European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

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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

31 December 2021

Dutch New Year – Portuguese Oil Fritters

It’s the festive season again! Conversations in our multi-national department invariably turn to colleagues’ national Christmas and New Year traditions, especially what we have to eat in our home countries. In today’s post we learn about a Dutch New Year’s Eve staple

I always struggle to come up with a specific Dutch dish for Christmas. Many people in the Netherlands now have turkey, others have pork meat rolled into a big kind of sausage, often with stuffing. I remember Christmas dinners involving fondue or gourmet with a game of Monopoly on the go.

However, it is a different matter when it comes to New Year’s Eve! Then the whole country turns to baking Oliebollen en Appelbeignets (oil fritters and apple fritters) – buckets full of them.

And if people can’t, or won’t, bake these lovely fruity treats they buy them. From early December oil fritter vans spring up everywhere, like mushrooms in an autumn forest.

A queue to buy fritters in a market square

A long queue forms in front of an oil fritter stall at the Grote Markt in Groningen. Photograph by Irene Kingma.

Although the focus of this piece is on oil fritters, I do want to mention the apple fritters, because they too are indispensable on New Year’s Eve. Made of a tart apple, cored and cut into thick slices sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, they are dipped in a thick pancake batter and deep fried in oil. Drain them on some kitchen paper and dust with icing sugar to serve. They are a refreshing change from the often somewhat rich oil fritters and go very well with a glass of bubbly.

An oil fritter dusted with icing sugar

Oil fritter with icing sugar. Photograph by Marja Kingma

In Flanders the tradition of oil fritters is also kept, although recipes differ slightly. Using smout, a type of lard from pig kidneys, they call their oil fritters Smoutebollen. Another theory has it that smout means rapeseed oil, which to me makes more sense, because that was the oil used in the 17th century in the Northern Netherlands.

The Dutch version of oil fritters will usually include raisins, dried blackcurrants, candied orange or lemon peel and tart apple. The Flemish version will have no dried fruit, but will always contain beer. Many Dutch also add beer to the batter, to make it rise better.

In many households it will be the men who, whilst usually quite happy to leave the cooking to the women any other day of the year, don aprons and wield wooden spoons whilst marching off to the kitchen, or the garden shed where they will bake oil fritters all day long.

In my family it was my mother who baked the traditional New Year’s Eve treats. She beat the flour, dried fruits and milk with yeast into a fluffy smooth batter by hand, which was hard work. Once the batter had risen properly she’d boil sunflower oil in a special deep-frying pan and then take two metal spoons and scoop bits of batter into the oil. The fritters would flip over by themselves, indicating the batter was airy, so the fritters would taste light.

Whilst she was baking away we played outside, gliding over a stretch of snow until it was compacted and smooth and very, very slippery. That kept us busy until well after dark. Back indoors we had a mug of hot chocolate or tea with a warm oliebol, smothered in icing sugar.

The tradition of eating oliebollen is thought to have originated in Spain and Portugal where it was part of a Jewish tradition to eat a similar sweet cake at New Year. When the Sephardic Jews fled the Inquisition many made their way to the Dutch Republic, bringing these oil fritters with them. Before their arrival there is no record of the word referring to oil fritter.

A painting by Albert Cuyp from around 1652 (now in the Dordrechts Museum, image below from Wikimedia Commons) shows a kitchen maid holding a bowl of oil fritters. 

Painting of a kitchen-maid holding a bowl of oil fritters.

A famous Dutch cookery book De Volmaakte Hollandsche Keuken-Meid (‘The Perfect Dutch Kitchen Maid’), first published in 1746, with many editions until about 1772, contains a recipe for ‘Oly-koeken’ in its Appendix. The STCN does not mention a year for this Appendix, but states ‘third quarter of the 18th Century’.

18th-century Dutch recipe for 'Oly-koeken'

Recipe for Oly-koeken from Aanhangzel van de Volmaakte Hollandsche Keuken-Meid ... Originally published Amsterdam, 1761-3, facsimile edition by John Landwehr (Leiden, 1965) X.449/1511.

The recipe hasn’t changed much, because the most famous modern Dutch cook book, by C.J. Wannee, lecturer at the Amsterdam School for Housekeeping, has an almost exact recipe, albeit with fewer eggs.

Dutch recipe for oliebollen from 1975

Recipe for Oliebollen from C.J. Wannee, Kookboek van de Amsterdamse Huishoudschool. 18th ed. (Amsterdam, 1975) X.622/13062.

Researching this post I came across several titles of Dutch cookbooks with the shelf mark having a ‘D’ in front. That means that it was one of the victims of the bombing of the British Museum during the Second World War. Some 17th-century Dutch cookbook titles were amongst them, sadly.

Setting ‘good intentions’ for the new year is another long standing tradition. My first ‘good intention’ for 2022 will be to look for replacement copies for the destroyed titles.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.

29 December 2021

Occupied City, 1921-2021

Paul van Ostaijen wrote his poetry collection Bezette Stad (‘Occupied City’), with art work by Jesper Oscar and René Victor, in 1921. It was published by Sienjaal, set in Antwerp and written in Berlin. The Great War is the topic, and stream of consciousness is the style. The original manuscript was recently bought by the Flemish government for €725,000, and has been made available online.

In honour of the centenary of this work, I have made a visual version of the brief information above, inspired by Ostaijen’s Dada-esque style, as well as offering a bibliography of works by and about Ostaijen from the British Library’s collections.

The text of the first paragraph in Dada-inspired style with different fonts, typefaces, alignments and colours

Images of a drum and a 'boom' sound, echoing a famous phrase from Ostaijen's work, with titles of two theses and an online project cited in the bibliography below

References/further reading

Paul van Ostaijen, Bezette Stad (Antwerp, 1921), Cup.503.p.5 (Online edition of the manuscript at https://consciencebibliotheek.be/nl/pagina/blader-digitaal-door-het-handschrift-%E2%80%98bezette-stad%E2%80%99-van-paul-van-ostaijen). English translation by David Colmer, Occupied City (Ripon, 2016). YK.2017.a.540

Paul van Ostaijen, De feesten van angst en pijn  (Nijmegen, 2006) YF.2008.a.12964. English translation by Hidde Van Ameyden van Duym, Feasts of fear and agony, translated by Hidde Van Ameyden van Duym (New York, 1976). X.950/45770

Paul van Ostaijen, The first book of Schmoll: selected poems 1920-28, translated by Theo Hermans, James S. Holmes, and Peter Nijmeijer, ([Amsterdam], 1982) Cup.935/283

E.M. Beekman, Homeopathy of the absurd: the grotesque in Paul van Ostaijen’s creative prose. (The Hague, 1970), W19/5382

E.M. Beekman, Patriotism, Inc. and other tales ([Amherst], 1971), A71/5805

Gerrit Borgers, Paul van Ostaijen. (The Hague, 1971), X.909/24106.

