THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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51 posts categorized "Poland"

27 March 2020

Stanislaw Lem: mimicretins and other smart machines

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Once upon a time, a genius robotic constructor built a machine that could create anything that starts with the letter n. The constructor decided to try it out and, following his orders, the machine produced needles, noses and nuclei. His friend wanted to put the machine to a test, and, after it successfully fulfilled his wishes, he asked it to do Nothing. The machine seemed inactive and the constructor’s friend decided that the experiment was a failure:

For Nothing, my dear and clever colleague, is not your run-of-the-mill nothing, the result of idleness and inactivity, but dynamic, aggressive Nothingness, that is to say, perfect, unique, ubiquitous, in other words Nonexistence, ultimate and supreme, in its very own nonperson!

Alien creature from Cyberiada

Illustration from Cyberiada (Kraków, 1965) X.908/6139

Unfortunately, he was wrong. The machine had a very good understanding of abstract philosophical concepts. And it set out to remove all the things from the world in order to create Nothing. The terrified constructor and his friend begged it to stop and restore everything that had disappeared. But the machine could recreate only the things that started with n. So it brought back nausea, narrow-mindedness, nonsense, necrophilia…

Illustration of an anthropomorphic robot from the Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem

Illustration from Cyberiada (Kraków, 1965) [X.908/6139]

This summarises one of the stories that form part of the Cyberiad by Stanisław Lem, a Polish writer of science fiction who died 14 years ago, on  27 March 2006. The Cyberiad’s protagonists are mainly anthropomorphic robots that live in a medieval-like world, robotic knights and dragons that exist in a highly technologically advanced civilization and that serve Lem to analyse the relationship between individual and society.

Cover of Cyberiada with an illustration of an eight-legged robotic horse walking up a flight of stairs. The word 'Cyberiada' is written in capitals on its back.

Cover of Cyberiada (Krakw, 1965) [X.908/6139]

Lem’s books have been sold in more than 30 million copies, translated into more than 40 languages, and the most famous of them, Solaris, was turned into a movie three times. However, his ambition was to do more than write bestsellers — he wanted to elevate science fiction from popular literature to a highbrow genre. In his books, he approached the subjects of man’s place in the universe, the unsuccessful search for happiness through technological progress, the impossibility of understanding extra-terrestrial intelligence, and the nature of artificial intelligence.

Illustration from 'Bajki Robotów' featuring a single eye in the top left-hand corner and a figure covered in clock faces cowering in the bottom right-hand corner.

Illustration from Bajki Robotów [‘Fables for Robots’] (Kraków, 1964) [X.907/974]

Was the n-machine a truly intelligent machine? We can deduce the answer to this question from the words of The Futurological Congress’s protagonist:

A smart machine will first consider which is more worth its while: to perform the given task or, instead, to figure some way out of it. Whichever is easier. (…) A mimicretin is a computer that plays stupid in order, once and for all, to be left in peace. And I found out what dissimulators are: they simply pretend that they're not pretending to be defective.

Title page from 'Bajki Robotów'. A robotic figure wearing a headscarf rocks a robot baby in a cradle.

Title page of Bajki Robotów

Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

Further reading:

Stanislaw Lem, The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age, translated from the Polish by Michael Kandel; illustrated by Daniel Mróz (San Diego, 2002?) DRT ELD.DS.185639

Stanislaw Lem, The Futurological Congress, translated from the Polish by Michael Kandel (London, 2017) DRT ELD.DS.208506

Stanislaw Lem, Solaris; The Chain of Chance; A Perfect Vacuum (Harmondsworth, 1981) X.958/6252

The English translation of the story 'How the World was Saved' from The Cyberiad 

13 March 2020

Kashubia, where is it?

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It is believed that during the early medieval period Slavonic tribes settled on the southern shores of the Baltic Sea and named the territory Kashubia, part of a larger region, Pomerania. Over the centuries Pomerania was predominantly under German or Polish rule. Originally, the Kashubs populated the area between the lower Oder to the west and lower Vistula to the east. Once the only inhabitants and rulers of this land, in the 14th century they became one of its ethnic components. As a result of German colonisation and the Christianisation of West Pomerania, the Kashubs became second-class citizens and were later subject to Germanisation. Consequently, the ethnic Kashubian population was shifted to East Pomerania which, with its capital town Gdańsk (Danzig), was affiliated to the Kingdom of Poland. However, in the 14th century it came under the control of the Teutonic Knights for over 150 years.

Map of Kashubia based on a map of Pomeranian duchies c. 1200.

Map of Kashubia based on a map of Pomeranian duchies c. 1200. In Gerard Labuda, Historia Kaszubów w dziejach Pomorza (Gdańsk, 2006) ZF.9.a.5856

The Reformation had a great influence on West Pomerania, which was quickly converted to Protestantism and subsequently became German. In East Pomerania, which became part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Reformation made slower progress. The new faith became popular in towns with a high German population and among the nobility, including those of Kashubian-Polish descent. However, the Counter-Reformation later reinstated Catholicism in most areas of East Pomerania.

A significant number of the Kashubian nobility identified themselves with Poland because of their active involvement in the country’s politics. Some were even granted the positions of Polish senators and governors. Nonetheless, they attempted to preserve their distinctive culture within the Commonwealth.

