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22 July 2021

Ten Years on from 22 July: The Cultural Imperative to Remember

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Like other contemporary acts of terror, the traumatic events that befell Norway on 22 July 2011 are commonly referred to in Norway by their date alone. As we approach the tenth anniversary of that day public, cultural, and scholarly reflections continue to abound, a decade’s distance precipitating not just further responses to the awful act but also reflections on the responses themselves. The purpose of this post is not to describe or focus on the traumatic events of 22 July 2011 but to attempt an overview of these responses, with an expanded list of references, and discuss how the cultural memorial process has developed.

Two publications recently acquired by the British Library go some way towards anthologising the artistic and literary responses that have figured in the shaping of the cultural memory, a concept which Astrid Erll defines broadly as ‘the interplay of present and past in socio-cultural contexts’. The compilation of attempts to come to terms with 22 July captures the multiplicity, the plenitude, and the unending nature of memorialisation, or what Erll simply calls ‘different modes of remembering identical past events’. Norway’s official memorial processes and their inevitable complication, or sometimes rejection, are testament to the tensions between individual and collective memory, between progressive and tragic memory narratives, and between symbolic expressions and the urge to return to the raw facts.

Cover of Ingvild Folkvord’s Stemmene etter 22. Juli

Cover of Stemmene etter 22. Juli (‘Voices after 22 July’) by Ingvild Folkvord

Bearbeidelser: 22. Juli I ord og bilder (edited by Anne Gjelsvik), where ’bearbeidelser’ might be translated as ‘processings’ or ‘comings to term with’, includes responses to the tragedy by writers such as Vigdis Hjorth and Karl Ove Knausgård alongside analysis of these contributions by academics. Ingvild Folkvord’s Stemmene etter 22. Juli (‘Voices after 22 July’) again looks at the responses to the event through ‘voices’, whether in poetry, on the radio, social media, or the courtroom. They build on and contextualise earlier anthologies such as Respons 22/7, which brought together immediate reflections in 2011. These are books ‘about and with artistic attempts to come to terms’ (Gjelsvik), embodying the idea that memories of collective trauma necessitate a simultaneous interrogation of memorialising, as society is anxious to do justice to the victims and to perfect a process to ‘never forget’.

That process began in the immediate aftermath of the attacks as thousands gathered outside Oslo Cathedral with flowers and candles, the ‘blomsterhavet’ (sea of flowers). This spontaneous manifestation of mourning and defiant collectivity developed into more such acts like the ‘rose marches’ on the mainland near Utøya, all of which were embraced and encouraged early on by officials tasked with developing a memorial process. Five months after the attacks, the Norwegian government announced that two national memorial sites would be created in Oslo and in Hole near Utøya, a process led by KORO (the body responsible for the ‘production, collection management and public-engagement activities relating to art in public buildings and other public settings’. Memorial sites have emerged over the decade, none more famous and divisive than Jonas Dahlberg’s Memory Wound, the winner of the main memorial competition. Dahlberg set out to cut through the Sørbråten peninsula creating a new inaccessible island, on which the names of the victims could be carved, visible from the headland but unreachable. The project met with huge resistance from the local community leading to its eventual abandonment. The fate of this and other memorial sites are detailed by the 22 July Centre, part of the research project ‘July 22 and the Negotiation of Memory’ based at Norwegian University of Science and Technology, focusing on the ‘cultural afterlife of the terror attacks’. Their websites are an excellent source of information on all the memorial initiatives that exist and continue to be inspired, including the programme for this year’s anniversary.

Photograph of the Lysning memorial

Lysning (The Clearing)

In different ways, two of the more universally appreciated memorials focus on the specific event, the ‘reality of suffering’, rather than the aesthetic of an ‘epic symbol’ of trauma, as critic Kjetil Røed says of Memory Wound. Lysning (The Clearing), designed by architects 3RW, is a large, raised metal ring featuring the names of the victims, positioned in a contemplative, private spot on Utøya. Ahmad Ghossein’s Relocating the Past resurrects on the opposite side of the street a newspaper display panel smashed by the bomb in the first attack at Oslo’s government quarter, with copies of newspapers published on 22 July 2011. Both are quiet, powerful and harrowing, one an almost spiritual memorial to the victims, the other integrating catastrophe into the banal and everyday. Both take you to 22 July 2011.

Newspaper Display Panel 22 July

Relocating the Past memorial

Undoubtedly ‘different modes of remembering’ in approaches to public memorials also play out in what is referred to as the sub-genre of ‘22 July literature’. A best-selling example of the sobre, detailed, journalistic recapitulation of events is Åsne Seierstad’s En av oss (One of Us). Seierstad states that, ‘Everything in this book is based on testimony. All the scenes are constructed according to witnesses’ accounts.’ The account plots the history of several victims against the perpetrator’s own before precisely detailing the events of 22 July, the aftermath and the trial. Seierstad comprehensively rejects any suggestion that the perpetrator was ‘one of us’, a product of Norwegian society like the victims themselves: ‘This is also a book about looking for a way to belong and not finding it. The perpetrator ultimately decided to opt out of the community and strike at it in the most brutal of ways’.

En av Oss has been challenged for that rejection, ruling out as it does the idea that something fundamental within Norwegian politics and society gave rise to the attacks, or even that they were ideologically motivated rather than the aberration of a pathological character. Books such as Sindre Bangstad’s Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia argue ‘not that Norway is a society that is exceptionally racist, but rather that Norway should be seen as unexceptional in this respect, and therefore as confronting the same challenges regarding racism, intolerance and discrimination as other western European societies in the modern era’. Given the success of the right-wing Progress Party in the first elections after 22 July 2011, commentators point to the attacks being an extreme manifestation of the negative views of social democracy, women’s rights, migrants and Islam that ‘have gained popularity and become increasingly mainstream’ (Rees).

En-av-oss

Cover of En av Oss by Åsne Seierstad 

Seierstad’s objective is however to centre the event and to platform victim testimonies. As Karl Ove Knausgård writes in his positive review, ‘that day becomes something concrete, not a phenomenon, not an affair, not an argument in a political discussion but a dead body bent over a stone at the water’s edge. And, once again, I cry. Because that body has a name, he was a boy, he was called Simon. He had two parents and a little brother. They will mourn him for the rest of their lives’. Knausgård’s conclusion marks the difference between a cultural memorial process and socio-cultural analysis, both of which are surely necessary in the national process of coming to terms.

Centring victim perspectives and supporting survivors has been the approach of film responses to the event. Two films were released in 2018: Paul Greengrass’s July 22, based on Seierstad’s book, and Erik Poppe’s Utøya: Juli 22. While the first decided to feature the perpetrator, Poppe’s film is a near-single-shot of events solely through the eyes of those attacked. In 2020 six-part TV drama 22 Juli brought journalists, police and medical professionals into the picture. Perhaps the most well-received film project has been Reconstructing Utøya, in which ‘four of the survivors relive their painful memories, convinced of the importance of remembering’. They are joined by twelve young Norwegians and a psychologist in an empty monochrome film studio, as the trauma of 22 July is reconstructed, processed and documented on screen without any frills. Of course, these films are insertions into the national mourning narrative but, especially in the case of Reconstructing Utøya, they remind us of the very real and specific trauma of the survivors. As the recent outputs from a long-running research project at the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies show, many survivors struggle with post-traumatic stress a decade on.