Geert Buelens, Van Ostaijen tot heden. (Antwerp, 2001), YA.2002.a.37134

Frances Bulhof (ed.), Nijhoff, Van Ostaijen, “De Stijl” (The Hague, 1976), X:410/6582

Wright, Edward, Paul van Ostaijen, ([S.l., 196-?), YA.2003.b.2422

On the web: 

On the fringes of Dada in Berlin (Blogpost)

Besmette Stad (A multimedia  project inspired by Ostaijen’s work) 

From Occupied City to Infected City (Blogpost)

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

 

23 December 2021

Festive Feasts

It’s the festive season again! Conversations in our multi-national department invariably turn to colleagues’ national Christmas and New Year traditions, especially what we have to eat in our home countries. In today’s post colleagues share some Christmas Eve cuisine from Central Europe, Ukraine and France

Christmas Carp 

In Central Europe, carp is a popular traditional dish for Christmas. ‘The queen of rivers’, as it was called by the 17th-century English writer Izaak Walton, this fish is quite oily and bony. So the first thing to do is to remove as many bones as possible, so that your Christmas dinner is not spoilt by a call to the ambulance. Choking on carp bones was a typical Christmas accident and is the source of many songs and anecdotes. However, you really should risk it, as carp scales are a symbol of wealth, so don’t forget to place them under plates before dinner, or hold in the palm of your hand, or put them in your wallet.

If you want your taste-buds get excited this Christmas and are seriously concerned about your wealth, why not visit your fishmonger and then indulge in a quality family time removing bones together during dark December evenings? Once the bones are out of the way, you can be creative with rubbing salt, spices, and pepper into the fish. Some recipes suggest using mustard and lemon juice or eggs to mix with flour or breadcrumbs for wrapping. Each household in Czechia or Poland would have their own traditional recipe, but the most important thing is to fry carefully and not overdo it.

Of course, carp is not only for Christmas, it is a really big part of Central European culture all year round. Books have been written about this wonderful and really tasty fish, as for example this one, promoting carp from the southern regions on the Czech Republic in national and foreign cuisines.

Book cover with a cartoon of a carp wearing a chef's hat

Cover of Vilém Vrabec, Jihočeský kapr v naší a zahraniční kuchyni (České Budějovice, 1979) X.629/16113

In fact, in Polish territories neighbouring the Czech lands carp was popularized by Czech Cistercians in 12th century. Although it became one of the staples of Polish cuisine, for a long time it was not considered as an essential part of the Christmas Eve table. Other fish dishes were equally, if not more popular. However, after the Second World War when freshwater fish farming could not come back to its former glory and the Baltic fleet was depleted, the Polish Minister for Industry and Trade, Hilary Minc, came up with an ingenious trade and marketing strategy. First, he decided that the answer for the ‘fish crisis’ was to set up carp breeding ponds which would offer fish-starved Poles a cheap but hefty chunk of protein. The slogan ‘Carp on every Christmas Eve table’ became a reality. Since 1947 almost every Polish child has been able to pet their own carp, held for days in bathtubs, in a run up to Christmas. Live carp were often offered to workers as a festive bonus.

In recent years animal rights activists launched a very successful campaign ‘Uwolnić karpia!’(‘Free the Carp!’) to put a stop to animal suffering which for years has been a part of the festive season. The campaign, which is ongoing, does not aim to fight the Polish Christmas tradition, but to get rid of the part which is unnecessarily cruel to animals. So let us celebrate with a cheerful: Happy Carp – Happy Christmas!

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator and Olga Topol, Curator, Slavonic and East European Collections

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Ukrainian Christmas Dishes

In Ukraine the whole family gathers at the table for the Christmas Eve dinner. Traditionally they wait for the first star to be appear in the sky. It reminds them of the star of Bethlehem which once announced to the Magi the birth of the Son of God. Only after that (and after prayer) can they start dinner.

Since Christmas Eve is the last day of the Advent fast, all meals should be lean. Traditionally it is 12 festive dishes in honour of the 12 apostles.

Chief among these are kutia and uzvar. The dinner starts with kutia – a porridge made from wheat or barley grain which symbolize eternal life and prosperity. Before cooking, the grain is soaked in cold water. Traditionally some people cook it in clay pots. Cooked porridge is placed in a deep, preferably earthenware, bowl or makitra and crushed poppy-seeds, walnuts, raisins and honey are added. Everything is mixed thoroughly.

Kutia recipe from the book 'Ukraine: Food and History'

Recipe for kutia from Ukraine: Food and History, edited by Olena Braichenko (Kyiv, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark.  

The traditional Christmas drink Uzvar is made from dried fruits. Uzvar means ‘boil down’ because the fruit is boiled over a low heat. First of all it is apples, pears, plums and cherries which give it an intense and warm colour. It could be also dried apricots and raisins or other fruits depending of the area of Ukraine.

Cover of the book 'Ukrainian Christmas Feast'

Cover of Igor Stassiouk, Ukrainian Christmas Feast = Ukraïnsʹke Rizdvo (Kyïv, 2010) YK.2012.a.9322

The other 12 dishes are not so prescriptive, and among them could be holubtsi (stuffed cabbage with mushrooms), lean borsch, vinaigrette, deruny (potato pancakes), varenyky (dumplings with cherries or grated poppy seeds), baked apples, etc. Recipes for these and other festive dishes can be found in the British Library’s collections, for example in the works illustrated above and cited below.

For Christmas and Easter: religious holiday dishes = Na Rizdvo i na Velykdenʹ: zakarpatsʹki sviatkovi stravy. Compiled by Valentyna Dzioba English translation by Valentyna Babydorych. (Uzhhorod, 2002) YF.2007.a.29847

Olha Verbenets, Vira Manko, Obriady i stravy sviatoho vechora (Lviv, 2007) YF.2008.a.30595

Lidiia Artiukh, Zvychaï ukraïntsiv u narodnomu kalendari (Kyïv, 2015) LF.31.a.5017

Nadiia Strishenets, British Library Chevening Fellow

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A ghost and thirteen desserts

Christmas is associated with many things: seasonal food and drink, dancing, games and a festive generosity of spirit. Since Charles Dickens, maybe, it has also been associated in literature with ghost stories and  just supernatural retribution for mistakes, past and present.

French author Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897), who was instrumental in reviving and creating a canon of Provençal folklore, somehow managed to combine food and ghosts in his story of the ‘three low masses’, which was part of his work Lettres de mon moulin (Letters from my Mill; Paris, 1879; 11483.aaa.13).