Map of Kashubia from 1963

Map of Kashubia from 1963 in Ziemia Kaszubska (Warszawa, 1963) X.808/836

The Commonwealth ceased to exist as an independent country following its partitions between Russia, Prussia and Austria at the end of the 18th century. In consequence, the lands of East Pomerania, part of Royal Prussia, were seized by the King of Prussia, who had ruled in West Pomerania since the 17th century. Thus, all Pomerania came to be part of the Kingdom of Prussia. Protestantism became the official religion and played a crucial role in the Germanisation of the native Kashubian and Polish populations. Frederick the Great regarded Pomerania as a recruiting base for the Prussian army. For this purpose he established the Corps of Cadets in Stolp (Słupsk) in 1769 to train sons of the Kashubian nobility together with other Pomeranians. The school was also instrumental in the process of Germanisation.

The economic and social reforms in the 19th century carried out in Pomerania by the Prussian authorities had a negative impact on Kashubian identity. The reforms favoured the local Germans, and only those Kashubs who gave in to Germanisation were granted privileges. The national awakening came in the mid-19th century with the activities of an ardent advocate for the Kashubian cause, Florian Ceynowa. He is the author of the first grammar book of the Kashubian language Xążeczka dlo Kaszebov (Gdansk, 1850; 4410.g.54(2)) and editor of the first journal in Kashubian, Skorb Kaszëbskoslovjnskje movë (‘Treasure of the Kashubian-Slavonic language’; Svjecè, 1866-68; 12304.g.32)

Title page of the first grammar book of the Kashubian language

The first grammar book of the Kashubian language, Xążeczka dlo Kaszebov (Gdansk, 1850) 4410.g.54(2)

After the First World War, the major part of Kashubia was incorporated into the newly-created Polish Republic. However, the Polish authorities treated the local population with suspicion as to their nationality. During the Second World War, the Kashubs were subject to the extermination policy of the German State. Many were killed, some deported to concentration camps, and others resettled. Further suffering was imposed by the Red Army in 1945 since soldiers could not distinguish Kashubians from Germans.

The sad plight of the surviving Kashubian population continued in post-war Poland. The authorities suspected them of having pro-German sentiments and only tolerated them for the cultivation of folk art. The political thaw of 1956 led to the foundation of the Kashubian Association, but its activities were soon to be curtailed as the communist regime gathered strength again. Despite the authorities’ hostile attitude, the Kashubs preserved their culture and ethnic uniqueness until the fall of communism in 1989. Since then they have been free to cultivate their cultural identity. In 2005, Kashubian was recognised as a regional language, and in some communities it is the second official language. According to the 2011 census, 233,000 people in Poland declared their identity as Kashubian.

Page with traditional Kashubian folk designs

Traditional Kashubian designs in Bożena Stelmachowska, Sztuka ludowa na Kaszubach (Poznań, 1937) J/07857.d.25.

Among notable Kashubs are Günter Grass, the Nobel Prize-winning German author of Kashubian descent, and Donald Tusk, Prime Minister of Poland (2007-2014) and President of the European Council (2014-2019).

Magda Szkuta, Curator East European Collections

Further reading:

Cezary Obracht-Prondzyński and Tomasz Wicherkiewicz (eds), The Kashubs: past and present (Bern, 2011) YD.2012.a.593

Józef Borzyszkowski, Historia Kaszubów (Gdańsk, 2014) YF.2017.a.2237

K. Tymieniecki (ed.), History of Polish Pomerania (Poznań, 1929) W25/3477

 

29 February 2020

Children's Tales from Across the Channel (1)

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The British Library has just launched its new ‘Discovering Children’s Books’ web pages, a treasure-chest of stories, poems and illustrations from old favourites to modern classics, with plenty to discover along the way. This venture has inspired us here in European Collections to reflect on some favourite and classic children’s books from the collections we curate and the countries we cover. Here’s a first selection.

Cover of 'The Mitten', showing a child losing a mitten in a snowy wood

Cover of Alvin Tresselt, The Mitten (Kingswood, Surrey, 1964) X.992/87.

‘Rukavychka’, traditional Ukrainian folktale
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

‘Rukavychka’ (‘The Mitten’) is a much-loved Ukrainian folktale about a lost mitten that stretches and stretches (and stretches!) to provide shelter for an increasing number of woodland animals, ranging from a mouse to a bear. Eventually the mitten bursts and they all tumble out. There are a number of different versions of the story, including a 1964 retelling in English by Alvin Tresselt  with beautiful illustrations by Yaroslava (pictured above), but the overarching message is one of sharing and helping others in need.

Illustration of Vitalis the Fox, walking on his hind legs with a nest of birds perched on his tail
Vitalis the Fox, from Jan Brzechwa, Od baśni do baśni (Warsaw, 1969) X.990/1813

Szelmostwa lisa Witalisa’ (‘The Tricks of Vitalis the Fox’)  
Chosen by Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

This verse tale by Jan Brzechwa tells the story of a mischievous fox, Vitalis, who is renowned for his beautiful tail and exceptional intellect. Unfortunately, he uses his intelligence again and again to trick other animals for his own benefit. Following an election campaign full of empty promises, Vitalis becomes president of the forest animals. His tyrannical, exploitative rule triggers a revolution, in which the fox’s tail is shaven and Vitalis himself chased away from the forest. And thus a brilliant, but overly arrogant dictator is punished by his subjects – a scenario by no means limited to fairy tales.