The focus on testimony and fidelity to the events and experiences is one way of doing justice to the victims and of processing the trauma. It runs the risk, as indicated above, of evading analysis of the political and ideological threads that also need to form part of that processing. The focus also risks doubling down on trauma so that the victims become victims again and again. Lastly, it might also narrow the possibilities of working through trauma, something creative fiction might work against. Jan Kjaerstad’s Berge (2017) is on the face of it about a murder case from 2008 but it is considered firmly a part of 22 July literature, arguably acting as a ‘literary experiment capable of “opening up” the public debate on what happened on and after 22 July’ (Folkvord and Warberg). Likewise, Vigdis Hjorth’s Leve posthornet focuses on events prior to 22 July, yet its references to it are unmistakable. The selection of ‘22 July literature’ listed below includes texts that show how creative approaches, narratives that allow themselves to go beyond the events or to spin off them obliquely, complicate the official cultural memory process, with its progressive national ‘vi-et’ (we-one) narrative and its potential towards ‘national innocence’.

This blog is only a selective overview of the cultural memory of 22 July, which will continue to build and reshape itself as years pass. Official memorial sites, journalistic, forensic accounts of the events, trauma narratives, and creative fiction are all necessary layers of a necessarily complicated collective and individual process. Any single approach is insufficient in itself, requiring the ecosystem of conflicting interpretations to reflect the full picture. And yet always ‘det er noe som mangler’ (there is something missing), as Kjaerstad writes in Menneskets vidde. And the sheer loss brought on Norway on 22 July resonates through the loss, the lack at the heart of those attempts to come to terms. There is always something missing.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections 

Further reading:

The sources below represent a selection of material available online or in the British Library’s collections.

Official

NOU 2012: 14, Rapport fra 22. juli-kommisjonen [Government Report from 22 July Commission], published 13 August 2012, in Norwegian

Research Projects

‘July 22 and the Negotiation of Memory’

July 22 Centre 

Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies (NKVTS), ‘The terror attack: Experience and reactions among Utøya survivors’

‘22 July Literature’

Tiril Broch Aakre, Redd barna (Oslo, 2015), awaiting shelfmark.

Gunstein Bakke and Eirik Ingebrigtsen (eds.), Respons 22/7 (Oslo, 2011), YF.2013.a.50.

Sindre Bangstad, Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia (London, 2014), ELD.DS.142586.

Brit Bildøen, Sju dagar i august (Oslo, 2014), YF.2018.a.14963.

Aage Storm Borchgrevink, En norsk tragedie: Anders Behring Breivik og veiene til Utøya (Oslo, 2012), YF.2013.a.10433, English translation by Guy Puzey, A Norwegian Tragedy: Anders Behring Breivik and the massacre on Utøya (Cambridge, 2013), SPIS364.152354092

Tomas Espedal, Bergeners (Oslo, 2013), YF.2014.a.12373

Eivind Hofstad Evjemo, Velkommen til oss (Oslo, 2014), awaiting shelfmark.

Ingvild Folkvord, Stemmene etter 22. Juli (Oslo, 2020), awaiting shelfmark.

Anne Gjelsvik (ed.), Bearbeidelser: 22. juli i ord og bilder (Oslo, 2020), awaiting shelfmark.

Cato Hemmingby, The dynamics of a terrorist targeting process (Basingstoke, 2015), ELD.DS.40121 .

Jan Kjaerstad, Menneskets vidde: essays, artikler, tekster (Oslo, 2013), YF.2014.a.2273.
--, Berge (Oslo, 2017), awaiting shelfmark.

Geir Lippestad (with Jon Gangdal), Det vi kan stå for (Oslo, 2013), YF.2013.a.17579. Reflections from the lawyer who represented the perpetrator.

Åsne Seierstad, En av oss: En fortelling om Norge (Oslo, 2013) YF.2014.a.15979 English translation by Sarah Death, One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway (London, 2014) ELD.DS.12045.

Kjetil Stormark, Da terroren rammet Norge. 189 minutter som rystet verden (Oslo, 2011), YF.2013.a.55.

Henrik Syse (ed.), Norge etter 22. Juli. Forhandlinger om verdier, identiteter og et motstandsdyktig samfunn (Oslo, 2018), Open Access

Unni Turettini, The mystery of the lone wolf killer: Anders Bering Breivik and the threat of terror in plain sight (New York, 2015), YC.2017.a.2138.

Mattis Øybø, Elskere (Oslo, 2016), YF.2018.a.3462.

Articles and Essays

Dorthe Refslund Christensen and Kjetil Sandvik, ‘Death in Times of Secularization and Sacralization: The Mediating and Re-Mediating of the Utøya Tragedy in the Norwegian Public Sphere’, in ibid. (eds.), Mediating and Remediating Death (London, 2016), ELD.DS.62556.

Cora Alexa Døving, ‘Homeland Ritualized. An Analysis of Written Messages Placed at Temporary Memorials after the Terrorist Attacks on 22 July 2011 in Norway’, Mortality, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 231-246.

Ingvild Folkvord and Silje Warberg, ‘Jan Kjærstads roman Berge. En åpning av den offentlige samtalen om terrorangrepene 22. juli 2011?’, Edda, vol. 106 (2019).

I Hjorth and L Gjermshusengen, ‘Et minne i bevegelse’, Tidsskrift for Kulturforskning (2) (2018). 

I Hjorth, ‘Hvorfor minnesteder? En undersøkelse av den minnepolitiske håndteringen av 22.juli-terroren’, Nordisk kulturpolitisk tidsskrift, vol. 21 (2018).

I Hjorth, ‘Memory Wound: Minnested mellom virkelighet og virtualitet’, Norsk medietidsskrift, vol. 26 (2019), https://www.idunn.no/nmt/2019/03/memory_wound

Knausgård, Karl Ove, ‘The Inexplicable: Inside the mind of a mass killer’, New Yorker, May 25, 2015. 

Unni Langås, ‘“22. Juli” Litterære konstruksjoner av et nasjonalt traume’, European Journal of Scandinavian Studies, vol. 46, no. 1, 2016, pp. 81-101. 

Ellen Rees, ‘Åsne Seierstad’s En av oss: Perpetrator and Victim in the Construction of National Innocence’, Scandinavian Studies, Vol. 90, No. 1 (Spring 2018), pp. 1-22.

James E. Young, ‘Utøya and Norway’s July 22 Memorial Process: The Memory of Political Terror’, in The Stages of Memory: Reflections on Memorial Art, Loss, and the Spaces Between (Amherst, MA, 2016), YC.2017.a.192.

Cultural Memory

Astrid Erll and Ansgar Nünning (eds.) with Sara B. Young, Cultural Memory Studies: An International and Interdisciplinary Handbook (Berlin, New York, 2008), 5525.239250 no.8

 

09 July 2021

Euro 2020: Orange Madness

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On Saturday 26 June the Dutch dream of winning the Euro 2020 tournament ended. The Orange team lost 2-0 against the Czech Republic. Coach Frank de Boer was promptly sacked, for not having reached the last 16.

It wasn’t the first time that the Czechs had trounced the Netherlands. On 19 June 2004 the Dutch lost to them by 3-2; having been in the lead by 2-0. I remember it well. I watched the game at The Hems, the ‘Dutch’ pub in Soho, together with a friend from Moscow who seemed more hacked-off about it than I was.

Perhaps he had better understood what had actually happened. Read Maarten Moll’s ‘De Wissel’ in Wat Een Goal! and you’ll understand.

First page of ‘De Wissel’. In: Maarten Moll, Wat een goal!

19 juni 2004 Nederland-Tsjechie (EK) ‘De Wissel’. In: Maarten Moll, Wat een goal! Een kleine canon van het moderne voetbal (Amsterdam, 2012) YF.2013.a.294.

