26 October 2023
On Monday 30 October the Dutch Centre hosts an event to mark the new translation by David McKay of a seminal work on the history of Suriname: We Slaves of Suriname, by Anton de Kom.
Anton de Kom. From: Wij slaven van Suriname 10th ed. (Amsterdam, 2001) YA.2002.a.34205.
Anton de Kom (1898-1945) tells the history of Suriname and how it was shaped by slavery from a Surinamese perspective. He adds a passionate attack on Dutch colonial rule, a system that keeps many of the structures of the past in place, thereby keeping the Surinamese people in poverty and powerlessness. His main aim in writing the book was to instil a sense of self-worth and pride into the Surinamese people. Thus he created both a historic account and a book of historic importance, according to Michiel van Kempen’s Een Geschiedenis van de Surinaamse literatuur.
The Dutch language edition, first published in 1934, is the first text about Dutch colonialism in Suriname, written from a Surinamese, anticolonial perspective. It stands at the beginning of a tradition of anti- and postcolonial writing, inspiring authors such as Tessa Leuwsha, Albert Helman and Astrid Roemer. De Kom himself took inspiration from Max Havelaar, written by Multatuli, pseudonym of Edward Douwes Dekker, a white Dutch civil servant based in the Dutch East Indies, in the 1860s.
De Kom had aligned himself with the communist community in the Netherlands, because they were the only political group that opposed colonialism. However, they were not free of racist prejudice. When De Kom offered the manuscript to a socialist publisher, they believed him to be illiterate, based on his appearance and accent. A Dutch publicist Cees de Dood was enlisted to review the manuscript. He regarded the language to be ‘bad Dutch’, dismissing the text wholesale. He should have known better, because De Kom had published articles in communist journals and magazines before (under the pen name Adek). De Kom agreed the manuscript needed improvement. De Dood asked Jef Last, a good friend of his and a well-known socialist publicist to help improve the manuscript. Last reviewed the manuscript together with De Kom putting more emphasis on the communist political message that slavery is exploitation of the proletariat by the capitalist system. He even claimed to have written the book himself, but later retracted that claim. However, this falsehood remained in circulation for a long time, again reaffirming racist ideas prevalent at the time.
It would take far too long in this space to recount the full range of events that surrounded publication of Wij Slaven van Suriname, fascinating though it is. Instead I refer to the article by Rob Woortman and Alice Boots ‘De geschiedenis van een manuscript: De wording van Wij slaven van Suriname van Anton de Kom’. Central in their piece is the question what part Jef Last played in re-writing the text and the role of the CID, the Central Intelligence Service in censuring the text.
In the end Gilles Pieter de Neve, of the Contact publishing house agreed to publish the book. He and De Kom rewrote the entire manuscript, taking out the most strident communist passages that might fall foul of the CID, and finally, in 1934 the book was published. De Neve had added a subtle rebuke to the CID, not included in later editions: ‘In conjunction with the interest shown in this book from certain quarters, the publishers deem it necessary, in order to ensure the undisturbed circulation of the work and in agreement with the Author, to change a number of passages in the book, without diminishing the value of the book.’
Contact had only started as a publishing house the year before, when Hitler came to power in Germany, in order to warn the Dutch against the dangers of national-socialism and fascism.
It is therefore all the more tragic that De Kom would fall victim to the Nazis in 1944, when he was arrested for his activities in the Dutch resistance. He died in a concentration camp in Germany in April 1945. He is buried at Ereveld Loenen, the Field of Honour in Loenen.
It seems ironic that the ship that brought De Kom to Suriname and back again in exile to the Netherlands in 1933 would carry copies of Wij Slaven van Suriname to Suriname in 1934. This was reported in the Surinamese newspaper De banier van waarheid en recht (‘The banner of truth and justice’) of 7 March 1934.
For decades the book and its author remained relatively unknown. De Kom was shunned in the Netherlands as well as in Suriname because of his communist sympathies. So it wasn’t until 1971 that the book saw its second edition. From then on the only way was up, right to the top ten bestsellers in 2020, the year Anton de Kom was included in the Dutch Canon for History.
The latest Dutch edition, the 22nd, was published in 2021 by Atlas/Contact, with introductions by Tessa Leuwsha, Mitchell Esajas, and Duco van Oostrum. Atlas/Contact also published Rob Woortman’s and Alice Boots’ biography of Anton de Kom.
In 1987 an English translation was announced by Palgrave/Macmillan, but for unknown reasons was never realised. It took another 36 years before another attempt was made, this time successful. On Monday 30 October we are going to celebrate that event at the Dutch Centre in London. Writer Gabriel Gbadamosi will chair a discussion with guests Mitchell Esajas, Tessa Leuwsha and my colleague, curator and author Nicole-Rachelle Moore. The event is supported by the Dutch Foundation for Literature and the Embassy of The Kingdom of the Netherlands and programmed by Modern Culture as part of New Dutch Writing. Tickets are still available and can be booked via the Dutch Centre’s website.
Marja Kingma, Curator Dutch Language Collections
Albert Helman, Zuid Zuidwest. 8th ed. ([s.n.], 1948) 010058.f.30.
Michiel van Kempen, Een Geschiedenis van de Surinaamse literatuur (Breda, 2003) YF.2005.b.2101
Michiel van Kempen, Anton de Kom. Boek ‘Wij slaven van Suriname’ at literatuurgeschiedenis.org
Anton de Kom, Wij slaven van Suriname. 8th ed. (Amsterdam, 1991) – with a preface by Anton’s daughter Judith de Kom. The verso of the title page mentions the publication year of the second edition as 1977, where it was 1971.
Anton de Kom, Wij slaven van Suriname; met een voorwoord van John Jansen van Galen. 10th ed. (Amsterdam, 2001). YA.2002.a.34205.
