19 July 2023
In March 1914 in St Petersburg, on the cusp of the First World War, the poet Velimir Khlebnikov and the artist Pavel Filonov issued Iz knigi ‘dereviannye idoly’ (From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’). Engaging in experimental collaborations in the book arts was part of a spectrum of activities undertaken by artists and writers in the Russian Empire known as the Futurists. This problematic label covers various individuals and groups operating over many years, who did not refer to themselves as Futurists. Others embraced the label or some variation of it. Over time, there has been a tendency to collapse these individuals and groups under the single label of ‘Russian Futurist’ due to the region’s entangled histories, but also due to an overriding imperial Russian narrative.
Fig. 1. Photograph of Velimir Khlebnikov in 1913. Image: Wikimedia Commons.
Fig. 2 Photograph of M. Matiushin, A. Kruchenykh, P. Filonov, I. Shkolnik and K. Malevich in 1913 (left to right). Image: Wikimedia Commons
Often referred to as ‘books’, Futurist books have also been called pamphlets, publications, booklets, collections, occasionally artists’ books or even, helpfully, anti-books, a term which points to their revolutionary nature and their participation in the international book experiment. Across Europe, avant-garde writers and artists engaged in the book experiment, as seen for example in the 2007 British Library exhibition: Breaking the Rules: The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937. Notably, the anti-books contain an inherent performativity: Wooden is a publication within a publication entitled Izbornik stikhov s posliesloviem riechiaria: 1907-1914 (Selected Poems with an Afterward by a Wordsmith, 1907-1914). Embedded within Selected Poems, Wooden is a lithographed supplement that stands in stark contrast to its host publication and serves as a vehicle for performance through an interplay of sound, text, image, and materiality.
Fig. 3. Cover of the British Library exhibition catalogue Breaking the Rules: the Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937 (London, 2007). YC.2008.b.251.
Fig. 4. Cover of V. Khlebnikov, Izbornik stikhov s posliesloviem riechiaria: 1907-1914 gg ([St Petersburg, 1915]). C.114.mm.39.
Fig. 5. Cover of Iz knigi ‘dereviannye idoly’ (From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’) and first page of ‘To Perun’.
The anti-book collaborations took place over many years in different activity centres in the Russian Empire, instigated by the poet Aleksei Kruchenykh and joined by Khlebnikov and, initially, the painter Mikhail Larionov, along with a select group of secondary collaborators, such as Natalia Goncharova, Ilya Zdanevich (‘Iliazd’), Olga Rozanova, and Vladimir Mayakovsky. During the second half of the 19th century, the printing industry in the Russian Empire developed swiftly ‘from a small artisanal craft closely tied to the state into a relatively large-scale, diversified, and technologically developed industry run by capitalist entrepreneurs and professional managers.’(Steinberg, p. 7) This development led to the publication of luxurious, limited book editions and cultural journals, and technical journals focusing on book arts. The early 20th century also witnessed a flood of collecting centred around these publications, which collectors eagerly sought to obtain (Bowlt, pp. 187-189).
Amidst these developments, Khlebnikov and Filonov released Wooden. With its Slavic folklore themes, related illustrations and pictograms, and archaic-sounding language, Wooden speaks to the period’s pervading artistic focus on the cultures of the East. Two texts were included in Wooden: ‘To Perun’, a poem, and ‘Night in Galicia’, a play in verse. Likely at Kruchenykh’s request, Filonov made 11 illustrations to accompany the texts (Parnis, p. 644). His illustrations impressed Kruchenykh. When Khlebnikov received a copy, he wrote to Kruchenykh: ‘Hats off to Filonov. Thank you for the great drawings.’ (Kruchenykh, ‘O Pavele Filonove’, p. 532) Khlebnikov opens Wooden with a poem addressed to the ancient god of thunder and lightning ‘To Perun’. One way Khlebnikov explores sound is through the creation of new words, e.g., ‘Peru-nepr’ (Perun + Dniper) (fig. 6) (Khlebnikov, Tvorenie, p. 85, footnote 8). The poem includes two illustrations by Filonov. His toy-like idols feature in the headpiece on the front page and the letters in the title ‘To Perun’ consist of a series of illustrations of wooden arrows (fig. 5). In ‘Night in Galicia’, which has nine illustrations, Khlebnikov presents mermaids, witches, and a knight (fig. 7). Filonov’s imagery works in tandem by emitting a sense of ancient art, including wooden sculptures and mythical folk tale characters. As in ‘Perun’, he introduces some letters in pictorial form, e.g., the word ‘mermaid’ (rusalka) begins with a mermaid’s image in place of the ‘r’ (fig. 8).
Fig. 6. Khlebnikov’s new word ‘Peru-nepr’ (Perun + Dniper) in From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’, p.3.
Fig. 7. First page of ‘Night in Galicia’ in From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’, p. 12.
Fig. 8. The word ‘mermaid’ (rusalka) begins with a mermaid’s image in place of the ‘r’ in From the Book ‘Wooden Idols’, p. 12
Throughout Wooden, Filonov emphasises its materiality by employing a hand-drawn font. The font also serves as a demarcation between Selected Poems and Wooden. Khlebnikov and Kruchenykh believed handwriting varied according to the writer’s mood and that the mood would be apparent to the viewer separately from the text. Additionally, they felt that an artist arguably would be better placed to be the text writer, as opposed to the author, noting that: ‘[i]t’s strange that [none of our contemporaries] has ever thought of giving his offspring to an artist instead of a typesetter.’ (Khlebnikov and Kruchenykh, p. 257) Following this principle, Filonov adeptly weaves together his inner vision of the texts with that of Khlebnikov’s. Khlebnikov and Filonov, who seemed to have enjoyed friendly relations at the time, were engaging in a folkloric performativity for viewers by combining these seemingly ethnographic, yet ultimately fanciful elements together, replete with archaic figures and an ancient-looking, hand drawn, lithographed font.