How different things were back in 1988, when Rinus Michels led the Orange team to a 2-0 victory in the Euros against Russia. Part of that winning team was Johan Cruijff, who took the concept of ‘total football’ to a whole new level. More on him in my blog from 2014.

However, for many the more important victory had been in the semi-final against Germany. It avenged the traumatic defeat of 1974. What followed on that night was the first show of what is now known as ‘Orange Madness’. The usually calm, down-to-earth and level-headed Dutch erupted in an exuberant mass: everywhere people took to the streets, singing and dancing and waving orange flags.

Euro 1988 was the first time an outburst of nationalist pride in sport on such a scale took place. They decorated their houses and streets with orange flags, bunting, balloons, inflatable dugouts, you name it. They dressed in orange clothes with all sorts of orange head gear, and the like, turning stadiums orange with their presence.

Ad Rooms, in De Jaren 80 writes that during the Dutch team’s celebratory boat tour along the canals of Amsterdam house boats were sunk by crowds dancing on top of them.

People celebrating Dutch victory on 25 June 1988

People celebrating Dutch victory on 25 June 1988. In: Ad Rooms, De Jaren 80: doemdenkers en positivo’s. (Zwolle, 2017) YF.2018.b.692

Jan Mulder comments with great irony on the phenomenon in his column ‘Oranjegekte’ published in De analyticus.

Front cover of Jan Mulder, De Analyticus
 
Front cover of Jan Mulder, De Analyticus, (Amsterdam, 2010). YF.2011.a.10604.

Jeanet Kullberg did research on ‘Orange madness’: which groups within Dutch society engage in it, in what neighbourhoods, and (most importantly) why? She shows that ‘Orange madness’ is a complicated phenomenon - mainly exercised by people in lower-income areas, as a way to express an identity and to celebrate together. Her article ‘Met voetbal kan het wel, normal kijk je de buren niet aan’, loosely translated as: ‘When there’s football it’s ok – outside that we don’t talk to our neighbours’, published in the journal Amsterdams Sociologisch Tijdschrift of May 2001 makes for fascinating reading.

If Euro 2020 has whetted your appetite to know more, do come to the British Library and delve into our rich collections on football.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

 

Further reading:

Nicholas Piercey, Four histories about early Dutch football, 1910-1920: constructing discourses (London, 2016). ELD.DS.488972. Available free online via Directory of Open Access Books 

David Winner, Brilliant orange: the neurotic genius of Dutch football (London, 2000). YK.2000.a.10395

Maarten Meijer, Louis van Gaal: the biography (London, 2014) ELD.DS.180919

Hugo Borst, O, Louis: in search of Louis van Gaal (London, 2014) YK.2015.a.4621

Dennis Bergkamp with David Winner, Stillness and speed: my story (London, 2013). YK.2014.a.13494

Dennis Bergkamp’s career in football. Archived BBC Sport webpage 

 

More European Studies blogs about Euro 2020:

Euro 2020: What to Read (Part I)

Euro 2020: What to Read (Part II)

The mystery link between The Brass Bottle and Soviet football revealed

25 June 2021

Euro 2020: What to Read (Part I)

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With Euro 2020 in full swing, we've come up with a few football-related titles from the collections. First up, the Nordic teams and Germany... 

There were initially three teams represented in the Euros from the Nordic region, Denmark, Finland and Sweden (only Denmark and Sweden have made it through to the last-16). Denmark’s game with Finland was marred by Christian Eriksen’s awful cardiac arrest and the Nordic teams – and every other team – have continued to show their support for his recovery above anything else.

A few avenues for Nordic football exploration… Of course, Denmark won the 1992 Euros courtesy of the disputably greatest ever Nordic footballer, Michael Laudrup. That championship-winning experience was made into the film Sommeren ’92. You can read about the legendary but alas trophy-less Danish team of the mid-eighties, the pre-Laudrup era, in Rob Smyth’s Danish dynamite: the story of football's greatest cult team.

Cover of Rob Smyth’s Danish dynamite

Cover of Rob Smyth’s Danish dynamite: the story of football's greatest cult team (London; New York, 2014) ELD.DS.73176

Running Laudrup close in the GOAT-stakes has to be Zlatan Ibrahimović, who’s known universally by his forename alone and for his highly entertaining talent for self-promotion, hence the recent book I am Football (YKL.2019.b.3638). Readers would be wise to go to Zlatan’s autobiography I am Zlatan Ibrahimović (ELD.DS.185859), which gives insight into the challenging upbringing of a second-generation migrant in Malmö. Zlatan unfortunately cannot play this tournament but his understudy, Alexander Isak, raised the literary stakes when he recently revealed a love of reading stoic philosophy, which surely rubbed off on the team in their first gritty outing against Spain.

Cover of I am Zlatan Ibrahimović with a photograph of the footballer

Zlatan’s autobiography I am Zlatan Ibrahimović translated by Ruth Urbom (London, 2013) ELD.DS.185859

The biggest surprise had to be Finland’s first-time qualification for the Euros. They no doubt channelled their famous pessimism to manage their expectations at the tournament, as The Guardian’s run-down of potential exclamations from Finnish fans implies: “Hävittiin kenelle pitikin”, meaning “We lost against a team we expected to lose against”. Literature around Finnish football is a little harder to come by at the library. Manager Markku Kanerva did however win the annual “Markku of the Year” award in 2009 and the BL is a lot stronger in collections by other worthy Markkus, if environmental economics is your thing.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections 

 

Masthead of Jedermann sein eigner Fussball with a photomontage of a human-football hybrid

Masthead of Jedermann sein eigener Fussball: illustrierte Halbmonatsschrift No. 1, 15 February 1919 (the only issue published) P.P.4736.hmd.

Apparently football-related titles in German literature may not always be what they seem. The short-lived magazine Jedermann sein eigenes Fussball (‘Every man his own football’) has nothing to do with the beautiful game. Its surreal title and accompanying vignette of a human-football hybrid are expressions of the Dada movement of the early 20th century. Likewise Peter Handke’s short novel Der Angst des Tormanns vor dem Elfmeter (The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick) relates only tangentially to football. The protagonist is a former goalkeeper, but this has little bearing on the story, and the title is a briefly-referenced metaphor for the way he reacts to events rather than initiating them.

Cover of Fussball literarisch with an illustration of a foot kicking a ball

Cover of Karl Riha (ed.), Fussball literarisch, oder, Der Ball spielt mit dem Menschen: Erzählungen, Texte, Gedichte, Lieder, Bilder (Frankfurt am Main, 1982) X.958/16256

However, Handke’s short poem ‘Die Aufstellung des 1. FC Nürnberg vom 27.1.1968’ is firmly football focused, consisting entirely of the eponymous line-up (in 5-3-2 formation) of FC Nürnberg for a game against Bayer Leverkusen. This is one of the pieces collected in the anthology Fussball literarisch, which brings together poems, songs, stories, playlets and pictures. Most of the authors are clearly fans, and some, such as Eckhard Henscheid, Ror Wolf and Ludwig Harig, are or were well known for their love of the game and their writing about it. Henschied is a member of Germany’s ‘Academy for Football Culture’, a body that encourages the recognition of football as a ‘cultural and social phenomenon’. This shows how seriously the Germans take their football, as does the existence of their National Writers’ Team, whose members have produced two other footballing anthologies, Titelkampf and Fußball ist unser Lieben.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections 

