THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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52 posts categorized "Czech Republic"

01 October 2019

Defending a Nazi – a barrister’s path from opponent of Nazism to advocatus diaboli

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“If you appoint me to defend this man, I will stand on the river bank naked, wearing only a white sheet, and scream that I am Jesus Christ” – that’s how we can summarize the reaction of Jaroslav Mellan, a lawyer, at the idea of him being asked to defend Karl Hermann Frank.

Cover of Noc pred popravou with a photograph of Karl Hermann Frank

Cover of Ladislav Tunys, Noc před popravou (Prague, 1995), YA.1999.a.737

The Czechoslovak Bar Association was in a tricky position. It was March 1946. Karl Hermann Frank, one of the most prominent Nazi leaders, had just been transferred from an American prison to Czechoslovakia, where he was to be tried and convicted of war crimes. The Bar Association, closely watched by the international community, had the difficult task of finding an advocatus diaboli for Frank, a job which no one wanted. The choice fell on Kamill Resler, a member of the anti-Nazi resistance movement and a defender of Jewish clients during the war, who was threatened with the withdrawal of his professional qualifications if he refused to defend the accused. Resler tried to challenge the decision a number of times, but to no avail. The situation was made even more dramatic by the fact that some of Resler’s relatives and friends were killed during the war as a result of Frank’s orders.

Photograph of Frank in front of his shop

Frank in front of his bookshop in Karlovy Vary, reproduced in Emil Hruška, Pán protektorátu: K.H. Frank známý a neznámý (Prague, 2015), YF.2016.a.15829

And yet, despite his hatred for Frank, Resler believed that every criminal deserves a fair trial. In his opinion, a barrister’s duty was to disregard his feelings about the accused and to defend him to the best of his abilities. And that’s precisely what he did. Resler argued that Nazism was a disease and Frank, as its follower, must have suffered from a psychiatric disorder. He claimed that Frank lacked the ability to judge the consequences of his actions during the war and, on top of that, was unaware of what was happening in the concentration camps, even though he visited them several times.

Caricature of Resler

Caricature of Resler, reproduced in Jakub Drápal, Defending Nazis in postwar Czechoslovakia: the life of K. Resler, defence counsel ex officio of K.H. Frank (Prague, 2018), awaiting shelfmark.

Before the war Frank worked as a bookseller and clerk. He enrolled in the German National-Socialist Workers Party in 1919, and when it was dissolved by the state, in the Sudeten German Party. Gradually he managed to reach the highest-ranking position in occupied Czechoslovakia, that of Secretary of State of the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and chief of police. But now, with the war being over and he himself incarcerated in a Czechoslovak prison, isolated from family members and fully aware of the general hatred towards him, he became extremely depressed and struggled to find the emotional stamina to defend himself. That meant that Resler not only had to defend Frank, but that he actually found himself forced to console the Nazi prisoner and motivate him to fight for his life till the very end. The idea of Frank’s having hope of avoiding the death sentence would contribute to the image of a fair court trial that could not be questioned by international opinion.

Photograph of Resler during Frank’s trial

Resler during Frank’s trial, reproduced in Defending Nazis in postwar Czechoslovakia

Frank was at first very displeased with the fact that he would be defended by a Czech barrister. Resler upset him a number of times, as he didn’t hide his criticism of Nazi ideology and actions. Yet Frank had his softer side too. One day prison guards found him crying in his cell because two Czech prisoners had given him a loaf of bread as a Christmas gift. Frank was emotionally prepared to deal with hatred, but he wasn’t prepared for kindness.

Throughout the trial Resler was careful to keep a distance from him. Only when Frank heard the pronouncement of the death sentence did Resler shake his hand for the first time. He stayed with him in the prison cell for the three hours between the announcement of the verdict and the execution. When Frank was being taken to the gallows, he bade him farewell by saying: “Die like a man!”

Photograph of Frank sitting on a chair in a prison cell

Frank in prison cell, reproduced in Pán protektorátu

And thus Frank had a fair trial and the Czechoslovak justice system could not be criticized by the international public. The only detail that spoiled the whole picture was the hangman, who after the execution took the noose with which Frank was hanged and drank it away in a bar. Other than that, the moral standards of the Czechoslovaks successfully passed the test.

Zuzanna Krzemien, Slavonic and East European Collections Cataloguer

References/further reading

Jakub Drápal, Defending Nazis in postwar Czechoslovakia : the life of K. Resler, defence counsel ex officio of K.H. Frank (Prague, 2018), awaiting shelfmark.

Emil Hruška, Pán protektorátu : K.H. Frank známý a neznámý (Praha, 2015), YF.2016.a.15829

Ladislav Tunys, Noc před popravou : K.H. Frank a jeho obhájce : archivy promluvily (Praha, 1995), YA.1999.a.737

01 August 2019

Pérák, the only Czech superhero

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During the Second World War, a strange rumour spread among the residents of Prague. A mysterious masked character dressed in black was said to be seen jumping at great heights over the rooftops and streets of the occupied city. He would suddenly leap out of a dark corner to attack Czech collaborators, or to save Czech civilians from the hands of the Gestapo.

An image of Pérák. He has springs on his feat and is holding a gun. In his other hand is a torn Nazi flag.

Jiří Gruss, Projekt Pérák (2003) reproduced in Petr Janeček, Mýtus o pérákovi. Městská legenda mezi folklorem a populární kulturou (Prague, 2017), awaiting shelfmark.