Anton de Kom, Wij slaven van Suriname, inleidingen Tessa Leuwsha, Mitchell Esajas, Duco van Oostrum. 22nd ed. (Amsterdam, 2021)
Tessa Leuwsha, Plantage Wildlust (Amsterdam, 2020) YF.2021.a.13192.
Tessa Leuwsha, Fansi’s Stilte : een Surinaamse grootmoeder en de slavernij. 4th ed. (Amsterdam, 2018). YF.2022.a.3364.
Nicole-Rachelle Moore, Sarah Garrod, & Sarah White, Dream to change the world: the life & legacy of John La Rose : the book of the exhibition. (London, 2018) YK.2019.b.783
Rob Woortman and Alice Boots ‘De geschiedenis van een manuscript: De wording van Wij slaven van Suriname van Anton de Kom’, OSO Tijdschrift for Surinaamse taalkunde, letterkunde en geschiedenis, Vol. 29, 2010 , pp 30-48. Available in full from the Databank Nederlandse Literatuur.
Duco van Oostrom, ‘“Someone willing to listen to me”: Anton de Kom’s Wij Slaven van Suriname (1934) and the “We” of Dutch post-colonial literature in African American literary context’ Dutch Crossing: Journal of Low Countries Studies, Volume 44: Number 1 (2020) pp 45-80, and available online via the White Rose University Consortium.
11 October 2023
This year’s Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to the Norwegian writer Jon Fosse. Like many recent European Nobel literature laureates, Fosse is not a particularly familiar name in the UK, although his work has been translated into English, especially in recent years. His plays have also been performed here, although not with the regularity or success that they have enjoyed in French- and German-speaking Europe.
Jon Fosse in 2020. Image from Wikimedia Commons
Fosse has been talked about as a possible Nobel winner before. In 2013 bookmakers briefly suspended betting on the outcome of the prize when Fosse’s odds suddenly shortened. In the event, the prize went to Alice Munro. In an interview with The Guardian the following year, Fosse claimed that not winning had been something of a relief, explaining, “Normally, they give it to very old writers, and there's a wisdom to that – you receive it when it won't affect your writing.”
Ten years on from that interview, however, Fosse’s turn for the Nobel award has come, his writing clearly unaffected by the many other major Norwegian and European literary prizes that he has already won. The Nobel citation describes the award as being “for his innovative plays and prose which give voice to the unsayable” and the jury commended Fosse on his “powerful, demanding and innovative way of writing in every literary genre”.
Born in 1959 in the south-western Norwegian town of Haugesund, Fosse studied at the University of Bergen and published his first novel, Raudt, Svart (‘Red, Black’; X.950/40748) in 1983. 1994 saw the premiere of his first play Og aldri skal vi skiljast (‘And We’ll Never be Parted’; YA.1995.a.10390), and in the following years Fosse became perhaps best known – especially outside Norway – primarily as a dramatist. However, he continued to write novels, as well as essays, poetry and children’s books, and has also translated fiction, drama and poetry from English, German and French.
As an internationally-acclaimed Norwegian playwright, Fosse has inevitably been compared with Henrik Ibsen, but his work has more in common with that of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter – both of whose work Fosse has translated. It may come as a surprise to discover that Fosse has also in fact translated Ibsen. Fosse writes in Nynorsk, one of the two standard versions of the Norwegian language and in 2018 published a Nynorsk translation of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. Nynorsk is commonly used by only 10-15% of the Norwegian population, so Fosse’s choice to make it the language of his considerable and much-awarded body of work is an important one linguistically and politically. His Nobel Prize is one of the few awarded to a writer who works in what can be termed a ‘minority language’.
Cover of Fosse's translation of Peer Gynt into Nynorsk (Oslo, 2018; YF.2019.a.3404)
Apart from titles by Fosse in both variants of Norwegian, we hold translations of his works, as well as commentaries and analyses in French, German, Danish, Swedish and Hungarian. Norwegian Bokmål is best represented with 59 titles, spanning his whole career and all genres. English translations of Fosse’s works include his masterpiece Septologien (Septology), a novel in seven parts, translated by Damion Searls and published in three volumes, each with their own title: Vols I-II The Other Name (2019; ELD.DS.698283), vols III-V I Is Another (2020; ELD.DS.674395) and vols VI-VII A New Name (2021; ELD.DS.645346). All three translations were published in a single volume in 2022. Septology is an epic story about the nature of art and God, alcoholism (Fosse has struggled with alcohol addiction), friendship, love and the passing of time. In 2022 the translation of volumes VI-VII was nominated for the International Booker Prize. What is most remarkable about it is that it is written in a single sentence!
Cover of Septology I-VII (London, 2022) ELD.DS.756035
A number of recordings of performances of his plays are held in our Sound and Vision collections, for example Rêves d’automne (a French translation of Draum om hausten), directed by Patrice Chéreau, which was performed at Rennes in 2011. A recording issued in 2013 is held at 1DVD0010010. Productions of Fosse’s plays in Romania (Rêves d’automne amongst them) are discussed alongside interviews with Fosse in a French-language study La scène roumaine.
Scene from Rêves d’automne, reproduced in La scène roumaine: les défis de la liberté (Brussels, 2010) LF.31.b.10691.
In German we hold a study score of the opera Morgen und Abend (‘Morning and Evening’) by Georg Friedrich Haas, with a libretto by Fosse, translated by Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel. It was a combined commission by the Royal Opera in London and the Deutsche Oper in Berlin and is on based on Fosse’s novella of the same title, Morgon og kveld (Oslo, 2000; YA.2002.a.11394).
All these and more are available in our reading rooms – accessible with a free reader’s pass, six days a week. Fosse’s Nobel Prize will no doubt help to swell the body of translations of his work and of and secondary literature. We will continue to acquire these for our collections, as well of course as Fosse’s work in the original Nynorsk.