Cover of 'Glasblåsarns barn' with an illustration of two children and a coachman
Cover of Maria Gripe, Glasblåsarns Barn (Stockholm, 1987) YA.1997.a.9920.

Maria Gripe, Glasblåsarns Barn (The Glassblower’s Children)
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

First published in 1964, Glasblåsarns Barn tells how Klas and Klara, children of the brilliant but impoverished glassblower Alfred and his long-suffering wife Sofia, are kidnapped by a nobleman as a gift for his own childless and unhappy wife. But their presence doesn’t make her any happier, and in the great house beyond the River of Forgotten Memories the children are neglected and traumatised. A governess is hired to look after them but turns out to be a monster who makes life unbearable for the whole household. It it takes a benevolent witch from the children’s home village and her wise raven to defeat the awful Nana, restore happiness to the nobleman and his wife, and return Klas and Klara to their parents. Maria Gripe’s story, attractively illustrated by her husband Harald, is funny and moving by turns, a fantasy that asks real-life questions about family life, love and loss, and the nature of human desires. It was translated into English by Sheila La Farge (London, 1974; X.0990/4514) and that was how I came to discover the book as a child in my local public library.

Cover of a 1924 edition of 'Pinocchio' with an illustration showing some of the characters of the story
Cover of Carlo Collodi, Le Avventure Di Pinocchio: Storia Di Un Burattino (Florence, 1924) F10/1460

Carlo Collodi, Le Avventure di Pinocchio (The Adventures of Pinocchio)
Chosen by Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections

The story of the rebellious wooden marionette who wants to become a real boy is universally known, yet every edition of Pinocchio carries a unique freshness, a special appeal that continues to charm readers across generations. The iconic pointy nose, that grows every time he lies, the cone-shaped hat made of bread crumbs, these are Pinocchio’s most recognizable features across almost 150 years of this popular character.

Over 200 editions of Carlo Collodi’s story, first published in Italian in 1883, are held by the British Library, in virtually every language and dialect, illustrated by famous and lesser-known artists, so it’s been really hard to pick one. I chose the popular 1924 paperback edition, richly illustrated by Maria Augusta and Luigi Cavalieri, because this could be the copy that every average Italian household keeps in its bookshelves. These are the images that children look at before learning how to read.

The book is a bildungsroman telling the adventures and the many metamorphoses of an innocent and ignorant young character, who is granted human nature at the end of the story, as a reward for his efforts and hard work. Quintessentially Italian, Collodi’s book wasn’t my favourite as a child, but I can now see it in all its literary richness, not only as a reminder of the importance of frugality, honesty and education in become young adults. In fact, Pinocchio’s pedagogical value follows the introduction of mandatory education for children in the newly unified Italian Kingdom, but Collodi adds an unruly, almost anarchic edge to his story, making it a global evergreen.

Cover of 'Afke's Ten' with a picture of a small sailing-boat on a river
Cover of Nynke van Hichtum, Afke’s Ten, translated by Marie Kiersted Pidgeon (Philadelphia, 1936) 12801.f.21.

Nynke van Hichtum, Afke’s tiental (Afke’s Ten)
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

Afke’s tiental is a timeless story about ten children growing up in a poor household in Friesland, the Northern province in the Netherlands where Frisian is spoken. Since its first edition in 1903 it has seen over 60 editions. The author Nynke van Hichtum (pseudonym of Sjoukje Maria Diderika Troelstra-Bokma de Boer) was married to Pieter Jelle Troelstra, the leader of the socialist party in the Netherlands
The foreword of the first English edition describes it as:

A story of modern child-life in a large, happy Dutch family in a Frisian village, written by a pioneer for better children’s books in the Netherlands, “Afke’s Ten” (Afke’s tiental) is not only considered a juvenile classic in Holland, but has been recognized by the International Bureau of Education in Switzerland as one of the best “international goodwill” stories in the world for boys and girls.

It adds that ‘Mrs Troelstra had already made a name for herself with translations of Robinson Crusoe, Kipling’s ‘White Seal’ and other English stories.’

21 January 2020

Difficult truths - recent literature on the Holocaust in Poland

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Holocaust Memorial Day (January 27) marks this year the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. On this occasion we present four noteworthy books, published in recent years, which address different aspects of the Holocaust in German-occupied Poland.

Cover of Renia Spiegel's published diary featuring her photograph

Renia Spiegel, Dziennik: 1939-1942. (Rzeszów, 2016). Awaiting shelfmark.

Renia Spiegel was fourteen years old when she started writing a diary in January 1939. Living in wartime Przemyśl, a city in Eastern Poland, she described her school and social life, everyday existence under both Soviet and Nazi occupation, separation from her parents, and transfer to the local ghetto. Knowing that the ghetto was about to be liquidated, she escaped in summer 1942 and was shot a few days later, when her place of hiding was disclosed to the Nazi police. Her diary was saved by Zygmunt Schwarzer, with whom she was in a romantic relationship, and then passed on to her family in 1950 and published in English only last year. Renia Spiegel’s diary is the subject of a forthcoming British Library event.