According to the urban legend, Pérák, the Spring Man (from Czech péro, 'spring'), was an inventor turned superhero. Thanks to springs attached to his shoes, he was able to startle and escape Nazi soldiers who tried in vain to capture him. That’s how popular belief has it. However, in his Mýtus o pérákovi. Městská legenda mezi folklorem a populární kulturou, Petr Janeček shows that, in fact, the myth of the Spring Man did not start with the Second World War, but that for a century before it had been part of Czech and international folklore, and its origins could be traced back to Spring-heeled Jack, a spectre popular in Victorian England, who was believed to torment the inhabitants of London, Sheffield, and Liverpool. He had claws and red eyes and, just like Pérák, he was able to make enormous leaps.

Cover of Spring-heel'd Jack: the Terror of London. The image shows Jack jumping from a window with a woman in his arms.

Cover of Spring-heel'd Jack: the Terror of London. Issue 1 (London, 1867) 12620.h.26

In fact, the early oral tradition also presented the Spring Man as a sinister figure who posed a threat to common Czech people, as he would murder or rape defenceless civilians. As a result, many Czechs refused to work night shifts, which had a detrimental effect on the production of weapons in Nazi factories. During the peak of the Pérák myth, almost every incident would be attributed to the Spring Man. Gradually, Pérák evolved from a terrifying phantom into a positive hero who fought the Nazi army by blowing up military vehicles and who would defend the innocent residents of Prague, as well as writing anti-Nazi graffiti on walls to raise the morale of Czech civilians. And that’s how he became the only superhero in Czech history.

Cover of Petr Stančík’s Pérák. Pérák is crouching in the top left-hand corner of the cover.

Cover of Petr Stančík’s Pérák (Brno, 2008), YF.2008.a.33809

Being a symbol of Czech resistance against Nazi Germany, Pérák was an important part of Czech wartime culture. While he was almost certainly an imaginary character rather than a real person, he provided Czech civilians with hope and a feeling that someone out there was protecting them against the Nazi occupiers. Although his activity ceased completely with the end of the war, the career of Pérák as an urban legend was not over, and since then he has evolved from a hero of gossip stories into part of Czech popular culture, including cartoon animations, comic books and novels.

Cover of magazine Pionýr. Cover of magazine Pionýr is depicted here as a boy with springs on his feat jumping through the night sky.

Cover of magazine Pionýr (May 1980) reproduced in Petr Janeček, Mýtus o pérákovi

Being a symbol of resistance against the oppressor, the character of the Spring Man has been adopted by various political movements, including Czech nationalists, anti-globalists and anti-fascists - and in this way, the same spectre turned superhero has fought different enemies for the past eighty years.

An antifascist sticker with Pérák reproduced in Petr Janeček, Mýtus o pérákovi

An antifascist sticker with Pérák reproduced in Petr Janeček, Mýtus o pérákovi

Zuzanna Krzemien, SEE Cataloguer

References/Further reading

Petr Janeček, Mýtus o pérákovi. Městská legenda mezi folklorem a populární kulturou (Prague, 2017). Awaiting shelfmark.

Petr Stančík, Pérák (Brno 2008). YF.2008.a.33809

 

30 July 2019

When moderation went out of the window: the First Defenestration of Prague

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Last year saw commemorations of the turbulent events of 1618, when the abrupt ejection of the Imperial councillors Martinitz and Slawata and their secretary from the windows of Prague Castle led to the outbreak of the Thirty Years War. However, in Britain it is not so widely known that this was not the first incident of this kind, although the First Defenestration of Prague had much closer links with England. Despite the fact that Elizabeth, the ‘Winter Queen’ of Bohemia, and her husband Frederick, the former Elector Palatine, were his own daughter and son-in-law, the timorous James I of England refrained from sending help when they and their growing family were driven out of Prague following the 1618 Defenestration. Afraid of jeopardizing relations with both Catholic and Protestant powers in Europe, he remained aloof, and the only Englishmen to become directly involved in the conflict were those who enlisted on either side as mercenaries.

Just under two centuries before, though, the equally fateful occurrences of 30 July 1419 stemmed directly from an English source which decisively influenced Bohemian politics. On the death of the King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in 1378, his territories were divided between his sons. The new king, Václav IV, had to cope not only with the rivalry of his younger brothers Jošt, Margrave of Moravia, and Zikmund, who would succeed him, but with discontent among the nobility and increasing urban poverty and social unrest. This led to the eruption of civil strife in which minor nobility and Hussite preachers, intent on reform, opposed Zikmund and his Catholic supporters. As Prague’s status as a centre of culture and learning declined, the city’s German students decamped in 1409 to found a new university at Leipzig as Zikmund and the Council of Constance urged the young king to extirpate heretical elements within Prague’s university and churches.

Portrait of Jan Hus
Portrait of Jan Hus from Johann Agricola of Eisleben, Tragedia Johannis Huss ([Wittemberg], [1550?]) 11748.aa.1.

