THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

123 posts categorized "Publishing and printing"

26 December 2019

One of the very best Danish bookplate artists: two recent Ebba Holm acquisitions

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According to Otto Wang, author of niche publications in defence of the reputation of Danish ex-libris, and writing in 1927, no one had received more praise for their bookplate artistry than Ebba Holm. A painter, engraver and illustrator, Holm became most famous for 108 linocut illustrations to a 1929 edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy, in Christian Knud Frederik Molbech’s translation. Otto Wang sees Holm as belonging ‘to the not too many Danish artists who have really been interested in this special little art [of ex libris] and realized that it is necessary to cultivate it and subject it to a special study’.

In Wang’s survey of Holm’s ex libris art, he suggests the artist has given us two of the greatest Danish bookplates, one being for Harald and Karen Abrahamsen (answers on a postcard) and the other being Ebba Holm’s own. Recently, the library acquired L’Opinion et l’amour, a 1830 French book belonging to Holm herself, so we are lucky enough to be in the possession of this famed ex libris. Sadly we don’t know much about Holm’s personal library, and whether she had chosen the book because it was a historical novel written by a woman, Madame de de Saint–Surin, who had also written about the Middle Ages, or for its pretty binding by Janet, a Parisian bookbinder known for his decorative tastes. In any case, it is exciting to see her choice for this most personal design:

Ebba Holm’s ex libris featuring a knight on a horse

Ebba Holm’s ex libris from Madame de Saint Surin, L’Opinion et l’amour (Paris, 1830), awaiting shelfmark

Holm’s love of medieval imagery, or of all things medieval, is expressed in her own bookplate, which features a knight (or could it be Joan of Arc?) holding a spear from which floats a banner displaying her name.

The library has since also acquired a copy of Johannes Jørgensen’s Dantestemninger (‘Dante moods’), a limited edition from 1928, which features a quartet of poems first published in Jørgensen’s collection Bag alle de blaa Bjærge (1913) here in large format alongside four striking woodcuts by Ebba Holm. Our copy has a small book label designed by the illustrator and stuck on the inside back cover. It bears her initials and is adorned with what looks like a heraldic eagle.

Ebba Holm’s initials underneath an eagle

Ebba Holm’s initials underneath an eagle

Jørgensen and Holm were both Italophiles. Jørgensen (1866-1956) lived in Siena from 1914 and wrote the lives of St Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena and St Bridget of Sweden after his conversion to Catholicism around 1895.

The Dantestemninger were written at the time he was composing his work on Catherine of Siena and his research into the period allowed Jørgensen to explore an interest in Dante. As Jørgen Breitenstein has written, the poems often explicitly recall Molbech’s translation of Dante, as we see at the end of Jørgensen’s first poem’s reference to Inferno III, 1: ‘og fører ind til Staden, fuld af Jammer’ (‘Per me si va ne la città dolente’ / ‘Through me the way into the suffering city’). That said, Jørgensen portrays a wet, foggy, autumnal forest that has no real parallel to Dante’s Inferno, and Holm depicts a lost forest-bound protagonist in the first woodcut.

Jørgensens Inferno

Jørgenson’s Inferno in a Northern European sylvan mood

Holm might be said to deviate from Jørgensen’s second poem as she depicts the protagonist’s encounter with Beatrice. Holm’s scene might be based on Dante’s Florence but the city is also simple and industrial, the encounter itself without any of the symbolism of Jørgensen’s (and Dante’s) association of Beatrice with fire and flames.

Woodcut depicting the meeting of Dante and Beatrice

Dante meets Beatrice

The third poem deals with Dante’s exile from Florence and the fourth with Dante and Beatrice’s ascension in Paradiso.

Woodcut of Dante in exile. He is sitting under a tree and his hand is resting on a book. Florence is depicted far in the background.

Dante in exile

Woodcut depicting Dante's ascension to heaven

Dante in paradise

Holm’s illustrations here are accomplished without being remarkable but they can also be seen as preparatory for the more lavish, impressive and ultimately prize-winning linocuts for the later Divine Comedy edition. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have a copy of this but we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for a fine edition!

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections, and Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References

Johannes Jørgensen, Dantestemninger (Copenhagen, 1928) LF.31.b.13902

Otto Wang, Ebba Holms Exlibris (Kolding, 1927), 2708.g.23

13 December 2019

De Bezige Bij – 75 years and still buzzing

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One of the most successful literary publishers in the Netherlands of the 20th and 21st centuries is De Bezige Bij (‘The Busy Bee’). Currently, it has almost 600 authors on its list, among them many big international names, together good for 1344 titles by my count.

De Bezige Bij started during the Second World War as a clandestine publishing house, of which there were a great many. Not so many, though, continued after the war, or were as successful as De Bezige Bij. It was among the most outstanding publishing ventures during the war, both in terms of content and of appearance.

It all started with saving Jewish children from the Nazis. When the deportations started and Jewish citizens of Amsterdam had to assemble at the Hollandsche Schouwburg, some women managed to get children out of the building and into the adjacent school for teachers. Soon the group grew and established sub-groups elsewhere, for instance in Utrecht. This so-called ‘Children’s Fund’ needed large sums of money. That money came in part from the Utrecht Student Corps (USC), of which Geert Lubberhuizen was a member. He became involved in the Children’s Fund to such an extent that he was nicknamed ‘The Busy Bee’.

One of the women founders, Anne Maclaine Pont, gave him a typed copy of ‘De Achttien Dooden’ (‘The Eighteen Dead’), the most famous illegal poem produced in the occupied Netherlands. Written by Jan Campert, the poem is a homage to the eighteen men who were executed following the ‘February Strike’, a general strike in protest against the persecution of Jews, led by dock workers in Amsterdam on 24 February 1941. They were the first Dutch men to be executed for alleged anti-German acts.

Broadside of the poem 'De Achttien Dooden' with a woodcut header
Jan Campert, De Achttien Dooden, 2nd ed. (Utrecht, 1943) HS.74/325.(21.) 

The poem was circulated in manuscript or typescript. A total of 15,000 copies were produced during the war, not all by De Bezige Bij. However, it was Geert Lubberhuizen who decided late 1942, or early 1943 to make an illustrated printed broadside of it to raise money for the Children’s Fund. It was published by Lubberhuizen and Ch.E. Blommestein, and printed by J. Hendriks in Utrecht. The illustration is signed as Coen ’t Hart, the pseudonym of Fedde Wiedema.

That is how ‘De Achttien Dooden’ became De Bezige Bij’s first publication, almost two years before its official establishment as a publishing house. ‘The Bee’ as it became known continued to issue clandestine publications to support the work of the Children’s Fund.