This post was adapted from a conference paper given by the author on 3 December 2021 at the 2021 ASEEES Virtual Convention and is being developed as part of her AHRC-TECHNE funded PhD project, ‘Sound Art and Visual Culture: The Anti-Book Experiment in the Romanov Empire and the USSR, 1881-1932’ at Kingston School of Art, Kingston University.
References and further reading:
K. Bezmenova, ‘Filonov and His Only Lithograph Book’, in Filonov. 125th Anniversary of the Artist’s Birth (1883-1935). Compilation of Articles from the Academic Conference (State Russian Museum, St Petersburg, 2007) (St Petersburg, 2008), pp. 61-73.
J. Bowlt, Moscow & St. Petersburg, 1900-1920: Art, Life & Culture (New York, 2008). m08/.35374
N. Gurianova, ‘'A Game in Hell, Hard Work in Heaven: Deconstructing the Canon in Russian Futurist Books', in The Russian Avant-Garde Book, 1910-1934, ed. by D. Wye and M. Rowell (New York, 2002), pp. 24-32. LC.31.a.179
V. Khlebnikov, Tvorenie, eds. V.P. Grivoreva and A. E. Parnis (Moscow, 1986)
V. Khlebnikov and A. Kruchenykh, ‘The Letter as Such (1913)’ in Collected Works of Velimir Khlebnikov. Volume I: Letters and Theoretical Writings, ed. by C. Douglas and trans. by P. Schmidt (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1987). YC.1988.b.4461
‘Klanyates’ Filonovu. Spasibo za khoroshie risunki.’ A. Kruchenykh, ‘O Pavele Filonove’ in Pavel Filonov: realnost i mify, ed. by L. Pravoverova (Moscow, 2008), pp. 161-167. YF.2009.a.26968
A. Parnis, ‘O metamorfozakh mavy, olenya i voina. K probleme dialoga Khlebnikova i Filonova’ in Mir Velimira Khlebnikova. Statii issledovaniia 1911-1998, ed. by V. Ivanov and others (Moscow, 2000), pp. 637-695. YA.2000.a.28541
Mark Steinberg, Moral Communities. The Culture of Class Relations in the Russian Printing Industry, 1867-1907 (Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oxford, 1992). YC.1993.b.2609
25 May 2023
This year's Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages will take place on Monday 12 June 2022 in the Eliot Room of the British Library’s Knowledge Centre (formerly Conference Centre). The programme is as follows:
11.00 Registration and coffee
11.30 IAN CHRISTIE-MILLER
Tyndale’s first New Testament fragment
12.15 Lunch (own arrangements)
1.30 EMILY DI DODO (Oxford)
A text in exile: towards a bibliographical history of Las cient novelas de Juan Bocacio
2.15 DAVID SHAW (Canterbury)
The BL’s French post-incunables
3.30 MARJA KINGMA (London)
The Dutch Church Library: a library with nine lives.
4.15 BARRY TAYLOR (London)
Foreign books in Dr Williams’s Library, London.
The Seminar will end at 5.00 pm.
All are welcome and the event is free, but please notify us by email if you are able to attend. If you know of others who might be interested, please pass on the invitation.
A depiction of an early printing shop from Joannes Arnoldus, De chalcographiæ inventione poema encomiasticum (Mainz, 1541) G.9963.
31 March 2023
Best known for his young adult series Pelle og Proffen and the ‘Elling’ series of novels, Ingvar Ambjørnsen’s first work hardly had the same impact in its own time but is now thought of as Norway’s rarest post-war work. Pepsikyss is a weird and wonderful collection of poems and drawings, which Ambjørnsen produced, published and distributed on the streets of Bergen for three Norwegian Krone each in 1976. Now, if you can even find a copy, they fetch thousands of times that price.
Front cover, Ingvar Ambjørnsen’s Pepsikyss ([Bergen, 1976]), RF.2023.a.77
The library has recently acquired a pristine copy of this rarity. Copies of Pepsikyss are hard to come by, with about 200 or so in existence, after Ambjørnsen threw away half of his 500-copy print run once he had recouped his printing expenses and was finished with his experiment. Reviewed in the countercultural magazine Gateavisa, it is not quite true that it made no impact. Its DIY, anti-establishment ethos with accompanying psychedelic drawings struck a chord with a cult audience. Although it was not until 1981 when Ambjørnsen officially debuted with his novel 23-salen.
Contents page with the message in the corner, ‘To hell with the publishing capital!’
While Ambjørnsen always saw himself as a writer (despite an early-career foray into horticulture), it might have taken a while to get used to the idea of a publisher, judging by the note on Pepsikyss’s inside cover: ‘TIL HELVETE MED FORLAGS KAPITALEN’ – to hell with the publishing capital!