The followers of Jan Hus were notable for demanding that Holy Communion should be administered to the congregation sub utraque specie – allowing both people and clergy to partake of the chalice as well as consecrated bread. In other respects, too, they swerved dangerously from Catholic doctrine, not least in their zeal to make the Holy Scriptures available in the vernacular so that the laity could read them. Here they were drawing on the ideas of the English theologian John Wycliffe who attacked the Papacy, monastic orders and transubstantiation, and inspired the translation of the Bible into English. He shared a patron, John of Gaunt, with Chaucer at the time when Charles IV’s daughter Anne of Bohemia was queen of England, having married Richard II in 1381. Bohemian scholars who sympathized with Wycliffe and his Lollard followers came to Oxford, where Wycliffe had been a doctor of divinity, to copy his texts and take them back to Bohemia.

It was not only male academics who seized eagerly on these writings. An anonymous poem entitled Viklefice (‘The Wycliffite Woman’), dating from the early 15th century, describes in satirical tones how a female follower of Wycliffe lures an innocent young squire to her home as night approaches, ostensibly to teach him the true faith, but in fact plotting to seduce him. Despite its misogynistic character, the poem indicates a genuine sense of alarm about the capacity of women to read and interpret the Bible without the intervention of the clergy – not least because certain Lollards had already suggested that women too might become priests.

The execution of Jan Hus in Constance following a show trial in 1415 unleashed a revolt which the troops of the Emperor Zikmund failed to suppress, leading to the establishment of an independent Hussite church in the centre of Catholic Europe. In a desperate attempt at appeasement, Václav handed over St. Stephen’s Church, an important centre of the Hussite movement, to the Catholics.

Cover of Miloš Václav Kratochvíl, Jan Želivský

Cover of Miloš Václav Kratochvíl, Jan Želivský (Prague, 1953: 10798.e.13), part of a series of books devoted to ‘heroes of wars and revolution’

Churches were scrubbed, choirboys made to repent if they had served the Hussites, and dying Hussites were deprived of extreme unction unless they recanted. In retaliation a mob headed by the radical preacher Jan Želivský burst into the New Town Hall on 30 July 1419. They had just heard Želivský preach a rousing sermon on a text from the Book of Revelation demanding the punishment of the unjust. Raising the monstrance containing the Host high in his hands, he led the procession along what is now Wenceslas Square to rout the Catholic priest celebrating mass in St. Stephen’s. After a brief service of their own, they called for the release of prisoners arrested during the recent street fighting. One report claims that while they were parleying with the councillors, the latter threw stones, one of which hit Želivský’s monstrance. Among those present in the crowd was Jan Žižka, who would later command the Hussite army. The furious attackers stormed the tower and hurled seven members of the town council, including the burgomaster and the judge, to their deaths. A force of 300 cavalry despatched from Hradčany retreated, outnumbered by the Hussites, who rapidly elected four magistrates and invested them with the insignia taken from the bodies of the councillors.

Illustration of the First Defenestration of Prague

The First Defenestration of Prague as depicted by Hugo Schüllinger. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The king’s immediate reaction was to threaten to kill all the Hussites, despite his councillors’ urging him to forgive them. However, just over two weeks later he suffered symptoms suggesting a stroke or heart attack, and died on 16 August. The next day mobs were roaming the streets, breaking into churches and monasteries and destroying their treasure before burning down the brothels in the Jewish quarter. As violence escalated during the autumn, much of Malá Strana was destroyed in a battle between royalists and radicals on 4-6 November 1419.

Illustration showing Jan Žizka at the head of the Hussite army. He is riding a horse.

Jan Žizka at the head of the Hussite army, from the Jenský codex (late 15th century) in the National Library, Prague (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The Hussite Wars raged until 1436. By this time the Hussites had split into the Utraquists and the more puritanical Táborites, while much of Bohemia had been ravaged in a way presaging the devastation of the Thirty Years War. Although on a lesser scale, these events left permanent scars on the country and eerily foreshadowed those which followed almost two centuries later.

Susan Halstead, Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services

03 May 2019

Up the garden path with the Brothers Čapek and friends

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This is National Gardening Week, and with three Bank Holidays in quick succession, many of us will be inspired to get out and take stock of our plots, tubs and window-boxes. Not surprisingly in view of the British fondness for horticulture, one of the first and most popular works by Karel Čapek to appear in English translation was Zahradníkův rok (‘The Gardener’s Year’: Prague, 1929; YF.2005.a.31522 ). With its lively illustrations by the author’s brother Josef, it quickly became a favourite, and the translation by M. and R. Weatherall, which ran into multiple impressions, was succeeded by a more recent one by Geoffrey Newsome (London, 2004; ELD.DS.288828), testifying to its lasting appeal.

Title page of 'The Gardener's Year'Title page with vignette by Josef Čapek for The Gardener’s Year (London, 1966) X.319/191

Čapek himself was an enthusiastic gardener, and part of the enduring charm of his book is his lack of illusions about the cussedness of nature and the sheer hard labour involved in maintaining a garden. The text consists of a chapter for every month of the year, interspersed with others on topics such as ‘How a man becomes a gardener’, ‘Seeds’, ‘On the Cultivators of Cacti’ (Czech cousins of the Kaktusfreunde portrayed in paintings by Carl Spitzweg?), ‘The Blessed Rain’ and ‘On Market Gardeners’.

