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317 posts categorized "Literature"

26 March 2019

Fairytales on trial: the Good and the Beautiful in early Soviet children’s literature

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“Education means evoking a revolutionary spirit” wrote Maxim Gorky in 1933 – an uncompromising statement uttered in an uncompromising environment. The 1920s in the newly-born Soviet Union, however, were still quite different. There still seemed to be room for discussion, to explain and convince people. Only two years after the October Revolution, Gorky had expressed his opinion on children’s education more elaborately in a well-known programmatic statement ‘Slovo k vzroslym’ (‘A word to grown-ups’) in the first issue of the first Soviet journal for children, Severnoe Siianie (The Northern Lights), founded by Gorky himself. There he advanced the importance of exploiting children’s stories to shape the new Socialist Man, by instilling “an active spirit, an interest in and respect for the power of reason, the discoveries of science, and the great mission of art, which is to make man strong and beautiful”.


Image 1
Severnoe Siianie
no. 10-12 October-December 1919, P.P.1213.ad

Sadly, the artistic quality of the journal was far from being able to fulfil such an ambition. Grey social realism always prevailed. It was mostly concerned with instructing children of the proletariat in basic practical scientific and technical knowledge, or about the harsh living conditions in Russia before that glorious October of 1917. In a regular section called ‘Klub liuboznatel’nykh’ (‘Club of the Curious’) one can, ironically, find some of the most uninspiring titles. In the October-December 1919 issue, for instance, ‘Club of the Curious’ opens with a brief piece of ‘fiction’, entitled ‘Polchasa v sutke’ (‘Half an hour a day’), aimed at raising awareness of the importance of chewing one’s food thoroughly for at least the stated period to aid healthy digestion for a healthy and strong body. This provided what the Narkompros sought in terms of acceptable educational methods: useful, practical knowledge that contributes to raising stronger citizens.

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‘Club of the Curious’ in Severnoe Siianie, no. 10-12 (October-December 1919)

The fact that a culturally influential figure like Gorky was behind such publications as Severnoe Siianie does not mean that the early Soviet era was devoid of fine literary works addressed to the smaller ones. On the contrary, it was an extraordinarily rich age for children’s literature in terms of experimentation. While the endeavours of Gorky and his circle contributed to a surge in literacy in the first decades after the Revolution, the efforts of talented authors such as Korney Chukovsky and Samuil Marshak resulted in the creation of a distinct artistic and literary current, a true Golden Age of Russian children’s literature.

Image 3
A passage from Korney Chukovsky’s Krokodil illustrated by Re-Mi (Nikolai Remizov). ([Petrograd, 1916-1919?]) 12833.dd.27. Krokodil Krokodilovich swallows up a policeman who tried to get in his way.

Chukovsky’s famous Krokodil (Crocodile) is one of the most exhilarating pieces of literature ever written for children. In this old, very old fairytale (as the subtitle ironically goes) traditional fairytale anthropomorphism is reenacted in a typical Futurist setting. Krokodil was one of the most discussed pieces of children’s literature in the 1920s and 1930s. In a 1928 article in the newspaper Pravda, Lenin’s widow, Nadezhda Krupskaia, discouraged parents from reading the story to children, “not because it is a fairytale, but because it is a bourgeois nonsense [‘burzhuaznaia mut’]”. Obviously, it was not Chukovsky’s artistic audacity and mind-blowing stylistic virtuosity that were under attack. Quite simply, there was no acceptable educational content in the poem: a cigar-smoking, Turkish-speaking crocodile called by his first name and patronymic was certainly funny, but had nothing to teach about crocodiles as a species.

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Korney Chukovsky, Telefon, illustrated by Vladimir Konaschevich. (Leningrad, 1935) Cup.410.e.89.

It was first published in 1926 with drawings by Konstantin Rudakov.

Chukovsky’s Telefon (‘Telephone’) takes anthropomorphism to the extreme: the narrator’s telephone keeps ringing and an elephant, crocodile, gazelle and hippo each call to tell him about their needs and problems. Although this tale can be said to “teach children the art of communication” or telephone etiquette, as а scholar pointed out, its central features are the overwhelmingly nonsensical, whimsical plot and absurd humour.

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Above: Chukovsky’s Malen’kie deti, first edition (Leningrad, 1928). Cup.410.g.176.; below: The third edition (Leningrad, 1933), retitled Ot dvukh do piati ('From two to five’). 12975.ccc.11.

Image 5b

An ideologically more suitable work by Chukovsky, and one fully appreciated by Krupskaia, is the collection of articles, observations and reflections on pre-school age children’s communication, Malen’kie deti (‘Young children’). Every passage in this book oozes Chukovsky’s sincere marvel at and interest in children’s psychology and his effort to unveil the complexity behind a child’s apparent simple-mindedness to adults (to whom the book is addressed).

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Image 6b
Cover and two-page spread from Samuil Marshak, Master-Lomaster, first edition with drawings by avant-garde artist Alexei Pakhomov (Leningrad, 1930) YA.1992.a.7157.

The British Library also holds many early editions of Samuil Marshak’s works. Master-Lomaster is a poem satirizing the disastrous consequences of self-confidence and self-reliance in an individual’s work attitude, instructing children to grow up collective-minded instead. The title, an untranslatable pun, often rendered as ‘Master of disaster’, is also an example of Marshak’s skillful wordplay.

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Above: Cover of Samuil Marshak, Pozhar 3rd edition (Leningrad, 1925) Cup.408.r.18. Below: Kuzma and the fire brigade fighting their way through the flames

Image 7b

In Pozhar (‘Fire’) the main theme is again one’s attitude to work, but this time Marshak provides a positive example in the heroic fireman Kuzma and the team spirit of the fire brigade. Kuzma, like the Soviet version of an Old Russian bogatyr is outstanding for his courage and collective-mindedness, which lead him to save little Lena, allured and trapped by the evil fire.

Tsirk 3
Collaborations by Samuil Marshak and Vladimir Lebedev. Above: Tsirk 2nd edition (Leningrad, 1928) Cup.408.r.24. Below: Vchera i Segodnia, 3rd edition (Moscow, 1928) Cup.408.r.23.

Image 8b

Marshak’s collaboration with the talented graphic artist Vladimir Lebedev fuelled what was to become the trademark of children’s poetry in the early Soviet Union: a balance between drawing and text, so that the former was not a mere illustration of the latter. Their works often resemble the Soviet propaganda posters that people were familiar with, making each individual page a potential artistic object in itself.