Susan Reed and Marja Kingma, Germanic Collections Curators
Cover of Fosse’s most recent work, Kvitleik (Oslo, 2023) YF.2023.a.21631
14 August 2023
Paul Frank Vincent (1942-) is an award winning translator of Dutch and German texts into English; in 2016 he and John Irons won the Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize for 100 Dutch-Language Poems (London, 2015; YC.2017.a.3500). His career spanned many decades, but now he is retiring from translation at the age of 81. That is proof of his passion for languages, literature and translations, especially German, French and Dutch, all of which he studied at Cambridge. His choice for languages was influenced by his father who had fought in the Second World War on the continent, from where he brought back French and German songs. They fascinated the young Paul. He read translations of Grimm fairy tales as well as English classics such as Black Beauty.
Paul Vincent could have chosen to study German or French and he did indeed study these languages for a while when he realised that not many students did Dutch, so he switched. His decision proved the correct one when Paul came back from a holiday in the Netherlands with a desire to know more about the meaning of “strange letter combinations” in vowels such as ‘au’ (similar to ‘cow’) and ‘ui’ (not found in English).
For 22 years Vincent taught Dutch language and literature, including translation, at Bedford College and later at University College London (UCL), before taking the plunge into freelance translation in 1989. His teaching experience served him well, although finding work as a translator was and is not easy. Like every starting translator he had to accept what was on offer. That first offer was a jackpot: The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch, one of the Big Three in Dutch literature. Not the easiest of novels if you ask me, but Paul pulled it off.
Front cover of Harry Mulisch, The Discovery of Heaven, translated by Paul Vincent. (London, 1998) H.2000/2442
Works by Dutch and Flemish authors, both still alive and long dead followed. Vincent has quite a wide ranging repertoire: from Louis Paul Boon, Guido Gezelle, Louis Couperus to Katrien Hemmerechts, Tom Lanoye and Silvio Alberto (Tip) Marugg. He prefers the big beasts of Dutch literature, such as Harry Mulisch and Willem Frederik Hermans. He has translated fiction, poetry and the odd non-fiction work.
Harry Mulisch, Siegfried, translated by Paul Vincent. (London, 2003) Nov.2003/1794
Vincent’s favourite project was translating one of Mulisch’s later novels, Siegfried (2001). Translating is a puzzle; the easy bit is that there is an original text, the hard part is turning the original in an acceptable text. A good translator is able to find the middle-ground between staying true to the original text and making sure the text makes sense in the target language. If you then find word plays, such as anagrams in the text, that poses an additional challenge. Paul struggled with the anagram the protagonist made of the name Hitler, but found an elegant solution by using his first name as well.
The anagram in Dutch reads: Helrit, Relhit (ride to hell, riot hit).
In English it reads: I, dart of hell, Half Riot-Led.
Anagram in Dutch from Harry Mulisch, Siegfried (Amsterdam, 2001) YA.2002.a.19603
The anagram of Hitler’s name in English.
Vincent translates poetry, too. He has tackled 17th-Century poets Joost van den Vondel , P.C. Hooft , Gerbrand Bredero, the 19th-century writer De Schoolmeester (‘The Schoolmaster’, pen name of Gerrit van de Linde), Guido Gezelle and many others. His last poetry project was Mei (May) by Herman Gorter (Nijmegen, 2021; YF.2022.a.18897; you can read the original Dutch text here).
Herman Gorter, May, translated by Paul Vincent. (Nijmegen, 2021) YF.2022.a.18897
The Translations Database of the Dutch Foundation for Literature lists 125 titles translated by or contributed to by Paul Vincent. The database lists every Dutch title that has been translated into a foreign language. The organisation that runs it is responsible for the promotion of the quality and diversity of literature in the Netherlands and abroad. Its counterpart in Flanders is the Flemish Literary Fund.
Banner New Dutch Writing
Banner Flip through Flanders
Over the space of his long career Paul built a large library, containing literary works and works on translation. He has very kindly donated some 200 books to the British Library which we didn’t yet have. This is a welcome chance to fill some gaps in our collections, for which I would like to thank Paul very much, indeed! They will soon appear on our catalogue with a note about their provenance, so anyone who reads them knows they came from him.
F.E.J. Malherbe, Zuidafrikaanse Letterkunde (Pretoria, 1968) Awaiting shelfmark.
Happy retirement, Paul, and thank you!
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
05 July 2023
On 13 July 2023 the British Library will host the 5th Annual Graham Nattrass Lecture, co-organised with the German Studies Library Group. The theme of this year’s lecture, to be given by Dr Alexandra Lloyd of Oxford University, is the anti-Nazi resistance group Die Weisse Rose (The White Rose); 2023 marks the 80th anniversary of the arrest and execution of key members of the group.
Alexandra Lloyd, Defying Hitler: the White Rose Pamphlets (Oxford, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark. The cover photograph shows (l.-r.) Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst
Die Weisse Rose was formed in the summer of 1942 by four medical students at the University of Munich – Hans Scholl, Alexander Schmorell, Christoph Probst and Willi Graf. Later in 1942 Hans Scholl’s sister Sophie became part of this core group after arriving in Munich to study biology and philosophy. They were also joined by one of the University’s professors, Kurt Huber.
The members of Die Weisse Rose were all disillusioned with the Nazi regime. The four medical students had been required to spend time away from their studies serving on the Eastern Front where their experience of the horrors of war and the brutality of the Nazi forces towards Russians and Jews further influenced their desire to resist. Helped by a number of supporters in Munich and other cities, the core group produced and distributed leaflets criticising the regime, exposing the murder of Jews in the east, and exhorting readers to face the truth that Germany was losing the war. They also stencilled anti-Nazi graffiti around the centre of Munich.
