THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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10 posts categorized "Hungary"

30 August 2019

Women in Translation Month: top picks from the European Studies team (Part 2)

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Collage of book covers featured in the blog post

In this two-part blog post, the European Studies team have selected books by women authors in translation from across the continent. Ranging from 20th-century classics to contemporary fiction, the majority of these works were also translated by women, and several have won or been shortlisted for literary and translation awards.

Cover of Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

Olga Tokarczuk, Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2017), ELD.DS.228759
Chosen by Magda Szkuta, Curator East European Collections

Olga Tokarczuk, the winner of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights, is one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful Polish writers of her generation, particularly noted for the hallmark mythical tone of her writing. The Polish title Bieguni refers to runaways, a sect of Old Believers, who believe that being in constant motion is a trick to avoid evil. Flights is a fragmentary novel consisting of over 100 episodes, each exploring what it means to be a traveller through space as well as time. Set between the 17th and 21st centuries, the novel includes some fictional stories and some fact-based, narrated from a perspective of an anonymous female traveller. It was translated by Jennifer Croft, an American author and critic who works from Polish, Ukrainian and Spanish. She is a founding editor of the Buenos Aires Review.

Cover of The Polyglot Lovers by Lina Wolff

Lina Wolff, The Polyglot Lovers, translated by Saskia Vogel (And other stories, 2019), ELD.DS.410017
Chosen by Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

Referred to as ‘feminism for the Fleabag generation’ (Spectator), Lina Wolff’s second novel takes down ‘myths of male authorship’ (FT) in this absurb book about love and loss. Both this and Wolff’s first novel, Brett Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs, were awarded PEN Translates awards by English PEN, thanks to the translations of Saskia Vogel, prolific translator of Swedish fiction, who recently wrote about how she has mainly translated women authors, who ‘question the shape of society and the assumptions we make, with a particular interest in sex and gender, language, economics, and power.’

Covers of Parts I and II of The time is out of joint: Shakespeare as philosopher of history by Ágnes Heller, featuring an owl

Ágnes Heller, The time is out of joint: Shakespeare as philosopher of history (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), translated by Magda Módos (Osiris, 2000), YC.2003.a.4129 (English) YF.2010.a.20242 (Hungarian)
Chosen by Andrea Déri, Cataloguer

‘The time is a sphinx in Shakespeare’s plays, but a sphinx whose secret will never be known, whose riddle will never be solved.’ ‘[…] for the secret of time is the meaning of life. A life has no meaning except for the question concerning meaning itself.’

Hungarian philosopher Ágnes Heller (1929–2019) interrogates time and temporality in Shakespeare’s plays in this book and engages her readers in doing the same in their life as well; challenges foreshadowed by Hamlet’s words in the title. An obituary in the Financial Tomes described Heller as ‘one of the most respected European philosophers of her generation’, ‘a life-long fighter for freedom’. Magda Módos, known for her interest in philosophy, translated the book from the English original into Hungarian.

Cover of Bad Roads by Natal'ya Vorozhbit

Natal'ia Vorozhbit, Bad Roads, translated by Sasha Dugdale (Nick Hern Books, 2017), ELD.DS.228387
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

First performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London in 2017, Natal'ia Vorozhbit’s powerful and sometimes bitterly comic play focuses on the impact of the conflicts in Ukraine on women from different generations and backgrounds. A leading contemporary Ukrainian playwright, Vorozhbit is the co-founder of the Theatre of the Displaced in Kyiv and curator of the Class Act project in Ukraine. Bad Roads was translated from the Russian by the prolific poet, translator and editor Sasha Dugdale, who reflected on her experience of translating the play and its harrowing subject matter in an article for the Guardian.

Cover of Bitter Herbs by Marga Minco, featuring a drawing of a woman

Marga Minco, Bitter Herbs, translated by Roy Edwards (Oxford University Press, 1960)
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

This autobiographical novella or chronicle about a Dutch Jewish family during the Second World War was published as Minco’s debut in 1957. Bitter Herbs was given a literary award in 1958 and has been translated into several languages. Minco became the Dutch voice in European war literature. The book’s sober, clear, direct style belies its deeper meanings. Minco’s themes are loss, loneliness, fear, guilt, and a longing for security. She and her uncle were the only members of her family to survive the war. Minco received the highest Dutch literary award, the PC Hooftprijs, for her complete oeuvre in 2019, at the age of 98.

Cover of The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern, featuring a figure sitting on a bench
 

Hélène Gestern, The People in the Photo, translated by Emily Boyce and Ros Schwartz (Gallic Book 2014), Nov.2018/1771
Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

Hélène Gestern (born 1971) is a French writer and academic. One of her favourite themes is photography, and the power it exercises over memory. In The People in the Photo, Hélène is an archivist living in Paris. Her mother died when she was a baby, so she posts a newspaper ad requesting information about a mysterious photograph of her mother alongside two unknown men. This provokes a response from Stéphane, a Swiss scientist living in Ashford, who recognises his father. The People in the Photo revolves around the exchange of letters, emails and text messages between the two, and explores themes of memory, loss and the power of photography and images as the pair shares discoveries and speculate about their parents’ secrets. Published in 2011, the original French Eux sur la photo received the “Prix Coup de cœur des lycéens” de la Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco and the Prix René Fallet in 2012.

24 December 2018

A Bioluminescent Christmas

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Christmas is associated with sparkling lights that lift the eyes up to the stars in motionless awe. On Christmas 1875, a curious traveller wrote about a less-known yet equally magical light that drew his eyes below the horizon, a light that flared up with the breaking waves: sea sparkle.

