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Discover the British Library's extensive collections from continental Europe and read news and views on European culture and affairs from our subject experts and occasional guest contributors. Read more

06 November 2018

‘Umbra Vitae’: Expressionism in Word and Image

The tragic early death of the German writer Georg Heym in a skating accident in 1912 silenced one of the most original and exciting voices in early 20th-century German letters. Heym wrote plays and short stories but is best known as a poet. His first collection of poems, Der ewige Tag (‘The Eternal Day’) appeared in 1911; his second, Umbra Vitae (‘Shadows of Life’) was published posthumously in the year of his death.

Heym Portrait
Georg Heym as a student, ca. 1908. Reprodueced in Nina Schneoder, Am Ufer des blauen Tags: Georg Heym: sein Leben und Werk in Bildern und Selbstzeugnissen (Glinde, 2000). YA.2002.a.24146

The poems use powerful and sometimes apocalyptic images. In ‘Der Krieg’, for example, war is personified as a demonic figure, unleashing first silent fear then forces of increasing violence and chaos. A number pf poems take the city as a theme, often conveying the sense of a city and its buildings as kind of living entity which can trap or threaten its inhabitants. Heym also examines the fears and doubts of human condition, particularly in ‘Die Irren’ (‘The Mad’), a cycle of poems which depict madness both from without and within.

But Heym can also be elegaic and romantic in poems such as ‘Träumerei in Hellblau’ (‘Reverie in Light Blue’) with its gentle evocation of dreams and a dissolving landscape, or ‘Deine Wimpern, die langen’ (‘Your lashes, long’), a tender love-poem haunted by shades of death.

Colour also plays an important role in the poems, particularly the colour red and contrasts between light and dark. Heym’s use of colour imagery often has an almost synaesthetic feel, with phrases such as ‘darkness rustles’, ‘seven-coloured torment’, or ‘autumn light / on the shore of the blue day’. He found inspiration in the paintings of artists such as van Gogh and Goya, and in his diary he recorded his own desire to be a visual artist and his frustration at his inability to give shape to his ‘imaginations’ in visual form.


Heym Furor 3An attempt by Heym to draw one of his ‘imaginations’ of madness. In the text above he laments that ‘Heaven denied me a gift for drawing’ and explains that he has long had an image of a madman in his minds eye. Reproduced in Am Ufer des blauen Tags.

However, in 1924, a new edition of Umbra Vitae appeared, designed and illustrated by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, which succeeded brilliantly in giving visual form to Heym’s work.

Heym Front cover

Heym Back cover
Front and back covers of Georg Heym, Umbra Vitae: nachgelassene Gedichte, mit 47 Originalholzschnitten von Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. (Munich, 1924). C.107.dg.15

Heym and Kirchner never met, although after Heym’s death Kirchner and his fellow-artists of the group ‘Die Brücke’ became associated with the literary circle ‘Der Neue Club’ to which Heym had belonged. Kirchner acquired a copy of Umbra Vitae shortly after publication and clearly felt an affinity with Heym’s verse since he soon began drawing pictures to accompany the poems in the blank spaces on the pages. Knowing of this, a mutual acquaintance of Kirchner and the publisher Kurt Wolff, suggested in 1922 that Wolff should commission Kirchner to illustrate a new edition of Umbra Vitae.

Heym front endpapers
Heym back endpapers
Front and back endpapers (above) and illustrated title-page (below) from Umbra Vitae

Heym Title 2

Kirchner not only illustrated the poems, but designed the whole book, with its vividly-coloured covers and endpapers, and black-and white illustrations, all using woodcuts, a popular form among the ‘Brücke’ artists. The illustrations range from small vignettes to an entire woodcut poem.

Heym Alle Landschaften (Träumerei)
The poem ‘Träumerei in Hellblau’ (here without the title) illustrated by Kirchner as a full-page woodcut.

Kirchner described his woodcuts as being ‘like the accompanying melody to a song’. Some directly illustrate images or ideas from a poem, others reflect its mood. Some are almost abstract, others realistic. The poems and images complement each other in a way that is again almost synaesthetic, reflecting the concept of the ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ where different artistic genres come together.

Heym Krieg

Like the poems themselves, the illustrations can sometimes appear deceptively simple, for example the vignette for ‘Der Krieg’ (above) where the war-demon’s face appears within what at first sight seems to be an explosion of fire. Some are full of detail, others sparer, such that  for ‘Die Städte’ (‘The Cities’, below) which also recalls Kirchner’s paintings of Berlin streets.

Heym Städte

It is particularly interesting to note that the central figure in Kirchner’s illustration for ‘Die Irren’ (below) bears some similarity to Heym’s own attempts to draw his long-imagined picture of madness. Kirchner could not have known this, but it demonstrates the close affinity between his own and Heym’s imaginative worlds.

Heym Irren 2

It is this affinity, as well as the beauty of Heym’s verse and Kirchner’s woodcuts, which makes this such a masterpiece of book art, and perhaps the finest articulation of German Expressionism in word and image.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

 References/Further Reading:

Georg Heym, Der ewige Tag (Leipzig, 1911)

Georg Heym, Umbra Vitae [1st edition] (Leipzig, 1912) X.989/89081.

Georg Heym, Der Dieb: ein Novellenbuch (Leipzig, 1912) X.908/84086. English translation by Susan Bennett, The Thief (London, 1994) Nov.1994/433

Georg Heym, Poems, translated and with an introduction by Antony Hasler (London, 2004) YC.2005.a.2280

Patrick Bridgwater, Poet of Expressionist Berlin: the Life and Work of Georg Heym (London, 1991) YC.1991.b.6980

Nina Schneider, Georg Heym 1887-1912: eine Ausstellung der Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg (Berlin, 1988) YA.1991.b.3805

01 November 2018

Academy and Society in the Balkans

Academy and Society in the Balkans is an unique 12-month research librarianship project based at the British Library. The aim of the project is to survey and bibliographically describe the arts, humanities and sciences publications of Balkan academies held in the British Library. These are stored physically together with the Library’s collections from other academies, usually identified by the characteristic pressmark which is a number preceded by the abbreviation Ac.

I 1842 LMSSerbskij letopis (Serbian Chronicle). Vol. 56 (1842) Ac.8984.

According to F. J. Hill, a former British Library curator, the pressmark Ac was designed for a new shelving scheme in the library between 1860 and 1870. Academies publications accessioned before 1860 were classified differently and dispersed in the British Library collection. Only a small proportion of these pre-1860 publications was subsequently transferred to the Ac pressmark. The pressmark was discontinued in 1965. After this year new titles were assigned to various pressmarks and only serial continuations are still added to the existing Ac pressmarks to date.

II 1869 A_RA Annalile Societatei Academice Române (Annals of the Romanian Academic Society). Vol. 1 ( 1869). Ac.743.

