THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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22 posts categorized "Denmark"

20 April 2020

This grain of sand is nevertheless a whole world: Literature of The Faroes

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Over thirty years ago, it might have been possible to say that the Faroes were only on the radar of ‘ornithologists, folklorists, epidemiologists even [
] But among the anthropologists, “excursionists” par excellence, the Faroes are practically unknown’ (Wylie). Now, with the help of publicity ventures like the viral Google Sheepview campaign, the Faroes are comparatively well-trodden by the average off-the-beaten-track traveller. The Islands now also boast a reputation for fine-dining and, in the political sphere, are fast attracting ‘strong interest from the world’s most powerful states’, along with other North Atlantic territories. But, where’s Faroese literature in all this?

Map of The Faroes

Map of The Faroes from Lucas Jacobsen Debes, FĂŠroĂŠ & FĂŠroa reserata. Det er: FĂŠrĂžernis oc FĂŠrĂžeske Indbyggeris Beskrivelse (Copenhagen, 1673), 980.d.11.

The British Library has recently acquired nearly around 80 modern Faroese publications, mostly literary fiction, to ensure we continue to represent the global literary landscape, especially now given the recent prominence of the Faroes. Writers represented in that selection include Carl JĂłhan Jensen, JĂłanes Nielsen, TĂłroddur Poulsen, Hanus Kamban, and Jens Pauli Heinesen.

It is safe to say that Faroese writers have a difficult task to become known beyond their shores. As the Faroese nominee for the 2020 Nordic Council Literature Prize, Oddfríður Marni Rasmussen, writes, ‘only a half-dozen or so can make a living off their writing. And in order to do that, a writer has to be translated into a bigger language, but publishing houses in other countries do not want to spend money on some book from the Faroe Islands.’

Photograph of TĂłrshavn

The capital city, Tórshavn, from Joseph Russel Jeaffreson’s The Faroe Islands (London, 1898) 10280.i.1.

Marni Rasmussen’s award winning Ikki fyrr enn tĂĄ (Not until then) is available at the library (YF.2020.a.207) along with another 11 of his works, mostly poetry collections. He also co-edits the literary journal Vencil, which, thanks to the translations of Marita Thomsen, put out an English-language issue for the first ever Faroe Islands stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2011. One legacy of that initial promotional step-change was the FarLit organisation, which has since been devoted to promoting awareness of Faroese literature internationally.

Photograph of Whaling in Faroes

Whaling in the Faroes, from Jeaffreson (above)

The belatedness of this international orientation has a lot to do with the relative novelty of not only a Faroese literary culture but also of a standardized Faroese written language. The first Faroese novel is traced back to 1909 and Regin Ă­ Líð’s (Rasmus Rasmussen) BĂĄbelstorniĂ° (Tower of Babel) and the first poetry collection, J. H. O. Djurhuus’s Yrkingar (‘Poems’) followed in 1914 (X.900/2189., 1961 edition). The library also holds a copy of Regin Ă­ Líð’s 1910 PlantulĂŠra, which is the first Faroese botany textbook (X.319/2657.)

Stamp depicting The Return of Nolsoyar PĂĄll, the Faroese national hero

Stamp from 2004, one of ten commissioned in honour of J. H. O. Djurhuus’s poems, designed by Anker Eli Petersen. This one depicts the Return of Nolsoyar Páll, the Faroese national hero. (Public Domain)

The Faroese language established an orthography courtesy of Venceslaus Ulricus Hammershaimb in 1846, with the help of many philologists engaged in the linguistic independence of the Islands as part of a broader claim to self-determination. That did not immediately spark a wave of literary expression in the Faroese language, however. In many ways, the creation of a Faroese written language reinforced the separate domains in which people used Danish and Faroese. As Wylie writes, ‘In 1846 the Faroes acquired a written language in which little was written. At about the same time, they attained a “national” identity even as they were reduced to a Danish province’.

Jeaffreson’s The Faroe Islands with an illustration of a boat and whales

Cover of Jeaffreson (above)

Yet, that does not mean Faroese culture was until recently an un-literary one, in fact quite the opposite. Oddfríður Marni Rasmussen admits ‘the legacy of our written literature, with only 5,000 published works, only goes back a hundred years or so’, but underlines the fact that ‘our oral literary tradition, which encompasses ballads, legends, and myths, is ancient and so just as significant to us.’ There are four different of oral literature: kvédir (famous heroic ballads), téttir (satiric ballads), both verse forms; and évintyr (folktales) and sagnir (legends with a more matter-of-fact tone, often addressing local characters and stories), both prose. This oral tradition cannot simply be seen as a phase along the path to a twentieth century written literary culture but should be understood as the fundamental basis of a distinct Faroese culture. It was the ‘institutionalized telling of tales [that] insured the survival of Faroese as a literary language’ (Wylie).

First Page of Andrew James Symington’s Pen and Pencil Sketches of Faröe and Iceland

First Page of Andrew James Symington’s Pen and Pencil Sketches of Faröe and Iceland (London, 1862), BL 10281.b.18.

It is no coincidence that the first major published works in the Faroese language were collections of kvĂŠdir. Of course, these heroic ballads were collected and reproduced in even earlier publications, but these editions were rendered in Latin or Danish. Even before Hammershaimb’s orthography, there are examples of Faroese stories in the native language. Hans Christian Lyngbye’s FĂŠroiske QvĂŠder om Sigurd Fofnersbane og hans Æt (Randers, 1822; 1462.h.7.) is a parallel Faroese-Danish edition of possibly the most popular kvĂŠdi about Sigurd (Siegfried) the dragon-slayer and was published as early as 1822, making it the earliest Faroese book. Ten years later, Johan Henrik SchrĂžter, already integral to Lyngbye’s kvĂŠdir book, published the first Faroese translation of the Icelandic saga about the Christianization of the Faroe Islanders, the FĂŠreyinga Saga (590.h.23). Both of these are available to read online thanks to the Google Books digitisation project.

First page of Schrþter’s trilingual Icelandic-Faroese-Danish edition of the Féreyinga Saga

First page of Schrþter’s trilingual Icelandic-Faroese-Danish edition of the Féreyinga Saga

According to Wylie it was the 1890s that brought the works that would help catalyse the Faroese literary tradition. Hammershaimb’s Férþsk Anthologi (1891) and Jakob Jakobsen’s Férþsk Folkesagn (1896) (both at Ac.9057) ‘were not just scholarly exercises [
] They were also specifically Faroese cultural monuments, grounding modern Faroese culture in written recollections of traditional life [
] their appearance was exceedingly timely; for by the 1890s, memorializing the past was felt to be an urgent task, especially, perhaps, in [the capital city of] Tórshavn’. The creation of foundational Faroese editions of local literary history, much like the earlier examples of National Romanticism across Europe, went hand-in-hand with a renewed sense of nationhood, accelerated by the industrialization and urbanization of society in the 1880s.

We shouldn’t forget that, alongside the local development of a written literary tradition, the Faroes have captured the imagination of those beyond and many early texts present in the British Library collections mention the Islands. The Icelandic scholar, ArngrĂ­mur JĂłnsson, points to the many sheep on the Faroes in both his Brevis Commentarius de Islandia (1593) (572.b.2.) and CrymogĂŠa (1610) (151.c.24.), noting that it is the sheep (fĂžr or fĂŠr in Old Norse) that give the Islands their name. The first comprehensive history and geography, FĂŠroĂŠ & FĂŠroa reserata, was published by Lucas Jacobsen Debes in 1673, and, again, is available online. Debes’ account was of enough interest to an English audience for it to be translated three years later under its full title, FĂŠroĂŠ & FĂŠroa reserata, that is, A description of the islands & inhabitants of Foeroe being seventeen islands subject to the King of Denmark, lying under 62 deg. 10 min. of North latitude: wherein several secrets of nature are brought to light [
] (London, 1676; 980.d.12). The 19th century also saw a rise in travel literature to the North Atlantic, along with publications associated with scientific expeditions in the region, such as Charles Frederic Martin’s Voyages de la Commission Scientifique du Nord, en Scandinavie, en Laponie, au Spitzberg et aux Feröe (10281.g.7-16.).

Title Page from Debes’ Féroé & Féroa reserata

Title Page from Debes’ Féroé & Féroa reserata

The Faroes’ literary traditions are therefore both long-established and yet still novel; they are also both local and yet inextricably tied to Denmark and the wider world. These tensions have defined the distinctiveness of Faroese literature. Trygvi Danielsen, also known as the Faroese rapper Silvurdrongur (‘The Silver Kid’) and the most recent recipient of the Ebba Award, touches on the novelty of Faroese when he describes his practice as orðsangur, or wordsong, and how his writing ‘focuses towards the language itself, playing with words, rearranging, reinventing, reinvigorating, re-examining the language and how we use it’. This is no doubt possible in many languages but perhaps there is something in the artist’s proximity to the comparatively recent construction of a Faroese written language that allows a certain freedom of linguistic creativity. Danielsen’s collection of poetry, fiction and music, The Absent Silver King (2013), was also recently acquired by the library and is currently awaiting cataloguing.