The Library holds three editions of this broadside. The earliest is from 1943 and, according to Anna Simoni’s bibliography Publish and be Free, is of the 2nd edition. It was donated in September 1969, by Jaap Romijn, who ran another clandestine publishing house in Utrecht. Richter Roegholt wrote a history of De Bezige Bij, published in 1972 and mentions Simoni’s letter to him in reply to his attempts to solve the mystery of spelling errors in the poem. That is a story in itself which is best saved for some other time

.Cover of 'De Geschiedenis van De Bezige Bij', with a list of 12 questions in Dutch about the publishing houseFront cover of Richter Roegholt, De Geschiedenis van De Bezige Bij (Amsterdam, 1972) 2708.c.35.

A second copy is from 1946 (74/L.R.410.y.1.(5.)) and was purchased in February 1968. The third copy (85/Cup.600.d.(2)) is from 1955, and has the real name of the illustrator alongside the pseudonym. This is printed on ‘pancake paper’ and is much narrower than the two others.

Production was increased after ‘Crazy Tuesday’ on 5 September 1944, when the Dutch thought, mistakenly, that the war had ended. By December 1944 it was clear that the war truly would not last much longer. So on 12 December 1944 the co-operative publishing house ‘De Bezige Bij’ was established, on the basis of a ‘Plan voor de coöperatieve uitgeverij De Bezige Bij in hoofdlijnen’ (‘Main outlines of a Plan for the co-operative publishers The Busy Bee’). 


Front cover of Plan voor de coöperatieve uitgeverij De Bezige Bij in hoofdlijnen
Cover of Plan voor de coöperatieve uitgeverij De Bezige Bij in hoofdlijnen
([Utrecht, 1944]) Cup.406.b.19.

The first article outlines the publishers’ intention to continue the business after the war:

Encouraged by the success of its. publications and by the interest from many authors and illustrators who, from the beginning have enthusiastically contributed to ‘The Busy Bee’, which has as its aim to collect as much money as possible for the national cause, next to the continuation of the free Dutch literature, the management of this publishing house has decided to continue her work after the war with the aim to serve the cause of its authors.

The first article of Plan voor de coöperatieve uitgeverij De Bezige Bij
The first article of Plan voor de coöperatieve uitgeverij De Bezige Bij

Its first ‘official’ publication was a printing (in English) of The Atlantic Charter,  declared by President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill on 14 August 1941. 100 copies were printed by Fokke Tamminga, who personally delivered one to the British Museum in 1969. The colophon makes clear that this was a clandestinely produced booklet, but its execution is nonetheless exquisite.

Opening of the Atlantic Charter, printed in blue and black ink, with a large blue initial Colophon of the Atlantic Charter, printed in blue and black ink with the British Library's green acquisition stamp
Opening (left)and colophon (right) of The Atlantic Charter (Utrecht, 1944). Cup.406.a.9.

This blog’s limitations do not allow for a discussion of the post-war history of ‘The Bee’. For that I refer to Roegholt and to the publisher’s own website . But I make an exception for Geheid Deelder, a collection of six stories by Jules Deelder on the occasion of De Bezige Bij’s 50th anniversary. Jules Deelder is after all just a few weeks older than De Bezige Bij.

Cover of 'Geheid Deelder' with a photograph of the author
Cover of Jules Deelder Geheid Deelder’ (Amsterdam, 1994) YA.1994.a.14827.

It goes without saying that De Bezige Bij is positively buzzing with activity around its 75th anniversary. On the 10th of this month a new poem by Ramsey Nasr  entitled, ‘De dag kan komen’ (‘The day may come’) was unveiled in the firm’s offices, where it now hangs opposite Campert’s ‘De Achttien Dooden’. 

Long may this Busy Bee keep buzzing!

Marja Kingma, Curator Dutch Language Collections.

References

Anna Simoni, Publish and be free: a catalogue of clandestine books printed in the Netherlands, 1940-1945, in the British Library (The Hague; London, 1975.) 2725.aa.1

07 November 2019

The Book as a Project: Giambattista Bodoni

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This is the first of a series of blogs dedicated to Italian typography.

It is not an easy task to write something brief about the Italian typographer Giambattista Bodoni. Bodoni the polyglot, Bodoni the artist, Bodoni who achieved rock-star fame during his lifetime. He made the Italian town of Parma world capital of printing from the second half of the 18th century, an obliged stop for intellectuals and bibliophiles during the Grand Tour. Rulers and princes would visit his workshop and he would dedicate books to them, in order to consolidate his prestige.

Bodoni shells

Illustration from Giuseppe Saverio Poli / Stefano Delle Chiaie, Testacea Utriusque Siciliæ Eorumque Historia Et Anatome Tabulis ... Illustrata, (Parma 1791). 458.g.11-13.

Trained in typography and ‘oriental’ languages in Rome, having unsuccessfully tried to come to London to learn new skills and perfect his technique, in 1768 Bodoni was called to Parma by Ferdinand of Bourbon, with the purpose of establishing and managing the government Royal Printing Office that he would be in charge of for the rest of his life.

Page from Britannia

Robert Hampden, Britannia; Lathmon, Villa Bromhamensis (Parma, 1792). G.10064.

Despite never leaving Parma, Bodoni managed to be known internationally, by choosing his patrons (Napoleon and his family, the monarchs of Spain, Italian rulers), by printing in many languages and scripts, and by setting his much-imitated typographic style. In his own words, he ‘shook the old typographic conventions’, introducing harmony and proportion in the frontispieces, showing neo-classicist taste in his bare, epigraphic compositions. The sense of perspective and the balance between space and font offer optimal readability to his pages. The series of crisp and neat ‘bodonian’ typefaces that he designed in the late 1780s are still very popular today, appreciated for the clear contrast between the thickness of strokes and the thinness of rules and serifs.

Title page from The Castle of Otranto

Horace Walpole. The Castle of Otranto, a Gothic Story. Sixth edition (Parma, 1791). 682.f.22

A lot was printed in his Greek typefaces, and many of his books were in foreign languages, including English. The most celebrated of his works in English were Walpole’s 1791 edition of The Castle of Otranto, on behalf of the London bookseller Edwards, and the 1792 Britannia by Lord Hampden. Of Britannia, the British Library owns the only copy printed on vellum (G.10064.), from the splendid library of Marshal Junot, sold by auction in London in June 1816 and purchased by Thomas Grenville for his rich collection of rare books, which are now part of the British Library.

Page from Britannia

Robert Hampden, Britannia; Lathmon, Villa Bromhamensis.

Constantly in competition with his fellow typographers (notably with the Didot brothers in France, known for the rigour of their editions), Bodoni liked to re-edit books published by others, trying to make them better. A case in point is the Oratio Dominica (a polyglot edition of the Lord’s Prayer), which Bodoni was invited to produce by Pope Pius VI when he stopped to see him in Parma. The Pope said that, during his recent visit to Paris for the coronation of Napoleon, in December 1804, he was gifted with a copy of the Oratio Dominica in 150 languages, by Jean-Joseph Marcel, director of the Imprimerie Nationale, and he challenged Bodoni to produce something finer and in more languages, to prove his skills.