Image 9

Image 9b
Illustrations from Vchera i Segodnia

In Vchera i Segodnia (‘Yesterday and Today’) Marshak and Lebedev introduce children to new technologies. A kerosene lamp, candle, bucket and quill pen lie unused in their old home, faced with intruders from the new world: a cheap electric lightbulb, water pipes, and a typewriter. This short fairytale enables the reader to see how the new inventions have made the old ones redundant, while also sympathizing with the old objects’ baffled and nostalgic sense of loss.

Image 10b
Image 10
Images from Tsirk

With Tsirk (‘Circus’), Marshak and Lebedev produced one of the most outstanding picture books, appealing not only to children. The poster-like layout of each page, the short and memorable text and the clever rhymes make it one of the most representative and original of their works. Futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky was reportedly impressed by the line “po provoloke dama | idet, kak telegramma” (“along the wire the lady | goes like a telegram”).

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Cover of Samuil Marshak, Usaty-Polosaty (Leningrad, 1930) RB.23.b.4211,
.

Usatyi-Polosatyi (‘The Whiskered-Tabby’), is the clear product of a long-standing oral composition process. It is a simple, humorous story about a tabby kitten and its child owner who repeatedly tries (and fails) to make it behave like a human – hence the repeated line “Vot kakoi glupyi kotenok!” (“What a stupid kitten!”). The story ends with the child growing up and the cat “becoming” clever – a subtle move which children would likely only understand and laugh at when looking back at it as adults. This edition contains drawings by a different Lebedev.

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Images from Usaty-Polosaty. Above: The child wants the kitten to say ‘grandma’, ‘horse’, ‘teacher’, ‘electricity’, but the kitten only replies ‘meow’. Below: The kitten has “become a clever cat”

Image 12b

These publications represent only a small portion of Marshak’s great contribution to Soviet children’s literature in the 1920s and 30s. But, like Chukovsky’s works, they were far from immune to ideological criticism. Master-Lomaster, for instance, lacked propaganda value. In Pozhar, Lena’s fear of death was a private not a collective concern. While Chukovsky’s creative force was soon to be crushed by constant ideological attacks, Marshak turned to editing work and became the chief editor of the children’s journals Ëzh (1928-) and Chizh (1930-). These were for many years virtually the only magnet for talented writers, first and foremost Daniil Kharms and the Oberiuty, who would not have been able to publish freely elsewhere, due to the stricter censorship imposed on adults’ literature.

Image13b
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First and last issues Chizh (1937, No. 1 - 1940, No. 7-8). RB.31.c.774. The title, meaning ‘siskin’, is also the acronym of Chrezvychaino Interesnyi Zhurnal (‘Extremely Interesting Journal’), indicating the humour at the very core of these publications and of most high-quality children’s literature of the period.

The British Library’s holdings of Chizh span from 1937’s first issue to 1940. These are representative of a new stage in Soviet children’s literature, one where a previously very fortunate symbiosis between the Good and the Beautiful faded into a series of more and more exclusively politically committed works.

Nilo Pedrazzini, Graduate Student, University of Oxford

Further reading

Ben Hellman, Fairy tales and true stories: The history of Russian literature for children and young people (1574 - 2010) (Boston-Leiden, 2013). YD.2013.a.2535

Marina Balina & Larissa Rudova (eds.), Russian children’s literature and culture (New York, 2013). YK.2008.a.24810

Julian Rothenstein & Olga Budashevskaia (eds.), Inside the rainbow: Russian children's literature, 1920-35: beautiful books, terrible times (London, 2013). YC.2014.b.1207

12 March 2019

Pirandello’s nose

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In Six Memos for the Next Millennium Italo Calvino explains the opposition between lightness and weight in literature, calling the first “a value rather than a defect”, as it is by mastering lightness that writers make their readers feel its counterpart. Calvino guides us through a literary journey from Ovid’s Metamorphoses to Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being to show that lightness is no less important than weight in order to strengthen the literary substance.

I thought it would be appropriate to apply the same formula in writing about Luigi Pirandello, a giant who left the deepest footprints in the soil of 20th century Italian literature, that is, by starting with the mention of his nose. He was only 19 when, in a brief letter to his parents dated 16 February 1886, he wrote:

…I went to San Lorenzo, and I enjoyed myself very much, but for the last 3 days I have been crying the consequences, well, my nose has been crying, my poor nose, or, better, my promontory…
… Do not worry about my health, it has fully recovered: do mourn my nose though – I beg you – my poor nose! According to the last examination, it measures 3 inches in height and 5 in length…

The letter included a drawing Pirandello made of his nose to evidence the measurements.

Pirandello's nose

 Pirandello’s drawing of his nose, reproduced in Carlo di Leo, Pirandello Pittore (Venice, 20112) YF.2012.a.29944

Later the same year, in a letter dated 30 April, following the death of his close friend Carmelo’s brother, Pirandello included another drawing, this time of himself blowing out a candle, as if capturing the moment before going to bed. Even though the nose is again the amusing focus, his self-portrait emanates a sense of sadness and loneliness

… Then, not sure by which thought, I felt the urge to write to Carmelo, but the letter written at that emotional moment is still on my table…
…I am already staying at aunt Sara’s, but not yet settled, as all my stuff is in the old place. Without books, without paper, without my bed, I feel half man and rather dull...

Pirandello's nose 2Self-portrait, reproduced in Pirandello Pittore

First published in 1907 in the literary journal Il Marzocco, then in 1925, giving the title to volume 8 of Prandello’s Novelle per un anno, the novella Dal naso al cielo (‘From the Nose to the Sky’), ends with a close up of Romualdo Reda’s nose – on its tip a very thin spider thread coming from the horse chestnuts’ branches under which the corpse was found. Earlier in the story, Reda’s sense of superiority, being a scientist, prevented him from entering into a debate over Professor Dionisio Vernoni’s belief in the occult and spiritualism as a way to explain some odd incidents in the old hotel where they were staying. Vernoni, irritated by such snobbery, “broke into a deep outburst against positive science, against certain so-called scientists who do not see a span beyond their noses (he repeated four or five times this phrase”.

Dal naso al cielo Frontispiece of Luigi Pirandello, Dal naso al cielo (Florence 1925) 12470.s.16.

The oscillating perspective of amusement and anguish, laughter and fear, which characterizes Pirandello’s work, is finely explained in his essay On Humor, published in 1908:

The ordinary artist pays attention to only the body; the humorist pays attention to both, and sometimes more to the shadow than the body: he notices the tricks of the shadow, the way it sometimes grows longer, sometimes short and squat, almost as if to mimic the body, which meanwhile it is indifferent to it and does not pay attention to it.