The young poet picks off the symbols of capitalist society and government in his direct, unflinching language. En plass i solen, the opening poem, features an image of a top-hatted rat sucking the dismembered head of poor society, as he basks in the sunshine of wealth. The poem ends with society waiting ‘in the shadows of commercial buildings and banks’ for a new day. Perhaps a little too in your face but the tone is certainly set for the rest of the collection.
The title poem, Pepsikyss, is, as you might expect about a kiss at a party from a woman who’d just had a sip of what Ambjørnsen at the end calls ‘Nixon piss’. The rest of the poem is a description of a visceral party feeling and he is here and in other poems like Rolle, keen to capture something of the immediacy and buzz of love, friendship and partying.
The collection includes a comic strip Underlige Jensen and a piece of prose, more a playlet featuring the ‘prodigal son’ and the ‘prodigal father’, Fortapte familie, which closes the book.
Pepsikyss joins a wide range of publications by Ingvar Ambjørnsen in the library’s collections, and is a precursor to the author’s continued preoccupation with outsider characters and the margins of society. It is a cross between free, unfiltered, doodled naivety and studied social criticism. Yet its content is only part of a story that took this copy from the streets of Bergen to the stacks of the BL.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic collections
24 March 2023
The Charta (Map) of Greece is considered to be one of the most important works of the Neohellenic Enlightenment and perhaps the most important sample of Greek cartography of the pre-revolutionary period (before 1821). It was created by the celebrated Greek author, thinker and revolutionary Rigas Velestinlis, who had been profoundly influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment and the principles of the French Revolution arriving from Western Europe.
Rigas Velestinlis. Portrait by Andreas Kriezis (Benaki Museum, Athens). Picture from Wikipedia.
Engraved by the well-known engraver Franz Müller and published in Vienna in three rounds between 1796-1797, the Charta was one of three maps published by Rigas during the preparation of his revolutionary plan against the Sultan’s absolute power over the enslaved Greeks and other Balkan peoples. The other two were the New Map of Wallachia and the General Map of Moldovia. The maps complemented each other and projected the democratic state Rigas envisioned in the area after the successful outcome of his revolution.
The 12-folio Charta of Greece. Picture from Wikipedia.
The Charta consists of twelve folios measuring approximately 50cmx70cm each, which combined together form a monumental 2mx2m map never seen before in the Balkans. Researchers believe that it was based on a map of ancient Greece by the famous cartographer Guillaume Delisle, something that could explain Rigas’s description of the Charta as a map of Greece with its islands and numerous colonies in Europe and Asia Minor.
The full title can be found in a cartouche on folio 4 of the Charta and provides important pieces of information, such as the place and date of publication and contributors, as well as a description of its contents. It depicts the geographical window of a state confined only by geophysical boundaries, which are recorded in both their old and modern names.
A cartouche containing the title: «Χάρτα της Ελλάδος εν η περιέχονται αι νήσοι αυτής και μέρος των εις την Ευρώπην και μικράν Ασίαν πολυαρίθμων αποικιών αυτής… εν σώμα εις 12 τμήματα. Νυν πρώτον εκδοθείσα παρά του Ρήγα Βελεστινλή Θετταλού χάριν των Ελλήνων και Φιλελλήνων. 1797. Εχαράχθη παρά του Φρανσουά Μήλλερ εν Βιέν(νη)». Above, Goddess Episteme on a throne; Below, Hercules on foot and with only a club, attacks an Amazon riding a horse and carrying a double axe. LF.31.b.1825
The Charta also includes plans of nine famous Greek cities and places, which according to Rigas help the understanding of the journey of his Neos Anacharsis, a translation of the Voyage de Jeune Anacharsis en Grèce by Jean-Jacques Barthélemy. The understanding of the journey is further assisted by a chronology of kings and important men and the depiction of 161 types of Greek coins scattered throughout the map. These elements are believed to have been recorded by Rigas to conceal his true revolutionary intentions, evade Austrian censorship and secure the authorities’ permission to publish his work.
Coins from folio 7 of the Charta. LF.31.b.1825
The plan of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire and city-symbol for the Greeks since its fall to the Ottomans in 1453, appears on folio 1 of the Charta, which was published a few months earlier and independently from the rest of the map.
Folio 1 of the Charta showing the map and plan of Constantinople. LF.31.b.1825
A close-up of the plan of Constantinople. LF.31.b.1825
On the right hand side, a notable allegorical scene: a lion, believed to represent the dormant force of the enslaved peoples, is trapped under the supports of the Ottoman power, symbolised by the Sultan’s turban and the oriental weapons beneath it. Next to the lion is a club, a primeval and rather insignificant weapon by comparison. However, it is only a matter of time before the lion awakens to overthrow the foreign rule and reconfirm its authority using the means available to it.
A temporarily dormant lion trapped under the supports of the Sultan’s turban and Ottoman weapons. LF.31.b.1825
Other ancient city plans included in the Charta are Sparta, Thermopylae, Pherae -modern Velestino and birthplace of Rigas - Athens, Plateae, Salamis, Olympia and Delphi. On folio 7, there is even a plan of an ancient Greek theatre, as a reminder of its enduring pedagogical power and the potential source of inspiration for the enslaved Greeks.
An ancient Greek theatre with its various parts on folio 7 of the Charta. LF.31.b.1825
In the top margins of folios 10 and 11, Rigas provides in alphabetical order the names of 114 great men of Greece and characters from Greek mythology, which he pairs with dates and accompanies with Hercules’s club on the side, to indicate the strength and continuity of the Greek civilisation. At the top of folio 12, he provides the names of 15 rulers, from Alexander the Great to Cleopatra and the first Roman Emperors after Christ.
