THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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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

05 March 2019

“I only wish my works to be known”. Faddei Bellinsgauzen: The Voyages.

Some of our readers might remember visiting a wonderful exhibition James Cook: The Voyages, which was on show at the British Library last summer. Recently, I have come across a book that will I think would be an interesting continuation of Cook’s story.

Several months before captain James Cook was killed at Kealakekua Bay on 14 February 1779, Fabian Gottlieb Thaddeus von Bellingshausen was born on the opposite side of the globe, on Saaremaa Island (now in Estonia). Ethnically a Baltic German, Bellingshausen was a subject of the Russian Empire, which had owned the island since 1710. At the age of ten the boy was sent to study at the Naval Cadet Corps in Kronstadt and soon started using the Russified version of his name and became Faddei Faddeevich Bellinsgauzen.

His career in the Russian Imperial Navy was progressing as expected, until in 1803 lieutenant Bellinsgauzen was recommended by his commander as an officer and cartographer to participate in the first Russian circumnavigation of the Earth. The expedition headed by Adam Johann von Krusenstern took place from August 1803 to August 1806. Having established himself as a prominent cartographer, 13 years later Bellinsgauzen was appointed a leader of another circumnavigation expedition that discovered the continent of Antarctica. On his return, he became Counter Admiral, and later was promoted to Vice-Admiral after the Russo-Turkish Was of 1828-1829.

Bellingshausen Ac.6172-139
Portrait of Bellinsgauzen from around the time of his expedition to the Antarctic. From The Voyage of Captain Bellingshausen to the Anatarctic Seas (London, 1945) Ac.6172/139

Cook had categorically denied the existence of the mythical fertile great Southern Continent. He thought that there was nothing beyond the ice, which blocked the way for his ships. As a result of Cook’s authoritative opinion, further attempts to find a new continent were put on hold for the next 50 years.

Images 2- ‘Ice Islands’ from the Atlas k puteshestviiu kapitana Bellingauzena v IUzhnom Ledovitom okeane i vokrug sveta v prodolzhenii 1819, 1820 i 1821 godov (‘Atlas for the Voyage of Captain Bellingshausen to the Antarctic Seas’) (St Petersburg, 1819-1821) 14000.h.9

In July 1819 the two ships Vostok and Mirny, led by Captain Faddei Bellinsgauzen and Captain Mikhail Lazarev, travelled from Kronstadt to Copenhagen, and then on 29 July arrived in Portsmouth. During their one month’s stay there, the expedition obtained chronometers, sextants, telescopes and other nautical instruments, which at that time had not been manufactured in Russia. The supply of provisions with canned food and some special products was also replenished. Thus, the two explorers were preparing for their circumnavigation expedition and heading to the Southern hemisphere. Bellinsgauzen and his second-in-command Lazarev became the first explorers to see the land of Antarctica on 27 January 1820. They circumnavigated the continent twice, disproving James Cook's assertion that it was impossible to find land in the southern ice-fields.

Image 3The map of Southern hemisphere showing the islands discovered by Captain Bellingshausen, from the Atlas.

The expedition collected many ethnographic, zoological and botanical specimens that later found their way into major museum collections in Russia. Pavel Nikolaevich Mikhailov (1786-1840), an artist and draughtsman, travelled on board one of the ships, documenting the voyages. In his scrap albums, he recorded the newly discovered islands, views of cities and settlements, portraits of aboriginal peoples, and carefully depicted samples of exotic flora and fauna. Mikhailov's watercolours and drawings are seem quite reliable. He faithfully followed the instructions received from both the Maritime Office and the Academy of Arts, demanding that “everything that was represented on paper ... was the true image of an object.”