Published in 1875, Daudet’s short story ‘Les trois basses messes’ imitates the tradition of folk-tale and evokes the delicious food of Christmas with a celestial retribution that sees gourmand Priest Dom Balaguère so impatient for his Christmas réveillon feast of truffled turkeys, pheasant, eels, trout, and wine that he succumbs to the Devil’s tricks and rushes through the required three low masses for Christmas Eve… As a punishment, God decrees that the priest shall not enter heaven until he has celebrated 300 Christmas masses in his chapel, where for centuries his ghost will be heard saying the masses he had first botched because of his gluttony. The British Library has several recordings of readings of excerpts from Lettres de Mon Moulin including some by French actor Fernandel (Sound Archive 1LP0095903), and in English by British actor Stephen Fry (Sound Archive 1CA0029425).

It has been argued that Daudet, following Provencal Poet Frederic Mistral’s success, deliberately exaggerated his links to Provence to further his literary career and social success; but Provence has been, and still is, an acknowledged source of Christmas traditions, be they religious, musical or culinary.

The true Provençal Christmas delicacy, is nowadays considered to be the tradition of the ‘thirteen desserts’ (Occitan: lei tretze dessèrts), the traditional table of delights arranged for the celebration of Christmas in the South of France. In Provence particularly, the ‘Réveillon de Noel’ (Christmas Eve supper) ends with a ritual of thirteen desserts, representing Jesus Christ and the 12 Apostles – you can read a nostalgic and love-filled description of this in Marcel Pagnol’s Le Chateau de ma mère (Paris, 1958; F9/5843).

Reveillon

Definition of the reveillon, from Petit almanach perpétuel de gastronomie (Paris, 1859). Source: Gallica

The food should be presented on Christmas Eve and remains on the table for three days. The precise composition varies in each province, town, or even family. There are only six compulsory items including the four mendiants (‘beggars’), evoking religious orders that had taken a vow of poverty (walnuts or hazelnuts for the Augustinians, dried figs for the Franciscans, almonds for the Carmelites and raisins for the Dominicans), black and white nougat (which counts as one dessert) and the famous pompe à l’huile d’olive, a sweet focaccia-type brioche made with olive oil and flavoured with orange blossom water. Other treats might include calissons (a sweet made of almonds and candied melon), fresh fruits, oreillettes (a type of light doughnut) and all sorts of delicious things.

If only poor Dom Balaguère could have waited for a few hours…

Thirteen desserts

The traditional thirteen desserts served for the celebration of Christmas in the South of France. Photo by Jean-Louis Zimmerman from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

20 December 2021

Stefan Zweig and the Rival Queens

Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), the prolific Austrian author whose collection of autograph manuscripts is at the British Library, was fascinated by artistic creativity, and with it the drafts, scores, sketches and proofs that allow us a glimpse of a work of art coming into being. At once evidence of both sheer artistic labour and a kind of otherworldly genius, manuscripts had for him the potential to insert us into decisive moments, what he would call Sternstunden, whether they were creative breakthroughs or political turning points. He turns his attention to one such Sternstunde in a discussion on ‘The World of Autograph Manuscripts’ (1923):

The most powerful and harrowing must of course always be those autographs, where the moment of putting pen to paper was itself a historic, cultural, universally significant one. Elizabeth I’s signature underneath Mary Stuart’s death warrant – all of us have seen the scene in Schiller’s tragedy and now it suddenly lies before us, the original fateful page, the live stroke of the quill which brought a heroic life to its end.

Digitised copy of Mary Stuart’s death warrant

Digitised copy of Mary Stuart’s death warrant. Add MS 48027, ff. 448r-450r

The British Library’s current exhibition Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, expands on Zweig’s quintessential example of the most powerful of manuscripts and brings to life the epic history through its personal and political documents. The signed death warrant – now in Lambeth Palace Library – does not appear in the current exhibition, but the act is represented by ‘A true Copie of the Proclamation lately published by the Queenes maiestie, under the great Seale of England, for the declaring of the Sentence, lately given against the Queene of Scottes, Richmond, 4 Dec 1586’ (Add MS 48027, ff. 448r-450r).

Title-page of Zweig's 'Maria Stuart'

Title page of Stefan Zweig, Maria Stuart (Vienna, 1935), W14/4184

Zweig wrote a hugely popular biography of Mary Queen of Scots in 1935, adding to an already weighty Mary-bibliography. Of course, German-language interest in Mary was already longstanding and is most commonly associated with Friedrich Schiller’s play Maria Stuart (1800). While Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach wrote the drama Maria Stuart in Schottland (1860) as a kind of response to Schiller’s portrayal, interrogating her predecessor’s notion that femininity (Weiblichkeit) and political authority were incompatible qualities. Zweig returns somewhat to that theme in that he pits a hyper-feminised Mary against an unwomanly Elizabeth, a passionate martyr against a cold-hearted Queen. Although, as Ulrike Tanzer writes, Zweig’s dichotomising tendencies are not absolute, as he depicts both queens as political agents and victims, as leaders and subjects of manipulation, thrown into the political and religious power structures of the time.

Zweig moved to London in 1934 while in the process of finishing his biography of Erasmus von Rotterdam. He had had the idea to move his focus to the rival queens the previous year, his new Portland Place flat allowing him to consult the “enormous amount” of material at the British Museum. Despite the many accounts of the history already available, Zweig felt the book [‘das entscheidende Buch’] on Mary did not yet exist, hence his compulsion to write it. His interest was however already established, given the mention of the signed death sentence in our first quotation from 1923. A trip to New York in January 1935 brought Zweig, now an expert in his subject, face to face with Elizabeth at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “A remarkable portrait of Elizabeth I by Lucas de Heere, which shows her more nervous with a quite frightened expression, always an indecisiveness suppressed behind her pomp.” (Doubt was later cast on the identity of both sitter and painter, and the Met now describes the picture simply as a ‘Portrait of a Woman’ by a ‘British Artist’.)

Portrait of an Elizabethan lady

‘Portrait of a Woman’ by a ‘British Artist’. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Zweig’s Maria Stuart devotes most of its pages to just the two or so years covering the murder of David Rizzio until Mary’s imprisonment in England, when “passion flamed up in her with elemental force, and what might have seemed an average destiny assumed the lineaments of a Greek tragedy as formidable as that of Orestes.” It is typical of Zweig’s biographies to draw attention to a central scene, a decisive moment, or in this case the decisive two years during which “Mary underwent the supreme experiences which led in the end to her destruction, and thanks to which, likewise, her memory has become so noteworthy.” Subsequent interpretation, the BL exhibition included, has no doubt nuanced Mary’s legacy to show her “noteworthiness” beyond the intrigue of those years.

