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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

09 August 2019

A Letter to Panizzi with Echoes and Sparks

In May 1921 staff at the British Museum Library must have been rather surprised to receive a letter addressed to Sir Anthony Panizzi, the Museum’s famous 19th-century Principal Librarian, who had been dead for some 42 years. The letter was from Victor Patzovsky, a former officer in the Austrian army, who had been stationed at the Sigmundsherberg Prisoner of War camp in north-eastern Austria during the First World War, and it accompanied a parcel containing issues of newspapers produced by the Italian prisoners in the camp.

Newspaper masthead showing the Sigmundsherberg Camp
The camp at Sigmundsherberg, from the masthead of camp newspaper L’ Eco del Prigioniero, no.3 (21 January 1917)  NEWS12832 

Such newspapers were produced in many internment and prisoner-of-war camps in the First and Second World Wars. They served various purposes: to communicate the latest news from the camp and the wider world, to publicise sporting and cultural societies and events organised by the prisoners, to alleviate boredom and frustration, to share experiences, memories and jokes, and to maintain a common cultural identity while in enemy captivity.

These things were particularly important in a camp like Sigmundsherberg where conditions were poor and prisoners particularly likely to succumb to the ‘barbed-wire disease’ that accompanied long, difficult and tedious incarceration. The camp had originally housed Russian prisoners, but after Italy entered the war against her former Austrian and German allies most of the Russians were moved out, and by the autumn of 1916 some 56,000 Italians were interned there. Since this was a far greater number than the camp had been built for, overcrowding was a constant problem, exacerbated by sickness, and shortages of food and fuel, creating miserable conditions for the prisoners.

In his letter Patzovsky writes of the prisoners’ ‘sad lot’ and says that he was ‘a real friend’ to them, enclosing testimonials from some of them to support this claim. He goes on to explain that he has now fallen on hard times himself, and is hoping to sell the newspapers to the Library to raise some money. He must have heard of Panizzi and, not realising that he was long dead, thought that an Italian-born librarian would have a particular interest in the newpapers and sympathy with a man who had tried to help Italians in distress. The letter was passed on to A.W. Pollard, one of Panizzi’s successors as Keeper of Printed Books, and a pencilled note on the first page, signed with Pollard’s initials, shows that the Library offered £2 for the collection. Clearly Patzovsky was content with this as the newspapers remain in the British Library today, although the testimonials were presumably returned to Patzovsky as he requested.

Easter 1917 issue of L' Eco del Prigioniero
Easter issue of L’Eco del Prigioniero (8 April 1917)

The run of newspapers is far from complete. As Patzovsky explains, ‘the few copies that were printed went from hand to hand among the thousands of Italians until the paper fell to pieces.’ The earliest in the collection is no. 3 of the weekly L’Eco del Prigioniero (‘The Prisoner’s Echo’), dated 21 January 1917. L’Eco del Prigioniero was reproduced from manuscript using a machine known as an opalograph and each issue has a different illustrated masthead.

Newspaper masthead image of two monkeys

Newspaper masthead with stylised image of three faces

Newspaper masthead picture of Milan Cathedral
Some examples of mastheads from L’Eco del Prigioniero. Two  bear a label addressed to Patzovsky, suggesting that they were his subscription copies

The first editor was an A. Gori, but from no. 15 (6 May 1917) the role was taken over by Guido Monaldi. The content generally includes news and comment, essays poems and stories, and reports of camp activities, while a monthly supplement, L’Eco Umoristico/L’Eco Caricaturista, is devoted to jokes and cartoons.

Page from L'Eco Caricaturista with cartoons, verses and portraits
Page from L’Eco Caricaturista, May 1917, with self-portraits of the artists. HS.74/734

In August 1917 L’Eco del Prigioniero became La Scintilla (‘The Spark’), but Monaldi remained as editor, the content was much the same, and there was still a humorous supplement, La Scintilla Caricaturista. Initially the same form of reproduction from manuscript was also used, but the difficulty of obtaining the chemicals needed for the process and the low quality of the available supplies made it impossible to keep up with the demand for copies and to maintain the quality of the reproduction.

Front page of 'La Scintilla' 2 September 1917
La Scintilla, 
no, 3 (2 September 1917)  HS.74/734

By the beginning of November Monaldi and his team had succeeded in acquiring a proper printing press, and the remaining issues are all printed, losing somewhat in visual charm and variety but gaining greatly in legibility. A new and permanent masthead image soon appeared, with the image of a goddess-like figure striking sparks.

First printed issue of La Scintilla, 4 November 1917
The first printed issue of La Scintilla (4 November 1917), showing the kind of wear and tear described by Patzovsky

Somewhat confusingly, the series numeration restarts at 1 from the first printed issue; the last issue which we hold is no. 15 in this numeration (7 April 1918), although La Scintilla is recorded as having run until August 1918.

La Scintilla masthead
Masthead for the printed issues of La Scintilla 

Incomplete as our holdings are, we must be grateful to Patzovsky for offering them to the Library and to Pollard for being willing to buy them from him.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Further reading:

Rudolf Koch, Im Hinterhof des Krieges: das Kriegsgefangenenlager Sigmundsherberg (Klosterneuburg, 2002) YA.2003.a.43771

06 August 2019

The three lives of the Georgian alphabet

The Georgian alphabet is very old and is used only by the Georgian language. Its origins lie hidden in the depths of the past and are the subject of several theories.

According to the Georgian chronicles, King Parnavaz I was recognised as the creator of the Georgian alphabet. Among scholars, some suggest that the Georgian alphabet derived from Phoenician, while others propose Semitic and Aramaic origins. However, the majority of researchers consider that the Greek alphabet served as the basis for the Georgian one. In strictly structural terms, Georgian alphabetical order largely corresponds to the Greek alphabet with the exception of letters representing uniquely Georgian sounds, which are grouped at the end.