Peter Handke, Der Angst des Tormanns vor dem Elfmeter (Frankfurt am Main, 1970) X.907/11653. English translation by Michael Roloff, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (London, 1977) Nov.34737

Titelkampf: Fussballgeschichten der deutschen Autorennationalmannschaft, herausgegeben von Ralf Bönt, Albert Ostermaier und Moritz Rinke (Frankfurt am Main, 2008) YF.2009.a.21279

Fussball ist unser Lieben: neue Geschichten der deutschen Autorennationalmannschaft, herausgegeben von Norbert Kron, Albert Ostermaier und Klaus Cäsar Zehrer (Frankfurt am Main, 2011) YF.2011.a.13451

 

More European Studies blog posts about Euro 2020:

Euro 2020: What to Read (Part II)

The mystery link between The Brass Bottle and Soviet football revealed

Euro 2020: Orange Madness

19 April 2021

Two women, a lawyer and a book chest

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Today, 19 April, is the anniversary of the death of Maria van Reigersberch, or Reigersbergen the wife of Hugo de Groot a.k.a. Grotius. Her husband is well known for his legal writings in which he launched the idea of the freedom of the seas and international law. Grotius is credited with stating that rights are not just connected to objects, but also to people, although that doesn’t make him a human rights activist in the modern sense: his work is very much aimed at the advancement of the interests of the Dutch Republic.

Portrait of Maria van Reigersbergen

Maria van Reigersbergen by a painter from the circle of Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt. Source: Wikipedia.

Grotius had made his career in the service of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt the most powerful man in the Republic, who got himself in trouble with the Stadholder Maurits. It cost him his head and he dragged Grotius down with him. Grotius was actually lucky to escape with his life, but he was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Castle Loevenstein.

Maria van Reigersberch campaigned hard to obtain better living conditions for her husband and permission to join him at the castle, together with their maid Elselina (Elsje) van Houwening. The women were allowed to join Grotius. Big mistake!

Maria negotiated with the authorities to have books brought to Hugo, so he could continue his studies and work. The books were delivered in a large trunk and I can just imagine Maria looking at that trunk and thinking: ‘Trojan Horse in reverse!’

Portrait of Hugo de Groot

Hugo de Groot, by Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt (1631) Source: Wikimedia 

Portrait of a woman presumed to be Elselina van Houwingen

Portrait of a woman presumed to be Elselina van Houwingen (anonymous, 1656). Source: Houweningen, Elselina van (?-1681) (knaw.nl)

They prepared their plan very well. Maria made Hugo lie in the chest very still for up to two hours for several evenings. Then on 22 March 1621 Hugo climbed in the chest, Maria made up the bed with his clothes and put his slippers in front of the bed to make it look like he was asleep. She sent the trunk off, out of the castle. Elselina went with it and watched over it fiercely.

Maria stayed behind in prison. She was eventually released and joined Hugo in Paris. He was never allowed to return to his home country and Maria returned there only to die.

Hugo was also a rather accomplished poet and he wrote a poem in thanks to his wife: Silva Ad Franciscum Augustum Thuanum (Paris, 1621; 11405.i.18.(13.)). 

The story of this audacious escape has been written about in books, poems, and plays over the centuries. The first to record it was Gerard Brandt, who actually spoke to Elselina herself, so it is a first-hand account. Brandt’s son Caspar compiled his father’s notes and published them as Historie van het leven des Heeren Huig de Groot, beschreven tot den aanvang van zyn gezantschap ... aan’t hof van Vrankryk (Dordrecht/Amsterdam,1727; 10760.g.12.). 

Brandt’s notes show how Elselina looked after the chest with its precious contents with great dedication. The chest was of course heavy and the soldiers carrying it noticed that and suggested De Groot must be in it. To see if that were true they wanted to drill a hole right through the chest. She replied that they needed a drill as long as the way to his rooms in the castle. Then the captain of the ship that would take them to Gorinchem wanted to put down a rickety plank over which the soldiers had to carry the chest. She was having none of it, saying that the chest could easily fall in the water and then ‘all the books would be spoiled. They were fine books that had been borrowed, so had to be returned in good order.’ I think she missed her vocation as a librarian. A sturdier plank was duly supplied.

Elselina van Houwening survived Hugo and Maria by decades. She died in March 1681 and was buried on the 8th of March, only a few weeks short of the 60th anniversary of the escape.

Image of Grotius’s book chest

Image of Grotius’s book chest from Het Leven van Hugo de Groot, getrokken uit de voornaamste historie-schryvers en dichters (Amsterdam 1785) 10760.e.1

And what happened to the chest? Well, as with so many ‘mythical’ objects, there are three chests which the institutions that hold them claim to be the real one. These are at the Rijksmuseum, Slot Loevestein and Het Prinsenhof in Delft. Recent research has concluded that the Delft chest has the best claim, but the outcome was not conclusive. It is much more likely that the original chest disappeared sometime in the 17th century.

Front cover of De Boekenkist van Hugo de Groot

Front cover of De Boekenkist van Hugo de Groot, by Arnout van Cruyningen. (Utrecht, 2021). (awaiting shelfmark)

The latest book on the topic has just come out and is by Arnout van Cruyningen. (Utrecht, 2021) which will be available for BL readers later this year.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

References and further reading

Jeronimo de Vries, Hugo de Groot en Maria van Reigersbergen (Amsterdam, 1827). DRT Digital Store 1560/1614.

Marco Barducci, Hugo Grotius and the century of revolution, 1613-1718 : transnational reception in English political thought (Oxford, 2017) YC.2018.a.7730

Henk Nellen, Hugo Grotius: a lifelong struggle for peace in church and state, 1583-1645, translated from the Dutch by J.C. Grayson. (Leiden, 2014) YD. 2015.a.204

Grotius and law, edited by Larry May and Emily MGill. (Farnham, 2014) YC.2015.a.11580

Grotius, edited by John Dunn and Ian Harris. 2 vols. (Cheltenham, 1997) YC.1998.b.5202

De Hollandse jaren van Hugo de Groot, edited by H.J.M. Nellen and J. Trapman. (Hilversum, 1996) YA.1997.b.411

For more information on women in Dutch history:
Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland, or Digital Womenlexicon of the Netherlands. Freely available on [Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland (knaw.nl)]

Els Kloek, et al, 1001 Vrouwen uit de Nederlandse geschiedenis (Nijmegen, 2013) YF.2015.a.1208.

23 March 2021

Simon Vestdijk, 1898-1971

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Today marks the 50th anniversary of Simon Vestdijk’s death at the age of 72. He was one of the most prolific and diverse authors of the Netherlands with 50 novels, 12 collections of poetry, numerous essays and he translated Emily Dickinson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allen Poe into Dutch. He also wrote essays and reviews for a number of literary journals and newspapers, such as the Nieuwe Courant (NRC) and Het Parool.

Portrait of Simon Vestdijk

Portrait of Simon Vestdijk. Source: Ontdek ons digitaal erfgoed | Geheugen van Nederland

Vestdijk nearly didn’t become a writer. For years he dithered between a career in medicine, music, or literature. In 1932 he both graduated as a doctor and published his literary debut, a collection of poems, which appeared in the literary journal De Vrije Bladen (P.P.4261.sa.) He still wasn’t sure which path to choose.

Then he met Menno ter Braak and Eddy Du Perron, the founders of the literary journal Forum (P.901/113.), and settled for literature. From then on he was unstoppable.

He won numerous prizes, the last one being awarded just a few days before his death.