On the famous casket letter debate, Antonia Fraser’s 1969 biography (London, 1969; X.700/3754), among others, attests to their forgery, whereas Zweig is convinced of their authenticity: “We, who know that Mary in times of stress always poured her heart out in verse, can have no doubt that she composed both letters and poems.” Zweig the biographer always takes a position, asserting the causes, intentions and consequences of events, even if that required some serious speculation, which was often the case for his psychological portraits.

Cover of Stefan Zweig, The Queen of Scots

Cover of Stefan Zweig, The Queen of Scots (London, 1950), W.P.8077/2.

The biography was incredibly successful and, as with pretty much all of Zweig’s work, was immediately translated into numerous languages, with the English edition, translated by long-time Zweig-collaborators Eden and Cedar Paul, appearing the same year. While Zweig’s legacy waned in the middle of the century, that same English translation was reissued by Pushkin Press in 2018, along with a raft of Zweig’s work, showing that there is a place for Zweig’s take on this much churned history. Its place is surely secured more as an example of Zweig’s hugely popular and gripping style, rather than an example of sober, historical analysis. It is of its time, a deeply psychological insight into a fascinating period, which complements the personal letters between the rival queens currently on display at the Library.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections 

References/Further reading:

Stefan Zweig, Maria Stuart (Vienna, 1935), W14/4184

Stefan Zweig, The Queen of Scots (London, 1950), W.P.8077/2.

Rüdiger Görner and Klemens Renoldner (eds.), Zweigs England (Würzburg, 2014), YF.2015.a.10030

Ulrike Tanzer, ‘11.4 Maria Stuart (1935)’, in Stefan-Zweig-Handbuch, edited by Arturo Larcati, Klemens Renoldner and Martina Wörgötter (Berlin, 2018), YF.2018.a.13186, pp. 415-424

Oliver Matuschek, Ich kenne den Zauber der Schrift : Katalog und Geschichte der Autographensammlung Stefan Zweig ; mit kommentiertem Abdruck von Stefan Zweigs Aufsätzen über das Sammeln von Handschriften (Vienna, 2005), YF.2006.a.13265

Elizabeth and Mary footer

17 December 2021

Vaclav Havel’s Pokouseni - Temptation of a bibliophile

I am sure that every bibliophile can recall the feeling of excitement that accompanies us when we take a new book into our hands. The sensation of moving fingers along the surface of the cover, flipping through pages, the distinctive scent of a new book. However, what is even more rewarding and satisfying, is to find a book that has lived well and aged beautifully bathed in genuine interest and love received from its readers.

There are many special books in the British Library collections. However, for me there is one which evokes the very feeling of joy I felt as a child visiting a bookshop or a library. It is Vaclav Havel’s Pokouseni (‘Temptation’). Havel, Czech writer, dissident and former president, who passed away ten years ago this month, wrote this play inspired by the story of Dr Faust.

Photograph of Vaclav Havel

Vaclav Havel, black-and-white photograph of the author mounted on the cover's verso of Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech (1985). Awaiting shelfmark

His intellectual interest in the tale was ignited by Goethe’s and Thomas Mann’s literary adaptations that he read while being imprisoned. This prompted him to consider philosophical questions on the relativity of truth and how it can be transformed into a lie. Olga Tokarczuk once said that to write a book she needs to get obsessed with the story first. It was definitely the case with Vaclav Havel and Pokouseni. In published letters written from prison to his wife Olga, Havel explains: ‘As you know, I’m a man obsessions, and I hate giving anything up before I’ve exhausted all (my) possibilities. And so, in fact – though at a distance – I remain with the theatre.’

Cover of the samizdat edition of Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech

Cover of the samizdat edition of Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech (1985). Awaiting shelfmark

Eda Kriseova in her authorised biography of the Czech writer describes the creative process that lead to the birth of Temptation. It took Havel ten nights to finish the work. He was physically and mentally exhausted and ended up falling down the stairs and hurting his head. He was staying in his country house in Hradecko at the time. Feverish, hurt, trembling the playwright was cut from the world by a sudden snow storm without any food and no way out. Once Havel came back to the world he felt like he had got away from the devil himself. This strenuous yet cathartic creation process resulted in a play that many found disturbing. Presenting the clash of a metaphysical view of the world with a rational one – inflated to surreal and absurd – the play reflected a contemporary Czechoslovakian existence.

Title leaf designed by Viktor Karlik, Pokouseni

Title leaf designed by Viktor Karlik, Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech (1985). Awaiting shelfmark

Havel wrote Pokouseni in 1985, after he had been released from prison. He was imprisoned three times for a total of almost five years under the communist regime. Following his incarceration, Havel became an even more internationally recognisable public figure. His works, banned in Czechoslovakia, were smuggled out of the country to be read around the world. Pokouseni was promptly translated to German and premiered in Vienna in 1986.

An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik

An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik

It is actually fitting that the literary work whose conception took such a toll on Havel’s body and mind was published as samizdat. The physicality of the copy we are lucky to have almost mirrors the process the writer went through to create it. It is not the clinical, perfectly cut and immaculately bound product of a mass manufacturer, but rather a raw body of paper turned with love and care into an artefact testifying to the tender effort of a craftsman. Every little detail adds to the story. Were it not for it, the book would look like a plain, boring file folder. Original and unique tape binding has the author’s name typed directly into the fabric before it was closed. What makes this edition exceptional is a collage on the cover and hand-printed linocut illustrations by another Czech dissident Viktor Karlik. Both the artist and the writer were a part of a close-knit circle of friends forming anti-regime opposition in Czechoslovakia. Although Karlik later fell out with Havel over his engagement in politics, his illustrations to Poukuseni complement and enrich the story. The linocut technique fits perfectly Havel’s imaginary universe achieving it through the otherworldly look, stark lines and abstraction. Rarely in samizdat publications that relied on fast printing can we find such a beautiful companionship of imagery and text – the book is a work of art itself.

An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik

An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik

Vaclav Havel’s most prolific years as a writer came before his presidency. Although his political legacy is sometimes contested, he was committed to all the roles he came to play in his life. One may speculate that he was able to achieve this thanks to his very personal understanding of hope, which according to Havel’s conviction is ‘this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed’. See the book Disturbing the peace: a conversation with Karel Hvizdala (London, 1990; YC.1991.a.1826)

When I hold the Havel-Karlik copy of Pokouseni in my hand, I am taken back to this place of hope once occupied by those who wanted to change the world by the sheer power of words and art.