Photograph of the phenomenon of sea sparke
Sea sparkle (Photo by Sander van der Wel from Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 2.0])

The traveller, count József Zichy, a politician of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, was on a semi-official Asian tour to expand trade and political relations, and to learn about the world through personal experience, a practice not uncommon among members of the aristocracy.

Title page of József Zichy’s manuscript diary (1875-6)
Title page of József Zichy’s manuscript diary: “From 1875 November 22 to 1876 September 22 | Diary of my travels in Asia | original manuscript: I.-XVII. notebooks ‘Nulla dies sine linea’” Reproduced in Zichy József, Zichy Mihály (ed), Gróf Zichy József utazásai, Volume 1 Ázsia 1875-76 (Budapest, 2013) YF.2014.6057

Map of Zichy’s travel in Asia in 1875-1876
Map of Zichy’s travel in Asia in 1875-1876, from Gróf Zichy József utazásai

En route from Aden, Yemen to Pointe de Galle, Sri Lanka, in the Arabian Sea, , Zichy described his encounter with sea sparkle in a few words but with great precision:

December 22. Lat. 12.16 - long. 46.20
We are on open sea again […]. […] - In the evening we can’t help but staring at the sea’s phosphorescence, which is much stronger here than anywhere else. We are leaving behind a pretty fiery trail and gazillions of sparks are scattered when the waves brake on the side of our huge ship’s hull. - The weather is splendid, a mild breeze makes the heat more tolerable than it was in the Red Sea.

December 26. Lat. 9o12’, long. 63 o55’
[…] The evenings are not so beautiful any longer because the sea’s phosphorescence is much weaker here than it was in the Gulf of Aden; the weather remains good.
[Translation: Andrea Deri]

What Zichy observed was bioluminescence, generated by high concentration of tiny planktonic organisms, probably Dinoflagellates (δίνη, Greek, refers to whirling, swirling; flagellates, Latin, refers to the flagellum or flagella on the surface of the algae). However, a wide range of species of several taxonomic groups may bring about similar phenomena.

The cold glowing white-blue light of sea sparkle is the result of biochemical reactions within marine organisms. The light flares up with wave action that may be produced by walking, swimming or vessel movement. The light is assumed to deter the Dinoflagellates’ predators or act as a ‘burglar alarm’, which may attract secondary predators to prey on the primary ones.

Sea sparkle can occur in coastal and shallow waters of tropical and temperate seas. Current blog posts and daily newspapers document sea sparkle from India’s western coast to Anglesey

Mariners have known bioluminescence for long time. Fishers and traditional navigators of South India’s Malabar coasts and around Bombay ‘have reported a luminous sea surface and at times a milky sea invariably during dark nights following calm or sultry weather and during overcast monsoon periods’ and glowing sea surface like fireflies in Bengal.

Bioluminescence is now even used as a tourist attraction to small islands off the south Indian coast. While Zichy mentioned some of them, Lakshadweep and the Maldives, the distance from the atolls and the time of the night did not allow him to record any further observations:

December 27. Lat. 8o 15’, long. 68o 34’
[…]Tonight we are going to pass between the Lakedires and the Maldives. To see these islands we will barely do because their shores are rather low. […]
[Translation: Andrea Deri]

Zichy did not have the public in mind when he wrote his diary. Yet, its publication by the Hungarian National Széchenyi Library and the publisher Széphalom with the editorial scholarship of Mihály Zichy, a member of the same family, adds great value to history, linguistics, anthropology, arts and sciences.

József Zichy’s entries also demonstrate the significance of personal diaries in environmental change research, especially when the traveller’s environmental and cultural observations include metadata such as longitude and latitude coordinates. Mapping Zichy’s observations shows that he was able to observe sea sparkles in deep sea also: an occurrence that may be of interest of current long-term and large-scale studies.

Map showing Zichy’s positions on 22 December 1875

Map showing Zichy's position on 26 December 1875
Map of Zichy’s positions on 22 Dec and 26 Dec

Zichy embodied the qualities of what we would call today a citizen scientist. He was keen to learn about the world through first-hand experience and use his insights for the public good. His guiding principle for keeping a diary features on the title page of his manuscript: Nulla dies sine linea (‘No day without a line’, that is no day should pass without a line written).

While Zichy was ‘only’ interested in the aesthetics of sea sparkle, he may have unwittingly made an important contribution to environmental history of the Arabian Sea in light of current studies on the possible nexus between increasing bioluminescent algal blooms and unfolding environmental change. Even if this is not the case, his observations certainly offer opportunities for interdisciplinary research, bridging humanities and environmental studies, a dynamically growing field of environmental humanities.

If you cannot frolic with luminous fellow creatures this Christmas, you may still dive into watching and recording (so easy with mobile phones!) a natural spectacle, inspired by Zichy, our fellow citizen scientist from the 19th century. Who knows where your Christmas diary might end up in the history of science?