The oldest Georgian inscriptions date back to the fifth century AD. However, it is unlikely that the Georgian alphabet first appeared then as the written culture was by then long established and highly developed. According to the Georgian historian Ivane Javakhishvili, the Georgian writing system had been in use since the 7th century BC.

Image1_Inscription in Bolnisi Sioni Cathedral  dated to 494 AD

Inscription from Bolnisi Sioni Cathedral, dated to 494 AD, Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The evolution of Georgia’s written language has produced three scripts: Asomtavruli (5th-9th centuries), Nuskhuri (9th-11th centuries) and Mkhedruli (11th century onwards). The appearance of the letters at each stage is very different. Despite their obvious visual differences, all three scripts are closely interrelated and show a gradual evolution. Their letters share the same names and alphabetical order and are written horizontally from left to right. Originally consisting of 38 letters, Georgian today is written using a 33-letter alphabet, as five letters were dropped as a result of reforms proposed by Ilia Chavchavadze in the 1860s. All three Georgian writing systems are phonemic; every sound is represented by its corresponding letter and almost every written letter is pronounced in speech.

Image2 Alphabets

The three Georgian scripts: Asomtavruli, Nuskhuri, and Mkhedruli (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Asomtavruli (‘capital letters’) is a monumental script, and represents the oldest form of the Georgian alphabet. It is also known as Mrgvlovani (‘rounded’). The geometry of the Asomtavruli script is simple and plain. The first examples date back to the 5th century. From the 9th century, Asomtavruli was mainly employed for capital letters in religious manuscripts. Despite its name, this script is unicameral, i.e. it does not distinguish between upper and lower case, like the two later scripts, Nuskhuri and Mkhedruli.

Image3_Letter ‘M’ in Asomtavruli script

Letter მ (M) in Asomtavruli script, 12th century New Testament MS (Gelati Gospel) (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Image4_Book of prayers  17th century

Book of prayers, 17th century (Sloane MS 1338). The manuscript is written in Nuskhuri, with Asomtavruli letter ‘M’ as a capital

The second Georgian writing system, which derived from Asomtavruli, was Nuskhuri (‘minuscule’). Nuskhuri was soon combined with Asomtavruli illuminated capitals in religious manuscripts. The combination was called Khutsuri (‘clerical’) and was largely used in religious writings.

Image5_Lives of Holy Fathers

Lives of Holy Fathers, 11th century (Add. MS 11281). The manuscript is written in Khutsuri

From the 10th century, Nuskhuri was employed in many texts. Nuskhuri developed as a written style because of the need to write faster and the increased demand for books. Nuskhuri letters have an angular shape, vary in height and slant to the right. They could be written without lifting the writing tool from the page. The oldest known inscription in Nuskhuri is the collection of sermons known as Sinuri mravaltvavi (‘Sinai Homiliary’) dated 864 AD.

These two scripts were followed by Mkhedruli, the modern Georgian script. It first appeared in the 10th century. The name Mkhedruli comes from the word mkhedari which means ‘knightly’. Mkhedruli can be seen as the product of the complex development of previous writing systems. It maintained the rounded design of Asomtavruli and, like Nuskhuri, facilitated faster writing. Letters, as in Nuskhuri script, can also be joined up. Due to its style and flexibility, it is also used for headlines and titles.

Mkhedruli has changed very little since its arrival in the 10th century and has become the standard script of modern Georgian and related Kartvelian languages. Mkhedruli first appeared in print in two books published in Rome in 1629.

Image6_Dittionario giorgiano e italiano

Title page and opening of Sefano Paolini’s Dittionario giorgiano e italiano (Rome, 1629) 622.e.34.(2.)

The three writing systems co-existed for several centuries and all remain in use today. They were originally used for both religious and secular literature. Gradually, however, Mkhedruli came to be used only for state and secular purposes while Nuskhuri and Asomtavruli were limited to ecclesiastical use.

Georgian scripts were granted the national status of intangible cultural heritage in Georgia in 2015 and inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016. The decision recognised the value of the three writing systems that live together in harmony and mark out the Georgian language.

Anna Chelidze, Curator, Georgian Collections

Further reading

Tʿamaz Gamqreliże, Alphabetic writing and the Old Georgian script: a typology and provenience of alphabetic writing systems (Delmar, N.Y., 1994). ORW.1995.a.283

Michael Kurdiani, Georgian language and script (Tbilisi, 2008). YD.2011.a.5239

Elene Mačavariani, The Old Georgian Script (Tbilisi, 2015). YD.2016.a.2180

Georgian scripts & typography (Tbilisi, 2016). YF.2019.b.1408

The British Library Exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark continues until 27 August 2019. 

01 August 2019

Pérák, the only Czech superhero

During the Second World War, a strange rumour spread among the residents of Prague. A mysterious masked character dressed in black was said to be seen jumping at great heights over the rooftops and streets of the occupied city. He would suddenly leap out of a dark corner to attack Czech collaborators, or to save Czech civilians from the hands of the Gestapo.

Perak.Projekt 2003

Jiří Gruss, Projekt Pérák (2003) reproduced in Petr Janeček, Mýtus o pérákovi. Městská legenda mezi folklorem a populární kulturou (Prague, 2017), awaiting shelfmark.