Photograph of William Heinesen and JĂžrgen-Frantz Jacobsen

William Heinesen (left) and JĂžrgen-Frantz Jacobsen in 1918. (Public Domain)

The second tension, between the local and the national, the Faroese- and the Danishness of society, is best encapsulated in the most significant Faroese literary figure, William Heinesen. Marni Rasmussen credits Heinesen as the inventor of Magic Realism and his pioneering style found an international audience, along with his contemporary best-selling compatriot Jþrgen-Frantz Jacobsen. Many of Heinesen’s novels have recently been translated into English by W. Glyn Jones and published by Dedalus Books. Both authors were able to inspire the interest of twentieth century readers in the Faroe Islands, however, precisely because both wrote in Danish. In fact, it is well-known that Heinesen made sure he was not considered for the Nobel Prize in 1981, about which rumours were circulating, for the very reason that it would have taken attention away from independent Faroese culture. In a curious way, the long-standing official Danishness—in the realms of politics, religion, law— enabled the sustenance of a Faroese vernacular culture, and Heinesen’s literature is testament to that tension. As Wylie has it, ‘Denmark, on the one hand, and the land and the sea, on the other [
] like all rural peoples, the Faroese have found themselves looking two ways at once’. Or, in Heinesen’s paean to all small nations at the beginning of De fortabte spilleménd (The Lost Musicians):

Far out in the radiant ocean glinting like quicksilver there lies a solitary little lead-coloured land. The tiny rocky shore is to the vast ocean just about the same as a grain of sand to the floor of a dance hall. But seen beneath a magnifying glass, this grain is nevertheless a whole world.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

Further Reading:

Johan Henrik SchrĂžter, Faereyinga Saga eller Faeröboernes Historie i den Islandske Grundtext med Faeröisk og Dansk oversaettelse (Copenhagen, 1832), 590.h.23

Jakob Jakobsen, FĂŠrĂžsk Sagnhistorie (TĂłrshavn, 1904), 11826.q.13.

Jens Christian Svabo, Indberetninger fra en Reise i FĂŠrĂže 1781 og 1782 (Copenhagen, 1959), 10109.v.9.

J. H. O. Djurhuus, Yrkingar (TĂłrshavn, 1961), X.900/2189.

VarĂ°in : fĂžroyskt tĂ­Ă°arskrift. [Literary Journal] (TĂłrshavn, 1921-), complete holdings at P.901/404

William Heinesen, De fortabte spillemĂŠnd (second edition, Copenhagen, 1954), 012557.k.11., English translation by W. Glyn Jones (Dedalus Books, 2017), ELD.DS.164233

Christian Matras, FĂžroysk-dansk orĂ°abók [First comprehensive Faroese-Danish Dictionary] (TĂłrshavn, 1927-28), 12995.bb.16.

Jonathan Wylie, The Faroe Islands: interpretations of history (Lexington, KY, 1987), Document Supply 87/15819

OddfriÌĂ°ur Marni Rasmussen, Ikki fyrr enn tá (Vestmanna, 2019), YF.2020.a.207

‘Oddfríður Marni Rasmussen Spoke to Us About the Imaginative Potency of Faroese Literature’, Culture Trip (2 August 2017), https://theculturetrip.com/europe/faroe-islands/articles/oddfridur-marni-rasmussen-spoke-to-us-about-the-imaginative-potency-of-faroese-literature/, accessed 16 April 2020

‘Meet the Faroese Rapper Spitting Into a Sea of Cliches’, Culture Trip (24 November 2017), https://theculturetrip.com/europe/faroe-islands/articles/meet-the-faroese-rapper-spitting-into-a-sea-of-cliches/, accessed 16 April 2020

03 March 2020

Nordic Comics Today: A Day of Events

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On 13 March, the British Library are hosting two events under the banner of Nordic Comics Today. In the afternoon, we will welcome Kaisa Leka and Karoline Stjernfelt to showcase their work. Kaisa will speak about the life of a disabled woman in the world today, and how comic art responds to disability, while Karoline transports us to the 18th-century Danish royal court through her prize-winning graphic history I Morgen Bliver Bedre (‘Tomorrow will be better’). The event will be introduced by Dr Nina Mickwitz from the University of the Arts, who’ll ground us in contemporary comics cultures in the Nordic region.

Illustration of suffragettes marching and fighting with policemen from 'Women in Battle'

‘Votes for Women’ from Marta Breen and Jenny Jordahl, Women in Battle: 150 Years of Fighting for Freedom, Equality and Sisterhood (London, 2018) ELD.DS.339036

In the evening we turn to feminism and welcome best-selling author Marta Breen to talk about Women in Battle, the story of fearless females in the continuing journey towards rights for women today (created in collaboration with illustrator Jenny Jordahl and translated into English by Sian Mackie). Marta will be in conversation with Kaisa Leka and UK Comics Laureate Hannah Berry, as they discuss the power of comics and graphic literature to engage people around social justice.

Photo of Kaisa Leka

A photo of Kaisa Leka from her trip around the U.S.A. reproduced in Imperfect (Porvoo, 2017), awaiting shelfmark

There are some tickets remaining for both events. The afternoon is free to attend but still requires a ticket. We are also delighted to be able to display parts of the Hero(ine)s exhibition, first shown at the University of Cumbria and the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in 2018, which features iconic comic heroes re-interpreted and reimagined in their female form. This can be seen all day at the Knowledge Centre.

Double page from 'Place of Death'

from Kaisa’s Place of Death (Porvoo, 2015), YD.2019.a.6235

Comics and graphic novels certainly have a place amongst the Library’s universal and international collections, especially given the emergence of Comics Studies as an academic discipline in recent years. That’s not to say comics needed rehabilitating through academic approaches. It might be best to say, with Douglas Wolk, that comics are not a genre but a medium, and that graphic art cuts across genres. Also, the ubiquity of images in the internet age and the implications on reading habits go hand in hand with the fairly recent rise of graphic literature. So, if you want to understand the world today, a task which the BL’s collections are surely there to serve, then you need to read some comics!

Double page from 'Place of Death'

also from Place of Death

Let’s take a look at the work of our featured authors. Kaisa Leka, a PuupÀÀhattu prize-winning Finnish artist and adventurer, has created numerous innovative books with her partner and ‘faithful sherpa’ Christoffer Leka. Imperfect (awaiting shelfmark) is a beautiful travel diary about their trip across the U.S.A. made up of the postcards they sent to Christoffer’s nephews and niece every day. Place of Death is a sort of parable about ‘fear and the kindness of strangers’, the characters being the authors’ (plus families’) alter egos.

Cover of Karoline Stjernfelt’s 'I Morgen Bliver Bedre' featuring ‘The King’, ‘The Queen’ and ‘The Doctor’

Cover of Karoline Stjernfelt’s I Morgen Bliver Bedre (Copenhagen, 2016) YF.2020.b.319

Karoline Stjernfelt’s I Morgen Bliver Bedre won the best debut category of both major Danish comics awards, the Ping Award and the Claus Delauran Award. To be published in three parts, ‘The King’, ‘The Queen’ and ‘The Doctor’, the exquisitely illustrated books take us to the late 18th century and the reign of Christian VII. The German royal physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee, wielded increasing influence in the court, having an affair with the Queen Caroline Matilda, and eventually becoming de facto regent in 1770. I Morgen Bliver Bedre captures that political chaos and the splendour of the court.

A ball scene from I Morgen Bliver Bedre

A ball scene from I Morgen Bliver Bedre

Marta Breen and Jenny Jordahl’s Women in Battle tells the story of women’s rights and we’re fortunate to hear about it just after International Women’s Day and just before the British Library opens its Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights exhibition. It sketches 150 years of struggle through figures such as Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Malala Yousafzai. Marta and Jenny Jordahl have previously collaborated on the books 60 Women you should know about and The F Word, while Marta has also just published Hvordan bli (en skandinavisk) feminist (‘How to be (a Scandinavian) feminist’) (awaiting shelfmark).

Cover of 'Women in Battle' with illustrations of famous women activists throughout history

Cover of Women in Battle

Last but not least, we should definitely also say a word about our wonderful chairs for the events, Nina Mickwitz and Hannah Berry. Nina’s monograph Documentary Comics: Graphic Truth-telling in a Skeptical Age (awaiting shelfmark) shows the documentary potential of comics through early 21st century non-fiction examples. She has recently co-edited the collections (with Dr Ian Hague and Dr Ian Norton) Contexts of Violence in Comics and Representing Acts of Violence in Comics, and is currently interested in mobilities and negotiations of social norms and identities in comics, as well as the transnational mobilities of comics themselves.