Initially the project will be looking into Balkan academies publications arranged according to the Ac shelving scheme between 1860 and 1965. In the next stage the aim will be to identify relevant pre-1860 publications and post-1965 publications that are not included in the Ac pressmark range. These publications are held in the collection under various pressmarks and therefore not identified as publications of academies.

III 1887 G_SKA Glas Srpske kraljevske akademije (Voice of the Royal Serbian Academy). Vol. 1 (1887). Ac.1131/3.

There are two distinct series in the Ac pressmarking and shelving scheme: the first series is a series of general academies arranged topographically by countries followed by towns in alphabetical order in the pressmark range Ac. 1-1997. The second series has the pressmark range Ac. 1998-9999, and is arranged by subject, which used to be a traditional classification and shelving scheme in the Library since its inception in the 1750s.

IV 1898 GZM_BIH Glasnik Zemaljskog muzeja u Bosni i Hercegovini (Herald of the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina). Vol. 10 ( 1898). Ac.8833.

The majority of publications, examined in the project, were published by academies and their institutes, by universities and colleges and other cultural, research and educational organisations in the second half of the 19th century. These early publishing activities occurred during the period of national revival in the Balkans. After long periods of foreign dominance and cultural imposition, newly formed Balkan academies initially focused on publishing sources for national history, language and literature. These societies supported early scholarship and research into national culture and identity. They were promoters of sciences and modernisation of Balkan society. The scholarly content of these academies’ publications is of great research value as is the significance of the period in which these publications were produced. Both aspects will be explored as the project will try to assess relationship and significance of Balkan academies publications in the library collection.

V 1899 JAZU Građa za povijest književnosti Hrvatske (Sources for the History of Croatian Literature). Vol. 2 (1899). Ac.741/19.

The publishing efforts of Balkan academies coincided with the period of increased acquisition and rapid growth of the collections in the then British Museum Library, which began acquiring publications from the Balkans by purchase and gift in the mid-19th century.

The bibliographical side of the Academy and Society in the Balkans project will mainly deal with intricate academies series and subseries, editions and serial parts in their most elaborate forms. The research part of the project will trace the provenance of Balkan academies publications by recording and examining ownership stamps in the collection items. This research should provide an insight and better understanding of the British Library Balkan collections as a whole, their acquisition and development over time.

VI 1911 BAN Spisanie na Bulgarskata akademiia na naukite (Journal of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences). Vol.1 (1911). Ac.1136/5.

Publications from academies in nine Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia) will be consulted, in six languages (Albanian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian and Slovenian), and in both Cyrillic and Roman scripts.

VII 1929 GV_LJUGeografski vestnik (Geographical Journal). Vol. 4 (1928). Ac.6143.

A desirable outcome of the project would be an online collection guide and a survey of complementary holdings in other institutions in the UK and in country of origin. On a more practical level the project should gather information for conservation and preservation of these valuable collections. Equally it will allow us to identify gaps in the collections as it would inform possible acquisition of new titles and provide ideas for further collection development in this area.

VIII 1931 DR_CLUJ Dacoromania. Buletinul Muzeului Limbei Române (Bulletin of the Romanian Language Museum). Vol. 6 (1931). Ac.9854.c.

Finally we should be able to explore and present the content of these collections by creating analytical records or by upgrading the existing historic catalogue records to include subject, language and other useful information for research and discovery.

IX 1931 DR_MSC An Aromanian lady from Moskopole (Voskopojë, Albania). From Th. Capidan, ‘Fărşeroţii. Studiu lingvistic asupra Românilor din Albania’, in Sextil Puşcariu (ed.), Dacoromania. Buletinul Muzeului Limbei Române (Bucharest, 1931), pp. 1-204.

This project is generously supported by the Chevening British Library Fellowship, a collaboration between the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Library.

X 1950 MJ_SKMakedonski jazik (Macedonian Language). Inscription in red lettering on cover: “An issue dedicated to the fifth anniversary of the creation of the Macedonian alphabet and orthography”. Issue 5 (1950). Ac.1133.h.

XI 1964 SH_TIR Studime historike (Historical Studies). Vol. 1 (1964). Ac.129/7.

We welcome this opportunity in the British Library and we are looking forward to working with the Chevening Fellow on this exciting project.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

References:

F.J. Hill, ‘The Shelving and Classification of Printed Books’, in P.R. Harris (ed.), The Library of the British Museum (London, 1991), pp. 1–74.

 

29 October 2018

Writing in a Time of Crisis: Serhiy Zhadan

The obligation to fight for national cultural and political survival has been the stimulus and curse of Ukrainian writers throughout the existence of modern Ukrainian literature. From the fiery anti-imperial poetry of the national bard Taras Shevchenko, whose work was seen as so dangerous that he was sentenced to ten years of military service and banned from writing in 1847, to the Soviet dissidents of the 1980s, like the poet Vasyl’ Stus, as famous for his complex poetry as for his death in the Gulag in 1985, Ukraine’s poets have drawn inspiration from the instinct for national survival, yet also suffered both political repressions and the aesthetic limitations that this role brings.

Serhiy_Zhadan_2015_(cropped)Serhiy Zhadan (Photo by Rafał Komorowski from Wikimedia Commons)

In 1991, when Ukraine finally achieved political independence, it seemed that the role of the writer would change. The generation of promising writers working in the 1980s and 1990s turned away from the old roles of national prophet and spiritual leader. Poets like Iurii Andrukhovych, Viktor Neborak and Oleksandr Irvanets', who made up the “Bu-Ba-Bu” group from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, developed a new, joyful, carnivalesque literary paradigm – sex, drinking and rock and roll entered Ukrainian culture for the first time. Novelists like Oksana Zabuzhko began to explore Ukrainian identity in previously unthinkable ways, uncovering its darker psychosexual complexes, while writers like Iurii Izdryk experimented with daring postmodernist aesthetics.

ZhadanBaladyTitlepage
Title-page of Serhiy Zhadan Balady pro viĭnu i vidbudovu (Lviv,2001). YA.2003.a.34372

At the end of the 1990s, on the back of this new wave of post-Soviet Ukrainian literature, a young writer from the farthest eastern reaches of Ukraine appeared on the scene. Serhiy Zhadan was young and streetwise, the epitome of the new Ukrainian literature. His poetry, in early collections like Balady pro viĭnu i vidbudovu (‘Ballads of War and Reconstruction’) tapped in to the best traditions of Ukrainian modernist verse – precisely from that period in the 1920s when, much like in the 1980s/90s, Ukrainian literature experienced a rebirth and joyfully shook off the shackles of the national burden, embracing all that was new and exciting in European literature. (It is no coincidence that the epicentre of this movement was the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where Zhadan has lived for most of his life).