Vestdijk himself divided his work into five categories:

1. Fiction with autobiographical elements around the character Anton Wachter, such as Terug tot Ina Damman (Back to Ina Damman)
2. Fiction with semi-autobiographical elements, for example De koperen tuin (The garden where the brass band played). See below
3. Contemporary psychological work, such as Else Böhler, Duits dienstmeisje
4. Historical work, such as De vuuraanbidders (The fire worshippers)
5. Fantastical work, such as De kellner en de levenden (The waiter and the living) and Bericht uit het hiernamaals (Message from the other side) 

Cover of the first edition of De Koperen Tuin

Cover of the first edition of De Koperen Tuin (Rotterdam, 1950). 12584.w.64. Source: Vestdijk.com 

This year will see a full programme of commemorations; a plaque will be fitted on his house in Doorn. Today a delegation from De Vestdijkkring, a society that commemorates Vestdijk and promotes his work, will lay a wreath on his grave in The Hague. And of course there’ll be plenty of literary events during the year.

You can get a taste of his works in English from the translations listed below.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

The Penguin book of Dutch short stories. (London, 2016). YKL.2017.a.14072

A sampling of Dutch literature. Thirteen excursions into the works of Dutch authors. Translated and adapted by James Brockway. (Hilversum, 1960). X.950/43674

The garden where the brass band played; translated by A. Brotherton; with an introduction by Hella S. Haasse. (London, 1992). H.93/3254.

‘My Brown Friend’, translated by M. C. Duyvendak, in New Writers. vol. 2, pp. 9-52. (London, 1962). 12521.d.1/2.

Rum Island, translated by B. K. Bowes. (London, 1963). 11769.g.20.

‘The Blind’; ‘The Jewish Bride’; ‘Saul and David’; ‘Rembrandt and Saskia’, translated by Jane Fenoulhet. In: Dutch Crossing, nr. 46 (1992) pp. 25-30. P.523/827

 

 

04 March 2021

Rosa Luxemburg: a brief glimpse in five items

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Rosa Luxemburg, who was born 150 years ago this month, has come to be seen as an iconic figure of socialist and revolutionary thought. Her life and legacy are reflected not only in her own works but in the many works about her that have been written in various genres – biography, academic study, polemical and literary – since her murder in 1919. Below are a handful of examples from the British Library’s collections which illuminate some of the many aspects of her story.

Cover of 'Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens'
Rosa Luxemburg, Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens (Leipzig, 1898) 8282.ff.14. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens

Luxemburg’s first published monograph was her doctoral thesis, Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens (‘The Industrial Development of Poland’). Although Luxemburg was herself Polish, she gained her doctorate from the University of Zürich, since women were barred from higher education in Poland, where Luxemburg, as a Jew and a Polish speaker in a country under Russian rule, faced additional social and educational challenges. She had sought refuge in Zürich in 1889 to avoid detention for her revolutionary activity at home. The city was something of a centre for socialist exiles, and alongside her university studies, she continued working for the cause, becoming known as a writer, organiser and highly effective public speaker. By the time her thesis was completed and published, her written work was focusing more on these issues, and a plan to write a longer economic history of Poland never came to fruition.

Cover of 'Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie'
‘Junius’, Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie (Berlin, [1916]) YA.1997.a.11594. (Image from the Bavarian State Library)

Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie

Luxemburg strongly believed in the international nature of the struggle for social justice. On the outbreak of war in 1914, she hoped that workers would refuse to fight and would recognise that the ruling classes in their own countries were the true enemy and the workers of other countries their true allies. When the German Socialist Party (SPD) members of the Reichstag gave their support to war, she felt betrayed. Together with Karl Liebknecht, the only SPD representative to remain opposed to the conflict, she founded the Spartacus League, which grew into the German Communist Party. Jailed for her socialist and pacifist activities, Luxemburg continued to write in prison, most notably the pamphlet Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie (‘The Crisis of Social Democracy’) in which she set out her views on the war as an imperialist and capitalist project and her despair at the attitude of the SPD, and calls for revolution. Published in 1916 and often referred to as the ‘Junius Pamphlet’ after the pseudonym Luxemburg wrote it under, it is one of her best-known works.

January Fifteenth. The murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg

Following the brutal murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht by right-wing ‘Freikorps’ militias in the aftermath of the Spartacist Uprising in January 1919, they were seen as martyrs for the socialist cause. Although Luxemburg had often disagreed with fellow-socialists on a range of issues, she was increasingly depicted as a heroine of the left and has sometimes been described as the woman who could have united the different strands of Weimar Germany’s left-wing politics in the face of the growing right-wing threat. In 1924 the Young Communist League of Great Britain published a pamphlet entitled January Fifteenth. The murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, 1919 (8140.i.4.). The first in a planned series of ‘Manuals for Proletarian Anniversaries’, it suggested ways to commemorate Luxemburg’s and Liebknecht’s murders, an anniversary which still sees still sees parades and acts of remembrance take place today.

Cover of 'Rosa Luxemburg', with photographs of Luxemburg and the actress who portrayed her in the 1986 film
Margarethe von Trotta and Christiane Ensslin, Rosa (Nördlingen, 1986) YA.1987.b.6118

Margarethe von Trotta’s biopic of Rosa Luxemburg

As well as eulogies and memoirs, Luxemburg was from early on remembered in poetry, drama and fiction. In 1986 the German director Margarethe von Trotta released her film Rosa, which portrayed Luxemburg in a decidedly feminist context. Luxemburg has often been regarded as uninterested in feminism as she tended to keep at arm’s length from the formal women’s movement of her time. This was partly because she felt that she would be sidelined by being associated purely with women’s issues, but also because she saw the issue of equality as being vital to all workers regardless of nationality or sex. She was also somewhat wary of the way the suffrage movements tended to be predominantly run by and focused around educated middle-class women. Nonetheless, she had close ties with leaders of the women’s movement, particularly her friend Clara Zetkin, and her own determination to live in both the personal and political sphere on an equal footing with male friends, lovers and colleagues is reason enough to celebrate her today as a feminist pioneer.

Cover of 'Red Rosa' with an stylised picture of Rosa Luxemburg surrounded by images of war
Kate Evans, Red Rosa (London, 2015) YC.2017.b.584

Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg

A recent publication that depicts the many facets of Luxemburg’s life, work and personality in a compelling and accessible way is Kate Evans’s striking graphic biography Red Rosa, a work originally commissioned by the New York branch of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. Evans initially knew little about Luxemburg, but studied in particular her collected letters (London, 2013; ELD.DS.286414), which is perhaps what gives the book such a rounded picture of Luxemburg both as a brilliant thinker and inspirational political figure, and as a very human woman determined to live on her own terms. Kate Evans will be one of the speakers at a British Library online event marking Luxemburg’s 150th birthday on 5 March 2021. Rosa Luxemburg: At Home in the Entire World brings together authors, actors and activists to examine Luxemburg’s revolutionary legacy. 

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

16 February 2021

Doughnuts and Fools: Some Carnival Traditions

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It’s Shrove Tuesday, and that means pancakes in Britain, but not everywhere! Today we take a look at some Polish and German carnival traditions.

The last days of the Carnival season start in Poland on Fat Thursday (tłusty czwartek). It is widely celebrated by eating traditional doughnuts called pączki. Filled with rose jam or plum preserve, amongst other flavours, they should be light and fluffy. Around the country, people queue up to buy them from their local bakeries. Statistics show that some 100 million doughnuts are sold on this day. Historically, the reason for making them in large quantities was to use up all the leftover ingredients from the Carnival, particularly fat and eggs, before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, where such food was not allowed to be consumed. Pączki are believed to bring good luck for the whole year and the average Pole eats at least two of them on Fat Thursday. A search for ‘Polish Cooking’ in our catalogue will find a number of cookery books which might inspire readers to try and make their own!