According to the urban legend, Pérák, the Spring Man (from Czech péro, 'spring'), was an inventor turned superhero. Thanks to springs attached to his shoes, he was able to startle and escape Nazi soldiers who tried in vain to capture him. That’s how popular belief has it. However, in his Mýtus o pérákovi. Městská legenda mezi folklorem a populární kulturou, Petr Janeček shows that, in fact, the myth of the Spring Man did not start with the Second World War, but that for a century before it had been part of Czech and international folklore, and its origins could be traced back to Spring-heeled Jack, a spectre popular in Victorian England, who was believed to torment the inhabitants of London, Sheffield, and Liverpool. He had claws and red eyes and, just like Pérák, he was able to make enormous leaps.

Spring-Heel'd Jack 12620.h.26

Cover of Spring-heel'd Jack: the Terror of London. Issue 1 (London, 1867) 12620.h.26

In fact, the early oral tradition also presented the Spring Man as a sinister figure who posed a threat to common Czech people, as he would murder or rape defenceless civilians. As a result, many Czechs refused to work night shifts, which had a detrimental effect on the production of weapons in Nazi factories. During the peak of the Pérák myth, almost every incident would be attributed to the Spring Man. Gradually, Pérák evolved from a terrifying phantom into a positive hero who fought the Nazi army by blowing up military vehicles and who would defend the innocent residents of Prague, as well as writing anti-Nazi graffiti on walls to raise the morale of Czech civilians. And that’s how he became the only superhero in Czech history.

Perak.Stančík

Cover of Petr Stančík’s Pérák (Brno, 2008), YF.2008.a.33809

Being a symbol of Czech resistance against Nazi Germany, Pérák was an important part of Czech wartime culture. While he was almost certainly an imaginary character rather than a real person, he provided Czech civilians with hope and a feeling that someone out there was protecting them against the Nazi occupiers. Although his activity ceased completely with the end of the war, the career of Pérák as an urban legend was not over, and since then he has evolved from a hero of gossip stories into part of Czech popular culture, including cartoon animations, comic books and novels.

Perak.Pionýr

Cover of magazine Pionýr (May 1980) reproduced in Petr Janeček, Mýtus o pérákovi

Being a symbol of resistance against the oppressor, the character of the Spring Man has been adopted by various political movements, including Czech nationalists, anti-globalists and anti-fascists - and in this way, the same spectre turned superhero has fought different enemies for the past eighty years.

Perak.sticker

An antifascist sticker with Pérák reproduced in Petr Janeček, Mýtus o pérákovi

Zuzanna Krzemien, SEE Cataloguer

References/Further reading

Petr Janeček, Mýtus o pérákovi. Městská legenda mezi folklorem a populární kulturou (Prague, 2017). Awaiting shelfmark.

Petr Stančík, Pérák (Brno 2008). YF.2008.a.33809

 

30 July 2019

When moderation went out of the window: the First Defenestration of Prague

Last year saw commemorations of the turbulent events of 1618, when the abrupt ejection of the Imperial councillors Martinitz and Slawata and their secretary from the windows of Prague Castle led to the outbreak of the Thirty Years War. However, in Britain it is not so widely known that this was not the first incident of this kind, although the First Defenestration of Prague had much closer links with England. Despite the fact that Elizabeth, the ‘Winter Queen’ of Bohemia, and her husband Frederick, the former Elector Palatine, were his own daughter and son-in-law, the timorous James I of England refrained from sending help when they and their growing family were driven out of Prague following the 1618 Defenestration. Afraid of jeopardizing relations with both Catholic and Protestant powers in Europe, he remained aloof, and the only Englishmen to become directly involved in the conflict were those who enlisted on either side as mercenaries.

Just under two centuries before, though, the equally fateful occurrences of 30 July 1419 stemmed directly from an English source which decisively influenced Bohemian politics. On the death of the King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in 1378, his territories were divided between his sons. The new king, Václav IV, had to cope not only with the rivalry of his younger brothers Jošt, Margrave of Moravia, and Zikmund, who would succeed him, but with discontent among the nobility and increasing urban poverty and social unrest. This led to the eruption of civil strife in which minor nobility and Hussite preachers, intent on reform, opposed Zikmund and his Catholic supporters. As Prague’s status as a centre of culture and learning declined, the city’s German students decamped in 1409 to found a new university at Leipzig as Zikmund and the Council of Constance urged the young king to extirpate heretical elements within Prague’s university and churches.

Hus 11748.aa.1 enlarged.
Portrait of Jan Hus from Johann Agricola of Eisleben, Tragedia Johannis Huss ([Wittemberg], [1550?]) 11748.aa.1.

The followers of Jan Hus were notable for demanding that Holy Communion should be administered to the congregation sub utraque specie – allowing both people and clergy to partake of the chalice as well as consecrated bread. In other respects, too, they swerved dangerously from Catholic doctrine, not least in their zeal to make the Holy Scriptures available in the vernacular so that the laity could read them. Here they were drawing on the ideas of the English theologian John Wycliffe who attacked the Papacy, monastic orders and transubstantiation, and inspired the translation of the Bible into English. He shared a patron, John of Gaunt, with Chaucer at the time when Charles IV’s daughter Anne of Bohemia was queen of England, having married Richard II in 1381. Bohemian scholars who sympathized with Wycliffe and his Lollard followers came to Oxford, where Wycliffe had been a doctor of divinity, to copy his texts and take them back to Bohemia.

It was not only male academics who seized eagerly on these writings. An anonymous poem entitled Viklefice (‘The Wycliffite Woman’), dating from the early 15th century, describes in satirical tones how a female follower of Wycliffe lures an innocent young squire to her home as night approaches, ostensibly to teach him the true faith, but in fact plotting to seduce him. Despite its misogynistic character, the poem indicates a genuine sense of alarm about the capacity of women to read and interpret the Bible without the intervention of the clergy – not least because certain Lollards had already suggested that women too might become priests.