In 1909, soon after publishing On Humor, Pirandello began working on Uno, nessuno e centomila (‘One, No One and One Hundred Thousand’), but it was not until 1925 that it first appeared in the journal Sapientia, and it was finally published as a book in 1926. The first chapter opens with the main character, Vitangelo, looking at his nose in the mirror:

I was twenty-eight years old; and up to now, I had always looked upon my nose as being, if not altogether handsome, at least a very respectable sort of nose…

Vitangelo examines his nose after his wife observes that its “right side is a little lower than the other”. He is shocked to realize that he had never noticed. After he asks for confirmation from a friend, who also sees that Vitangelo’s nose hangs lower on the right, but who in turn, does not see in his own face what Vitangelo sees, the story unfolds “In the pursuit of the stranger”:

Was it really my own, that image glimpsed in a flash? Am I really like that, from the outside, when – all the while living – I don’t think of myself?
… I am the stranger whom I am unable to see living except like that, in a thoughtless second. A stranger whom others alone can see and know, not I.

Uno nessuno

 Title-page and opening of the first chapter of Luigi Pirandello, Uno, Nessuno E Centomila (Florence, 1926) 12470.s.33.

Mia moglie e il mio naso

The conclusion of Uno, nessuno e centomila – or shall we say, the lack of conclusion, since the last chapter is titled Non conclude – is that it is not possible to see the world as it is, that it is not possible to know oneself. As Vitangelo says to Anna Rosa when he catches her in front of the mirror trying a pitiful smile:

… You will never know yourself as the others see you. What’s the point then of knowing yourself just for yourself? You might end up not comprehending any longer why you should have the image that your mirror reflects back to you.

This non-conclusion reminds of a concept on which, few decades later, some postmodern thinkers based their view of society –Jean Baudrillard for example:

So the secret of philosophy may not be to know oneself, or to know where one is going, but rather to go where the other is going… because in any case you will never know who you are. Today, when people have lost their shadow, it is utmost important to be followed by someone…

Pirandello’s pursuit of the stranger in oneself takes a different connotation in Baudrillard and ends up turning into a reverse obsession: I am followed, therefore I must exist. There is only so much lightness Pirandello can be approached with: Uno, nessuno e centomila has left an important memo for the philosophers of this millennium:

Life is in continuous movement and can never see itself… When one is alive, one is alive and does not see oneself. To know oneself is to die.

Giuseppe Alizzi, Curator Romance Studies

References/ Further reading

Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the next millennium, translated by Geoffrey Brock. (London, 2016) ELD.DS.191453

Luigi Pirandello, Lettere giovanili da Palermo e da Roma 1886-1889 (Rome, 1993) YA.1994.b.9424

Luigi Pirandello, On Humor, translated by Antonio Illiano and Daniel P. Testa (New York, 1974) Ac.2685.k/8.(58.)

Jean Baudrillard, The Transparency of Evil – essays on extreme Phenomena (London, 1993) YK.1994.a.448

12 February 2019

The Archbishop and the Rogue: William Laud’s copy of ‘Guzmán de Alfarache’

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William Laud (1573-1645) is best known for his role in English religious and political history. He also amassed a considerable library which he presented to the Bodleian Library. The 1000-odd manuscripts have been well studied. His printed books less so, and one at least of them is in the British Library, purchased in 1859.

Laud Guzman tp

 Title-page of Mateo Alemán, Primera parte de Guzman de Alfarache … (Madrid, 1600) 12491.e.12

The catalogue states confidently: “Ms. notes [by Archbishop Laud]”. His signature is perfectly clear on the title page. Compare another sample:

Laud signature Hurd library
A book with Laud’s signature, from the Hurd Library in the former Bishop’s Palace at Hartlebury Castle, Worcestershire.

The copy of Guzmán, or more correctly the first part of it (from ch 1 to the beginning of ch 8 (fol. 50v) out of 207), is full of interlinear manuscript notes which supply English translations of certain phrases. I’m not qualified to judge whether the hand is Laud’s, but the annotations certainly seem early.

Was Guzmán suitable reading for a clergyman? It’s a picaresque novel which recounts in the first person the vicissitudes of a protagonist of the criminal classes. It can be placed with fiction which teaches a moral. It’s interesting that Lincoln Cathedral Library also has Guzmán in Spanish, and in Italian, and also the apocryphal Second Part (Shaw A384, A385, M481). They’re thought to have belonged to another man of the church, Dean Michael Honywood (1597-1681) (Hurst ix-xi). Dr Williams’s Library in Gordon Square also has two parts of Guzmán in Spanish, which likely belonged to ejected minister Dr William Bates (Taylor 37).

Guzmán isn’t easy reading, and it’s perfectly understandable why our annotator felt the need for some glosses. But as with pretty much all such annotations, it’s hard to divine why he translates some words and not others. He seems not to have concentrated on hard words: is it because he didn’t understand them? By the way, I didn’t find any match with James Mabbe’s translation, The Rogue, of 1622 (12489.m.8.).

Laud Guzman f.1 The opening of Guzmán in Laud’s copy, with annotations. A transcription follows below:

El deseo que tenía, curioso lector, de contarte mi vida me daba tanta priesa \haste/ para engolfarte \thee/ en ella sin prevenir algunas cosas que, como primer principio, es bien dejarlas entendidas -- porque siendo esenciales a este discurso también te serán de no pequeño gusto - -, que me olvidaba de cerrar un portillo \little back door/ por donde me pudiera entrar acusando cualquier terminista de mal latín, redarguyéndome de pecado, porque no procedí de la difinición a lo difinido, y antes de contarla \my life/ no dejé dicho \I did not leave it said/ quiénes y cuáles fueron mis padres y confuso nacimiento; que en su tanto, \in as much as it contaynes/ si dellos hubiera \one hadd/ de escribirse, fuera sin duda más agradable y bien recibida que esta mía. Tomaré por mayor lo más importante, dejando lo que no me es lícito, para que otro haga la baza.
Y aunque a ninguno conviene tener la propiedad de la hiena, que se sustenta desenterrando cuerpos muertos, yo aseguro, según hoy hay en el mundo censores, que no les falten coronistas. Y no es de maravillar que aun esta pequeña sombra \shadow/ querrás della inferir que les corto de tijera \that I cutt or pare with shears/ y temerariamente me darás mil atributos, que será el menor dellos tonto o necio, porque, no guardando mis faltas, mejor descubriré las ajenas. Alabo tu razón por buena; pero quiérote advertir que, aunque me tendrás por malo, no lo quisiera parecer -- que es peor serlo y honrarse dello \with it/--, y que, contraviniendo a un tan santo precepto como el cuarto, del honor y reverencia que les debo, quisiera cubrir mis flaquezas con las de mis mayores; pues nace \proceeds/ de viles y bajos pensamientos tratar de honrarse con afrentas ajenas, según de ordinario se acostumbra: lo cual condeno por necedad \folly/ solemne de siete capas \seven fold/ como fiesta doble. Y no lo puede ser mayor, pues descubro \since I discover/mi punto, no salva mi yerro \the error/ el de mi vecino o deudo \kinsman/, y siempre vemos vituperado el maldiciente. Mas a mí \as for me/ no me sucede así, porque, adornando la historia, siéndome necesario \as I shall have cause/, todos dirán \all will say/: “bien haya el \blessed be he/ que a los suyos parece \is like/”, llevándome estas bendiciones de camino.