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On his return from the trip, Bellinsgauzen tried to publish a book about the expedition and its findings, supplemented by plentiful images and drawings. The publication was meant to be dedicated to the Emperor Alexander I and published ‘by the highest order’. Bellingsgauzen took a considerable effort to achieve this publication as soon as possible, but it was carried out only ten years after the return of the expedition, when he received the rank of vice-admiral. It took him three years to complete the two-volume Dvukratnye izyskaniia v IUzhnom Ledovitom okeane i plavanie vorkug sveta, v prodolzhenii 1819, 20 i 21 godov (‘Double Studies of the Southern Ocean and circumnavigation, in 1819, 20 and 21’). The manuscript was delivered to the Admiralty Department in 1824. Bellinsgauzen asked for 1,200 copies to be printed, but no decision was made about it. In 1827, he resumed his request, proposing to reduce costs by printing only 600 copies. By the way of explaining his desire to get his work published, Bellinsgauzen wrote that he did not see any benefit in this publication, “but only wished [his] works to be known”. The Science Committee at the Naval Headquarters allocated 38,052 Rubles for the publication of 600 copies of the book, making it a collector’s item from the very beginning. The British Library acquired two copies of this rare and wonderful publication (shelfmarks 1047.m.1. and 10496.w.3.).

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

27 February 2019

The Cats’ Newspaper: or the Cat’s Pyjamas?

A month after our current exhibition Cats on the Page opened, its lead curator passed me a donation of a number of issues of De Poezenkrant, or ‘The Cats’ Newspaper’, that came with a letter from its editor, P. Schreuders, who donated the issues as a ‘Thank You’ for the exhibition. These are currently being catalogued and shelfmarked and will be available on our CATalogue ‘Explore’  soon.

This blog is a ‘Thank You’ in return for Schreuders’ generous donation.

P. Schreuders started De Poezenkrant as a sort of newsletter about his family and the family cat R. van Plezier. (The ‘R’. stands for ‘Red’ as in ‘ginger’.)

PK21 Cover 1977
Cover of De Poezenkrant Nr 21, February 1977, featuring R. van Plezier, P. Schreuders’ ginger cat. (Awaiting shelfmark)

Schreuders would send the newsletter to a select group of friends, but soon the mailing list expanded to a few hundred subscribers. Now it has fans all over the world. It sure looks like it has nine lives!

In 2015 Het Grote Boek van de Poezenkrant (‘The Big Book of The Cats’ Newspaper.’ ) was published to celebrate the 41st year of the newspaper/magazine. Why 41 years and not 40 is all explained in the book. It has the complete issues 1 -49BIS”A” (1974–2004) and is dedicated to R. van Plezier.

PokraHetGroteBoek
Cover of Piet Schreuders, Het Grote Boek van De Poezenkrant (Amsterdam, 2015) YF.2018.b.808.

The Cat’s Newspaper is a strange little beast. Is it a magazine, or a newspaper? Is it about cats, or literature? How often does it appear and what will the next issue look like?

Mr. P. Schreuders likes to play a game of cat and mouse with his readers. De Poezenkrant is published irregularly and in ever-changing formats – just as a cat would behave. The cover of issue 62 is a case in point. It says ‘2017 à 2018’.

PK62 Cover 2017-18
Cover of De Poezenkrant, vol. 44, No 62, 2017 à 2018.

De Poezenkrant has a whiff of Facebook about it. Readers from all over the world (global reach) submit their news, photos and stories (posts) for publication in the newspaper. Well known authors write literary articles for the newspaper, which results in a hugely varied content, in Dutch, English and sometimes other languages. This stimulates endless browsing. Add to that the fact that cats are, of course, one of the most popular themes on social media and you have a social media platform.

Several Dutch authors have contributed to De Poezenkrant over time. One of the most prolific contributors, almost from the beginning, was Willem Frederik Hermans who was a big fan of cats. Schreuders read an interview with Hermans in the newspaper NRC of 20 March 1971, in which Hermans only talked about cats, so Schreuders sent Hermans the next issue of De Poezenkrant. This was the beginning of a long collaboration between the two.