In less than a year, Bodoni put together an acclaimed Oratio Dominica, in 155 languages, using 215 typescripts (including Phoenician, Tibetan, and Etruscan), some of which were missing from the French edition.

Pages from Oratio Dominica

Oratio Dominica in CLV. Linguas Versa Et Exoticis Characteribus Plerumque Expressa (Parma, 1806). Cup.652.m.4.

However, Bodoni’s masterpiece was certainly printed after his death, in 1813. Having produced his own types since 1771, in 1788 he published the first manual Manuale tipografico containing a hundred Roman type alphabets, 50 italics and 28 Greek alphabets. His alphabets were improved during the course of his career, and this project was accomplished by his widow, Margherita Dall’Aglio, with the posthumous publication of the final Manuale Tipografico in 1818.

The fruit of more than 40 years of work, this manual in two volumes was composed of 265 pages with roman types, capital letters, Greek and oriental types, borders, ornaments, numbers, and musical examples.

Bodoni’s Manuale Tipografico established high standards for typography. It offers an overview of the uniformity of design, neatness and good taste that made him famous and inspired generations of typographers up to the present day. But, this is a topic for my next blog…

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections

Further Reading

Of the over 1400 ‘Edizioni Bodoniane’ (listed by H C Brook’s Compendiosa Bibliografia delle Edizioni Bodoniane) printed while Bodoni’s presses were active, in 1834, the BL collections has over 200, of which 38 are available digitally 

Giovanni Battista Bodoni, Manuale Tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura di Giovanni Mardersteig. (Verona, 1968). L.R.413.h.17.

Franco Maria Ricci, Bodoni, 1740-1813 (Parma, 2013) LF.31.b.11849

Andrea De Pasquale / Massimo Dradi, B Come Bodoni: i Caratteri di Bodoni a Brera e nella Grafica Contemporanea (Milan, 2013). YF.2014.a.22184

Hugh Cecil Brooks, Compendiosa Bibliografia di Edizioni Bodoniane (Floerence, 1927) 2704.bp.2.

05 November 2019

‘The Ark of Unique Cultures’: the story of a remarkable handmade book

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The British Library recently received an unusual donation from the Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Tallinn: a handmade book – The Ark of Unique Cultures: The Hutsuls – celebrating the history and culture of the Hutsuls, an ethnic group from the Carpathian Mountains. It is one of a limited series of 35 books, which were donated to major libraries around the world. As well as poems in the Hutsul dialect and English translation, the book includes postcards, photographs and even specimens of Carpathian plants. Slavonic curator Katie McElvanney spoke to Eric Johnson, a volunteer at the Centre, to find out more about the project.

Copies of The Ark of Unique Cultures: The Hutsuls

Copies of The Ark of Unique Cultures: The Hutsuls (Tallinn: Ukrainian Cultural Centre, 2014). (Reproduced by kind permission of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre)

How did the book project come about and what was its aim? 

The Ark of Unique Cultures is one of the many creations of Anatoli Ljutjuk, a Benedictine friar born in Western Ukraine who has been a resident and citizen of Estonia for decades. Anatoli’s greatest creation is Tallinn’s Church of the Virgin with Three Hands, who is the protector of all living beings who have been falsely accused or unjustly persecuted. The church is affiliated with the secular Ukrainian Cultural Centre (UKK to use its Estonian initials). From the beginning, Anatoli’s conception for the small Eastern-rite Catholic church included the natural world around it. As a result, the UKK’s first book project focused on those vanishing plants and animals that we humans have unjustly persecuted. And so The Poetics of Endangered Species was born (both books in this series were kindly donated to the British Library by the UKK. See YF.2017.b.1281 (Estonia) and YF.2017.b.1282 (Ukraine)).

After the first edition of The Poetics of Endangered Species appeared, Anatoli soon realized that not just plants and animals are in danger of disappearing from our world but also entire human subcultures. As it happens, Estonia became the new home to a fair number of Hutsuls who speak their own dialect and observe many distinct traditions. Known for their forestry skills, Hutsuls were hired in Soviet times to help manage Estonia’s forests. When the Soviet Union collapsed, some of those who chose to remain in Estonia helped Anatoli build his new church.

So Anatoli first came up with the idea of The Ark of Unique Cultures as a way to honour all those ethnic groups whose traditions are in danger of being overwhelmed by the larger groups around them. The goal of this Book Ark is to document and preserve each culture’s unique features for future generations. In the case of the Hutsuls, it also serves as a 21st-century update to Sergei Parajanov’s landmark film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965).

BL copy page

The British Library’s copy of the book. Awaiting shelfmark.

What can you tell us about the poems included in the book?

Ukrainian Poet Mariya Korpanyuk is widely regarded as the best poet writing in the Hutsul dialect. Although she had already written a short series of poems about the life and customs of the Hutsuls, she agreed to expand her series after meeting Anatoli. Each poem is dedicated to a unique feature of Hutsul culture that was in danger of disappearing.

Because many unique Hutsul words are unknown even to Ukrainians — or a seemingly familiar word may hold a different meaning — Anatoli decided that the poems should be translated into English to help tell the Hutsul story to the world. The UKK is working to secure funding to print a facsimile edition of The Ark of Unique Cultures so that the book and its wonderful cycle of poems can reach an even wider audience.

Hutsulka page

Pages from the book featuring postcards, photographs and Mariya Korpanyuk’s poems.

How and where did you collect the plants, postcards and photographs?

The plants were collected by Anatoli and his friends on one of his ‘expeditions’ up into the Ukrainian side of the Carpathian Mountains. They were then dried and used as inclusions in the handmade paper made at the UKK’s hand paper mill in Tallinn.

The postcards, designed by Anatoli, were hand printed on the UKK’s press by Labora — as the UKK’s paper, print, and other workshops are known in distinction to the church (Ora). On another trip to the Carpathians, Anatoli and friends distributed the postcards in Hutsul villages and asked the villagers to send the postcards back to the UKK in Tallinn with their comments on the Ark’s poems or any other aspects of Hutsul life they wanted to highlight. Thanks to the postcards, the Ark became a real community-wide project.

The pre-Second World War (and in many cases pre-First World War) photos were selected by the wonderful National Museum of Hutsulshchyna & Pokuttya Folk Art — the UKK’s partner for this book project — located in the town of Kolomyia and dedicated to preserving and promoting all things Hutsul. Kolomiya is the largest town on traditional Hutsul territory, in the foothills of the Carpathians.

Bride and groom page from book

Pages from the book featuring postcards, photographs and Mariya Korpanyuk’s poems.

Can you talk us through the book-making process?