A plate of Polish pączki
A plate of pączki (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Fat Thursday is followed five days later by Shrove Tuesday, called Ostatki meaning the last day of Carnival. It is also known as the Herring Night or śledzik, because the most favourite dish to consume that evening is pickled herring. Poles exuberantly celebrate Ostatki by indulging themselves in food, drinks, dance and music. A horse-drawn sleigh ride (kulig) through the snow-covered countryside is a popular way to end the happy Carnival season.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

The Shrovetide carnival has a long history in the German-speaking countries There are three broad regional traditions: the Rhineland Karneval, the Alemannic Fasnacht in south-eastern Germany and Switzerland, and Fasching in Bavaria and Austria (the latter two are sometimes grouped together). Within these there are endless local variations, but all involve a spirit of misrule and anarchy which sometimes sits oddly with British perceptions of orderly Germans!

A central organising role is played by the various local Fools’ Guilds (‘Narrenzünfte’) which support and maintain traditional practices, including, especially in the southern regions, the making and wearing of grotesquely carved wooden masks and elaborate costumes. These costumes often represent jesters and fools, but devils, witches, and fantastical figures similar to the ‘Kurents’ of Slovenia’s carnival also feature. Many books are devoted to the history and design of these costumes, and to the traditions of carnival and of the guilds.


Three covers of books about Fasnacht traditions with pictures of masks and costumes
Books in the British Library’s collections about Fasnacht traditions in Southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria, with images traditional costumes and masks

In the 19th-century Rhineland, carnival traditions came to be seen as an opportunity to assert local identity and resistance to first French and then Prussian rule. This gave the festivities a more political edge, reflected today in ‘Rose Monday’ processions with floats featuring caricatures of national and international politicians.

But however earnest the political satire or intense the dedication to maintaining local tradition, carnival is primarily about fun, celebration, and a few days when the world is turned upside down.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator German Collections

05 February 2021

Women's Suffrage in Switzerland

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In 1971 Switzerland became one of the last countries in Europe to grant women the vote at national level; only the small neighbouring principality of Liechtenstein was later in doing so, in 1984. It may seem surprising that a country that was an early republic, that became in the 20th century the home of several international and humanitarian organisations, and that is often seen as a model of stability and good social order, should have lagged so far behind in such a key area of human rights.

Switzerland had not been without a women’s rights movement, and there had been formal calls and campaigns for female suffrage from the 1860s onwards. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, writers such as Meta von Salis and Emilie Gourd, to name but two, argued for women’s rights in various spheres, and several women’s organisations were founded. A ‘Swiss Congress for the Interests of Women’ was held in Geneva in 1896, and campaigners also had male allies such as the jurists Louis Bidel and Carl Hilty, who both published articles in favour of women’s right to vote.

Cover of the Proceedings of the 1896 Women’s Congress in Geneva
Proceedings of the 1896 Women’s Congress in Geneva, Bericht über die Verhandlungen des Schweizerischen Kongresses für die Interessen der Frau  = Actes du Congrès suisse des intérêts féminins ... ( Bern, 1897.) 8416.h.26. (Image from Zurich University Library)

A Swiss general strike in November 1918 included women’s suffrage among its demands but was short-lived and came to nothing. Two formal parliamentary motions on the subject in the same year were effectively ignored, and various petitions to Parliament were equally unsuccessful. From 1920 onwards, some Swiss cantons held referendums on allowing women to vote at cantonal level, but none of the motions were passed.

The central role of the popular referendum in Swiss politics offers one clue to why Switzerland took so long to grant women the vote. Major constitutional change, whether at national of cantonal level, can only be brought about by a referendum rather than by parliamentary vote alone as in other European countries. And of course, the voters in these referendums were all men! It was also argued that the constitution defined a Swiss citizen with full rights in clearly masculine terms (‘un suisse’, ‘ein Schweizer’). As early as 1886 Emilie Kempin-Spyri, the first Swiss woman to gain a doctorate in law, had argued that this was a generic masculine rather than being intended specifically to restrict citizenship to males. However, this argument was rejected by the Swiss Federal Court, as it would be again over 40 years later, when put forward by jurist Léonard Jenni.

Cover of a French-language edition of the Swiss Constitution
A 19th-century edition of the Swiss Constitution (Fribourg, 1856) 8073.d.74.

Swiss citizenship also became linked in many people’s minds with the compulsory military service performed by Swiss men. In fact it was an attempt in 1957 to extend this obligation to civil defence work to be undertaken by women that provided part of the impetus for the first national referendum on female suffrage in 1959. Although the civil defence proposal had not been passed, it had opened debate on whether women could be asked to perform national service when they lacked full political rights.

The arguments for and against women’s suffrage in the 1959 referendum, as in earlier cantonal votes, were familiar ones, as reflected in pro- and anti-suffrage posters. Opponents argued that political debate was beyond women’s understanding and too dirty a business for them to sully themselves with, and that political rights would make them neglect domestic and maternal duties or turn them into de-feminised harridans. Supporters countered that women deserved to have their voices heard in a free and modern society, that anti-suffragists were selfish reactionaries seeking to reserve power for themselves, and that a ‘yes’ vote would win male voters the gratitude of women.

Posters showing a baby's pacifier with a fly crawling over it, and a man casting a 'yes' vote for women's suffrage
Posters from the 1950s against and in favour of female suffrage (images from swissinfo.ch)

In 1959 the anti-suffrage voices were more successful, and the motion to grant women the vote was defeated by a two-thirds majority. However, in three Cantons – Vaud, Neuchâtel and Geneva – there was a majority in favour of women’s suffrage, leading all three to give women the vote at local and cantonal level. Other cantons followed suit in the next decade, and by 1970 nine of Switzerland’s 25 cantons had universal local and cantonal suffrage. This development was a factor in the decision to hold a new national referendum, which took place on 7 February 1971 and saw the 1959 result reversed, with a two-thirds majority in favour of women’s right to vote in national elections. By the end of the following year, most cantons had also granted full suffrage at local and cantonal level.

The run-up to the 1971 referendum forms the background to the 2017 Swiss film Die göttliche Ordnung (The Divine Order), in which the women of a Swiss village go on strike from domestic duties to persuade the local men to acknowledge their rights. They succeed, and at the end we see the main protagonist standing proudly beside her husband as he casts his vote for women’s suffrage. However, in the kind of community depicted, the reality would probably have been rather different. Even in 1971 the rural north-eastern cantons voted overwhelmingly ‘no’ to women's suffrage, and two of them held out at cantonal level for almost two more decades. Appenzell Ausserhoden granted women cantonal voting rights only in 1989, and it took a Federal Court ruling the following year to force neighbouring Appenzell Innerrhoden to do the same. Willingly or not, Europe’s last bastion of electoral inequality had finally fallen, and all Swiss women could enjoy equal voting rights.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Further reading:

Marie Boehlen, Eine kleine Geschichte des Frauenstimmrechts in der Schweiz, 2nd ed.. (Zurich, 1955.) 8418.a.2.

Verena Bodmer-Gessner, Bibliographie zur Geschichte der Schweizer Frau im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert ... 2nd ed. (Zurich, 1968.) 2745.g.5.