PKboek-p4 Postcards
Postcards sent by W.F.Hermans to P. Schreuders in May and June 1974, commenting on De Poezenkrant, reproduced in  Het Grote Boek van de Poezenkrant

On Christmas Day 1975 Hermans sent Schreuders a copy of the famous engraving by J.J. Grandville of the characters in the fable ‘Le Chat, la Belette et le petit Lapin’, by Jean de la Fontaine, from an 1838 edition of the Fables.

Hermans included a short note, in which he states that in his opinion the image deserved a place in De Poezenkrant. He points out the clogs on the feet of the rabbit, whom he compares to a Dutch author he doesn’t like very much. He also expresses his disappointment that the carved mouse heads on the chair of the cat Raminagrobis aren’t lion heads. The note was printed in De Poezenkrant nr 24 of July 1978.

WFH-25dec1977 Letter
Detail of the typed note from Hermans to Schreuders, 25 December 1977, reproduced in  Het Grote Boek van de Poezenkrant

A few years later De Poezenkrant Nr 33 featured a full article on the cat Raminagrobis from La Fontaine’s fable, entitled ‘Op zoek naar Raminagrobis’ (‘In search of Raminagrobis’), in which Hermans’ copy of the Grandville engraving was included. The article discusses various editions of the fable, and their illustrations of the unreliable ‘judge’ Raminagrobis. Gustav Doré and Benjamin Rabier are mentioned, but the verdict is clear: ‘By far the most beautiful illustrations are those in the edition by Fournier Ainé (Paris, 1838) and are by Grandville’; this is indeed the edition on display in the Library’s exhibition.

La Fontaine-Granville C.152.g.7.
Ms Weasel and the little Rabbit before Raminagrobis, published in Fables de La Fontaine. Édition illustrée par J. J. Grandville. (Paris, 1838) C.152.g.7.

Neither the exhibition, nor De Poezenkrant would be complete without the Cheshire Cat. The cover of issue 30, Autumn 1982 is in the style of 18th-century book title pages, but with modern concepts. The Cheshire Cat sits in the centre of the page, almost like a printer’s device. It is taken from the engraving by Sir John Tenniel made for the ‘dream play for children in two acts’ (London, 1886) adapted by H. Savile Clarke from Lewis Carroll’s Alice books

PKboek-PK30 Cheshire
Cover of De Poezenkrant Nr 30, reproduced in Het Grote Boek van de Poezenkrant

De Poezenkrant has an online presence, too and several issues are available on ISSUU.

Go and have a look; curiosity won’t kill the cat!

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.

The British Library’s free exhibition Cats on the Page and the accompanying events season continue until 17 March.

19 February 2019

It All Adds Up: a Quick Look at Chronograms

For centuries writers and printers have enjoyed using words on a page to make patterns and puzzles. Acrostics, rebuses and pattern poems are all examples of this. Another is the chronogram.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a chronogram as “a phrase, sentence, or inscription, in which certain letters (usually distinguished by size or otherwise from the rest) express by their numerical values a date or epoch.” Chronograms exist in many different writing traditions, including Arabic and Hebrew where each letter of the alphabet has a different numerical value. In Europe they enjoyed their greatest popularity from the 16th to the 18th centuries, particularly in the territories of the Holy Roman Empire and in the Low Countries, where they appeared in commemorative or dedicatory inscriptions, on coins and medals, and in print.

In these European chronograms the date is expressed with the letters used as Roman numerals: I, V, X, L, C, D and M (for 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500 and 1000). Most of us are familiar with dates in this form from inscriptions or from the closing credits of films and TV programmes. Some chronograms give the letters in the order that they appear in the full written date, for example an epitaph for Queen Elizabeth I reading “My Day Closed Is In Immortality”, where the initial letters represent MDCIII (1603) the year of her death. However, most of them require more mathematical dexterity in both writer and reader, since they involve identifying the numeral letters in a phrase and adding them together to give the date.