Laud obviously cast his linguistic net wide. He promoted Hebrew and Arabic studies, and owned a pre-Colombian Mexican screenfold ms, Codex Laud (in the Bodleian, MS. Laud Misc. 678). Unfortunately it’s not known where he got it from.

Archbishop Laud 1762.a.1.Portrait of Laud, from a collection of 279 coloured portraits engraved by Baltasar Moncornet (Paris [1650-1660]) 1762.a.1.

Whether or not owner and annotator are the same, this book is a witness to the possession and reading of a Spanish classic when it was hot off the press.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Languages

References/further reading

David J. Shaw (gen. ed.), The Cathedral Libraries Catalogue, Vol. 2, Books printed on the continent of Europe, before 1701 in the libraries of the Anglican cathedrals of England and Wales (London, 1998). 2725.g.310

Clive Hurst, Catalogue of the Wren Library of Lincoln Cathedral: books printed before 1801 (Cambridge, 1982). 2725.p.47

Barry Taylor, ‘Los libros españoles del Dr. William Bates (1625-1699) en la Dr. Williams’s Library de Londres’, in El libro español en Londres: la visión de España en Inglaterra (siglos XVI al XIX), ed. Nicolás Bas and Barry Taylor (Valencia, 2016), pp. 13-60. YF.2017.a.19281

On Laud’s oriental mss in Bodleian:
https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/f95d440c-5254-3338-9417-d1f290471378

08 February 2019

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

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

Flaska Cup.502.aa.12

 

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

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

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

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

Vesela kniha zviratek X.998-3707

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

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

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

(This translation © Susan Reynolds 2019.)

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

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

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

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

Capek 7294.de.34 Cat & kittens

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

Capek 7294.de.34 Kittens

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

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

 

01 February 2019

Unlocking Access to Ancient Science in Renaissance Italy: the vernacularization of Pliny’s ‘Historia Naturalis’

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In most cases, literary works which have marked a turning point, a watershed moment in the history of literature, are new and original creations. However, in some cases, a similar literary outburst has come from a translation rather than the original text. It will suffice to recall the Latin version of the Bible by St. Jerome at the end of the 4th century, the so-called Vulgate and the enormous historical and cultural impact it had on Western Europe at the time.

A less known case, but no less historically important in its impact on the formation of the European Renaissance culture, is the vulgarization of the Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder published in 1476 by the Florentine humanist Cristoforo Landino, on which new light has been shed from the recent study of the Italian philologist Antonino Antonazzo in his Il volgarizzamento pliniano di Cristoforo Landino. (Messina, 2018; YF.2019.b.21).

Landino study

In a period which witnessed the rediscovery of classical literature, through the revival of Greek and Latin authors fallen into oblivion during the Middle Ages, the translation of Pliny’s text truly marked an epochal event: Landino’s great historical merit was to make a grandiose 37-volume encyclopedia of Greek-Roman antiquity accessible in the vernacular for the first time: the editio princeps of the translation is a monumental 830-page folio volume.

The British Library holds two copies at shelfmarks IC.19693 and C.3.d.2.

Pliny IC.19693 Dedication Translator’s dedication (f.2) from Historia naturale di C. Plinio Secondo tradocta di lingua Latina in Fiorentina per Christophoro Landino (Venice, 1476) Above: IC.19693 ; below: C.3.d2.

Pliny C.3.d.2

Landino’s laborious work filled an important cultural void that could no longer wait. Many readers from different backgrounds benefited from it: poets, such as Luigi Pulci; artists – to name one, Leonardo da Vinci; and even explorers such as Christopher Columbus. The aftermath was so great throughout Europe, that Landino’s translation remained the only vernacular translation of Naturalis historia for almost a century: the first French translation was published in 1562 (Antoine du Pinet), the English was published in 1601 (Philemon Holland ), the Spanish in 1624 (Gerónimo de Huerta) and a complete German translation as late as 1764 (Johann Daniel Denso).

Pliny IC.19693 Preface
Opening of Pliny’s preface from Historia Naturale (IC.19693)

The Florentine vernacularization became a key work because it placed itself at the confluence of many questions until then unanswered: was it acceptable to translate classical literary works into the very vernacular used in everyday life by common people? How to translate a peculiar lexicon of scientific disciplines, such as astronomy, meteorology, zoology, botany, medicine and mineralogy?

And, among the many vernaculars spoken in the regions of Italy, which one was the most suitable? The debate around this last question was in fact now centuries old: it had been a burning one since the origins of Italian literature in the 13th century and had left many conflicting theories; Dante Alighieri in his unfinished De Vulgari Eloquentia (1303-04) reviewed 14 Italian vernaculars in order to identify the most ‘illustrious’ and suitable for poetry, and ended up discarding them all, including the Florentine itself – which is the reason why scholars believe he interrupted the work, the theory conflicting with the practice, as the Divine Comedy would demonstrate.

Cristoforo_Landino_-_Wikimedia

 Portrait of Cristoforo Landino from a fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, ca 1486-90. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Landino’s translation answered all these questions, and even though it did not please some humanists, it was received with enthusiasm by the general public. A significant example of this is its success with a female public, as we read in Giovanni Sabadino degli Arienti’s description of his wife with her books in Gynevera de le clare donne.

...havea piacere assai in audire legere li versi de Virgilio; legea lei voluntiera Plinio de naturali hystoria, posto in materna lingua, et de li libri spirituali et sancti.
[...she very much enjoyed having Virgil’s verses read to her; she gladly read Pliny’s Naturalis Historia in her mother tongue, and holy and spiritual books...]

The relevance of this testimony is reinforced by the reaction of Francesco Florido Sabino, who, 60 years later, in his Apologia in Marci Actii Plauti aliorumque poetarum et linguae Latinae calumniatores, cursed Landino for allowing not just anybody access to Pliny’s work, but even to women. (See Antonazzo’s study p. 50)

Landino’s intention to reach a wide audicence is expressed in his dedicatory letter to the King of Naples Ferrante d’Aragona, which begins with these words:

Essendo gli animi nostri per loro natura di tanta celerità quanta né mia né altra lingua exprimere non poterebbe, né essendo altro cibo che gli pasca et nutrisca se non la cognitione, chi non vede che nessuna più grata chosa può alloro adivenire che havere vera scientia di tutte le cose?
[Our soul in its nature being as rapid as neither mine nor any other language can express, and there being no other nourishment that satisfies and feeds as cognition does, how can anyone not see that there is nothing that makes it happier than the true knowledge of all things?]