Frauengeschichte(n) : Dokumente aus zwei Jahrhunderten zur Situation der Frauen in der Schweiz (Zürich, 1986.) YA.1990.b.7138

Louis Adolphe Bridel, Le Mouvement féministe et le droit des femmes (Geneva, 1893) 8416.h.21.(3.)

Carl Hilty, De senectute. Frauenstimmrecht (Bern, 1900.) YA.1993.a.25223

Werner Kaegi, Der Anspruch der Schweizerfrau auf politische Gleichberechtigung. Gutachten ... ( Zurich, [1956]) 8418.fff.2. (French edition, tr. Bernard Hofstetter, Le Droit de la femme suisse à l'égalité politique … ( Geneva, 1956.) 8418.ff.39.)

Iris von Roten, Frauenstimmrechtsbrevier. Vom schweizerischen Patentmittel gegen das Frauenstimmrecht, den Mitteln gegen das Patentmittel, und wie es mit oder ohne doch noch kommt (Basel, [1959]) 8298.a.25.

Nehmen Sie Platz, Madame : die politische Repräsentation der Frauen in der Schweiz (Bern], 1990.) YA.1994.b.533

Frauen und Politik = Femmes et politiques (Bern, 1994) 34 1073.498000

Sibylle Hardmeier, Frühe Frauenstimmrechts-Bewegung in der Schweiz (1890- 1930): Argumente, Strategien, Netzwerk und Gegenbewegung (Zürich, 1997.) YA.2002.a.1466

Daniele Lenzin, Die Sache der Frauen: OFRA und die Frauenbewegung in der Schweiz (Zürich, 2000) YA.2002.a.18725

Beatrix Mesmer, Staatsbürgerinnen ohne Stimmrecht : die Politik der schweizerischen Frauenverbände 1914-1971 ( Zürich, 2007.)

Susanna Woodtli, Gleichberechtigung: der Kampf um die politischen Rechte der Frau in der Schweiz. (Frauenfeld, [1975]) X:100/15476

Der Kampf um gleiche Rechte (Basel, 2009.) YF.2010.a.9729

Schulz, Kristina. Frauenbewegung, die Schweiz seit 1968 : Analysen, Dokumente, Archive (Baden, [2014]) YF.2015.a.8530

Fabienne Amlinger, Im Vorzimmer der Macht? : die Frauenorganisationen der SPS, FDP und CVP, 1971-1995 (Zürich, [2017]) YF.2019.a.23260

Claire Torracinta-Pache, Le pouvoir est pour demain : les femmes dans la politique suisse ([Lausanne], 1984.) YA.1986.a.9986

Doris Stump, Sie töten uns, nicht unsere Ideen: Meta von Salis-Marschlins, 1855-1929, Schweizer Schriftstellerin und Frauenrechtskämpferin (Thalwil/Zürich, 1986.) YA.1988.a.7520

Doris Brodbeck, Hunger nach Gerechtigkeit : Helene von Mülinen (1850-1924), eine Wegbereiterin der Frauenemanzipation ( Zurich, 2000) YA.2001.a.23815

Marianne Jehle-Wildberger, “Wo bleibt die Rechtsgleichheit?” Dora Rittmeyer-Iselin (1902-1974) und ihr Einsatz für Flüchtlinge und Frauen (Zürich; St. Gallen, [2018]) YF.2020.a.10618

Marianne Delfosse, Emilie Kempin-Spyri (1853-1901): das Wirken der ersten Schweizer Juristin : unter besonderer Berücksichtigung ihres Einsatzes für die Rechte der Frau im schweizerischen und deutschen Privatrecht (Zürich, c1994.) YA.1996.a.20102

31 December 2020

That was the year that was…

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So 2020, the strangest and saddest year most of us have ever known, draws to a close, and it’s time to take our more or less annual look back at the year in our Blog. And for those who are going to miss their new year fireworks tonight, we’ve added some firework pictures from our collections for you to enjoy instead.

A 17th-century firework display outside the Hotel de Ville in Paris
Fireworks outside the Hôtel de Ville in Paris to celebrate the birth of Louis, Duke of Burgundy, in 1682. From Jehan de la Cité, L’Hôtel de Ville de Paris et la Grève à travers les âges (Paris, 1895) 10712.dd.1.

Back in January, the threat of a new coronavirus was still a fairly small news story, and we had no idea of the impact the disease would have. However, two of our January blog posts now seem somehow prescient of this year. We celebrated the fact that a collection of essays based on a 2000 BL symposium, featuring colleagues past and present, about European-language printing in Britain had been made available online, in a year when access to online content was to become ever more important for researchers unable to visit libraries. And a guest post from a Sheffield University student exploring the literature of Dutch colonialism in Suriname highlighted a topic which has become ever more resonant in 2020, as the growing influence of the Black Lives Matter movement has caused many cultural institutions, including the BL, to revisit and rethink their history and to discuss more openly the legacies of colonialism and slavery.

In some ways our blogging year continued with business as usual, celebrating the anniversaries of literary greats such as Anne Brontë and Friedrich Hölderlin as well as figures less well known in the UK such as Italian children’s author Gianni Rodari. We also marked the anniversaries of General de Gaulle’s ‘Appel du 18 juin’ and German reunification, while a series of posts on the Polish Solidarity movement, founded in 1980, drew on our fascinating collections of ephemera from the period. 

An 18th-century firework display in The Hague with allegorical and mythological figures
 Afbeeldinge van de vuur wercken = Representation du feu d’artifice
, a firework display in The Hague to celebrate a Dutch victory over French and Spanish forces at Vigo in 1702.  Print by Daniel Marot, ca. 1702.  Maps K.Top.107.45.ff.1.

Before lockdown changed all our lives, European Collections colleagues were involved with two public events: a celebration of the Serbian poet Miloš Crnjanski, and a day devoted to contemporary Nordic comics – one of the last live events the Library was able to hold on-site.

One of lockdown’s smaller problematic side-effects was of course we could not go into the office and order up collection items to write about and photograph for our blog posts. However, our wonderful team made the most of the BL’s digitised collections, of photos from our own files, of Creative Commons material online, and of links to digitised content from other institutions. A short series of posts looked at the pandemic from the perspective of partner institutions in South-Eastern Europe, including a link to a growing collection of online ephemera from the region.

An 18th-century firework display in Soluthurn
A firework display in the town of Solothurn in 1777 to mark the renewal  of a treaty between France and Switzerland. Print by L. Midart, 1777. Maps K.Top.85.84.d.

This was also a year when we posted a number of collaborative posts, where colleagues wrote small pieces on a range of subjects: children’s books, poetry in minority and endangered languages, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller writers, and, as a festive offering in December, Christmas carols.

Stealing an idea from Radio 4’s ‘Saturday Live’ programme, we also began a series of ‘Inheritance Books’ posts where colleagues chose a book they had ‘inherited’ when they joined the BL and one they had acquired or catalogued to ‘pass on’ to future generations. It was rather gratifying that our first two posts came respectively from one of our newest and one of our longest serving colleagues.

It’s been a different and difficult year, but as blog editors we are hugely grateful to our colleagues and guest contributors for continuing to write for us, and to all who read, enjoy and share our posts. We can’t wait to share more with you in 2021!

European Studies Blog editors

 

Figures in 18th-century dress in a Venetian gondola with fireworks in the background
Venetian fireworks, illustration by Georges Barbier from Paul Verlaine, Fêtes galantes (Paris, 1928) L.45/2847

18 December 2020

A musical festive feast from around Europe

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With Christmas approaching, European Collections curators introduce some festive songs from the countries they cover.