Andrea Deri, Cataloguer

References/Further reading:

R. Santhanam, Marine Dinoflagellates (New York, 2015) (B) 579.81776

Therese Wilson, J. Woodland (Woody), Bioluminescence: living lights, lights for living (Cambridge, Mass., 2013) YK.2013.a.10980

Balsubramiam Arunachalam, ‘Traditional Sea and Sky Wisdom of Indian Seamen and Their Practical Applications’ in Himanshu Prabha Ray, Jean-Francois Salles, Tradition and Archaeology - Early Maritime Contacts in the Indian Ocean (New Delhi, 1996) ORW.1997.a.1626

Balsubramiam Arunachalam, Heritage of Indian Sea Navigation (Mumbai, 2003) YA.2003.a.26499

Ismael Vaccaro, Eric Alden Smith, Shankar Aswani, Environmental social sciences: methods and research design (Cambridge, 2010)

University of British Columbia, Phyto'pedia - The Phytoplankton Encyclopaedia Project: Noctiluca stintillans (UBC, 2012)

iSpot: Share Nature - an Open University platform where today’s citizen scientists can upload their sightings (photo, text) and request identification

28 September 2018

1918: A New Europe on Film

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 May 2018

An Eyewitness Account of Life in the Early 19th-Century Habsburg Empire

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John Bax (1793-1863) was an administrator in the Bombay Civil Service. Throughout his working life he kept a meticulous record of his travels between England and India, as well as around Great Britain, and across continental Europe and the Middle East. Two volumes of Bax’s journals have been digitised for the Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme, thanks to Bax’s descriptions of Arabia and Persia. However, these volumes also offer us an insight into life in early 19th-century Europe.

Bax Diary header Header for diary entries describing Bax’s journey from England to Persia during 1824/25. Mss Eur F377/1

Bax’s overland journey from England to India during 1824 and 1825 is particularly illuminating, not least because it offers fascinating vignettes of life in the Habsburg Empire. Bax’s journey through the Empire’s dominions covered in excess of 1,000 kilometres. It took him from Salzburg to Vienna, where he stayed for several weeks over Christmas 1824, and then onwards to Buda and Pest, through Transylvania, stopping at the towns of Temeswar [Timisoara] and Hermanstadt [Sibiu], before passing into the Turkish province of Wallachia.

Bax Austrian Dominions K.Top.90.2.Tab.End A map showing ‘Austrian Dominions’ in the early 19th Century (London, 1809) Maps K.Top.90.2.TAB.END.

Bax’s diary entries reveal something of the internal contradictions and tensions of the Habsburg Empire; of the contrasts between its centre and far-flung frontiers, of strict religious codes versus cosmopolitanism, and the stark contrasts that existed between courtly opulence and provincial poverty.

Between Munich and Salzburg Bax noted that the ‘road is protected by whole troops of saints, several of whom were comfortably housed in a kind of sentry box.’ Of Salzburg itself Bax wrote that ‘the bigotry of [the town’s] inhabitants is of ancient date and no Protestant is permitted to domicile there.’ Bax added that ‘We were required to specify our religion immediately upon arrival’ (f 209).

Bax Picturesque Austria Retz 10205.f.10 An Austrian road with a wayside shrine, from Das pittoreske Oesterreich, oder Album der österreichischen Monarchie ... (Vienna, 1840-1846) 10205.f.10.

Bax was ambivalent about Vienna. He described the ‘want of energy and activity of the inhabitants’ and the ‘changeless monotony of society’ as not befitting the capital of a large Empire. However, Bax did note that ‘all the finery and clothes of the city’ were on display at the Prater on New Year’s Day, and that the music of the carnival seasons was ‘universally of the superior order’. Bax appears to have thought the most ‘imposing spectacle’ of his stay was the funeral procession of an Austrian Field Marshal (ff 210-211).

When Bax arrived at Buda the town was still a distinctly separate entity from Pest, its modern neighbour, on the opposite bank of the Danube. 24 years elapsed after Bax’s visit before the Széchenyi Chain Bridge linked the two towns. In Buda, Bax wrote that during ‘the summer months, there is a bridge of forty-seven boats’ across the river, which were opened up for one hour each morning to allow the passage of other vessels up and down river (f 213).

Bax Buda and Pest 10201.e.5 View of Buda and Pest joined by the boat bridge, from József Göóz, Budapest története ... (Budapest, 1890). 10201.e.5.

In 1825, large parts of the Habsburg Empire had been liberated from Ottoman rule only a century previously. In Transylvania, Bax saw for himself past and present attempts to protect the region’s towns from the Turks. His journal indicates the contrast between the ‘strong fortified’ Timisoara and the ‘dilapidated’ red brick walls of Sibiu. On the road between Timisoara and Sibiu, Bax wrote of villages ‘built of wood and mud’, in which ‘poverty seemed to reign on every side in pale and wan squalidity’ (f 215).

Bax Temeswar 10215.g.13. Plan of the fortress of Timisoara in the early 1850s, from Johann N. Preyer, Monographie der königlichen Freistadt Temesvár ... (Timisoara, 1853). 10215.g.13.

When Bax arrived in Sibiu the carnival season was in full swing. He described dancing crowds of ‘Germans, Hungarians, Greeks, Saxons and Transilvanians [who] were nightly exhibiting a succession of the most intricate figures.’ On his departure from the town he witnessed a marriage procession, led by a man ‘bearing aloft a long pole to which streamers of various colours were attached’, followed by a fiddler, the bride and groom, and a ‘mob of men and women and children’ (ff 216-217).

Bax Roumanian Wedding 10006.ff.10. Dancing at a Transylvanian wedding, from Robert Brown, The Peoples of the World… (London, 1900). 10006.ff.10

You can read more of John Bax’s travels throughout Europe and elsewhere, in the first of his two volumes of travel journals, now available online on the Qatar Digital Library.

Mark Hobbs, Content Specialist, Gulf History, Qatar Project

03 May 2017

Petro Lyzanets and his love for linguistics

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The Ukrainian collection of the British Library receives many donations during the year, but a recent generous gift was especially noteworthy. First of all, it consisted of an exceptional number of books – 37, and secondly, they were all by the same author. Olga Kerziouk and I wish to thank the Uzhhorod National University and Petro Lyzanets for their amazing contribution to Ukrainian and Hungarian studies.