British readers familiar with Dorothy Frances Gurney’s poem ‘God’s Garden’, (in God’s Garden, & other verses: London, [1933]; 011641.df.93), with its claim that ‘One is nearer God’s heart in a garden / Than anywhere else on earth’, may be pulled up short by Čapek’s far less sentimental view of things. Nature, one senses, is never more belligerent than when assailed by the gardener. From the very first attempts to lay out a garden (‘the best way is to get a gardener’) to the conclusion that ‘the gardener wants eleven hundred years to test, learn to know, and appreciate fully all that is his’, Čapek leaves us in no doubt that the way of the gardener is a stony one – in every sense. Indeed, the chapter ‘The Gardener’s May’ deals precisely with ‘the greatest pleasure and special pride of the gardener, his rock or Alpine garden’. This, he suggests, is so called because it ‘gives its owner opportunity for performing hazardous mountaineering feats’ as he lunges and scrambles among the ‘picturesque and not altogether firm stones of his rock garden’ in his attempts to plant and weed it.

Capek Alpinism

The intrepid rock-gardener in May 

Nor does Čapek underestimate the crimes of passion of which the fanatical gardener is capable in the pursuit of some prize specimen for his rockery, from stealing Campanula morettiana by night to outright murder. Those too fat or too cowardly to accomplish this shamelessly weep and implore the proud owner for a cutting, or wheedle one from the local florist. However, once acquired these treasures frequently fail to come up to expectations: the hard-won campanula proves to be nothing but a horse-radish.

Capek campanula The campanula that wasn’t.

A generation earlier another author, Mary Annette Beauchamp, had described the trials and pleasures of making a garden in East Prussia with the intervention of itinerant Russian labourers and her redoubtable German husband, Graf von Arnim, ‘the Man of Wrath’. Such was the popularity of Elizabeth and her German Garden (London, 1898; 012643.cc.34) that her subsequent works appeared as ‘by the author of Elizabeth and her German Garden’ before she adopted the permanent nom-de-plume of Elizabeth von Arnim. Yet there is nothing sweetly quaint about her sharp perceptions of the Anglo-German clash of cultures in the garden and the drawing-room, where her acid perspicuity frequently recalls Jane Austen. Nor is she a mere armchair gardener who scorns to get her fingers dirty; from the excitement of ordering from catalogues to the headaches of persuading her acquisitions to take root in sandy Prussian soil with the fitful help of her sometimes incredulous staff, she shows not only a deep love of gardening but a thorough understanding of the challenges which it presents.

Like her, Čapek is often thwarted by the resistance of his local terrain to adapt to English models of horticulture. ‘I know an excellent recipe for an English lawn,’ he declares. ‘Like the recipe for Worcester Sauce – it comes from an “English country gentleman”’ who concludes ‘If you do this for three hundred years, you will have as good a lawn as mine’. In the meantime he has to contend with bald patches and dandelions, and to persuade his neighbours to look in and water it when he goes away on holiday in August. Failing to persuade a little old lady to bring her goat to eat the clippings, he has to pay a reluctant dustman to remove them (‘You know, sir,’ he says, ‘we’re not supposed to take it.’)

Capek lawnHow to lose friends by asking your neighbour to keep an eye on your garden.

It is well known that following a spell of fine weather A&E departments in hospitals throughout the country see an influx of patients with all kinds of gardening-related injuries from infected wounds inflicted by rose-thorns to backs strained by over-enthusiastic lawn-mowing. In a sense Karel Čapek’s death was linked to his love for his garden. Although offered the chance to go to exile in England, where he had many friends, to escape persecution by the Nazis, Čapek refused to leave Czechoslovakia. While repairing flood damage to the family summer-house and garden in Stará Huť, he caught a cold which turned to pneumonia, from which he died on 25 December 1938. In the final paragraph of The Gardener’s Year he writes, ‘We gardeners live somehow for the future … I should like to see what these birches will be like in fifty years’. Sadly, he did not live to do so – but every gardener can draw comfort from the words, ‘The right, the best is in front of us. Each successive year will add growth and beauty’.

Susan Halstead, Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services

26 April 2019

Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages

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The annual Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages will take place on Monday 3 June 2019 in the Bronte Room of the British Library Knowledge Centre (formerly Conference Centre). The programme is:

11.00 Registration and Coffee

11.15 ALISON ADAMS (Glasgow), Claude de Seyssel’s La grand monarchie de France, Paris, Denis Janot, 1541: proof corrections

12.00 IAN MAGEDERA and ANDREW BOWHAY (Liverpool), French Books on India: Recent Developments

12.15 Lunch (Own arrangements).

1.30 LAURA CARNELOS (Reading), Choice or Mistake? Printing Defects in Italian Early Modern Books

2.15 JEREMY POTTER (Brighton), How to survive for 200 years: textbook lessons for book historians

3.00 Tea

3.30 ALEXANDRA WINGATE (London), ‘Prosigue la librería’: Analyzing the bookstore of Lorenzo Coroneu in seventeenth-century Pamplona

4.15 IAN CHRISTIE-MILLER, Lithuania, 1547, to Russia. Béarn, 1583, to Kralice with Watermarks

The Seminar will end at 5 pm.

The Seminar is free and all are welcome, but if you are planning to attend, please let the organisers, Susan Reed and Barry Taylor, know.