ZhadanBigMac Two editions of Zhadan’s Big Mak (Kyiv, 2003) YF.2004.a.5304, and (Kyiv, 2006) YF.2007.a.8953 

At the same time, Zhadan’s scope was wider than Ukraine: his prose, with its gallery of young losers and dreamers negotiating the treacherous, absurd, and unexpectedly poetic landscapes of Ukraine’s post-industrial eastern cities, also has shades of American writers like Vonnegut, Bukowski, or Kerouac. As the titles of books like the story collection Big Mac (2003) or the novel Depeche Mode (2004) suggest, this is a writer very much attuned to everything Western culture has to offer, from its poets to its pop stars. In the 2000s, Zhadan captured the spirit of the age perfectly, and soon became the rock-star of Ukrainian literature, gathering audiences of hundreds of young people at his poetry readings (a scenario almost unthinkable for poets in the UK and many other countries). Literary rock-stardom later turned into real rock-stardom, as Zhadan formed his own ska-punk band.

Zhadan_and_Sobaky_v_Kosmosi_2_-_Zahid_2013

Above: The band  Zhadan i  Sobaky  (Zhadan and Dogs) at a concert in 2013  (Photo by RLuts - From Wikimedia Commons  CC BY-SA 3.0); Below:  Cover of Zhadan i Sobaky. Byisia za nei. (Kharkiv, 2014). EMF.2014.a.256

ZhadanISobakyBook

In 2013-14, Ukraine found itself in crisis once again, and with the crisis the spectre of the writer’s national burden reappeared. With the conflict in Donbas, Ukraine’s independence is now under threat once again, and Ukrainian society under the immense strain of war. Here, Zhadan performed a remarkable feat: he stepped into the role of public spokesman in a time of crisis, taking up his writer’s burden, but without losing his independence of voice, his keen sense of irony or his sharp style. Since the onset of the crisis in Ukraine, he has been outspoken in support of the aims of the Euromaidan movement (the creation of a dignified, corruption-free Ukraine liberated from Russian influence), for which he received a beating at the hands of pro-Russian thugs at a protest in Kharkiv in 2014. He has also been active in Ukraine’s remarkable volunteer movement, helping bring not only Ukrainian culture, but also much needed aid to children and young people in the war-affected areas through his own charity organisation.

ZhadanInternat Cover of Internat (Chernivtsi, 2017). YF.2018.a.5057

Zhadan has also addressed the recent crisis in his work. He has published poetry freely online, providing a remarkable, real-time poetic response to events that gave solace and support to his thousands of followers. His last novel, Internat (‘The Boarding School’, 2017), is a remarkable account of life in a war-torn eastern Ukrainian city. The war in Donbas has, of course, produced its share of patriotic military prose and verse in Ukraine, but Zhadan’s novel is different: in its portrait of one man’s attempt to travel from one side of the divided city to the other to retrieve his nephew, who is stuck in a boarding school, it captures the bewilderment of the civilian experience of war and provides a subtle portrait of masculinity in crisis. Internat also destroys many of the stereotypes that exist about its author’s native eastern Ukraine. The novel doesn’t deny that certain tensions exist in terms of language, culture and politics, but it shows that these were simply part of the social and cultural complexity of the region, the kind of differences that can be found anywhere: they have little if nothing to do with the war, which was imposed from outside. Whatever their views, the characters are united in their confusion as to how the occupation could have come about, and in their wish to see its end.

For the moment, the eastern towns that Zhadan describes with such wry affection in his work are on the frontline of the war against Russia and its proxies. It does not look as though the conflict will be resolved any time soon. While no Ukrainian wants to have to face this situation, they can at least find some solace in the fact that they have a writer like Zhadan, who is able to rise to the challenge and the responsibilities of being a writer in a time of national crisis with dignity and sensitivity.

ZhadanCollectionOfBooksBooks by Serhiy Zhadan from the British Library's Collections

Uilleam Blacker, UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)

Translations of Serhiy Zhadan into English:

Depeche Mode, translated by Myroslav Shkandrij (London, 2013). H.2015/.9591

Voroshilovgrad, translated by Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Wheeler (Dallas, 2016). Waiting for shelfmark

Mesopotamia, translated by Reilly Costigan-Humes, Isaac Wheeler, Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps (New Haven, 2018). Waiting for shelfmark.

Words for war: new poems from Ukraine, edited by Oksana Maksymchuk and Max Rosochinsky. (Boston, 2017).  YD.2018.a.1534

On 12 November The British Library, in partnership with the Ukrainian Institute in London, will be hosting an evening with Serhiy Zhadan, chaired by Uilleam Blacker, in the British Library Knowledge Centre. For more details and to book tickets, see our website: https://www.bl.uk/events/serhiy-zhadan

25 October 2018

‘Where are your Olympic Games?’ Panagiotis Soutsos (1806-1868)

Throughout the early 19th century, the contrast between the glories of ancient Greece and the servile humiliation imposed on modern Greeks by the Ottoman Empire was a frequent theme for poets there and abroad. Lord Byron, before going off to join the cause of Greek independence, lamented in his poem ‘The Isles of Greece’:

'Tis something, in the dearth of fame,
Though linked among a fettered race,
To feel at least a patriot's shame,

while in Germany Friedrich Hölderlin was writing in his novel Hyperion of the struggles of a young Greek to raise awareness of his country’s plight and find a place in the wider world. The fight for national autonomy and liberation, however, was just one aspect of the Greek endeavour to recreate the splendours of past ages. As well as its reputation for freedom and democracy, ancient Greece had been renowned for the richness of its language and literature and the prowess of its athletes as displayed in its many festivals, including the Isthmian, Delian, Pythian and, of course, the Olympic Games.

Soutsos portraitPortrait of Panagiotis Soutsos (from Wikimedia Commons)

It was in this field that the poet Panagiotis Soutsos was especially active. Born in 1806 in Constantinople, he belonged to a distinguished family of Phanariote origins, with a brother, Alexandros, and a sister, Aikaterini, who were also writers. This privileged background enabled the brothers to study at the famous school of Chios under Neophytos Vamvas, who translated the Bible into modern Greek, and to enjoy opportunities to travel unusual among Greeks at that time. In 1820, on the death of their father, they joined their uncle in Transylvania, and set out to Paris with a letter of introduction from him to Adamantios Korais, a leading figure in the Greek Enlightenment whose linguistic work laid the foundations of a purified form of the language known as Katharevousa. It was in this that Soutsos wrote the first version of his poem Ὁ Ὁδοιπόρος (‘The Wayfarer’) in 1831, although the subsequent ones of 1842, 1851 and 1864 included increasing numbers of archaisms. This ‘tragedy in five acts’ is in fact a poem in dialogue describing the love of the Wayfarer and his sweetheart Ralou and their tragic end, and is regarded as one of the seminal works of the First Athenian School which flourished between 1830 and 1880 in Athens and the Ionian Isles. Because of the origins of many of its members, it was also known as the Phanariotic School.

Soutsos Odoiporos 1608-2101 Title-page of Ὁ Ὁδοιπόρος (Athens, 1864) 1608/2101.

