA.2002.a.4065.

15 August 2014

'Pfui, der Struwwelpeter!' British Adventures of a German nursery classic

In 1844 the German doctor and writer Heinrich Hoffmann was looking for a book to give his three-year-old son for Christmas. Fed up with the dull, moralising tales on offer, he decided to create his own book, telling the stories of children who meet various – often exaggeratedly brutal – fates as a result of their bad or foolish behaviour. The stories are written in lively rhymes with cartoonish illustrations, in many cases integrated into the text and telling the story visually alongside it like a forerunner of the modern comic book. Hoffmann was encouraged to publish the result the following year and so Der Struwwelpeter was born. It was an instant success and, when an English translation appeared in February 1848, became a bestseller in Britain too, aided by clever and catchy translations of the original verses.

Two images of the 'Struwwelpeter' character in a red tunic with wild hair and long nailsThe eponymous Struwwelpeter/Shock-headed Peter, left in Hoffmann's original illustration, from an early English edition (London, 1848; British Library 11645.f.42.) and right from the 100th German edition (Frankfurt am Main, 1876; 12389.i.13.)

 The  book was soon established as a nursery classic in Britain and to those brought up in the later 19th and early 20th centuries, a reference to ‘Harriet and the matches’ or ‘Johnny Head-in-Air’ would have been instantly familiar. The characters, stories and accompanying pictures formed an easily recognisable basis for political or social comment and caricature, much as the Alice books with Tenniel’s illustrations still do today. A German Politischer Struwwelpeter appeared as early as 1849, and an English Political Struwwelpeter  50 years later.

Cover of 'The Political Struwwelpeter' with a lion in the classic pose of the Struwwelpeter character with long mane and clawsHarold Begbie, The Political Struwwelpeter, illustrated by F. Carruthers Gould. (London, 1899). 12315.k.22. The cover shows ‘The Neglected [British] Lion’

On the outbreak of war in 1914 both German and British writers reached again for Hoffmann’s book as a basis for satire. The German Kriegs-Struwwelpeter replaces the naughty children with representatives of the various anti-German allies, while the poems in E.V. Lucas’s Swollen-Headed William all describe the misdeeds of Kaiser Wilhelm II. You can read more about both books and see digitised images on our World War One webpages. The Second World War also produced a British parody, Struwwelhitler, ascribed to ‘Dr Schrecklichkeit’ (‘Dr Horror’; the real authors were Philip and Robert Spence).

Cover of 'Struwwelhitler' with a caricature of Hitler as Struwwelpeter with blood spurting from his fingersStruwwelhitler: a Nazi story book by Doktor Schrecklichkeit (London, 1941). YA.2002.a5749.

Struwwelpeter also seems to have developed the kind of cult status among Victorian and Edwardian adults that classic children’s television programmes enjoy among their modern descendants; a review of a stage version in the London Times of 23 December 1912 speaks of ‘the childish stories which bearded men have been known to shout at each other across dinner tables’. The Marlborough Struwwelpeter, written and illustrated by a pupil in his last year at Marlborough College, turns the stories into tales set around the school and is full of in-jokes about its traditions and characters. It is no doubt just one chance survivor of many such local parodies.

Cover of 'The Marlborough Struwwelpeter' with a caricature of a Marlborough school boyArthur de Coetlogon Williams, The Marlborough Struwwelpeter (Marlborough, [ca. 1909])  X.525/1299

Today, however, Struwwelpeter is generally out of favour as a children’s book. It is still in print in Germany, but probably intended more for nostalgic adults or collectors than for children. In Britain it has been out of print for many years and is generally only mentioned in newspaper articles about the ‘most shocking’ (or ‘nastiest’, ‘most horrific’, etc.) children’s books ever. Since the 1960s, those who read it as children have, with some exceptions, queued up to say how it terrified and traumatised them. Stories usually picked out as particularly gruesome are those of Harriet (Paulinchen in German) who plays with matches and is burnt to death, and Conrad/Konrad, whose punishment for thumb-sucking is to have both thumbs cut off by a tailor with giant scissors (‘the great, long, red-legg’d scissor-man’ in the English version).

  Page from 'The English Struwwelpeter' showing Harriet's clothes catching fire and her cats weeping over her ashesHarriet’s terrible fate from The English Struwwelpeter

There is a tendency now to describe Struwwelpeter as a sadistic and authoritarian attempt to frighten children into obedience and make them conform to a rigid social code. But in fact Hoffmann wrote it as a reaction against books which he thought were overly moralistic or blandly accepting of social norms. Some tales even challenge contemporary attitudes: a huntsman is shot by his intended prey, and three boys who mock a black man are punished. Even in the most ‘horrific’ tales, the very exaggeration of the children’s fates, both in the stories and the accompanying illustrations, was intended for comic rather than frightening effect. This tradition has continued in Britain through Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales and Harry Graham’s Ruthless Rhymes to the works of Roald Dahl and the focus on ‘all things wicked, weird and woeful’ in the highly successful Horrible Histories books. Struwwelpeter was also successfully reinvented for new audiences in the late 1990s as the ‘junk opera’ Shockheaded Peter.

Looking at the book in this context, and especially considering its design, it is perhaps not unjust to place it also in the tradition celebrated in our current exhibition Comics Ummasked – that of the subversive and anarchic comic book, that ‘challenge[s] categorisation, preconceptions and the status quo’. Like many of the comics in the exhibition, Struwwelpeter has been loved and hated, treasured and condemned in equal measure, and its legacy and influence will continue to be debated.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

02 June 2014

One for the gentlemen?

A visit to the current BL exhibition Comics Unmasked put me in mind of an ancestor of the graphic novel from Spain: Eusebio Planas’ Historia de una mujer.

Title-page of 'Historia de una Mujer' with an allegorical depiction of the heroine and various scenes from the storyLithographed title page of Eusebio Planas Historia de una mujer: album de cincuenta cromos (Barcelona, [188?]) RB.37.c.45

The narrative is carried in 50 chromolithographs, with only the briefest of captions (usually a piece of dialogue).

Eusebio Planas (1833-1897) trained as a lithographer in Paris and his works have a whiff of gay Paree about them. He illustrated novels (such as the Spanish translation of La Dame aux Camélias) and journals and also did commercial work such as party invitations. Historia de una mujer seems to be his invention alone.

It is claimed that in its original form this ‘Story of a Woman’ was issued from 1880 on as a series of 102 cards included in packets of cigarettes made by the Mexican firm ‘El Buen Tono’. Publication in book form, in a much larger format (the plates measure 27 x 20 cm) followed later that year. The plates are signed and dated 1878 to 1880.

Clara on stage surrounded with flowers and doves, and applauded by two men in a stage-boxClara on the stage

The tale follows Clara’s progress from dressmaker to vaudeville actress to the mistress of a series of men who take her to the watering places of Europe: Santander, El Salinero (in the Canary Islands), Vienna, Baden, St Petersburg...  

Clara talking to four gentlemen in her dressing-roomClara entertains some admirers

In plate 45 she discovers a grey hair and plate 50, set in a convent hospital, is entitled ‘What a difference between yesterday and today!’ 
An older Clara in the Convent hospital, being brought food by a nun‘What a difference...’: Clara in the Convent

Obviously aimed at the gentleman, it’s all in the best possible taste. However, an internet search (not advisable) reveals that much of Planas’s output was explicitly pornographic: indeed, his studio was raided by the police and his stock confiscated.

It’s a terribly modern story: Clara visits the Paris Exhibition, possibly that of 1878 (‘What is most exhibited at the Exposition are the women, amigo mío’, [30]), where she travels on a magnetic boat (28).

Clara and a man swimming in the sea, with a busy beach in the backgroundClara goes bathing - in an unusually modest costume

Needless to say, Clara appears in a variety of skimpy costumes, all à la mode. As her lovers are international, so too are her dresses: I’m reminded of the poem ‘Divagación’ by Rubén Darío (1867-1916), Nicaragua’s naughtiest symboliste, with its stanzas ‘¿Te gusta amar en griego? […] ¿O un amor alemán? […]  ‘Amame en chino […]’  (Do you like to love in Greek?  Or a German love? Love me in Chinese …); ’nough said.

Just the stuff to enjoy with a cigar.

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies


Pilar Vélez, Eusebi Planas (1883-1897): il•lustrador de la Barcelona vuitcentista (Barcelona, 1999)  YA.2000.a.15749

02 April 2014

European Literature Night 2014

On 14 May 2014 the British Library will host European Literature Night for the 6th consecutive year with an exciting new extended programme of events – the well-established evening Writers event in the Conference Centre Auditorium which brings together six diverse and compelling European writers in conversation with acclaimed journalist and passionate advocate of European literature, Rosie Goldsmith; a parallel Graphic Novelists event  in the Terrace Restaurant with four high-profile writers chaired by Paul Gravett, Co-Director of the Comica Festival and curator of the British Library Comics Unmasked exhibition, and an afternoon  panel discussion Stories in Translation: Translating the Untranslatable run by the Open University and chaired by Dr Fiona Doloughan, which will bring together two exciting writers who will later feature in the Auditorium event, a translator and a publisher.

Illustration of a woman seeing two mice reading a book on a bookshelf Illustration by Lucie Lomova, one of the artists featured in ‘European Literature Night: The Graphic Novelists’

In the run-up to European Literature Night you will find a selection of exclusive posts from and about the writers and their work here on the BL European Studies blog beginning with a post very soon about Antoine Laurain’s The President’s Hat. You can also find more information about the writers, some special video interviews and extracts from their books on the website of the Writers' Centre Norwich.

The British Library feels like a natural home for European Literature Night. In the field of literature, our collections range from literary archives to sound recordings, translators’ papers, electronic archives and a vast array of print publications from fiction, poetry and drama in most written languages of the world and in translation, to critical texts about them. We aim to inspire the widest public with a lively programme of events, exhibitions, seminars and online offerings which capitalise on the expertise of our curators to bring to life our extensive collections from continental Europe alongside our incomparable English-language and other international collections. Along with colleagues in English & Drama, European Studies curators engage in a range of collaborative projects which explore literature in translation from many perspectives.

European Literature Night is presented in partnership with EUNIC (European Union National Institutes for Culture) London which brings together 28 European Cultural Institutes and Embassies, the European Commission Representation in the UK, Czech Centre London and Speaking Volumes Live Literature Productions, along with a host of other supporters including publishers, translators and arts organisations. It gives us all the opportunity to work together towards a common goal of promoting to UK audiences the best of European culture in all its diversity.

Photograph of Julia FranckJulia Franck, one of the novelists featured in this year’s European Literature Night

Having participated in the selection panel for the European Literature Night Writers event I am really excited about the stellar line-up:  Jonas T. Bengtsson (Denmark), Julia Franck (Germany), Antoine Laurain (France), Diego Marani (Italy), Witold Szabłowski (Poland) and Dimitri Verhulst (Belgium). Don’t miss these great writers in conversation with Rosie Goldsmith, followed by short readings from their work. If you’d like to hear Diego Marani and Witold Szabłowski speak in a little more detail, along with award-winning translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones and publisher Eric Lane (Dedalus), consider joining the afternoon seminar in the Brontë Room in the BL Conference Centre. Tickets are free but seating is limited, so it is essential to book.

A whole new dimension is being brought to European Literature Night with the addition for the first time of a celebration of  the burgeoning graphic novels scene with Line Hoven (Germany), Lucie Lomová (Czech Republic), Max (Spain) and Judith Vanistendael (Belgium) who will read, discuss and live-illustrate their work. The events will run in parallel, but we can expect a real buzz when all the writers and both audiences come together for a joint reception and complimentary viewing of the exhibition Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK.

Tickets are currently available for all the events. And don’t forget to check back here to the British Library European Studies blog for discussion about European Literature Night and exclusive posts from the writers.

Janet Zmroczek, Head of European Studies

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