One of the pamphlets issued by Die Weisse Rose. Reproduced in Günther Kirchberger, Die “Weisse Rose”: studentischer Widerstand gegen Hitler in München (Munich, ) X.809/63410
All this was done, of course, at great risk both to the core group members and their supporters. Their luck held until 18 February 1943 when Hans and Sophie Scholl took copies of the group’s sixth leaflet, an appeal specifically addressed to students, to distribute at the University of Munich. After leaving piles of leaflets near lecture rooms they found they had some left over, which Sophie threw from a balcony into the building’s atrium. She was spotted by a university caretaker who was a Gestapo informant, and the Scholls were quickly cornered and arrested. Probst was arrested two days later, having been identified as the author of an unpublished leaflet found in Hans’s possession. All three were hastily tried on 22 February and executed the same day.
Arrests of other group members followed. 14 were tried in April 1943, of whom Huber, Schmorell and Graf were sentenced to death and the others to prison. Huber and Schmorell were executed on 13 July 1943; Graf was kept in prison for a further three months, and interrogated under torture, but refused to give up the names of fellow resistance members. He was executed on 12 October 1943.
Cover of the screenplay for Michael Verhoeven’s film Die Weisse Rose (Karlsruhe, 1982) X.955/2653
Although the activities of Die Weisse Rose had little immediate impact in 1942-3, in the years after the Second World War the group came to be seen as a symbol of conscientious resistance and of a Germany that refused to follow Nazism. They are admired today both for their courage in criticising the regime and for the courage with which the core members – all but Huber still in their early 20s – met their deaths. Many streets, squares and schools in Germany are named after group members, especially Hans and Sophie Scholl. There have been biographies and academic studies written, and the group has also featured in fictional retellings and in films such as Michael Verhoeven’s Die Weisse Rose (1982) and Marc Rothemund’s Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl – the Final Days; 2005).
Haydn Kaye, The Girl who Said No to the Nazis (London, 2020) YKL.2022.a.9518
Die Weisse Rose and its members are less well known outside Germany, but have featured in the British history curriculum, and have been the focus of English-language fiction such as V.S. Alexander’s The Traitor (London, 2020; ELD.DS.493979) or Haydn Kaye’s young adult novel, The Girl who Said No to the Nazis. Alexandra Lloyd, our lecturer on the 13th, has also helped raise awareness of the group through Oxford University’s White Rose Project which “aims to bring the story of the White Rose resistance group … to English-speaking audiences through research, performance, and creative translation”. We hope that the Graham Nattrass Lecture will be a part of this work.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
The Graham Nattrass Lecture takes place on Thursday 13 July at 6pm in the Foyle Suite at the British Library, with a drinks reception from 5.30pm. Attendance is free and open to all, but if you wish to attend, please let the GSLG Chair Dorothea Miehe know by email.
05 May 2023
Wim de Bie (1939 -2023) Source: Wikimedia Commons
‘Godverdegodver, van Es!’, one person on Twitter exclaimed, following the news of Wim de Bie’s death, at the end of March 2023.
Van Es was one half of the duo Jacobse en Van Es – Jacobse being played by Kees van Kooten De Bie’s partner in comedy since the early 60s. They ruled supreme on Dutch television when it came to satire; no one has ever surpassed them.
‘Free Guys’ who made a living out of petty crime, black market trading and moonlighting in their home city of The Hague. Wim de Bie was the first to appear on television in 1978 as Tedje Van Es. Van Kooten/F. Jacobse had his debut shortly after. In 1979, Jacobse and Van Es began performing as a duo, a partnership that lasted until 1988. They were most popular as leaders of their right wing populist party, the Tegenpartij (Anti-Party, or Counterparty). Van Kooten and De Bie’s aim was to warn against populist parties, but reality threatened to overtake the satire. Had the Tegenpartij been a real party in Dutch politics it might have gained a few seats in parliament during the 1982 General elections. Instead the newly formed Centrumpartij, or Centre Party, which held similar views to the Tegenpartij won one seat, occupied by its leader Hans Janmaat (1934 – 2002). In response Jacobse and Van Es were killed off in a ‘failed coup attempt’, but they remained so popular that they were resurrected for a few more appearances in other programmes.
Jacobse en Van Es with a poster of their political party The Anti-Party, from Ons Kent Ons, 7th ed., (Amsterdam, 2013) LF.31.a.6523.
Jacobse en Van Es were only two of the more than 400 comedy characters and caricatures portrayed by Kees van Kooten and Wim de Bie in their various television shows from 1980 to 1998, when Van Kooten bowed out of television. Wim de Bie continued solo with programmes such as ‘Wim de Bie’, ‘Nachtcrème’ (Night Crème) and, ‘Beetje Laat’ (Bit Late).
Clips from their programmes are available in television archives such as Beeld en Geluid (‘Sound and Vision’) and their YouTube channel. A selection of their characters appears in the book Ons Kent Ons (‘Like Knows Like’). It is partly an homage to their makeup artist Arjen van der Grijn. Most of the images in this blog post are taken from the book, because they are simply the best.
De Bie wrote a number of books in which he explored some of his characters further, most notably Mr Foppe, his alter–ego.
Portrait of Mr Foppe. Roel van Bazen, from Ons Kent Ons.
Meneer Foppe over de rooie (‘Mr Foppe Loses It’) is the first story De Bie wrote about this shy bachelor who feels most at home in his apartment, where he leads a solitary, strictly regimented life. However, a cold snap and subsequent breakdown of the central heating force him out of his comfort zone to look for help. That leads to all sorts of tragi-comic events.