The execution of Jan Hus in Constance following a show trial in 1415 unleashed a revolt which the troops of the Emperor Zikmund failed to suppress, leading to the establishment of an independent Hussite church in the centre of Catholic Europe. In a desperate attempt at appeasement, Václav handed over St. Stephen’s Church, an important centre of the Hussite movement, to the Catholics.

Cover scan

Cover of Miloš Václav Kratochvíl, Jan Želivský (Prague, 1953: 10798.e.13), part of a series of books devoted to ‘heroes of wars and revolution’

Churches were scrubbed, choirboys made to repent if they had served the Hussites, and dying Hussites were deprived of extreme unction unless they recanted. In retaliation a mob headed by the radical preacher Jan Želivský burst into the New Town Hall on 30 July 1419. They had just heard Želivský preach a rousing sermon on a text from the Book of Revelation demanding the punishment of the unjust. Raising the monstrance containing the Host high in his hands, he led the procession along what is now Wenceslas Square to rout the Catholic priest celebrating mass in St. Stephen’s. After a brief service of their own, they called for the release of prisoners arrested during the recent street fighting. One report claims that while they were parleying with the councillors, the latter threw stones, one of which hit Želivský’s monstrance. Among those present in the crowd was Jan Žižka, who would later command the Hussite army. The furious attackers stormed the tower and hurled seven members of the town council, including the burgomaster and the judge, to their deaths. A force of 300 cavalry despatched from Hradčany retreated, outnumbered by the Hussites, who rapidly elected four magistrates and invested them with the insignia taken from the bodies of the councillors.

Schüllinger _Hugo_-_Útok_Pražanů_na_Malou_Stranu_roku_1419

The First Defenestration of Prague as depicted by Hugo Schüllinger. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The king’s immediate reaction was to threaten to kill all the Hussites, despite his councillors’ urging him to forgive them. However, just over two weeks later he suffered symptoms suggesting a stroke or heart attack, and died on 16 August. The next day mobs were roaming the streets, breaking into churches and monasteries and destroying their treasure before burning down the brothels in the Jewish quarter. As violence escalated during the autumn, much of Malá Strana was destroyed in a battle between royalists and radicals on 4-6 November 1419.

Jensky_kodex_Zizka

Jan Žizka at the head of the Hussite army , from the Jenský codex (late 15th century) in the National Library, Prague (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The Hussite Wars raged until 1436. By this time the Hussites had split into the Utraquists and the more puritanical Táborites, while much of Bohemia had been ravaged in a way presaging the devastation of the Thirty Years War. Although on a lesser scale, these events left permanent scars on the country and eerily foreshadowed those which followed almost two centuries later.

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

25 July 2019

Matilde Serao: proud to be imperfect

This woman so conventional and gossipy, false among the people and so simple, so affectionate, so frank with herself, so vain with others and so humble with me, so ugly in her daily life and so beautiful in moments of love, so incorrigible and disgusting, so docile to the teachings, I like her a lot, very much, too much […]

This is how, in a letter to a friend, Edoardo Scarfoglio describes the woman he was about to marry. The future wife was Matilde Serao (1856-1927), writer and journalist, who, at 26, left Naples to live in Rome where, in the capital’s literary salons, she became known for her wit, and was often frowned upon because of her spontaneous laughter and gestures. Scarfoglio had already brutally criticised Fantasia, the novel published in 1883 that made Serao famous, describing its language as inexact, improper, a mixture of dialectal words from Italian and French.

Serao portrait

Photograph of Matilde Serao in 1887, reproduced in Alberto Consiglio, Napoli amore e morte – Edoardo Scarfgoglio e Matilde Serao (Naples, 1959) 010601.aaa.94

In an interview with Ugo Ojetti, Matilde Serao said this in her defence:

Even though my language is incorrect, even though I cannot write and I admire those who write well, I must confess that if I should by any chance learn to do it, I would not do it. I believe, with the liveliness of that uncertain language and broken style, to infuse warmth in my works, and warmth, not only vivifies the body, it also preserves it from the corruption of time.

Serao Fantasia

Serao English

Covers of Serao’s Fantasia (Florence, 1914) W12/6416 and of an English translation by Henry Harland and Paul Sylvester, Fantasy (London, 1891). 12205.ee.3/17.

In the introduction to the edition of Fantasia published in 2010, Riccardo Reims wrote:

[…] if a novel containing the same rapid descriptions of 10 young girls in a college, lined up in a classroom, […] briefly defined […] – Giovanna who, without reading, her eyes semi closed, bites a rose, and the pale Lucia with her mellow hair, lips too red, who holds her own head with one hand and through the fingers looks at the teacher […] – were published today, there would be screams of wonder, no offence to the living writers.

In 1884 Serao published Il ventre di Napoli, clearly recalling Zola’s Le ventre de Paris (1873). She gives a vivid and concrete image of late nineteenth-century Naples, under the influence of the positivistic approach of French literary Naturalism and the detached look of Italian Verismo. Her description of Naples takes us to the most tragic and dark parts of the city, and suddenly we are dazzled by the remarkable livelihood of the people in it: it is as if Serao makes the Neapolitans flourish from the dirt of the city with their colourful songs, elegance and passion for handicraft.

Serao Ventre

Title-page of Il Ventre di Napoli (Milan, 1884) 10130.bb.19.

Serao and Scarfoglio married in 1885. In the same year the couple founded the newspaper Il corriere di Roma. Two years later in Naples they founded Il corriere di Napoli, which in 1892 became Il Mattino. After a while, the marriage went though some crisis: in 1903, Serao left Il Mattino and founded Il Giorno.