Of equal importance was Ὁ Λέανδρος (‘Leander’) in 1834, a novel which adopted the epistolary form used by Hölderlin and comes to a similarly pathetic conclusion as the hero writes to his friend Charilaos, ‘Hear the hour of midnight, signifying: This is the hour of my death; I am coming, death! Why are you calling me? I am coming. I take up my weapon…’, typical of the Greek Romantic movement in its patriotic theme and the influence of French Romanticism.

Soutsos Leandros 1458.b.25Title-page of Ὁ Λέανδρος (Athens, 1834) 1458.b.25.

It was prudent of Soutsos to concentrate on his literary activities, as his professional life was not a success. Settling in Nauplion (Nafplio) in 1833, he embarked on a political career and was appointed secretary of the senate by Ioannis Kapodistrias, but lost his position through his outspoken opposition to the latter’s policies. In any event, his progress was blocked by the heterogeneous law of 1843, barring citizens born in occupied territories from employment in the public sector, and his political views became increasingly conservative.

However, in the year of his arrival in Nauplion, then the capital of the newly-independent Greek state, he wrote a poem with still more far-reaching effects. Its title, ‘Dialogue of the Dead’, recalls Lucian of Samosata’s work of a similar title, and it portrays the spirit of Plato returning to Greece to gaze upon it in despair with the words: ‘Where are all your theatres and marble statues? / Where are your Olympic Games?’ Two years later, he followed this up with a letter to the Greek Minister of the Interior, Ioannis Kolettis, proposing that 25 March, the anniversary of the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence, should be declared a national holiday, marked by festivities including a revival of the ancient Olympics. Early the next year a wealthy Greek merchant based in Romania, Evangelis Zappas, offered to fund the Olympic revival, complete with cash prizes for the victors. On 13 July 1856 Soutsos published an article unveiling Zappas’ proposal to the public, and on 15 November 1859 the first modern Olympic Games took place in Athens.

It was not only in politics that Soutsos stirred up controversy. His cosmopolitan outlook and French contacts had made him aware of Ernest Renan’s Vie de Jésus (1863), and his second novel, Charitine, or The Beauty of the Christian Faith, subtitled ‘Antidote to the nonsense of Ernest Renan against the deity of Jesus Christ’ (Athens, 1864; 4823.aa.43) launched an impassioned attack on it, as might be expected from the author of The Messiah, or the Sufferings of Jesus Christ.

Soutsos Messias 1343.i.13 Title-page of The Messiah (Athens, 1839) 1343.i.13

In linguistic matters, too, Soutsos provoked disputes. In 1853 he expounded his opinions on language in his essay New School of the Written Word, or Resurrection of the Ancient Greek Language Understood by All, advocating the revival of Ancient Greek and dismissing Demotic Greek as not universally intelligible. The academic Konstantinos Asopios retaliated with The Soutseia, or Mr Panagiotis Soutsos scrutinized as a Grammarian, Philologist, Schoolmaster, Metrician and Poet, leading to a torrent of pamphlets by other scholars all exposing one another’s alleged shortcomings and promoting their own systems.

Despite this and the trials of increasing ill health, financial losses and marital troubles, by the time of his death on 25 October 1868 Soutsos had seen his Olympic vision realised and his work translated into German as early as 1844 – a further chapter in the mutual fascination between Greece and Germany throughout the 19th century.

Soutsos Ode bilingual 1461.h.3Title-page of Ode: Erinnerung an die wiedererstandene Hellas (Wrocław, 1844) 1461.h.3., a parallel Greek and German language edition

 Susan Halstead. Subject Librarian (Social sciences) Research Services

 

        

22 October 2018

A pessimist on Parnassus: Leconte de Lisle

The British Library’s recent study day devoted to the French Caribbean noted the parallels between the Windrush generation and the stream of migrants to France from its overseas départements such as Martinique and Guadeloupe. Although the emphasis was on immigration in the 20th century, one of the most notable individuals to undertake this voyage did so at a much earlier date to become one of the leading figures in 19th-century French literature.

Leconte-de-lisleYOUNGPortrait of  the young Leconte de Lisle (c. 1840) by Jean-François Millet 
(Image from Wikiart)
 

Charles Marie René Leconte de Lisle’s journey took him from Réunion to Rennes. Born on 22 October 1818, he had made a stay in Nantes with his parents before returning home in 1828 to attend the Collège de Saint-Denis. However, with five younger children to educate his parents were anxious to see him established in a solid profession, and despatched him to Dinan in 1837 to lodge with his uncle Louis Leconte and read law at the University of Rennes. Before long, though, he became disenchanted with his arid legal studies and was more often to be found attending lectures in classical literature and history. In addition, he founded two short-lived literary journals, La Variété (1840) and Le Scorpion (1842), both of which collapsed for lack of funds. Not surprisingly, he failed to qualify as a lawyer, and in retaliation his irate parents cut off his allowance and forced him to return to Réunion and earn his bread by carrying out humdrum duties for various businesses. He poured out his resentment and disenchantment with the people of the island in his story Saintive, where the tragic abduction of a planter’s daughter arouses only dull indifference among the apathetic creoles. He was also incensed by the fact that his father used slave labour on his plantation, and when, in 1845, friends from Rennes invited him to collaborate with them on the newspaper La Démocratie pacifique (NEWS14710) he accepted with alacrity and set off for Paris.

The newspaper was based on the ideas of the philosopher Charles Fourier, whose doctrine of Associationism represented an early form of socialism in its vision of fraternal cooperation. In the years preceding the 1848 revolution, Leconte de Lisle enthusiastically embraced these ideals and became secretary to the editor of the paper’s monthly cultural review La Phalange (1600/966). In 1846 he made friends with the classical scholar Louis Ménard and the translator Thalès Bernard, whose influence coloured the poems on Greek themes which he published at this time.

With the outbreak of revolution, he was sent back to Dinan to advocate the republican cause. This, and his open advocacy of the abolition of slavery, met with a chilly reception in the conservative Breton town and did little to improve family relations. Further disillusionment followed with the failure of the revolution and of his attempt to secure a teaching post at the Collège de Saint-Denis.

Leconte poesies 11474.e.12

Frontispiece by Louis Duveau for Leconte de Lisle, Poésies complètes (Paris, 1858) 11474.e.12

During the 1850s, however, his fortunes gradually improved with the publication of his collections Poèmes antiques (Paris 1852; 11482.cc.27) and Poèmes et poésies (Paris, 1855; 011483.cc.20), which won the Académie Française’s Lambert Prize in 1857, enabling him to marry. Translation, too, became a major preoccupation, and in the 1860s he published versions of Theocritus’s Idylls and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. His home on the Boulevard des Invalides became a meeting-place for young writers eager to follow new directions in poetry; Louis Napoleon awarded him a generous annual pension from his private funds, and in 1866 Alphonse Lemerre published the first volume of Le Parnasse contemporain, featuring contributions by Baudelaire, Verlaine and Mallarmé. Its second number was devoted entirely to Leconte de Lisle’s work.