‘O Tannenbaum’ (‘O Christmas Tree’)
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Illustration of a Christmas Tree

Title page of The Christmas Tree, a present from Germany (London, 1844). 12803.ff.3.

Which Christmas Carol links a student drinking song, a lover’s lament and a socialist anthem? None other than ‘O Tannenbaum’, one of the German-language carols that have gained worldwide popularity.

Originally the song had nothing to do with Christmas. The evergreen fir tree as a symbol of constancy was a familiar poetic motif when, in 1819, August Zarnack used it in a poem about a man betrayed in love, contrasting the tree’s ‘faithful’ branches with the woman’s faithlessness. A few years later, the musician and composer Ernst Anschütz altered Zarnack’s poem, replacing the verses that told the tragic love story with musings on the tree teaching a lesson in constancy, with mention of its bringing pleasure at Christmas. The song was first published in 1824, and its spread around the world probably owed something to the growing popularity of Christmas trees in various countries during the 19th century. Although the German original only briefly references Christmas, metrical necessity caused English translators to use ‘O Christmas Tree’,  thus firmly establishing the song’s festive credentials for English-speakers.

The simple yet catchy tune no doubt also contributed to the success of ‘O Tannenbaum’. Originally a folk melody, it became popular in the 18th century as a student drinking song, ‘Lauriger Horatius’ (‘Laurel-crowned Horace’). It has also been used in many other contexts, perhaps most famously for the socialist anthem ‘The Red Flag’. For such a short and simple carol, ‘O Tannenbaum’ certainly has a wide-ranging cultural background and influence!

‘Shchedryk’ and ‘Carol of the Bells’
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

Illustration of a swallow

Illustration of a swallow from BL Flickr. BL shelfmark 10201.e.12

Chances are you’ve heard of ‘Carol of the Bells’, a Christmas favourite that has appeared in films, TV shows and adverts from Home Alone to The Muppets. What many don’t know, however, is that the music was written by the Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych and is based on the Ukrainian folk chant ‘Shchedryk’. Dating back to pagan times, the original song tells the story of a swallow flying into a household to predict a prosperous New Year for the family. In pre-Christian Ukraine, the coming of the New Year and spring were celebrated in March but with the move to the Julian calendar, it shifted to 13 January (New Year’s Eve), which is known in Ukrainian as Shchedry Vechir (Bountiful Evening).

Leontovych’s song premiered in Kyiv in December 1916 and was performed as part of the Ukrainian National Chorus’s US tour in the early 1920s. The American composer Peter J. Wilhousky subsequently rearranged the melody and wrote new lyrics around the theme of bells, which is the version we know today as ‘Carol of the Bells’.

You can listen to a recording of Leontovych’s ‘Shchedryk’ here.

Pastorałki (‘Pastorals’) by Tytus Czyżewski
Chosen by Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

A baby Jesus jumping on his legs in a crib while wearing a highlander’s hat. A shepherd, standing next to him, playing the bagpipes. A stork sitting on top of a nativity stable. That’s the kind of images you will find in Pastorałki by Tytus Czyżewski.

Woodcut of the baby Jesus with angels and cattle

Cover of Pastorałki by Tytus Czyżewski, design by Tadeusz Makowski (Paris, 1925) Ac.9664 Source: Polona 

Czyżewski (1880–1945) was a futurist poet, painter and co-founder of the Polish avant-garde “Formist” group, whose aim was to create a new national style in art and literature by combining Futurism, Expressionism and Cubism with traditional folk art. Czyżewski’s volume of Pastorałki [Pastorals], named after the genre of Polish Christmas carols with pastoral motifs, is an intersection of Polish folklore, medieval miracle plays and European avant-garde.

You can listen to a recording of one of these carols, ‘Kolęda w olbrzymim mieście’ (‘A Christmas Carol in a Big City) here.

The book is illustrated by Tadeusz Makowski (1882-1932), a Paris-based Polish artist. His primitivist woodcuts, inspired by folk iconography, reflect the atmosphere of friskiness and humour of Czyżewski’s pastorals.

Woodcut of baby Jesus jumping on his legs in a crib while wearing a highlander’s hat. Shepherds, standing next to him, are playing instruments.

Illustration from Pastorałki by Tadeusz Makowski, showing shepherds playing highlander instruments to amuse the baby Jesus. Source: Polona 

References:

Alicja Baluch, “Wizualność poezji Tytusa Czyżewskiego”, Rocznik naukowo-dydaktyczny 101 (1986), 199-137. Ac.9234.eb.

Czeslaw Milosz, The History of Polish Literature (Berkeley, 1983), 400-401. X.950/37574

Kazimierz Wyka, Rzecz wyobraźni (Warsaw, 1977)

‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’ (‘The Shepherds lay by Night’)
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’ (‘The Shepherds lay by Night’) is a popular Dutch Christmas song. It is thought that it originated in the 17th century when children would sing it in the streets of Utrecht, but it was first written down in its current form by Joseph Albert Alberdingk Thijm and features in his collection of ‘Old and New Christmas Songs’ of 1852.

Lyrics and musical notation for ‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’

‘De herdertjes lagen bij nachte’ from Joseph Albert Alberdingk Thijm, Oude en nieuwere kerstliederen … (Amsterdam, 1852). B.893.

The song has four verses, but usually only the first one, and sometimes the second one, are sung. Children stick to the first verse, and I cannot remember singing the others. The first verse tells how the shepherds were in the fields, having counted their sheep and then heard the angels sing, ‘clearly and fluently’ of the birth of Jesus upon which they went to Bethlehem to find him. In the second verse they see three beams of light shooting from above and from the crib – they ‘see the light’ and, in the third verse they decide to stay with the Holy Family until the New Year and leave their flock to the angels to look after. The final verse ends with a prayer for salvation.

Illustration of shepherds from Egerton MS 1070 f032v

The Angel appearing to the Shepherds,  from a 15th-century Book of Hours Egerton MS 1070, f32v

Alberdingk Thijm was a devout Catholic and an influential figure in the 19th-century Catholic revival in the Netherlands (and also a supporter of the Flemish movement). His faith is reflected particularly in the third verse of the song with its emphasis on Mary and Joseph’s responses, which I don't think would have been found so much in Protestant circles. The last line of the verse differs in Protestant and Catholic versions. The Protestant one has ‘and found the little child there’, and the catholic one ‘it was nearing the new year’, also suggesting that for some this was more of a New Year’s rather than a Christmas song.

‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’
Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

Although it might sound like a very old English Christmas Carol, Ding Dong Merrily on High is the product of several nations – and centuries!

The tune first appeared in the 16th century as a French secular dance tune known under the title Branle de l'Official (the branle or brawl was a type of French dance danced by couples in either a line or a circle, and popular throughout Europe). It was recorded in Orchésographie, first published in 1589, and written by the French cleric, composer and writer Thoinot Arbeau, the anagrammatic pen name of French cleric Jehan Tabourot (1519–1593).

Illustration of a drum and drummer from Orchésographie

Page from Thoinot Arbeau, Orchésographie (Lengres, 1589). C.31.b.3. Image source: Library of Congress

The illustrated Orchésographie provides information on social ballroom behaviour and on the interaction of musicians and dancers. It contains woodcuts of dancers and musicians and includes instructions for the steps lined up next to the musical notes, an innovation in dance notation. The lyrics however are from English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848–1934), and the carol was first published in 1924 in his The Cambridge Carol-Book: Being Fifty-two Songs for Christmas, Easter, And Other Seasons (E.1485.f.).

Vignette of Bells from the Cover of 'A Christmas Carol', BL 012622.g.37