Giuseppe Alizzi, Curator Romance Collections

References

Dante Alighieri, De vulgari eloquentia, a cura di Enrico Fenzi, con la collaborazione di Luciano Formisano e Francesco Montuori (Rome, 2012) YF.2013.a.25815

Sabadino Degli Arienti, Gynevera de le clare donne (Bologna, 1888). 12226.de.8.(1.)

Francesco Florido Sabino, In M. Actii Plauti aliorumque Scriptorum calumniatores apologia ... (Basle, 1540) C.81.i.9.

29 January 2019

Kater Murr at 200: ‘the cleverest, best and wittiest creature of his kind ever beheld’

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Visitors to the British Library’s current exhibition Cats on the Page may have caught sight of a curious creature who first saw the light in Prussia 200 years ago – Kater Murr, the famous tomcat created by E. T. A. Hoffmann and based on his own much-loved pet, a handsome striped tabby. While British audiences may be more familiar with works by Hoffmann which provided the inspiration for the ballets The Nutcracker and Coppélia and for Offenbach’s opera Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Murr himself is no mean performer – a worthy companion for his master, the gifted but reclusive musician Johannes Kreisler, who inspired Robert Schumann’s Kreisleriana.

Kater Murr 1820 12548.bbb.17

 An early edition of Lebens-Ansichten des Katers Murr  (Berlin, 1820) 12548.bbb.17

Lebens-Ansichten des Katers Murr nebst fragmentarischer Biographie des Kapellmeisters Johannes Kreisler in zufälligen Makulaturblättern was first published in two volumes in 1819-21 (a third volume was promised but never completed). The author claims that Murr taught himself to read by perusing books and papers in the study of his original owner, Master Abraham, and went on to learn calligraphy from the manual compiled by Hilmar Curas. This enabled him to compose such masterpieces as a political treatise entitled Mousetraps and their Influence on the Character and Achievement of the Feline Race, the tragedy Cawdallor, King of Rats, and the ‘philosophical and didactic novel of sentiment’ Thought and Intuition, or, Cat and Dog. By a publisher’s error Murr’s ‘life and opinions’ (not for nothing was Hoffmann influenced by Laurence Sterne) were interleaved with a biography of Kreisler himself and bound into a single volume.

The resulting narrative is an inspired parody of the Bildungsroman, charting Murr’s development from a kitten rescued from drowning by the kind-hearted Master Abraham to a cat of letters and high culture – at least in his own eyes. In the tradition of Wilhelm Meister and his like, Murr encounters a wide variety of characters and falls into some highly dubious company. He joins a cats’ Burschenschaft, a fraternity of the kind so popular among German students in the era of ‘Turnvater’ Jahn (whom Hoffmann defended in court), engaging not only in gymnastics but in rowdier pursuits such as drinking, duelling and caterwauling songs.

Kater Murr Cover
Cover of Lebens-Ansichten des Katers Murr in an edition with illustrations by Maximilian Liebenwein (Zurich, 1923) X.958/995. Currently on display in the Cats on the Page exhibition

Naturally, his sentimental education is also chronicled; he has an emotional encounter with his long-lost mother, (though he absent-mindedly devours the fish-head which he had intended to offer her), and enjoys an ‘instructive’ friendship with Ponto, a poodle (irresistibly evoking thoughts of Mephistopheles’s disguise as a black poodle in Goethe’s Faust). He then embarks on a ‘personality-forming’ love affair with the charming Miesmies which comes to an abrupt end when she falls for the blandishments of a war veteran, a swaggering striped tabby cat sporting the Order of the Burnt Bacon for valour in ridding a larder of mice. Murr’s friend, the black cat Muzius, opens his eyes to the betrayal, but Murr comes off worst in the duel which ensues, and escapes with bleeding ears and minus a considerable quantity of fur.

Kater Murr endpapers
Endpapers by Maximilian Liebenwein for the 1923 edition of the novel pictured above

In a lively and graceful fashion Hoffmann makes fun of the conventions of polite society and its members’ cultural pretensions; Murr scans the pages of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria for ploys to capture the heart of Miesmies or free himself from his obsession, and invites her to sing. This succeeds: ‘Ah! Am I still upon this earth?’ he cried ‘Am I still sitting on the roof? […] Am I still Murr the cat, and not the man in the moon?’ To his request for a song, Miesmies responds with the aria ‘Di tanti palpiti’ from Rossini’s Tancredi. Murr, a veritable homme des lettres très renommé (as he terms himself), is conversant with all the notable authors of the day, quoting freely from Schiller’s Don Carlos and Die Jungfrau von Orleans, Adalbert von Chamisso’s Peter Schlemihl, and, of course, Ludwig Tieck – not only his translations of Shakespeare but also his play Der gestiefelte Kater (Puss in Boots). This story runs parallel to the unhappy tale of Kreisler’s failure to achieve social success and romantic happiness in a petty principality, recounted on pages torn from the printed biography which Murr uses as blotting-paper and which are inadvertently included in the book.

Not only social but also literary conventions fall victim to Hoffmann’s pen; Murr’s directions about ‘how to become a great cat’ satirize the contemporary trivialization of the ideals of the Bildungsroman, and his Biedermeier-like complacency and liking for comfort contrast sharply with the uncompromising attitude of the tormented genius Kreisler. In a postscript, the ‘editor’ notes that ‘that clever, well-educated, philosophical, poetical tomcat Murr was snatched away by bitter Death […] after a short but severe illness’ without completing his memoirs: ‘A genius maturing early can never prosper long: either he declines, in anticlimax, to become a mediocrity without character or intellect […] or he does not live to a great age’.

Kater Murr CF Thiele H.2001-426Picture of Kater Murr by Christian Friedrich Schiele from the first edition of the  novel, reproduced on the cover of Anthea Bell’s translation, The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr (London. 1999) H.2001/426.