An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik

An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik

Olga Topol, Curator, Slavonic and East European Collections

References/further reading:

Vaclav Havel, Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech (1985). Awaiting shelfmark

Vaclav Havel, Letters to Olga: June 1979-September 1982 (London, 1988). YC.1989.a.2933

Vaclav Havel, Disturbing the peace: a conversation with Karel Hvizdala (London, 1990). YC.1991.a.1826

Eda Kriseova, Vaclav Havel (Prague, 2014). YF.2015.a.17320

 

15 December 2021

Dante and Esperanto

Is Esperanto an artificial language? Yes, but neither more nor less than any other language spoken by humans. All languages are the result of an agreement between the members of a community – dating back to very distant times and evolving slowly and continuously from generation to generation – to communicate with each other by means of the voice.

Woodcut of Dante by the Hungarian artist Dezső Fáy

Woodcut of Dante by the Hungarian artist Dezső Fáy in Dante Alighieri, Infero, translated by Kálmán Kalocsay (Budapest, 1933). YF.2008.a.36795

Dante Alighieri, the great Florentine poet and author of the Divine Comedy, was aware of this distant origin of languages, connected to the multiform creativity of our remote ancestors. He recounts all this through the words of Adam, in Paradise, canto XXVI, verses 130-132:

Opera naturale è ch’uom favella;
ma così o così, natura lascia
poi fare a voi secondo che v’abbella.

Among the English translations of the poem, one of the most appreciated is that of Allen Mandelbaum (1926-2011), an American professor of literature. This has the advantage of being accessible online with Dante’s original Italian text alongside. Here is the tercet on the origin of languages, in Mandelbaum’s translation:

That man should speak at all is nature’s act,
but how you speak—in this tongue or in that—
she leaves to you and to your preference.

And what about Esperanto? Well, Esperanto was also ‘invented’, but that occurred much more recently than for any other language: Esperanto was created by Ludwik Zamenhof, a Polish ophthalmologist), who proposed it in a book published in 1887, as a possible international and ‘neutral’ language. Esperanto is also the result of an agreement among all those who accepted Zamenhof’s proposal and started to communicate in that language. Today Esperanto speakers are scattered all over the world and also transmit the language from generation to generation. There are probably about one million speakers.

Portrait of Zamenhof

Portrait of Zamenhof. Source: Wikimedia Commons 

Esperanto literature is particularly rich and has three different translations of the Divine Comedy. The British Library holds all of them. It is recognized that the best Esperanto translation is the most recent one: the complete version in terza rima written by Enrico Dondi (1935-2011), an Italian psychiatrist, and published in 2006. Here you can see the tercet on the origin of languages, in Dondi’s translation:

Por hom’ estas natura la parolo,
sed lasas la natur’, ke l’ manieron
oni elektu laŭ la propra volo.

Cover of La dia komedio. Infero

Cover of La dia komedio. Infero. Translated by Enrico Dondi (Chapecó, 2006). ZF.9.a.6610

Dondi’s Esperanto is an elegant language that has been gradually refined thanks to a literary tradition that has matured over the course of more than a century. Therefore, in this blog post we will follow a chronological order to illustrate how the language has gradually measured itself with the great Italian poem. And we will do that by considering the very famous opening lines of the Comedy:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

Verses that Mandelbaum translates as:

When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,
I found myself within a shadowed forest,
for I had lost the path that does not stray.

We owe the very first translation of the Divine Comedy into Esperanto to Giovanni Peterlongo (1856-1941), an Italian lawyer and civil servant, who lived in Trento. The town was under Austrian administration until 1918 and is now part of Italy. In 1922, Peterlongo was elected mayor of Trento and he spoke in favour of the use of both German and Italian in Alto Adige.

Page from Peterlongo’s translation of the Divine Comedy (Canto VIII) with a reproduction of a drawing by Sandro Botticelli

Page from Peterlongo’s translation of the Divine Comedy (Canto VIII) with a reproduction of a drawing by Sandro Botticelli (Milan, 1979). YF.2010.b.1079

Peterlongo’s blank verse translation of the Comedy was completed in 1914, when Esperanto was still a very young language. The work was later revised by him and was published only in 1963, with a reproduction of Sandro Botticelli’s drawings. The British Library holds a second edition.

Here you can see the first tercet:

En mezo de l’ vojaĝ’ de nia vivo
en arbareg’ malluma mi troviĝis,
ĉar mi de l’ rekta vojo forvojiĝis.

Kálmán Kalocsay (1891-1976) was a Hungarian doctor, and worked at a major Budapest hospital, but also was an outstanding Esperantist poet, who considerably influenced Esperanto culture, through original poetry and translations of literary works.

Cover of Dante Alighieri, Infero, translated by Kálmán Kalocsay

Cover of Dante Alighieri, Infero, translated by Kálmán Kalocsay (Budapest, 1933). YF.2008.a.36795

Kalocsay had learned Esperanto in 1913, the same year in which the Hungarian poet Mihály Babits (1883-1941) had published in Budapest a splendid translation of Inferno into Hungarian, in terza rima. Kalocsay was impressed by Babits’s work and decided to follow his example by translating Dante’s Inferno into Esperanto, in the same original metre. The work was published in Budapest in 1933 and includes 14 woodcuts by the Hungarian artist Dezső Fáy.

Woodcut 'Alta Helpo' by Dezső Fáy

Woodcut 'Alta Helpo' by Dezső Fáy in Kálmán Kalocsay’s translation of Inferno

Here is the freshness of Kálmán Kalocsay’s terza rima in the first tercet of his Esperanto Inferno:

Je l’ vojomez’ de nia vivo tera
mi trovis min en arbareg’ obskura,
ĉar perdiĝinta estis vojo vera.

Thus we arrive at the 21st century, when Dante studies in Esperanto culture find their most important figure in Enrico Dondi, who masterfully translated all of Dante’s poetical works into Esperanto, in the same metre as the originals. The entire Divine Comedy, whose terza rima flows with an unparalleled lightness, appeared in 2006, preceded in 2000 by an edition of Purgatory. The Vita Nuova (New Life) appeared in 2003, and in 2007 the youthful work Il Fiore (The Flower).

Finally, here is the first tercet of Enrico Dondi's Inferno:

En mezo de la voj’ de vivo nia
mi trovis min en arbareg’ obskura,
de l’ rekta voj’ estinte fordevia.

Giuliano Turone, Editor of Dante Poliglotta 

References and further reading

Dante Alighieri, La dia komedio, el la itala tradukis Enrico Dondi (Chapecó, 2006). ZF.9.a.6610

Dante Alighieri, La dia komedio, el la itala tradukis Giovanni Peterlongo (Milan, 1979). YF.2010.b.1079

Dante Alighieri, Infero, tradukis Kálmán Kalocsay (Budapest, 1933). YF.2008.a.36795

Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio, el la itala tradukis Enrico Dondi (Chapecó, 2000). YF.2010.b.116

Dante Alighieri, La floro, el la itala tradukis Enrico Dondi (Chapecó, 2007) YF.2008.a.12615

Dante Alighieri, Vivo nova, el la itala tradukis Enrico Dondi (Chapecó, 2009).YF.2009.a.26102.