The names of important men of Greece in alphabetical order at the top of folio 10. LF.31.b.1825
The names of great kings in chronological order at the top of folio 12. LF.31.b.1825
The names of kings of Constantinople appear in the bottom margins of folios 2 and 3. This chronology starts with the Christian Emperors, from Theodosius the Great to Constantine Palaiologos, and finishes with the Sultans, from Mohammed II to Selim III. A contrast is made between the eleven centuries of Byzantine Empire and the three of Ottoman Empire, both of which had their seat in Constantinople.
Rigas and his seven companions were arrested in Trieste a few months after the publication of the Charta and other contemporary works that revealed their radical ideas for liberation from Ottoman rule, equality, respect for human rights and democracy. In February 1798, they were returned to Vienna for interrogation and were handed over to the Turks of Belgrade in May of the same year. After a short period of imprisonment and torture in Nebojša Tower, they were executed by strangling. Their bodies were thrown in Danube River.
Nebojša Tower, where Rigas and his companions were imprisoned and executed. Picture from Wikipedia
Of the 1220 original copies of the Charta, most were sent to collaborators of Rigas in Bucharest, Iasio and Smyrna, several were individually sold in Vienna, and a large number was confiscated during Rigas’s arrest by the Austrian police. Around 60 are estimated to survive today in various libraries, archives and private collections around Greece and the rest of the world.
Lydia Georgiadou, Curator Modern Greek Collections
Rēgas Velestinlēs Thettalos, Charta tēs Hellados en hē periechontai hai nēsoi autēs kai meros tōn eis tēn Eurōpēn kai Mikran Asian polyarithmōn apoikiōn autēs… (Vienna, 1797). LF.31.b.1825
Dēmētrios Karamperopoulos, Hē Charta tou Rēga Velestinlē (Athens, 1998). LF.31.b.1825
Dēmētrios Karamperopoulos, Endeiktikē vivliographia gia ton Rēga Velestinlē (Athens-Velestino, 2007). YF.2012.b.210
Dēmētrios Karamperopoulos, Hē dēmokratikē enopoiēsē tou valkanikou chōrou sto epanastatiko schedio tou Rēga (Athens, 2010). YF.2012.a.908
Dēmētrios Karamperopoulos, To chartographiko ergo tou Rēga Velestinlē hypo to phōs tōn neōn ereunōn (Athens, 2010). YF.2014.a.13117
Maria Mantouvalou, Ho Rēgas sta vēmata tou Megalou Alexandrou (Athens, 1996). YA.2001.a.29026
Viktōr Th. Melas, Hē Charta tou Rēga : diakosia chronia apo tēn ekdosē tēs (Athens, 1997). YA.2002.a.8913
Giōrgēs Exarchos, Rēgas Velestinlēs: anekdota engrapha, nea stoicheia (Athens, 1998). YA.2001.a.15645
Polychronēs K. Enepekidēs, Rēgas-Hypsēlantēs-Kapodistrias : ereunai eis ta archeia tēs Austrias, Germanias, Italias, Gallias kai Hellados (Athens, 1965). X700/2748
Spyridōn P. Lampros, Apokalypseis peri tou martyriou tou Rēga: meta eikonōn kai panhomoiotypōn (Athens, 1892). 10606.b.54
03 March 2023
On until 18 March, the exhibition Editorial Tables: Reciprocal Hospitalities at The Showroom brings together publishers, artists, and curators with an interest in ‘independent, experimental and artist-led publishing, with a focus on intersecting feminist and decolonial perspectives’. We were glad to receive the back catalogue of one of the featured publishers, Rab-Rab Press, based in Helsinki and founded by Sezgin Boynik.
Rab-Rab: journal of political and formal inquiries in art, Issue 01 (2014). Awaiting shelfmark.
Rab-Rab Press publishes Rab-Rab: journal of political and formal inquiries in art, which is a platform for politically charged interventions in an art world that has surrendered to its ‘ideological blindness’, to the dominant language of ‘liberal capitalist paranoia’. The journal itself and the range of books published by Rab-Rab are seen as part of a “writerly” art practice that, according to the first issue’s opening article by John Roberts, stemmed from Conceptual art’s dismissal of the ‘intellectual division of labour’, the strict separation of the work of the art practitioner and the art critic.
Reprint of E. P. Thompson’s, The Railway: An Adventure in Construction (Helsinki, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark.
Rab-Rab Press is also engaged in publishing, and often translating for the first time, out-of-print forgotten works. Twentieth century and contemporary political thought from across Europe finds a home at Rab-Rab, from the work of Slovenian sociologist Rastko Močnik to two lectures by the Polish-Georgian avant-gardist Ilia Zdanevich. There is a reprint of E. P. Thompson’s, The Railway: An Adventure in Construction, on the international labour brigades in Yugoslavia, and most recently a translation of the increasingly influential artist and thinker Karel Teige’s Jarmark umění, The Marketplace of Art.
Karel Teige’s Jarmark umění, The Marketplace of Art (Helsinki, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark.