Picture 1 with portrait

 Volodymyr Fedynyshynets, Fenomen profesora Lyzantsia. (Uzhhorod, 1996) YA.2002.a.18051.

Petro Lyzanets (also known as Péter Lizanec in Hungarian), a Ukrainian linguist and Professor at Uzhhorod National university was born on 2 July 1930 in the village of Izvor, later renamed as Rodnykivka, in the Zakarpattia Region  of Ukraine. One of a family of five children, he received his education at Uzhhorod State University, and his love of the Hungarian language developed during his studies at school and was encouraged at home by his mother. In 1948 he became a student of Ukrainian language at Uzhhorod State University and also worked at the library, writing his thesis about Mykhailo Luchkai (1879-1843) (also known as Michaelis Lutskay).

In 1989 Petro Lyzanets wrote an introduction to Luchkai’s book Hramatyka slov’iano-ruska = Grammatica slavo-ruthena (Kyiv, 1989; YA.2001.a.7611) (pictures below), which became a bestseller due to huge public interest.

Picture 2 Mykhailo Luchkai   Picture 2.1 Mykhailo Luchai-reprint

Ukrainian/Hungarian dialects in the Zakarpattia Region continued to be a strong academic interest of Petro Lyzanets for many years, as evidenced by his books Atlas leksychnykh madiaryzmiv (Atlas of lexical Hungarian elements; volume 3; Uzhhorod, 1976; awaiting shelfmark; picture below on the left) and Ukraïnsʹko-uhorsʹkyĭ slovnyk stalykh slovospoluchenʹ ta vyraziv = Ukrán-magyar állandosult szókapcsolatok és kifejezések szótára (Ukrainian-Hungarian dictionary of idioms and phrases; picture below on the right),  Magyar-ukrán állandosult szókapcsolatok és kifejezések szótára = Uhorsʹko-ukraïnsʹkyĭ slovnyk stalykh slovospoluchenʹ ta vyraziv (Hungarian-Ukrainian dictionary of idioms and phrases), both published in 2009 (awaiting shelfmarks).

Picture 3 Atlas leksychnykh  Picture 4 Ukrainian-Hungarian dictionary

In 2000 and 2010 were published IUvileĭnyĭ zbirnyk na chestʹ 70-richchia vid dnia narodzhennia profesora Petra Lyzantsia (YA.2002.a.28390) and IUvileĭnyĭ zbirnyk na chestʹ 80- richchia vid dnia narodzhennia profesora Lyzantsia (YF.2012.a.5983) celebrating the 70th and 80th birthdays of Petro Lyzanets (picture below).

Picture 5

While we already had volume 1 of A kárpátaljai magyar nyelvjárások atlasza = Atlas vengerskikh govorov Zakarpatia (Atlas of Hungarian dialects of Transcarpathia Region) (Ungvár: 1992; Maps 217.a.21.), it was great to add volumes 2 and 3 to our collection (picture below).

Picture 6 Atlas

We also received a donation of the complete Works of Petro Lyzanets (1957-2010) in 30 volumes (picture below).

Picture 7 Works

 Rimma  Lough, SEE Cataloguer Russian/Belarusian/Ukrainian

References:

Magyar-ukrán szótár = Uhorsʹko-ukraïnsʹkyĭ slovnyk / szerkesztésében Péter Lizanec = za redaktsiieiu P.M. Lyzantsia (Ungvár, 2001). Awaiting shelfmark.

Ukraïnsʹko-uhorsʹkyĭ slovnyk = Ukrán-magyar szótár (second edition) /szerkesztésében Péter Lizanec = za redaktsiieiu P.M. Lyzantsia. (Ungvár, 2008).

Profesor Lyzanets’ Petro Mykolaīovych: bibliohrafichnyī pokazhchyk (do 70- richchia vid dnia narodzhennia) (Uzhhorod, 2001) YF.2005.a.14044

Kárpátaljai Magyar Tudományos Társaság : életrajzi lexicon = Zakarpatsʹke uhorsʹkomovne naukove tovarystvo : bibliohrafichnyĭ dovidnyk ( Uzhhorod, 1995) ZF.9.a.8543

Petro Lyzanets’ = Péter Lizanec. Naukovi pratsi = Tudományos művek (Uzhhorod, 2009-2013). 30 volumes. Awaiting shelfmark.

 

23 January 2017

Scratching the Surface: the Runic Imaginary

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A picture is worth a thousand words but a word, too, might conjure up a thousand images. One-to-one correspondences between words and objects are exceedingly rare, if not non-existent. Beyond that, however, the power of alphabets, syllabaries and ideographs is well-documented; such was the motivation for orthographic reform during the 20th century from Norway to North Korea. The Latin alphabet can provide a sense of false familiarity, making it seem as if Somali is easier for an English learner to pick up than would be Persian, despite the fact that the latter shares far more structural similarities to English than the former. However, it is not just Latin characters that are imbued with a magical power to draw close and imbue a sense of solidarity. The systems colloquially referred to as runes, too, have often been instrumentalised with much the same goal in mind.