Vittorio Russo, Danteskaj itineroj (Naples, 2001). YF.2009.a.37689.

08 December 2021

Book Donation by Roberto L. Bruni (1945-2020): a collection on Italian Studies

The British Library recently accepted a generous donation of books belonging to the late Dr Roberto Bruni (1945-2020). The books have been catalogued and are available in our reading rooms. Roberto Bruni was a keen reader of the British Library, and his personal collection of books compliments our holdings on Italian and Renaissance studies well. In this blog post, Roberto’s colleague and friend, Prof Diego Zancani, remembers his extraordinary contribution to Italian Studies in the UK.

Roberto Lorenzo Bruni was a Florentine through and through, literally born quite near the Brunelleschi dome in 1945. He grew up and went to school in Florence and lived there while studying Medieval and Modern Languages at Pisa University. In November 1966 in the aftermath of the disastrous flooding of the river Arno, he helped rescue elderly people in Florence, and later salvaging works of art and rare books, many of them held in the National Library situated by the river bank. In 1969, he was appointed as a Lector in Italian at the University of Reading. The Faculty of Letters of this university hosted the largest department of Italian Studies in the UK, directed by Luigi Meneghello, a philosopher by training and a writer who had taken part in the Italian Resistance, and who reached literary fame in Italy.

Title page of Mostra di incisioni di Stefano Della Bella

One of the books donated by Roberto Bruni. Mostra di incisioni di Stefano Della Bella (Florence, 1973) YF.2021.a.14250

In 1973-74 Roberto took up a teaching position at the University of Victoria, in Vancouver. After one year he returned to Britain as a Lecturer in Italian at the University of Exeter. There he founded and edited an innovative series of “Italian Texts”, publishing numerous editions of rare poems and studies, mainly concerning Renaissance linguistic and literary debates. Roberto’s interests then slowly moved from literature and philology to the History of the Book, and he became an expert researcher and cataloguer of early Italian editions in British libraries. He worked together with his colleague D. Wyn Evans to produce catalogues of early Italian books in Exeter libraries, and later the massive catalogue (of some 5700 items) of 17th-century books in Cambridge libraries.

Roberto was interested in early Italian manuscripts, and together we wrote a monograph on Antonio Cornazzano, an Italian humanist who worked at the court of Francesco Sforza, in Venice and in Ferrara. Later, we worked again together on the writings by the late 16th-century popular poet Giulio Cesare Croce existing in British libraries. He was also a contributor to scholarly journals, especially La Bibliofilia, and Studi Secenteschi. In the 1980s he started writing poetry in English and in Italian, and he developed this interest even more after he retired from Exeter university in 2005.

Cover of Roberto Bruni and D. Wyn Evans, Italian 17th-century books in Cambridge libraries: a short-title catalogue

Cover of Roberto Bruni and D. Wyn Evans, Italian 17th-century books in Cambridge libraries: a short-title catalogue (Florence, 1997) YA.2001.a.4311

He also wrote some short stories in English that were printed privately in Florence, where he used to spend a few months every year, working on early books in Florentine historical libraries, and writing his own texts.

His poetical works are unique and quite extraordinary: most of them are in terza rima, and the language is essentially Tuscan with a vocabulary based on 15th- and 16th-century texts.
He published them in 2019 under the name of Guzzabruno (a name made up using the maiden name of his mother, Guzzo, and Bruni), this alter ego lived at the court of Elisabeth I and of King James, and was a friend of the great lexicographer John Florio. These were followed by a shorter volume of Rime di Guzzabruno, cantimbanco fiorentino, published in March 2020.

Roberto died on 9 July 2020, and left a substantial number of books in his house in Exeter. His heirs wanted his collection to be shared among his friends, and important cultural institutions, in accordance with Roberto’s wishes.

Over 150 books were donated to the British Library and these include numerous volumes on Florentine literature, art and architecture, important studies on 16th- and 17th-century authors, as well as scholarly catalogues and studies of books existing in historical libraries.

Diego Zancani, Emeritus Professor in Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford, Emeritus Fellow, Balliol College, Oxford

References/further reading

Roberto L. Bruni and D. Wyn Evans, A catalogue of Italian books, 1471-1600, in the libraries of Exeter University, Exeter Cathedral, and the Devon and Exeter Institution (Exeter, 1978) 2725.bb.1

Roberto Bruni and D. Wyn Evans, Italian 17th-century books in Cambridge libraries : a short-title catalogue (Florence, 1997) YA.2001.a.4311

Roberto L. Bruni, Antonio Cornazzano: la tradizione testuale (Florence, 1992) YA.1993.b.10660

Roberto L. Bruni, Giulio Cesare Croce dall'Emilia all'Inghilterra : cataloghi, biblioteche e testi (Biblioteca di bibliografia italiana; 124 ) (Florence, 1991) P.P.6476.en.[124]

Poesie di Guzzabruno, Poeta Fiorentino. Vissuto a Londra a’ tempi della Regina Elisabetta e di Re Giacomo. Con una vita scritta da John Florio Prelettore di Lingua Italiana della Regina Anna e Valletto della Camera. E co’ Commenti alle Poesie, dove si dà compiuta Notizia de’ Significati de’ Motti. Parte Prima. (Florence 2019) Privately Printed.

See review by Prof. Luisa Avellini in Schede umanistiche: rivista annuale dell'Archivio Umanistico Rinascimentale Bolognese, XXXIII/1 (2019), pp. 248-252. ZA.9.a.9582

Rime di Guzzabruno, cantimbanco fiorentino (Florence, 2020) Privately Printed

01 December 2021

From Dositej Obradović with thanks: a donation of the first Serbian books

Dositej Obradović (1739-1811) was a Serbian educator and the most prominent writer of the Serbian Enlightenment. Obradović is credited for the revival of Serbian culture and he is regarded as the founder of modern Serbian literature.

Portrait of Dositej Obradović

Portrait of Dositej Obradović from Dela Dositeja Obradovića (Belgrade, 1911) 012265.dd.3.

Obradović was a man of wide interests and great learning. He spent most of his life travelling widely through the Balkans, Asia Minor, Western Europe and Russia earning a living as a private tutor.

Map from The Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović

Map from The Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović (Los Angeles, 1953) Ac.2689.g/4.

With a great interest in books and learning, Obradović set out into the world in 1760 in search of education and knowledge. His mission was to pass on the knowledge onto others. In Smyrna (Izmir) he studied classical antiquity and learned Ancient and Modern Greek. In Vienna, Modra and Bratislava he became systematically acquainted with Latin, western European languages and the German philosophy of Enlightenment. Finally in 1782-1784 in Halle and Leipzig he fulfilled a long-standing ambition to attend university lectures.