Lastly, Rab-Rab’s focus also turns to surprising cultural political moments, whether that is the Archie Shepp-Bill Dixon Quartet playing the 8th World Festival of Youth and Students in Helsinki 1962 (Free Jazz Communism), Mao Zedong’s last meeting with the Red Guards in 1968 (The Conclusive Scene), or the release of London-based Practical Music’s LP, Albanian Summer: An Entertainment, in 1984 (From Scratch: Albanian Summer Picaresque).
With such an eclectic range of publications bringing lost writing and moments to light, we look forward to what Rab-Rab Press takes on next. In the meantime, there is still a chance to catch the exhibition.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic collections
11 August 2022
Under the auspices of the German Studies Library Group in association with the British Library, the fourth Graham Nattrass lecture, Wittenberg 1522: Print Culture and Soundscape of the German Reformation, will be delivered on Tuesday 20 September 2022 at the British Library by Professor Henrike Lähnemann.
Her lecture will take us back five centuries to September 1522, when the Wittenberg printers had a bestseller on their hands: the German New Testament translated by Martin Luther over the summer. It sold so quickly that in December they produced a second edition.
Title-pages from the editions of Luther’s New Testament translation published in Wittenberg in September (above, C.36.g.7.) and Deccember (below, 1562/285) 1522
The lecture will contextualise this publication in the print culture and soundscape of its time. A particular focus will be on Reformation pamphlets from 1522 in the British Library and contemporary hymn production to spread the biblical message. The British Library and British Museum Singers will provide practical examples.
Title-page of Martin Luther, Das Huptstuck des ewigen und newen testaments, [(Wittenberg, 1522?]) 3905.c.68., one of the pamphlets that will be discussed in the lecture.
Before the lecture there will be a performance of music in the Library’s main entrance hall by the British Library and British Museum singers, conducted by Peter Hellyer, including pieces by Bach, Brahms, and Mendelssohn.
The timetable for the event is as follows:
17.00: Music in the main entrance hall
17.30: Refreshments served in the Foyle Suite
18.00: Lecture in the Foyle Suite
Graham Nattrass (1940–2012) enjoyed a long and distinguished career at the British Library and its antecedents, starting at the National Central Library at Boston Spa in 1971. He became Head of the British Library’s Germanic Collections in 1996 and retired from the Library in 2005, as Head of West European Collections. He was Chair of the German Studies Library Group from 2003 to 2007, and a founding member of the group, which in 2016 instituted an annual lecture in his memory.
Henrike Lähnemann is Professor of Medieval German Literature and Linguistics at the University of Oxford and Professorial Fellow of St Edmund Hall, Oxford. Her research interests include medieval manuscripts, the relationship of text and images, and how vernacular and Latin literature are connected, currently mainly in late medieval Northern German convents.
Both concert and lecture are free to attend and open to all, but places for the lecture are limited, so if you wish to attend please contact the Chair of the German Studies Library Group, Dorothea Miehe ([email protected]).
09 February 2022
Applications are now open for an exciting new PhD placement working with the Slavonic and East European collections at the British Library. Under the title ‘Displaced Persons (DP) Camp Publications in the British Library’, current PhD students are invited to spend three months (or part-time equivalent) researching, improving catalogue records, and promoting the Ukrainian-language titles within this collection.
Cover of Lesia Ukrainka, Poezii: vybrani tvory (Regensburg, 1946). 11588.a.59. The British Library copy contains the stamp of the London-based Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau, which is believed to have donated the book to the Library in 1948.
At the end of the Second World War, millions of people were displaced from their homes, with more than six million refugees in Allied-occupied Germany alone. They included concentration camp survivors, political prisoners, former forced labourers and prisoners of war. While many were repatriated in the first few months, approximately one million people in Germany were unable or unwilling to return to their countries of origin. The remaining displaced persons were housed in camps, organised mainly by nationality. DP communities set up schools, churches, synagogues, theatres, hospitals, and published their own newspapers and books.
Cover of Ravensbrück: naibilʹshyi zhinochyi kontsentratsiinyi tabor v Nimechchyni, illustrated by Olena Vityk-Voitovych (Munich, ca. 1946). YA.2003.a.16502.
The British Library holds a number of rare books, journals and newspapers published in and around DP Camps in Europe (predominantly Germany and Austria) between 1945 and 1955. The languages of these publications include Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Yiddish and Belarusian. Among the titles are editions of famous literary and historical works, accounts of internment in Nazi concentration camps, political manifestos, and children’s books. Many are written and/or illustrated by prominent writers and artists, and contain stamps and other information key to understanding the activities, networks and governance of the camps and DP/émigré communities. The metadata for these items is inconsistent and, in many cases, minimal. While the project will focus on the collection’s Ukrainian-language titles, there is also scope to work with DP camp publications in other languages depending on the student’s area of interest.
Cover and two watercolour illustrations by Edvard Kozak, Selo: Al’bum Karykatur ([Germany, 1948?]). RB.31.c.713. The Library’s copy is nr 89 in a limited edition of 500 numbered copies.
The placement will provide a hands-on introduction to the activities of a major research library and cultural organisation, with a particular focus on cataloguing, collection management, and public engagement. In undertaking the placement project, the student will have the opportunity to consult and work with colleagues across a range of collection areas and roles.
Supervised by Dr Katie McElvanney, Curator of Slavonic and East European Collections, the placement will sit within the European, Americas and Oceania Department. Alongside regular meetings, pastoral support, and training opportunities, the student will benefit from being part of a welcoming and supportive wider team, which includes a number of PhD researchers.