Let’s look at some examples. Here’s a fairly easy one to start, with the chronogram highlighted:

Chronograms RB.23.a.28370
Antonius Kalckstein, Theses theologicae ex universa theologia Scotistica ex littera Scoti deductae authoritate Sacrae Scripturae et SS. Patrum ac Conciliorum firmatae et rationibus comprobatae ...  (Wrocław, 1714) RB.23.a.28370

On the title-page of this dissertation, the chronogram for the year is cleverly tucked into the information about the day and month when it was publicly defended: “Anno CVrrente ab ortV ChrIstI DIe 12 SepteMbrIs” (“In the current year after the birth of Christ on the 12th day of September”). This gives us C+V+V+C+I+I+D+I+M+I = 100+5+5+100+1+1+500+1+1000+1 = 1714. (Note the use of a v where we would generally use a u in written Latin today; the ancient Roman alphabet did not distinguish between the two.)

In the next example, the year is similarly encoded in the statement of publication: “IohannIs RhaMbae typI eXCVDebant” (“Johann Rambau’s types printed [this]”), giving I+I+M+I+X+C+V+D = 1+1+1000+1+10+5+500 = 1618:

Chronograms 11409.f.37
Elias Cüchler, Ἀνθολογια διαφορων Ἐπιγραμματων παλαιων = Florilegium diversorum epigrammatum veterum in centurias distributum ... (Görlitz, 1618) 11409.f.37

The author of this book of astrological predictions for the year 1602 came up with two different chronograms to give the publication year of 1601:

Chronograms 1609-748(10)
Georgius Caesius, Prognosticon astrologicum, oder Teutsche Practick: auff das Jahr ... M.DCII ... (Nuremberg 1601)  1609/748.(10.)

Relying as they do on Roman numerals, Chronograms can be made to work most easily with a Latin text, but they appear in vernacular languages too, as we saw in the Elizabeth I example. Here’s one in German in a work describing various celestial phenomena seen in 1622. The German chronogram, “NVn Ist In Vnsern LanDen groß EnDerUng baLD zV besorgen” suggests that these, and by implication the very date of 1622, are heralds of “great change”.

Chrongrams Cup.409.c.2
Jacob Bartsch, Himmlische zeiterinnernde Wunder-Sonn- vnd WeckVhr, das ist ... Bericht von den NebenSonnen vnd Regenbogen ... (Strassburg, 1622)  Cup.409.c.2 

Again, a v is used here where we would expect a u to make the chronogram work. The same is true of this 1632 broadside commemorating the entry of the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus into Nuremberg during the Thirty Years’ War: both ‘vu’ and ‘w’ are transcribed as two v’s: “GVstaVVs ADolphVs MIt Gott erVVehLter KönIg”.

Chronograms 1750.b.29.(54.)
Andeutliche kurtze Beschreibung und Figurliche entwerffung, welcher gestalt, der  ... Herr Gustavus Adolphus, der Schweden, Gothen und Wenden König, ... Neben andern bey sich gehabten Christlichen hohen Potentaten ... zu Nürnberg, am 21. Tag Monats Martii, dieses lauffenden 1632. Jahrs ... eingeritten  (Nuremberg, 1632) 1750.b.29(54)

In all these examples, the letters doubling as numerals are highlighted by being capitalised, but here’s a relatively late example, from 1856 (as I’m sure you can all work out by now), where they have been printed in red:

Chronograns Hung.1.f.3.(22)
Istrograni templi auspiciis. augusto poli festive adstat augusta Austriæ aula prona gens, et venerati prælati (Trnava, 1856)  Hung.1.f.3.(22)

To finish, here’s a broadside containing an impressive 20 chronograms on various significant dates in the life of Martin Luther. It comes from an album compiled by James Hilton, an avid collector and chronicler of chronograms. His collection, particularly strong in German examples, was bequeathed to the British Museum Library in 1931, and offers hours of fascination for lovers of the genre.

Chronograms Luther
Johannes Stolsius, Reverendi viri Dn. Martinus Lutheri ... vita atque res gestae viginti eteostichis docte comprehensa ... (Bremen, 1617)  From a collection of engravings and single printed leaves containing chronograms, made by James Hilton. L.R.22.c.18

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References/further reading:

James Hilton, Chronograms, 5000 and more in number, excerpted out of various authors, and collected at many places … (London, 1882-1895) 011899.k.54.