Page depicting women’s struggle against slavery in 'Women in Battle'

Depicting women’s struggle against slavery in Women in Battle

Hannah Berry is the UK Comics Laureate and her graphic novel Livestock won the Broken Frontier Award for Best Writer. Check that out as well as her two previous graphic novels Britten and BrĂŒlightly and Adamtine here at the Library.

We look forward to introducing you to these exciting creative voices and stay tuned for more Nordic events at the library over the coming year!

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References

Douglas Wolk, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels work and what they mean (Cambridge, MA, 2007) YK.2007.a.19819

Marta Breen, Hvordan bli (en skandinavisk) feminist (Oslo, 2020) awaiting shelfmark

Marta Breen and Jenny Jordahl, Kvinner I kamp: 150 Ärs kamp for frihet, likhet, sösterskap! (Oslo, 2018), awaiting shelfmark

Nina Mickwitz, Documentary Comics: Graphic Truth-telling in a Skeptical Age (Basingstoke, 2015) awaiting shelfmark

Nina Mickwitz, Ian Hague, and Ian Norton, Contexts of Violence in Comics (London, 2019) ELD.DS.445377

——, Representing Acts of Violence in Comics (London, 2019) ELD.DS.445165

Hannah Berry, Britten and BrĂŒlightly (London, 2008) YK.2011.b.11102

——, Adamtine (London, 2012) YK.2012.a.19765

——, Livestock (London, 2017) YKL.2018.b.3075

26 December 2019

One of the very best Danish bookplate artists: two recent Ebba Holm acquisitions

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According to Otto Wang, author of niche publications in defence of the reputation of Danish ex-libris, and writing in 1927, no one had received more praise for their bookplate artistry than Ebba Holm. A painter, engraver and illustrator, Holm became most famous for 108 linocut illustrations to a 1929 edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy, in Christian Knud Frederik Molbech’s translation. Otto Wang sees Holm as belonging ‘to the not too many Danish artists who have really been interested in this special little art [of ex libris] and realized that it is necessary to cultivate it and subject it to a special study’.

In Wang’s survey of Holm’s ex libris art, he suggests the artist has given us two of the greatest Danish bookplates, one being for Harald and Karen Abrahamsen (answers on a postcard) and the other being Ebba Holm’s own. Recently, the library acquired L’Opinion et l’amour, a 1830 French book belonging to Holm herself, so we are lucky enough to be in the possession of this famed ex libris. Sadly we don’t know much about Holm’s personal library, and whether she had chosen the book because it was a historical novel written by a woman, Madame de de Saint–Surin, who had also written about the Middle Ages, or for its pretty binding by Janet, a Parisian bookbinder known for his decorative tastes. In any case, it is exciting to see her choice for this most personal design:

Ebba Holm’s ex libris featuring a knight on a horse

Ebba Holm’s ex libris from Madame de Saint Surin, L’Opinion et l’amour (Paris, 1830), awaiting shelfmark

Holm’s love of medieval imagery, or of all things medieval, is expressed in her own bookplate, which features a knight (or could it be Joan of Arc?) holding a spear from which floats a banner displaying her name.

The library has since also acquired a copy of Johannes Jþrgensen’s Dantestemninger (‘Dante moods’), a limited edition from 1928, which features a quartet of poems first published in Jþrgensen’s collection Bag alle de blaa Bjérge (1913) here in large format alongside four striking woodcuts by Ebba Holm. Our copy has a small book label designed by the illustrator and stuck on the inside back cover. It bears her initials and is adorned with what looks like a heraldic eagle.

Ebba Holm’s initials underneath an eagle

Ebba Holm’s initials underneath an eagle

JĂžrgensen and Holm were both Italophiles. JĂžrgensen (1866-1956) lived in Siena from 1914 and wrote the lives of St Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena and St Bridget of Sweden after his conversion to Catholicism around 1895.

The Dantestemninger were written at the time he was composing his work on Catherine of Siena and his research into the period allowed Jþrgensen to explore an interest in Dante. As Jþrgen Breitenstein has written, the poems often explicitly recall Molbech’s translation of Dante, as we see at the end of Jþrgensen’s first poem’s reference to Inferno III, 1: ‘og fþrer ind til Staden, fuld af Jammer’ (‘Per me si va ne la città dolente’ / ‘Through me the way into the suffering city’). That said, Jþrgensen portrays a wet, foggy, autumnal forest that has no real parallel to Dante’s Inferno, and Holm depicts a lost forest-bound protagonist in the first woodcut.

JĂžrgensens Inferno

Jþrgenson’s Inferno in a Northern European sylvan mood

Holm might be said to deviate from Jþrgensen’s second poem as she depicts the protagonist’s encounter with Beatrice. Holm’s scene might be based on Dante’s Florence but the city is also simple and industrial, the encounter itself without any of the symbolism of Jþrgensen’s (and Dante’s) association of Beatrice with fire and flames.

Woodcut depicting the meeting of Dante and Beatrice

Dante meets Beatrice

The third poem deals with Dante’s exile from Florence and the fourth with Dante and Beatrice’s ascension in Paradiso.

Woodcut of Dante in exile. He is sitting under a tree and his hand is resting on a book. Florence is depicted far in the background.

Dante in exile

Woodcut depicting Dante's ascension to heaven

Dante in paradise

Holm’s illustrations here are accomplished without being remarkable but they can also be seen as preparatory for the more lavish, impressive and ultimately prize-winning linocuts for the later Divine Comedy edition. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have a copy of this but we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for a fine edition!

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections, and Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References

Johannes JĂžrgensen, Dantestemninger (Copenhagen, 1928) LF.31.b.13902

Otto Wang, Ebba Holms Exlibris (Kolding, 1927), 2708.g.23

16 August 2019

‘C’est un dĂ©tournement’: Mezioud Ouldamer’s copy of Guy Debord and Asger Jorn’s MĂ©moires

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In 1959 Guy Debord and the Danish artist Asger Jorn published MĂ©moires, ‘a work entirely composed of prefabricated elements’ with ‘supporting structures’ by Jorn. In the jargon of the Situationist International (SI), the avant-garde anti-authoritarian movement they helped form in 1957, it is a work of dĂ©tournement:

DĂ©tournement is the opposite of quotation, of appealing to a theoretical authority that is inevitably tainted by the very fact that it has become a quotation — a fragment torn from its own context and development, and ultimately from the general framework of its period and from the particular option (appropriate or erroneous) that it represented within that framework. DĂ©tournement is the flexible language of anti-ideology. (Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, thesis 208)

Double-page spread from MĂ©moires featuring fragments of text and photographs with red splodges

Double-page spread from MĂ©moires (Copenhagen, 1957; RF.2019.b.63), section 2, bright red indicating Debord’s creative energy

Double-page spread from MĂ©moires with fragments of maps struck through with blue lines, facing a nebulous blue splodge

Double-page spread from MĂ©moires section 3, fragments of maps struck through with blue lines, facing a nebulous blue splodge

Wrenched from their original contexts, fragments of texts and isolated images are linked and obscured by roughly applied, bright inks. Not always ‘supporting structures’, Jorn’s paintwork draws connections between fragments, but ‘then Debord’s words and pictures change Jorn’s avenues into labyrinths [
] A connection is made, a connection is missed, the reader is lost, the reader enters another passageway, then another’ (Marcus, p. 128).

A page from from MĂ©moires featuring fragments of text, including a 'Guinness is good for you' advertisement. There is a large red splodge covering some of the fragments

‘Guinness is good for you’: dĂ©tourning advertising as the slogan is placed next to the fragment ‘in the daily struggle’

Through his creative reinterpretation of the autobiographical genre, the author enacts the process by which the ‘society of the spectacle’ and the commodification of experience might finally be blown apart to uncover again the unique everyday amidst the alienating capitalist superstructure. As MĂ©moires’ final fragment puts it, ‘I wanted to speak the beautiful language of my time’.

Final page of Memoires featuring the words 'I wanted to speak the beautiful language of my time' (in French) and a large red splodge.

Final page of MĂ©moires

The British Library’s copy of MĂ©moires has an inscription by Mezioud Ouldamer (1951-2017), an Algerian political activist and author of a number of works inspired by the Situationists and his friendship with Debord.

Inscription by Mezioud Ouldamer in MĂ©moires

Inscription by Mezioud Ouldamer in MĂ©moires

Ouldamer writes: ‘It is a dĂ©tournement | It was in Ecclesiastes. | And even in Proverbs. | There is still a belief in this rotten “God”. There is nothing, Evy. I love you. | Le Singe [the monkey or the imitator]’. It isn’t clear when Debord gave Ouldamer the copy, of which there were perhaps one thousand in small circulation amongst associates, but their friendship appears to have flourished in the early 1980s. Ouldamer’s presence in our copy shifts the frame of the work and provokes us to think about race, ethnicity and the Algerian crises that were part of the context of both the original publication and Debord’s subsequent gift to Ouldamer.