ParnasSusanH

Title page of Le Parnasse contemporain for 1876. 11483.i.4

It was this journal which gave its name to the Parnassian school, of which de Lisle would become the head. Its governing principle was a belief in the discipline imposed by form and structure rather than the indulgences of personal lyricism and sensibility. However, de Lisle believed passionately in the power of poetry to restore to the modern world, jaded by industrial and commercial concerns, the vitality and wholeness of ancient Greece, and of the poet to guide mankind towards this.

Drawing on myths and legends from classical antiquity, the Celtic and Scandinavian past and further afield, he plunged himself into other worlds, seeking to become ‘a sort of contemporary of every age’ to bring them to life. His evocations of a snowy battlefield where a dying hero asks a raven to carry his heart back to his beloved in Uppsala (‘Le Coeur de Hialmar’) or an eerie landscape where a bridegroom is ensnared on the eve of his wedding by a swarm of mysterious beings (‘Les Elfes’) are among the best-known pieces in French school anthologies but retain their vividness and power to startle even nowadays. His portrayal of nature is equally vigorous, whether describing the rippling muscles of a savage jaguar, the soaring of an albatross, or the scent of cloves and lychees on a tropical island, drawing on his observations of creatures in the Jardin des Plantes, his memories of Réunion, and his first impressions of the harsh contrast of the coasts and heathlands of Brittany.

After the disappointment of 1848 Leconte de Lisle cast aside the political traits which had been present in his earliest works. Forced to recognize that the mediocre modern era could never regain the unity of art and science found in ancient Greece, he grew increasingly embittered, and in 1894, the year of his death, affirmed that ‘the beautiful is not the servant of the true, because it contains Truth’, and that ‘art is an intellectual luxury accessible only to very rare spirits’. He was also compelled to acknowledge that such an exclusive view of poetry was unlikely to provide him with a living. The pension from the imperial government which he had been criticized for accepting despite his republican views disappeared with the fall of Napoleon III, and he had to accept a post as librarian to the Senate.

Leconte de Lisle’s work also lives on in settings by Fauré, Duparc and many other composers, and in his refusal to allow his poetry to be compromised by the drabness of an era of grubby materialism, he remains a figure for our own times.

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

 

19 October 2018

Saving a city wiiiiiith a (red) herring!

Around the 3rd of October I visited the current display of items from the archives of Michael Palin in our Treasures Gallery, where the scene with ‘The Knights Who Say “Ni”’ from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail sprang to mind. The leader of the Knights, played by Palin, tells the hapless King Arthur that if he fails to deliver a nice-looking (and not too expensive) shrubbery he ‘must cut down the mightiest tree in the forest, wiiiith…. a herring!’

I knew I was going to have herring with white bread and a hot pot of vegetables at the party that Friday to celebrate The Relief of Leiden, when the Sea Beggars brought barrels full of salted herring with white bread (a luxury for most people at the time) to the starving citizens of Leiden, on 3 October 1574. The city had lain under siege from the Spanish for five months and food had pretty much run out. 6,000 of the 15,000 people living in the city at that point had died. The population had come close to rebellion and demanded the surrender of the city at a meeting of the town’s council on 8 September.

LeidensOntzetFruinmap
Map showing the siege of Leiden, from Robert Jacobus Fruin, Het Beleg en Ontzet der Stad Leiden in 1574. (The Hague, 1874). 9405.aaa.42.

The councillors were faced with the difficult task of keeping the peace, whilst also persuading the desperate citizens to hold on just a bit longer, for they knew that help was on the way.

That confrontation went down in history as one of the most dramatic events of the siege. The drama came from Burgomaster Pieter Adriaansz van der Werff (1529-1604) who offered his own body as food for his people, in an act of utterly unselfish heroism. However, it turns out that this was a bit of a red herring.

LeidensOntzetvdWerffMattheus Ignatius van Bree, ‘De zelfopoffering van burgemeester Van der Werf’ (1816-1817). Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden 

The story of the self-sacrifice of Burgomaster Van der Werff first appeared in the second edition of Jan Fruytiers’ Corte beschrijuinghe van de strenghe belegheringhe ende wonderbaerlijcke verlossinghe der stadt Leyden in Hollandt ... (‘Short description of the severe siege and miraculous relief of the city of Leyden in Holland….’)

LeidensOntzetFruytiers1577Title page of Corte Beschrijuinghe van de strenghe belegheringhe ende wonderbaerlijcke verlossinghe der stadt Leyden in Hollandt,  2nd ed. (Delft, 1577). 9405.dd.8.

Funnily enough, Van der Werff had not featured in the first edition of the Corte beschrijuinghe, published in 1574. This may have something to do with Jan van der Does, also known as Janus Dousa. He had been commander of the city’s defence forces during the siege which put him well into the thick of it, alongside Van der Werff. He also happened to be a poet.

LeidensOntzetJDousaportr

Portrait of Jan van der Does from his Nova Poemata ... (Leiden, 1575). 11408.a.18.

In 1575 Van der Does published Odae Lugdunenses in which he criticises the conduct of Van der Werff and some of his colleagues, accusing them of contemplating surrender to the Spanish. Quite the opposite of heroic behaviour!

LeidensOntzetNovaPoemata Jan van der Does, Nova Poemata, containing the Odae Lugdunenses

This volume was printed on the press of the brand new University of Leiden, bestowed on the city as the first university in the Northern Netherlands in 1575, by Prince William of Orange, in gratitude to the people of Leiden. (Or so the story goes – we actually have no evidence of this.) Van der Does was its first librarian.

The second edition of Fruytiers’ Corte beschrijvinghe…. appeared two years later, in 1577. The story of Van der Werff’s heroism was reprinted in the 1646 as well as in the 1739 (augmented!) editions and so  lodged itself firmly in the collective memory of the Dutch about the siege.

Is it too far-fetched to think that the burgomasters nudged Fruytiers to write a ‘revised’ edition of the Corte beschrijvinghe, adding the self-sacrifice story, as a red herring to distract from their past conduct? We will probably never know the truth.

But never let the truth get in the way of a good story! And what a story it is, even without Van der Werff: the siege, the hunger, the radical decision to inundate the land, and the daring actions of the Sea Beggars; what drama! No surprise then that the play Belegering ende het Ontset der Stadt Leyden by Reynerius Bontius became the most popular play in the second half of the 17th Century. First published in 1645 it saw no fewer than 111 editions up to 1825 and numerous performances well into the 19th Century.

The Library holds editions from 1650, 1660, 1693, 1729, 1738, 1740, 1805 and 1821.

LeidensOntzetBontius11755bb18TtlpTitle page of Reynerius Bontius, Belegering ende Ontsetting der Stadt Leyden. (Leyden, 1660). 11755.bb.18

Bontius himself and many editors after him changed and added to the play, undoubtedly adding to the myth-making, until it became quite something different from the original. It was not performed much in the 20th Century, the most recent performance took place in 2005. It had become somewhat stale, like white bread a few days old.