Alastair Fowler, The Mind of the Book: Pictorial Title Pages (Oxford, 2017) YC.2018.a.3272 (pp. 49-51)

Veronika Marschall, Das Chronogramm: eine Studie zu Formen und Funktionen einer literarischen Kunstform, dargestellt am Beispiel von Gelegenheitsgedichten des 16. bis 18. Jahrhunderts aus den Beständen der Staatsbibliothek Bamberg (Frankfurt am Main, 1997) YA.2000.a.16760

 

12 February 2019

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

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

Laud Guzman tp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Languages

References/further reading

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

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

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

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

08 February 2019

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

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

Flaska Cup.502.aa.12

 

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

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

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

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

Vesela kniha zviratek X.998-3707

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

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

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

(This translation © Susan Reynolds 2019.)

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

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

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

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

Capek 7294.de.34 Cat & kittens

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

Capek 7294.de.34 Kittens

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

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

 

05 February 2019

Against Totalitarianism: the Serbian émigré review ‘Naša reč’, 1948-1990

The review Naša reč (‘Our word’) was published in Paris from 1948 to 1958, then in London until 1990. Naša reč was printed in Serbian, initially every six weeks and from 1951 ten times a year. Democratically-oriented Yugoslav emigrants produced this journal for like-minded fellow emigrants in Western Europe and North America who opposed communism at home.

Although Naša reč advocated strongly against the communist political system imposed in 1945, it did not argue for a return to the pre-1941 regime in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Instead, it pleaded for a new democratic country as a community of free nations willing to live together in a federal state which would guarantee human rights and civil, social and religious freedoms to all citizens. Naša reč strongly believed in a western model of parliamentarian multi-party political system with a free press and free vote at its core. Its editors thought that the one-party system could be replaced by compromise and reform in a peaceful democratic transition. Naša reč provided a platform for political debate not only for Serbs but also for all Yugoslavs, and welcomed contributions from outside émigré communities.

As an open, independent, democratic and liberal, often unapologetically Serbian and yet genuinely Yugoslav phenomenon, Naša reč was unique among other South Slavonic emigrant publications published in Britain and in the west in this period.

I Nasa rec 1949Issue of Naša reč for 1 September 1949. (P.P.3554.nzs) with title header in Cyrillic.

Permanent columns in Naša reč besides the editorial were Yugoslav and international politics, history and current affairs, topics from emigré life, book reviews, opinions and polemics, and letters to the editorial board as well as useful information about the review and its contributors over time. The review was open to political and cultural contributions in general.

II  Izdanje Nasa rec 1970Front cover by Budimir D. Tošić from Dvadeset godina stave i rada Saveza Oslobođenje (London, 1970)  X.709/10307, a special edition of Naša reč

Naša reč was published by an alliance of Serbian political, social and cultural emigrant organisations in Western Europe called cooperatives. The membership of these cooperatives included the Young Democrats, the youth section of the Democratic Party, a major party in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The Union Oslobođenje (‘Liberation’) was founded in 1949 as an umbrella organisation for the Western European and North American cooperatives. Naša reč was its official newspaper, funded mainly by the membership, but also by subscriptions, sales and donations.

III Biblioteka Nase delo 1960 Cover of Božidar Vlajić, Svodjenje računa i preispitivanje (London, 1960) W.P.7433/7. No. 7 of the series Naše delo published by Oslobođenje 

The majority of Oslobođenje’s members were young people born in the 1920s and 1930s. They belonged to the generation traumatised by enemy occupation and the ensuing civil war in Yugoslavia during the Second World War. Oslobođenje organised biannual conferences and published political programmes abroad, but its ideas, ideology and plans were designed for the country it intended to change. Oslobođenje wholeheartedly supported Yugoslav dissidents and gave them a voice in Naša reč, and over time collaboration was extended to democratically-minded people in Yugoslavia. After the death of the Yugoslav communist leader Tito in 1980, Naša reč began receiving contributions from that country, and by the late 1980s it was being discreetly distributed in Belgrade.