Front cover of Wim de Bie, Meneer Foppe over de rooie (Amsterdam, 1995). YA.1996.a.3688
De Bie had various successful female characters. In De liefste van de buis (‘The darling of the gogglebox’) the main protagonist is Mémien Holboog, a psychologist and ethics specialist. She regularly appears in Van Kooten and De Bie’s television show Keek op de Week (‘View on the Week’). The book starts with De Bie (the ‘I’ figure) receiving letters from viewer Mémien Holboog; something totally impossible and frankly disturbing. Mémien complains that she is no longer invited to his show. The correspondence leads to a passionate relationship. How? That is the crux of the book!
Mémien Holboog, from Ons Kent Ons.
Front cover of De liefste van de buis (Amsterdam, 1992) YA.1993.a.23886
A character that vents De Bie’s anger with Dutch society more directly appears in Schoftentuig (‘Bastard Scum’), a collection of short stories interspersed with interviews with the ‘recluse and former mining engineer’ Walter de Rochebrune. Through this embittered man De Bie can let rip and he does so with great relish. De Bie won the Henriette Roland Holst Prize in 1990, an award for a literary work that expresses great social engagement.
It is not only De Bie’s books that will provide lasting entertainment to grieving fans. He also lives on in the dozens of neologisms he and Van Kooten invented. ‘Geen Gezeik, Iedereen Rijk’ (‘No whining, everyone rich’), or ‘Samen voor ons eigen’ (‘Together for Ourselves’) are Jacobse en Van Es staples.
‘Houd je d’r buiten, Cock!’ (Keep out of it, Cock!) is used by many Dutch people to gently shut up a loved one. It refers to the couple Cock van der Laak and her husband Cor van der Laak, who is strongly opposed to the Anti-Party, and therefore one of De Bie’s longest standing characters, and one of the most popular.
Wim De Bie will be sorely missed. I can hear the former teacher German O. den Besten cry: Warum?! Warum?!
O. den Besten, former teacher German, from Ons Kent Ons
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic collections
31 March 2023
Best known for his young adult series Pelle og Proffen and the ‘Elling’ series of novels, Ingvar Ambjørnsen’s first work hardly had the same impact in its own time but is now thought of as Norway’s rarest post-war work. Pepsikyss is a weird and wonderful collection of poems and drawings, which Ambjørnsen produced, published and distributed on the streets of Bergen for three Norwegian Krone each in 1976. Now, if you can even find a copy, they fetch thousands of times that price.
Front cover, Ingvar Ambjørnsen’s Pepsikyss ([Bergen, 1976]), RF.2023.a.77
The library has recently acquired a pristine copy of this rarity. Copies of Pepsikyss are hard to come by, with about 200 or so in existence, after Ambjørnsen threw away half of his 500-copy print run once he had recouped his printing expenses and was finished with his experiment. Reviewed in the countercultural magazine Gateavisa, it is not quite true that it made no impact. Its DIY, anti-establishment ethos with accompanying psychedelic drawings struck a chord with a cult audience. Although it was not until 1981 when Ambjørnsen officially debuted with his novel 23-salen.
Contents page with the message in the corner, ‘To hell with the publishing capital!’
While Ambjørnsen always saw himself as a writer (despite an early-career foray into horticulture), it might have taken a while to get used to the idea of a publisher, judging by the note on Pepsikyss’s inside cover: ‘TIL HELVETE MED FORLAGS KAPITALEN’ – to hell with the publishing capital!
The young poet picks off the symbols of capitalist society and government in his direct, unflinching language. En plass i solen, the opening poem, features an image of a top-hatted rat sucking the dismembered head of poor society, as he basks in the sunshine of wealth. The poem ends with society waiting ‘in the shadows of commercial buildings and banks’ for a new day. Perhaps a little too in your face but the tone is certainly set for the rest of the collection.
The title poem, Pepsikyss, is, as you might expect about a kiss at a party from a woman who’d just had a sip of what Ambjørnsen at the end calls ‘Nixon piss’. The rest of the poem is a description of a visceral party feeling and he is here and in other poems like Rolle, keen to capture something of the immediacy and buzz of love, friendship and partying.
The collection includes a comic strip Underlige Jensen and a piece of prose, more a playlet featuring the ‘prodigal son’ and the ‘prodigal father’, Fortapte familie, which closes the book.
Pepsikyss joins a wide range of publications by Ingvar Ambjørnsen in the library’s collections, and is a precursor to the author’s continued preoccupation with outsider characters and the margins of society. It is a cross between free, unfiltered, doodled naivety and studied social criticism. Yet its content is only part of a story that took this copy from the streets of Bergen to the stacks of the BL.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic collections
13 March 2023
The outbreak of revolution in Vienna in March 1848 was inevitably accompanied by a wave of revolutionary poems and songs. The lifting of press censorship made the publishing and circulation of such material easy, and some pieces enjoyed great success.
One of the first to appear in print was Ludwig August Frankl’s ‘Die Universität’, which was composed while the author was on sentry duty on the night of 14-15 March and caught the popular mood when read aloud to an audience of students the following day. Its subsequent great success was no doubt helped by the fact that many of the 8,000 copies from the first print run were handed out free. The poem was quickly reprinted in various formats both in Vienna and further afield. There was even a French translation and there were at least 19 musical settings.
Ludwig August Frankl, ‘Die Universität’ (Vienna, 1848). 1899.m.19.(205).
Frankl’s chosen topic of the role of students in the March revolution was, like press freedom itself, a popular theme for poets, but there was one older student song that also enjoyed huge popularity and was described by the Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick as “a kind of harmless student Marseillaise”.
The song in question, the ‘Fuchslied’ (‘Song of the Fox’), was originally intended to be sung at student fraternity initiation ceremonies, ‘Fuchs’ being a nickname for a student in his first semester. (A typical ceremony, complete with singing of the ‘Fuchslied’, was described by Hugo Hagendorff in an article for the magazine Der erzählende Hausfreund in 1838.) Various versions exist, but all involve the student initiate being plied with tobacco and/or alcohol until he vomits, after which he is accepted as a ‘Bursch’, a full fraternity member.