Cover of Ariel znaczy lew depicting Ariel and the German soldier

Andrzej Selerowicz, Ariel znaczy lew (Gdynia, 2018). YF.2019.a.19905

Ariel znaczy lew (‘Ariel means lion’) by Andrzej Selerowicz is a novel about a love story between a fifteen-year old Jewish boy, Ariel, and a German soldier. The couple meet in wartime Cracow and their relationship continues with the outbreak of the war. After Cracow’s Jews are enclosed in a ghetto, the Wehrmacht soldier helps Ariel find a hiding place on the Aryan side, thus saving his life. The novel is loosely based on true events, which, according to the author, were told to him by a Polish man on whom the character of Ariel was based.

Cover of Lekarze getta warszawskiego featuring a drawing from the Warsaw ghetto

Maria Ciesielska, Lekarze getta warszawskiego (Warsaw, 2017). Awaiting shelfmark.

Lekarze getta warszawskiego (‘Doctors of the Warsaw ghetto’) by Maria Ciesielska is devoted to the history of doctors who performed their work in the Warsaw ghetto. Despite difficult conditions, they managed to create a professional healthcare system and establish hospitals and clinics, as well as organising the underground teaching of medicine and carrying out scientific research. This in-depth study is based on personal narratives and diaries and shows the emotional and ethical struggle that the doctors had to face in their work in the ghetto.

Cover of volume 1 of Dalej jest noc featuring a photograph of a Jewish child in hiding

Cover of volume 2 of Dalej jest noc featuring a photograph of a Jewish woman in hiding

Covers of two volumes of Dalej jest noc : Losy Żydów w wybranych powiatach okupowanej Polski (Warsaw, 2018). YF.2019.a.19212

The fate of Jews who were transferred to big ghettos, such as the ones in Warsaw or Cracow, has been documented in several books. However, the majority of Polish Jews perished in small provincial villages. The two volumes of Dalej jest noc: Losy Żydów w wybranych powiatach okupowanej Polski (‘Night without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland’) contribute to filling in this gap. This is a collection of studies of the fate of Jews who tried to save their lives in rural areas of Poland with the help of their Polish neighbours. Their chances of survival depended to a great extent on the local population’s willingness to help, which was often negatively affected by anti-semitism and social norms. Consequently, two-thirds of Jews seeking help perished. According to the authors of the study, the role of the local population in the annihilation of Polish Jewry was significant and often underestimated by scholars.

Zuzanna Krzemien, SEE Cataloguer

09 November 2019

The Revolutionary Year of 1989

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Thirty years ago today the crossing-points between two German states opened, marking the end of the Berlin Wall, demolished in the following months. The concrete barrier, separating East and West Berlin from 1961 until 1989, has been a symbol of the Cold War and the division of Europe. It was also a stage of dramatic escapes and a topic frequently explored by artists and writers. 

The demolition of the Berlin Wall generated high hopes about the new order emerging in 1989, after the collapse of authoritarian regimes across Central and Eastern Europe and the subsequent demise of the Soviet Union. Timothy Garton Ash gave one of the most compelling accounts of these events and the spirit of the period. He went to Berlin to study the archival sources on the German resistance to Hitler, but found himself in the middle of a political upheaval in the region and embarked upon writing what he himself described as “history of the present”. He witnessed, among others, the first partly free election in Poland, the celebratory reburial of Imre Nagy (the executed prime minister of the revolutionary government in 1956) in Hungary, and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.

Blog on 1989 - Timothy Garton Ash - We The People
Front cover of Timothy Garton Ash, We the People: the Revolution of ’89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (Cambridge, 1990), YK.1991.a.7367

Front cover of Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern

Front cover of Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern: the Revolution of '89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (London, 2019), ELD.DS.107591 (a revised and updated fourth edition of We the People)

As a major turning point in European history, the events of 1989 have been repeatedly revisited by historians and social scientists. What exactly happened? Did the transition to democracy and free-market economy bring the expected results? Did the end of communism live up to the expectations of the people? Answers to these pertinent questions can be found in two volumes (co-)edited by Vladimir Tismaneanu, a Romanian-American political scientist, who invited leading scholars in the field to rethink the meaning and impact of what is often called an annus mirabilis, a miraculous year.

The issue of bringing to justice people involved in authoritarian regimes has been hotly debated long after the transition to democracy. These debates are particularly vivid around the anniversaries of the revolution. In a large comparative study, edited by Michael Bernhard and Jan Kubik, the commemorations of the 20th anniversary of the changes are analysed in 17 post-communist countries. The authors looked into how the memory of the historical events was shaped by various parties in order to serve their political agenda and concluded that the fractured memory of 1989 undermines democracy in the region.

Front cover of Michael Bernhard, Jan Kubik (eds.), Twenty years after communism

Front cover of Michael Bernhard, Jan Kubik (eds.), Twenty years after communism: the politics of memory and commemoration (Oxford, New York 2014), YC.2014.a.12893

The most recent attempt to rethink the changes of 1989 is a freshly-published book, The light that failed: a reckoning by Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes. They critically assess the belief prevalent after 1989 that the liberal democracy was destined to expand worldwide. The book begins with the sarcastic assertion that “the future was better yesterday”.