What does not get stale, however is the party on 3 October, when Leiden and many places beyond celebrate Leiden’s Relief with white bread, hutspot and … herring!!!

LeidensOntzetherring Leidens Ontzet party at the Dutch Centre on Friday 5 October 2018, with herring and white bread (Photo M. Kingma).

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections 

References:

C.L. Heesakkers, Janus Dousa, dichter van Leidens Beleg en Ontzet : Lezing gehouden voor de leden van de Vereniging Oud-Leiden op 15 februari 1977. https://www.oudleiden.nl/pdf1/1977_10.pdf

Leiden University, Department of Dutch Language and Literature, Reynerius Bontius - Belegering ende het ontset der stadt Leyden – 1645 https://www.let.leidenuniv.nl/Dutch/Ceneton/Bontius/index.html

Lakenhal Leiden, Verhalen, Leidens Beleg en Ontzet https://www.lakenhal.nl/nl/verhaal/leidens-beleg-en-ontzet

 

16 October 2018

Václav Hübschmann’s satirical illustrations in the magazine Kopřivy.

Humour and satire played an important role during the First World War and in recent research have been called “the art of survival” (as in Libby Murphy’s 2016 study). Jaroslav Hašek’s comic masterpiece The Adventures of The Good Soldier Švejk, which was published in 1923, remains the most read and best known example of the Czech humour. Hašek definitely experienced many influences of the European tradition of satirical magazines, which were thriving from as early as the mid-19th century, such as the Italian L'Asino, the French Le Charivari, the German Simplicissimus, or the British Punch, to name just a few. However, here I would like to give a glimpse of the Czechs’ own tradition of satire and humour, which might not feature so prominently outside Czech and Slovak culture.

The three satirical magazines established before the first Czechoslovak republic (1918- 1938) were the conservative Humoristické listy (‘Humourist Pages’), the Social-Democratic Kopřivy - list satirický (‘The Nettle: satirical pages’) – both produced in Prague, and Rašplí (‘Rasps’) published in Brno. Several other, probably less established magazines, like Malé humory (Little Humour), Košťátko (Broom) and Mládeneček (Baby), were published in Austria.

Of these titles, the British Library, unfortunately, holds only an incomplete set of Kopřivy (PP.8006.cu). The magazine was launched in Prague in 1909 and ran through the inter-war years until 1937. While flicking through the 1913 issues, I noticed that illustrations by one artist appeared in almost every one. This artist was Václav Hübschmann, who was born in Prague in 1886 and died in Prčice in 1917. The surname Hübschmann is better known even to art historians in relation to Václav’s elder brother, the architect Bohumil Hübschmann (Hypšman after 1945,). Václav Hübschmann also worked as a theatre designer, and therefore his short biography is recorded in a volume on the Czech theatre. Some of his works are held in galleries and museums (e.g. the Moravian Gallery in Brno), but I could not find much about this artist who died at the age of 31.

Here are some of his illustrations from Kopřivy, which I hope our readers will like and enjoy as much as I did.

Untitled_03082018_134606

Poor prospects. “Daddy, will we be fasting for the whole year, so that we see the golden piggy-bank that the caretaker didn’t allow in last year?”

Untitled_03082018_134633In the Hotel “Bulgaria”: Would you like your breakfast or travel first, Sir?

Untitled_03082018_134706Poem “A young proletarian”

Untitled_03082018_134740

State care for emigrants: “Why should I not go to America, where I’m not going to be a soldier? – It hurts, lad, as you want to avoid a war tax”.

Untitled_03082018_134812Talk to the deaf person. Taxpayer: “So, what would you say? Who stole the money? I’m calling the police…” – Dr Groš: Nothing happened” (Karel Groš (1865-1938) – a Czech politician and statesman, mayor of Prague (1906-1918).

Untitled_03082018_134846Elections in Prague. “The devil owes us these elections. So that one would keep thinking for fourteen days what new promises should I make”.

  Untitled_03082018_134933Dr Groš to the honourable members of the racing club. “See, how I raced to glory… It’s all for a couple of thousand, which contributors paid with just one hand…”

Untitled_03082018_135007

Intercession of the Tsar-peacemaker. “Brothers, stop shedding Slavic blood… Don’t create dirty competition”

Untitled_03082018_135046A contemporary politician is depicted leading a troop of legendary warriors prophesied to come to the aid the Czechs in their hour of need

Untitled_03082018_135213Confiscation of confiscated. “A what is this title, Sir? There is nothing…”

Untitled_03082018_135246“I’m really sorry for you, Mrs Brázdová, that your husband is a socialist. And yet, you are a good Catholic.” – “You know, Father, he wanted to teach me socialism as well, but I told him: you cannot teach an old dog new tricks”.

 

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

References/further reading

Libby Murphy, The Art of Survival: France and the Great War picaresque (New Haven, CT, 2016) YC.2017.a.12777

Oldřich Toman, Politická karikatura Mikoláše Alše v brněnské Rašpli roku 1890 (Brno, 1983) X.809/64015.

Jiří Valenta (ed.), Malované opony divadel českých zemí. (Prague, 2010) YF.2011.b.1490

12 October 2018

A long-lived Spanish book and a short-lived English king

Mexia tp C.20.e.15Title-page of Pedro Mexia, Silva de varia lection ... (Valladolid, 1551) C.20.e.15.

John Gough Nichols in his Literary Remains of King Edward VI (London, 1857; C.101.c.2.) gives a small ‘catalogue of such of the books in the Royal Library now preserved in the British Museum’ (pp. cccxxv-cccxxxviii), including:

SILUA DE VARIA LECTION, cōpuesta por el magnifico cauallero Pedro Mexia nueuamēte agora en el año de mil y quienientos [sic] et cinquenta y vno. Valladolid, 1551,
On the last leaf are these lines, written in a very neat Italian hand:
Il pouero s’affatica molto in cercar quel che gli manca. Et il ricco in conseruare quello che egli ha. Et il virtuoso in domander [sic] quel che gli bisogna.
[Google now identifies these line as coming from Doni’s Zucca (1551)]

Mexia inscription The manuscript inscription from the last leaf of Silva de varia lection ...

Nicols continues:

These lines resemble so much King Edward’s best hand that they may have been regarded as his. On the sides of the book are impressed these arms, in colours – Gules, on a chevron between three fleurs-de-lis or as many hurts, which render it a doubtful whether this was really one of the King’s books.

In the British Museum Library’s main catalogue of printed books (known as ‘GK’) this hardened to: “On the verso of the last leaf is written an Italian proverb, most probably in the handwriting of Edward VI., to whom the volume belonged.”

If Nichols was sceptical, T.A. Birrell was even more so: as he points out, the ‘E VI’ on the spine need mean no more than that the book was printed in his reign (p. 13).