‘Das Fuchslied, oder das allgemein beliebte Studenten-Lied “Was macht der Herr Papa”’ ([Vienna, 1848.]). C.175.cc.6.(20.)
The song has no obvious political content. At a stretch, a section found in some versions about a father reading Cicero while his wife and daughter carry out various tasks for him could perhaps be read as a mild satire of bourgeois life, but since the song predates the revolution it is unlikely that there was any intended political slant to it. Some Viennese writers during the revolution added new verses and variations with a definite edge of political satire, but it was the continuing success and ubiquity of the apolitical original that gave rise to these additions.
Another odd twist is that the song’s popularity in Vienna had nothing to do with its use in the city’s own student traditions but arose from its appearance in a play by the German writer Roderich Benedix, Das bemooste Haupt (literally ‘The Mossy Head’, but the term can also refer to a ‘Perpetual Student’). The play was written in 1840 but only received its Viennese premiere in April 1848, when it swiftly achieved huge success among revolutionary students. The same work also popularised the practice of the charivari or ‘Katzenmusik’, where singing of the ‘Fuchslied’ became a regular feature.
A Viennese revolutionary charivari, from Maximilian Bach, Geschichte der Wiener Revolution im Jahre 1848 (Vienna, 1898) 9315.d.40.
Perhaps the secret of the song’s revolutionary success was that it was easy to learn, remember and adapt, and that its background lent it an aura of mischief – ideal for young men keen to cock a snook at traditional authority. Hanslick recalled hearing an escalating musical battle between students singing the ‘Fuchslied’ and a civil servant who tried to drown them out with the imperial anthem, ‘Gott erhalte unsern Kaiser’ (‘God Preserve our Emperor’). Joseph Helfert, in a survey of the literature of the Viennese revolution, describes how the ‘Fuchslied’ came to be perceived as the antithesis to the anthem, the latter supposedly representing “regression, slavery and narrow-mindedness” and the former “progress, freedom and high-mindedness”.
The song’s simple and catchy tune (similar to the English ‘A-hunting we will go’) also took on a life of its own. It was incorporated by Johann Strauss the Elder into a ‘March of the Student Legion’, first performed in April 1848, and Franz von Suppé composed a series of ‘Humorous Variations’ on it in the same year. Today it is probably best known for its appearance in Brahms’s ‘Academic Festival Overture’, written over three decades after the song’s brief but intense revolutionary career.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Eduard Hanslick, Aus meinem Leben (Berlin, 1894) 12249.ccc.7.
Roderich Benedix, Das bemooste Haupt, oder, Der Lange Israel (Wesel, 1840)
Joseph Alexander Helfert, Der Wiener Parnass im Jahre 1848 (Vienna, 1882) 11528.k.10.
Wolfgang Häusler, ‘Marseillaise, Katzenmusik und Fuchslied als Mittel sozialen und politischen Protests in der Wiener Revolution 1848’ in Barbara Boisits (ed.) Musik und Revolution: die Produktion von Identität und Raum durch Musik in Zentraleuropa 1848-49 ( Vienna, 2013) YF.2014.a.20622
A collection of digitised poems, songs, broadsides and periodicals from the 1848 Revolution can be found on the website of the Austrian National Library
30 December 2022
C is for Czechoslovak Independence Day, which marks the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak State in 1918.
D is for Digitisation, including the 3D digitisation of Marinetti’s Tin Book.
E is for Annie Ernaux, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in October.
Examples of Fraktur letter-forms from Wolfgang Fugger, Ein nützlich und wolgegründt Formular manncherley schöner Schriefften ... (Nuremberg, 1533) C.142.cc.12.
F is for Festive Traditions, from songs to fortune telling.
G is for Guest bloggers, whose contributions we love to receive!
H is for Hryhorii Skovoroda, the Ukrainian philosopher and poet whose anniversary we marked in December.
I is for our series on Iceland and the Library’s Icelandic collections.
J is for Jubilees.
Abetka (Kyïv, 2005). YF.2010.a.18369.
K is for Knowledge systems and the work of Snowchange Cooperative, a Finnish environmental organisation devoted to protecting and restoring the boreal forests and ecosystems through ‘the advancement of indigenous traditions and culture’.
L is for Limburgish, spoken in the South of the Netherlands.
M is for Mystery – some bibliographical sleuthing.
N is for Nordic acquisitions, from Finnish avant-garde poetry to Swedish art books.
O is for Online resources from East View, which are now available remotely.
Giovanni Bodoni and Giovanni Mardersteig, Manuale tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura di Giovanni Mardersteig. (Verona, 1968) L.R.413.h.17.
Q is for Quebec with a guest appearance by the Americas blog featuring the work of retired French collections curator Des McTernan.
R is for Rare editions of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s Kobzar.
T is for Translation and our regular posts to mark Women in Translation Month.
Alphabet Anglois, contenant la prononciation des lettres avec les declinaisons et conjugaisons (Rouen, 1639). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)
V is for Victory – a contemporary Italian newspaper report of the Battle of Trafalgar.
W is for Richard Wagner who wrote about a fictional meeting with Beethoven.
X is for... (no, we couldn’t think of anything either!)
Y is for You, our readers. Thank you for following us!
Z is for our former colleague Zuzanna, whom we remembered in February.
Azbuka ōt knigi osmochastnye̡, sirěchʹ grammatikii (Lviv, 1574). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)
08 December 2022
A few months ago one of the curators of our current exhibition ‘Alexander the Great: the Making of a Myth’ asked me for some information about a book they were thinking of including (but eventually did not). This was a German play of 1941, Alexander, by Hans Baumann, a writer whose career had flourished in the Third Reich, especially through the many songs he wrote for the Nazi youth movements.