Printers's device showing  workers in a printing house
Printer’s device from  Wolfgang Kilian, Serenissimorum Saxoniæ Electorum et quorundam ducum agnatorum genuinæ effigies... (Augsburg, 1621)  551.e.22.(3)

08 February 2019

A Cat may Counsel a King: the Colourful World of Czech Cats

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Appropriately for a culture famous in later years for its lively animated films, talking animals were not slow to make themselves heard in Czech. Indeed, one of the first cats to find a voice expresses itself in that very language – in Smil Flaška’s Nová rada, written in the late 14th century. In this allegorical poem, the young king (the lion of Bohemia, symbolizing Václav IV), summons a ‘new council’ of birds and beasts to advise him how best to rule. Each of them offers advice appropriate to its natural qualities, including a wily and subtle cat who suggests that every king requires a cunning spy capable of seeing by night and keeping a watchful eye out for the criminals and murderers who perform their nefarious deeds under the cover of darkness – and who could be better suited to this important role than the cat?

Flaska Cup.502.aa.12

 

 Wood engraving by Antonín Strnadl from Smil Flaška z Pardubic, Nová rada, translated into modern Czech by František Vrba (Prague, 1940) Cup.502.aa.12

Although this urbane courtier is a native Bohemian cat, many of the most appealing and characterful examples in the long tradition of Czech illustration were created to accompany works by foreign authors. Among these, one of the most delightful is a very French cat depicted by František Tichý on the frontispiece of a Czech translation of Marcel Aymé’s Les Contes du chat perché, draped over the branch of an apple tree with a languid and knowing air.

Ayme RF.2000.b.66Illustration by František Tichý to Marcel Aymé, Co vyprávěla kočka na jabloňové větvi (Prague, 1939) RF.2000.b.66 

A few years earlier, Marie Majerová had published Veselá kniha zviřátek (‘The Jolly Book of Animals’), a collection of children’s stories based on English material. However, the cats depicted by Josef Lada, famous for his illustrations to The Good Soldier Švejk, bear a decidedly Czech stamp in the scene where a small boy named Jenda, in the middle of a dull afternoon when his brother and sister are suffering from colds and disinclined to play, finds himself transported to the magical Kingdom of Cats and becomes its king.

Vesela kniha zviratek X.998-3707

Jenda becomes king of the Kingdom of Cats. Illustration by Josef Lada’s from Marie Majerová, Veselá kniha zviřátek (Prague, 1933) X.998/3707

Like their English counterparts, where kittens lose their mittens and cats play fiddles and go to London to visit the Queen, Czech nursery-rhymes frequently feature cats in a starring role:

The cat took a husband,
The dog took a bride;
As groomsman our gelding
Limped at his side;
With him, as the bridesmaid,
There walked our old mare;
She gave him a nosegay
And kerchief to wear.

(This translation © Susan Reynolds 2019.)

Lada’s illustration for Karel Jaromír Erben’s Národní říkadla (‘National Nursery-Rhymes’) shows a demure white cat in wreath and veil stepping out on her bridegroom’s arm while the farm animals look on in admiration. In another picture, while their father and mother tuck into bowls of porridge and peas on top of the stove, three kittens sit in a row beneath them wearing their best bows and expressions of marked annoyance at being given nothing to eat. With a few skilful strokes Lada captures their disgruntled air as adroitly as he does the dumb insolence of Švejk and the unmistakably Czech features of the peasants who people his almanacs.

Narodni rikadlaIllustration by Josef Lada from Karel Jaromír Erben, Národní říkadla (Prague, 1921) LB.31.b.12138.

Dressed in bridal finery, advising the king of beasts or conferring royal honours on their newly-crowned human sovereign, all these cats are creatures of the imagination with very human features. One of the most charming portrayals of a cat in modern Czech literature, however, is taken directly from life. To English-speaking readers Karel Čapek may be most familiar as the creator of robots in his play R.U.R., but he was also a keen gardener and a great animal-lover (like another famous Czech author, Bohumil Hrabal, whose country home was a haven for cats). In his 1932 collection Devatero Pohádek a ještě jedna od Josefa Čapka jako přívažek (‘Nine Fairy Tales: And One More Thrown in for Good Measure’; 5th ed. 1946 at X.990/4608), he too conjures up a world in which cats enjoy adventures equal to any of those previously described.

It is in a later work, though, that Čapek reveals his true understanding of animals – Měl jsem psa a kočku (Prague, 1939; YF.2005.a.31524). Like the earlier book, it was translated into English within a short time by Robert and Marie Weatherall and became popular among British readers because of its dry, understated humour and affectionate depiction of the author’s pets. Like E. T. A. Hoffmann, the creator of Kater Murr, and his wife, Karel and Olga Čapek were childless, and it is tempting to assume that for them too animals represented surrogate children. Yet there is nothing mawkish about the ironic amusement with which Čapek describes the behaviour of his dog and cat, to which he brings the same detached, quizzical approach that he applies to the English, the Spanish or the Dutch in his various travel writings. Whether chronicling the wooing of his pet by caterwauling tomcats or the antics of the resulting litter of kittens, Čapek’s light and laconic style is perfectly partnered by that of his brother Josef’s drawings.

Capek 7294.de.34 Cat & kittens

  Illustrations by Josef Čapek to Karel Čapek, I Had a Dog and a Cat (London, 1940) 7294.de.34

Capek 7294.de.34 Kittens

For all their baffling and sometimes maddening idiosyncrasies, it is clear that for Čapek his feline friends were the cat’s whiskers – and who are we to disagree?

Susan Halstead Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services.

 

16 October 2018

Václav Hübschmann’s satirical illustrations in the magazine Kopřivy.