And what could be less revealing of identity than a fine Italic hand?

The Tudors were all good linguists. Edward’s Greek and Latin were excellent, possibly better than his French: “conversing with him in Latin, Edward asked [Hieronymus] Cardano about his recent book which had been dedicated to him. There then ensued a debate upon the nature of comets, during which Cardano considered Edward ‘spoke Latin as politely and fluently as I did’” (Skidmore, p. 240).

I’ve no evidence of his knowledge of Spanish. There are no manuscript annotations in (t)his copy of Mexia, before you ask.

Whether this copy was Edward’s or not, it was a much-read book in its time throughout Europe. It’s a compendium of miscellaneous, curious knowledge, some of it useful and some of it useless (if knowledge is ever useless). Subjects include: did early men live longer than the moderns? The history of the Turks (a hot topic in 1540); the history of the Amazons; why a small head and broad chest is a bad sign; do mermen exist? Who was the first person to tame a lion? And many many more.

It attracted the attention of the Inquisition, who demanded the chapter on Pope Joan (I, ix) to be expurgated.

Mexia IndexThe entry for Silva de varia lection from the Novus index librorum prohibitorum et expurgatorum, issued by Cardinal Antonio Zapata (Seville, 1632) 617.l.27., p. 829 

Inquisition notwithstanding, Mexia was a best seller in Spanish (27 editions from 1540 to 1673), Italian (23 from 1544 to 1682), French (36 from 1552 to 1675), English (six from 1571 to 1651) and Dutch (four from 1588 to 1617).

What to me is interesting is not only the number of editions but that Mexia fell from favour in the 1670s and had disappeared by the 1680s.

Birrell charmingly calls it a “bedside book”, and although I don’t actually keep it by my pillow, I can attest from personal experience that it’s certainly good to dip into.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References

T. A. Birrell, English Monarchs and Their Books from Henry VII to Charles II, The Panizzi Lectures 1986 (London, 1987) 2719.e.1586

Chris Skidmore, Edward VI, the Lost King of England (London, 2007) YC.2007.a.8001

10 October 2018

Centenary of the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine

The National Library of Ukraine was founded in August 1918 when, after the Revolution of 1917, statehood was briefly restored in Ukraine. The idea of a National Library had been developing in Ukrainian intellectual circles before the Revolution.

A law signed on 15 (2) August 1918 by Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky created the Interim Committee for the Establishment of the National Library, under the supervision of the Minister of Education and Arts, Mykola Vasylenko. The lack of premises and a weak material base hindered the development of the Library, but in August 1920 the first reading room was opened. In addition to the main catalogues (alphabetical and classified), the special catalogue Ucrainica was started.

In 1919, at the request of the Moscow Soviet authorities, the Library was renamed “The All People’s Library”. During the first years after the Revolution the Library received considerable numbers of books as a result of the Soviet authorities’ liquidation of pre-revolutionary organizations and educational institutions. Many rich people who owned large libraries were imprisoned or went abroad, and some of their collections were also transferred to the Library.

By the late 1920s, the holdings of the All People’s Library were similar to those of other large European national libraries. It obtained new premises in the centre of the city, near Kyiv University, and published its own journals.

VernadskyZhurnalAc.1101.fCover of issue 3 of Zhurnal bibliotekoznavstva ta bibliohrafii (Journal of librarianship and bibliography; Kyiv, 1927-1930 ) Ac.1101.f.

In 1929 the Moscow authorities began to suppress Ukrainian cultural institutions and the intelligentsia. Stepan Posternak, the Director of the Library, and Jaroslav Steshenko, a leading bibliographer, were arrested. In the early 1930s a large group of librarians were accused of nationalism and lost their jobs; some of them were arrested. Four Library Directors – Posternak, Nichipir Mikolenko, Anton Yaremenko and Vasyl Ivanushkin – were shot in 1937/1938. Steshenko died in a Gulag camp.

In 1934 the All People’s Library of Ukraine was renamed the Library of the Academy of Sciences. The Soviet authorities established strict control over all spheres of political, public and professional life. During these years, censorship of librarianship and ideological pressure increased significantly. The Second World War was also a very hard period for the Library. Some valuable collections were evacuated to Ufa (Russia). The remaining literature was partially taken away to Germany by the Nazis and only after the war were some fragments returned.

In the post-war years, under the guidance of the prominent bibliographer and librarian Yuri Mezhenko, the Library quickly resumed its work. It received a deposit copy not only of all Ukrainian imprints but also of all material printed in the Soviet Union. Thanks to international book exchanges with libraries and scientific institutions all over the world, including the British Library, it acquired a rich collection of foreign scientific publications. However, politics once again intervened in the Library’s work. As Director from 1945 to 1948, Mezhenko initiated and managed the creation of a bibliography of Ukrainian books published since 1798, and prepared an article about it for the Library’s journal. As a result, he was removed from his position. Yaroslav Dashkevych, a prominent bibliographer who led this project for the West Ukrainian imprints, was arrested and imprisoned for several years.

VerbnadskyMezhenko_Shev (002) Photo of Mezhenko (by kind permission of the Department of Manuscripts and Textual Studies of the T. Shevchenko Institute of Literature of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine)

The Library, renamed in 1948 the State Public Library of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, continued to function as a library of the Academy of Sciences. In 1965, it once again became the Central Scientific Library of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR. As the bulk of its readers were researchers, its science and humanities collections were developed. In 1988 it was renamed after Volodymyr Vernadsky

In 1989, the Library moved to a new building which had been under construction for many years and was completed under Mykola Senchenko’s leadership. Most of the collections were transported there.

VernadskyНаціональна_бібліотека_України_імені_В._І._ВернадськогоThe new library building (Photo by Leonid Andronov, from Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0)

In 1996 the Library regained the status and name of National Library of Ukraine. Today it is a major research library, whose collections include around 15.5 million items – from cuneiform tablets and Egyptian papyri dating back as far as 2000 BC to digital documents. Among its many unique items are the 10th-century Kyiv Glagolithic Folios and the Gospel of Peresopnytsya, the first translation of the Gospels into vernacular Old Ukrainian.

About 100,000 documents come to the Library collections annually. In addition to receiving a copy of every publication produced in Ukraine, the Library acquires a copy of all Ukrainian theses and continues to conduct international book exchanges, although on a more limited scale. The National Library is the only United Nations Depository Library  in Ukraine. 

Among the Library's many electronic resources, the digital library of Ukraine’s national historical and cultural heritage includes thousands of documents; the Ukrainian National Biographical Archive has been created, as well as electronic archives of the prominent Ukrainian scholars Mykhailo Hrushevsky  and Volodymyr Vernadsky.  