Whatever the reader may feel about the self-congratulatory comments of the egregious Murr, he can hardly be accused of mediocrity. A near kinsman of Tybalt, the cat of mediaeval beast fables, and Perrault’s White Cat and Puss in Boots, he would become the ancestor of a whole line of talking cats, many of whom feature in the exhibition – Gottfried Keller’s Spiegel das Kätzchen, Christa Wolf’s Max in Neue Lebensansichten eines Katers, and perhaps even Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat. Hoffmann, the ‘editor’, assures the reader that he has met Murr personally and found him ‘a man of mild and amiable manners’, and by her accomplished translation Anthea Bell has enabled English-speaking readers to make the acquaintance of ‘the drollest creature in the world, a true Pulcinella’.

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

The British Library’s free exhibition Cats on the Page continues until 17 March 2019, with a series of accompanying events for all ages and interests.

25 January 2019

‘Tom Puss, conjure up a trick!’

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Our ‘Cats on the Page’ exhibition features several items on clever and cunning cats. It is probably fair to say that the most famous amongst them is Puss in Boots. He is represented in a charming pop-up book by Vojtěch Kubašta,  published in London in 1958 (W.E.d.692)

But did you know that the Dutch cherish an equally clever, cunning and cool cat? His name is Tom Poes, created by Marten Toonder (1912-2005)

TomPoes2MToonder Portrait of Marten Toonder by Kippa, from Was Tom Poes maar hier (Amsterdam, 2006) YF.2008.a.18079.

Toonder may never have guessed that the doodles of various animal figures he made one day out of sheer boredom would lead to 45 years of newspaper cartoons, cartoon strips, books, films, merchandise, illegal copies of his works, as well as to a statue of his little cat hero in the Rotterdam street where he was born.

TomPoes3shapes The first incarnation of Tom Poes, reproduced in Marten Toonder Heer Bommel en ik (Amstelveen, 2017) YF.2018.a.15780.

The doodles were filed away in a drawer where they lay forgotten, until a Dutch national newspaper, De Telegraaf, asked Toonder to write and illustrate a daily cartoon. Looking for inspiration he found the drawings and decided to give the little cat a try. His wife Phiny Dick, pen name of Afine Kornélie Dik, suggested the name ‘Tom Poes’ and it was she who wrote the first Tom Poes story, Het Geheim der Blauwe Aarde (‘The Secret of the Blue Earth’), which was published on 16 March 1941. However, she soon handed the whole enterprise over to Marten.

Very soon, during his third adventure (‘In the Magic Garden’, 1941) Tom Poes met the brown bear Olie B. Bommel, a ‘gentleman of standing’, for whom ‘money is of no importance’. Tom Poes and he become inseparable and Bommel became more popular than Tom Poes during their many adventures.

TomPoes4OBBommel Olie B. Bommel, detail from the cover of a publisher’s flyer for Marten Toonder: Alle verhalen van Olivier B. Bommel and Tom Poes

Bas van der Schot compared the couple to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Was Tom Poes maar hier (‘If Only Tom Poes Were Here’), a homage to Marten Toonder, published in 2006, a year after his death.

TomPoes5YinYangTom Poes and Olie B Bommel as Yin and Yang, by Bas van der Schot, from Was Tom Poes maar hier (Amsterdam, 2006) YF.2008.a.18079.

Olie B. Bommel may be fantastically wealthy, but he is not very clever, nor is he in touch with the ‘real world’. It is Tom Poes who has the brains, always keeps his cool, and gets them out of many a pickle. ‘Conjure a trick, Tom Poes!’ is another phrase that has entered the Dutch vernacular, which almost literally means the same as Baldrick’s ‘I have a cunning plan’.

TomPoes6VerzineenList

Cover of Marten Toonder,Verzin toch eens een list (Amsterdam, 1973) X.990/6049

De Telegraaf insisted Marten Toonder used the format of the text cartoon by which the text is printed underneath the illustrations, rather than in speech balloons. This format had been invented by the Swiss teacher, author, artist and cartoonist Rodolphe Töpffer, who was famous in the Netherlands for his Histoire de Monsieur Cryptogame, which was actually the very first cartoon to feature in Dutch newspapers. In Calvinist Holland speech balloon strips were frowned upon well into the 20th Century, but text cartoons were just about acceptable.

TomPoes7Textstrip2 Example of text strip in newspaper De Telegraaf. Reproduced in Marten Toonder, De Andere Wereld (Amsterdam, 1982) X.958/14755.

Toonder perfected Töpffer’s format by treating text and illustrations as equal, so the reader needed both to make sense of the story.

Right from the start Tom Poes was translated into various languages: Swedish and Czech were the first, published in 1941, soon followed by French, Spanish and some British titles. The Loch Ness Monster, published in Tom Puss Comics is one example.

TomPoes8TPComicsCover of Tom Puss Comics (London, 1949) 12831.g.31.

Over 45 years Toonder wrote 177 Tom Poes / Olie B. Bommel stories. The newspaper strips became known as the ‘Bommel Saga.’

A sign of its popularity is the Toonderstripkatalogus (‘Toonder cartoon catalogue’), meticulously detailing all manifestations of the Tom Poes stories; in newspapers, in weekly magazines, in book form, in translation and in other media, accompanied by a history of Toonder and his creations.

TomPoes9Bommelbibliografie Title page of H. R. Mondria, Bommelbibliografie. 2nd ed. (‘The Hague, 1974) X:908/80234

In his study of Toonder and the Bommel Saga, Henk R. Mondria discusses whether Tom Poes can be considered to be ‘Literature’. He answers in the affirmative. His arguments are that Olie B. Bommel is a rounded character, Toonder is a language virtuoso and the stories always have deeper layers than just the plot line. Furthermore, literary critics wrote polemics about this burning question, which is a sure sign of the literary value of Tom Poes.

Then, in 2008 the publisher De Bezige Bij embarked on a project of re-issuing all Tom Poes stories in a series Marten Toonder: alle verhalen van Olie B. Bommel en Tom Poes, plus commentary, in 60 volumes. The last volume was published in 2018: Als dat maar goed gaat (‘What could possibly go wrong?’). That settles the discussion once and for all; Tom Poes is well and truly part of the Dutch literary canon!

TomPoes10AlleVerhalenFront cover of a publisher’s flyer for Marten Toonder: Alle verhalen van Olivier B. Bommel and Tom Poes

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

References / Further reading

Wim Hazeu, Marten Toonder: biografie (Amsterdam, 2012) On order.

Marten Toonder, Vroeger was de aarde plat: autobiografie. (Amsterdam, 2010) ZA.9.a.5120

Marten Toonder, Alle Verhalen (Amsterdam, 2008-2018). 60 vols. Individual volumes held at various shelfmarks.

The British Library’s free exhibition Cats on the Page continues until 17 March 2019, with a series of accompanying events for all ages and interests.