IV w_p_7433_map_1952Ethnographic map of Yugoslavia according to the 1921 and 1931 censuses and 1946 administrative division. From Desimir Tošić, Srpski nacionalni problemi (Paris, 1952) W.P.7433/1-4.

By creating a political model for a future multi-party system in the country, contributors to Naša reč were drawing on free thought, independent information, experience of public debate and critical media reporting in Britain. Between 1952 and 1988 the Union Oslobođenje published 17 books on Yugoslav political, historical, cultural and literary topics in the series Naše delo (Our work). While the review Naša reč was published solely in Roman script, giving the newspaper a Yugoslav character, the series Naše delo enabled authors to publish in both Roman and Cyrillic scripts.

V Biblioteka Nase delo 1975 Cover of Kosta Stevan Pavlović, Ženidba Kralja Petra Drugog: prema Britanskim dokumentima (London, 1975.) Series Naše delo no. 11. X.909/40358

In addition to the review and the series, Naša reč printed 15 special editions as offprints or separate publications between 1964 and 1990. These were mainly works and pamphlets by Yugoslav dissidents and writers such as Milovan Đilas, Mihajlo Mihajlov, Miodrag Ilić, Gojko Đogo and others.

Leading figures of the Union Oslobođenje were behind all its publishing activities. Desimir Tošić was the sole editor of Naša reč and the chief writer of editorials together with Božidar Vlajić, a pre-war politician and prominent member of the Democratic Party.

A major permanent subject of political debate in Naša reč was the national question in Yugoslavia. Naša reč advocated a compromise and sought a solution that would command the support of the majority in each of the Yugoslav nations. The preferred option for Naša reč was a federal multi-party parliamentary state such as Switzerland, but it was also open to a Yugoslav confederation, self-rule or independence for the Yugoslav nations. The standpoint of Naša reč and the Union Oslobođenje in this matter was that the nations of Yugoslavia, not its constituent republics, should decide on the future form of government and state.

In the end Naša reč didn’t find an answer to the key question of the first and the second Yugoslavia, but believed in the future of the ‘Third Yugoslavia’, a democratic country of free and equal nations and citizens. With the renewal of the multi-party system in Yugoslavia in 1990 Naša reč ceased publication, and the Union Oslobođenje was able to transfer its ideas and experiences into the newly-founded Democratic Party in Serbia. In his last editorial Tošić declared that the journal had completed its mission but the struggle for democracy continued at home.

VI Nasa Rec 1990 The last issue of Naša reč. (No. 420, December 1990) with a header in Roman type against a stylized Cyrillic backdrop

Naša reč is an indispensable source for studying the questions of liberal and totalitarian ideologies during the Cold War, the problems of interwar and post-war politics in Yugoslavia, and the topic of nationalism in general. In 43 years, Naša reč had over 300 hundred contributors and published a total of over 6,000 pages. The British Library holds an almost complete set of Naša reč in 420 issues; the missing issues are 1-3 (1948) and 137 (1963).

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

References:

Dejan Đokić (editor), Nesentimentalni idealisti. Desimir Tošić, Božidar Vlajić i uvodnici časopisa Naša reč (Belgrade, 2013) YF.2014.a.25606.

 

01 February 2019

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

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

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

Landino study

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

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

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

Pliny C.3.d.2

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

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

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

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

Cristoforo_Landino_-_Wikimedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giuseppe Alizzi, Curator Romance Collections

References

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

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

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

29 January 2019

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

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

Kater Murr 1820 12548.bbb.17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 January 2019

‘Tom Puss, conjure up a trick!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TomPoes6VerzineenList

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

References / Further reading

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

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

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

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

23 January 2019

Agustín Fernández Mallo and the Nocilla Project

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

Mallo
Photograph of Agustín Fernández Mallo  by Aina Lorente Solivellas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rahul Bery, British Library Translator in Residence

References:

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

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

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

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

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