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46 posts categorized "Poland"

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.

Izabela Czartoryska
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.

Dunkeld 010370.dd.26.
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

 

23 July 2018

‘A work of art must be as logical as a machine’

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Blok title page

The British Library has recently acquired two issues of a rare Polish avant-garde journal Blok: czasopismo awangardy artystycznej, issue 3-4 (Warsaw, 1924; RF.2018.b.75). The journal was issued by the first constructivist group of artists in Poland bearing the same name, whose theory can be summed up in the quotation above. The Blok was formed in 1924 and consolidated around the issue of construction in a work of art. It included such prominent artists as Władysław Strzemiński, Mieczysław Szczuka and Teresa Żarnower.

Blok Zarnower

The journal was edited primarily by Szczuka and Strzemiński and addressed a wide range of topics from art theory, architecture and theatre to music and literature. The controversies between the two main leaders Strzemiński and Szczuka led to the break-up of the group and cessation of the journal in 1926. Only 11 issues were published in total.

Blok 2

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

29 May 2018

Janusz Korczak – the champion of children

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Elizabeth Gifford’s novel The Good Doctor of Warsaw (London, 2017; ELD.DS.232274) was the subject of a recent British Library event. It is based on the true accounts of Misha and Sophia, two young Polish Jews who helped Janusz Korczak in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Second World War. Korczak is best remembered for his heroic death march with 200 orphan children to the gas chambers in Treblinka on 6 August 1942.

Janusz Korczak from the King of the children YC.1989.a.4207Janusz Korczak, from Betty Jean Lifton, The king of children: a biography of Janusz Korczak (London, 1988). YC.1989.a.4207  

Janusz Korczak was born Henryk Goldszmit into a wealthy Jewish family in Warsaw in 1878. He was a doctor by profession, an educator at heart and a gifted author. In his early years he experienced adults’ lack of respect and concern for children, an experience that greatly contributed to the choice of his later path in life. Henryk’s childhood was disturbed by his father’s mental illness. His premature death left the family impoverished and the 18-year-old Henryk began tutoring to support his mother and younger sister. He then discovered that he liked working with children. At that time he published his first pedagogical articles about raising and educating children and tried his luck as a writer under the pseudonym Janusz Korczak.

 

Janusz Korczak Big business Billy 12825.eee.5 Title-page and frontispiece from the English translation of one of Korczak’s children’s books, Big Business Billy (London, 1939). 12825.eee.5

However, two years later he enrolled as a medical student at Warsaw University. He decided to be a doctor, not a writer; as he said in his journal “literature is just words, while medicine is deeds”. In 1904 he graduated as a paediatrician and took up work at a Jewish hospital for children in Warsaw.  Korczak was also active as a tutor at summer holiday centres and continued to write children’s novels which reflected his experience both as a doctor and educator. In 1912 he gave up work at the hospital to devote his life to poor orphaned children.

Korczak lectures
Korczak pictured with some of the children in his care, cover of Janusz Korczak: the child’s right to respect: Janusz Korczak’s legacy: lectures on today’s challenges to children (Strasbourg, 2009). m11/14075

Korczak established an orphanage for Jewish children, implementing his pedagogical ideas of treating children with fairness, justice, respect and empathy. The children had their own parliament, court and newspaper and all felt valued as equal members of the community.  Korczak emphasized the importance of giving the child a voice and in that he was a precursor of modern child psychology.  He wrote a number of books based on his daily observations of the children’s development.  His 1919 publication Jak kochać dziecko (How to love a child) formed the basis for the first International Declaration of the Rights of the Child in Geneva in 1924. His later booklet of 1929 Prawo dziecka do szacunku (The child’s right to respect) is considered his pedagogical manifesto. The child is the greatest asset of society. The child has a right to dignity as much as the adult has. Children are not the people of tomorrow, but people of today.

Korczak Matthew the Young King1Page with an illustration by Irena Lorentowicz  from Janusz Korczak, Matthew the Young King (London, 1946). 12593.i.26.

