THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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97 posts categorized "Politics"

16 August 2019

‘C’est un détournement’: Mezioud Ouldamer’s copy of Guy Debord and Asger Jorn’s Mémoires

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In 1959 Guy Debord and the Danish artist Asger Jorn published Mémoires, ‘a work entirely composed of prefabricated elements’ with ‘supporting structures’ by Jorn. In the jargon of the Situationist International (SI), the avant-garde anti-authoritarian movement they helped form in 1957, it is a work of détournement:

Détournement is the opposite of quotation, of appealing to a theoretical authority that is inevitably tainted by the very fact that it has become a quotation — a fragment torn from its own context and development, and ultimately from the general framework of its period and from the particular option (appropriate or erroneous) that it represented within that framework. Détournement is the flexible language of anti-ideology. (Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, thesis 208)

Double-page spread from Mémoires featuring fragments of text and photographs with red splodges

Double-page spread from Mémoires (Copenhagen, 1957; RF.2019.b.63), section 2, bright red indicating Debord’s creative energy

Double-page spread from Mémoires with fragments of maps struck through with blue lines, facing a nebulous blue splodge

Double-page spread from Mémoires section 3, fragments of maps struck through with blue lines, facing a nebulous blue splodge

Wrenched from their original contexts, fragments of texts and isolated images are linked and obscured by roughly applied, bright inks. Not always ‘supporting structures’, Jorn’s paintwork draws connections between fragments, but ‘then Debord’s words and pictures change Jorn’s avenues into labyrinths […] A connection is made, a connection is missed, the reader is lost, the reader enters another passageway, then another’ (Marcus, p. 128).

A page from from Mémoires featuring fragments of text, including a 'Guinness is good for you' advertisement. There is a large red splodge covering some of the fragments

‘Guinness is good for you’: détourning advertising as the slogan is placed next to the fragment ‘in the daily struggle’

Through his creative reinterpretation of the autobiographical genre, the author enacts the process by which the ‘society of the spectacle’ and the commodification of experience might finally be blown apart to uncover again the unique everyday amidst the alienating capitalist superstructure. As Mémoires’ final fragment puts it, ‘I wanted to speak the beautiful language of my time’.

Final page of Memoires featuring the words 'I wanted to speak the beautiful language of my time' (in French) and a large red splodge.

Final page of Mémoires

The British Library’s copy of Mémoires has an inscription by Mezioud Ouldamer (1951-2017), an Algerian political activist and author of a number of works inspired by the Situationists and his friendship with Debord.

Inscription by Mezioud Ouldamer in Mémoires

Inscription by Mezioud Ouldamer in Mémoires

Ouldamer writes: ‘It is a détournement | It was in Ecclesiastes. | And even in Proverbs. | There is still a belief in this rotten “God”. There is nothing, Evy. I love you. | Le Singe [the monkey or the imitator]’. It isn’t clear when Debord gave Ouldamer the copy, of which there were perhaps one thousand in small circulation amongst associates, but their friendship appears to have flourished in the early 1980s. Ouldamer’s presence in our copy shifts the frame of the work and provokes us to think about race, ethnicity and the Algerian crises that were part of the context of both the original publication and Debord’s subsequent gift to Ouldamer.

Algerian intellectuals were already part of the Lettrist International, the SI’s forerunner, including Hadj Mohamed Dahou, who continued into the SI. Compatriot Abdelhafid Khatib wrote a fragmentary first example of a psychogeography in 1958. Thus the Algerian Situationist context was well established when the next generation came to maturity. Between 1953, the year of ‘The Manifesto of the Algerian Group of the Lettrist International’, and Ouldamer’s early activism came Algeria’s hard-won independence in 1962. From this point onwards, the violent suppression of native Algerian rights by French colonists transformed into the suppression of Berber rights by the single-party leadership Front de liberation nationale (FLN) with their exclusive focus on Arabization. This eventually led to the Berber mass activism and strikes of 1980, known as the ‘Berber Spring’.

Ouldamer, a native of the largest Berber region, Kabylia, co-edited a pamphlet entitled L’Algérie brûle! [‘Algeria is on fire’], attributed to ‘un groupe d’autonomes algériens’. In it, they pay homage to the activists for restoring to millions of Berber people a long-restricted freedom of expression. They reveal the illusion of Algeria being the standard-bearer for third world revolution, when it has reproduced ‘all the mediocrities and ignominies shared across all the world’s police states’. The incendiary pamphlet then evokes our inscription as it continues, ‘Les insurgés de Tizi-Ouzou n’ont fait que cracher sur toute cette pourriture’ [the insurgents of Tizi-Ouzou have done nothing else but spit in the face of this rottenness].

Cover of L’Algérie brûle!

L’Algérie brûle! (Paris, 1981) X.809/55238

L’Algérie brûle! was published by Debord’s longstanding publisher and friend Gérard Lebovici at éditions Champ Libre, Paris. It appeared early in 1981, by which time Ouldamer had been arrested, ultimately to serve one year in prison for breaking article 144 of the Algerian penal code, which is cited on the back flap of his next book, Offense à President. The law forbids citizens to attack the honour of authorities ‘by words, gestures, threats, […] even by writings or drawings not made public’. This book was written in Paris, Ouldamer’s new home following his release, where his friendship with Debord developed. In March 1984, Lebovici was assassinated. Debord rigorously investigated the circumstances of his friend’s death, all the while encouraging Ouldamer to publish his work with the same publisher, now run by Gérard’s widow Floriana under the name éditions Gérard Lebovici.

Cover of Offense à President

Mezioud Ouldamer, Offense à Président (Paris, 1985), YA.1987.a.18728

The success of Offense à President led Ouldamer to work on the book that would spark the most reaction, Le Cauchemar immigré dans la decomposition de la France [‘The Immigrant Nightmare in the Decomposition of France’]. Debord again offered advice throughout. One letter from Debord on 9 May 1985 invites Ouldamer to the small hamlet of Champot, adding that his girlfriend would also be welcome. Is this the ‘Evy’ mentioned in Ouldamer’s inscription in Mémoires?