Cover of Hans Baumann, Alexander (Jena, 1941) X.950/2122.
Baumann’s play is set after Alexander’s conquests in India and depicts the conflict between Alexander’s desire to advance further and that of his army to return home. Generals Cleitus and Craterus, sons of Admiral Nearchus, plot with relatives of the former Persian king Darius to encourage mutiny in the army, hoping that this will force Alexander to return to Macedon and place Persia back in the hands of Darius’s family. They initially succeed in rousing the army, but Alexander kills Cleitus to avenge an insult, and Craterus is executed for killing Alexander’s friend Hephaestion. Although the mutiny is crushed, the last scenes hint at Alexander’s own death, and it is left to Nearchus, still loyal to Alexander despite his sons’ deaths, to lead the Macedonian fleet onwards, inspired by Alexander’s example.
The plot plays fast and loose with history: Cleitus and Craterus were neither brothers nor Nearchus’s sons, Hephaestion died some time later and was not murdered by Craterus, who outlived Alexander. Baumann was clearly more concerned with symbolism than history. The play is reminiscent of a ‘Thingspiel’, a form of stylised drama designed for outdoor performance, often using historical events as allegories of the present. Baumann himself had written a Thingspiel, Rüdiger von Bechelaren, in 1939 and elements of the genre, particularly a rather static presentation and the use of choruses, remain in Alexander.
The play was widely praised on publication and won two literary prizes. It caught the attention of the actor Gustaf Gründgens, then Artistic Director of the Berlin State Theatre, who asked Baumann for permission to stage Alexander. The premiere on 19 June 1941, with Gründgens in the title role, was well received, but the play, according to different accounts, ran for only two, six or seven performances.
Gustaf Gründgens in the role of Alexander in Baumann’s play
These different accounts have much to do with Baumann’s later claim that Alexander was an expression of his growing unease at Germany’s aggression, and a plea for Hitler to treat his conquered peoples with clemency and respect as Alexander is shown to treat the Persians. In 1985 Baumann told the scholar Jay W. Baird that Goebbels had been offended by this message and ordered the play’s closure after its second performance (Baird, p. 168). Peter Jammerthal, however, in his dissertation on the Berlin State Theatre in the Third Reich, states that the play ran for seven nights, the last being a private performance for Hitler Youth members. He does agree that the play’s message was uncomfortable for the regime, but more because the depiction of mutinous generals and discord in the army sat ill with the planned attack on the Soviet Union which began on 22 June 1941 (Jammerthal, p. 211).
Most other writers agree that the invasion of the USSR was the primary reason for the play’s short run, with Gründgens worried that unwanted parallels might be drawn. (Alfred Mühr also suggests that Gründgens was increasingly disenchanted with the play and unhappy in the role (Mühr, p. 195)). However, there is disagreement as to how much Baumann’s alleged dramatization of his growing doubts about the regime affected the decision to close Alexander, and indeed how much the play truly does reflect such doubts. For all the praise of clemency there is plenty of talk of great men, great deeds, and the need to strive onwards which would not be out of place in standard Nazi propaganda rhetoric.
After the war Baumann forged a new and highly successful career primarily as a children’s writer, although his former role as the ‘bard of the Hitler Youth’ and the promotion and awards given to his work by the Nazi regime returned to haunt him in various literary scandals. His claims about Alexander and its cancellation were important in his attempts to distance himself from the past. But although he described himself as having increasingly withdrawn from glorifying the Nazis, his record suggests somewhat otherwise. In 1942 he edited and contributed to a volume of laudatory essays, Der Retter Europas (‘The Saviour of Europe’), marking Hitler’s birthday, and as late as April 1944 he addressed Hitler Youth members in Passau, using typical Nazi rhetoric about ‘Bolshevik hordes’ and treacherous neighbours, and warning against accepting ‘a dishonourable and deadly “peace”’ from their enemies (Rosmus, p. 280).
Baird suggests that Baumann had continued to toe the propaganda line out of reluctant necessity, and that his post-war children’s books reflected an ‘intellectual transformation’ (Baird, p. 171). Others, however, such as the literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki and the children’s writer Gudrun Pausewang took a more critical view, arguing that the post-war Baumann had never truly admitted the extent of his complicity with the Nazis and of his role in turning a generation of young people into willing fighters for Hitler and his regime through the propaganda in his songs.
Cover of Hans Baumann, Der große Alexanderzug (Munich, 1967) X21/6285
Baumann returned to the theme of Alexander the Great in one of his historical novels for children, Der große Alexanderzug, published in English by Stella Humphries as Alexander’s Great March (London, 1968; X.709/6502). The story is narrated by one of Alexander’s couriers, who concludes that ‘Alexander did not inspire my love’ but that he did have admirable qualities, especially in the way ‘he removed the distinctions between the conquerors and the conquered, [and] reconciled the nations in spite of the opposition of his own people’. This was what the older Baumann described as the key message of his Alexander play, and it is significant that he ended his children’s novel on the same note. Was it perhaps a message to his critics, and a reinforcement of his argument that Alexander was a veiled critique of aggressive Nazi expansionism? We will probably never know, but the history of this play and its author tell a fascinating if inconclusive story.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Jay W. Baird, To Die for Germany: Heroes in the Nazi Pantheon (Bloomington, 1990) YA.1991.b.6310
Peter Jammerthal, Ein zuchtvolles Theater: Bühnenästhetik des Dritten Reiches. Das Berliner Staatstheater von der Machtergreifung bis zur Ära Gründgens. Dissertation, Freie Universität Berlin, 2007 https://refubium.fu-berlin.de/handle/fub188/4017
Alfred Mühr, Mephisto ohne Maske: Gustaf Gründgens, Legende und Wahrheit (Munich, 1981) X.950/15850
Anna Rosmus, Hitlers Nibelungen: Niederbayern im Aufbruch zu Krieg und Untergang (Grafenau, 2015) YF.2016.b.1305
Marcel Reich-Ranicki, ‘Hans Baumann’ Die Zeit, 9 March 1962 https://web.archive.org/web/20140202135736/https://www.zeit.de/1962/10/hans-baumann/komplettansicht
Karl H. Ruppel, Berliner Schauspiel: dramaturgische Betrachtungen 1936 bis 1942 (Berlin, 1943) 11868.aaa.19.