Algerian intellectuals were already part of the Lettrist International, the SI’s forerunner, including Hadj Mohamed Dahou, who continued into the SI. Compatriot Abdelhafid Khatib wrote a fragmentary first example of a psychogeography in 1958. Thus the Algerian Situationist context was well established when the next generation came to maturity. Between 1953, the year of ‘The Manifesto of the Algerian Group of the Lettrist International’, and Ouldamer’s early activism came Algeria’s hard-won independence in 1962. From this point onwards, the violent suppression of native Algerian rights by French colonists transformed into the suppression of Berber rights by the single-party leadership Front de liberation nationale (FLN) with their exclusive focus on Arabization. This eventually led to the Berber mass activism and strikes of 1980, known as the ‘Berber Spring’.

Ouldamer, a native of the largest Berber region, Kabylia, co-edited a pamphlet entitled L’AlgĂ©rie brĂ»le! [‘Algeria is on fire’], attributed to ‘un groupe d’autonomes algĂ©riens’. In it, they pay homage to the activists for restoring to millions of Berber people a long-restricted freedom of expression. They reveal the illusion of Algeria being the standard-bearer for third world revolution, when it has reproduced ‘all the mediocrities and ignominies shared across all the world’s police states’. The incendiary pamphlet then evokes our inscription as it continues, ‘Les insurgĂ©s de Tizi-Ouzou n’ont fait que cracher sur toute cette pourriture’ [the insurgents of Tizi-Ouzou have done nothing else but spit in the face of this rottenness].

Cover of L’AlgĂ©rie brĂ»le!

L’AlgĂ©rie brĂ»le! (Paris, 1981) X.809/55238

L’AlgĂ©rie brĂ»le! was published by Debord’s longstanding publisher and friend GĂ©rard Lebovici at Ă©ditions Champ Libre, Paris. It appeared early in 1981, by which time Ouldamer had been arrested, ultimately to serve one year in prison for breaking article 144 of the Algerian penal code, which is cited on the back flap of his next book, Offense Ă  President. The law forbids citizens to attack the honour of authorities ‘by words, gestures, threats, [
] even by writings or drawings not made public’. This book was written in Paris, Ouldamer’s new home following his release, where his friendship with Debord developed. In March 1984, Lebovici was assassinated. Debord rigorously investigated the circumstances of his friend’s death, all the while encouraging Ouldamer to publish his work with the same publisher, now run by GĂ©rard’s widow Floriana under the name Ă©ditions GĂ©rard Lebovici.

Cover of Offense Ă  President

Mezioud Ouldamer, Offense à Président (Paris, 1985), YA.1987.a.18728

The success of Offense Ă  President led Ouldamer to work on the book that would spark the most reaction, Le Cauchemar immigrĂ© dans la decomposition de la France [‘The Immigrant Nightmare in the Decomposition of France’]. Debord again offered advice throughout. One letter from Debord on 9 May 1985 invites Ouldamer to the small hamlet of Champot, adding that his girlfriend would also be welcome. Is this the ‘Evy’ mentioned in Ouldamer’s inscription in MĂ©moires?

Cover of Le Cauchemar immigré dans la décomposition de la France

Le Cauchemar immigré dans la décomposition de la France (Paris, 1986), YA.1987.a.3700

Le Cauchemar immigrĂ© inspired Debord to pass his own comments on the politics of immigration that had risen to the surface, especially since 1983’s March for Equality and against Racism. Debord’s ‘Notes on the “immigrant question”’ were written in response to Ouldamer’s ideas and are probably more famous today than the work that inspired them. Ouldamer’s matter-of-fact delivery is similar to Debord’s as he writes ‘the spectacle of a nightmarish immigration dominates every mind, to the extent that immigrants themselves have begun to give in to this image’. The last lines of Le Cauchemar immigrĂ© are indeed taken from Debord’s last lines of his notes to Ouldamer. The gist is, will the earth’s future inhabitants emancipate themselves from the current hierarchical and repressive system, or ‘will they be dominated by an even more hierarchical and pro-slavery society than today?’ Sharing a militancy, Debord and Ouldamer close by saying, ‘we must envisage the worst and fight for the best. France is assuredly regrettable. But regrets are useless.’

Ouldamer’s inscription in the BL’s copy of MĂ©moires arguably offers a dĂ©tournement of its own to Debord and Jorn’s dĂ©tournement. At the very least, this contextual history reinserts global and racial dynamics into a work of the European political avant-garde, in which the Algerian crises of the 20th century arguably often only played a sub-textual role. If MĂ©moires ‘wanted to speak the beautiful language of my time’ then that language was surely not just the fragmented artistry of Paris, but also the Arabic and the Berber languages of Algeria.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References / Further reading

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York, 1994), YC.1994.b.6105

Guy Debord, Correspondance [vol. 6, Janvier 1979 – DĂ©cembre 1987] (Paris, 1999-2010), YF.2008.a.37298

Nedjib Sidi Moussa, ‘In Memoriam Mezioud Ouldamer’, in Textures du Temps

Erindringer om Asger Jorn, ed. by Troels Andersen and Aksel Evin Olesen (Silkeborg, 1982), X.425/4198

Greil Marcus, ‘Guy Debord’s MĂ©moires: A Siutationist Primer’, in On the passage of a few people through a rather brief moment in time: The Situationist International 1957-1972, ed. by Elisabeth Sussman (Cambridge, MA: 1989), YC.1992.b.1936

Boris DonnĂ©, Pour mĂ©moires: un essai d’élucidation des MĂ©moires de Guy Debord (Paris, 2004), YF.2004.a.15028

Tom McDonough, ‘The Beautiful Language of my Century’: Reinventing the Language of Contestation in Postwar France, 1945-1968 (Cambridge, MA: 2007), YK.2007.a.9440

Bart Lans and Otakar MĂĄcel, ‘The Making of Fin de Copenhague & MĂ©moires: The tactic of dĂ©tournement in the collaboration between Guy Debord and Asger Jorn’ (Delft, 2009) 

Ella Mudie, ‘An Atlas of Allusions: The Perverse Methods of Guy Debord’s MĂ©moires’, Criticism 58 (2016), pp. 535-63

19 June 2019

Translating Ibsen: monstrous rare of attainment

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The Duke of York’s Theatre is currently playing Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm, a play that Michael Meyer suggests ‘marks Ibsen’s final withdrawal as a playwright from the polemical field’. It is marked everywhere by a curious sense of withdrawal, as the protagonist John Rosmer, heir to the Rosmersholm legacy and former clergyman, stirs himself towards a revolutionary popular politics, before abruptly asserting its futility. Likewise, the complex love affair between Rosmer and Rebecca West reaches the possibility of marriage, before that becomes impossible because of Rebecca’s guilt over her complicity in the suicide of Rosmer’s first wife and her manipulation of Rosmer towards her radicalism. Hints of idealism amidst the angst-ridden interactions dissolve into a resignation to unchangeable political, psychological and moral realities. This kind of thematic disappointment works also on the level of language, and Toril Moi suggests it depicts a dark modernity ‘where language has come to seem untrustworthy’. This makes you wonder: if the play is about the impossibility of communication, what does it mean to read and experience it at one remove, in translation?

Title page of the first edition of Rosmersholm

First edition of Rosmersholm (Copenhagen, 1896) BL 11755.bbb.34.

Ibsen is notoriously difficult to translate, hence the many translations and adaptations of his plays over the last century. This includes the new four-volume Penguin Ibsen, the third volume of which contains a new translation and critical apparatus for Rosmersholm and will be released in December this year. Mark Lawson reminds us of one of the problems of translating Ibsen: that he wrote in Danish in Norway at a time of linguistic transition, when Danish remained in use but was being superseded by Norwegian. ‘This means that the translator 
 needs two different sets of dictionaries and thesauri and a strong sense of the historical evolution of Scandinavian languages.’

Portrait of Louis Napoleon Parker

Portrait of Louis Napoleon Parker, National Portrait Gallery 1917

This combination of disappointed ideals and the thankless task of the translator emerge in the preface to the first English translation of Rosmersholm (London, 1889; 11755.e.13.) by the playwright, poet and musician, Louis Napoleon Parker. Parker writes how Ibsen was slowly becoming known to English audiences and, regarding his translation, ‘It claims only one merit: it is done from the original, and it is done as literally as my limited skill in juggling words would permit. An ideal translation is, like other ideals, monstrous rare of attainment. This is not an ideal translation; but that it is faithful I will pledge the word of one who has hitherto been considered indifferent honest.’ In his autobiography, Parker mentions an ‘obsession’ with Rosmersholm, ‘the only useful lesson in playwriting I ever had’. After first translating from an early German version, probably Marie von Borch’s (Berlin, 1887; 11755.c.2.), he returned to the original, feeling ‘instinctively that there were slips and lacuné’ in the German.

Title Page of Louis N. Parker’s translation alongside his dedication to H. Rowland Brown

Title Page of Louis N. Parker’s translation alongside his dedication to H. Rowland Brown Cup.403.m.4.(7.)