Technically, the word rune is applied exclusively to the writing systems of Germanic languages prior to the adoption of the Latin alphabet. There are various different versions of Germanic runes. While there are various different types of runes, all are derived from the Old Italic scripts. They were largely replaced by the Latin alphabet after Christianisation in 700CE, but their usage persisted in highly specialised contexts until the 19th century. The study of runes, known as runology, began in Scandinavia as early as the 16th century, albeit more within the realm of theology, the occult and mysticism than what we would conceive of as linguistics. The study took a more scientific turn throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, as a number of collection items at the British Library demonstrate. These include Johan Göransson’s Bautil (143.g.19) or his Is Atlinga (4408.g.6) which seek to locate runes within the history of writing systems, including the Hebrew, Greek and Latin alphabets.

As with so many other terms, runes have undergone a popular semantic widening. The word is also applied to other writing systems that bear a visual similarity to Germanic runes. One such system is Old Turkic writing, employed by communities in Siberia and eastern Eurasia in the first millennium CE. Also known as the Orkhon Script (after the Orkhon Valley  where Old Turkic stelae were found near the Yenisei River by Nikolai Yadrintsev in 1889), it has been claimed to be a descendent of Aramaic, Tamgas and Chinese ideographs. The oldest inscriptions in old Turkic script date from the 8th century CE. It was later used by Uighur scribes, prior to its replacement by the Old Uighur script (which is directly related to Sogdian and Aramaic).

OIF909049 Runic Turkic Alphabet

Runic Turkic alphabet from Hüseyin Namık Orkun, Eski Türk Yazıtları (Ankara, 1986) OIF 909.049

Old Turkic is unique for the manner in which some letters have various sounds, determined according to the rule of vowel harmony, a feature of Turkic, Mongolic and Finno-Ugric languages. In Turkey, the old Turkic alphabet found particular resonance with secularist nationalists interested in emphasizing the pre-Islamic culture of the Turks. Examples abound from the writer Hüseyin Namık Orkun, who wrote a number of nationalist-tinted histories of the Turks. His Eski Türk Yazıtları  provides extensive information on the origin and study of the inscriptions, as well as their transcription and contents. Not only does he call the alphabet in which these texts are written the Rünik Türk Alfabesi, the “Runic Turkish Alphabet”, but he also connected these to the “Pecheneg” inscriptions of Nagy Szent Miklos, establishing a pre-historic link between the Hungarians and the Turks.


OIF909049 Runic Kül Tegin Transcription

Runic Kül Tegin transcription from Eski Türk Yazıtları

Indeed, Hungarian studies of runes have proven to be the most durable and profitable. Commonly referred to as rovásírás in Hungarian, they are occasionally linked to the Szekler  communities in Transylvania, an ethnic sub-group of Hungarians. In recent years, rovásírás has experienced a resurgence, both popular and scholarly. On the one hand, academics have taken a new interest in the old Hungarian script, occasionally called runes as well. It is sometimes linked to the late Khazars, a Caucasian Turkic group of the 8th to 11th centuries, as explored in Gábor Hosszú’s Heritage of Scribes: The Relation of Rovas Scripts to Eurasian Writing Systems (Budapest, 2012; YD.2015.a.2560).

YF2016a4452 Cover Page
A Hungarian New Testament printed in runic script (Szolnok, 2012) YF.2016.a.4452

The old Hungarian script has also captured the imagination of many Hungarian nationalists, and has given rise to new publishing and typography ventures, such as the New Testament pictured above or of Géza Gárdonyi’s Egri Csillágok (Szolnok, 2011; YF.2015.a.25655), pictured below, a fictional account of Hungarian resistance to Ottoman rule.

YF2015a25655 Cover Page                     

The term rune has proven to be highly versatile in both popular and scholarly imaginations. From the study of northern Europe’s intellectual history, the term has been adopted and adapted to a myriad of other contexts and needs. Today, it fills a political as well as academic role, adding yet another building block to the construction of a Eurasian identity that refocuses the mythical origins of various modern nations in the heart of the Eurasian landmass.

Wreath

Above: A wreath at Szeged University in the colours of the Hungarian flag with a banner in rovásírás; below: A handmade sign above an entrance in Miskolc, Hungary, with an inscription against the Treaty of Trianon (1919) in Hungarian in both Latin characters and rovásírás (Photos by Michael Erdman). 

Runic sign

Michael Erdman, Curator of Turkish and Turkic Collections

06 April 2016

Dervish or spy? A Hungarian in Central Asia

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Having spent years in Constantinople, learning over 20 Turkic dialects and studying the Quran and Muslim customs, Ármin Vámbéry was well respected in the Ottoman Empire. Aged 31, this entirely self-made Hungarian orientalist undertook a perilous journey incognito into the very midst of Central Asia, where few Westerners had set foot since the 1600s. His main purpose was to establish the origin and connections of the Hungarian language. Vámbéry thought it a good idea to assume a false identity, convinced that as a European he would not be able to move around freely and explore the region’s languages.

Vambery_dervish
Armin Vambery in dervish dress in the 1860s (CC-PD, from Wikimedia Commons)

Setting off from Tehran in late March 1863 Vámbéry, or rather ‘dervish Reshid’, joined a group of pilgrims returning from Mecca. He told them he had long dreamed of a pilgrimage to the sacred places of Islam in Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand, and hiked with them for six months, making heartfelt friendships in the process. 
 
Vambery_mapMap of the travels of Armin Vambery in Central Asia (Image by Lepeltier.ludovic. CC-BY-SA, from Wikimedia Commons)

When no camel, donkey or cart was at his disposal, he made use of his own two feet, though lame in one leg from infantile paralysis. As poor pilgrims his party were offered provisions in most places en route and also received alms, which helped pay for their transport or frequent and often arbitrary customs duties.