Andrzej Sadecki, British Library PhD placement student working on the topic ‘Politicisation of commemorative practices in Eastern Europe’ 

References

Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes, The light that failed: a reckoning (London 2019), DRT ELD.DS.455162 (EPUB)

Timothy Garton Ash, We the People. The Revolution of ’89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (Cambridge 1990), YK.1991.a.7367

Timothy Garton Ash, The magic lantern: the revolution of '89 witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague (London 2019), ELD.DS.107591 (EPUB)

Vladimir Tismaneanu (ed.), The Revolutions of 1989 (London 1999), YC.1999.b.2118

Vladimir Tismaneanu, Sorin Antohi (eds.), Between past and future: the revolutions of 1989 and their aftermath (Budapest, New York 2012), YC.2002.a.8579

Michael Bernhard, Jan Kubik (eds.), Twenty years after communism: the politics of memory and commemoration (Oxford, New York 2014), YC.2014.a.12893

 

11 October 2019

The 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prizes in Literature

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Polish author Olga Tokarczuk and Austrian writer Peter Handke have been awarded the 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prizes in Literature after the award was suspended last year due to a sexual assault scandal

Born in Poland in 1962, Olga Tokarczuk, the winner of the 2018 Prize, is one of the most critically acclaimed contemporary Polish writers. Noted for the mythical tone of her writing, she is adored by her readers and highly praised by critics. Tokarczuk has won many prestigious literary awards for her works both in her native country and abroad. In 2018 she won the Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights, translated into English by Jennifer Croft (London, 2017; ELD.DS.228759). The book was first published in Poland in 2007 as Bieguni (). The Polish title refers to runaways, a sect of Old Believers, who believe that being in constant motion is a trick to avoid evil. Flights is a fragmentary novel consisting of over 100 episodes, each exploring what it means to be a traveller through space as well as time. Set between the 17th and 21st centuries, the novel includes some fictional stories and some fact-based, narrated from the perspective of an anonymous female traveller.

Cover of Bieguni ('Flights')

Cover of Bieguni (Krakow, 2007) YF.2008.a.36755

A trained psychologist, Tokarczuk spent a few years practising as a therapist before devoting her working life to her literary career. She is the author of nine novels and a few short stories and essays, and her books have been published into 30 languages including English, Chinese and Japanese. The main translator of her books into English is Antonia Lloyd-Jones, whose most recent translation is Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead (London, 2018; ELD.DS.325469), shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize. The novel, regarded as an eco-crime story, explores the issues of the animal rights and vegan movements unveiling the hypocrisy of traditional beliefs and religion. The book and the film Spoor by Agnieszka Holland based on this novel caused a political uproar in Poland.

Cover of Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych ('Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead')

Cover of Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych (Krakow, 2009) YF.2010.a.22348

Olga Tokarczuk was a speaker at two recent British Library events: “A life of Crime? Crime writing from Poland”, in 2017, and “Olga Tokarczuk: An evening with Poland’s best”, in 2018. Recordings of both events are available to listen in our Reading Rooms via the online catalogue.

Magda Szkuta, Curator East European Collections

The 2019 prize has been awarded to the Austrian writer Peter Handke. The Nobel Foundation cites his “influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.” He has won many of Austria’s and Germany’s major literary prizes over the course of a long career.

Born in 1942, Handke began to write while studying at the University of Graz. He became involved with the ‘Grazer Gruppe’, a group of writers (including another future Austrian Nobel Laureate, Elfriede Jelinek) associated with the literary magazine manuskripte (P.903/797). 

Alfred Kolleritsch und Peter Handke

Peter Handke (left) and magazine editor Alfred Kolleritsch at an event to mark the 50th anniversary of manuskripte, 2013. (Photograph by Dnalor_01 from Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Handke became known in the 1960s for his experimental plays such as Publikumsbeschimpfung (Frankfurt am Main, 1967; X.907/8495. English translation by Michael Roloff, Insulting the Audience (London, 1971) 11663.l.2/42.). This begins with the words, “You will not see a play” and has the uncostumed actors address the audience from what is usually a bare stage. He has also written novels, poetry and essays. English-speaking audiences, although they may not realise it, are perhaps most likely to have come across his work as the screenwriter for Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin). Handke has also won awards as a film director.

From the start of his career Handke attracted controversy, although not necessarily for the experimental nature of his work. In an early public appearance at an event organised by the influential post-war writers group Gruppe 47, he gave an angry speech attacking the Group and the work of its members. More recently he has been criticised for his stance and his writing on the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. This has led to protests at the award of other literary prizes to Handke in recent years, and the Nobel award has attracted similar criticisms.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

30 August 2019

Women in Translation Month: top picks from the European Studies team (Part 2)

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Collage of book covers featured in the blog post

In this two-part blog post, the European Studies team have selected books by women authors in translation from across the continent. Ranging from 20th-century classics to contemporary fiction, the majority of these works were also translated by women, and several have won or been shortlisted for literary and translation awards.