The book’s illustrations and overall design are the work of Anatoli. All of the UKK’s original books are made pretty much entirely in its Labora studios, which employ a small group of calligraphers, printers, artists, and bookbinders who can create handmade books — or indeed illuminated manuscripts — in similar ways to a medieval monastery. The UKK and Labora are actively involved in teaching book-related crafts, from ink-making to bookbinding, to future generations through workshops, classes, and various partnerships.

The handmade paper — usually made from a combination of cotton, linen and rag — is beaten in a Hollander Beater before each sheet is hand-pulled by one of the UKK’s paper makers using handmade molds and deckles. The smaller plants are added right into the pulp or slurry. Larger ones are added onto the wet sheets of paper before they are pressed and dried.

Paper sheets before pressing

The paper making process (Reproduced by kind permission of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre and Labora)

What other book projects is the UKK currently working on?

In addition to publishing a facsimile edition of The Ark of Unique Cultures: the Hutsuls, the UKK is working on several other book projects including Sanctuarium: The Story of the Church of the Virgin with Three Hands and Horse Tales, an illustrated picture book by Anatoli Ljutjuk about goodness during wartime which will be released around the same time as a new Ukrainian documentary film about Anatoli and his travels with his wooden horse.

Of course, the UKK is also always on the lookout for new country partners to create new volumes — beyond the current two about Estonia and about Ukraine — for its two series The Poetics of Endangered Species and The Ark of Unique Cultures, dedicated to ethnic groups in danger of disappearing.

With kind thanks to Eric Johnson, and to the Ukrainian Cultural Centre for donating a copy of The Ark of Unique Cultures: the Hutsuls to the British Library. A digitised copy of the book is available via the National Library of Estonia. 

18 October 2019

“Free Croatia for Croatian people”: the Croatian journal “Hrvatska revija” 1951-2000

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Hrvatska revija (‘Croatian Review’) was a Croatian émigré journal published in Croatian in Buenos Aires (1951-1965), Paris (1966), Munich (1967-1977), Munich/Barcelona (1978-1990), and Zagreb (1991-2000). In its time the journal had the reputation of being the most sought-after cultural, literary and political journal of the Croatian emigration. It was also regarded as the most successful project of Croatian émigré publishing. The significance of Hrvatska revija today lies in the material preserved in its over 33,000 pages, containing some 11,000 articles and 1700 book reviews which, published over a period of 50 years, closely recorded and documented Croatian émigré life and culture. It is also an indispensable source for the study of recent Croatian history.

Front cover of the March 1955 issue of Hrvatska revija showing a relief in stone by Ivan Meštrović, ‘Croatian mothers on the run’

Front cover of the March 1955 issue of Hrvatska revija (P.P.7615.ch) showing a relief in stone by Ivan Meštrović, ‘Croatian mothers on the run’.

In 1951 Croatian émigrés Vinko Nikolić, a poet and journalist, and Antun Bonifačić, a writer, founded Hrvatska revija as a cultural and literary quarterly. From 1955 Nikolić was its sole editor until his death in 1997. Hrvatska revija was modelled on the notable literary journal of the same name published by the Croatian cultural society Matica hrvatska in Zagreb from 1928 to 1945. (Hrvatska revija: dvomesečnik Matice hrvatske. Ac.8967/19.). After Nikolić’s death in 1997 the journal was again published by Matica hrvatska from 1998 to 2000.

The journal had a steady following and was one of the most widely-read literary journals in Croatian émigré communities. This success was partly due to Nikolić’s editorial skills and his selection of journal associates which reached beyond members of the Ustaša, the Croatian ultranationalist pro-Nazi organisation, to which he had once belonged.

Nikolić’s Hrvatska revija published literary pieces, historical and political articles, literary criticism, book, music, theatre and art reviews, essays, memoirs, and travel writings. The journal was exquisitely illustrated with drawings, vignettes and other artistic contributions. Altogether there were around 600 contributors. In addition to original contributions Hrvatska revija had regular features, such as notes on cultural events, in particular about Croatian print and publishing activities, obituaries, and other useful information of general interest for Croatian émigré communities. The journal was funded by subscription and by support from loyal followers within these communities.

Front cover by Zdravko Dučmelić for Victor Visa, Sabrane Piesme featuring an abstract boat design

Front cover by Zdravko Dučmelić for Victor Vida, Sabrane Piesme [“Collected poems”] (Buenos Aires, 1962). X.0900/80.b.(2.). published in the series Knjižnica Hrvatske revije “Ciklus Hrvatski pjesnici” no. 2.

Between 1957 and 1991 Hrvatska revija published 67 books in the series Knjižnica Hrvatske revije (“Croatian Review Library”) which was arranged in four sub-series reflecting the journal’s editorial concept for promoting its cultural and political agenda while engaging with its readership: “Redovita izdanja” (‘Regular editions’, 1957- ), “Ciklus Hrvatski pjesnici” (“Croatian poets”, 1960- ), “Izvanredna izdanja” (“Special editions”, 1964- ) and “Ciklus Ljudi i krajevi” (“Peoples and places”, 1965- ).

Front cover by Pero Maruna for a collection of essays by Bogdan Radica, Sredozemni povratak featuring an illustration of the sun with a face above the sea

Front cover by Pero Maruna for a collection of essays by Bogdan Radica, Sredozemni povratak (Munich; Barcelona, 1971.) X.0900/80a.(7.).published in the series Knjižnica Hrvatske revije “Redovita izdanja” no. 7.

Hrvatska revija promoted itself as an all-Croatian, non-party journal, aimed at Croatian people abroad and at home, dedicated to the cause of Croatian state-building and fostering national identity. By embracing democratic political systems in the west and denouncing terrorism as a political struggle, Nikolić made a clear shift away from his Nazi past but remained a right-wing ideologist.

He tolerated and printed the critical ideas of the former members of the Ustaša regime in the Independent State of Croatia, but didn’t allow criticism at large. He therefore advocated a revisionist one-sided national history of the recent past. Nikolić regarded people who died fighting for the Independent State of Croatia as martyrs, and depicted those who fought against Nazism as communists who ruled over Croatia against the will of the majority. Hrvatska revija was not in the least interested in the significant contribution of the Yugoslav partisans to the defeat of Nazism in Europe, Yugoslavia and Croatia.

Notwithstanding these limitations Hrvatska revija claimed that 90 percent of Croatian writers and publicists abroad had contributed to the journal. It enjoyed the reputation of being an organ of Croatian intellectuals abroad, which brought together Croatian political émigrés of different political beliefs.

Front cover of 1972 Hrvatska revija

Front cover of Hrvatska revija (March 1972)

The journal cherished the culture of anniversaries and celebrated important events in Croatian culture and history. For example Hrvatska revija was the first to write about the Bleiburg tragedy of 1945 and estimated the number of casualties to be over 200,000, largely based on the fundamental concept of Croatian victimhood during war. This kind of assessment, provided in émigré literature, made a huge impact at home since this topic had not been discussed in Communist Yugoslavia.

Front cover by Pero Maruna Frano Nevistić, and Vinko Nikolić, Bleiburška tragedija hrvatskoga naroda featuring an abstract depiction of the tragedy

Front cover by Pero Maruna Frano Nevistić, and Vinko Nikolić, Bleiburška tragedija hrvatskoga naroda / (Munich, 1976) X.0900/80a(8), published in the series Knjižnica Hrvatske revije “Redovita izdanja” no. 8.

Similarly Croatian historical personalities who argued for the building of an all-Croatian state were given due attention, whereas those who promoted the unity of the South Slavs, were regarded by Hrvatska revija as people who didn’t believe in Croatia. This simple formula of Hrvatska revija meant that if someone was for Yugoslavia they were automatically against Croatia, as it was impossible to be both. Even the nation’s greats such as Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer or the historian Franjo Rački were barely mentioned in the journal. On the other hand inspiration was sought in Croatian nationalists abroad or dissatisfied apostates from the communist regime at home, among whom Franjo Tuđman was given a prominent place in Hrvatska revija before 1990.

The journal worked hard to reconcile former enemies and bring together political opponents around a political idea which claimed that neither the Ustaša lost nor the partisans won in the Second World War but that only Croatia was defeated. For Hrvatska revija, Yugoslavia was a violent and oppressive state within which Croatia was enslaved. The journal finally saw the violent death of Yugoslavia and the accomplishment of its political programme of a free Croatia for the Croatian people.

Redesigned front cover of Hrvatska revija (September 1998) featuring the word 'revija' in block letters

Redesigned front cover of Hrvatska revija (September 1998)

In addition to the abundance of research material on émigré life and contemporary Croatian culture and history, Hrvatska revija offers riches to researchers into the development of right-wing ideology, political thought and ideas in Croatia and in general.

The British Library holds the full set of Hrvatska revija from 1959 to 2000, but is wanting the volumes for 1951-1954, issues 2 and 3 for 1955, issues 3 and 4 for 1956, and the volumes for 1957-1958. The Library holds most of the titles published in the series Knjižnica Hrvatske revije.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

28 September 2019

A Journey from St Petersburg to Moscow, or a story of Imperial glory, radical ideas and rare books

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Banned Books Week (22–28 Sept 2019) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to the number of challenges to books in schools, bookshops and libraries. The theme for 2019 urges readers to ‘keep the light on’ to ensure censorship doesn’t leave us in the dark.

For over six months, from the beginning of January 1787, Empress of Russia Catherine the Great conducted an inspection of her newly-acquired lands in the south. The journey, known as the Taurida Voyage, was documented in an account kept by the Tsarina’s secretary Alexander Khrapovitskii (now digitised), but the itinerary with short descriptions of the places that she had intended to visit or pass by was published prior the trip.

Title page of Puteshestvie Ee Imperatorskogo Velishectva v poludennyi krai Rossii, predpriemlemoe v 1787 godu

Title page of Puteshestvie Ee Imperatorskogo Velishectva v poludennyi krai Rossii, predpriemlemoe v 1787 godu. (St. Petersburg, 1786) 1426.h.1

Map from Puteshestvie Ee Imperatorskogo Velishectva v poludennyi krai Rossii, predpriemlemoe v 1787 godu

Map from Puteshestvie Ee Imperatorskogo Velishectva v poludennyi krai Rossii, 

The purpose of the voyage was to celebrate the Empire, the Empress, and her victorious policies of expansion. Accounts of travels were a popular genre in 18th-century literature, but of course, Khrapovitskii’s ‘journal’ was also a distinguished piece of state propaganda.

We might speculate that the journal of Catherine’s travels ‘inspired’ Alexander Radishchev, a graduate of the University of Leipzig and therefore somewhat radical thinker, and a civil servant of the ninth rank (out of 14, first being the highest), to write his book A Journey from St Petersburg to Moscow and publish it in 1790.

Title page of the facsimile edition of Puteshestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu

Title page of the facsimile edition of Puteshestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu (Moscow; Leningrad, 1935) 010291.f.36

The last pages of the facsimile edition of Puteshestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu

The last pages of the facsimile edition of Puteshestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu 

An account of a routine journey from the capital city to the second most important city in the country and its ex-capital does not sound like an exciting new adventure that could capture readers’ imagination. And indeed, it meant to do the complete opposite – to show the dire state of social conditions in Russia where serfdom was as routine as a trip from St Petersburg to Moscow. If Catherine’s trip was a symbol of glory and victory of the ruling classes, Radishchev’s book presented an account of the misery and defeat of the people of Russia.

Map of the journey from Moscow to St Petersburg

Map of the journey (Materialy k izucheniiu “Puteshestviia”)

As one can see, there is no author’s name on the title page. In addition, the statement that the work had received approval from a censor – a mandatory condition for any print publication at that time in the Russian Empire – is put on the last page. It becomes obvious that Radishchev is playing some kind of trick here. The version he deposited for censorship was much lighter on criticism of the state than the version he eventually printed. Having received approval for printing, he reinstated the pages that contained his most radical, critical views.

Radishchev made use of Catherine’s decree on free printing, which from 1783 allowed individuals to set up private printing presses, and had a printing press in his own house. Between January and May 1790, he, his subordinate from the civil service, and domestics (mainly his own serfs) managed to produce 650 copies of his book. The first 50 copies were sent to the bookseller Zotov, and 30 of them sold. Quite unfortunately, one copy landed on Catherine’s desk. The Empress was infuriated, as she interpreted Radishchev's calls for reform as the most dangerous radicalism, and therefore all the remaining copies were confiscated and destroyed. Zotov was arrested and revealed the author’s name while being interrogated. Subsequently, Radishchev was also arrested and condemned to death, though the sentence was later softened and he was exiled to Siberia.

Out of the 650 copies originally printed, only just over a dozen survived. For decades, this book became the rarest and most desirable for any Russian bibliophile. Alexander Pushkin paid 200 Rubles for his copy. In 1858, Alexander Herzen published the book in his Free Russian Press in London. However, the Russian edition of 1872 was again banned by the authorities.

Title page of Herzen’s edition

Title page of Herzen’s edition. 9455c.11

In 1888, Aleskei Suvorin, one of the most prominent publishers of that time, managed to get permission to reprint 100 copies of Radishchev’s book. He borrowed a copy of the 1790 edition from a Moscow bibliophile, Pavel Shchapov, but his careless employees damaged and then disposed of this rare copy. To replace it, Suvorin first quietly tried to obtain a copy from antiquarian booksellers for around 300 Rubles, but did not get very far. He then published an advert in the newspaper Russkie vedomosti (No. 56, 1888) where he offered 1,500 Rubles for a fine copy. Eventually, he managed to get a copy for two thirds of this price and Shchapov was satisfied, although he died shortly after having received a new copy of Radishchev’s journey back into his collection. His friends and relatives were sure that the stress of losing the rarity contributed significantly to his premature death.

Newspaper advert in Russkiie vedomosti

Newspaper advert in Russkie vedomosti (N 56, 1888)

Thus, ironically, this criticism of social injustice became one of the most expensive collectors’ items on the market. The British Library does not hold the 1790 edition of Radishchev’s book.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The Library will be holding a number of events to mark Banned Books Week, and for more related posts, see our English and Drama and Americas blogs

30 August 2019

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

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Collage of book covers featured in the blog post

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

Cover of Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

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

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

Cover of The Polyglot Lovers by Lina Wolff

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover of Bad Roads by Natal'ya Vorozhbit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27 August 2019

Women in Translation Month: top picks from the European Studies team (Part 1)

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Collage of book covers featured in the blog post

Founded in August 2014 by book blogger Meytal Radzinski, Women in Translation Month (WITMonth) aims to celebrate and promote women writers in translation, as well as their translators and publishers. So why do we need WITMonth? As the organisers of the upcoming ‘Translating Women’ conference in London highlight, ‘translated literature notoriously accounts for only 3.5% of published literature in the English-language book market, and less than one-third of this is women-authored.’

In addition to WITMonth, initiatives such as the Translating Women project and associated conferences and events all help to redress the gender imbalance in the publishing industry. And there does appear to have been a shift in recent years, with the 2019 Man Booker International Prize shortlist featuring five women authors and six women translators.

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

 

Cover of The Art of Joy by Goliarda Sapienza

Goliarda Sapienza, The Art of Joy, translated by Anne Milano Appel (Penguin Books, 2013), Nov.2015/2304
Chosen by Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections

Written between 1966 and 1976, rejected by many publishers and issued posthumously in Italian, The Art of Joy only sparked interest after its French and English (by award-winning translator Anne Milano Appel) translations appeared, in 2008 and 2013. The Art of Joy is, above all, a novel of instruction and liberation, feminist, socialist, anti-Fascist. Goliarda Sapienza, its provocative and nonconformist Sicilian author, has just recently been rediscovered, being the subject of an international conference organised by UCL in 2013.

Cover of The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann

Marion Poschmann, The Pine Islands, translated by Jen Calleja (Serpent’s Tail, 2019), awaiting shelfmark.
Chosen by Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019, The Pine Islands follows a lecturer with a specialism in beards, as he decides to take off to Japan on a Bashō-inspired journey to the pine islands of Matsushima. It is a poetic exploration of nature and man, and of the potential for resisting conventional existence. This light but profound text is seamlessly reflected in the translation of Jen Calleja, the British Library’s first Translator-in-Residence and writer of fiction and poetry.

Cover of Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes by Guzel Yakhina,

Guzel Yakhina, Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes, translated by Lisa C. Hayden (Oneworld Publications, 2019), awaiting shelfmark.
Chosen by Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

Russian author and filmmaker Guzel Yakhina’s debut novel explores one of the most tragic periods in Russian and Soviet history – the large-scale repression of wealthier peasants, kulaks, who were stripped of their property and forcefully relocated to distant and uninhabited parts of the Soviet Union together with other groups of citizens, such as intellectuals, ethnic groups and peoples and ‘enemies of the state’. At the same time, this is a very personal story that relates to the experience of the author’s grandmother – a Muslim Tatar woman in the 1930s Soviet Union. This multi-award winning book is beautifully translated by Lisa Hayden, who described the process as an ‘enjoyable challenge’ due to the novel’s vivid characters and rich cultural and historical elements.

Cover of Sphinx by Anne Garreta

Anne Garréta, Sphinx, translated by Emma Ramadan, (Deep Vellum Publishing, 2015), YA.1987.a.16171 (French), English translation awaiting shelfmark.
Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

Born in 1962 in Paris, Anne Garréta currently teaches at Duke University as a Research Professor of Literature and Romance Studies. In 2000, she joined Oulipo (short for French: Ouvroir de littérature potentielle or workshop of potential literature), a loose gathering of (mainly) French-speaking writers and mathematicians who seek to create works using constrained writing techniques. Garréta’s first novel, Sphinx (Grasset, 1986) is a work of literary ingenuity: a love story between two characters, the narrator, “I,” and A***, written without any gender markers referring to the main characters, all the more difficult with the strict gender requirements of the French language. Sphinx is the first novel by a woman member of Oulipo to be translated into English. Emma Ramadan’s translation was nominated for the 2016 PEN Translation Prize and the Best Translated Book Award.

Cover of Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena

Nora Ikstena, Soviet Milk, translated by Margita Gailitis (Peirene Press, 2018), ELD.DS.269711
Chosen by Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator Baltic Collections

Nora Ikstena’s bestselling and widely translated novel is set in Soviet Latvia and tells a story of three generations of women. The mother, a doctor, is banished for political reasons to rural Latvia and takes her daughter with her. Uprooted and separated from her loving grandparents, in a reversal of roles, the daughter cares for her psychologically damaged and suicidal mother. This novel by one of the most prominent and influential prose writers in Latvia not only explores the mother-daughter relationship (under-represented in literature, according to Ikstena) but also gives a powerful voice to women living under - and coping with - an oppressive regime. It is seamlessly translated from Latvian by translator and poet Margita Gailitis.

Cover of Nada by Carmen Laforet, featuring a woman walking down an alleyway

Carmen Laforet, Nada, translated by Edith Grossman (Harvill Secker, 2007), Nov.2007/1429
Chosen by Geoff West, Former Curator Hispanic Studies

Published in 1945, Carmen Laforet’s first novel tells how 18-year old Andrea comes to Barcelona to live with her grandmother’s family while studying at university. The Spanish Civil War has greatly impoverished her relatives and created a nightmarish household of conflict, domestic abuse and religious bigotry. This world contrasts with the better-off milieu of her university friend, Ena, who also becomes embroiled in the family’s personal hell. The novel was translated into English in 2007 by Edith Grossman, whose credits already included works by Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa.

23 August 2019

Raymond Roussel’s strange book

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Where to start with the eccentric French poet Raymond Roussel? He was born into fabulous wealth, which he used to indulge his many idiosyncrasies. He threw lavish banquets just for himself. He more or less invented the modern electrified caravan, in which he travelled the world. Oh, and there’s a childhood photograph of him astride a swan.

Photo of Raymond Roussel, aged 3, sitting astride a swan

Photo of Raymond Roussel, aged 3, with a swan. Picture by Wilhelm Benque (1849-1903) & Cie (Paris) from Wikimedia Commons

He also produced a book with peculiar, unturnable pages, called Nouvelles Impressions d’Afrique. There’s a first edition in the British Library’s collections, and it has quite a story attached to it. You can listen to a podcast I made about it here, featuring Dr Dennis Duncan of University College London, and Dr Sophie Defrance, Curator of Romance Collections at the British Library.

Nouvelles Impressions is a long poem written in rhyming couplets, which Roussel published in 1932 after spending over a decade writing it. Convinced it was a masterpiece, he wanted to it to be his lasting literary monument. The problem was that it wasn’t very monumental in length and so, possibly to turn it into a longer, more impressive looking tome, he decided to include some illustrations. But here’s where it starts to get weird: Roussel hired an illustrator using a private detective agency, keeping his own identity a secret and providing only a series of captions or one-sentence instructions. And so the artist, Henri Zo, produced a set of line drawings without ever seeing the actual poem, or even knowing whose book he was illustrating. What’s even weirder is that Roussel then instructed his printer to produce the book in such a way that the illustrations would be partially concealed, hidden in the folds of uncut pages.

Books with uncut (or ‘unopened’) pages used to be very common. They were a by-product of the way books were produced in the era before industrial printing. Handpress production involved printing several pages at a time on a single larger sheet, which was then folded, usually into quarters or eighths, depending on the format and size of the volume. When these folded sheets were then stitched together into a book, some of the pages would still be joined together at the top or along the fore-edge. (Try this with a sheet of paper and you’ll see what I mean). Often the first thing you would need to do as a reader is to slice open the pages in order to read.

Roussel turned this quirk of book production into a feature of his Nouvelles Impressions d’Afrique. He made sure that the text and illustrations appeared on alternate leaves, and whereas the text is easily readable by turning the pages conventionally, the images could be seen only with difficulty, by prising apart two pages which are joined at the top. He even seems to have included an instruction to readers in later editions not to slice the pages, but to leave them joined. There’s something not only awkward but quite voyeuristic and intimate about this mode of reading, as Dennis Duncan has observed.

Roussel’s text itself seems well aware of this, and one of the illustrations depicts a man who is reading in exactly this way, looking rather furtive as he prises apart the leaves of an uncut book. It creates a funny kind of regression, placing us in the same position as the man in the illustration, even as we look at him.

Illustration of a man reading an un-opened book

An illustration of the art of reading an unopened book, in Raymond Roussel’s Nouvelles impressions d’Afrique. (Paris, 1932) 11397.aaa.2. 

Except that in this British Library copy, it doesn’t work in quite the way Roussel intended. He might have been meticulous in planning what the book would look like, and how readers would have to navigate it, but his plans were derailed once it was out in the world. At some point, possibly as late as 1983, the pages of this edition in the British Library were sliced open and disbound, so that they could be coated in a peculiar protective tissue layer that conservators were once fond of, in a process called lamination, or the ‘technique/process of manufacturing a material in multiple layers, so that the composite material achieves improved strength and stability’. Lamination was used to conserve very fragile or acid paper and was rather a common habit in libraries that cared about conservation from the 1950s to the early 1980s.

Not only were the pages of the British Library edition cut, but it was rebound wrongly, so that Roussel’s masterpiece was interrupted mid way through by the accidental inclusion of some publishers’ blurb and critical endorsements, including a glowing review of one of Roussel’s previous works, La poussière de soleils by the Daily Mail

Pierre Bazantay’s study on Roussel’s aesthetics describes how this booklet, or “cahier” of praises to Roussel was prepared by his editor, Lemerre, in the 1930s (certainly at the request of Roussel himself) and inserted in all the re-editions of his works. For the modern reader, it is ever so slightly poignant to read these reviews, which were not always clearly laudatory, but were cut just the right amount to almost look so. As a point of comparison, the booklet was correctly inserted in a now digitised edition of another of Roussel’s works, Chiquenaude

A promotional booklet produced by Roussel’s publisher, Lemerre, wrongly inserted in the rebound book in Raymond Roussel’s Nouvelles impressions d’Afrique.

La critique et Raymond Roussel, a promotional booklet produced by Roussel’s publisher, Lemerre, wrongly inserted in the rebound book in Raymond Roussel’s Nouvelles impressions d’Afrique. (Paris, 1932) 11397.aaa.2.

Poor old Roussel tried so hard to control how his poem would be encountered and read. But the British Library copy is testament to the fact that books just don’t work like that. How they are preserved depends on the vagaries of conservators, collectors and readers. Subsequent publishers have also largely ignored his original design, taking all kinds of liberties with the layout of Nouvelles Impressions, and even bumping all the illustrations to end of the book. Laurent Busine’s study, Raymond Roussel: contemplator enim, described the composition process, Roussel’s relationship with his publisher, and reproduced and discussed the 59 images created by Zo. If you want to read the book as Roussel envisaged, you need to get hold of the 2004 English translation published by Atlas Press. It’s the only edition to scrupulously replicate its unopened pages and give you the original, peculiar reading experience. It even includes a stern warning note to its readers: ‘You are advised to cut only the pages containing the introduction, and to read it before deciding whether to cut the remaining pages’.

Gill Partington, 2018–2019 Munby Fellow in Bibliography at Cambridge University (with Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance collections).

References/further reading

Pierre Bazantay, 'Roussel: une esthétique de la crise?' in Cahiers de l'Association internationale des études françaises, 2004, no. 56. pp. 113-126. W.P.d.475.

Laurent Busine, Raymond Roussel: contemplator enim: sur les «Nouvelles impressions d'Afrique», ouvrage orné de 59 illustrations d’Henri-Achille Zo. (Brussels, 1995). YA.1996.a.1668.

Raymond Roussel, La poussière de soleils. Pièce en cinq actes et vingt-quatre tableaux. (Paris, 1926) C.104.dd.30.

Raymond Roussel, New impressions of Africa; with 59 illustrations by H.-A. Zo; translated & introduced by Ian Monk with the assistance of Henry Matthews. (London, 2004). YK.2007.a.15117.

20 August 2019

Learning to read Cyrillic from 13th century Novgorod to the USSR

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We do not know much about how children learned to read and write Slavonic languages in Cyrillic script in the 11th-15th centuries. The most popular teaching method was learning Psalms and copying manuscripts. Near the Russian city of Novgorod, among birch bark manuscripts, archaeologists found a tablet with a wax surface for writing on the right and the Cyrillic alphabet carved on the left.

Novgorod tablet, 13th - early 14th century

Novgorod tablet, 13th - early 14th century. Reproduced in A.F Medvedev, Drevnerusskie pisala X-XV vv., in Sovetskaia arkheologiia, 1960, issue 2

It definitely looks like a school exercise book, but who keeps their jotters? Children learning to read Cyrillic did not, and nor did they even care much about their textbooks, passing them from one to another until the books disintegrated. That is why only two copies of the first Eastern Slavonic printed primer, published in Lviv by Ivan Fedorov in 1574, are known. The copy held at the British Library has been digitised and is freely available. 

The first page of the 1574 Azbuka

The first page of Ivan Fedorov’s primer (Lviv, 1574). C.104.dd.11(1)

It starts with listing Cyrillic letters three times: in the direct and reverse order, and in columns rather than lines. Then the book suggests that learners could put together consonants and vowels. As Russian is primarily a phonetic language, where written symbols directly correspond to spoken sounds, it is quite an easy exercise. Try it yourself: M+A=MA, B+A=BA, etc. Elementary grammar and texts for reading were also included.

Such books were called Azbuka, for the first two letters of the Cyrillic alphabet: A – was called Az and B – Buki. Another name for them was Bukvar’, from the word ‘bukva’ – letter. Soon, educators started separating such alphabet books from more advanced grammars. Also, the power of images in teaching and learning was recognised and more educators started to include pictures in their textbooks.

The most remarkable example of an illustrated primer was created by Karion Istomin, one of the first Muscovite enlighteners, who was editor of the Moscow Printing House, court poet and tutor to the royal children. The book was published in Moscow in 1694, but previously two manuscript copies had been presented to the royals for Peter the Great’s son and two young nieces.

The book opens with a short introduction illustrated by an engraving showing Christ teaching schoolchildren. Each page is devoted to one letter, which is drawn symbolically as a picture, and then in various other ways – print and shorthand. Istomin also wrote short poems that would help learners remember the letter, and included images of objects and animals whose names started with that letter. The book was too complex to be printed with moveable type and therefore was engraved by Leontii Bunin. He seems to have worked on it for about two years, between 1692 and 1694.

First page of Karion Istomin's Bukvar

Letter A from Karion Istomin's Bukvar. Includes drawings of animals and objects beginning with the letter A.

Letter Zh from Karion Istomin's Bukvar. Includes drawings of animals and objects beginning with the letter Zh.

Letter O from Karion Istomin's Bukvar. Includes drawings of animals and objects beginning with the letter O.

Letter S from Karion Istomin's Bukvar. Includes drawings of animals and objects beginning with the letter S.

First page, letter A, Zh, O, S. Images from the facsimile edition: Bukvar’ sostavlen Kariononm Istominym; gravirovan Leontiem Buinym; otpechatan v 1694 godu v Moskve. Leningrad: Avrora, 1981. X.955/980.

Although most scholars agree that so many variations in the letter shapes could confuse rather than help learners, this primer set up a tradition of illustrated textbooks for learners.

By the beginning of the 19th century, textbooks and learning materials were in demand by a network of various educational establishments and private tutors. Not only royal children could get books with pictures (although of course not so lavishly printed!). An Azbuka published in 1818 for public schools, was called Dragotsennyi podarok detiam (‘A Precious Present for Children’). It also introduced the alphabet in various types and shorthand, illustrating it with pictures, elementary reading exercises and texts for further reading, such as moral instructions and prayers.

As part of our Google Books project the British Library’s copy of the fourth edition of Dragotsennyi podarok detiam published without changes from the 1818 edition was digitised

Title-page of 1830 Azbuka

Title-page of the fourth edition of Dragotsennyi podarok detiam, ili novaia i polnaia rossiiskaia azbuka (Moscow, 1830) RB.23.a.23374

The cheap popular editions that mushroomed at the end of the 19th century could not afford many pictures, but at least tried to include some under colourful and attractive paper covers.

Collage of late 19th century Azbuka covers

Collage of late 19th century Azbuka covers

Most of the reading materials were still prayers, adaptations from the Gospels, and some simple statements and proverbs. Leo Tolstoy, who established a school for village children, was also concerned with education. He wrote his own Azbuka, where he aimed to offer exercises suitable for any learning method, including the ‘word method’ (reading not syllable by syllable, but memorising whole words), which, as he wrote in the introduction, was popular in England and America. It is interesting to note that Tolstoy thought pictures to be a luxury feature that could only distract pupils.

Cover of L. Tolstoy's Novaia Azbuka

L. Tolstoy. Novaia Azbuka . 25th edition (Moscow, 1908) 12975.m.33

In the new Soviet state this idea of Tolstoy’s was definitely not accepted. Primers illustrated with new communist propaganda became quite popular and were issued for adult learners. In 1921 Dmitrii Moor illustrated an Alphabet for a Red Army Soldier where he applied the same principle as in standard textbooks – introducing letters with a two-line verse and a picture. For example, letter ‘B’ showed a miserable bourgeois, begging for mercy.

Letter B from Dmitrii Moor's Red Army Alphabet. The illustration shows a worker, a peasant and a Red Army soldier standing over a 'bourgeois capitalist'.

Dmitrii Moor, Azbuka krasnoarmeitsa, (Moscow, 1921) Cup.401.g.25.

The campaign “Down with illiteracy!”, which started almost immediately after the October revolution in 1917, also required new textbooks, where learners’ first texts would be citations from Lenin and Trotsky instead of prayers.

Cover of a textbook for adults with an image of adults learning

Doloi negramotnost’. Bukvar’ dlia vzroslykh, (Moscow, 1920). 12975.n.15.

The Soviet primary school textbook had Lenin and a map of the USSR as the first pictures that children would see when they started learning to read and write. This is what the last Soviet edition of primer looked like; it was reproduced in more or less the same way for decades, so I also recognise the cover as my first schoolbook.

Last Soviet bukvar' with an image of Lenin and map of the USSR

Bukvar’. 9th edition (Moscow, 1989). YA.1996.a.6783.

Meanwhile, Russian-speaking children abroad also needed primers. Their parents, who had fled the Soviet regime, wanted them to keep their heritage language. It is interesting to see how old fashioned the YMCA-Press edition of 1957 looks. Children born in the early 1950s were introduced to reading through pictures of a 10 kopeks coin of 1911, a samovar, a horse-drawn carriage, and birch-bark shoes. As well as modern Russian, émigré children were also supposed to learn Church Slavonic so that they could read Christian Orthodox books.

Double-page spread from the 1957 reading book for Russian émigré children

V.P.Vakhterov. Russkii Bukvar’ dlia obucheniia pis’mu I chteniiu russkomu i tserkovno-slavianskomu. (Paris, 1957). 12993.w.1

To learn more about reading and writing in various countries, languages, alphabets, and societies, visit our exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark which is still open until 27th August.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

References/further reading:

Christine Thomas, ‘The East Slavonic Primers: Lvov, 1574 and Moscow 1637,’ The British Library Journal, 10 (1984), 32-47.

E. Rogatchevskaia, ‘“A Beautiful, Tremendous Russian Book, and Other Things Too”: An Overview of Rare Russian Books from the Diaghilev-Lifar Collection in the British Library’, Canadian-American Slavic Studies, Volume 51 (2017) Issue 2-3, 376-397.

Ivan the Terrible, primers, ballet and the joys of curatorship