Obradović believed that South Slav peoples living in the Habsburg and Ottoman lands would be able to progress and achieve an independent and free life only in the community of cultured and enlightened European nations. He argued that reason, science and tolerance were a precondition for the emancipation of peoples. He was true to these believes in his original works about his personal life experiences and in all of his translations and adaptations from classical and modern European literature and moral philosophy of the time.

Title page of Život i priključenija Dimitrija Obradovića

Život i priključenija Dimitrija Obradovića (Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović. Autobiography, part 1). (Leipzig, 1783) C.59.d.25.(1.)

In the latter half of his life Obradović was entirely devoted to writing and printing books with the aim of promoting the ideas of Enlightenment among the Serbs. In 1783 in Leipzig Obradović found printers able to print Cyrillic texts and his first four works were printed there in the printing shop of Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf.

Title page of Sovjeti zdravago razuma

Sovjeti zdravago razuma (Common Sense Counsels). Compiled by Dositej Obradović (Leipzig, 1784) C.59.d.25.(2.)

Title page of Slovo poučitelno

Slovo poučitelno (Instructive Discourse). Translation from the sermons of Georg Joachim Zollikofer (Leipzig, 1784) C.59.ff.15.(3.)

These are the first three of Obradović’s books printed in Leipzig by which the modern Serbian literature was created. Obradović presented the books to the British Museum Library in 1785. These books would have the distinction of being the first modern Serbian books acquired by the British Museum Library.

Handwritten note of the donation, signed and dated by John Jackson, Obradović’s friend in London

Handwritten note of the donation, signed and dated by John Jackson, Obradović’s friend in London. The note is inserted in front of the title page of the first part of Obradović’s Autobiography. The note states Obradović’s abode in London. Later on Obradović moved to Rotherhithe in south-east London where he stayed until June 1785 when he left London for Hamburg.

Obradović was not only a social reformer, adopting and promoting the ideas of the Enlightenment, he was also the first reformer of the Serbian literary language. In the 18th century two languages were in parallel use among the Serbs: Russo-Slavonic and Slavonic-Serbian. Obradović opposed the general use of the Russo-Slavonic language in favour of the Serbian national language. In addition to the use of vernacular, Obradović was also an advocate of secular literature in the spirit of the Enlightenment.

VII_IMG_20190602

A plaque on the wall of a house in Clements Lane in the City of London at the site of the house in which Obradović stayed in 1784-85.

In his the second part of his Autobiography (which is inserted in his translation of Aesop’s and other fables, pp. 311-425, C.59.ff.15.(1).) Obradović published an account of his visit to London in 1784-85. In this account he expressed a boundless sympathy for the country and the people. For this early portrayal of London and its inhabitants Obradović is characterised as the first Serbian Anglophile in Serbian literature. Obradović celebrated English literature, commerce, science and the English way of life in general, as well as the friends he acquired and the ordinary people he met in London. His impressions were translated into English as ‘The London impressions of a famous Servian’ by Čedomilj Mijatović in Servia of the Servians (London, 1915) YD.2006.a.3929.

Furthermore in Anglo-Serbian literary connections, Obradović is known as the author who introduced the works of Joseph Addison and Samuel Johnson to Serbian readers.

A 1914 statue of Dositej Obradović

A 1914 statue of Dositej Obradović erected in the Studentski trg square in front of Belgrade University

Education and enlightenment of the Serbian people are Obradović’s main accomplishments. He is celebrated for the creation of a new culture in which the modern literature is written in the national language. Another important aspect of Obradović’s legacy is his commitment to the emancipation of people from spiritual backwardness through general secular education and the opening of schools for everyone. In 1808 Obradović founded a High School in Belgrade which eventually led to the establishment of the University of Belgrade in 1905.

In his lifetime Obradović didn’t succeed in having all his works printed. A total of 21 works: original editions, reprints and translations into different languages were printed before his death in 1811. The British Library holds five original editions and two posthumous editions of Obradović’s main works. This collection also includes the first edition of his complete works (Zemun, 1850. 012264.e.4) and a facsimile edition of Obradović’s preserved autograph manuscripts (Novi Sad, 1961. 11880.aa.13). Literary criticism, research and scholarship of all periods about Obradović are well represented in the collection.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South East European Collections

Digitised books

Aesop's Fables. Translated and edited by Dositej Obradović (Leipzig, 1788) Digital Store C.59.ff.15.(1). 

Dositej Obradović, Song about the liberation of Serbia (Vienna, 1789) Digital Store C.59.ff.15.(2.) 

Dositej Obradović, Mezimac. A collection of essays on morale and practical philosophy (Budapest, 1818) Digital Store 869.h.34. 

Bukvice (Vienna, 1830) the abbreviated text of Obradović’s manuscript ‘Prvenac’ the first-born of Dositej Obradović written in 1770. Digital Store 8311.eee.64. 

A collection of Dositej Obradović’s 15 digitised books by from the Digital National Library of Serbia

References

Pavle Popović, Dositej Obradović u Engleskoj (Oxford, 1919) 010795.c.10.

Pavle Popović, ‘Serbian Anglophil, Dositheus Obradović’ The Quarterly Review, no. 461 (London, 1919) P.P.5989.ab.

The Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović. Translated and edited by George Rapall Noyes (Los Angeles, 1953) Ac.2689.g/4.

Dositej Obradović, Sabrana dela. Introduction by Vojislav Đurić (Belgrade, 1961) 12521.w.35.

 

26 November 2021

Two new fine editions of Georgia's national poet

Shota Rustaveli is the most admired poet in Georgia and an iconic figure in Georgian national literature. He is the author of the medieval epic poem Vepxistqaosani (The Knight in the Panther's Skin). The poem was composed during the reign of Queen Tamar and is dedicated to her. The poem exemplifies the medieval knightly ideals of chivalry, friendship, courtly love and courage, and yet has contemporary relevance as its humanistic values are timeless. It is recognised internationally as a masterpiece and has been translated into many languages in both verse and prose. It was first published in Tbilisi in 1712 at the printing press established by King Vakhtang VI of Kartli at his initiative. Several manuscripts exist, written both before and after that date.

The British Library holds a number of editions of The Knight in the Panther's Skin including translations into English and other languages. Unfortunately, we do not hold any manuscripts. Recently, however, our collections have been enriched by generous donations from the Art Palace of Georgia - Museum of Cultural History.

We have received two beautiful facsimiles of manuscripts of The Knight in the Panther's Skin. Both have been recently published in limited editions by Bakmi Publishing in Tbilisi. The originals are preserved in the Korneli Kekelidze National Centre of Manuscripts in Tbilisi.