Vámbéry must have endured extreme tension whenever an encounter with new people was looming. In low moments he feared that even the sufferings inflicted by the hostile desert were preferable to the dangers that humans might pose. Stories of foreigners being imprisoned, tortured or executed were common, and Vámbéry was so convinced of this danger that he kept strychnine pills sewn into his modest attire.

Whenever anyone accused him of not being who he claimed, which happened with alarming regularity, our adventurer somehow wriggled out of the situation. Despite his best efforts to alter his European appearance, many picked up on some unexplained peculiarity about his person and he was time and again suspected of being a secret envoy for the Sultan, or worse, a spy (or a European). Every town had its informant, so he had to appear before many a local ruler and answer challenging queries into his being a genuine hadji. The breadth of his knowledge saved him and occasionally he even turned these difficult conversations to his advantage, returning with useful gifts.

Vambery_Englishman
 ‘I swear you are an Englishman!’ In: Ármin Vámbéry, Közép-ázsiai utazás… (Pest, 1865). 10077.e.24. and digitised version

In Bukhara’s bazaar, Vámbéry noticed some goods labelled with the names of Manchester and Birmingham, which gave him a warm feeling, as if meeting a compatriot in such a distant land, but he was afraid that showing his delight might give him away. At the book market he spotted precious manuscripts that could have filled major gaps in oriental studies in the West. Sadly he could not buy more than a small handful of them, partly for lack of finance, but also because he feared a display of enthusiasm for secular knowledge would place him under more suspicion.

Vambery_Samarkand
The Emir entering Samarkand, after a sketch by Lehmann. In: Ármin Vámbéry, Közép-ázsiai utazás… (Pest, 1865). 10077.e.24. and digitised version 

In Samarkand some friendly locals offered to accompany him all the way back to Mecca, where he said he was returning. It ‘would have been slightly awkward for all parties if we then ended up on the shores of the Thames instead of the Kaaba’. Therefore, for his return journey via Afghanistan, he attached himself to several successive caravans where he enjoyed less attention. Once back in Persia he could finally bid farewell to his dervish disguise.

Exactly a year after his expedition had begun, Vámbéry left Tehran again, this time for Europe. He took with him a ‘Tatar’ mullah called Iskhak, originally from Khiva. Iskhak was the only person to whom Vámbéry had revealed his true identity, although not until safely back in Tehran. The two had grown so close while travelling together that Iskhak decided to start a new life in the Hungarian capital instead of going on to Mecca. He learnt the language and worked at the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Vambery_portrait
Mihály Kovács. Portrait of Ármin Vámbéry. 1861 (CC-PD, from Wikimedia Commons)

Vámbéry may not have discovered the exact origin of the Hungarian language, but he brought back a wealth of new information about the places he visited, which he first published in English as part of his Travels in Central Asia. The book, along with the fascinating and by all accounts highly entertaining lectures he gave around Britain earned him much academic acclaim and fame, and the doors of élite society were suddenly thrown open to him. He also became a professor and an honorary member of the Academy in Budapest despite never having a university degree.

Vambery_LeedsMercuryAB

Two extracts from an report about one of Vámbéry’s lectures, The Leeds Mercury, 19 March 1866, p. 3 (from the British Newspaper Archive)

In fact he gained such trust in Britain that he was later employed by the Foreign Office as a secret agent in the Near East. Undoubtedly, this was in no small part thanks to his (mostly) skilful impersonations, enhanced by outstanding linguistic ability and charismatic demeanour.

Ildi Wollner, Curator, East-Central European Collections


References / Further reading:

Ármin Vámbéry, Travels in Central Asia, being the account of a journey from Teheran across the Turkoman Desert on the Eastern shore of the Caspian to Khiva, Bokhara, and Samarcand, performed in the year 1863. (London, 1864.) 2354.d.1.

Hungarian edition: Közép-ázsiai utazás, melyet a Magyar Tudományos Akademia megbizásából 1863-ban Teheránból a Turkman sivatagon át a Kaspi tenger keleti partján Khivába, Bokharába és Szamarkandba tett / és leirt Vámbéry Ármin, a Magyar Tud. Akadémia tagja. (Pest, 1865). 10077.e.24. and digital version 

French translation: Voyages d'un Faux Derviche dans l'Asie Centrale de Téhéran à Khiva. (Paris, 1867). 10057.aa.22. and 12206.k.20.(2.)

Ármin Vámbéry, Sketches of Central Asia: additional chapters on my travels, adventures, and on the ethnology of Central Asia. (London, 1868). 2354.e.15. and B.18.d.5

German translation: Skizzen aus Mittelasien. Ergänzungen zu meiner Reise in Mittelasien .... (Leipzig, 1868). 10057.ee.18. and digital version

Russian translation: Очерки Средней Азіи… (Moscow, 1868) 1609/5266. and digital version

 

23 October 2015

Hungary 1956: revolution, refugees, reprisal

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On this day in 1956 a peaceful demonstration organised by students took place in the Hungarian capital, demanding reforms of the oppressive communist regime. Soon broad sections of the population joined the cause, and soon the rattle of gunfire and the clatter of tanks resounded in the streets of Budapest and other cities.

1956flag
A flag with a hole on the 1956 monument outside the building of Parliament in Budapest. Communist insignia were torn or cut from flags during the October 23 demonstrations, an iconic image from the days of the Revolution. (Image by Ian Pitchford. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 From Wikimedia Commons)

The Revolution only lasted for 13 days, until 4th November, yet it became a symbol of fearless defiance against dictatorship behind the Iron Curtain. In a few days, Hungarians achieved what could only be dreamt of for many years beforehand. On the first evening Stalin’s six-tonne statue was toppled, with only his boots left on the pedestal.