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Humour and satire played an important role during the First World War and in recent research have been called “the art of survival” (as in Libby Murphy’s 2016 study). Jaroslav Hašek’s comic masterpiece The Adventures of The Good Soldier Švejk, which was published in 1923, remains the most read and best known example of the Czech humour. Hašek definitely experienced many influences of the European tradition of satirical magazines, which were thriving from as early as the mid-19th century, such as the Italian L'Asino, the French Le Charivari, the German Simplicissimus, or the British Punch, to name just a few. However, here I would like to give a glimpse of the Czechs’ own tradition of satire and humour, which might not feature so prominently outside Czech and Slovak culture.

The three satirical magazines established before the first Czechoslovak republic (1918- 1938) were the conservative Humoristické listy (‘Humourist Pages’), the Social-Democratic Kopřivy - list satirický (‘The Nettle: satirical pages’) – both produced in Prague, and Rašplí (‘Rasps’) published in Brno. Several other, probably less established magazines, like Malé humory (Little Humour), Košťátko (Broom) and Mládeneček (Baby), were published in Austria.

Of these titles, the British Library, unfortunately, holds only an incomplete set of Kopřivy (PP.8006.cu). The magazine was launched in Prague in 1909 and ran through the inter-war years until 1937. While flicking through the 1913 issues, I noticed that illustrations by one artist appeared in almost every one. This artist was Václav Hübschmann, who was born in Prague in 1886 and died in Prčice in 1917. The surname Hübschmann is better known even to art historians in relation to Václav’s elder brother, the architect Bohumil Hübschmann (Hypšman after 1945,). Václav Hübschmann also worked as a theatre designer, and therefore his short biography is recorded in a volume on the Czech theatre. Some of his works are held in galleries and museums (e.g. the Moravian Gallery in Brno), but I could not find much about this artist who died at the age of 31.

Here are some of his illustrations from Kopřivy, which I hope our readers will like and enjoy as much as I did.

Untitled_03082018_134606

Poor prospects. “Daddy, will we be fasting for the whole year, so that we see the golden piggy-bank that the caretaker didn’t allow in last year?”

Untitled_03082018_134633In the Hotel “Bulgaria”: Would you like your breakfast or travel first, Sir?

Untitled_03082018_134706Poem “A young proletarian”

Untitled_03082018_134740

State care for emigrants: “Why should I not go to America, where I’m not going to be a soldier? – It hurts, lad, as you want to avoid a war tax”.

Untitled_03082018_134812Talk to the deaf person. Taxpayer: “So, what would you say? Who stole the money? I’m calling the police…” – Dr Groš: Nothing happened” (Karel Groš (1865-1938) – a Czech politician and statesman, mayor of Prague (1906-1918).

Untitled_03082018_134846Elections in Prague. “The devil owes us these elections. So that one would keep thinking for fourteen days what new promises should I make”.

  Untitled_03082018_134933Dr Groš to the honourable members of the racing club. “See, how I raced to glory… It’s all for a couple of thousand, which contributors paid with just one hand…”

Untitled_03082018_135007

Intercession of the Tsar-peacemaker. “Brothers, stop shedding Slavic blood… Don’t create dirty competition”

Untitled_03082018_135046A contemporary politician is depicted leading a troop of legendary warriors prophesied to come to the aid the Czechs in their hour of need

Untitled_03082018_135213Confiscation of confiscated. “A what is this title, Sir? There is nothing…”

Untitled_03082018_135246“I’m really sorry for you, Mrs Brázdová, that your husband is a socialist. And yet, you are a good Catholic.” – “You know, Father, he wanted to teach me socialism as well, but I told him: you cannot teach an old dog new tricks”.

 

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

References/further reading

Libby Murphy, The Art of Survival: France and the Great War picaresque (New Haven, CT, 2016) YC.2017.a.12777

Oldřich Toman, Politická karikatura Mikoláše Alše v brněnské Rašpli roku 1890 (Brno, 1983) X.809/64015.

Jiří Valenta (ed.), Malované opony divadel českých zemí. (Prague, 2010) YF.2011.b.1490

28 September 2018

1918: A New Europe on Film

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On Saturday 27 October, the British Library will be hosting a study day, 1918: A New Europe on Film, that will look at 1918 and the end of the First World War from the perspective of those nations that were founded as a consequence.

Still from the Latvian film 'Lāčplēsis' showing actress Lilita Berzina as the legendary heroine Laimdota
Still from the Latvian film Lāčplēsis (1931) courtesy of the LAC Riga Film Museum collection.

Borders were redrawn and nations once part of larger entities were given a chance to determine their own course. Those borders were not necessarily natural, however, and the new geographies inspired new sets of problems. For some nations, this independence was short-lived and that precarity lives on today for many of these same nations.

1918: A New Europe on Film brings to light the many cinematic representations of this formative period and will show how film, documentary and television constructed and were constructed by an ever-shifting concept of national identity over a turbulent century. 1918 features as a key subject in every period and genre of film-making. It resurfaces as a paradigm for the now, a figure for great transformation, for endings, revolutions and new beginnings, and it often serves to express and comment on contemporary situations that could not bear direct representation.