Cover of Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

Olga Tokarczuk, Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2017), ELD.DS.228759
Chosen by Magda Szkuta, Curator East European Collections

Olga Tokarczuk, the winner of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights, is one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful Polish writers of her generation, particularly noted for the hallmark mythical tone of her writing. The Polish title Bieguni refers to runaways, a sect of Old Believers, who believe that being in constant motion is a trick to avoid evil. Flights is a fragmentary novel consisting of over 100 episodes, each exploring what it means to be a traveller through space as well as time. Set between the 17th and 21st centuries, the novel includes some fictional stories and some fact-based, narrated from a perspective of an anonymous female traveller. It was translated by Jennifer Croft, an American author and critic who works from Polish, Ukrainian and Spanish. She is a founding editor of the Buenos Aires Review.

Cover of The Polyglot Lovers by Lina Wolff

Lina Wolff, The Polyglot Lovers, translated by Saskia Vogel (And other stories, 2019), ELD.DS.410017
Chosen by Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

Referred to as ‘feminism for the Fleabag generation’ (Spectator), Lina Wolff’s second novel takes down ‘myths of male authorship’ (FT) in this absurb book about love and loss. Both this and Wolff’s first novel, Brett Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs, were awarded PEN Translates awards by English PEN, thanks to the translations of Saskia Vogel, prolific translator of Swedish fiction, who recently wrote about how she has mainly translated women authors, who ‘question the shape of society and the assumptions we make, with a particular interest in sex and gender, language, economics, and power.’

Covers of Parts I and II of The time is out of joint: Shakespeare as philosopher of history by Ágnes Heller, featuring an owl

Ágnes Heller, The time is out of joint: Shakespeare as philosopher of history (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), translated by Magda Módos (Osiris, 2000), YC.2003.a.4129 (English) YF.2010.a.20242 (Hungarian)
Chosen by Andrea Déri, Cataloguer

‘The time is a sphinx in Shakespeare’s plays, but a sphinx whose secret will never be known, whose riddle will never be solved.’ ‘[…] for the secret of time is the meaning of life. A life has no meaning except for the question concerning meaning itself.’

Hungarian philosopher Ágnes Heller (1929–2019) interrogates time and temporality in Shakespeare’s plays in this book and engages her readers in doing the same in their life as well; challenges foreshadowed by Hamlet’s words in the title. An obituary in the Financial Times described Heller as ‘one of the most respected European philosophers of her generation’, ‘a life-long fighter for freedom’. Magda Módos, known for her interest in philosophy, translated the book from the English original into Hungarian.

Cover of Bad Roads by Natal'ya Vorozhbit

Natal'ia Vorozhbit, Bad Roads, translated by Sasha Dugdale (Nick Hern Books, 2017), ELD.DS.228387
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

First performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London in 2017, Natal'ia Vorozhbit’s powerful and sometimes bitterly comic play focuses on the impact of the conflicts in Ukraine on women from different generations and backgrounds. A leading contemporary Ukrainian playwright, Vorozhbit is the co-founder of the Theatre of the Displaced in Kyiv and curator of the Class Act project in Ukraine. Bad Roads was translated from the Russian by the prolific poet, translator and editor Sasha Dugdale, who reflected on her experience of translating the play and its harrowing subject matter in an article for the Guardian.

Cover of Bitter Herbs by Marga Minco, featuring a drawing of a woman

Marga Minco, Bitter Herbs, translated by Roy Edwards (Oxford University Press, 1960)
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

This autobiographical novella or chronicle about a Dutch Jewish family during the Second World War was published as Minco’s debut in 1957. Bitter Herbs was given a literary award in 1958 and has been translated into several languages. Minco became the Dutch voice in European war literature. The book’s sober, clear, direct style belies its deeper meanings. Minco’s themes are loss, loneliness, fear, guilt, and a longing for security. She and her uncle were the only members of her family to survive the war. Minco received the highest Dutch literary award, the PC Hooftprijs, for her complete oeuvre in 2019, at the age of 98.

Cover of The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern, featuring a figure sitting on a bench
 

Hélène Gestern, The People in the Photo, translated by Emily Boyce and Ros Schwartz (Gallic Book 2014), Nov.2018/1771
Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

Hélène Gestern (born 1971) is a French writer and academic. One of her favourite themes is photography, and the power it exercises over memory. In The People in the Photo, Hélène is an archivist living in Paris. Her mother died when she was a baby, so she posts a newspaper ad requesting information about a mysterious photograph of her mother alongside two unknown men. This provokes a response from Stéphane, a Swiss scientist living in Ashford, who recognises his father. The People in the Photo revolves around the exchange of letters, emails and text messages between the two, and explores themes of memory, loss and the power of photography and images as the pair shares discoveries and speculate about their parents’ secrets. Published in 2011, the original French Eux sur la photo received the “Prix Coup de cœur des lycéens” de la Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco and the Prix René Fallet in 2012.

09 April 2019

In the footsteps of Princess Izabela Czartoryska

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In the second half of the 18th century, Britain attracted a great deal of interest as a destination for the European aristocracy and nobility. This was a result of the country’s Industrial Revolution and rising political power in the world. Traditionally trips to Europe, called the Grand Tour, were a regular feature of aristocratic education in the 17th and 18th centuries. The typical itinerary included countries such as France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece and the German-speaking parts of the continent, with Britain joining this list in the end.

Princess Izabela Czartoryska (1746-1835) was a member of one of Poland’s most prominent aristocratic families. She was a writer, patron of the arts, and founder of Poland’s first museum, the Czartoryski Museum. Politically and socially active, Izabela also travelled around Europe. Her manuscript diary of her tour through England and Scotland in 1790 surprisingly survived the turbulent periods of wars and relocations of the archives. Translated from French into Polish and English, the diary was recently published in Poland. It is a record of her observations and impressions and gives an insight into urban and rural life in England at the end of the 18th century.