Four days later a new, democratic government was formed by the reformist Imre Nagy, and without much delay negotiations started about the withdrawal of Soviet troops. The secret police was disbanded, political prisoners were freed, previously banned political parties were allowed to reorganise and preparations were started to hold free elections. The fact that Hungary was also determined to leave the Warsaw Pact and declare its neutrality hastened the tragic end of the Revolution. The Soviets responded with resolute ruthlessness, as it was not in their nature to stand by and watch one of their satellites leave orbit and create a gaping hole in the buffer zone towards the West.

Soviet tank in Budapest 1956
Soviet tank in Budapest, 1956. (Image by the CIA (PD). From Wikimedia Commons)

The British Library holds a substantial collection relating to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, a wealth of resources for academic or personal research. Collecting started shortly after the first refugees arrived in Great Britain. Almost 200,000 had fled their homeland and were given asylum in 35 countries worldwide after the brutal crushing of the Revolution. The earliest items received were leaflets and manifestos:

  • [A collection of leaflets issued by the Forradalmi Bizottmány and other bodies during the Hungarian revolution of 1956] ([Budapest], 1956).  Cup.504.ee.3.
  • [A collection of pamphlets dealing with events in Hungary in the autumn of 1956]. Cup.401.i.10.

Some of these are quite rare as even the possession of such ‘incendiary’ items was prohibited for over three decades.

Two flyers from Cup.401.i.10
Left, a flyer demanding free elections and calling to arms and strikes to gain independence. Right, an open letter to Soviet troops, in Russian, saying they were deceived when given orders to fight fascists in Hungary and that they should not shoot at demonstrators but withdraw. Cup.401.i.10.

Other sources include post-1989 publications of secret police archives, minutes of Communist party leadership sessions in 1956-1957, and documents from the British Foreign Office. It is also interesting to explore the domestic and international press coverage of the revolt, both in contemporary newspapers and compilations published retrospectively. The latter come partly from radio broadcasts including those by the BBC and Radio Free Europe. The Revolution generated a broad spectrum of sympathetic reactions in world politics and foreign public opinion, from neighbouring Yugoslavia to India, and from the International Commission of Jurists in The Hague to the United Nations in New York. Inside Hungary, however, it was too little too late for those supporting views or reports to have any real effect. On 4th November Soviet tanks returned and power was restored to the Moscow-backed faction, who methodically rounded up participants still in the country and had them condemned to lengthy imprisonment or death. One of those executed was Prime Minister Imre Nagy.

PlaquePlaque in Budapest to commemorate Imre Nagy and his associates. With the exception of G. Losonczy, who died in prison earlier, they were hanged and buried in an unmarked grave in 1958. (Image by Andor Derzsi Elekes. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. From Wikimedia Commons)

Key figures of the Revolution are the subject of many works, as are its lesser-known martyrs, and the victims of reprisals. Documents of secret trials and protracted systematic revenge have largely been brought to light by now.

In an attempt to recalibrate people’s minds and to discourage any notion of opposition, the propaganda machine was also put to work. Amongst its copious output were the so-called ‘white books’, in which the communist puppet government painted its own version of events, denouncing the uprising as counter-revolutionary and criminal. These unassuming-looking booklets were translated into several languages to ensure that the endorsed account was accessible to foreign audiences as well. In addition to the Hungarian original we also have the English and Russian editions in our collection.

The legacy of 1956 was kept alive by émigré circles in the West, who published tirelessly and had clandestine support links to the dissenter movements growing from the early 1970s back home. Beside theoretical and commemorative writings, the literary heritage of both groups testifies to the immense impact the Revolution made on people’s lives.

Numerous survivors have had their diaries or memoirs printed, imparting some truly poignant stories.

Korvinkoz-budapestMemorial to a young freedom fighter in Budapest’s Corvin köz, one of the hubs of armed resistance. Many teenagers were among the active participants in clashes against the Soviet Red Army. Image by Andreas Poeschek. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. From Wikimedia Commons

Ildi Wollner, Curator, East-Central European Collections

 

15 November 2013

Under the spell of the Tatras

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When preparing for my autumn trekking in the High Tatras, a mountain range that stretches between Poland and Slovakia, I came across the name of the English traveller Robert Townson  (1762 – 1827), who was also a scholar and scientist. He was one of the first foreign visitors to that region. His book Travels in Hungary, with a short account of Vienna in the year 1793 London, 1797; British Library shelfmark 982.i.6) includes a chapter on the Tatra Mountains, entitled ‘Excursions in the Alps’.

The Tatras cover an area of 785 square kilometres. In comparison with the massive Alps in Western Europe the Tatras are a tiny range called by the French “pocket mountains”.  Nevertheless, the Tatras, which are part of the long Carpathian chain, are the highest mountains in Central Europe.  Undoubtedly, Townson called the Tatras ‘Alps’ because of their alpine character with rocky peaks, grazing pastures, rushing streams and splashing waterfalls. Townson explored the Tatras’ flora and fauna, and was also the first to take height measurements of some of their mountains using the barometric method.

Travels in Hungary MS
A view in the Tatras from Townson’s Travels in Hungary

The area, inhabited for centuries by the Slavs, Germans and Hungarians, produced a distinctive culture known as the Góral, meaning highlanders. This culture has survived to the present day due to the area’s geographic isolation. Until the end of the 19th century the only means of transport on the Polish side was horse-drawn carts. It took two days to travel a distance of 105 km from Kraków to Zakopane. The Tatras were discovered for their beauty as early as the 16th century but only in the second half of the 19th century was  the region developed as a popular tourist destination.