An exciting programme includes expert speakers discussing Turkey, Latvia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine and Finland, covering archival footage, documentary, feature film and television across the century. Each presentation will be illustrated by film extracts, some of this material being shown for the first time, following very recent research. Film critic, programmer and expert in Czech and Eastern European Cinema, Peter Hames will introduce the study day.

The day has been organised in collaboration with Professor Dina Iordanova, University of St Andrews, and Professor Ewa Mazierska, University of Central Lancashire, with the cooperation of Yunus Emre Enstitüsü, The Finnish Institute in London, The British Croatian Society, The Romanian Cultural Institute in London and The Embassy of Latvia. For details of how to book see: https://www.bl.uk/events/1918-a-new-europe-on-film

The study day forms part of a wider programme of events, entitled 1918: A New World?, aimed at approaching the 1918 centenary from alternative perspectives. Do join us in rethinking the century!

30 August 2018

A diary as a form of art: Jiří Kolář

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The Czech poet, writer and artist Jiří Kolář (1914-2002) does not need a long introduction. He was one of the most prominent figures of the Czech avant-garde of the 1950s-70s and along with Ladislav Nová, Bohumila Grögerová, and her partner Josef Hiršal, one of the four founders of post-war Czechoslovak experimental poetry. Given his aesthetic views it is not surprising that Kolář, like many Czechoslovak intellectuals who lived through the communist regime, was a signatory of Charter 77 .

Having published his first collection of poems Křestní list (‘Birth Certificate’; YA.1996.a.15846) in 1941, by the mid-1950s Kolář started exploring new potentials of lyrical forms, reducing verbal expression to a bare minimum and concentrating on the capacities of visual expression. By the 1960s he developed his unique artistic style, using collage that would incorporate text as well as images as his main medium.

Kolar Self-portraitSelf Portrait by Kolář in Očitý svědek: deník z roku 1949 (Munich, 1983) X.958/30382

Having lived through all the major historical events with his nation, Kolář was very sensitive to them. Czech and Slovaks shared the turbulent history of Europe in the 20th century by marking it with events that were for some reason seemed to happen in the 8th year of decades: gaining independence in 1918, losing it to Nazi Germany in 1938, falling under the control of the Stalinist USSR in 1948 through a communist coup d’état, and unsuccessfully trying to shake off Soviet dominance in 1968. This strange coincidence makes this year extremely memorable for the Czech and Slovak republics. Only the Velvet Revolution of 1989 does not fit this pattern, but this means that we will have the whole of next year to dedicate to this great achievement.

It is especially interesting to note how the poet and artist developed a special interest in diaries and was meticulously devoted to this form. One of his critics observed that “considering Kolář’s permanent, insatiable thirst for facts, his undying passion for documenting the true pace of events and the truthfulness of impressions, we must admit that this autobiographical nature, this diary principle, committed to factography, permeates both his work and his deeds”. And this is very true. Kolář documented the year 1949, the beginning of the communist rule with a literary diary in verse and prose called Očitý svědek: deník z roku 1949 (‘Eyewitness, a diary of the year 1949’).

Kolar Ocity Svedek X.958-30382Cover of Očitý svědek 

The diary of the artists’s thoughts and emotions gives the readers the most faithful and honest impression of the time. On 11 July 1949 the diary entry begins:

Mě udolají snadno, neumím lhat, podobám se už červu, kterého přepůlili jen tak, pro podívanou a svíjím se. (I’m easy to destroy, /I cannot lie, / I’m like a worm, / Who was cut just so / for the show, and I’m curdling, / the soul is separate from the body).

In 1968, Kolář expressed himself through a series of 52 collages (one per week) that became an amazing artistic document of the year leading to the Prague Spring and its aftermath.

Kolar Tydenik 1968 YA.1994.b.1036 Title page of Týdeník 1968 = Newsreel 1968 (Prague, 1993) YA.1994.b.1036

The book is in a way a political pamphlet and reflects life in all its hectic variety, for example:

Week 2: Each day in the new year is a puzzle. Especially when one’s head is in a wire.
Week 10: Antonín Tomalík (a Czech artist) is Dead
Week 15: A liquid triumph of death [is] available at every crossroad. Take your pick!
Week 27: Homage to Ingres … or, the banner of a students’ revolt.
Week 39: Birthday. I was born in the First World War and guns have not fallen silent since.
Week 48: A week of Hands. A rejected hand often turns into a clenched fist.
Week 52: A Face of 1969. Alas, I am a poor prophet – and Utopia? Old men used to usher the world into Paradise. Our masters have long been drowned in mud.

The diary that documented the 1980s is Kolář’s correspondence. The two-volume publication of his letters Psáno na pohlednice (‘Written on postcards’) has the subtitle ‘correspondence in the form of a diary’, as it contains postcards that were sent every day over several years from Paris, where Kolář lived in exile, to his wife in Prague.

Kolar Psano na pohlednice YF.2004.a.6387
One of Kolář’s postcards, reproduced on the endpapers of Psáno na pohlednice (Prague, 2000). YF.2004.a.6387

More books by Jiří Kolář, material about him and catalogues of his works can be found in the British Library catalogue and consulted in the reading rooms.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

Further reading:

A. J. Samuels. ‘Jiří Kolář: The Czech Poet's Life, Work & Cultural Significance’ .

Arsén Pohribný, ‘Jiří Kolář’s Tower of Babel’, afterword in Týdeník 1968 (cited above).