Cover of Lev Iatskevych, Parovyi verbliud, illustrated by Edvard Kozak (Munich, 1947). Awaiting shelfmark.
The placement is open to UK-based PhD students from all disciplines and academic backgrounds; however, a good reading knowledge of Ukrainian is essential, and knowledge of 20th century European history and another Slavonic language (Russian, Belarusian, Polish) would be an advantage.
Further information on eligibility, funding and how to apply is available on the British Library website. The deadline for applications is Friday 25 February 2022 (5 pm).
For informal enquiries, please contact [email protected]
References and further reading:
Gerard Daniel Cohen, In war’s wake: Europe’s displaced persons in the postwar order (New York; Oxford, c2012). YC.2011.a.17419
Ann Holian, Between National Socialism and Soviet Communism: Displaced Persons in Postwar Germany (Ann Arbor, 2011). YC.2011.a.13908
David Nasaw, The Last Million: Europe’s Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War (New York, 2020).
Mark Wyman, DPs: Europe’s Displaced Persons, 1945–1951 (London; Ithaca, 1998). YC.1999.b.7740
Publications by Ukrainian "displaced persons" and political refugees, 1945-1954, in the John Luczkiw collection, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto: Microfilm collection: An electronic bibliography Compiled by Yury Boshyk and Włodzimierz Kiebalo. Edited by Wasyl Sydorenko.
The Refugee Experience: Ukrainian Displaced Persons after World War II, eds. Wsewolod W. Isajiw, Yury Boshyk, and Roman Senkus (Edmonton, 1992). YA.1995.b.3753
04 January 2022
In European Collections, where we focus on printed books post-1850, many of our acquisitions come through regular contracted suppliers. These suppliers are equipped to provide the breadth of publications the Library needs to stay relevant as an international research organisation. Occasionally, however, we acquire by different means, perhaps when the publication is more niche, or second-hand, or when we have a connection to a publisher or author, amongst other reasons. As we enter a new year, I wanted to reflect briefly on the quirkier material that has entered the BL’s Nordic collections in just such ways in 2021.
Valtatiet (‘Highways’) is an early example of the Finnish avant-garde, an illustrated poetry collaboration between Mika Waltari, Olavi Lauri Paavolainen and the artist Sylvi Kunnas, who provided its striking front cover.
Cover of Valtatiet (1928) by Sylvi Kunnas, awaiting shelfmark
Waltari and Paavolainen were prominent members of the Tulenkantajat (‘Torch Bearers’) group of artists and writers, who introduced the trending movements of European modernism to Finland. Valtatiet was itself inspired by Filippo Marinetti’s Futurism in its manifesto-like poetry of ‘machine romanticism’ (Kaunonen), while Kunnas’s cover certainly betrays an interest in Cubist style. Both poets increasingly became more politically engaged, despite their early preference for the aesthetics and experience of modernity and modern life, and both visited Nazi Germany in the 1930s, with Paavolainen producing perhaps his most famous work as a result, Kolmannen Valtakunnan vieraana (‘Guest of the Third Reich’, 1936). This acquisition complements an extensive European avant-garde collection at the Library and importantly expands it to incorporate an example of its unique Finnish expression.
Illustration by Sylvi Kunnas accompanying the poems entitled ‘Credo’ by Olavi Lauri Paavolainen
Our Finnish collections also recently welcomed a much more contemporary literary work, Fun Primavera by Elsa Tölli, which we kindly received directly from the author. Elsa won this year’s Tanvissa karhu (‘Dancing bear’) prize for poetry, the first time it has gone to a self-published work. Thrilled to be asked for a copy by the Library, Elsa sent us a beautiful note along with the book, which she described as her “wild and extravagant poetry explosion”. Thank you, Elsa! And for those of us still needing to hone our Finnish, an English translation by Kasper Salonen is available.
From Fun Primavera by Elsa Tölli (awaiting shelfmark)
Reaching out to creators has been an interesting way to learn about contemporary publishing in the region. I came across the work of Johannes Samuelsson through conversations around Swedish art books and projects centred on social action. Samuelsson, an artist and photographer, has developed an art practice that is directly concerned with uplifting his community in Umeå, making books that document but also form part of that social action. Johannes generously sent his work to the Library and I was particularly struck by the book Skäliga anspråk på prydlighet: En bok om kampen för en korvvagn (‘Reasonable claims for neatness: A book on the fight for a hot dog stall’).
Cover of Johannes Samuelsson’s Skäliga anspråk på prydlighet, featuring hot dog stall owner, Helmer Holm
When the Umeå authorities introduced new regulations for the design of hot dog stalls, Helmer Holm fought to retain his stall, which contravened the new rules. Samuelsson documents what he calls the “hot dog war”, amplifying Holm’s campaign, which was eventually successful, and the project is brought to life in the photobook. Attempting to represent the cultural life of the Nordic region, our collections need to be broad and relevant, identifying projects that also speak to universal issues and therefore that cut across the Library’s collections. With this Swedish perspective on local activism, on gentrification of common urban space, on art as social practice, we are hopefully adding richness to collections that interrogate similar ideas.