Cover of Izabela Czartoryska, 'Tour through England...' with her portrait
Izabela Czartoryska. Caption: Cover of Izabela Czartoryska, Tour through England: diary of Princess Izabela Czartoryska from travels around England and Scotland in 1790 (Warsaw, 2015) LD.31.a.2829

In 1790, Izabela visited England as a chaperone to her twenty-year-old son Adam Jerzy Czartoryski (1770-1861). The first port of call was London. While Adam was busy with his six-month studies, his mother occupied herself with excursions around London and visits to the city’s attractions. Although impressed with London’s diversity, she wrote to her friend: “I will never be able to accustom myself to the climate and the people. One is humid to the extreme and the other is unspeakably cold; one is bad for my health, the other is damaging my soul”.

However, in the summer of that year they both embarked on a tour of England and Scotland. This was a very fruitful expedition – they travelled through the whole country, covering 3000 kilometres. The visits included cities and industrial estates as well as nature sites and agricultural wastelands. The route followed the well-beaten track recommended in numerous guides to the country. In nearly three months of travelling, the party spent most of their time visiting gardens and residences. Izabela mainly focused on country houses with rich collections of works of art. Places visited included Stowe, Blenheim, Stourhead, Castle Howard, Studley Royal and many more. However, landscape gardens and parks were her particular interest, as she was a skilled gardener herself. She admired some of them for their beauty and calming and consoling effect, while those neglected provoked her criticism. In Scotland, Czartoryska considered Dunkeld the most beautiful site she had ever seen, and its description is the most sophisticated of all in her diary.

View of Dunkeld
View of Dunkeld, from A Series of Select Views in Perthshire with historical and descriptive illustration … (London, 1844) 010370.dd.26

Upon her return to her palace in Pulawy, Izabela redesigned the garden in the English style with the help of James Savage, a gardener from London. He was only employed for three years; however, he stayed in Poland for the rest of his life. As a lover of Shakespeare’s poetry, Izabela was delighted to see what she was told was his chair in Stratford-upon-Avon and became obsessed with it. Using all her energy and charm, she managed to secure its purchase.

Czartoryska had great admiration for industrial landscapes, finding them to be complementary to the natural beauty of the countryside. As much as she enthused about industrialisation, she nevertheless noticed, on a tour of the factories, the exploitation of both women and men. She also noted the changes in agriculture resulting in mass misery for ordinary people.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

 

11 December 2018

A Mysterious Linguistic Enclave in Southern Poland

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Wilamowice, a small town in southern Poland in the Silesian voivodeship, is the home of speakers of one of the most endangered languages on the linguistic map of Europe according to UNESCO’s Atlas of the world’s languages in danger (Paris, 2010; fm10/.1073). The language is known under a few names: Wymysorys, Vilamovian or Wilamowicean. Linguists tend to consider it one of the West German dialects, though the origin of the speakers is not clear.

Wilamowice postcard
An early 20th-century postcard of Wilamowice, reproduced in  Antoni Barciak (ed.), Wilamowice : przyroda, historia, język, kultura oraz społeczeństwo miasta i gminy  (Wilamowice, 2001) YF.2005.a.19308

In the 13th century, during the Mongol invasion the native Slavic population of the area was greatly reduced. It was later colonised by German, Scottish and Flemish settlers. In the course of a few centuries the foreign colonists blended into the local communities, with one exception, i.e. Wilamowice. The inhabitants of this town have always considered themselves to be people of Flemish descent preserving their distinctive language, costumes and customs.

Wilamowice women 010291i.38
Women from Wilamowice in the 1930s. The two on the right wear traditional costumes, the two on the left wear a more modernised variation. From Viktor Kauder, Das Deutschtum in der Wojewodschaft Schlesien (Plauen, 1937) 010291.i.38

After the partition of Poland in the late 18th century the area was under Austrian rule until the end of the First World War. German and Polish were the dominant languages. To sort out the linguistic issue of Wilamowice, in 1875 the authorities introduced Polish as an official language. This was the first step towards the polonisation of the town. Although education was offered both in Polish and German, most parents chose to send their children to Polish-language schools with German and the local dialect also taught. The only period when German became compulsory was during the Nazi occupation of Poland in the years 1939-1945. The Polish language was abandoned and, in some cases, forbidden from the official use, whereas Vilamovian, viewed by the Nazis as the local dialect of German, was even promoted. However the slow decline of the dialect had already started at the end of the 19th century, and apart from this short revival in the Second World War, it got almost extinguished in the Polish People’s Republic.

The Vilamovians were regarded by the post-Second World War communist authorities as Germans despite the fact that they stressed their Flemish origin. During the war the majority of the Vilamovians had been forced to accept the Volksliste and as a result they were subject to a harsh treatment in communist Poland. In the postwar period many people were arrested and their property was confiscated; some families were persuaded to relocate to the “Recovered Territories”. A decree issued in 1946 banned the use of the dialect and costumes. Soon people stopped speaking and teaching Vilamovian to avoid severe punishment. The social structure of the town also changed and many newcomers mixed with the native population. The ban was eventually lifted, but by that time no young people could speak or understand the language. The postwar period was the most traumatic in the long history of Wilamowice.