‘Hans Baumann’ Regensburg europäisch: Jahresgabe 2016.
Wilhelm Haefs, ‘Hans Baumann. Die Karriere eines Schriftstellers im Nationalsozialismus’, Das Bücherschloss: Mitteilungen aus der Internationalen Jugendbibliothek, 2016-2017 (‘Themenheft Hans-Baumann-Tagung’), pp. 20-39. ZF.9.a.7322
‘Hans Baumann’, Literaturportal Bayern
10 November 2022
There are countless adaptations of the Alexander Romance, a collection of fantastical stories about Alexander the Great originally brought together in Greek, probably in the third century AD. Among the earliest adaptations to appear in print was Hartlieb’s Alexanderbuch. Nine editions of this German translation are known to have appeared from 1473 to 1514 at Augsburg and then Strasbourg. Each is enriched with woodcuts that depict, for example, Alexander’s first encounter with his man-eating horse Bucephalus, his meetings with naked philosophers, and his discussions with talking trees. By comparing the editions, it’s easy to see how the illustrations fall into three distinct categories and to begin to understand something of their development over time.
Johann Hartlieb (c.1410-1468) was a physician who wrote the Alexanderbuch around 1444 for his patron, Duke Albrecht III of Bavaria. His principal source appears to have been the popular Historia de preliis, which in turn was a Latin-language translation of a long lost Greek text made in the 10th century by Leo of Naples. That said, Hartlieb’s text begins with the phrase ‘Hereafter followeth the story of the Great Alexander, which was written by Eusebius’, and Hartlieb’s German adaptation is as a result often indexed under Eusebius of Caesarea in many reference works and catalogues.
Hartlieb’s text circulated in manuscript for three decades until Johann Bämler issued the first printed edition at Augsburg in 1473. His publication is illustrated with nearly 30 woodcuts, many seemingly inspired by the miniatures in a manuscript now at the Pierpont Library in New York (MS M.782). With the exception of the frontispiece portrait (see below), the same woodcuts then appear in three subsequent Augsburg editions (1478, 1480 and 1483) printed by Anton Sorg. Among them is the image of Alexander in a diving bell.
Alexander’s diving bell in the Sorg edition of 1483, IB.5949
The Greek Alexander Romance (Stoneman, Book II, Chapter 38) talks of a descent of 464 feet to the bottom the sea, but here the impression is of a rather cramped-looking Alexander being lowered into a fish pond.
The next group of early editions are all published in Strasbourg. (Unfortunately no copies can be traced of a further Augsburg edition of 1478 reported in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue). These Strasbourg editions (1488, 1493 and 1503), whether issued by Martin Schott or Bartholomäus Kistler, are curious because they contain broadly the same woodcuts as seen in the Augsburg volumes, but they have been redrawn and printed in reverse.
Alexander’s diving bell in the Schott edition of 1488, IB.1178
The most obvious explanation is that they were created by copying or tracing the illustrations in one of the earlier Augsburg editions.
The last of these early Hartlieb editions also appeared in Strasbourg, but this time from the press of Matthias Hupfuff. Visually, this work is very different, with the text printed in two columns for the first time. The woodcut illustrations are also different, although the subjects are much the same. In the new woodcut of the diving bell, Alexander is still in an impossibly cramped vessel, but there is only one person on the shoreline instead of the usual three.
Alexander’s diving bell in the Hupfuff edition of 1514, C.39.h.14
In common with other illustrations in this 1514 edition, the woodcut appears to have been extended, unsatisfactorily, by the addition of a piece from a different illustration. This opens up the possibility that the woodcuts were not made specifically for this edition, and were in fact being re-used.
Returning to Bämler’s first edition of 1473, several surviving copies contain a curious frontispiece portrait of Alexander with boars’ tusks rising from his lower jaw.
Alexander with boars’ tusks in the Bämler edition of 1473. © National Library of Scotland
The source for this strange feature may ultimately lie in the Greek Alexander Romance, which tells us that ‘his teeth were as sharp as nails’ (Stoneman, Book I, Chapter 13). In Hartlieb’s German, this has become ‘Sein zen waren garscharpff als eines ebers schwein’ (‘his teeth were as sharp as those of a wild boar’). The portrait has the same features as one seen in a Hartlieb manuscript now at the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt (Hs. 4256), and the two may have had a common model. It is replaced in other editions up to 1503 by a full-length portrait of a seated Alexander without tusks.
The British Library exhibition Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth covers 2,300 years of storytelling about Alexander, and runs until 19 February 2023. Four editions of Hartlieb’s Alexanderbuch are on display, including a copy generously lent by the National Library of Scotland that shows Alexander with the mysterious boars’ tusks.
Adrian S. Edwards, Head of Printed Heritage Collections
Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt, ‘Book Illustration in Augsburg in the Fifteenth Century’. Metropolitan Museums Studies, 4.1 (1932), 3-17. Ac.4713.b.
Richard Stoneman (editor), Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth [exhibition catalogue] (London, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark
Richard Stoneman (translator), The Greek Alexander Romance (London, 1991). H.91/1160
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