Panoramic viev of the Tatras from Lomnicky Štit MS
 Panoramic view of the Tatras from Lomnicky Štit (©Magda Szkuta)

Due to the remoteness of the Tatra region there was no designated border between Poland and the Kingdom of Hungary until the late 18th century (Slovakia had been part of the Hungarian domain since the 9th century), so the mountains were a no man’s land. The Polish Kingdom was partitioned by its neighbours Russia, Prussia and Austria in the course of three decades, and finally lost its independence in 1795. The Polish side of the Tatras fell to the Austrian partition.

In 1867 the Austro-Hungarian Empire was established and the mountains became an agreed border between the two states of the monarchy; however, the border itself was not demarcated.  Before long this led to territorial disputes. Over the centuries the lands around the Tatras belonged to Hungarian and Polish settlers. In 1889 Count Władysław Zamoyski  purchased  Zakopane and the surrounding areas. This was the source of conflict over the ownership of those lands that culminated in the International Arbitration Court in Graz. Subsequently in 1902 the Court demarcated the Austro-Hungarian border which after the First World War became the border between Poland and Czechoslovakia. 

Karol Szymanowski Museum in Villa Atma MSThe breathtaking scenery, clean air and unique culture of the Tatras attracted numerous visitors to the area from all three partitions of Poland. Zakopane became an intellectual and cultural centre at the beginning of the 20th century and since then has been a magnet for many artists, writers and musicians. Stanisław Witkiewicz, writer, painter and architect, created the Zakopane style in architecture that shaped the distinctive character of the previously small village. Karol Szymanowski, one of the greatest Polish composers of the 20th century, lived in Zakopane, and his music was influenced by the folk music of the Tatra highlanders (picture above left from Wikimedia Commons : Karol Szymanowski's  museum  in Villa Atma).

Magda Szkuta,  Curator of Polish Studies

23 September 2013

Elisabeth of Austria - the Hapsburg Princess Diana?

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With a new film about Princess Diana  in cinemas, I am reminded of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, consort of Emperor Franz Josef. Elisabeth can in many ways be seen as a 19th-century Diana: both were beautiful and charismatic women, who made unhappy royal marriages and met violent deaths. Both inspired devotion and controversy in equal measure in life, and a romantic mythology has developed around both of them since their deaths.

Films have fed the mythology in both cases. Among many films featuring  Elisabeth the classic, if romanticised, 1950s “Sissi”  trilogy starring Romy Schneider are the best known. A fictionalised Diana reached the screen almost as soon as she appeared in the public eye: two TV movies about her ‘royal romance’ with Prince Charles appeared in 1981. Her marital problems, divorce and death have all been subjected to the same treatment in the 32 years since.

So how alike were Diana and Elisabeth? Both married very young (Elisabeth was only 16) after what were seen as fairytale romances. Both marriages were unhappy and both couples’ affections unequally matched, although Elisabeth’s marriage to a man whose adoration she could never fully reciprocate was the opposite of Diana’s experience. Both felt ill at ease in their husband’s families – especially Elisabeth who found the rigid protocol of the Austrian court difficult after her informal upbringing – and disliked many of the royal duties expected of them.

Another thing both women shared was a love of fashion and beauty. Many people who become fascinated by Elisabeth are initially captivated by one of Winterhalter’s  famous portraits of her, while the media interest in the sale of Diana’s dresses earlier this year shows how central her role as fashion icon remains. Elisabeth’s extreme cult of beauty, however, had a darker side: her obsession with keeping her slim figure led to an extreme diet regime which some modern commentators have interpreted as a form of eating disorder, something of course which also affected  Diana.

Empress Elisabeth by Winterhalter
Winterhalter's most famous portrait of Elisabeth, in the Hofburg Palace, Vienna. (Image from Wikimedia Commons). You can see Romy Schneider recreating the picture in the 1956 film here

On a more positive note, both were passionate about the causes they espoused.  Elisabeth was a powerful advocate for the rights of her Hungarian subjects, and was influential in making Hungary, where she remains a much-loved figure, an equal partner with Austria in the Hapsburg empire. Diana’s name is still strongly associated with the charities she supported, particularly the campaign to ban landmines.

Of course there are many differences between the two, due not least to the very different times they lived in. Elisabeth had a largely distant relationship with her children, in contrast to Diana’s closeness to her sons, and it was easier for her to escape the public eye in a world without paparazzi. Elisabeth’s life was marked by greater extremes of obsession and unhappiness. She also lived much longer than Diana, although her death was equally senseless: at the age of 60 she was stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist who was determined to kill some representative of royalty without much caring who. Elisabeth was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Perhaps what really links the two women, more than any true likeness in character, is a public perception of them as tragic beauties and the idea of a royal fairytale gone wrong. Whatever the real similarities and differences, Elisabeth and Diana will no doubt continue to fascinate us – and their stories will continue to be told on film.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

Further reading:

Hamann, Brigitte. Elisabeth : Kaiserin wider Willen (Wien, 1982) X.809/54755. (English translation The Reluctant Empress (New York, 1986) 87/20136.)

Daimler, Renate Diana & Sisi : zwei Frauen - ein Schicksal (Wien, 1998) YA.2002.a.6564.

Sinclair, Andrew Death by fame : a life of Elisabeth, Empress of Austria (London, 1999) YC.2001.a.4952