23 January 2019

Agustín Fernández Mallo and the Nocilla Project

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The Spanish writer Agustín Fernández Mallo, who will be coming to speak at the British Library Knowledge Centre on 24 January along with his translator, Thomas Bunstead, and myself, is part of an elite group of writers after whom entire generations have been named. In this case, however, we speak not of the ‘Fernández Mallo generation’ but of the ‘Nocilla generation’.

Mallo
Photograph of Agustín Fernández Mallo  by Aina Lorente Solivellas

Nocilla is the name of a Spanish delicacy similar in every way to Nutella, and the title Mallo gave to his literary project, made up of three separate books: Nocilla Dream, Nocilla Experience and Nocilla Lab. It is also the subject of a song by the Spanish punk band Siniestro Total, the lyrics of which can be reproduced in their entirety here:

Es la merendilla que nos gusta más; es tan suavecita, que gusto nos da Nocilla, que merendilla!
Mamá, más!
Nocilla que merendilla!
(This is something to the effect of: “We love having Nocilla for tea, it’s really delicious, Mum, give us some more Nocilla!”)

And yet the Nocilla project is also a far-reaching and ambitious one which shook up Spanish letters at a time when many felt that the Spanish novel was in dire straits. This juxtaposition of pop culture, advertising, and high-minded, self-declared literary ambition, is at the heart of these books, which with their rapidly-shifting mixture of quotations (some modified, some verbatim), Wikipedia-sourced research, counter-histories and total fantasy seek not just to tell a story, but to explore new pathways for narrative in the infinitely fragmented reality of the 21st century. Like Joyce and others before him, Fernández Mallo insists that he is a realist, and that the style and structure of his work is only as unusual and vertigo-inducing as the augmented reality we all inhabit. In one interview, he said: “When I use the term ‘complex realism’, what I’m suggesting is that the writer must be realist, always realist, but not realist in the sense we have usually used the term in literature. If reality today is different from the reality of 30 years ago, we can’t keep describing reality in the same way as we did 30 years ago.”

Mallo Nocilla Dream
Cover of Agustín Fernández Mallo, Nocilla Dream (Canet de Mar, Barcelona, 2006) YF.2007.a.32878

One critic has described the experience of reading the books as akin to “having multiple browser windows open and compulsively tabbing between them”, and Bunstead, in his translator’s preface to the trilogy’s American edition, has described Fernández Mallo as “the first Spanish author to go viral”.

Mallo was no stranger to controversy before Nocilla, having already caused a minor upset with his previous book, El Hacedor (de Borges): Remake, in which the layout (but not the actual contents) match those of the Argentine author’s 1960 collection of poems and short prose texts. The book was ultimately withdrawn after a complaint from Borges’ notoriously litigious widow María Kodama.

So as we mark the publication of Nocilla Lab in a (highly accomplished) English translation, I don’t think we’d be wrong to called the author himself a sort of translator, one who, like Borges’s own Pierre Menard makes us look again at familiar words and text through a process of radical deracination and repositioning.

All this and more will be discussed at the event in the Knowledge Centre. Tickets are still available; you can find more information and book here

Rahul Bery, British Library Translator in Residence

References:

Agustín Fernández Mallo, Proyecto Nocilla (Madrid, 2013). YF.2014.a.194. The three novels Nocilla Dream, Nocilla Experience and Nocilla Lab published in one volume.

Agustín Fernández Mallo, Nocilla Dream, translated by Thomas Bunstead (London, 2015) H.2017/.6518

Agustín Fernández Mallo, Nocilla Experience, translated by Thomas Bunstead (London, 2015) H.2017/.6136

Agustín Fernández Mallo, Nocilla Lab, translated by Thomas Bunstead (London, 2019) Awaiting shelfmark

Agustín Fernández Mallo, El Hacedor (de Borges): Remake (Madrid, 2011) YF.2011.a.15220

11 January 2019

Katharina Luther and a Letter to a Laureate

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Checking and correcting catalogue records can lead down some interesting pathways. Recently I was looking at records for books by the German theologian Johann Friedrich Mayer (1650-1712) and was keen to untangle, among others, the records for three editions of a Latin dissertation on the life of Katharina Luther, first published in Hamburg in 1698. A note, which had become attached to all three records in the online catalogue, mentioned ‘a MS letter from F. Martin to Robert Southey’. As well as wanting to make clear which edition really did include the letter, I also wondered what its contents were. 

The letter turned out to be in the first of the three editions, and having sorted out the catalogue records, I settled down to see what ‘F. Martin’ – actually Frederick Martin – had to say. His letter, dated 21 March 1831, shows that he was sending the book as a gift to Southey. He begins by expressing his hope that Southey ‘may be a stranger to the charms for which “Maister Martin Luther” was content to risk the gibes of sir T. More’. (These ‘gibes’ were in fact vicious attacks by Thomas More on Luther’s marriage: he described it, among other things, as ‘whoredom’.)

Martin letter 1
The opening of Martin’s letter

Martin casts doubt on the accuracy of Katharina’s portrait on the title page, speculating that ‘the features … were … collected … nose from one, chin from another’, although he acknowledges that ‘they tally sufficiently with the monumental effigy [an engraving of Katharina’s tomb] further on.’ In fact the title-page portrait is a reproduction – albeit a rather clumsy one – of a portrait of Katharina by Lucas Cranach.

Martin Mayer tp
Title-page of Johann Friedrich Mayer, De Catharina Lutheri conjuge dissertatio (Hamburg, 1698). 1371.c.29. 

The letter continues in a slightly whimsical vein, with Martin conflating book and subject as he offers the former to Southey:

As she was no Wife of Bath and will cause no great expense of bookroom, it is her prayer hereafter on your shelves to be protected from the anti-Protestant worm which, during a long seclusion from air and light, has dared nibble a corner of her garment.

Despite this suggestion of damage, the book is in very good condition with no obvious wormholes.

Martin goes on to mention other volumes that he is planning to send to Southey. He explains that, since he cannot find ‘a convoy answering the two conditions of going near, yet not to, Keswick’, he intends to ‘commit them to the good offices of the Kendal guard.’  After offering his ‘best compliments to Mrs Southey’, he then signs off, but adds a brief postscript to the effect that he is not ‘in the least likely to want Warton or his two companions’ – presumably books which Southey had offered to him.

I was curious as to who Frederick Martin was and how he knew Southey. Neither an online search nor a brief survey of recent biographies and studies of the poet turned up anyone of that name other than a literary critic who was born in 1830 and is therefore not our man. The context of sending books made me briefly wonder if Martin was a bookseller, but the copy of Mayer’s book was clearly being offered as a gift, and it appears that the others are also to be sent as gifts or in exchange for other works rather than sold to Southey. There are no letters to or from any Frederick Martin in the Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey produced by Southey’s son Charles in 1849, and since there is no definitive modern edition of Southey’s complete correspondence – an online edition is in progress, but has only reached 1821 – there seemed little hope of finding other related letters without  far more research than I could spare the time for. 