The Ibsen Society of America see the first translations, including presumably Parker’s Rosmersholm, as being particularly faithful but also outdated: ‘older literary translations can impede meaning as much as they preserve it, as one soon discovers when struggling through any of the arch British-Victorian translations’. A couple of the tricky motifs to transmit into English, according to Toril Moi, are the verbs svélge (‘swallow’) and kvéle (‘strangle’). For Moi, these verbs ‘evoke ideas of forced or silenced expression’ in a play about the struggle to connect through language and the actual abyss between Rosmer and Rebecca, as well as between Rosmer and the outside world. These verbs are strange to a Norwegian reader in their contexts and therefore stand out. Rendering into comprehensible English, translators often miss the specific motifs of swallowing and suffocation, which Moi holds central to her understanding of the play.

Let’s compare a couple of passages from Parker’s 1889 work, Charles Archer’s 1891 translation (11755.df.45.), Michael Meyer’s 1966 version (X.908/8346.), Mike Poulton’s 2008 adaptation (YK.2009.a.18115), and Moi’s own renderings in her critical work.

The end of Act 2 sees Rosmer lament the impossibility of his political project due in part to his deep guilt over his wife’s death. Moi has it:

ROSMER: I shall never conquer this – not completely. There will always be a lingering doubt. A question. I’ll never again be able to bask in (svélge i) that which makes life so wonderfully delightful to live.
REBECCA: [leaning over the back of his chair, more slowly] What kind of thing is it you mean, Rosmer?
ROSMER: [looking up at her] Quiet, joyous freedom from guilt.
REBECCA: [takes a step back] Yes. Freedom from guilt.

Moi cannot retain the idea of swallowing but opts for a phrase that keeps a bodily sense, of absorbing something. This is lost in Meyer’s and Poulton’s translations, which go with the verbs ‘enjoy’ and ‘losing the one joyful thing’. Parker and Archer settle for ‘revel in’, retaining at least the preposition and therefore some idea of physicality.

The scene takes a turn when Rosmer asks Rebecca to become his second wife, a proposal she rejects for no clear reasons at this stage. Rosmer’s plea is about shaking off the burden of the past in marriage, demanding, according to Moi’s version, to ‘let us strangle (kvéle) all memories in freedom, in pleasure, in passion’. Meyer writes, ‘let us lay all memories to rest in freedom, and joy, and love’, a significantly more peaceful image. Poulton offers a more violent image in the verb ‘drown’. However, closer to the original, Parker and Archer prefer the verb ‘stifle’, a motif of suffocation.

One last example that provides interesting comparison is the word vidnesbyrd, the ‘testimony’ or ‘proof’ Rosmer asks of Rebecca to restore his faith, essentially demanding that she takes her own life. Moi prefers to see this as ‘bearing witness’ because the concept is distinct from ‘proof’, as it ‘has to do with a person’, whereas ‘proof’ ‘often refers to things or facts’. This word isolates one translator among our selection. The very first translation, the one that was a product of an obsession with the most faithful rendering, Louis Napoleon Parker’s work is the only version not to use the word ‘proof’. He employs the awkward formulation, ‘Let me have a token!’ The word ‘token’ insists on a visible and tangible manifestation of something in a way that ‘proof’ does not quite manage.

As strange as it sounds in Parker’s rendering, perhaps Parker’s ‘token’ is a more accurate translation after all, and, if anything, his version helps to remind us of Ibsen’s own strange language.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References/Further Reading

Louis N. Parker, Several of my Lives (London, 1928), 010855.f.42

Toril Moi, Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism: Art, Theater, Philosophy (Oxford, 2006) YC.2006.a.19524

Mark Lawson, ‘The Master Linguist: The Problem with Translating Ibsen’, The Guardian (29 October 2014)

30 November 2018

From Culinary Staple to Prophetic Symbol: More on the Herring

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Regular readers of our blog may have noticed something of a herring theme this year, from the significance of the herring in Nordic culture to its symbolic and celebratory consumption at the Dutch festivals of Flag Day and the anniversary of the Relief of Leiden. But so far we have not yet looked at the herring in Germany and on the Southern Baltic shore, particularly as imagined and lived by GĂŒnter Grass

In Grass’s Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum), Agnes Matzerath develops an unhealthy compulsion to eat fish, following the horror of seeing a horse’s head used to catch eels, consuming and force-feeding herself the very thing that has become monstrous to her. Set against the backdrop of rising National Socialism, Agnes’s eventual death by fish-poisoning cannot be separated from the social and familial mutations she experiences in 1920s Danzig.

Elsewhere, however, fish is dealt with far more fondly by Grass, while always remaining focal. In his autobiography, Beim HĂ€uten der Zwiebel (Peeling the Onion), Grass’s memories often carry the odour of fried herring, a staple during his time at the School of Fine Arts in Berlin, much to the disapproval of his teacher Karl Hartung, who ‘[took] offence at the smell of fried herring wafting through the door connecting his studio to ours’. Even his description of the first months with his then girlfriend, Anna, includes, alongside the sentimental, the intimate and the erotic, the memory of showing the uninitiated cook ‘how simple it is to remove the flesh from the bones of a fried herring.’ Romance Baltic-style


Dust-jecket of GĂŒnter Grass's "Der Butt" with a picture of a flounder whispering into a man's ear
Dust Jacket of Der Butt, with Grass’s own design

But it is in his Der Butt (The Flounder) where the herring—and essentially all Baltic peasant food from the Neolithic to the 20th century—gets a platform. It contains, woven into the epic history of women and food, recipes and other gastronomic tips, because for Grass, who thought the planting of potatoes in Prussia ‘did more to change society than the Seven Years’ War’, this was a people’s history that had not yet been written.

Grass here is on one level writing the anti-‘Babette’s Feast’. Karen Blixen’s/Isak Dinesen’s 1958 short story introduces an exceptional Parisian chef into the remote Norwegian town of BerlevĂ„g (or the west coast of Jutland, if you’re watching the 1987 film), who wins a lottery, enabling her to create an exquisite French menu without a herring in sight. However, most of the local guests—refined as they are—react indifferently to the meal, which is perhaps another implicit win for the herring.

Sketch by GĂŒnter Grass of a flounder kissing a woman
Grass’s sketch Kuß (‘Kiss’) ,reproduced in Gertrud Bauer Pickar, Adventures of a Flounder: Critical Essays on GĂŒnter Grass’ Der Butt (Munich, 1982) X.0909/1118(3)

The second book of Der Butt contains a chapter entitled ‘SkĂ„ne Herring’, in which the domestic hell suffered by the husband of the mystic and visionary (not yet Saint) Dorothea von Montau, brings about a visit from the religious and political powers that be. Dorothea serves the four visitors Scania herring (Scania was dominant in the herring market in the 14th century) but not before Grass’s omniscient narrator cuts in to detail the variations of prepared herring: ‘They can be used fresh, salted, smoked, or marinated. They can be boiled, baked, fried, steamed, filleted, boned and stuffed, rolled around gherkins, or placed in oil, vinegar, white wine, and sour cream.’ Grass details how each of the women cooks he follows in his epic would have prepared the herring before telling us that Dorothea ‘bedded twelve Scania herrings on ashes strewn over the coals, so that without oil, spices, or condiment of any kind, their eyes whitened and they took on the taste of cooked fish.’ The authorities—Abbot, Commander, Doctor of Canon Law and Dominican—all approve.

Following Grass’s imperative to (re-)collect food history in his ‘narrative cookbook’, we find that two years after the publication of Der Butt the British Library felt compelled to acquire an actual herring cookbook from Sweden, Strömming och Sill. Both words in the title refer to herring, strömming to the smaller, less fatty herring caught in the Baltic, and sill to the Atlantic and North Sea varieties. Strömming might be more familiar with its prefix sur- which describes the debatably edible fermented variety. Sur- means sour in this case, although we can’t help but think of French preposition meaning ‘over’: for many, fermented herring is indeed a step or two beyond.

Cover of a herring cookbook, showing a casserole of herring
Ulli Kyrkland, Strömming och sill ([Stockholm, 1979) L.42/578. The book includes over 100 herring recipes

We’ve somehow managed to talk about Der Butt without mentioning the presence of a talking flounder
 but Grass’s penchant for rendering fish either monstrous, as in Die Blechtrommel, or magical, as in Der Butt, recalls another literary oddity which deserves mention. The herring was also the protagonist in a number of 16th- and 17th-century works within Rosicrucianism and numerology. In 1587, like Grass’s omnipotent flounder, a few miraculous herring began to communicate.

Illustration of herring with markings like letters on their sides
Signifying herrings, from Johann Faulhaber VernĂŒnfftiger Creaturen Weissagungen (Augsburg, 1632) C.29.f.1.