In March 1925, the philosopher Giovanni Gentile wrote a manifesto of the fascist intellectuals, following a conference of fascist cultural institutions. The manifesto was published by the national press on 21 April; Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Luigi Pirandello were among the signatories.

On the following 1 May, Benedetto Croce wrote a poster entitled ‘A reply from writers, professors and Italian publicists, to the manifesto of the fascist intellectuals’. The poster was published by the daily newspaper Il Mondo and Matilde Serao was among the contributors. In 1926 the newspaper was suppressed by the Fascist regime and Matilde Serao’s nomination for the Nobel Prize in Literature was stopped. She died the following year, on 25 July.

Giuseppe Alizzi, Curator Romance Collections

References/Further reading

Matilde Serao, Fantasia, introduzione di Riccardo Reim. (Milan, 2010). YF.2011.a.19669

Ugo Ojetti, Alla scoperta dei letterati.... (Milan, 1895). 11852.bb.23.

All translations by Giuseppe Alizzi

19 July 2019

Love, Art and Rejection: Mayakovsky’s Pro eto

Today marks the birthday of the Russian Futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. To celebrate, we’ve dug into the history behind our edition of his poem Pro eto. Ei i mne (‘About This. To Her and to Me’). Completed in early 1923, Pro eto is a lyric love poem dedicated to the poet’s lover Lilya Brik, a writer, actor, artist and the wife of his publisher, Osip Brik, following a two-month separation. Their relationship was tumultuous to say the least, and the poem expresses Mayakovsky’s feelings of jealousy and emotional insecurities. It also has a political slant and can be viewed as ‘a reflection on life in conditions of revolutionary transformation’ (Day, 328). 

Cover of Pro eto

Cover of Pro eto (Moscow, 1923). C.131.k.12.

Pro eto was initially published in LEF, the journal of Levy Front Iskusstv (‘Left Front of the Arts’), an association of avant-garde writers, photographers, critics and designers, in March 1923. Shortly after, it appeared as a separate edition and was accompanied by photomontages (often featuring Mayakovsky and Lilya) by the artist and central figure in Russian Constructivism Aleksandr Rodchenko. The image of the telephone features throughout and can be viewed as a metaphor for their separation and the complexity of their relationship. The cover also features a striking shot of Lilya’s face with staring eyes.

Page from Pro eto

Page from Mayakovsky’s Pro eto with photomontage by Rodchenko

Photomontage by Rodchenko from Pro eto

Photomontage by Rodchenko from Pro eto (Moscow, 1923)

The edition held by the British Library was dedicated to Aleksandr Halpern, a Russian politician and lawyer, by Lilya Brik in Paris in 1924 (both Lilya and Mayakovsky spent time in Paris during this period). Halpern, who served as Kerensky’s private secretary in 1917, left Russia after the October Revolution, living first Paris and then Britain. From 1925 he was married to Salomea Andronikova, a Georgian princess who was an influential figure in literary and artistic circles in pre-revolutionary St Petersburg and later in emigration in Paris and Britain. During the Second World War Halpern allegedly worked as an MI6 agent in America as part of the British Government Mission. He returned to Britain after the war, where he counted Isaiah Berlin among his acquaintances, and died in 1956.

Title page of Pro eto

Title page of the British Library’s copy of Pro eto with a dedication from Lilya Brik to Aleksandr Halpern

The British Museum Library acquired this copy of Mayakovsky’s poem from Halpern’s Russian collection in 1958, along with a number of other works including the 1923 book Lidantiu faram (‘Lidantiu as a Beacon’; C.145.b.15. and Mic.F.224) by Iliazd (Il'ia Zdanevich) and Naum Granovskii (which warrants a separate blog post!). While Pro eto is written from Mayakovsky’s perspective, it provides an important insight into the complicated relationship between the pair and Lilya’s influence on his work. So much so, that the Barbican Art Gallery borrowed the British Library’s copy for their recent exhibition ‘Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde’.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

References and further reading

Vladimir Mayakovsky, Pro eto – That's what, trans. by Larisa Gureyeva & George Hyde (Todmorden, 2009). YC.2010.a.11273

LEF: zhurnal levogo fronta iskusstv (Moscow; Petrograd, 1923-1925). C.104.dd.51. Digitised copies of the journal are also available via the British Library’s electronic resources (reading rooms only).

Iliazd, LidantIU fAram (Paris, 1923). C.145.b.15. and Mic.F.224

Gail Day, ‘Art, love and social emancipation: the concept 'avant-garde' and the interwar avant-gardes’ in Art of the Avant-gardes, ed. by Edwards S and Wood P (New Haven, Conn.; London, 2004), 307-337. YC.2006.b.696 

Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde, ed. by Jane Alison and Coralie Malissard (Munich, 2018). LC.31.b.20507

15 July 2019

Animals, Folk Tales and Tragedy: the family story behind a Ukrainian reading book

Borys and Mariia Hrinchenko were two of the most prominent Ukrainian educators, folklorists, writers and linguists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Yet while Borys is widely celebrated, far less is known about Mariia and her work. On the anniversary of her death, this blog post looks at some of her activities through the lens of one book: Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka (‘Native Word. A Ukrainian Reader’), which was compiled by Borys and Mariia and published in Kyiv in 1912 (12975.l.27.).

Family portrait

The Hrinchenko Family: Borys, Mariia and their daughter, Anastasiia. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The history behind the book’s publication reveals the vital and often overlooked role that Mariia played in preserving and bringing to light Borys’s work, as well as her role as a writer and editor. Borys initially used the reader, which he put together in 1889, to teach his daughter, Anastasiia, how to read. The book was based on the 1864 children’s reading book Rodnoe slovo (Native Word) by the writer and pedagogue Konstantin Ushinskii.