There was, however, a clue to Martin’s identity in an inscription on the verso of the book’s front endpaper: ‘FM Coll: SS TRIN. 1824’.

Martin inscription
Martin’s ownership inscription in the copy of De Catharina Lutheri conjuge dissertatio

This implies that Frederick Martin was a student or fellow of Trinity College in Oxford, Cambridge or Dublin. I drew a blank with the alumni lists for Oxford and Dublin, but there was a Frederick Martin who entered Trinity College Cambridge in 1822 and received his MA in 1831. He went on to a career in the church and was for 16 years Rector of South Somercotes in Lincolnshire, the epithet given to him in the pre-1975 printed catalogue of the British (Museum) Library, which records three works by him.

Martin BLC
Entry for Frederick Martin in vol. 213 of The British Library general catalogue of printed books to 1975 (London, 1979-1987) HLC 017.21 BMC

If this is the Frederick Martin in question, I still have no clue as to how he knew Southey and how close or lasting their acquaintance was. The letter implies some previous correspondence or meeting between the two, and the light-hearted tone and regards to Southey’s wife suggest a degree of personal acquaintance, although Martin addresses Southey as ‘My Dear Sir’ rather than the ‘Dear Southey’ that a close friend would probably use. 

Whoever Martin was, Southey thought it worth preserving his letter, and did indeed find ‘bookroom’ for Mayer’s work and grant Katharina the protection of his shelves. The book is listed in the catalogue of his library, offered for sale after his death (p. 98, no. 1867), where it is described as a ‘presentation copy, calf, gilt leaves, from Fred. Martin, with a humorous note in his autograph’, and thus it survives in the British Library to this day.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References/further reading:

The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, edited by his son C. C. Southey (London, 1849-1850)  10855.de.15.

Alumni cantabrigienses: a biographical list of all known students, graduates and holders of office at the University of Cambridge, from the earliest times to 1900, compiled by John Venn and J. A. Venn. (Cambridge, 1922-1954) RAR 378.42

Catalogue of the Valuable Library of the late Robert Southey, Esq., LL.D. Poet Laureate, which will be sold at Auction ... by Messrs. S. Leigh Sotheby & Co. … on Wednesday May 8th, 1844, and fifteen following days (London, [1844]) S.C. Sotheby

08 January 2019

Translating Cultures: French Caribbean History, Literature and Migration

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On 24 September 2018, the British Library welcomed a galaxy of leading specialists to a study day addressing the history, literature and arts of the French Caribbean and its diaspora.

The day kicked off with a comparative overview of Francophone and Anglophone Caribbean colonisation and post-war migrations by keynote speaker Professor H. Adlai Murdoch. French colonisation of the Caribbean was such that by the late 18th century Haiti, an island of 600,000 slaves, produced 60% of the world’s coffee. Despite the abolition of slavery, France retained political power over les Antilles and the legacies of colonisation remain to this day. In 1946 the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe were given the status of départements, i.e. officially part of France. However, when Martiniquans and Guadeloupeans were invited to join the French workforce in the 1960s, they were met with racial prejudice and unfairly treated as immigrants, when they were only moving from the periphery to the centre of their own country. (A finalized version of Professor Murdoch’s presentation is available on the website of the French Studies Library Group).

The morning panel focused on history, heritage and migration. Sophie Fuggle spoke about the legacy of the ‘bagne’ (penal colonies) in French Guiana and ‘dark tourism’, and Antonia Wimbush discussed the French Caribbean’s contribution to the Second World War, events that are left out of official French narratives. Emily Zobel Marshall, the granddaughter of writer Joseph Zobel, movingly read excerpts from letters he wrote to his wife describing his experience as a Martiniquan in Paris in 1946.

Beth Cooper closed the morning’s proceedings with a presentation of the British Library’s exhibition ‘Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land’.

Translating Cultures Emily Zobel Marshall  Emily Zobel Marshall talking about her grandfather Joseph Zobel (Photo by Phoebe Weston-Evans).

The afternoon opened with a panel on Francophone Caribbean literature. Jason Allen-Paisant gave a presentation on French Caribbean theatre and showed us a fascinating video of the first production of Aimé Césaire’s  Le roi Christophe at the Salzburg festival in 1964. Vanessa Lee talked about Suzanne Césaire’s plays, and Kathryn Batchelor looked at how Frantz Fanon’s classic The Wretched of the Earth was disseminated worldwide: the English translation was written in much more accessible language than the original French, which explains its impact in the Anglophone world.

Translating Cultures Jason Allen PaisantJason Allen-Paisant presenting the video of the 1964 production of Le roi Christophe. (Photo by Emily Zobel Marshall).

The state agency in charge of organizing the migration flows from the Antilles to France between 1963 and 1981 was the BUMIDOM (Bureau pour le développement des migrations dans les départements d'outre-mer). Jessica Oublié and Marie-Ange Rousseau, the author and illustrator of the graphic novel Peyi an nou, told us about their research into the small histories of families who came to France. The book originated in Jessica’s desire to record her terminally ill grandfather’s life for a family scrapbook. It rapidly became clear to her that the story of his move to Paris was about much more than one individual, and reflected the destinies of a wider community. The graphic novel thus shows the author’s research process using archives and interviews, “pour relier petite histoire et grande Histoire” (to connect the story with History).

The event concluded with a presentation from Jean-François Manicom on curation and visual arts in the French Caribbean.

Translating Cultures Jessica Oublie - Copy Charles Forsdick introducing Jessica Oublié and Marie-Ange Rousseau. (Photo by Phoebe Weston-Evans).

The study day was rounded off by an evening with Canadian-Haitian writer Dany Laferrière at the Institut français focusing on his book The Enigma of the Return. He reluctantly but jokingly read an excerpt he was not proud of, and talked about his election to the Académie française. Describing Québecois as humble and Haitians as “megalomaniac”, he affirmed that the award was both “beyond him” and “simply not enough”. He is, after all, in his own words, “le plus modeste poète du monde” (the most modest poet in the world).

The study day was organised by Professor Charles Forsdick (University of Liverpool/AHRC) and Teresa Vernon (British Library). in partnership with the AHRC ‘Translating Cultures’ theme, the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library and the Institut français.


Laura Gallon

Laura Gallon was a PhD placement student at the British Library where she worked on a project assessing holdings of migrant narratives in the North American collections. She is in the second year of her PhD at the University of Sussex looking at contemporary American short fiction by immigrant women writers.