Cover of Le Cauchemar immigré dans la décomposition de la France

Le Cauchemar immigré dans la décomposition de la France (Paris, 1986), YA.1987.a.3700

Le Cauchemar immigré inspired Debord to pass his own comments on the politics of immigration that had risen to the surface, especially since 1983’s March for Equality and against Racism. Debord’s ‘Notes on the “immigrant question”’ were written in response to Ouldamer’s ideas and are probably more famous today than the work that inspired them. Ouldamer’s matter-of-fact delivery is similar to Debord’s as he writes ‘the spectacle of a nightmarish immigration dominates every mind, to the extent that immigrants themselves have begun to give in to this image’. The last lines of Le Cauchemar immigré are indeed taken from Debord’s last lines of his notes to Ouldamer. The gist is, will the earth’s future inhabitants emancipate themselves from the current hierarchical and repressive system, or ‘will they be dominated by an even more hierarchical and pro-slavery society than today?’ Sharing a militancy, Debord and Ouldamer close by saying, ‘we must envisage the worst and fight for the best. France is assuredly regrettable. But regrets are useless.’

Ouldamer’s inscription in the BL’s copy of Mémoires arguably offers a détournement of its own to Debord and Jorn’s détournement. At the very least, this contextual history reinserts global and racial dynamics into a work of the European political avant-garde, in which the Algerian crises of the 20th century arguably often only played a sub-textual role. If Mémoires ‘wanted to speak the beautiful language of my time’ then that language was surely not just the fragmented artistry of Paris, but also the Arabic and the Berber languages of Algeria.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References / Further reading

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York, 1994), YC.1994.b.6105

Guy Debord, Correspondance [vol. 6, Janvier 1979 – Décembre 1987] (Paris, 1999-2010), YF.2008.a.37298

Nedjib Sidi Moussa, ‘In Memoriam Mezioud Ouldamer’, in Textures du Temps

Erindringer om Asger Jorn, ed. by Troels Andersen and Aksel Evin Olesen (Silkeborg, 1982), X.425/4198

Greil Marcus, ‘Guy Debord’s Mémoires: A Siutationist Primer’, in On the passage of a few people through a rather brief moment in time: The Situationist International 1957-1972, ed. by Elisabeth Sussman (Cambridge, MA: 1989), YC.1992.b.1936

Boris Donné, Pour mémoires: un essai d’élucidation des Mémoires de Guy Debord (Paris, 2004), YF.2004.a.15028

Tom McDonough, ‘The Beautiful Language of my Century’: Reinventing the Language of Contestation in Postwar France, 1945-1968 (Cambridge, MA: 2007), YK.2007.a.9440

Bart Lans and Otakar Mácel, ‘The Making of Fin de Copenhague & Mémoires: The tactic of détournement in the collaboration between Guy Debord and Asger Jorn’ (Delft, 2009) 

Ella Mudie, ‘An Atlas of Allusions: The Perverse Methods of Guy Debord’s Mémoires, Criticism 58 (2016), pp. 535-63

25 July 2019

Matilde Serao: proud to be imperfect

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

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

Serao portrait

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

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

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

Serao Fantasia

Serao English

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

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

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

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

Serao Ventre

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

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

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

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

Giuseppe Alizzi, Curator Romance Collections

References/Further reading

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

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

All translations by Giuseppe Alizzi

12 April 2019

Poets in Power: the 1919 Bavarian Soviet Republic

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In April 1919, Munich was briefly the seat of one of the strangest governments in the history of any country. Led initially by men who were writers and thinkers first and politicians second (if at all), the Munich Räterepublik – a ‘Soviet’ or ‘Council’ Republic – was the culmination of Bavaria’s revolution of 1918-19, and its defeat would see Bavaria turn decisively to the political right.

München auf dem Kopf
Cover of O. Estée, München auf dem Kopf: die Geschichte einer Räterepublik in 40 Bildern (Munich, 1919) 12316.w.1. A collection of drawings of Munich and its people during the Soviet Republic with an ironic commentary from a conservative perspective. The image of the city's iconic Frauenkirche turned upside down reflects the chaos of the period.

Revolution had broken out in Bavaria, as elsewhere in Germany, during the last days of the First World War. Journalist and Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) member Kurt Eisner had seized the initiative ahead of more established politicians, declaring a People’s State of Bavaria on 8 November and becoming its first Prime Minister. However, he faced opposition not only from the political right but also from other left-wing factions: too radical for the mainstream Social Democrats (SPD), not radical enough for the Communists. Elections in January 1919 saw his party come a humiliating last, with less than three per cent of the vote.

In February Eisner was assassinated, inflaming an already chaotic political situation. Johannes Hoffmann of the SPD was elected Prime Minister, but there were still deep divisions over whether the new state should be a parliamentary or soviet-style republic. On 6 April, a group of idealistic pacifists and anarchists decided for the latter and, as Hoffmann and his government retreated to Bamberg, proclaimed a Bavarian Soviet Republic. At its head was the poet and playwright Ernst Toller, supported by, among others, fellow-writers Gustav Landauer and Erich Mühsam.

MNN 7 April
The proclamation of a Bavarian Soviet Republic on the front page of the newspaper Münchener Neueste Nachrichten (MFM.MF461)  on 7 April 1919.

Landauer was made commissar for education and culture, and dreamed of creating progressive schools and free museums. He wrote to a friend: “If they give me a couple of weeks, I hope to achieve something; but it’s possible it will only be a couple of days, and then all a dream.” His pessimism was well founded: for all its conviction and high ideals, the new regime was ill-equipped to govern, especially in an already confused and chaotic situation. Landauer himself claimed that he had no time for the everyday work of government since he was too busy reshaping society. Toller was besieged in his office by petitioners asking every kind of favour, many of them far beyond his remit. The behaviour of the commissar for foreign affairs, Franz Lipp, grew increasingly eccentric; after he sent a telegram to the Pope claiming, among other things, that Hoffmann had stolen the key to his lavatory, Toller was forced to remove him from office.

Toller frontispiece
Ernst Toller, frontispiece portrait from his autobiography, Eine Jugend in Deutschland (Amsterdam, 1933) 10709.a.29

Meanwhile the Communist leader Eugen Leviné was accusing Toller of leading a “pseudo-soviet” and demanding a harder line more in keeping with that of Lenin’s Russia. On 13 April he succeeded in ousting Toller and began to impose what he saw as more genuine soviet rule, confiscating weapons, houses and food from the ‘bourgeoisie’, and calling a general strike. Ironically, the committed pacifist Toller ended up commanding a unit of Bavaria’s newly-formed ‘Red Army’ against the right-wing Freikorps militias with which Hoffmann’s Bamberg government had allied itself in the hope of regaining power.

Als Rotarmist vor München X.700-10339
Cover of Erich Wollenberg, Als Rotarmist vor München: Reportage aus der Münchener Räterepublik (Berlin, 1929)  X.0700/10339. Wollenberg was Infantry Commander of the Bavarian Red Army. As a committed Communist, his account of the struggle to defend the Soviet Republic is critical of more moderate figures such as Toller.

Despite initial Red Army successes against the Freikorps, it was clear that the Soviet Republic could not hold out, not least because of schisms caused by factional infighting: by the end of April, Toller recalls in his autobiography, “two separate governments were operating at once in Munich.” The general strike was exacerbating food shortages, and the people were growing tired of and angry at the ongoing chaos. When Freikorps troops finally entered and re-took the city at the beginning of May, they were welcomed by many as liberators, but the liberation was a brutal one. Street fighting left over 600 dead, more than half civilians, and the retaliation against the supporters of the Soviet Republic saw some 2200 people imprisoned or executed. Landauer was murdered in prison and Leviné executed for high treason.

Toller wanted
Police poster offering a reward for the capture of Toller, wanted for high treason. Reproduced in Edward Crankshaw’s translation of Toller’s autobiography, I was  a German (London, 1934) 2402.a.14

Toller faced the same charge, but was comparatively fortunate in receiving only a five-year prison sentence. Although he was judged to have committed high treason, the court believed that he had done so “with honourable intent”. In his case at least, then, the high initial ideals of the Bavarian Soviet Republic were given a kind of official, if grudging, respect.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator, Germanic Studies

References/Further reading

Volker Weidermann, Träumer: als die Dichter die Macht übernahmen. (Cologne, 2017) [Awaiting shelfmark] English translation by Ruth Martin, Dreamers: When the Writers Took Power, Germany 1918 (London, 2018) ELD.DS.338669

Kurt Kreiler, Die Schriftstellerrepublik: zum Verhältnis von Literatur und Politik in der Münchner Räterepublik: ein systematisches Kapitel politischer Literaturgeschichte (Berlin, 1978) X:709/28448

Gerhard Schmolze (ed.), Revolution und Räterepublik in München 1918/19 in Augenzeugenberichten (Düsseldorf, 1969) X.809/9992.

Richard Dove, He was a German: a Biography of Ernst Toller (London, 1990) YK.1990.a.7

Herbert Kapfer, Carl-Ludwig Reichert (ed.), Umsturz in München : Schriftsteller erzählen die Räterepublik (Munich, 1988)

05 February 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

References:

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

 

16 November 2018

The Netherlands’ ‘Red Week’ in November 1918 – Troelstra’s Mistake

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“I let myself go, but as soon as I noticed it would not have the desired effect I withdrew.”

Pieter Jelles Troelstra wrote these (freely translated) words in the fourth volume, posthumously published, of his Memoirs.

01Nov1918PJTportrait
Portrait of P.J. Troelstra, frontispiece from his memoirs, Gedenkschriften. Vierde deel: Storm. (Amsterdam, 1931) 010760.g.18.

Following the failures of the Second International in 1916 and of the peace conference in Stockholm in 1917 he advocated direct action when parliamentary processes failed.

02Nov1918 Hahn p179
“What is left of the Internationale in the Netherlands”, cartoon by Louis de Leeuw from De Roskam, October 1916. Reproduced in A.H. Hahn, Troelstra in de karikatuur (Amsterdam, 1920) X.429/4421.

Troelstra deemed the time ripe for a revolution in the Netherlands, following food riots and an uprising on an army base. 

03Nov1918Hahn p159
 “… And when the revolution is there, Pieter Jelles is ready.” Cartoon by Jan Sluyters from De Nieuwe Amsterdammer, 9 February 1918. Reproduced in Troelstra in de karikatuur.

Going against his own party and without their prior knowledge he held two speeches: in Rotterdam in front of dock workers on 11 November and in Parliament on 12 November, where he called upon the government to step aside for a socialist regime ans claimed that if they did not do so peacefully he would not rule out the use of violence. He then went home and waited for events to happen!

Whilst he was resting others were frantically busy organising a counter-revolution.

Leading figures were the secretaries of one of the directors of the Bataafse Petroleum Maatschappij (precursor of Shell) Hendrik Colijn, H.H.A. Gybland Oosterhoff and F.C Gerretson.

Colijn happened to be in London, where he negotiated an economic agreement, including food supplies. Gerretson & Oosterhoff contacted British Ambassador in The Hague, Walter Townley, on the evening of 12 November asking him to forward a telegram from Colijn’s party, but written by Gerretson, urging him to press Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to strongly emphasis that any food supplies would only be sent to the ‘Royal Government of the Netherlands’, and none would be forthcoming in case of disorder.

This happened and the strong warning was sent to the Dutch Government who immediately passed it on to the people in the form of a proclamation, issued on 13 of November.

06Nov1918Schefferp139
Text of the Dutch Government’s proclamation issued on 13 November, warning that any revolt, violence or disturbance would halt the promised food supplies. From: H.J. Scheffer, November 1918: journaal van een revolutie die niet doorging. (Amsterdam, 1968)  X.809/7108.

This seemed to have had the desired effect, for Townley wired to Balfour on the 14th of November that “the proclamation had worked wonders” and suggested publishing a similar notice in London.

Meanwhile the largest Dutch trade union, the N.V.V., had distanced itself from Troelstra, as did his own party. It became clear that calling for a revolution on the basis of events in Germany had been a grave miscalculation.


08Nov1918Hahnp173
“The N.V.V, Wijnkoop and Troelstra. Stenhuis (Secr. Gen N.V.V.): Let go of my jacket, we’re going our own way.” Cartoon by Louis Raedemaekers, from De Courant, 22 March 1920. Reproduced in Troelstra in de karikatuur

On 14 November Troelstra was back in Parliament, admitting he had made an error. He claimed never to have called for a coup-d’état, nor advocated violence. This U-turn caused some unrest in the gallery to the extent that the speaker had to call for order.

09Nov1918Handel141118deniescoupdetat
 Troelstra: “I have never used the word ‘coup d-etat’. …. Troelstra: “ I have explicitly stated that I reject violence.” From: Handelingen Tweede Kamer 1918-1919 , 14 November 1918, p 395. www.statengeneraaldigitaal.nl.

The government has regained its grip, both mentally and in practice and the Dutch had shown their loyalty to the House of Orange in a mass demonstration in The Hague, on Monday 18th where the queen and her family were present. Townley gives a nice summary of events in his despatch to Balfour of that day, covered in the Rijskgeschiedkundige Publicatiën, vol 145, pages 619-624. He mentions the small group of people who ‘spontaneously’ unharnessed the horses in front of the queen’s carriage and pulled it themselves, a story that became a legend, although it later proved to have been a thoroughly rehearsed plan.

The consequences of Troelstra’s ‘mistake’ were that some of the social reforms that his socialist party had demanded were widely supported, resulting in an eight-hour day and 45 hour working week, more social housing, higher wages for civil servants and women’s suffrage!

Troelstra himself never gave up the idea of the possibility of revolution, should democracy fail.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

10Nov1918Hahn p161
“The coquette politician. Mr Troelstra: ‘Such a dear knife! But…. What if it cuts the party in two?’”  Cartoon by Jan Sluyters from De Nieuwe Groene, 22 March 1919, reproduced in Troelstra in de karikatuur

References:

D. Hans, Troelstra en de Revolutie (Dalfsen, 1920) 8079.e.36

C. Smit et al. ‘Bescheiden Betreffende de buitenlandse politiek van Nederland 1848 -1919’. In: Rijskgeschiedkundige Publicatiën ; Grote Serie, 145. (The Hague, 1973) 9405.p. Also available online at: http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/retroboeken/bupo/#source=13&page=465&accessor=toc 

 

05 October 2018

‘The Mafia doesn’t exist’

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Of the over 1000 books on the subject of the mafia held at the British Library, about 700 were published after 1992, when the murders of Judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino made the whole world talk about the Sicilian mafia. Before then, in the 1980s, it was not uncommon to hear that ‘the mafia didn’t exist’, or that it only existed in Palermo, but not in the rest of Sicily. Denouncing the businesses of Sicilian Cosa Nostra, and its ties with the Italian government, had a high price to pay for too many intellectuals. Just to mention two, in 1978, Giuseppe ‘Peppino’ Impastato, and, in 1984, Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Fava, paid for their work with their lives. Peppino Impastato was a political activist, who didn’t leave many writings behind. The other Giuseppe, on the other hand, was a celebrated playwright, a writer and an investigative journalist, so we have collected most of his works since the 1970s and have recently acquired the full run of the magazine that he edited until his murder, and which was the reason for his murder, I Siciliani.

Giuseppe_Fava

 Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Fava (Picture from Wikimedia Commons)

Coming from rural Sicily, Pippo Fava moved to the town of Catania to study law, and then became a professional journalist in 1952. He wrote for several newspapers and magazines, also establishing himself as author for theatre and cinema (he co-wrote the movie Palermo or Wolfsburg, which won the Golden Bear at the 1980 Berlinale). Given the task of editing Il Giornale del Sud, Fava recruited a team of young journalists and photographers to help him carry out some serious investigative journalism. When he was fired by the owners, who would have preferred him to avoid writing so much about the mafia, he used his charisma and influence to persuade these young journalists to join him in creating a fully independent and self-funded monthly magazine, a loud voice for the anti-mafia movement in Sicily, I Siciliani.

Siciliani covers Issues of I Siciliani 

Poor in budget but rich in ideas, Fava started with a very clear agenda of the topics to tackle. He wanted people to see Sicily as it really was. Showing the bad was a moral and ethical duty. Murders were photographed and reported without filters, corruptors were named and shamed. The damage to the environment caused by industrial and building speculation was clear to him, and he was not ashamed to talk about it. His stories are still relevant. His most important contribution was identifying the links between national politicians and the mafia, and stating that the mafia was effectively ruling the country; this was something Pippo Fava was saying out loud at times when nobody was ready to hear it (Pippo Fava’s last interview with Enzo Biagi, December 1983). But I Siciliani also portrays normal life, showing both the rich and profound culture of the island and as the urban lifestyle that must have surprised those who thought of Sicily as the land of The Godfather.

In the first issue, dated January 1983, in his first editorial, Fava was the first to talk about the Catanian mafia, whose existence everyone else was trying to deny. He names the powerful entrepreneurs behind it; he shows their faces, as well as that of Bernardo ‘Nitto’ Santapaola, the local mafia boss.

I siciliani1Giuseppe Fava, ‘I Quattro Cavalieri dell’Apocalisse Mafiosa’ (above) and Bernardo Santapaola (below), from I Siciliani, Issue 1, January 1983.

Santapaola

It wouldn’t be long. One year later, that same man ordered his murder. Pippo Fava was killed on 5 January 1984, on his way to pick up his grandniece from a theatre rehearsal. I Siciliani tried to survive for a few more years, penniless, mostly relying on subscriptions and a few brave advertisers who didn’t fear the isolation of the magazine.

If you read it now, I Siciliani is still as shocking, powerful and compelling as it was 30 years ago. The issues are still there. The love for the place is still there. Nothing ever changes in Sicily: If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change. (Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Il Gattopardo)

Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections (Italian) @miravale

References/Further Reading

I Siciliani (Sant’Agata li Li Battiati, 1982-[1985]) ZF.9.b.2335

Giuseppe Fava, Gente di rispetto (Milan, 1975) X.909/34407

Giuseppe Fava, Passione di Michele (Bologna, 1980) X.950/20292

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard (London, 1974) X.908/28903

30 August 2018

A diary as a form of art: Jiří Kolář

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The Czech poet, writer and artist Jiří Kolář (1914-2002) does not need a long introduction. He was one of the most prominent figures of the Czech avant-garde of the 1950s-70s and along with Ladislav Nová, Bohumila Grögerová, and her partner Josef Hiršal, one of the four founders of post-war Czechoslovak experimental poetry. Given his aesthetic views it is not surprising that Kolář, like many Czechoslovak intellectuals who lived through the communist regime, was a signatory of Charter 77 .

Having published his first collection of poems Křestní list (‘Birth Certificate’; YA.1996.a.15846) in 1941, by the mid-1950s Kolář started exploring new potentials of lyrical forms, reducing verbal expression to a bare minimum and concentrating on the capacities of visual expression. By the 1960s he developed his unique artistic style, using collage that would incorporate text as well as images as his main medium.

Kolar Self-portraitSelf Portrait by Kolář in Očitý svědek: deník z roku 1949 (Munich, 1983) X.958/30382

Having lived through all the major historical events with his nation, Kolář was very sensitive to them. Czech and Slovaks shared the turbulent history of Europe in the 20th century by marking it with events that were for some reason seemed to happen in the 8th year of decades: gaining independence in 1918, losing it to Nazi Germany in 1938, falling under the control of the Stalinist USSR in 1948 through a communist coup d’état, and unsuccessfully trying to shake off Soviet dominance in 1968. This strange coincidence makes this year extremely memorable for the Czech and Slovak republics. Only the Velvet Revolution of 1989 does not fit this pattern, but this means that we will have the whole of next year to dedicate to this great achievement.

It is especially interesting to note how the poet and artist developed a special interest in diaries and was meticulously devoted to this form. One of his critics observed that “considering Kolář’s permanent, insatiable thirst for facts, his undying passion for documenting the true pace of events and the truthfulness of impressions, we must admit that this autobiographical nature, this diary principle, committed to factography, permeates both his work and his deeds”. And this is very true. Kolář documented the year 1949, the beginning of the communist rule with a literary diary in verse and prose called Očitý svědek: deník z roku 1949 (‘Eyewitness, a diary of the year 1949’).

Kolar Ocity Svedek X.958-30382Cover of Očitý svědek 

The diary of the artists’s thoughts and emotions gives the readers the most faithful and honest impression of the time. On 11 July 1949 the diary entry begins:

Mě udolají snadno, neumím lhat, podobám se už červu, kterého přepůlili jen tak, pro podívanou a svíjím se. (I’m easy to destroy, /I cannot lie, / I’m like a worm, / Who was cut just so / for the show, and I’m curdling, / the soul is separate from the body).

In 1968, Kolář expressed himself through a series of 52 collages (one per week) that became an amazing artistic document of the year leading to the Prague Spring and its aftermath.

Kolar Tydenik 1968 YA.1994.b.1036 Title page of Týdeník 1968 = Newsreel 1968 (Prague, 1993) YA.1994.b.1036

The book is in a way a political pamphlet and reflects life in all its hectic variety, for example:

Week 2: Each day in the new year is a puzzle. Especially when one’s head is in a wire.
Week 10: Antonín Tomalík (a Czech artist) is Dead
Week 15: A liquid triumph of death [is] available at every crossroad. Take your pick!
Week 27: Homage to Ingres … or, the banner of a students’ revolt.
Week 39: Birthday. I was born in the First World War and guns have not fallen silent since.
Week 48: A week of Hands. A rejected hand often turns into a clenched fist.
Week 52: A Face of 1969. Alas, I am a poor prophet – and Utopia? Old men used to usher the world into Paradise. Our masters have long been drowned in mud.

The diary that documented the 1980s is Kolář’s correspondence. The two-volume publication of his letters Psáno na pohlednice (‘Written on postcards’) has the subtitle ‘correspondence in the form of a diary’, as it contains postcards that were sent every day over several years from Paris, where Kolář lived in exile, to his wife in Prague.

Kolar Psano na pohlednice YF.2004.a.6387
One of Kolář’s postcards, reproduced on the endpapers of Psáno na pohlednice (Prague, 2000). YF.2004.a.6387

More books by Jiří Kolář, material about him and catalogues of his works can be found in the British Library catalogue and consulted in the reading rooms.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

Further reading:

A. J. Samuels. ‘Jiří Kolář: The Czech Poet's Life, Work & Cultural Significance’ .

Arsén Pohribný, ‘Jiří Kolář’s Tower of Babel’, afterword in Týdeník 1968 (cited above).

05 June 2018

Ernst Friedrich and his War against War

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In 1924 the German pacifist Ernst Friedrich published the first edition of one of the most powerful anti-war books of the 20th century. Krieg dem Kriege! = Guerre à la guerre! = War against war! = Oorlog an den oorlog! consisted mainly of photographs depicting the destruction wrought by the First World War, with captions in German, French, English and Dutch.

Krieg dem Kriege cover
Cover of Krieg dem Kriege ... (Berlin, 1930) Cup.719/390

Friedrich came from a large working-class family – one of 13 children. He trained as an actor, making his stage debut in his native Breslau (now Wrocław) in 1914, but his career was cut short by the outbreak of war. As a conscientious objector he spent most of the war first in an asylum and later in prison. In the 1920s he became active in both socialist and anti-militarist groups, and Krieg dem Kriege reflects both tendencies.

The book opens with an address – again in all four languages – to ‘Human beings of all lands,’ in which Friedrich sets out his purpose: to ‘paint correctly this butchery of human beings’ in ‘records obtained by the inexorable, incorruptible photographic lens.’ While he blames capitalism for war, he also states that ‘it is … proletarians that make the conduct of war possible’ by agreeing to fight on behalf of their oppressors. He calls on men to refuse to serve and parents to bring up their children without military toys, games and songs, which ‘mobilise the child for the war idea.’

Krieg dem Kriege vol 1 toys
A collection of war toys with an appeal to parents not to give them to children 

The pictures that follow are accompanied by sometimes ironic captions:a photograph of a burnt and mutilated corpse is captioned, ‘A “meritorious” achievement’, while two rotting skulls are set against a quotation from Kaiser Wilhelm II, ‘I lead you towards glorious times.’ Sometimes images are juxtaposed, for example a posed studio portrait of a uniformed soldier aiming his gun (‘The pride of the family’) with the bloody corpse of a shot infantryman. Other juxtapositions place the comforts enjoyed by officers and royalty against the suffering of ordinary soldiers, or show how the higher ranks are commemorated with taller or grander memorials than the lower, maintaining class distinctions even in death. The devastation wrought on landscapes and towns is also shown.

Krieg dem Kriege Vol 1 woods
Devastated forests

But most images stand alone with straightforward captions, showing the terrible reality of mass slaughter on a scale never before seen. Some of the most famous show severely mutilated soldiers – most notably a man with the whole lower half of his face destroyed – and maimed veterans back at menial work or begging for money. Friedrich seldom defines the wounded or dead in these pictures by nationality, forcing the reader to see them all as fellow-humans rather than compatriots, allies or enemies.

Krieg dem Kriege vol 2 workman
A wounded ex-soldier at workThe opposite page shows an aristocrat enjoying a post-war yachting holiday. 

The book ends with an appeal for contributions to an ‘International Anti-War Museum’ which Friedrich opened in Berlin in 1925. Like the book, the museum sought to illustrate the true horrors of war and to encourage pacifist and antimilitarist education.

Krieg dem Kriege vol 2 Appeal
Above: The appeal for contributions to an Anti-War museum, from Krieg dem Kriege. Below: A display at the museum, from Vom Friedens-Museum - zur Hitler-Kaserne : ein Tatsachenbericht über das Wirken von Ernst Friedrich und Adolf Hitler (Geneva, 1935) YA.1990.a.20970

Friedensmuseum zur Hitlerkaserne display

Friedrich continued to campaign against war and for greater social justice, but even in the supposedly tolerant era of the Weimar Republic his publications were frequently banned and he was jailed for his political activities in 1930. He and the museum were early targets for the burgeoning Nazi movement; once the Nazi were in power, Friedrich was swiftly arrested, the museum was destroyed and the building was turned into an SA clubhouse.

Friedensmuseum zur Hitlerkaserne nespaper facsim
An article from the Nazi newspaper Der Angriff celebrating the Anti-War Museum’s change of use, reproduced in Vom Friedens-Museum - zur Hitler-Kaserne 

On his release, Friedrich left Germany. In 1935 he published an account of the museum and its fate, Vom Friedens-Museum – zur Hitler-Kaserne, in the name of the ‘Interational Committee for the Re-establishment of the Peace Museum’. In 1936 he was able to reopen the museum in Brussels, but it was once again destroyed when Belgium fell to the Germans in 1940. After some months of internment in France, Friedrich escaped and joined the French resistance. He was involved in saving a group of Jewish children from deportation and, despite his pacifism, took part in the battles to liberate Nîmes and Alès and was twice wounded.

Friedrich remained in France after the Second World War. Attempts to re-create the museum were unsuccessful, but compensation payments for his suffering under the Nazis enabled him to buy first a ‘peace barge’ and later a small island in the River Seine, which he named the ‘Ile de la Paix’ and where he established an international youth centre for peace and reconciliation.

Friedensmuseum zur Hitlerkaserne cover
Cover of Vom Friedens-Museum - zur Hitler-Kaserne 

After Friedrich’s death in 1967 the island was sold and the centre pulled down. However, his work lives on. In 1982 a new Anti-War Museum opened in Berlin. The museum continues to highlight the brutality of war, and has also reissued both Krieg dem Kriege and Vom Friedens-Museum – zur Hitler-Kaserne. Both museum and books remain as a worthy tribute to a man who devoted his life to the cause of peace.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

The British Library’s copy of Krieg dem Kriege is currently on display in the exhibition Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One  at Tate Britain, which runs from 5 June to 23 September 2018.

16 May 2018

Southern French printing during the Revolution: Le Journal de Marseille and La prise de Toulon

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0IMG_8456a
 The Destruction of the French Fleet at Toulon, 18 December 1793, from Thomas Whitcombe, The naval achievements of Great Britain from the year 1793 to 1817 (London, 1817-18) 748.d.22.

In an earlier blog post, we discussed the recent acquisition of a copy of the revolutionary Journal de Marseille published in 1793-1794, RB.23.a.37976. Now we would like to comment on the collection of pamphlets bound at the end of the volume. They include a revolutionary song, the “Chanson des sans-culottes”, by the comedian, theatre director, song writer and dramatic author Aristide Valcour. 

  1IMG_8223a
Aristide Valcour, Chanson des sans-culottes, ([Paris], 1793) RB.23.a.37976.(5)

It is followed by the left-leaning, Jacobin-inspired Constitution of 24 June 1793, which was never implemented, preceded as is often the case by the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen.  The collection also contains reports and political discourses held at the National Convention and the Committee of Public Safety , discussing topics such as religion, government or public instruction. 

2IMG_8224a Constitution of 24 June 1793, with Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen ([Paris], 1793) RB.23.a.37976.(6)

The volume is very coherent in the way it gathers contemporary revolutionary material from South-Eastern France. Initially, the titles of the additional pamphlets suggested that some were duplicates of existing tracts in the British Library’s collection. However, most of the tracts contained in the Journal volume are from different, often Southern editions, or in some cases have a different type-set. For example, the discourse Aux grands Maux les grands Remèdes by Sébastien Lacroix (the initial editor of the Journal de Marseille), held at F.617.(21.) was first printed in Paris, while the other copy, a reprint published in Marseille by Auguste Mossy in the same year (an II / 1793), is abbreviated, and followed by an order of the General Assembly of the Republican Section des Quatre nations for the printing and distribution of 3000 copies and 500 posters of Lacroix’s petition. 

3IMG_8228aSébastien Lacroix, Aux grands Maux les grands Remèdes (Marseille, 1793) RB.23.a.37976.(10)

Lacroix is the author of another tract in the Journal de Marseille collection: La Religion naturelle, la seule qui convient à des Républicains, published in 1793-94 (an II) by Auguste Mossy (1764-1820): in the compilation, this is a duplicate of BL collection item, R.337.(15.). The Mossy family of printers  seems to have played a key role in the diffusion of Jacobin literature such as that transmitted in the volume (we don’t know who were its early owners: the opening paste-down contains an ex-libris signature which has been crossed out). Auguste Mossy, who printed 3 tracts in the compilation, was a fervent revolutionary who started his own printing business in 1791 and became a municipal councillor for the city of Marseilles until 1793 (he later held other important political functions, under the Consulate and the Napoleonic Empire but was demoted under the Bourbon Restoration).

4IMG_8225a
Sébastien Lacroix, La religion naturelle la seule qui convient à des Républicains (Marseille, 1793) RB.23.a.37976.(7)

The patriarch, Jean Mossy worked with his sons Jean II and Auguste from 1784 to at least 1791. He was a printer for the Navy, the King/the Nation and the City of Marseille, and published important works in the 1770-80s on the antiquities of Marseille and the history of Provence and Comté-Venaissin. Jean II (1758-1835), who published 4 tracts in the Journal de Marseille compilation, inherited his father’s presses and his own son, Jean-Joseph Mossy, succeeded him as a printer and bookseller.

  5IMG_8227a Maximilien Robespierre, Discours prononcé à la Société populaire des Jacobins à Paris, 21 November 1793 RB.23.a.37976.(9)

Other material bound after the Journal de Marseille include several discourses by figures such as Robespierre, Billaud-Varenne, Moyse Bayle  (a member of Marseille’s Jacobins club, deputy for the Bouches-du-Rhône department at the 1792 National Convention, involved in in 1793 with the Committee of Public Safety and the Committee of General Security) and Jean-Corisandre Mittié. 

6IMG_8232a Title page of Jean-Corisandre Mittié, La prise de Toulon (Marseille, 1794) RB.23.a.37976.(14)

Mittié succeeded Lacroix as editor of the Journal de Marseille from issue 44 onwards. He was an author of dramatic works like La prise de Toulon, fait historique en un acte et en prose, the last item in the collection, and went on writing plays performed in Paris, such as the farcical La descente en Angleterre, prophétie en deux actes (performed on 24 December 1797 at the Cité-Variété theatre) or L’anniversaire, ou La fête de la souveraineté, scène lyrique et mélodramatique, mêlée de pantomime, combats et danses, et dédiée au peuple (performed in March 1798 at the Ambigu-Comique theatre). The newly-acquired Prise de Toulon is a copy of the first Marseille edition, published by Jean Mossy, while the library already owned the second edition (Paris, 1794; 11738.f.25.(7.).

7IMG_8234aInstructions for the actors; Scene 1 from La prise de Toulon

Mittié, who was sent by the Committee of Public Safety to Marseilles in 1794, asserts on the title page of La Prise de Toulon that he travelled to Toulon to be able to provide the most “exact”, “detailed information, the most authentic account and knowledge of the character and genius of the men who contributed to this memorable event”. The Siege of Toulon  led to a wealth of dramatic and lyrical revolutionary creations written by professional authors and enthusiastic revolutionaries and performed mainly in Paris at the beginning of 1794. The victory of the Republicans (including the young officer Napoléon Bonaparte) over the Royalists and a coalition of British, Spanish and Italian troops in the city of Toulon, with its strategic port and arsenal, was celebrated throughout the country. 

8Les_coalises_evacuent_Toulon_en_decembre_1793 A. Forand, ‘Evacüation des puissances coälisées du port de Toulon. Le 18 decembre 1793’ (1793). (Image from Prints, Drawings and Watercolors from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library)

The list of characters and instructions to the actors give an idea of the ideological bias of Mittié’s play. The drama is represented as “useful” with its “patriotic influence”, because it “consecrates the most memorable period of the Revolution, the most decisive for the fate of Liberty”. On Republican side the Generals and Representatives of the people (including Fréron, Barras and Robespierre), who after the flight of the English and the fall of the city, stop the pillage and execute the traitors, must have a “strong voice and physique”, and the female heroine, “citoyenne Lapoype”, who was captured but eventually liberated, “the most touching voice and accent”. 

9IMG_8233aCharacter list and Preface from La prise de Toulon

On the side of the Royalists, depicted as reactionary and dissolute, the Marquis de Sombreuil, the type of the coxcomb, must have a “tone leading to ridicule” and the Knight of Cazalés corresponds to the type of an old man. The play highlights the eventual execution and “guillotine” of “conspirators” and “traitors”. It ends with the ominous announcement by Fréron of the intended destruction of the city of Toulon (which in the end was not implemented by the authorities): “only ashes and rubble” will remain as “the hand of vengeance will erase up to the last remnant of Toulon”. It closes with the enthusiastic salutation: “the genius of Liberty hovers over us. Woe to the Royalists, war to tyrants, peace to the cottages and LONG LIVE THE REPUBLIC”.  

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator, Romance collections

References:

Jacques Billioud, Le Livre en Provence du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle (Marseille, 1962). 2704.e.4.

Hervé Guénot, ‘ Le théâtre et l'événement : la représentation dramatique du siège de Toulon (août 1793’, Annales littéraires de l'Université de Besançon. Littérature et révolution française, 354, 1987, Ac.282/6

Hubert C. Johnson, The Midi in revolution: a study of regional political diversity, 1789-1793 (Princeton, 1986). YH.1987.b.380 

Michael L. Kennedy, The Jacobin Club of Marseilles, 1790-1794 (Ithaca, 1973). 73/13539 

 

27 March 2018

Le Journal de Marseille: a new periodical in the British Library’s French Revolutionary collections

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1IMG_8141a Le journal de Marseille, 1793-94, RB.23.a.37976.

This year, a grant from the Friends of the British Library enabled the purchase of the complete set of a rare periodical published in 1793-94 during the French Revolution: 62 issues of the Journal de Marseille, along with 14 issues of its Supplement. It is an important addition to our holdings from the period of French Revolution, in particular the French Revolution tracts collection, comprising some 2,200 volumes.

2IMG_3893 French Revolution tracts in the British Library basement

The world of print changed dramatically during and after the French Revolution and the development of the Press reflected the vivacity of the political debates, contributing to the emergence of a public opinion. In the Library’s collections, the Journal de Marseille complements accounts of the revolutionary events which happened in Marseilles and the South of France, printed either in Paris or locally. It can be read alongside other periodicals, such as the Bulletin des Marseillois,  the Journal du Département du Var,  the Journal de Lyon or the Journal de Bordeaux , as well as the Jacobin Journal des débats de la Société des Amis de la Constitution

3IMG_8144aJournal de Marseille, 1st issue, 1 October 1793

Marseilles was a key city during the French Revolution (it gave its name to the revolutionary national anthem). The Journal de Marseille et des départemens méridionaux shows how debates within the revolutionary movement added to tensions between royalists and republicans. It was published three times a week (Sunday, Wednesday, Friday) between October 1793 and February 1794 by the Club des Jacobins de Marseille, a local branch of this left-wing society which included members of rival political factions, the Girondins and the Mountain. The Mountain, led by Maximilien Robespierre, and supported by the most militant members of the Club des Jacobins de Marseilles, held radical views which led to extremism and the Reign of Terror in the years 1793-1794. They brutally expelled the Girondins from the National Convention in the summer of 1793, an event which fostered rebellions, especially in the South, where the Girondins, who promoted federalism, were very influential.

4IMG_8158a Journal républicain de la Commune sans nom, issue 58, 12 Pluviôse an II (31 January 1794)

The Convention sent troops against the Marseilles insurgents: they took control of the city on 25 August 1793 and set up a Republican tribunal. The city was then deprived of its name and temporarily re-baptised “la Ville sans nom”: from issue 52 onwards, the name of the periodical thus changes to Journal républicain de la Commune sans nom et des départemens méridionaux.

5IMG_8145 Journal de Marseille, 2nd issue, 4 October 1793

The Journal was thus at the centre of burning political interests. Its initial editors were Alexandre Ricord (1770-1829) and Sébastien Brumeaux de Lacroix (b. 1768). Ricord was general prosecutor of the Bouches-du-Rhône department and between March 1792 and May 1793 had co-edited the Journal des départemens méridionaux et des débats des amis de la Constitution de Marseille  (whose publication was interrupted by the federalist movement in Marseilles) and issues 2 to 8 of the Journal de Marseille. Lacroix, “jacobin de Paris”, was sent to Marseilles as a delegate appointed by the Convention, and took the sole editorship of the periodical from issue 9 onwards.

6IMG_8143a Journal de Marseille, Prospectus, pp. 6-7

The Journal results from an initiative of the Convention delegates for southern French departments: it was designed to “remedy the vagaries of public opinion, its lack of instruction and enlightenment” and “purge the public spirit from the venom distilled by enemies of the Motherland, coward federalists”, given the difficulties in disseminating Paris journals. It is conceived as the voice of “the Nation, responsible for providing moral food for the people and enlightening it on its interests, rights and duties”. It gives accounts of the Convention’s meetings and discussions.

7IMG_8142 Journal de Marseille, Prospectus, p. 1

The political dimension of the Journal de Marseille is clear from the start, its Prospectus starting with the motto “Le salut du peuple est la suprême loi”, and a declaration praising the “journaux patriotiques” which since 1789 have enlightened the people and promoted Freedom, supporting the durable Rule of All rather than One. The periodical places itself against publications “paid for by aristocrats, royalists and federalists”, accused of “delaying the progress of human reason”. In ominous terms, the editor vows to “track traitors in their cellars and attics, to unmask the looters of the Nation, to denounce to the jury of the public opinion unfaithful administrators, conspiring generals, and delegates of the people”, including “members of the Mountain, the Marsh or the Plain, federalists and their vile supporters.” Under the Reign of Terror, the Journal is openly conceived as the nexus of an “active and general surveillance, a beacon to illuminate federalist conspiracies.” It wants to inspire the people with “the strength so necessary in the fight between crime and virtue, freedom and slavery.”

8IMG_8149a Journal de Marseille, issue 44, 14 Nivôse an II (3 January 1794)

From issue 44 onwards, “Mittié fils” succeeded Lacroix as editor of the Journal de Marseille. Both names still appear on the first page until issue 55, when Mittié’s name remains. Jean-Corisandre Mittié, who was sent by the Comité de Salut public to Marseilles in 1794, authored dramatic works like La prise de Toulon, which features at the end of our volume.

9IMG_8159a Journal de Marseille, Supplément, issue 1, 3 frimaire an II (23 November 1793)

While the Prospectus and first eight issues of the Journal were published by Marc Aurel, “printer of the people’s representatives sent to the southern departments”, later issues were printed by Auguste Mossy, a printer who played an important role in Marseilles politics under the Revolution and the First Empire. Auguste came from a family of Marseilles printers: he worked, alongside his brother Jean (1758-1835), in their father’s printing shop before opening his own press.

The copy of the Journal de Marseille acquired by the British Library is kept in a modest but original brown leather binding with parchment corners and paste paper sides. It is stained, but traces of important use attest to the interest the collection has raised. Indeed, additional revolutionary tracts with a strong southern anchorage, including several pamphlets printed by the Mossy presses, are collected at the end of the volume – they will be the subject of another blog post!

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator Romance collections

References / Further reading

Audrey C. Brodhurst, ‘The French Revolution Collections in the British Library’, British Library Journal (1976), 138-158.

Christophe Cave, Denis Reynaud, Danièle Willemart, 1793: l’esprit des journaux (Saint-Étienne, 1993). YA.1994.b.4058

René Gérard, Un Journal de province sous la Révolution. Le “Journal de Marseille” (originally the “Journal de Provence”) de Ferréol Beaugeard, 1781-1797 (Paris, 1964). W.P.686/29.

Hubert C. Johnson, The Midi in revolution: a study of regional political diversity, 1789-1793 (Princeton, 1986). YH.1987.b.380

Michael L. Kennedy, The Jacobin Club of Marseilles, 1790-1794 (Ithaca, 1973). 73/13539

Des McTernan, ‘The printed French Revolution collections in the British Library’, FSLG Annual Review, 6 (2009-10), 31-44.