Cover of Art of Welfare, (Oslo, 2006) YD.2021.a.1210
We are always keen to incorporate independent publishing and smaller presses, especially where the publications complement the collections we already hold and the themes central to them. Art publishing tends to be produced with an international market in mind, with many books from the Nordic region appearing in English. After acquiring the Office for Contemporary Art Norway’s recent trilogy of new Indigenous writing, following a survey of contemporary publishing related to Sámi culture, we were fortunate to receive all outstanding issues of the publisher’s Verkstad series from them directly. Exhibition catalogues are often the place for leading thinkers to be creative, and there are unique essays throughout this series. Take, for example, Art of Welfare, produced for Elmgreen & Dragset's exhibition, ‘The Welfare Show’ – initially produced by Bergen Kunsthall, – at the Serpentine Gallery in London in January 2006.
As we constantly shape our collections to reflect the worlds they represent, working with authors, artists and independent publishers is an indispensable way to get at the heart of these cultural landscapes and to broaden the perspective of our own. We hope to continue to supplement our Nordic collections in this way, developing this unofficial “acquisitions through conversations” approach.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
Leena Kaunonen, ‘Avant-Garde Moments in Nykyaikaa etsimassa by Olavi Paavolainen’, in A Cultural History of the Avant–Garde in the Nordic Countries 1925–1950 (Leiden, 2019) Avant-garde critical studies; 36. pp. 746-760. 1837.116580
17 December 2021
I am sure that every bibliophile can recall the feeling of excitement that accompanies us when we take a new book into our hands. The sensation of moving fingers along the surface of the cover, flipping through pages, the distinctive scent of a new book. However, what is even more rewarding and satisfying, is to find a book that has lived well and aged beautifully bathed in genuine interest and love received from its readers.
There are many special books in the British Library collections. However, for me there is one which evokes the very feeling of joy I felt as a child visiting a bookshop or a library. It is Vaclav Havel’s Pokouseni (‘Temptation’). Havel, Czech writer, dissident and former president, who passed away ten years ago this month, wrote this play inspired by the story of Dr Faust.
Vaclav Havel, black-and-white photograph of the author mounted on the cover's verso of Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech (1985). Awaiting shelfmark
His intellectual interest in the tale was ignited by Goethe’s and Thomas Mann’s literary adaptations that he read while being imprisoned. This prompted him to consider philosophical questions on the relativity of truth and how it can be transformed into a lie. Olga Tokarczuk once said that to write a book she needs to get obsessed with the story first. It was definitely the case with Vaclav Havel and Pokouseni. In published letters written from prison to his wife Olga, Havel explains: ‘As you know, I’m a man obsessions, and I hate giving anything up before I’ve exhausted all (my) possibilities. And so, in fact – though at a distance – I remain with the theatre.’
Cover of the samizdat edition of Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech (1985). Awaiting shelfmark
Eda Kriseova in her authorised biography of the Czech writer describes the creative process that lead to the birth of Temptation. It took Havel ten nights to finish the work. He was physically and mentally exhausted and ended up falling down the stairs and hurting his head. He was staying in his country house in Hradecko at the time. Feverish, hurt, trembling the playwright was cut from the world by a sudden snow storm without any food and no way out. Once Havel came back to the world he felt like he had got away from the devil himself. This strenuous yet cathartic creation process resulted in a play that many found disturbing. Presenting the clash of a metaphysical view of the world with a rational one – inflated to surreal and absurd – the play reflected a contemporary Czechoslovakian existence.
Title leaf designed by Viktor Karlik, Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech (1985). Awaiting shelfmark
Havel wrote Pokouseni in 1985, after he had been released from prison. He was imprisoned three times for a total of almost five years under the communist regime. Following his incarceration, Havel became an even more internationally recognisable public figure. His works, banned in Czechoslovakia, were smuggled out of the country to be read around the world. Pokouseni was promptly translated to German and premiered in Vienna in 1986.
An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik
It is actually fitting that the literary work whose conception took such a toll on Havel’s body and mind was published as samizdat. The physicality of the copy we are lucky to have almost mirrors the process the writer went through to create it. It is not the clinical, perfectly cut and immaculately bound product of a mass manufacturer, but rather a raw body of paper turned with love and care into an artefact testifying to the tender effort of a craftsman. Every little detail adds to the story. Were it not for it, the book would look like a plain, boring file folder. Original and unique tape binding has the author’s name typed directly into the fabric before it was closed. What makes this edition exceptional is a collage on the cover and hand-printed linocut illustrations by another Czech dissident Viktor Karlik. Both the artist and the writer were a part of a close-knit circle of friends forming anti-regime opposition in Czechoslovakia. Although Karlik later fell out with Havel over his engagement in politics, his illustrations to Poukuseni complement and enrich the story. The linocut technique fits perfectly Havel’s imaginary universe achieving it through the otherworldly look, stark lines and abstraction. Rarely in samizdat publications that relied on fast printing can we find such a beautiful companionship of imagery and text – the book is a work of art itself.
An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik
Vaclav Havel’s most prolific years as a writer came before his presidency. Although his political legacy is sometimes contested, he was committed to all the roles he came to play in his life. One may speculate that he was able to achieve this thanks to his very personal understanding of hope, which according to Havel’s conviction is ‘this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed’. See the book Disturbing the peace: a conversation with Karel Hvizdala (London, 1990; YC.1991.a.1826)
When I hold the Havel-Karlik copy of Pokouseni in my hand, I am taken back to this place of hope once occupied by those who wanted to change the world by the sheer power of words and art.
An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik
Olga Topol, Curator, Slavonic and East European Collections
Vaclav Havel, Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech (1985). Awaiting shelfmark
Vaclav Havel, Letters to Olga: June 1979-September 1982 (London, 1988). YC.1989.a.2933
Vaclav Havel, Disturbing the peace: a conversation with Karel Hvizdala (London, 1990). YC.1991.a.1826
Eda Kriseova, Vaclav Havel (Prague, 2014). YF.2015.a.17320
18 June 2021
England has a proud history of taking in political refugees, as readers of the British Libray's publication Foreign-Language Printing in London will know.
London was the focus of foreign-language printing in Britain, but we have cases of Dutch refugees in Norwich (see Anna Simoni in FLPIL) and Portuguese in Plymouth.
Dom Pedro IV granted a constitutional charter in 1826 and renounced the throne of Portugal (he remained Emperor of Brazil) in favour of Dona Maria da Glória (Maria II), his seven-year-old daughter. On 13 March 1828 Pedro’s reactionary brother Dom Miguel seized power and abolished the constitutional charter, causing the flight of at least 2000 liberals into exile. They sailed from the Peninsula at Corunna and El Ferrol, landing at Falmouth, Portsmouth and Plymouth.
Dom Pedro had sent Dona Maria from Rio to Porto, but when it was learned that Dom Miguel was in control she changed course for England. She landed at Falmouth on 24 September 1828 and travelled to London, where she was presented with a copy of the Constitution and a sceptre.
The exiles lived in squalor in a refugee camp in Plymouth, the so-called Depósito Geral, but they managed to build a stage at their own expense. The camp’s governor closed the theatre down, and the actors decamped to the Theatre Royal. This was probably the theatre built in 1813 in the city, although da Sousa says that it was based in Saltram House in nearby Plympton, owned by the first Earl of Morley, a supporter of the liberal cause.
The arrival of the princess in England was the occasion for a production of Catão, by the major liberal literary figure, Almeida Garrett, imitated from Addison’s Cato. (It had previously been staged in Lisbon.) It was played four times at the Theatre Royal in October and December 1828.
During the performance of 24 October 1828 the death of Dom Miguel was announced, and the Portuguese Constitutional Hymn and God Save the King were sung with “frantic excitement and vivas etc.” The announcement was, however, premature, and civil war dragged on in Portugal until 1834, with the liberals triumphant and the exiles repatriated.
The BL has a number of small publications printed for the exiles on the south coast of England:
Aviso aos portuguezes, leaes defensores da Augusta Rainha a Senhora D. Maria Segunda, da carta constitucional, e gloria da sua patria (Plymouth: Law, Saunders e Heydon, [1828?]) HS.74/2237(38)
C. Xavier, No: 28. Plymouth, 24 de Setembro de 1828 (Plymouth: E. Nettleton, ) HS.74/2237(39)
A Few words on the subject of the “Denominated Act” of the three estates of the Kingdom of Portugal, assembled in Cortes, in Lisbon, on the 11th of July, 1828. Translated from the Portuguese (Plymouth, 1828) 1141.i.18.(2.)
Marcos Pinto Soares Vaz Preto, Sermão pregado na Capella Catholica de Stonehouse… = Sermon on the birthday of Pedro IV., Emperor of the Brazils, in thanksgiving for the arrival of Dona Maria 2nd, Queen of Portugal. (Plymouth: W. W. Arliss, 1828) 1358.i.20
Acaba de receber-se a seguinte Proclamação, pelo Paquete Lord Hobart vindo do Rio de Janeiro, e chegado hontem ao Porto de Falmouth (Plymouth: E. Nettleton, 1828) RB.31.b.151/3
José Pinto Rebelo de Carvalho, Hymno dos emigrados portuguezes, em Plymouth (Plymouth: E. Nettleton,  HS.74/2237(37)
Refutação dos sofismas empregados por alguns jornalistas ingleses sobre Dom Miguel em Portugal e os Portuguezes em Plymouth (Plymouth: E. Nettleton, [1829?] 8042.cc.22.(2.)
Requirimento feito pelos Voluntarios Academicos de Coimbra, existentes em Plymouth, e dirigida á Junta encarregada da Administração, fiscalisação, distribuição dos subsidios applicados aos emigrados portuguezes, installada em Londres; a sua informação, e despacho (Plymouth: W. W. Arliss, 1829) RB.23.a.20687
José Bento Said, Remedio d’amor, e queixumes de Dido contra Eneas: traducções livres das obras de Ovidio. Tres sonetos, e garantias dos direitis civiz e politicos dos cidadåos portuguezes, outorgados na Carta Constitucional de 1826 (Angra: Imprensa do Governo, 1831) Includes: Descripção das tres magnificas Cidades Plymouth, Ston-House, e Devonporth, a qual o Auctor offerece gratuita aos Illms. Snrs. Academicos, Officiaes Militaes, Ecclesiasticos, e mais Snrs. que subscerevêrão. RB.23.a.17999(1)
The three shown below have recently been added to the collection:
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections
Barry Taylor, ‘Un-Spanish practices: Spanish and Portuguese protestants, Jews and liberals, 1500-1900’ , in Foreign-language printing in London 1500-1900, ed. Barry Taylor (London: British Library, 2003), pp. 183-202. 2708.h.1059
João Baptista da Sousa, ‘Catão em Plymouth: controvérsias acerca da representação da tragédia em Inglaterra – 1829’, in De Garrett ao Neo-Garrettismo: actas do colóquio ([Maia?], 1999), pp. 75-90. YA.2001.a.41366
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