After publishing a Ukrainian primer in 1907 (012901.i.25.(1.)), Borys also planned to publish his reader. The book needed considerable work, however, and he died before it was finished. Following his death from tuberculosis in 1910, Mariia edited the reader and added additional sections. The book was received as a gift by the British Museum Library in 1913, a year after it was first published.

Ridne slovo cover

Cover of Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka (‘Native Word. A Ukrainian Reader’), Kyiv, 1912. 12975.l.27.

The reader is arranged thematically, beginning with a section on domestic and wild animals, before moving on to subjects such as flora, clothing and science. In addition to short stories and poems (including by Borys and Mariia Hrinchenko, Lesia Ukrainka and Taras Shevchenko, songs and comprehension exercises, it contains a number of riddles relating to the topic of each section, such as the following agricultural gem:

Що старше: ячмінь чи овес?
[What’s older: barley or oats?]
Ячмінь, бо вуси має.
[Barley, because it has a moustache (whiskers).]

Ridne slovo animals

Ridne slovo mushrooms

Pages from Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka (‘Native Word. A Ukrainian Reader’), Kyiv, 1912. 12975.l.27.

Mariia was herself a prolific translator, writer, poet and collector. Like Borys, she was also interested in education and Ukrainian folk culture. Between 1887 and 1893, the couple taught in a school set up by Khrystyna Alchevska, an educator, teacher and a prominent activist for national education in Ukraine and the Russian Empire. After moving to Kyiv in the early 1900s, both Mariia and Borys worked on the Slovarʹ ukraïnsʹkoï movy (Dictionary of the Ukrainian Language), which was published in four volumes between 1907 and 1909. Mariia’s role in compiling and editing the dictionary, which is considered one of the most important works in the history of the modern Ukrainian language, is rarely acknowledged, however.

Writing most commonly under the pseudonym M. Zahirnia, her translations include works by Henrik Ibsen, Hans Christian Anderson and Hermann Sudermann. Some were collaborations with her husband and daughter. Mariia also wrote pamphlets and short texts on social issues, such as Strashnyi voroh (‘The Terrible Enemy’) which discussed alcohol and alcoholism (Kyiv, 1907; Ac.2655/2.).

Books in memory of Nastiia

Title page from a book in memory of Anastasiia (Nastiia), (Kyiv, 1912). 010795.aa.5.

In 1908, Mariia and Borys’ daughter, Anastasiia, tragically died at the age of 24. Influenced by her parents, Anastasiia was also an active writer and translator during her short life. She was involved in revolutionary activities in 1905, for which she was twice imprisoned. It was during this time that she developed tuberculosis, which led to her death just a few years later. Tragically, her infant son, who was born just before her death, also died shortly after. In 1912, Mariia published a series of books (including older titles written by her and Borys) in Anastasiia’s memory (010795.aa.5.).

In her later years, Mariia was known for her philanthropic and political work. She was also responsible for organising and donating Borys’s library of over 6,000 books to the National Library of Ukraine shortly after it was founded in 1918. Mariia died a decade later, on 15 July 1928. As is clear from the story behind Ridne slovo, she was a hugely important figure as a writer and editor at this time and instrumental in shaping the way Borys’s legacy is viewed today.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

References and further reading

Borys Hrinchenko and Mariia Hrinchenko, Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka. Persha pislia hramatky knyha do chytannia (Kyiv, 1912). 12975.l.27.

Borys Hrinchenko, Ukraïnsʹka hramatka do nauky chytannia ĭ pysannia (Kyiv, 1907). 012901.i.25.(1.)

Mariia Hrinchenko, Strashnyi voroh: knyzhka po horilku, No. 7 (Kyiv, 1907). Ac.2655/2.

Mariia Hrinchenko (ed.), Knyzhky pamʹiati Nasti Hrinchenko, No. 6-11 (Kyiv, 1912-1913). 010795.aa.5.

Liudmyla Nezhyva, Mariia Zahirnia: literaturnyĭ portret (Luhansʹk, 2003). YF.2007.a.23289

P. I. Skrypnyk, ‘Hrinchenko, Mariia Mykolaïvna’ Encyclopedia of Ukrainian History, Vol. 2 (Kyiv, 2004).

10 July 2019

Phrenology and English teaching: Mariano Cubí y Soler

Mariano Cubí y Soler (1801-1875) was an early adopter of various ideas which in Spain were considered advanced: phrenology, spelling reform, anglophilia and possibly vegetarianism.

Aged 20, he set sail for the United States to teach Spanish and French; he founded schools in Cuba and Mexico.

In 1836, he travelled the States, examining heads. The result was his publication in the same year in New Orleans Introducción a la frenología por un catalán.

Cubi Frenolojia tp

Another of Cubí’s works on phrenology, La Frenolojı́a i sus glorias ...  (Barcelona, 1853) 7410.e.14.

Cubi Phrenology 7410.e.14

Man compared to lion. A page from La Frenolojı́a i sus glorias, showing that the new phrenology in some senses was the continuation of the old physiognomy.

He wrote a Spanish course for English speakers, A New Spanish Grammar, adapted to every class of readers published by Boosey and Sons in London in 1826 (1211.l.12). (On Boosey as a publisher of language books, see Foreign-Language Printing in London.)

In 1851 he produced a teach-yourself English book for Spaniards, printed in Bath (‘Baz’) by Isaac Pitman. It uses Pitman’s phonography, a form of phonetic transcription.