Johann Faulhaber’s VernĂŒnfftiger Creaturen Weissagungen attempts to describe the significance of a miraculous deer and some even more miraculous herring and other fish through the secret numbers of the Book of Daniel and the Apocalypse. Following the descriptions of Raphael Eglinus’s Prophetia Halieutica nova et admiranda (ZĂŒrich, 1598; 1020.f.1.(3.)), Faulhaber tells us of two herring caught on the same day, one in Denmark, one in Norway, on both of which appeared strange coded markings, ‘as if imprinted by God’s finger.’ We can’t help but agree with his assertion that this is a miraculous occurrence.

Illustration of herring with markings like pictures and letters on their sides
More tattooed fish from VernĂŒnfftiger Creaturen Weissagungen

The book was written in 1632, halfway through the Thirty Years’ War and, crucially, two years after Sweden’s King Gustav Adolph, to whom the book is dedicated, joined the conflict. Faulhaber sees correspondences in all the mystical fish, the dates of comets, the secret numbers in the Bible and the political situation in Northern Europe. The markings are decoded to show swords, sickles, and other signs that correlate with historical events. Faulhaber’s deer somehow comes to represent the entry of Gustav Adolph into the war, while the herring might spell out the spilling of more blood.

Four centuries later, something about these miraculous herring of Faulhaber and Eglinus is caught in the fish-paintings of Paul Klee. 

Painting by Paul Klee showing fish, flowers, shapes and a human figure floating against an abstract background
Paul Klee, Fish Magic, Philadelphia Museum of Art (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Klee’s Fish Magic or Around the fish, suspend the fish (although we can’t identify a herring, we can forgive Klee as a landlocked Swiss, no doubt used to freshwater fish) amidst a set of enigmatic symbols that gesture towards signification without the finality of Faulhaber’s correspondences. In herring-art, we see the full range of depictions that is also encapsulated in academic and literary attempts to understand both the sheer facticity of the Northern armies of herring and the idea of herring, their potential meaning.

Painting by Joachim Beuckelaer of a 16th-century Dutch Fish Market
The sheer facticity of fish in Joachim Beuckelaer, The Fish Market (1568), Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht (image from Wikimedia Commons). Herring can be seen bottom left.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References

GĂŒnter Grass, Die Blechtrommel (Darmstadt, 1959) 011421.p.86. English translation by Ralph Mannheim, The Tin Drum (London, 1962) X.909/2060.

GĂŒnter Grass, Der Butt (Darmstadt, 1977) X.989/71159. English translation by Ralph Mannheim, The Flounder (London, 1978) X.989/76027

GĂŒnter Grass, Beim HĂ€uten der Zwiebel (Göttingen, 2006) YF.2007.a.1517. English translation by Micahel Henry Heim Peeling the Onion (London, 2007) YC.2007.a.14122

Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), Anecdotes of Destiny (London, 1958) 12655.r.2.

 

19 July 2018

A Right Royal Gift Book: ‘The Wedding at Windsor’

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On 26 and 27 April 2018, the British Library and the National Portrait Gallery played host to scholars and members of the Anglo-Danish Society who gathered together to learn about the portraits and patronage of five fascinating royals: Anna of Denmark (1574-1619), Queen Consort to James VI and I; George of Denmark (1653-1708), Prince Consort to Queen Anne; Louisa of Britain (1724-1751), Queen Consort to Frederik V of Denmark and daughter to George II; Caroline-Mathilde of Britain (1751-1775), Queen Consort to Christian VII of Denmark and sister to George III; and Alexandra of Denmark (1844-1925), Queen Consort to Edward VII. Two very special British Library items that were shown as part of the event are detailed in two blog posts. First, Dr Sara Ayres, the event organiser and formerly Queen Margarethe II Carlsberg Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Portrait Gallery, takes us back 150 years to a very familiar occasion.

Following the excitement swirling around the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex) in May of this year, it is perhaps as good a moment as any to cast a glance back into the past upon another royal wedding, which brought another beautiful bride over the sea, to marry a son of Queen Victoria. The groom was Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and the bride, Princess Alexandra of Denmark. The Princess’s carriage ride through London on her way to Windsor Castle to prepare for her marriage in St George’s Chapel on 10 March 1863 was attended by a riotous outpouring of popular celebration. Indeed, the Victorian crowds which surged to meet this Danish bride were more numerous and rather less orderly than the waving well-wishers lining the televised procession of Saturday 19 May 2018.

Bricklayer's Arms stationA respectful audience for the arrival of the new Queen at the old Bricklayers’ Arms Station. From The Wedding at Windsor: A Memorial of the Marriage of ... Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and ... Alexandra, Princess of Denmark (London, 1864) 1754.d.32

Both the marriage and the Princess’s landing at Gravesend and royal entry into London were commemorated in a lavish volume entitled The Wedding at Windsor. The text was crafted by none other than William Howard Russell, a veteran journalist who had won fame, if not fortune, reporting on the Crimean War for the London Times. This heavy folio volume is richly illustrated with chromolithographs of the procession, the wedding and the many, lavish bridal gifts. It is these beautiful prints designed by the artist Robert Dudley and realised by lithographers to the Queen, Messrs. Day and Sons, which lift this official publication out of the ordinary and into the realms of print history.

Title PageTitle Page from The Wedding at Windsor

Chromolithography occupies a brief and singular moment in the history of colour printing, quickly eclipsed by the rise of fully automatic processes for mechanical reproduction. Chromolithography demanded expertise; its processes were minutely analysed by the printer’s eye and aligned by hand, and used as many colours as the client’s means afforded. The application of such intensely focused skill produced results with an extraordinary sense of material presence. Dudley’s illustrations of the wedding gifts seem almost to vibrate off the page, their intense reality effect investing the precious objects with a second life inside the book.

Temple BarCrowds line the streets at Temple Bar, the Union Jack flyring side by side with the Dannebrog 

Dudley’s illustrations of the procession of 7 March 1863 fascinate with their detail of the ephemeral decorations which lined the Princess’s route. Triumphal arches, countless flags, royal portraits and allegorical sculptures recreated the most famous thoroughfares of London as heraldic heterotopias, which both narrated and celebrated the continuance of the long and storied relationship between Denmark and Britain.

The Mansion HouseThe Mansion House

Dudley’s topographies of London Bridge, Mansion House and Temple Bar teem with crowds filling the streets and the windows, balconies and rooftops of every building along the way. The Princess is reduced to a speck of print lost in the swirling masses. The crowds are orderly spectators, contained by iconic architectures and regulated by highlights of regal red and gold. But the reality of the procession was rather different. Too few policemen and a lack of coordination between the various authorities involved in organising the procession coupled with a huge desire on the part of the public to participate in the day's events produced crowds which were neither orderly nor contained. As Russell writes in the accompanying text:

[The people] cheered as she came near, then gazed upon her face, and then cheered more loudly than ever. Too eagerly for the ease of the Royal Bride, they pressed against the horses and carriage-wheels, caught hold of the sides of the vehicle, stretched out their hands, and in one struggling shouting turmoil, with waving hands and arms, and open throats, shifting and clinging like figures in a nightmare, they strove and contended to hold place and get nearest to the carriage which contained her.

Windsor Castle must have seemed like the calmest of safe havens to this young Princess and her family upon their arrival, following this most eventful of royal processions.

Gold OrnamentsA lavish gift list - gold ornaments beautifully illustrated

PorcelainAnd some fine porcelain for the lucky married couple

This illustrations in this important and fascinating book perhaps preserve the royal wedding celebrations of 1863 as they ought to have been, rather than as they were exactly. Despite the decorous veil they cast over the events portrayed, they still provide us with an evocative glimpse into the past. To re-examine them in the light of the more recent celebrations, is to sense the pattern of our most common rituals framed in the specificities of uncommon times.

25 June 2018

Proto-internet trolls’: Johann Friedrich Struensee and freedom of expression in 18th century Denmark

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Ever-present in the cultural imagination of Danish history, the story of Johann Friedrich Struensee — beyond the soap-opera of his rise to power — was a turning point in the history of publishing. The legacy of this Danish episode has been invigorated by the likes of Per Olov Enquist, in his 1999 novel LivlĂ€karens Besök (The Visit of the Royal Physician), and Mads Mikkelsen, who portrayed the once de facto ruler in Nikolaj Arcel’s 2012 film En kongelig affĂŠre (A Royal Affair).

Engraving - before and in jailEngravings showing Struensee in charge and then in prison, from a collection of broadsides on Struensee and his downfall. (1881.b.46)

Struensee had accompanied King Christian VII as royal physician on a foreign tour in 1768 and had gained the trust of a regent prone to serious psychiatric episodes. Soon, not only had the doctor risen to become the King’s most trusted advisor in the Danish court, he had also become Queen Caroline Matilda’s lover – which fast became common knowledge. With the ear of the King, Struensee first appointed himself to the Privy Council before dismantling it in favour of a Cabinet in his control, supported by his ally Enevold Brandt. The increasing incapacity of the King gave Struensee the authority to pursue an Enlightenment agenda, which he did by issuing nearly 2000 decrees in his 16 months in power. This ground-breaking transformation in politics ruptured the link between King and people, and in its place offered the liberalizing but authoritarian rule of a non-Danish-speaking upstart. No matter how forward-thinking the legislation, Struensee would always be a German usurper, who had corrupted the royal court.