Every year international library and information conferences are organized here. The Library issues professional journal Bibliotechnyi Visnyk (‘Library Herald’; Kyiv, 1993- ; 2719.k.1994),  collections of works as  Naukovi pratsi Natsionalʹnoï biblioteky Ukraïny imeni V. I. Vernadsʹkoho (‘Scientific works of the V. I. Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine’; Kyiv, 1998- ; 2719.e.3692),  Ukraïnsʹka biohrafistyka (‘Ukrainian biographical studies’; Kyiv, 1996- ; ZA.9.a.8459), Rukopysna ta knyzhkova spadshchyna Ukraïny (Kyiv, 1993-; 2702.b.357). The abstracting journal Dzherelo (‘The Source’; Kyiv, 1995- ; 2725.g.3161) is published in collaboration with the Institute for Information Recording of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

VernadskyBibliotechnyiVisnyk

Issue 4/2011 of Bibliotechnyi Visnyk devoted to libraries in the United Kingdom. 2719.k.1994

The Library’s rich newspaper collection amounts to about 240,000 annual bound volumes.

VernadskyNewspapers

 Some catalogues held in the British Library  of newspapers and serials in the Vernadsky Library’s collections 

The Library holds a unique collection of Jewish musical folklore consisting of original recordings of folk music from 1912 to 1947 on wax cylinders. In 1995 this collection was included in UNESCO’s “Memory of the World” register. The British Library holds a detailed catalogue of this collection (Fonoarkhiv ievreĭskoï muzychnoï spadshchyny, Kyiv, 2001; 2725.g.3276)

VErnadskyCatalogsCatalogues held in the British Library of various collections in the Department of Manuscripts of the National Library of Ukraine

The worldwide research community was pleased to receive the 20-volume bibliography Knyha v Ukraini 1861-1917 (‘The Book in Ukraine: 1861–1917’), compiled by the Library’s bibliographers.

The Library’s centenary is an excellent opportunity to expand its interaction with domestic and foreign scientific and cultural institutions, libraries, information centres, universities, and publishing houses. A special conference celebrating the anniversary will be held in November in Kyiv.

Nadiya Strishenets, Leading Researcher, Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine

Further reading

L. Dubrovina, O. Onyshchenko, Natsional’na biblioteka Ukrainy imeni Verndas’koho, 1918-1941 (Kyiv, 1998) 2719.e.3534

L. Dubrovina, O. Onyshchenko, Istoriia Natsional’noi biblioteky Ukrainy im. V. I. Vernadskoho, 1941-1964. (Kyiv, 2003). YF.2007.a.30791

L. Dubrovina, O. Onyshchenko, Istoriia Natsionalʹnoï biblioteky Ukraïny imeni V. I. Vernadsʹkoho : 1965-1991 (Kyïv, 2008). YF.2009.a.17361

IUriĭ Oleksiĭovych Mezhenko (1892-1969): materialy do biohrafiï, compiled by T. A. Ihnatova, N. V. Kazakova, N. V. Strishenets (Kyïv, 1994). 2719.e.3344

N. V. Strishenets, Bibliohrafichna spadshchyna IUriia Mezhenka (Kyiv, 1997). 2719.e.3489

05 October 2018

‘The Mafia doesn’t exist’

Of the over 1000 books on the subject of the mafia held at the British Library, about 700 were published after 1992, when the murders of Judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino made the whole world talk about the Sicilian mafia. Before then, in the 1980s, it was not uncommon to hear that ‘the mafia didn’t exist’, or that it only existed in Palermo, but not in the rest of Sicily. Denouncing the businesses of Sicilian Cosa Nostra, and its ties with the Italian government, had a high price to pay for too many intellectuals. Just to mention two, in 1978, Giuseppe ‘Peppino’ Impastato, and, in 1984, Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Fava, paid for their work with their lives. Peppino Impastato was a political activist, who didn’t leave many writings behind. The other Giuseppe, on the other hand, was a celebrated playwright, a writer and an investigative journalist, so we have collected most of his works since the 1970s and have recently acquired the full run of the magazine that he edited until his murder, and which was the reason for his murder, I Siciliani.

Giuseppe_Fava

 Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Fava (Picture from Wikimedia Commons)

Coming from rural Sicily, Pippo Fava moved to the town of Catania to study law, and then became a professional journalist in 1952. He wrote for several newspapers and magazines, also establishing himself as author for theatre and cinema (he co-wrote the movie Palermo or Wolfsburg, which won the Golden Bear at the 1980 Berlinale). Given the task of editing Il Giornale del Sud, Fava recruited a team of young journalists and photographers to help him carry out some serious investigative journalism. When he was fired by the owners, who would have preferred him to avoid writing so much about the mafia, he used his charisma and influence to persuade these young journalists to join him in creating a fully independent and self-funded monthly magazine, a loud voice for the anti-mafia movement in Sicily, I Siciliani.

Siciliani covers Issues of I Siciliani 

Poor in budget but rich in ideas, Fava started with a very clear agenda of the topics to tackle. He wanted people to see Sicily as it really was. Showing the bad was a moral and ethical duty. Murders were photographed and reported without filters, corruptors were named and shamed. The damage to the environment caused by industrial and building speculation was clear to him, and he was not ashamed to talk about it. His stories are still relevant. His most important contribution was identifying the links between national politicians and the mafia, and stating that the mafia was effectively ruling the country; this was something Pippo Fava was saying out loud at times when nobody was ready to hear it (Pippo Fava’s last interview with Enzo Biagi, December 1983). But I Siciliani also portrays normal life, showing both the rich and profound culture of the island and as the urban lifestyle that must have surprised those who thought of Sicily as the land of The Godfather.

In the first issue, dated January 1983, in his first editorial, Fava was the first to talk about the Catanian mafia, whose existence everyone else was trying to deny. He names the powerful entrepreneurs behind it; he shows their faces, as well as that of Bernardo ‘Nitto’ Santapaola, the local mafia boss.

I siciliani1Giuseppe Fava, ‘I Quattro Cavalieri dell’Apocalisse Mafiosa’ (above) and Bernardo Santapaola (below), from I Siciliani, Issue 1, January 1983.

Santapaola

It wouldn’t be long. One year later, that same man ordered his murder. Pippo Fava was killed on 5 January 1984, on his way to pick up his grandniece from a theatre rehearsal. I Siciliani tried to survive for a few more years, penniless, mostly relying on subscriptions and a few brave advertisers who didn’t fear the isolation of the magazine.

If you read it now, I Siciliani is still as shocking, powerful and compelling as it was 30 years ago. The issues are still there. The love for the place is still there. Nothing ever changes in Sicily: If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change. (Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Il Gattopardo)

Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections (Italian) @miravale

References/Further Reading

I Siciliani (Sant’Agata li Li Battiati, 1982-[1985]) ZF.9.b.2335

Giuseppe Fava, Gente di rispetto (Milan, 1975) X.909/34407

Giuseppe Fava, Passione di Michele (Bologna, 1980) X.950/20292

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard (London, 1974) X.908/28903