Cubi Sistema tp RB.a.34190

Title page of Cubí’s Nuevo sistema, fácil en su práctica, i seguro en sus resultados, para aprender a leer i pronunciar con pureza, correccion i sentido la lengua inglesa … (Bath, 1851) RB.23.a.34190

This book is typical of its time in exposing its students to some demanding passages of literature, something which makes pure linguists huff and puff. An indication of Cubí’s willingness to think outside the box is that by Lesson Two we are already reading about Vegetarianism.

Cubi Sistema exercises

Cubi Sistema Exercises. Caption: The first two lessons from the Nuevo sistema …

His left-field status might have rendered him attractive to the advanced-thinking generation of the late Franco period: it can’t be coincidental that Ramón Carnicer’s monograph on Cubí was published by the progressive house of Seix Barral, who introduced Spanish readers to the Latin American literary boom.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References

Ramón Carnicer, Entre la ciencia y la magia: Mariano Cubí y Soler (Barcelona, 1969) X.319/3922

Foreign-Language Printing in London 1500-1900, ed. Barry Taylor (Boston Spa, 2002) RAR 338.47686

Mariano Cubí y Soler, La frenolojía i sus glorias (1853) 7410.e.14

05 July 2019

Finliandets: the magazine of the Imperial Russian Finland Guard Regiment in Exile

The British Library holds a range of fascinating Russian-language periodicals published by Russian émigrés across the globe. The newspapers, magazines and journals published by the Russian community abroad during the interwar period is particularly rich.

A new wave of Russian emigration following the Revolutions of 1917 consisted in a great number of soldiers and civilians fleeing the destruction of the Civil War and famine in Russia. Many of these veterans of the Civil War later settled in the European centres of Russian émigré society such as Paris. Former soldiers remained deeply loyal to their regiments, publishing periodicals and newspapers which preserved the history of their regiment and reflected a strong sense of collective identity.

Finliandets, the magazine of the Finliandsky Guard Regiment, a Russian Imperial Guard infantry regiment founded in 1806, is an especially interesting example of such publications, though it is set apart from similar publications in the 1920s by its early manuscript form, hand-drawn illustrations and striking cover design.

Finliandets striking cover design 1
Finliandets striking cover design 2
Finliandets striking cover design 3
Finliandets striking cover design 4
Striking cover designs for issues 1, 10, 11 and 13 of Finliandets (ZF.9.b.903)

Finliandets sought to preserve the memory of the regiment’s achievements and to maintain the sense of community among its members abroad. Finliandets appeared in Paris between 1925 and 1972. The British Library holds issues 1-42 as well as a ‘Jubilee Issue’ celebrating the regiment’s 150th anniversary in 1956. The first issue of the magazine was handwritten by Baron Pavel Adolfovich Klodt von Jürgensburg (1867-1938), the director of the Association of the Finliandsky Guard Regiment in France. Although the typewritten script of subsequent copies is fading, the careful hand of this editor in later issues can still be seen correcting and adding to the text.

Finliandets manuscript issue 1
Finliandets manuscript issue 2
Finliandets
, issues 1 and 2 (1925) 

This first manuscript issue envisages the magazine as a continuation of the regiment’s august service to Tsar and country, recalling the moment in which the regiment, on a routine manoeuvre, heard of the birth of its patron, the Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, on 12 August 1904, the editor declares:

The memory of that which took place 21 years ago lives on in us today. In this love for the past we draw strength for the future. We will seek and rediscover that which has been forgotten, for the renewal of our esteemed regiment - a century-long, loyal service to Tsar and Fatherland. And, with the Lord’s help, our humble Finliandets too will serve this noble aim.

Finliandets Photograph of the Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich
Photograph of the Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, Finliandets: Iubileiniy nomer, 1806-1956, (1956). p.3

The magazine circulated in roughly 50 copies throughout its lifetime, and cost three francs. Half of the proceeds from sales went to the cost of producing the magazine and half to the organization itself.

In one appeal to members of the regiment to support an ailing comrade, Baron Klodt von Jürgensburg notes that the ‘Finliandsky Guard regiment’s incredible unity and solidarity has always set it apart’, appealing to members to ‘prove that this noble tradition is alive today’.

Finliandets reveals the importance of such publications for maintaining a sense of community within the distinct groups which characterized Russian émigré society. The magazine invites regiment members receiving the magazine to contribute to its production through verifying its contents, correcting and adding detailed information, and corresponding with Major General Baron Klodt von Jürgensburg at the Villa Marita, Avenue du Petit Juas, Cannes. The magazine often carried obituaries for veterans and the details of the organization’s administration, reflecting both an engaged and closely bound community abroad.

In 1956, a ‘Jubilee Issue’, more than double the length of the usual magazine, appeared between issues 33 and 34. The issue reflects on the regiment’s hope that this 150th anniversary could have been celebrated in their homeland. Despite the regiment’s continued exile, however, Colonel Aleksandr Likhosherstov, president of the Association of the Finliandsky Guard Regiment and a contributor to many émigré periodicals of the time, declares that ‘looking back over the history of our noble regiment, I am filled with a sense of pride at everything that the regiment has overcome during this period’.

Finliandets - Iubileiniy nomer
Cover of Finliandets: Iubileiniy nomer

This Jubilee issue contains a detailed history of the Finliandsky Guard Regiment from its inception, with lists and photographs of members of the regiment abroad in 1956, hand-drawn maps of military manoeuvres and even a reproduction of the musical programme, menu and invitation to the regiment’s centenary celebration, which took place in 1906. This five-volume series of bound magazines reflects the desire of former regiment to document and preserve its history.

Finliandets historical map from issue 5

Finliandets historical map from issue 6
Hand-drawn historical maps from issues 5 and 6 (1927)

An inscription in the first bound volume attests to the continued importance of this tradition into the late twentieth century.