The very first of Struensee’s reforms was to declare the freedom of the press on 14 September 1770. Immediately, this freedom led to the creation of many new periodicals and newspapers, while also encouraging provincial printing beyond Copenhagen. 1771 saw pamphlets shift ‘in character from a debate on socio-political issues to direct criticism of those in power’ and often ‘the criticisms took the form of lampoons on the themes of sex and power’ (Horstbþll). Struensee took the brunt and so his introduction of the freedom of the press resulted in the use of the press against him.

Struensee's grave

A defaced memorial for Struensee but a memorial all the same, which might go some way to depicting his divided legacy.

As Jesper Mþlby puts it in Robert Ferguson’s Scandinavians:

In some ways the most depressing part of it all is that Struensee gave people freedom of expression, and for the most part all anyone did with it was compose endless vulgar and offensive verses directed at Struensee himself and his affair with Caroline. In his bright and visionary Denmark people had been set free to express exactly what they felt and thought, to educate one another, criticize one another constructively, to fearlessly challenge the high and mighty. What he got instead was a society of proto-internet trolls. Shit. Piss. Fart. Willy. The king’s a nutcase. (Ferguson, pp. 153-154)

On 17 January 1772, Struensee and Brandt were arrested for usurping royal authority – the birth of Struensee’s and Caroline Matilda’s daughter, Louise Augusta, couldn’t have helped his case. In the three months during his imprisonment, illustrated broadsheets quickly distributed the popular criticism and hatred of the Counts Struensee and Brandt. The British Library has a collection of these broadsides, along with some leaflets and smaller single-sheet engravings.

Struensee's power grabThe Almighty steps in to reclaim Denmark from the power-grabbing Struensee and Brandt.

Eventually charged and sentenced to execution on 28 April 1772, Struensee and Brandt had their right hands cut off, then their heads and even genitals, before being drawn and quartered, each body part displayed for the audience, as is shown in the broadsheet below. Horstbþll confirms that the ‘theatrical execution of the count and the exhibition of his corpse’ was ‘the greatest sales success of all’ for its printer, Johan Rudolph Thiele, whose woodblocks were copied by many others.

Struensee's execution‘An accurate view of the execution of the Counts Struensee and Brandt’. The fourth quarter of Struensee’s body is being carried up to its display wheel.

Many of Struensee’s decrees were reversed following his execution and post-publication censorship returned on 20 October 1773. However, the floods of empowered publishers and voices could not be held back. A new publishing energy had been unleashed and the landscape was unalterably changed. As Henrik Horstbþll writes, ‘The period of the unlimited freedom of the press broke the bonds linking printed media to the institutions of the state and a new print culture arose in relation to the traditional literary market, which could not be reversed once freedom of the press became limited again.’

Struensee’s legacy remains therefore divided, as Michael Brengsbo suggests, between those who view him as ‘a cynic usurper, seducer, and fortune hunter’ those who remember ‘a tragic hero who really tried to enlighten the people and improve their lot [
]’.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References/Further Reading

Per Olov Enquist, Livläkarens besök  (Stockholm, 1999) YA.2001.a.7907 (English translation by Tiina Nunally, The Visit of the Royal Physician (London, 2002) Nov.2002/1089)

Michael Brengsbo, ‘Struensee and the Political Culture of Absolutism’ and Henrik Horstbþll, ‘The Politics of Publishing: Freedom of the Press in Denmark, 1770-1773, in Scandinavia in the Age of Revolution: Nordic Political Cultures, 1740-1820 (Farnham; Burlington, 2011) YC.2011.a.12626

Robert Ferguson, Scandinavians: In Search of the Soul of the North (London, 2016) YC.2017.a.13228

01 June 2018

Silver Darlings, Icelandic Gold: Herring in the Northern Imagination

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It’s been food season for the last 2 months at the British Library and sweeping through the Nordic collections with a gastronomic lens, there is of course only one thing on the menu: herring. The herring has formed the backbone of societies over the ages and, as Jonathan Meades says in his jaunt across the Baltic coast of continental Europe, Magnetic North, the herring’s own backbone has formed an even more literal foundation:

When excavations are made in Flanders for roads and railways, the bones of men slaughtered in the First World War constitute the first stratum that the diggers encounter. Further down are multitudinous herring skeletons. The people of Arras ate between two and three million herrings per year. That’s two to three hundred per every person.

From the material ubiquity of herring springs the idea or symbol of herring; it is not only the most important driver of socio-historical and political in the story of Northern Europe but it also stands for the cultural identity of the North.

Clupea Harengus - Skandinaviens Fiskar
The Herring — Clupea Harengus — in Bengt Fredrik Fries et al. A History of Scandinavian Fishes vol. 2 (Stockholm, 1895), J/7290.k.29
.

Herring has really always been fished, well, ‘since the Mesolithic era but commercial fisheries for these species developed only in the Middle Ages’ (Holm, p. 19). Its abundance in the marine area stretching from the Baltic across the North Sea and to the Atlantic around Iceland made it a vital commodity traded and controlled by various powers across the centuries. Abundance may be an understatement if we take Saxo Grammaticus’s words at face value in the Gesta Danorum, first written around 1204. Writing of the sound between Zealand and Scania, he notes: ‘the whole sound contains such plentiful shoals that sometimes boats striking them have difficulty in rowing clear and no fishing-gear but the hands is needed to take them.’ In fact, one possible etymological root for the word herring is from the Germanic Heer (army, troops) but the etymology of the common name for Clupea harengus is full of red herr
 I won’t go there.

Olaus Magnus 152.e.9.
Herring-fishing in Scania, woodcut from Olaus Magnus, Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus, (Rome, 1555) 152.e.9.

It goes without saying then that with such a central presence in Northern life the herring is equally abundant in the Northern literary and artistic imagination. A scan of the British Library catalogue reveals a huge number of historical surveys, reports on methods of preservation, regional studies of the impact of fishing, but also such oddities (or not) as an announcement in 1785 by the Swedish Academy pertaining to, in the gloss provided by the BL’s Scandinavian Short-Title Catalogue of works published before 1801, ‘roof slates and herring fisheries’ (British Library, Ac.1070/20), or even the very recent (anti-)comic book by Antti and Esa Hakala, Sven’s Herring, or their graphic novel Lord of Herrings (2017).

Hakala combined
Exhaustive and exhausting jokes about herring in Anti and Esa Hakala, Sven’s Herring ([Great Britain], 2014) YKL.2016.b.5527

Douglas S. Murray’s comprehensive Herring Tales: how the silver darlings shaped human taste and history (London, 2015; DRT ELD.DS.80434) points us in the direction of a museum on the topic, “one of the finest of its kind”, namely the Herring Era Museum in SiglufjörĂ°ur on the Northern coast of Iceland, once the bustling centre of herring fishing and processing in the country, the ‘Atlantic Klondike’ of the early 20th century. Murray sees in this unique museum a reminder of “the fact that without herring, Iceland – like so many other places on the edge of Norway, Scotland and elsewhere – would not have possessed a modern society.” The museum itself is fully aware of the historical, literary, artistic, film and musical impact of herring, listing numerous sources that show the expanse of work that sparkles herring-silver.

Gunnlaugur Blöndal - The Herring Worker
The lyrical beauty of ‘Icelandic gold’ in paintings by Gunnlaugur Blöndal. Above: ‘The Herring Worker’ (1934); below: â€˜Herring Packers’ (1935-1940), reproduced in Gunnlaugur Blöndal (Reykjavik, 1963), Cup.20.w.13

Gunnlaugur Blöndal - Herring Packers

A three-volume history of herring in Iceland, Silfur hafsins: gull Äșslands: sĂ­ldarsaga Äșslendiga (‘Silver of the sea: Iceland’s gold: the history of herring in Iceland’; Reykjavik, 2007; YF.2014.b.1514) has appeared in the last decade, adorned with epigraphs by the great Nobel Prize winner and herring champion HalldĂłr Laxness. All three epigraphs are from Laxness’s 1972 GuĂ°sgjafaĂŸula (Reykjavik, 1972; X.989/30910.), which loosely translates as ‘The Song of God’s Gifts’—the book has not been translated into English. “God’s gifts” is another euphemism for the now not-so-humble herring and Laxness does not shy away from elevating them to an object of the aesthetic sublime:

‘NorĂ°urlandssĂ­ldin er aĂ°alborin skepna bĂŠĂ°i aĂ° fegurĂ° og vitsmunum, kanski ĂŸaĂ° dĂĄsamlegasta sem guĂ° hefur skapaĂ°.’
[The Scandinavian herring is a creature noble-born to beauty and wisdom, perhaps the most wonderful thing God has created]

And,

‘
 ĂŸĂĄ munu margir men tala aĂ° ĂŸessi fagri fiskur hafi veriĂ° sannkölluĂ° dĂœrĂ°argjöf, jĂĄ ein sĂș mesta sem himnafaĂ°irinn hefur gefiĂ° ĂŸessari ĂŸjóð.’
[
 then many will say that this beautiful fish has been the true glory, yes, one of the greatest things the Heavenly Father has given this nation.]