Cover of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani (Tbilisi, 2018)

Cover of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani (Tbilisi, 2018) HS.74/2506

The first of these manuscripts was created in 1680 at the behest of King George XI of Kartli by his secretary, Begtabeg Taniashvili. For this reason, the manuscript is generally known as ‘Begtabeg’s manuscript’ (Begtabegiseuli khelnatseri = ბეგთაბეგისეული ხელნაწერი). Each page of this manuscript is enriched with stylized, gold-plated decorations consisting of images of animals, birds and flowers. Every page is unique as none of the designs is repeated in the 523 pages. The facsimile of the manuscript is bound in navy blue leather and decorated with gold lettering.

Page 19 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani

Page 19 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani

Page 113 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani

Page 113 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani

Page 391 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani

Page 391 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani

The other manuscript was created between the 17th and 18th centuries and is known as ‘Tsereteli’s manuscript’ (Tseretliseuli khelnatseri = წერეთლისეული ხელნაწერი). It bears the name of its owner, the Tsereteli family. Among the many manuscripts of the poem, it is the most richly illustrated. It contains 87 miniatures. Some of them appear to have been influenced by Persian miniature painting, while others reflect national Georgian traditions. The different styles present in the manuscript suggest that they were executed by several artists, all of whom are unknown.

The slip-case of the facsimile is handmade and has been decorated using cloisonné enamel. Very expensive materials, including silver, gold-plated brass and enamel, were employed. It was designed and created by the traditional Georgian jewellery company, Zarapxana.

Slip-case of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani (Tbilisi, 2019)

Slip-case of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani (Tbilisi, 2019) RF.2021.a.20

Page 22-23 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani (Tbilisi, 2019)

Page 22-23 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani

Page 83 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani (Tbilisi, 2019)

Page 83 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani 

Page 381 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani (Tbilisi, 2019)

Page 381 of Shota Rustaveli, Vepʿxistqaosani 

The donation of this book has been made possible by a contribution from Tamar Latsabidze, Zarapxana, Giorgi Kalandia and the Art Palace of Georgia.

The British Library is enormously grateful to Giorgi Kalandia and the Art Palace for the substantial donations to the British Library collections made during recent years. This has resulted in an improved supply of contemporary publications and has also filled some significant gaps in our collection.

We are also very grateful to Tamar Latsabidze and to Zarapxana, the Georgian jeweller, for their support. It has been important for us to establish and develop closer contacts with our partners in Georgia.

The generosity of all who have contributed is very much appreciated. They have evidently taken heed of the well-known quotation from Rustaveli: “That which we give makes us richer, that which is hoarded is lost”.

Anna Chelidze, Curator Georgian Collections

References/Further reading:

Shota Rustaveli, The Man in the Panther’s skin: a romantic epic … a close rendering from the Georgian attempted by Marjory Scott Wardrop. (London,1912) 14003.bb.16.

Kʿartʿuli xelnaceri cigni V-XIX saukuneebi = Georgian manuscript book 5th-19th centuries (Tbilisi, 2012) YF.2014.b.2472

Šalva Amiranašvili, Vepʿxistqaosnis dasuratʿeba: miniaturebi šesrulebuli XVI-XVII saukuneebši (Tbilisi, 1966) YF.2015.b.2110

S. Qubaneišvili, Vepʿxistqaosnis bečdvis istoriidan (Tbilisi, 1975) YF.2017.a.2371

24 November 2021

‘The Unknown Feminist of Fin-de-siècle Europe: Lesia Ukrainka’ at the British Library

On 16 November 2021, the British Library, in partnership with the Ukrainian Institute London, hosted an event to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Ukrainian writer and poet Lesia Ukrainka. The expert panel was chaired by Lucy Delap, Professor of History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Murray Edwards College, and included Sasha Dovzhyk, a Ukrainian scholar and writer based in London, and Oksana Zabuzhko, one of Ukraine’s major contemporary writers.

Photograph of the event panel

The evening was opened by Katie McElvanney, Curator of Slavonic and East European Collections at the British Library. Oksana Zabuzhko, who joined the event remotely from Kyiv, highlighted that the complete collection of Lesia Ukrainka’s works (14 volumes) had only now been published, 150 years after her birth. She noted that Ukrainka was ‘misread’ in Soviet times and stressed the importance of re-reading and reviving her work and legacy.

Speaking about Ukrainka’s family, Zabuzhko emphasised that they were remarkable people who played an important role in the creation of modern Ukraine. She also spoke about the main themes and motifs of Ukrainka’s 21 plays, which were based on European culture and the European Christian tradition. In each of her dramas the main character is a woman and these women possess spiritual leadership, said Zabuzhko.

As part of the event, Olesya Khromeychuk, Director of the Ukrainian Institute London, announced the winner of the Institute’s inaugural Ukrainian Literature in Translation Prize. The condition of this year was the translation of Ukrainka’s works. First prize was awarded to Nina Murray for her translation from Ukrainka’s drama Cassandra. Daisy Gibbons received the second prize for her translation of extracts from Ukrainka’s letters to Olha Kobylianska and the short story ‘By the Sea’. Nina Murray, together with Uilleam Blacker, then read excerpts from Cassandra in Ukrainian and English. It should be mentioned that Zabuzhko’s novel The Museum of Abandoned Secrets was also translated into English by Nina Murray.

Continuing the panel discussion, Sasha Dovzhyk told the audience about the Ukrainian Institute London’s short film Fin de Siècle Ukrainian Feminism on Ukrainka, where she was an expert. She also spoke about Ukrainka’s letters to Olha Kobylianska. Among the subjects of their correspondence was the struggle for women's rights. Dovzhyk cited and conextualised the words of another outstanding Ukrainian poet and writer Ivan Franko who remarked of Ukrainka, ‘this fragile and sick woman is almost the only man in the whole of Ukraine’.

Oksana Zabuzhko and Sasha Dovzhyk answered a number of questions from the audience. They also stressed that 19th and early 20th-century European literature is not complete without Lesia Ukrainka. She was a part of European culture, even in her travelling, and it is vital that her work is translated into different languages. Discussing Ukrainka’s relevance and appeal in contemporary Ukrainian society, Dovzhyk noted that she has become part of mass culture in Ukraine; during the Euromaidan her image appeared on the building of the Institute of Literature of the National Academy of Sciences, along with the other prominent figures Taras Shevchenko and Ivan Franko.

Photograph of the event panel and audience

The recording of the event will be available on the Ukrainian Institute London’s YouTube channel.

Nadiia Strishenets, British Library Chevening Fellow working on collections related to the Ukrainian writer, poet and artist Taras Shevchenko

Photos by Anna Morgan and Tetiana Kharchenko. With thanks to the Ukrainian Institute London for allowing us to reproduce the photos in this blog post.