Finliandets inscription
Inscription in the first bound volume of Finliandets (issues 1-7)

The inscription may be roughly translated as: ‘For the son of Pyshkov, of the Volynsky Guard Regiment, to keep the memory alive, from Captain Zaitsev, Finliandsky Guard Regiment. 15 December 1977’

Finliandets is an important source of information on the history of the Russian regiments abroad, belonging as much to a narrative of Russian emigration in the twentieth century as to a history migrant groups in France. It also attests to the strength of the identity of Russian émigré groups, such as the Finliandsky Guard regiment, within the broad and diverse 20th-century Russian émigré community.

Hannah Connell

References

Sir John Hope Simpson, The Refugee Problem: Report of a Survey (London, 1939) Ac.2273/33.

Hannah Connell is a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership student at the British Library and King’s College London researching migration and diaspora through twentieth-century Russian-language émigré periodicals.

28 June 2019

The Boyfriends of Giarre

I am very lucky: I live in a country where, since 2008, homophobia is illegal, and I work for an institution which actively promotes diversity in all its aspects. I am very lucky: I come from a country where, even though homophobia is not yet strictly speaking illegal, the LGBTQ movement has been active since its early stage: 1971, two years after the Stonewall riots, when the journal FUORI! was founded by one of the first gay associations in Italy. F.U.O.R.I., besides being the acronym of ‘Fronte unitario omosessuale rivoluzionario italiano’, as a word in itself means ‘Out’.

One of its founders was Mario Mieli (1952-1983), who, after spending some time in London as a student, where he took active part in the London Gay Liberation Front, went back to Italy and founded the journal in Turin.

Mario Mieli

Mario Mieli. Photograph from Wikimedia Commons

In 1972, Italy witnessed the first public demonstration by homosexuals in Sanremo. This was a protest against the ‘International Congress on Sexual Deviance’ which was organised by the Catholic-inspired Italian Centre for Sexology. 40 marchers attended, from different gay associations, such as the French Front homosexuel d’action révolutionnaire (FHAR), the Belgian Mouvement Homosexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire (MHAR), the British Gay Liberation Front, the Internationale Homosexuelle Révolutionnaire (IHR ), and the recently founded FUORI.

In 1977, Mario Mieli published the essay Elementi di critica omosessuale, translated into English as Towards a Gay Communism: Elements of Homosexual Critique (London, 2018; ELD.DS.284733)

Mario Mieli Elementi

Mario Mieli, Elementi di critica omosessuale (Milan, 1977) X.519/41490

The first gay liberation movement in Italy, was attempted by Aldo Mieli (1879-1950), a scientist and pioneer of gay rights; he was in contact with the German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, one of the co-founders of the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, which campaigned for the repeal of the law criminalising homosexuality in Germany. Aldo Mieli was the only Italian to participate in the first International Congress for Sexual Reform organised by Hirschfeld in 1921 which took place in Germany and led to the formation of the World League for Sexual Reform (further congresses were held in Copenhagen in 1928; London in 1929; Vienna in 1930; and Brno in 1932).

As a Sicilian, I feel particularly moved by the events that led to the birth of Italy’s largest national gay organisation, Arcigay. This is what happened: on 31 October 1980, in Giarre (a little town on the east coast of Sicily) two young men, Giorgio Agatino Giammona, 25, and Antonio Galatola, 15, who had disappeared two weeks before, were found dead, hand in hand, each killed by a gunshot wound to the head. The boys were known locally as ‘i ziti’ (‘the engaged’). Giorgio was openly gay and was also nicknamed ‘puppu cô buḍḍu’ (meaning ‘licensed homosexual’, intended in a derogatory way).

The investigations led to the identification of Francesco Messina, Galatola’s nephew, as the murderer. Messina was twelve years old at the time and below the age of criminal responsibility. He initially told the police that Giammona and Galatola had forced him to shoot them and had threatened that otherwise they would kill him, although two days later he changed his story, claiming that he had been pressured to confess.

However, the evidence suggested that the two had indeed been killed by Messina on behalf of the families and apparently with the couple’s own approval, convinced that they could never live peacefully. Italian public opinion had to acknowledge the problem of discrimination against homosexuals. The tragic story is discussed in Miguel Andrés Malagreca’s study Queer Italy: contexts, antecedents and representation (New York, 2007; YD.2007.a.8982).

As an immediate response, the first Sicilian branch of FUORI was founded. A month later in Palermo a group of activits including Nichi Vendola, a young conscientious objector who would go on to be president of the Puglia region from 2005 to 2015, founded Arcigay, the first section of the cultural association Arci dedicated to gay culture. Around the same time, lesbian feminist women founded the first Sicilian lesbian collective – Le Papesse (‘the female popes’).

Unfortunately, even though same-sex relationships have been legal in Italy since 1890, gay marriage is not yet. A lot is yet to be done, but Italy has come a long way, same-sex civil partnerships have been legal since 2016, and not only Puglia but Sicily too has had its first openly gay president: Rosario Crocetta was mayor of Gela (on the southern coast) from 2003 to 2009, and President of Sicily from 2012 to 2017. And just a few weeks ago, on 8 June, my home town, Messina, held its very first Gay Pride march, called ‘Stretto pride Messina’ and promoted with this lovely video

Giuseppe Alizzi, Curator, Romance Collections

References/further reading

‘Fleeing Dictatorship: Socialism, Sexuality and the History of Science in the Life of Aldo Mieli’ History workshop journal. Vol 72, (2011) pp. 30-51. 4318.650000

Magnus Hirschfeld, The Homosexuality of Men and Women (New York, 2000). YA.2000.a.42619

Gianni Rossi Barilli, Il movimento gay in Italia (Milan, 1999). YA.2001.a.12372