GuĂ°sgjafaĂŸula, about the fate of a fishing community who have entrusted their lot to a brilliant herring speculator, took as its source material the first history of herring in Iceland written by MatthĂ­as Þórdarson from MĂłar in 1934. The latter was the great-grandfather of contemporary Icelandic great, SjĂłn, who in turn used his ancestor as a model for the protagonist of the novel ArgĂłarflĂ­sin (‘The Whispering Muse’; Reykjavik, 2005;YF.2007.a.24658). In SjĂłn’s novel we are introduced to Valdimar Haraldsson, who in 1933 published Memoirs of a Herring Inspector, immediately evoking Laxness and Þórdarson before him. One of Haraldsson’s early articles from his journal Fisk og Kultur, to which he refers at length at the beginning, espouses the link between fish consumption and Nordic racial superiority:

It is our belief that the Nordic race, which has fished off the maritime coast for countless generations and thus enjoyed a staple diet of seafood, owes its physical and intellectual prowess above all to this type of nutrition, and that the Nordic race is for this reason superior in vigour and attainments to other races that have not enjoyed such ease of access to the riches of the ocean.

The triumphal racialist rhetoric is antiquated and self-undermining in the context of the novel but the year of publication of Haraldsson’s memoirs is not lost on the reader. God’s gifts make for a chosen people it seems. At the same time, the maritime Nordic people is deliberately drawn in stark contrast to the ‘blood and soil’ rhetoric of continental fascism. SjĂłn’s novel is not the only place where fish and racial politics are brought into conversation. For the other notable example, we need to travel back to the Baltic and the shores of Danzig as imagined and lived by GĂŒnter Grass. But that is for another post


Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator, Germanic Collections

References and further reading:

Saxo Grammaticus, The History of the Danes (vol. 1) [translated from the Latin by Peter Fisher] (Cambridge; New Jersey, 1979) X.800/28439

 HalldĂłr Laxness, BrekkukotsannĂĄll (Reykavik, 1957/1973) X.909/37610. (English translation by Magnus Magnusson, The Fish can Sing (London, 2000) H.2000/2872)

SjĂłn, The Whispering Muse [translated by Victoria Cribb] (London, 2012) H.2013/.5955

James H. Barrett and David C. Orton (eds.), Cod and Herring: The archaeology and history of medieval seas fishing (Oxford; Philadelphia, 2016), YC.2017.b.2914; especially the essay by Paul Holm, â€˜Commercial Sea Fisheries in the Baltic Region c. AD 1000-1600’ 

 

20 March 2018

Hygge, noir or both? The Films of Carl Theodor Dreyer

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With the current enthusiasm for all things Danish, from the cult of hygge to crime dramas, it is fitting, on the 50th anniversary of his death, to examine the legacy of Denmark’s greatest contributor to the history of cinema, Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889-1968).

Photograph of Carl Theodor Dreyer
Portrait of Dreyer directing in 1931, from Ebbe Neergaard, En filminstruktĂžrs arbejde. Carl Th. Dreyer og hans ti filmer (Copenhagen, 1940) 11796.bb.43

Certainly, judging by the subjects of his films and the events of his own life, it would be difficult to regard Dreyer as a typical representative of ‘Europe’s happiest nation’. He was, in fact, only half Danish; his mother, Josefine Bernhardine Nilsson, was a servant on a farm in Sweden where she was seduced by her Danish employer Jens Christian Torp – a situation familiar to readers of Martin Andersen Nexþ’s novel Pelle Erobreren (Copenhagen, 1906-10; 12581.r.18.). Torp was already married, and when Josefine died he placed their illegitimate son in an orphanage. At the age of two the little boy was adopted by a typographer named Carl Theodor Dreyer, and his wife, Inger Marie, who gave him a home and a name but little in the way of emotional warmth or security. When he was 16 he broke away from his adoptive parents, but their lasting influence is evident in the ideology which underpins many of his films, set in a Denmark where religious conservatism prevails and failure to conform can have fatal consequences.

At the time when Dreyer made the transition from journalism to film, the Danish silent cinema was in its early stages, and even during his mature career as a director he lacked the support of a well-established national film industry. This apparent disadvantage, in fact, accorded well with Dreyer’s preference for solitude and independence at all costs. In his biography En filminstruktþrs arbejde, Ebbe Neergaard describes the moment when the young Dreyer, visiting the vaults of the Great Northern Telegraph Company in the company of an elderly accountant who proudly pointed to his life’s work – a collection of musty files – recoiled in horror from the prospect of a similar fate and promptly resigned his post to strike out alone.

Throughout his life Dreyer was outspoken in his criticism of mass-production film-making, and his insistence on the integrity of the individual, no matter what the outcome, runs through his work. He began in a small way, writing film scripts for Nordisk Film (1913-19). Although he later called this period ‘a marvellous school’, it coincided with the decline of Danish film during the First World War, where, although neutral, Denmark lost many of its foreign markets and Nordisk’s German theatre chain was bought up by Ufa in 1917. Dreyer then left Denmark to work in the French film industry; while living in France he met Jean Cocteau and other members of the French artistic scene and in 1928 he made his first classic film, The Passion of Joan of Arc. This, like his next effort, Vampyr (1932), privately funded by Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg who also played the hero, was a commercial failure. Both were subsequently recognized as masterpieces of emotional realism and surreal expressionism, but Dreyer was deterred from making any more films until 1943, when he directed one of his greatest works, Day of Wrath. Denmark was by now under German occupation, and this story of the persecution of alleged witches in a remote Danish village stands as a metaphor for the climate suspicion and oppression which flourished in those days.

Cover of  'En filminstruktĂžrs arbejde' with a montage of stills from the film 'The Passion of Joan of Arc'
Montage of images from The Passion of Joan of Arc reproduced on the cover of  En filminstruktĂžrs arbejde

Many of Dreyer’s films are set in small, tightly-knit communities in rural districts. However, they do not portray an idealised world of neighbourly cosiness but demonstrate how an apparently secure web of relationships can become a trap. In Master of the House (1925), he depicts a tyrannical father’s hold over his family and its eventual subversion; on a wider scale, The Word (1955) shows the stranglehold of religious bigotry over the lives of villagers, with a strict father forbidding his daughter to marry out of their sect and a young man transformed into an eccentric ‘holy fool’ by excessive theological study. Yet there remains hope, even though in this case it requires the death of his sister-in-law Inger in childbirth to bring about the miracle which eventually transcends and dissolves the artificial boundaries which constrict their lives.

Series of stills from the birdcage scene in the film 'Master of the House'
‘The degeneration of family life’: the birdcage scene from Master of the House; pictures from En filminstruktĂžrs arbejde

David Bordwell’s The Films of Carl-Theodor Dreyer (Berkeley, California, 1981; L.42/1194) provides a masterly study of the cinematic techniques which Dreyer employed throughout his career, culminating in his last film, Gertrud (1964). He analyses not only Dreyer’s use of the camera but his choice of plays and stories to adapt in exploration of spiritual conflict, social pressure to conform and the fate of those who defy it, and the concepts of sin and transgression (though Dreyer later disowned Two People (1945), based on a crime story and directed while he was living in exile from the Nazis in Sweden). But in his choice of Kaj Munk’s play Ordet as the source for The Word, he made common cause with a figure whose defiance of a corrupt regime, like Joan of Arc’s, cost him his life. Unsparing in his condemnation of moral compromise and hypocrisy alike, Dreyer invites his audience to explore the borderlands of the natural and the supernatural, earthly and spiritual, and to think for themselves in drawing their own conclusions.

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

Further Reading

Carl Theodor Dreyer, Fire film ... Jeanne d'Arc, Vampyr, Vredens Dag, Ordet. Udgivet med indledning af Ole Storm. (Copenhagen, 1964) X.900/560. (English translation: Four Screenplays (London, 1970) X.981/1902.)

Carl Theodor Dreyer, Om filmen. Artikler og interviews. Udgivet af Erik Ulrichsen (Copenhagen, 1964) X.908/793. (English translation: Dreyer in double reflection ed. by Donald Skoller (New York, 1973) 75/22116

Claude Perrin, Carl Th. Dreyer ... points de vue, documents, filmographie, bibliographie, chronologie, 50 illustrations (Paris, [1969])

Tom Milne, The cinema of Carl Dreyer (New York, 1971) X.900/6387.  

Maurice Drouzy, Carl Th. Dreyer, né Nilsson (Paris, 1982) X.950/26307

Edvin Kau, Dreyers filmkunst (Copenhagen, 1989). YA.1991.b.411