In more than 20 books Korczak  expressed his great love and concern for children. His best-known novel Król Maciuś Pierwszy (King Matt the First, also translated as Matthew the Young King), first published in 1922, was inspired by his own childhood memories, contemporary political events in Poland and the children of several orphanages he successfully ran in Warsaw. The book tells the story of a boy king’s adventures and his attempts to bring social reforms to his subjects. Written in the form of a fairy tale, the book addresses the difficulties of adult life and the responsibility for decisions they have to make. But at the core of this story is a child with the loneliness, dilemmas and struggles it faces in its daily life.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

References/Further reading:

Janusz Korczak, Jak kochać dziecko. Internat, kolonie letnie (Warsaw, 1948). 8313.bb.15

Janusz Korczak, Prawo dziecka do szacunku (Warsaw, 1948) 8313.bb.16.

Janusz Korczak, A voice for the child: the inspirational words of Janusz Korczak (London, 1999). YK.1999.a.3347

 

09 March 2018

Mr Inkblot’s Academy – A Polish Children’s Classic

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Each generation of children has its own favourite book which defines their childhood. For children growing up in Poland in the 1950s and 60s it was a book about a school for wizards called Akademia pana Kleksa (‘Mr Inkblot’s Academy’) by Jan Brzechwa, first published in 1946.

AkademiaCover1960Jan Brzechwa, Akademia pana Kleksa (Warsaw, 1960) X.990/537

The book tells the story of incomparable eccentric Ambroży Kleks (Ambrose Inkblot), headmaster of an equally nonpareil school for wizards based in Fairylandia at the very end of Chocolate Street. Fairylandia lies not far off but is not that easy to find unless one is invited and guided there, just as one day an unhappy, bullied 12-year-old boy, Adaś Niezgódka (Adam Contrary), is by a learned blackbird which communicates words by dropping their first syllables.

Inkblot MathewMathew the blackbird on the phone

The school is a three-storey building with classrooms, refectory and dormitories, and the top floor, to which there are no stairs, housing all Mr Inkblot’s secrets. It stands in the middle of a large unkempt park, surrounded by a wall lined with iron gates leading to other fables. Nobody knows how many of these gates there are, but all are locked with silver locks, and Mr Inkblot keeps the keys in a silver casket.

The 24 boys in the school – all of whose names begin with A – are taught by Mr Inkblot the subtle art of wizardry in subjects ranging from inkblotography and letter-spinning to un-breaking broken things. Mr Inkblot also helps the boys improve their dreams by selecting the best of them from dream-reflecting mirrors at each boy’s bedside: He also cooks for them: brightly-coloured beads which turn to delicious soups and juices, but also huge roasts, prepared with the help of a magnifying pump. But he can cook anything a boy can fancy by painting the dish with his magic brush. He himself gets by on hair-growing pills but loves flavoursome colours and for elevenses treats himself to a handful of butterflies, a special kind which he plants and grows like beans.

Inkblot clockMr Inkblot examining the broken clock

Mr Inkblot, who knows and sees everything, is the epitome of goodness and always tries to make everyone happy with themselves. He is a tall man, though he can control his size with the magnifying pump, making himself teeny-weeny for going to bed. He has a mop of hair gleaming with all colours of the rainbow and a vast bushy beard as black as soot. He wears an old-fashioned velvet frock coat with a lemon-bright waistcoat full of pockets, the contents of which could easily fill three rooms.

Inkblot expeditionMr Inkblot taking his pupils on a school expedition

Jan Brzechwa, started writing Mr Inkblot’s Academy in 1944, when war was still raging outside the window of his Warsaw flat. As a Jew he was hiding on the ‘Aryan’ side, somewhat contrarily, by not hiding at all and trying to live a ‘normal’ life. Writing was for him a way to escape the horrors of war by sticking to what he was good at: writing children’s stories and rhymes. He was an acknowledged master of the art.

Yet the horrors seeped into the narrative, most vividly in the story of Alojzy Bąbel (Alois Blister), a boy-marionette brought to Mr Inkblot for schooling by Philip the barber, Mr Inkblot’s nemesis. Mr Inkblot brings Alois to life but the boy grows wickeder and wickeder, spewing hate and destruction, until he has to be dismantled. This enrages Philip, who steals Mr Inkblot’s secrets, sending him and his Academy on a course to total annihilation. Not surprisingly, given the circumstances surrounding the creation of Mr Inkblot’s Academy, Brzechwa originally named the wicked boy Adolf, but, wanting to protect the innocence of his young readers, or just driven by his wicked sense of humour, changed the name to that of Hitler’s father, thus neatly blaming it all on the parents.

Inkblot Alois BlisterMr Inkblot bringing the boy-marionette Alois Blister to life.

The character of Mr Inkblot also had his real-life counterpart. Franz Fiszer was a real character, legendary in the literary circles of pre-war Warsaw. A Socrates and a Falstaff, a practicing metaphysician and the last of true alchemists, if by such we mean not quack-chemists but serious searchers for the philosopher’s stone, Fiszer dined and drank during legendary symposia, which convened spontaneously wherever he sat at a table. It would be an inconsolable waste if Franz Fiszer were to recede into oblivion without a trace. Luckily for him his memory has not been totally blotted out – he transmogrified into Mr Inkblot. Thanks to Jan Marcin Szancer – another Polish Jew hiding in occupied Warsaw, who created Mr Inkblot’s definitive image much as E.H. Shepard did for Winnie-the-Pooh – Fiszer/Mr Inkblot became a great friend to generations of Polish children.

InkblotFranciszek_FiszerPortraitPortrait of Franciszek Fisher by Aleksander Żyw. Reproduced in Roman Loth, Na rogu świata in Nieskończoności, wspomnienia o Franciszku Fiszerze (Warsaw, 1985) YA.1988.a.1331

Mr Inkblot’s Academy was the first of a trilogy, followed by Mr Inkblot’s Travels and ending with Mr Inkblot’s Triumph, which rounds up the story with Adam’s graduation from the Academy and his last journey with Mr Inkblot in search of the disappeared tribe of Fairytalers (and his own parents). It all ends well – despite continued machinations by Alois Blister – with Adam’s engagement to a lovely girl named Reseda.

Inkblot Adam and ResedaAdam and Reseda

The books’ enduring promise of escape, renewed interest in Mr Inkblot and his academy when Poland was drowning in the greyness of the martial law imposed in 1981. Three films made in the 1980s relaunched the imperishable Mr Inkblot’s career and brightened the years of yet another generation of Polish children, and perhaps not just Polish, as the films were shown on European television well into the 1990s. One can only wonder why Mr Inkblot’s Academy’s film potential was discovered so late. Brzechwa himself wrote film scripts, among them an adaptation of another classic, The Two who Stole the Moon, the horrid twins of the title played by Kaczyński brothers, later president and prime minister of Poland. Sadly, an earlier project of turning Mr Inkblot’s Academy into a Hollywood film came to nothing, even though it was scripted by Erika Mann, daughter of Thomas. Although her treatment was the first English version of Mr Inkblot’s Academy, and can be read online via the website of the Münchener Stadtbibliothek, there has never been a published translation – a challenge perhaps for a publisher today?

Wiesiek Powaga, Polish translator

 

07 February 2018

Exporting the Animals’ Revolt: Kostamorov - Reymont - Orwell

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People say that there are only 3? (7? 11?) basic plots in the whole of world literature. Goethe claimed it was 36, but apparently he nicked the idea from a guy named Gozzi. I suspect the exact number will be argued as long as people tell stories but they can spin yarns of such striking likeness it makes one wonder how these plots travel, cropping up in different times and places, in seemingly disparate worlds.

Orwell’s Animal Farm is a good case in point. As discussed in two previous blog posts, for close on 60 years it was the prime example of a political allegory using the ancient form of animal fable to comment on 20th century politics, but the rediscovery of two earlier stories of animal revolutions, Władysław Reymont’s Bunt, and Nikolai Kostomarov’s Skotskoi Bunt  in recent years has raised the question of whether the three stories share the same genetic lineage. If they do, the next question is: how did the original idea travel from Russia to Poland to Britain?

The first possible route that immediately comes to mind is via Sonia Brownell, “the girl from the Fiction Department”, Julia from 1984, and Orwell’s future wife. They met in the early 1940s at Horizon magazine where Sonia was working as a secretary to Cyril Connolly, but already had solid editorial experience as assistant to Eugene Vinaver, a Russian post-revolutionary émigré and another specialist in fairy tales, though in his case they were Malory’s Arthurian tales.

Eugene was the son of Maxim Vinaver who was born, raised and educated in Warsaw before making a career as a lawyer in St Petersburg. He played an active role in the Russian Revolution but escaped to France before it could swallow him up. While settled in St Petersburg, the Vinaver family would almost certainly have subscribed to the legendary magazine Niva, which published Kostomarov’s story in 1917, as no respectable bourgeois family could function in society without it.

Maxim Vinaver RB.31.c.577
Maxim Vinaver as a member of the first Russian Parliament in 1905, from Pamiatnaia knizhka pervoĭ Gosudarstvennoĭ dumy (St Petersburg, 1906). RB.31.c.577

It’s practically certain too that Maxim Vinaver knew Reymont’s work; after all they went to school in Warsaw at the same time, a fact which wouldn’t have been lost on Maxim when Reymont won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. As a sociologist and a lawyer fighting for Jewish rights, he must have been familiar with Reymont’s rural and industrial novels of the Russian Empire, Chłopi (‘The Peasants’; Warsaw, 1904; 12591.b.52.) and Ziemia Obiecana (‘The Promised Land’; Warsaw, 1899; 12591.cc.39) and also with his journalism dealing with the rights of Polish minorities subjected to heavy Russification in the Lublin Governorate after 1912. Maxim might have even read Bunt, and would have shared both its anti-revolutionary sentiment and its interest in folklore – he was a founding member of the Russian Jewish Ethnographical Society and apparently infected his son with his interests badly enough for the young Eugene to study mediaeval literature and eventually to become an academic specialist in fables.

Clearly both Vinavers had good first-hand knowledge of both the mechanics of revolution and the art of fairy tales. Just as Orwell had towards the end of his spell at the BBC when he was working on radio adaptations of fairy tales. At that time he had already met Sonia Brownell. Could it be it was then she passed Vinaver’s infection (in-fiction?) on to Orwell?

Another possible route from 1920s Poland to 1940s Britain for the story of animal revolt as a parable of Russian Revolution could be via Teresa Jeleńska, Animal Farm’s Polish translator (in fact the first translator of Animal Farm into any language). Jeleńska was an aristocratic socialite in pre-war Poland, moving in European literary and political circles, who found herself as a refugee in London in 1941. Working as a journalist she met Orwell and the two became friends.

TeresaJelenska2
Photo of Teresa Jeleńska (Rome, 1924) from:  Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, Teresa Jeleńska, Konstanty A. Jeleński, Korespondencja (Warsaw, 2008). YF.2011.a.6916 

Jeleńska’s son, Konstanty, or Kot, later an influential essayist and translator of Witold Gombrowicz, after the war ran the Eastern European division of Congress for Cultural Freedom (its Manifesto was drafted by Arthur Koestler, a close friend of Orwell). In a letter to Jonathan Brent of 7 August 1985,  explaining the biographical introduction to his first collection of essays Zbiegi okoliczności (‘Coincidences’; Paris, 1982; X.950/16831), Konstanty recalled, “During my war years in England I discovered the Horizon and Partisan Review and met some English writers like Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman, Cyril Connolly, Raymond Mortimer and George Orwell (a friend of my mother…)”. It must have been at the same time that he met and befriended Sonia Brownell, though their shared interest then was probably more in painting than literature.

KonstantyJelenski

Title-page and frontispiece of Konstanty A. Jeleński. Chwile  oderwane (Gdańsk, 2008). YF.2009.a.16241

Jeleńska’s name doesn’t register in any biography of Orwell as one of his friends but only as a translator. Yet their paths apparently crossed quite frequently (probably after Jeleńska and Kot moved to Scotland in 1942), and their friendship, or at least their working relationship, was close enough for Orwell to trust her with the typescript of Animal Farm before publication. They may have been also Orwell’s Polish liaison behind his piece in Tribune (Sept. 1944) on the Warsaw Rising, in which he denounced the West for not helping the insurgents and Stalin for holding up the offensive and waiting for the Uprising to bleed to death. They corresponded regularly until Orwell’s death in 1950.

It’s unlikely that the Jeleńskis would not have known of Reymont’s story but whether they talked about it with Orwell remains unknown, as does whether Sonia Brownell regaled Orwell with stories heard from Eugene Vinaver about his years in St Petersburg or his father’s knowledge of a fellow Varsovian’s work on revolution. The readily available literature is mute on the subject, perhaps the secrets are still buried in the archives? These are mostly uncharted waters but perhaps one day someone out there will map them out. Sails up.

 Wiesiek Powaga, Polish translator

02 February 2018

Arians in the age of the Polish Reformation

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In the 16th century the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual country and was renowned for its religious tolerance. It provided safety for religious refugees fleeing from prosecution in their own countries. Although Poland was predominantly a Roman Catholic country it quickly absorbed the new religious ideas and a Protestant movement was steadily growing. German citizens were followers of Lutheranism while native Poles adopted Calvinism.

Calvinism resonated well with the Polish nobility because of the egalitarian structure of the Calvinist Church. Furthermore, Jan Łaski, the leading Polish reformer, significantly contributed to the spread of Calvinism in Poland, which reached its zenith in the middle of the 16th century. However, 1562 marked the division of the Calvinist Church with the formation of the most radical group called Polish Brethren, also known as Christians, Arians, Antitrinitarians or Socinians. As a result of the split the Minor Reformed Church was created attracting the most outstanding theologians. 

Arians Portrait Socinus
Faustus Socinus, reproduced in David Munroe Cory, Faustus Socinus (Boston, 1932) 4868.f.14 

Among them was Faustus Socinus, an Italian refugee who arrived in Poland in 1579. He united the group ideologically but never formally belonged to the Church for his objection to water baptism. However, under his influence the Arians rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, infant baptism, the divinity of Christ and the doctrine of original sin.

Arians Vita Socinus
Title page of Samuel Przypkowski’s biography of Socinus, Vita Favsti Socini Senensis (Raków, 1636) 4887.aa.60 

The Warsaw Confederation of 1573 granted religious freedom to Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists and Bohemian Brethren, but not to the Arians. In addition, the latter were strongly opposed by both Catholic and Calvinist clergy. In Cracow the Arians were prone to attacks by Catholic mobs at the instigation of the clergy. Taking advantage of the tolerance promoted by the Polish kings the Arians left the unfriendly city and moved to the provincial town of  Raków, some 100 km away from Cracow.  The town became a religious and intellectual centre of the dissidents. The famous Racovian Academy, established in 1602, provided excellent education not only for fellow believers but also for Catholics and Protestants. Religion along with other subjects such as foreign languages, history, law, economics, mathematics, medicine and gymnastics were on the curriculum.

Arians Catechesis
Title page of Catechesis ecclesiarum (Raków, 1609) 3506.a.2 Known as the Racovian catechism, it includes the Socinian doctrine and is dedicated to King James I.

Arian publishing became to flourish when two printing presses transferred from Cracow to Raków. Numerous works in Latin, Polish and German were issued in the presses of Aleksy Rodecki and his son-in-law Sebastian Sternacki. The publications included Arian religious books and lay literature as well as some Calvinist prints. Soon Raków was well known in Western Europe as a printing centre and books with the Latinised form of imprint ‘Racoviae’ were in high demand. Arian religious literature was mainly of polemical character and consisted of theological tracts, catechisms and disputes with their antagonists. The most prolific authors, in addition to Socinus, were Hieronim Moskorzewski, Johannes Crellius, and Valentin Schmalz.

Arians De Vera Religione
Title page of Joannes Volkelius, De vera religione (Raków, 1630) 4225.cc.31 A full account of the Arian doctrine, and the most important Arianwork alongside the catechism 

A period of prosperity for the Polish Brethren ended in 1638 with the closure of the Academy and the confiscation of the printing press. Subsequently, the Arians were expelled from Poland by order of the Sejm (Polish Parliament) in 1658. They moved to the Netherlands and established their publishing centre in Amsterdam with the prominent series Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum, the collection of works of the Polish Brethren. Although small in numbers the Arians made a significant impact on political thought in Poland as well as philosophical thought in Western Europe.

Over 240 works are recorded with the Racoviae/Raków imprint of which the British Library holds 72 titles.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

References/Further reading:

Faustus Socinus and his heritage, edited by Lech Szczucki (Krakow, 2005) YF.2007.a.15720

Alodia Kawecka-Gryczowa, Ariańskie oficyny wydawnicze Rodeckiego i Sternackiego (Wrocław, 1974) X.100/12928

Stanisław Kot, Socinianism in Poland: the social and political ideas of the Polish Antitrinitarians in the sixteenth and seventeen centuries (Boston, 1957) 4696.de.23

 Thomas Rees, The Racovian Cathechism (London, 1818) 3554.a18