Vilamovian has seen a revival of interest among young members of the community in the last decade. Academics have also engaged in language revitalization, and Vilamovian can now be studied at the University of Warsaw. Nowadays about 300 people can understand it and approximately 60 people have the ability to speak it with varying degrees of fluency. It has been recognized as a separate language by a number of international bodies, but in Poland it has not yet been given the official status of a regional language.

You can read some poems in Vilamovian (with Polish and German translations) here, and listen to the language being spoken by a native of Wilamowice in this YouTube clip.

WilamowceBlog
A modern regional folk ensemble from Wilamowce  (Photo by Wymysojer from Wikimedia Commons
) 

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

Further reading:

Tomasz Wicherkiewicz, The making of a language: the case of the idiom of Wilamowice, southern Poland, Trends in linguistics. Documentation; 19. (Berlin, 2003). YD.2005.a.3195

Józef Latosiński, Monografia miasteczka Wilamowic, (Kraków, 1910). 10292.s.8.

Zbigniew Rokita, ‘Kumże tu!’ in: Polityka, no. 13, 2017. MFM.MF1241D

Hermann Mojmir, Wörterbuch der deutschen Mundart von Wilamowice. (Kraków, 1930-1936.) Ac.750/109

09 August 2018

East European newspapers in the British Library collection

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The rapid growth of the British Museum Library from the 1840s onwards brought about the expansion of its collections of foreign material. Books, journals and newspapers in East European languages were also regularly acquired, initiating the future development of the individual countries’ collections. Newspapers, though relatively small in numbers of titles, constituted a vital part of them. The Catalogue of the Newspaper Library, Colindale (London, 1975; HLR.011.35; all records are now also available in our online catalogue) records numerous 19th-century papers from around the world. Among them the oldest titles in East European languages are:

Russkii Invalid 1815

Russkii invalid (St Petersburg, 1813-1917; NEWS13712) a paper of the Russian military.

Dostrzegacz Nadwislanski 1824

Dostrzegacz nadwiślański / Der Beobakhter an der Vayksel (Warsaw, 1823-4; NEWS15170).  A bilingual Polish and Yiddish weekly, the first Jewish journal published in Poland. Only 44 issues appeared, of which the BL holds three copies for February 1824.

In 1932 the Newspaper Library was established in Colindale and overseas titles were moved there from the British Museum building. Eastern European newspapers were part of this process. In the 1950s there were 74 titles in Slavonic and East European languages acquired annually by the Library. In 2014 a new reading room for all forms of news media opened in the St Pancras building, where these titles can now be consulted.

Political, social and economic transformations in Central and Eastern Europe following the revolutionary wave of 1989 had a huge impact on the publishing industry. Such phenomena as the free market economy, freedom of expression and the rapidly growing political movements, all new to Eastern Europe, also greatly influenced the newspaper output, giving rise to many new titles or title changes. In the early 1990s there was an explosion in the number of papers published, and at its peak the British Library was receiving about 300 titles per year. Many were short-lived and produced only one or two editions. In such chaos it became necessary to get an overall picture of the situation, especially since other UK libraries experienced a similar influx of newspapers. A Union List of Slavonic and East European newspapers in British libraries (YC.2018.b.1946), which was put together in 1992, aimed to provide information about the availability of any particular title in the UK libraries. It should be noted that there were no online library catalogues at the time, so the printed list was the most effective way of communicating.

The collection of newspapers for this period represents the whole spectrum of political colours, social movements and cultural diversity in Eastern European countries. Examples include:

Respekt 1992

Respekt (LOU.F631G) began publication in November 1989 as one of the first independent journals in Czechoslovakia. It was a pro-Havel liberal weekly reporting on domestic and foreign political and economic issues with a focus on investigative journalism. It is still running.

Spotkania 1991
Spotkania (NEWS13748) attempted to act as the Polish Newsweek and aimed to be an informative paper with no political bias; it lasted only from 1991 to 1993. BL holds 93 issues for the years 1991-2.

The Warsaw Voice
The Warsaw Voice (NEWS3057) is an English-language newspaper published in Poland, providing news on Poland and neighbouring countries with the focus on business and the economy. First published in 1988, it is still running; our holdings include the years 1992–2017.

Oslobodenje 1993Oslobođenje (LOU.F710D) is the oldest daily newspaper in Bosnia, which began in 1943. The paper received many international awards for continuous publication throughout the 1992–95 siege of Sarajevo. During the war, the editorial board consisted of Bosniaks, Bosnian Serbs, and Bosnian Croats, reflecting the multi-ethnic society of Bosnia.

At present our collection includes newspapers held in print form, as microfilm and in digital copies. With hard copies and microfilms creating storage and preservation problems, the policy of the Library is to subscribe to aggregated newspaper databases or link to online resources. We currently still receive 17 newspaper titles in print from Lithuania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Romania and recently Poland. A number of Russian, Ukrainian, Moldavian, Belarusian and Baltic newspapers are available online through the commercial supplier Eastview, but currently there is no newspaper coverage for the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Albania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia, mainly because of distribution problems and a lack of aggregated databases.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections