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22 April 2021

The Toppling of the Vendôme Column

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This is the second in a series of blog posts marking the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune, a radical, popular led government in power between 18 March and 28 May 1871.

Following Adolphe Thiers’s botched attempt to neutralize Paris as detailed in our first blog, by the middle of April, 1871, the Paris Commune was in full swing. The municipal government, elected on 26 March, almost immediately cancelled rent arrears accumulated during the Prussian siege, proclaimed the separation of church and state, and imposed a maximum salary of 6,000 francs for public employees.

However, the communards were not satisfied with attempts to redress only economic and social inequalities. Seeing itself as a vehicle to remold the space of the city in its own image, on 12 April, the Commune decreed that the Vendôme Column, raised in 1810 as a celebration of Napoléon’s victory at Austerlitz five years earlier, was to be pulled down. Living with the destructive legacies of Haussmann’s glittering metropolis, the Commune’s decree was to be one of its most emotionally resonant for both those it infuriated and those it amazed.

Topped by a statue of Napoleon dressed in the robes of Caesar, for the communards, the column represented an intolerable history of imperialism, false glory and a perpetual threat to international fraternity. In short, the Commune’s decision to remove the statue is reflective of its attempts to restart history, a history not born in blood and brutality.

Photograph of the statue of Napoleon I after the Fall of the Vendôme Column

Statue of Napoleon I after the Fall of the Vendôme Column, Picture by Bruno Braquehais, from Wikipedia Commons

The column was taken down on 16 May. It was a day of spectacle for the communards, who organised music and speeches following the toppling of the monument. For those who were infuriated by the destruction of the monument, the event was repeatedly used as a reference point of loss, considering it an attack on the heart and soul of their France. On the eve of leading his troops into Paris the following month, General MacMahon made clear that not even the Prussians, who had spent the winter bombarding the city with shells, had dared to take the column down.

The toppling constituted one of the most symbolic moments of the Commune, and artists from various disciplines used it as a touchstone for their work. This is particularly true for caricaturists, who employed their skills as polemicists to great effect in a moment that emphasised the great divide.

Gustave Courbet, realist artist and member of the Commune government, was neither the first to suggest that the column should be pulled down, nor was he the most strident supporter of the decree. Nevertheless, this did not save him from the pencils of the anti-Communard caricaturists who savaged him repeatedly.

Anti-Communard caricature of Gustave Courbet

Signs of the Zodiac, by Nerác, from Morna Daniel’s eBLJ article

This piece drawn by Nerác is located in Volume 5 in the largest set of the British Library’s collection of caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (14001.g.41). It is part of a set which depicts famous communards as various signs of the Zodiac, with others including the Commune and Prussia as the twin evils of Gemini.

Courbet, le Taureau (the bull, Taurus), is dressed in garb reminiscent of a circus performer, while balancing the inverted Vendôme Column on his thumb. On his other arm, he balances an expensive-looking home equipped with a fountain, entitled Place St. Georges. This is most likely a reference to the home of Adolphe Thiers, ceremonially destroyed a day before the toppling of the monument as a reprisal for the shelling of the city by the Versaillais army.

The bottom text similarly reads like an enticing advertisement for the circus, willing us into paying attention to the very dangerous acts being performed in front of us. The caricature warns us to beware of not only Courbet, but also of the courbatures (body aches) involved in such balancing acts.

These caricatures are ironically juxtaposed to acts of wanton destruction the Versaillais committed to both property and, more importantly, on the thousands of people they massacred when taking back the city. The communards did not have a monopoly on destruction of public space for their own ends. A new column on Place Vendôme was raised in 1874, for which Courbet was charged the fee of 323,000 francs – a fee he obviously could not pay, and thus he fled to Switzerland, dying in alone and in poverty in 1877.

Another permanent reminder came when the founding stone of the Sacré-Cœur was laid on Montmartre in the summer of 1875. The basilica, still overlooking the city almost 150 years later, was intended as a constant reminder of the so-called ‘crimes of the Commune’. In a time where people are once again rightfully questioning aspects of the public space they exist within, we are reminded that there are brutal remnants of the past everywhere we look.

Anthony Chapman, CDP Student at the British Library and Royal Holloway, University of London

Further reading:

Morna Daniels, ‘Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune’, Electronic British Library Journal, (2005), pp. 1-19, Caricatures from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Paris Commune - Morna Daniels (bl.uk)

Gay Gullickson, Unruly Women of Paris: Images of the Commune, (Ithaca, 1996), YC.1997.a.1077

John Milner, Art, War and Revolution in France, 1870-1871: Myth, Reportage and Reality, (New Haven, 2000). Document Supply m00/44939

David A. Shafer, The Paris Commune, (Basingstoke, 2005). YC.2006.a.16941

Robert Tombs, The Paris Commune, 1871, (London, 1999). YC.1999.a.3641

16 February 2021

Doughnuts and Fools: Some Carnival Traditions

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It’s Shrove Tuesday, and that means pancakes in Britain, but not everywhere! Today we take a look at some Polish and German carnival traditions.

The last days of the Carnival season start in Poland on Fat Thursday (tłusty czwartek). It is widely celebrated by eating traditional doughnuts called pączki. Filled with rose jam or plum preserve, amongst other flavours, they should be light and fluffy. Around the country, people queue up to buy them from their local bakeries. Statistics show that some 100 million doughnuts are sold on this day. Historically, the reason for making them in large quantities was to use up all the leftover ingredients from the Carnival, particularly fat and eggs, before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, where such food was not allowed to be consumed. Pączki are believed to bring good luck for the whole year and the average Pole eats at least two of them on Fat Thursday. A search for ‘Polish Cooking’ in our catalogue will find a number of cookery books which might inspire readers to try and make their own!

A plate of Polish pączki
A plate of pączki (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Fat Thursday is followed five days later by Shrove Tuesday, called Ostatki meaning the last day of Carnival. It is also known as the Herring Night or śledzik, because the most favourite dish to consume that evening is pickled herring. Poles exuberantly celebrate Ostatki by indulging themselves in food, drinks, dance and music. A horse-drawn sleigh ride (kulig) through the snow-covered countryside is a popular way to end the happy Carnival season.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

The Shrovetide carnival has a long history in the German-speaking countries There are three broad regional traditions: the Rhineland Karneval, the Alemannic Fasnacht in south-eastern Germany and Switzerland, and Fasching in Bavaria and Austria (the latter two are sometimes grouped together). Within these there are endless local variations, but all involve a spirit of misrule and anarchy which sometimes sits oddly with British perceptions of orderly Germans!

A central organising role is played by the various local Fools’ Guilds (‘Narrenzünfte’) which support and maintain traditional practices, including, especially in the southern regions, the making and wearing of grotesquely carved wooden masks and elaborate costumes. These costumes often represent jesters and fools, but devils, witches, and fantastical figures similar to the ‘Kurents’ of Slovenia’s carnival also feature. Many books are devoted to the history and design of these costumes, and to the traditions of carnival and of the guilds.


Three covers of books about Fasnacht traditions with pictures of masks and costumes
Books in the British Library’s collections about Fasnacht traditions in Southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria, with images traditional costumes and masks

In the 19th-century Rhineland, carnival traditions came to be seen as an opportunity to assert local identity and resistance to first French and then Prussian rule. This gave the festivities a more political edge, reflected today in ‘Rose Monday’ processions with floats featuring caricatures of national and international politicians.

But however earnest the political satire or intense the dedication to maintaining local tradition, carnival is primarily about fun, celebration, and a few days when the world is turned upside down.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator German Collections

03 March 2020

Nordic Comics Today: A Day of Events

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On 13 March, the British Library are hosting two events under the banner of Nordic Comics Today. In the afternoon, we will welcome Kaisa Leka and Karoline Stjernfelt to showcase their work. Kaisa will speak about the life of a disabled woman in the world today, and how comic art responds to disability, while Karoline transports us to the 18th-century Danish royal court through her prize-winning graphic history I Morgen Bliver Bedre (‘Tomorrow will be better’). The event will be introduced by Dr Nina Mickwitz from the University of the Arts, who’ll ground us in contemporary comics cultures in the Nordic region.

Illustration of suffragettes marching and fighting with policemen from 'Women in Battle'

‘Votes for Women’ from Marta Breen and Jenny Jordahl, Women in Battle: 150 Years of Fighting for Freedom, Equality and Sisterhood (London, 2018) ELD.DS.339036

In the evening we turn to feminism and welcome best-selling author Marta Breen to talk about Women in Battle, the story of fearless females in the continuing journey towards rights for women today (created in collaboration with illustrator Jenny Jordahl and translated into English by Sian Mackie). Marta will be in conversation with Kaisa Leka and UK Comics Laureate Hannah Berry, as they discuss the power of comics and graphic literature to engage people around social justice.

Photo of Kaisa Leka

A photo of Kaisa Leka from her trip around the U.S.A. reproduced in Imperfect (Porvoo, 2017), awaiting shelfmark

There are some tickets remaining for both events. The afternoon is free to attend but still requires a ticket. We are also delighted to be able to display parts of the Hero(ine)s exhibition, first shown at the University of Cumbria and the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in 2018, which features iconic comic heroes re-interpreted and reimagined in their female form. This can be seen all day at the Knowledge Centre.

Double page from 'Place of Death'

from Kaisa’s Place of Death (Porvoo, 2015), YD.2019.a.6235

Comics and graphic novels certainly have a place amongst the Library’s universal and international collections, especially given the emergence of Comics Studies as an academic discipline in recent years. That’s not to say comics needed rehabilitating through academic approaches. It might be best to say, with Douglas Wolk, that comics are not a genre but a medium, and that graphic art cuts across genres. Also, the ubiquity of images in the internet age and the implications on reading habits go hand in hand with the fairly recent rise of graphic literature. So, if you want to understand the world today, a task which the BL’s collections are surely there to serve, then you need to read some comics!

Double page from 'Place of Death'

also from Place of Death

Let’s take a look at the work of our featured authors. Kaisa Leka, a Puupäähattu prize-winning Finnish artist and adventurer, has created numerous innovative books with her partner and ‘faithful sherpa’ Christoffer Leka. Imperfect (awaiting shelfmark) is a beautiful travel diary about their trip across the U.S.A. made up of the postcards they sent to Christoffer’s nephews and niece every day. Place of Death is a sort of parable about ‘fear and the kindness of strangers’, the characters being the authors’ (plus families’) alter egos.

Cover of Karoline Stjernfelt’s 'I Morgen Bliver Bedre' featuring ‘The King’, ‘The Queen’ and ‘The Doctor’

Cover of Karoline Stjernfelt’s I Morgen Bliver Bedre (Copenhagen, 2016) YF.2020.b.319

Karoline Stjernfelt’s I Morgen Bliver Bedre won the best debut category of both major Danish comics awards, the Ping Award and the Claus Delauran Award. To be published in three parts, ‘The King’, ‘The Queen’ and ‘The Doctor’, the exquisitely illustrated books take us to the late 18th century and the reign of Christian VII. The German royal physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee, wielded increasing influence in the court, having an affair with the Queen Caroline Matilda, and eventually becoming de facto regent in 1770. I Morgen Bliver Bedre captures that political chaos and the splendour of the court.

A ball scene from I Morgen Bliver Bedre

A ball scene from I Morgen Bliver Bedre

Marta Breen and Jenny Jordahl’s Women in Battle tells the story of women’s rights and we’re fortunate to hear about it just after International Women’s Day and just before the British Library opens its Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights exhibition. It sketches 150 years of struggle through figures such as Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Malala Yousafzai. Marta and Jenny Jordahl have previously collaborated on the books 60 Women you should know about and The F Word, while Marta has also just published Hvordan bli (en skandinavisk) feminist (‘How to be (a Scandinavian) feminist’) (awaiting shelfmark).

Cover of 'Women in Battle' with illustrations of famous women activists throughout history

Cover of Women in Battle

Last but not least, we should definitely also say a word about our wonderful chairs for the events, Nina Mickwitz and Hannah Berry. Nina’s monograph Documentary Comics: Graphic Truth-telling in a Skeptical Age (awaiting shelfmark) shows the documentary potential of comics through early 21st century non-fiction examples. She has recently co-edited the collections (with Dr Ian Hague and Dr Ian Norton) Contexts of Violence in Comics and Representing Acts of Violence in Comics, and is currently interested in mobilities and negotiations of social norms and identities in comics, as well as the transnational mobilities of comics themselves.

Page depicting women’s struggle against slavery in 'Women in Battle'

Depicting women’s struggle against slavery in Women in Battle

Hannah Berry is the UK Comics Laureate and her graphic novel Livestock won the Broken Frontier Award for Best Writer. Check that out as well as her two previous graphic novels Britten and Brülightly and Adamtine here at the Library.

We look forward to introducing you to these exciting creative voices and stay tuned for more Nordic events at the library over the coming year!

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References

Douglas Wolk, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels work and what they mean (Cambridge, MA, 2007) YK.2007.a.19819

Marta Breen, Hvordan bli (en skandinavisk) feminist (Oslo, 2020) awaiting shelfmark

Marta Breen and Jenny Jordahl, Kvinner I kamp: 150 års kamp for frihet, likhet, sösterskap! (Oslo, 2018), awaiting shelfmark

Nina Mickwitz, Documentary Comics: Graphic Truth-telling in a Skeptical Age (Basingstoke, 2015) awaiting shelfmark

Nina Mickwitz, Ian Hague, and Ian Norton, Contexts of Violence in Comics (London, 2019) ELD.DS.445377

——, Representing Acts of Violence in Comics (London, 2019) ELD.DS.445165

Hannah Berry, Britten and Brülightly (London, 2008) YK.2011.b.11102

——, Adamtine (London, 2012) YK.2012.a.19765

——, Livestock (London, 2017) YKL.2018.b.3075

01 August 2019

Pérák, the only Czech superhero

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During the Second World War, a strange rumour spread among the residents of Prague. A mysterious masked character dressed in black was said to be seen jumping at great heights over the rooftops and streets of the occupied city. He would suddenly leap out of a dark corner to attack Czech collaborators, or to save Czech civilians from the hands of the Gestapo.

An image of Pérák. He has springs on his feat and is holding a gun. In his other hand is a torn Nazi flag.

Jiří Gruss, Projekt Pérák (2003) reproduced in Petr Janeček, Mýtus o pérákovi. Městská legenda mezi folklorem a populární kulturou (Prague, 2017), awaiting shelfmark.

According to the urban legend, Pérák, the Spring Man (from Czech péro, 'spring'), was an inventor turned superhero. Thanks to springs attached to his shoes, he was able to startle and escape Nazi soldiers who tried in vain to capture him. That’s how popular belief has it. However, in his Mýtus o pérákovi. Městská legenda mezi folklorem a populární kulturou, Petr Janeček shows that, in fact, the myth of the Spring Man did not start with the Second World War, but that for a century before it had been part of Czech and international folklore, and its origins could be traced back to Spring-heeled Jack, a spectre popular in Victorian England, who was believed to torment the inhabitants of London, Sheffield, and Liverpool. He had claws and red eyes and, just like Pérák, he was able to make enormous leaps.

Cover of Spring-heel'd Jack: the Terror of London. The image shows Jack jumping from a window with a woman in his arms.

Cover of Spring-heel'd Jack: the Terror of London. Issue 1 (London, 1867) 12620.h.26

In fact, the early oral tradition also presented the Spring Man as a sinister figure who posed a threat to common Czech people, as he would murder or rape defenceless civilians. As a result, many Czechs refused to work night shifts, which had a detrimental effect on the production of weapons in Nazi factories. During the peak of the Pérák myth, almost every incident would be attributed to the Spring Man. Gradually, Pérák evolved from a terrifying phantom into a positive hero who fought the Nazi army by blowing up military vehicles and who would defend the innocent residents of Prague, as well as writing anti-Nazi graffiti on walls to raise the morale of Czech civilians. And that’s how he became the only superhero in Czech history.

Cover of Petr Stančík’s Pérák. Pérák is crouching in the top left-hand corner of the cover.

Cover of Petr Stančík’s Pérák (Brno, 2008), YF.2008.a.33809

Being a symbol of Czech resistance against Nazi Germany, Pérák was an important part of Czech wartime culture. While he was almost certainly an imaginary character rather than a real person, he provided Czech civilians with hope and a feeling that someone out there was protecting them against the Nazi occupiers. Although his activity ceased completely with the end of the war, the career of Pérák as an urban legend was not over, and since then he has evolved from a hero of gossip stories into part of Czech popular culture, including cartoon animations, comic books and novels.

Cover of magazine Pionýr. Cover of magazine Pionýr is depicted here as a boy with springs on his feat jumping through the night sky.

Cover of magazine Pionýr (May 1980) reproduced in Petr Janeček, Mýtus o pérákovi

Being a symbol of resistance against the oppressor, the character of the Spring Man has been adopted by various political movements, including Czech nationalists, anti-globalists and anti-fascists - and in this way, the same spectre turned superhero has fought different enemies for the past eighty years.

An antifascist sticker with Pérák reproduced in Petr Janeček, Mýtus o pérákovi

An antifascist sticker with Pérák reproduced in Petr Janeček, Mýtus o pérákovi

Zuzanna Krzemien, SEE Cataloguer

References/Further reading

Petr Janeček, Mýtus o pérákovi. Městská legenda mezi folklorem a populární kulturou (Prague, 2017). Awaiting shelfmark.

Petr Stančík, Pérák (Brno 2008). YF.2008.a.33809

 

30 May 2019

Olga in Spain

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Our colleague and co-editor of the European Studies Blog, Olga Kerziouk, retires this week after over 24 years in the British Library. A keen blogger herself on the history and literature of her beloved native Ukraine and on her adopted language of Esperanto, she also always enjoyed working on colleagues’ posts. Here, one of our most prolific departmental bloggers looks at the history of the name Olga in his own area of expertise as a small tribute.

Olga is quite a popular name in Spain, but it seems not to be related to the pro-Soviet sentiments of Republican parents. At national level, she doesn’t figure among the most popular names of 1900-40: in 1941-60 884 Olgas were born; in 1961-75 3486; in 1976-88 982; and in 1988-93 132. In Madrid, 5790 were born between 1900 and 1993, accounting for the percentages 7.5% of babies 1900-1940; 15.3% 1941-1960; 60.2% 1961-75; and 17% 1976-93.

Olga la revolucionaria, heroine of Alberto Insúa’s novel of 1926, technically speaking is not Russian or Ukrainian but ‘Weltravian’ (capital: Bermengrado).

Cover of 'OIga la revolucionaria', shelfmark  YF.2009.a.34822
Cover of  Alberto Insúa, Olga la revolucionaria (Madrid, 1926) YF.2009.a.34822

Insúa (1883-1963) made a career out of writing small popular novels, sold at newsstands, with suggestive titles which are not really borne out by the contents: La mujer fácil (‘The Easy Woman’), Las neuróticas (‘The Neurotic Women’), El demonio de la voluptuosidad (‘The Demon of Voluptuousness’), Dos franceses y un español (‘Two French Women and a Spaniard’).

Need I say more?

The plot of Olga la revolucionaria starts before the revolution. Olga’s parents are left-wingers who have brought her up to be a modern woman (make that Modern Woman). When she meets prince Sergio Sardenomensky he expects to find ‘a sort of suffragist, dry, outspoken, with straight hair, glasses and flat shoes. But he found himself in the presence of a beautiful and naturally elegant woman’.

Picture of the character Olga in typical 1920s clothing
Modern and elegant: Insúa’s Olga

‘Olga was a revelation for him: the woman of a class “apart”. The independent woman, with a profound inter life and clear intelligence. The studious woman. The hard-working woman.’

Their chaste love is broken when he leaves her to marry a lady of his own class. They meet again in the midst of revolution: the noble and strong-minded Olga has become a commandant, and sets Serge free.

Picture of the character Olga dressed for winter in a snowy landscape
Dressed for revolution in the Weltravian winter

It’s rumoured that the Spanish name for cardigan, rebeca, was inspired by the garment worn by Joan Fontaine in Hitchcock’s film of 1940. Olga la revolucionaria seems not to have been responsible for the generation of Spanish Olgas listed above, but she might remind us of our dear and blog-loving friend Olga.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References/further reading

Maurice Hemingway, Alberto Insúa (1883-1993): ensayo bibliográfico (Madrid, 1994) YA.2002.a.20299

Consuelo García Gallarín, Los nombres de pila españoles (Madrid, 1998) YA.2002.a.38363

 

18 April 2019

Ukrainian Pysanka – the Writing on the Egg

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The egg, as a symbol of life, fertility, purity and eternity, has figured in the rituals, traditions and beliefs of people around the world, in a wide range of geographical regions and cultures, as documented in Venetia Newall’s comprehensive study An Egg at Easter.

Photograph of painted eggs
Painted eggs, from An Egg at Easter (London, 1971) X.200/4543.

In Ukraine the custom of decorating eggs and the related rituals pre-date Christianity, and were initially associated with the pagan new year (the re-birth of spring). With the official Christianisation of Ukraine in the tenth century, the tradition was subsumed into the Christian system of belief, without ever completely losing its former significance. Among the techniques used, the most significant is “writing” on the egg (using the wax-resist method), which results in the pysanka (from the verb pysaty, to write or ornament). The pysanka’s enduring nature and ubiquity is due largely to the fact that it was one of the most accessible means for ordinary people (even if they were not literate in the accepted sense) to create ritual objects and to record their lives and beliefs, albeit in a different kind of language. This resulted in a continuity which has much to tell researchers into Ukraine’s cultural past. An overview of the pysanka tradition, by Gloria Surmach, can be found in Ukrainian Arts, compiled by Olya Dmytriw. Additionally, there are now many websites on this topic (e.g. www.pysanky.info).

Cover of the book 'Ukrainian Arts'

Cover of Ukrainian Arts (New York, 1952) 7946.e.98

Possibly the earliest mention of the pysanka in print is in Guillaume Le Vasseur de Beauplan’s Description d’Ukranie, in which the author describes the celebration of Easter in Ukraine. After a service in Kyiv, for example, each member of the congregation:

kneels before the Bishop [...] and presents him with a red or yellow painted egg, while greeting him with the words ‘Christos vos Christ’ (sic)*, and the Bishop, raising each from their knees, replies ‘Oustinos vos Christos’ (sic)*, at the same time kissing the women and girls, so that My Lord Bishop, in less than two hours, amasses over five or six thousand eggs, and has the pleasure of kissing the prettiest women and girls present in his Church ...

            *Beauplan’s attempt to transliterate the traditional Easter greeting: “Christ is risen – He is risen indeed”

Cover of 'Description d’Ukranie' Cover of Description d’Ukranie (Rouen, 1660) 980.f.6.

Whilst this may have been a slightly unusual way of acquiring a collection of eggs, in the 19th century, with the rise of interest in ethnography, collectors all over Ukraine (in lands within both the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires) started collecting pysankas, both as objets d’art and for their cultural significance. This, in turn, sparked the interest of scholars, who began to study these collections and present academic papers on them. For example, the anthropologist Fedir Vovk mentioned the uniqueness of pysankas at the Third Archaeological Congress in Kyiv in 1874:

there is fairly rich, very original and interesting material [...] in the motifs on krashankas or pysankas [...] As far as I am aware, the custom of decorating Easter eggs with motifs does not appear to exist in the Great Russian gubernias, and for that reason the forms of ornamentation of pysankas constitute material which is probably distinctive within the ethnographic context ... (Proceedings of the Congress, vol.2 )

One collection of pysankas, amassed by arts patron Kateryna Skarzhynska in Lubny, Poltava Region, formed the basis for the first comprehensive publication on the subject, Opisanie kollektsii narodnikh pisanok, by the ethnographer and archaeologist Serhii Kulzhynskyi (written in Russian at a time when publications in Ukrainian in the Russian Empire were severely restricted by tsarist decree). Lamenting the paucity of published material relating to the Ukrainian pysanka, Kulzhynskyi emphasises “the extraordinary interest which pysankas represent for scholarship and art”.

Cover of 'Opisanie kollektsii narodnikh pisanok'
Above: Cover of Opisanie kollektsii narodnikh pisanok (Moscow, 1899) 1711.a.3. Below: Plate XVI from the book
.

Illustration of different painted egg designs

From Kulzhynskyi’s time onwards, interest in the pysanka as an object of serious study has fluctuated, often depending on the political situation in Ukraine. In the 1920s a number of Ukrainian-language books and articles on the subject were published: in the Ukrainian SSR, for example Ukrainski pysanky iak pamiatky narodnoho maliarstva, by Stefan Taranushchenko (Kharkiv, 1927); in Galicia under Polish rule, for example Pysanky Skhidnoi Halychyny i Bukovyny u zbirtsi Natsionalnoho muzeiu u Lvovi, by Iryna Gurgula (Lviv, 1929), and Boikivski pysanky, by Mykhailo Skoryk (Sambir, 1934); and in the near diaspora, where there were considerable concentrations of Ukrainian writers and intellectuals, such as Vadym Shcherbakivskyi, author of Osnovni elementy ornamentatsii pysanok ta ikhnie pokhodzhennia.

Cover of the reprint of 'Osnovni elementy ornamentatsii pysanok ta ikhnie pokhodzhennia'
Reprint of Osnovni elementy ornamentatsii pysanok ta ikhnie pokhodzhennia (Prague, 1925) YA.1992.b.2180 (original available online)

After the Stalinist crackdown in the late 1920s and early 1930s (and the suppression of most Christian denominations in the USSR), little was published in Ukraine, and it fell to the post-Second World War diasporas, particularly in the USA, Canada and the UK, to popularise the pysanka as a cultural tradition, to re-introduce it as an Easter ritual and to produce publications on the subject. In Ukraine, it was not until the post-Stalinist thaw in the 1960s that a small but significant work on the pysanka (drawing in part on Kulzhynskyi’s work) was published, namely Ukrainski pysanky, compiled by Erast Biniashevskyi.

The political repressions of the 1970s again limited the practice of, and research into, the pysanka in the Soviet Bloc. An exception was the publication of Ukrainski pysanky Skhidnoi Slovachchyny by Pavlo Markovych, a scholarly book on Ukrainian pysankas in Eastern Slovakia.

Women decorating pysankas
Women decorating pysankas, from Ukrainski pysanky Skhidnoi Slovachchyny (Prešov, 1972) X.0800/181[no.6,kn.2]

Since Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991, much has been published, both in Ukraine and abroad (in various languages), promoting the pysanka as an objet d’art, its symbolism, methods, designs and associated traditions, for example Ukrainska narodna pysanka, by Vira Manko.

Cover of 'Ukrainska narodna pysanka'
Cover of Ukrainska narodna pysanka (Lviv, 2005); YF.2007.b.2920

There are collections of pysankas in many museums, both in Ukraine and abroad, as, for example, in the Ukrainian Museum in New York. In Kolomyia, in western Ukraine, a pysanka museum (established in 1987) currently houses over 12,000 exhibits. Today, the pysanka is undergoing a revival and, as in the villages of Ukraine in past centuries, people all over the world (and not just of Ukrainian heritage) are experiencing this unique phenomenon for themselves. There is, though, so much more to learn about the pysanka.

Marta Jenkala, Senior Teaching Fellow in Ukrainian, UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies

02 April 2019

John Bull, or the English People in their Great Peculiarity

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It’s English Tourism Week and what better to guide prospective visitors to these shores than an anonymous compilation of English customs published nearly 200 years ago in Stockholm. John Bull eller Engleska folket i sin stora Besynnerlighet was recently acquired by the British Library and appears to be a translation from multiple contemporary sources of anecdotes and summaries of Englishness. It contains all manner of veritable traditions, half-truths and fake news that you might expect.

Title Page of ohn Bull eller Engleska folket i sin stora Besynnerlighet
Title page from John Bull eller Engleska folket i sin stora Besynnerlighet (Stockholm, 1826) RB.23.a.28622

In no seeming order, the book takes us from Charles I to the Lord Mayor’s Day via brief glimpses at the Fairlop Fair, ‘Riding the Stang’, football and funeral ceremonies, and anecdotes that illuminate British attitudes under titles such as ‘The Compassionate Traveller’, ‘Paternal Tenderness’, or ‘Exceptional Orderliness’, all in just over 50 pages.

List of contents from 'John Bull, eller Engelska folket...'
Contents from John Bull, eller Engelska folket...

One possible source for the work is Popular Pastimes, being a selection of picturesque representations of the customs & amusements of Great Britain, in ancient and modern times (London, 1816; 785.h.8), which includes drawings by F. P. Stephanoff and historical descriptions by Edward Wedlake Brayley. A second source could be the less structured but equally enjoyable John Bull ou Londresiana, attributed to a ‘C.D’

Engraving showing a giant punch-bowl at an outdoor party
Engraving from
John Bull ou Londresiana, Recueil d’originalités et de singularités anglaises, avec les anecdotes, bons mots, plaisanteries, sarcasmes, et railleries particulières à ce peuple (Paris, [1820?]) 12314.df.4.

Both the French and Swedish John Bull refer to the peculiarity of their subject and understandably so given the stories they recount. In ‘En besynnerlig Ursäkt’ (‘A peculiar excuse’) we read a dark tale about a day-labourer who twice tried to drown himself but was twice saved by a peasant. He waits for his moment and on the third occasion hangs himself off a barn door. When the owner of the farm questions the peasant, who had in fact seen the whole thing, the peasant says that, since the labourer had been thoroughly soaked in the first two plunges, he thought he was hanging himself out to dry.

The book shares a chapter with Popular Pastimes on what the English publication calls the practice of ‘Selling a Wife’ and the Swedish more modestly refers to as ‘Åktenskaps-handel’ (‘Marriage trade’). Both condemn the activity, which is said to prevail among the ‘lower classes’ (John Bull) or ‘the illiterate and vulgar’ (Popular Pastimes). Our English historian finds space however to celebrate the songs that have been derived from the practice: ‘this practice, immoral and shameful as it is, has given rise to various pleasant Jeu d’esprits […]’. The examples they give differ, possibly exposing the fact that John Bull was paraphrased from various sources.

Other chapters shared between the two books include ‘Milk Maids’ Garland‘ (‘Mjölkflickans Krans‘), ‘Riding the Stang’ (‘Rida på Stången‘) and ‘St. Valentine’s Day’, which our Swedish observers tell us ‘is quite extraordinary in England. The youth yearn for it [längtar otåligt efter det] every year.’ ‘Rida på Stången’ is more or less a direct translation from its source in Popular Pastimes, which describes a practice of vigilante justice, referred to otherwise as ‘charivari’ or ‘skimmington’. The accused is forced onto a long pole, or stang, and carried through the streets to expose his dishonour. The criminal associated with this treatment was traditionally  ‘a man who had debauched his neighbour’s wife’, but not exclusively so, as ‘the virago who had beaten her husband was also subjected to riding the Stang’ (Popular Pastimes, p. 17). The method was also used in Westmoreland and Cumberland, we read, to deter anyone from conducting any business at all on New Year’s Day. While, Popular Pastimes does not delve deeper, John Bull interrogates this Cumbrian variation:

Man hwart taga dessa böter wägen? Jo, man super upp dem, man fyller sig, wältrar sig i sanden, öfwerlastad af Öl, Rumm, Win och Brännwin. — Det är ett nöjsamt tidsfordrif for Engelska folkshopen. (p. 38)
Where do the fines go? Yes, they guzzle it up, they have their fill, roll about in the mud, full of beer, rum, wine and brandy. It is a pleasurable pastime for the English crowds.

I wonder how different today’s portrait of John Bull and the peculiar English would be…

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Studies

14 January 2019

Pan Kotsky

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Pan Kotsky, or ‘Mister Cat’, if we translate his name literally, is the most famous cat in Ukrainian folklore. You will find him in virtually any anthology of traditional children’s tales . What does the story tell us about the Ukrainian way of life?

Opening of the story featuring an illustration of Pan Kotsky
Opening of the story of Pan Kotsky from Boris Hrinchenko, Ukraïnsʹki narodni kazky vybrani dlia diteĭ (Kyiv, 1907) 12209.aaa.47.

The tale tells how a cat was too old to be able to do his job properly – catching mice - and his master decided to dump him in a forest. A dark and horrible future was waiting for the cat: he would slowly die of hunger and loneliness. But all of a sudden, our poor puss was given a second chance. A Lady Fox met him in the wood and became interested.

“What’s your name?" She asked.
“Pan Kotsky.”
“Great! Be my husband!”
“What a kind proposal!” thought the cat and agreed.

And they form a ‘typical’ Ukrainian couple often depicted in Ukrainian folklore: a clever and active woman with a kind and passive man. The Lady Fox cherishes her husband and presents him to the community. The Hare is the first to come to the house, and the Lady Fox announces her new situation: “Beware of my husband, Pan Kotsky, he’s fierce and will easily tear you to pieces!”

And the Hare believes her! The same happens with the other villagers: the Wolf, the Bear and the Boar. All of them are afraid of the new master of the forest.

“Let’s prepare a supper and invite him!” they decide. But nobody has enough courage to invite the fearsome Pan Kotsky personally, and so the Hare has no choice but go to the Lady Fox’s house. She plays her role awesomely well: “I’ll come with him, but hide away! Or he will tear you to pieces!!!” The others have no reason not to believe her, so the Bear climbs a tree, the Wolf hides behind a bush and the Boar finds a hole in the woodpile…

The table is full of tasty food and drink, waiting for the guests to dine. Pan Kotsky is a simple fellow and does not have good manners; he is just a peasant. He climbs on the table and starts to gorge himself on the meat. All of a sudden a mosquito decides to bite the Boar, who moves in his hiding place. Our cat does not forget his instincts and catches what he thinks is a mouse - but it is the Boar’s tail! The Boar roars and terrifies Pan Kotsky who promptly jumps into the tree, where he accidentally disturbs the Bear… What a row! The surprised Bear falls on the Wolf and hurts the Hare, and all of them think they are going to die…

The image of Pan Kotsky as the most dangerous creature in the wood is well established now!

Illustration of Pan Kotsky with the bear and fox by the Ukrainian illustrator Kost Lavro

Pan Kotsky as seen by prominent Ukrainian illustrator Kost Lavro. Reproduced in: 100 kazok (Kyiv, 2005) LF.31.b.6371

 

Illustration of Pan Kotsky and Lady Fox
Pan Kotsky and Lady Fox as seen by J. Hnizdovsky.  Reproduced in Ukrainian folk tales, translated by Marie Halun Bloch (London, 1964). X.990/127

A conwoman and a conman, sly, dishonest and manipulative? Yes! In real life characters like them often succeed beautifully. The Lady Fox had her ‘LOL’ moment, and she and her husband do not seem to be punished in this tale for what they’ve done. They are the winners. It is a story of what the French call ‘être et paraître’, ‘to be and to appear’. A good image is more effective than actual status: fake it until you make it! It’s perfectly understandable in our own era of Instagram domination.

But we can see a different interpretation here, from Pan Kotsky’s point of view. Even if you are old and apparently useless, do not give up! You may still get a second chance. Maintain a positive attitude in life, stay open to opportunities…

The tale of Pan Kotsky inspired the Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko to compose an opera of the same title in 1891, and the writer Borys Hrinchenko  to write a version of the tale in 1904. In 1969 an animated film of the story, The Scary Creature, was created by a Kyiv animation studio - and many Ukrainian children are lucky enough to see Pan Kotsky on the stage!

Postal stamp of Ukraine from 2002 depicting Pan Kotsky
Postal stamp of Ukraine from 2002 depicting Pan Kotsky (From Wikimedia Commons

Olena Yashchuk Codet, Artist, Author, Cultural Events Organiser, and creator of Katou-Matou Cat character

02 July 2018

A Spanish cricket aficionado in late 19th-century Surrey

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Cricket, arguably more than any other sport, encourages the collection of statistics, as any listener to the BBC’s ‘Test Match Special’ knows. Wisden, or The Cricketer’s Almanack, was first published as early as 1864 and has been documenting matches and calculating players’ averages ever since. The nature of the sport lends itself to the accumulation and analysis of data: not just batting or bowling averages, but also all manner of records – from most runs off an over to the fastest hundred by an Australian in his (or her) debut test in England. The BBC’s first TMS scorers or, better, statisticians, Arthur Wrigley and Bill Frindall, acquired legendary status for their meticulous record keeping and anticipation of records about to be broken.

It is, however, surprising to come across not only a Spanish cricket enthusiast in the late 19th century but one who compiled a book of cricket statistics devoted to an English county. The British Library holds a copy of Anthony Benítez de Lugo’s Surrey at the Wicket, which was printed in Madrid at his own expense in 1888. The full title is: Surrey at the wicket. A complete record of all the matches played by the county eleven since the formation of the club. Yearly and general batting and bowling averages with other informations [sic] interesting to Surrey cricketers.

Benitez de Lugo Surrey at the Wicket cover Original cover of Anthony Benítez de Lugo, Surrey at the Wicket… (Madrid, 1888)  X.449/2923

As the title indicates, the work documents the results of all matches played by Surrey, together with batting and bowling averages, year-by-year from 1844 until 1887. Surrey County Cricket Club was officially founded in 1845, but an 1844 match against the M.C.C. is included. Score cards are not included, which is initially confusing as the results tables always show Surrey as if batting first. Benítez de Lugo does not mention his sources of information. However, for the period after 1864 he would have had access to Wisden, and before that to press reports and to Frederick Lillywhite’s publications. The latter may have provided him with details of players’ height and weight. Most probably he had access to Surrey’s own records and, almost certainly, he kept records himself.

Benitez de Lugo Surrey at the Wicket tpTitle page of Surrey at the Wicket.

But who was our Spanish cricket enthusiast? He was born Antonio Benítez de Lugo y de la Cantera in Havana in 1857 and in 1893 he acquired the title of Marqués de Santa Susana, bestowed on him by María Cristina, Regent for Alfonso XIII, in recognition of his aunt Susana Benítez de Lugo’s charitable work in Cuba. However, it is not clear how he came to be interested in cricket nor when he began the compilation of statistics.

Benítez de Lugo went on to publish two further books of statistics, although sadly neither is in the British Library. The first, The Surrey Champion (1895), documented the career of the Surrey cricketer, Walter Read (1855-1907), who was most noted for a match-saving innings of 117 for England against Australia in 1884 when batting down at number 10. He also provided statistics for Read’s own Annals of Cricket (London, 1896; 07095.k.1), as Read acknowledged in his introduction: ‘thanks are due to the Marquis de Santa Susana for the exhaustive records of my own doings’ (p. 3).

Benitez de Lugo Walter ReadWalter Read By ‘A.R.’ from Richard Daft, Kings of Cricket (Bristol, 1893) 7912.aaa.1.

His final work, published in 1900, brought Surrey at the Wicket up to date down to 1899. His statistics were also deployed in the extensive Surrey Cricket. Its History and Associations of 1902, as is indicated by the acknowledgement ‘the whole of the statistics … are the work of the Marquis de Santa Susana’ (pp. v.-vi.). He is also described there as ‘one of the most enthusiastic followers of Surrey cricket’ (p. vi).

There are obvious gaps in this account. Keen followers of Surrey cricket and statisticians are invited to fill them in and to correct any errors.

Geoff West, Former Head of Hispanic Collections

References/Further reading

Anthony Benítez de Lugo, The Surrey Champion. A complete record of Mr Walter William Read’s performance for Surrey and in representational matches, 1873-1897 (Madrid, 1895). Private circulation. 100 copies.

Anthony Benítez de Lugo, A Summary of Surrey Cricket 1844-99. (Madrid, 1900). Private circulation.

The cricketer’s almanack for... 1864 [-1869], then John Wisden’s cricketers’ almanack for… 1870 [-1937]. (London, 1864-1937). RH.9.x.1533.

Fred Lillywhite, Frederick Lillywhite’s cricket scores and biographies of celebrated cricketers, from 1746. Vols. 3-4. (London, 1863-64) 7905.de.9.

E. W. Padwick, A bibliography of cricket. 2nd ed., rev. and enl. (London, 1984). British Library HLR 796.358.

Richard Everard Webster, Surrey Cricket. Its history and associations. Ed. Lord Alverstone... and C. W. Alcock. (London, 1902). 07905.i.47.

18 June 2018

Flag Day celebrates the new ‘Maatjes’.

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The famous ‘Maatjesharing’ is here again! Like the Scandinavians the Dutch celebrate the arrival of the first ‘Nieuwe’, or ‘virgin’ herring, in the month of June.

Herring2 RB.31.c.551
The herring. Illustration by Ebenezer Albin from Roger North, A treatise on fish and fish-ponds (London, [1825?]) RB.31.c.551

It all started last week with the traditional auction of the first barrel of ‘Nieuwe’ brought ashore. The auction raised a whopping €78,000 for charity

Over to London where on Friday the very first ‘London Haring Party’ (deliberately ‘haring’ , not ‘herring’) was held at the Dutch Church in Austin Friars in support of the Dutch Centre . The auction of a barrel of herring there did not quite make €78,000, but the £525 it did raise wasn’t at all bad. Congratulations to the Dutch Centre!

Then came the moment everyone had been waiting for. Sure, the bitterballen were very nice, don’t get me wrong, but everyone was gagging to get their teeth into some herring!

You may get an idea about just how desperate we had all become from the photos below, taken about half a minute apart from each other, if that. The beer flowed freely and the live band sang Dutch hits. What’s not to like. I look forward to next year already.

Herring2 herringIMG_8673

Herring2 goneIMG_8679

Such a shame I couldn’t be in Scheveningen on Saturday to celebrate the 71st ‘Vlaggetjesdag’, which
opens the season for ‘Hollandse Nieuwe’. Fishing boats are decked out in colourful bunting, or flags (hence the name ‘Flag Day’) and the Dutch colours are everywhere, as is herring and other fish.

It is a real ‘street food festival’, with that very Dutch way of eating a herring that you won’t see anywhere else in the world. The way to do it is to take the whole herring by the tail, bend your head backwards and let the salty fish, well coated in a thick layer of chopped raw onions, slither down your throat. Yummy!

Herring2 eatingherring
The proper way to eat Dutch herring. (Photo from Flickr by wht-rotterdam.nl (no copyright indicated))

If this sounds like a bit too much, just ask for a ‘broodje haring’ (a herring roll) and you’ll be fine. That’s your weekly ration of Omega 3 and 6 sorted.

During the festival local women stroll around in their traditional finery, golden pins in their white caps, necklaces of red coral held by a golden clasp and a pastel green shawl.

Herring2 Scheveningencostume
Women in traditional Scheveningen costume, from Elsa Valeton, Dutch costumes (Amsterdam, 1959). 7745.bb.42

Herring has been a staple food for the Dutch for centuries. In the early days of the Dutch Golden Age herring was the bread and butter of the Dutch economy, in more than one sense. Due to wars, in particular the Anglo-Dutch wars of the mid-17th century, herring fishery declined in the Netherlands. It was not until the 19th century that it picked up again.

In his Overzicht der geschiedenis van de Nederlandsche Zeevisscherijen, Anthony Beaujon describes the ebb and flow of the Dutch sea fisheries over time. He wrote it first in English as ‘History of Dutch Sea-fisheries’, and submitted it as an entry to the competition launched on the occasion of the International Exhibition on Fisheries held in London in 1883, one of the largest exhibitions held at that time. Beaujon won the competition and later translated his book into Dutch. Strangely enough we hold the Dutch edition, but our catalogue does not show a record for the English edition. It may well be included in one of the many other titles published on the occasion of this exhibition

Herring2BeaujonTtlp
Title page of Anthony Beaujon, Overzicht der geschiedenis van de Nederlandsche Zeevisscherijen (Leiden, 1885.) 7290.e.11

Donald. S. Murray’s book ‘Herring Tales’ is a more recent history of herring and probably a bit more readable than Beaujon. His is a fascinating story of herring that connects Dutch, Scandinavian and British culture, perhaps more than anything else.

HerringtalesMurrayP1100623
Cover of Donald S. Murray’s Herring Tales: how the silver darling shaped human taste and history. London, 2015. (DRT ELD.DS.80434)

There is a third celebration that involves herring, white bread and butter which takes place in October, so I’ll be back with more about herring then.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Studies, Dutch Language Collections.