18 August 2018

A Bohemian bicentenary: Václav Bolemír Nebeský and the Národní Muzeum

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It is a truism that in choosing a name one should consider whether it is likely to date – how many Kylies approaching their mid-thirties regret being given one which marks them out as children of the early 1980s? A similar phenomenon could be observed in Bohemia in the early 19th century – but with an unusual twist. Many parents who had presented their offspring for baptism with such solid Czech names as František, Josef or Magdalena must have been perplexed when their growing sons and daughters announced that they would no longer use these but in future preferred to be known as Ladislav or Dobromila. Far from being new-fangled inventions, their choices were drawn from the ancient Czech chronicles and legends and simultaneously stated the bearer’s identification with the Bohemian nation’s glorious past and rejection of alien (i.e. German) cultural influences.

Young Václav Nebeský was such a one. Born on 18 August 1818 on the Nový Dvůr estate just north of Kokořín, he was given the name of the king who became Bohemia’s patron saint (‘Good King Wenceslas’), but even that was not patriotic enough for him. He went to high school in Litoměřice, where he proved a gifted student who learned Greek and Latin with ease and went on to study in Prague at Charles University. This was a time when the National Revival was in full swing, and under the influence of its reverence for Bohemian history he decided at the age of 20 to adopt the ultra-Slavonic Bolemír as a second name – a statement all the more emphatic in confirming his sympathies while he was living in Vienna after graduating.

Nebesky portrait 010790ee3Portrait of Václav Bolemír Nebeský from Život a spisy Václava Bolemíra Nebeského by J. Hanuš (Prague, 1896)  010790.ee.3.

Like many talented young men without private means in those days, he earned his living as a private tutor. This could involve occupational hazards such as those experienced by Friedrich Hölderlin – being treated like an inferior servant or becoming emotionally entangled with the lady of the house – but Nebeský was more fortunate. He secured a post in the household of Jan Norbert z Neuberka (Neuberk), who in 1841 had become president of the Národní Muzeum. This National Museum had been established in 1818 by the nobleman and palaeontologist Kaspar Maria, Graf von Sternberg, whose letters contain frequent but unsuccessful appeals to his friend Goethe to visit Prague. Nebeský had already made a wide circle of friends among the generation who would lead the National Revival, both in literature and politics, including the dramatist Josef Kajetán Tyl, Karel Jaromír Erben, whose Kytice remains one of the best-loved works of Czech poetry, the poet and journalist Karel Havlíček Borovský, and Karel Sabina, who provided the libretto for Smetana’s Prodaná nevešta (The Bartered Bride), but was also a notorious police spy. Life in the Neuberk household introduced him to still more eminent figures and helped to develop his political awareness in a practical direction.

Nebesky National Museum 7801.d.6
The Národní Muzeum, Prague, from Národní museum 1818-1948, ed. by Gustav Skalský and others (Prague, 1949) 7801.d.6.

In his early twenties Nebeský had already begun to publish poems in almanacs such as Česká Vcela (The Czech Bee) and Vesna (Spring). His great success came comparatively early with the publication in 1844 of Protichůdci, a long poem whose title is difficult to translate but conveys the sense of ‘those who go against the grain’ or in a direction opposed to conventional ideas of progress, as exemplified by its protagonist, the world-weary Wandering Jew Ahasuerus.

Nebesky Protichudci X.907-8652
Illustration by Jan Konůpek from Václav Bolemír Nebeský, Protichůdci (Prague, 1924) X.907/8652).

He was also an exceptional translator, and his classical training enabled him to produce fluent and highly readable versions of authors including Aeschylus, Aristophanes, and Plautus’s Captivi (Pleníci; Prague, 1873; 11707.b.5.). Indeed, he was heard to say that he often wished that he had been born a modern Greek, a desire which led him in 1864 to publish an anthology of Greek folk-songs in his own translations, Novořecké národní písně. He also brought out a similar collection of Spanish romances, Kytice ze španělských romancí (Prague, 1864; 11452.b.9).

Nebesky binding 1568-4251Binding of Václav Bolemír Nebeský, Novořecké národní písně (Prague, 1864) 1568/4251.

At the same time, Nebeský was involved in many areas of public life. During 1848, the Year of Revolutions, he was politically active and was elected to the Austrian Parliament; the following year he qualified as a university lecturer in Greek and Czech literature, although he never exercised this function professionally. In 1850 he was appointed editor of the Museum’s journal Muzejník, and the following year he became Secretary of the Museum itself, continuing in office until ill-health forced him to step down in 1874.

Nebesky Museum 1609-4911 Dějiny Musea Království Českého (Prague, 1868) 11852.g.2, Nebeský’s history of the National Museum

Nebeský married comparatively late in life, in 1859, but before then he had had a close relationship with another of the National Revival’s most beloved authors, Božena Nemcová (1820-1842), best known for her novel Babička (1855). Unhappily married, she found an outlet in her friendship with Nebeský, with whom she shared not only literary but patriotic interests. Her tomb is close to the gates of Prague’s Vyšehrad cemetery where many of the great cultural figures of 19th-century Czech cultural life are buried, and when he died on 17 August 1882, the day before his 64th birthday, Nebeský himself was laid to rest nearby in the company of Karel Hynek Mácha, the poet whom he so much admired, and many of the friends who, with him, had done so much to shape their country’s future.

Susan Halstead (Subject Librarian, Social Sciences) Research Services