THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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143 posts categorized "Romance languages"

25 September 2019

How the Index Librorum Prohibitorum ended up on an illustrated magazine

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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. 

The lists known as Index Librorum Prohibitorum, first issued in 1559 by the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, are regarded as the earliest systematically kept records of prohibited literature. They were compiled after the Council of Trent, with the intent to ‘Counter-Reform’ the Catholic Church and to ban ‘immoral’ ideas coming from the Reformation.

The books listed were banned from being: published, sold, purchased, kept, translated, circulated, and read. The offenders were worthy of excommunication by the Catholic Church.

Title-page of Index Librorum Prohibitorum from 1564

Title-page of: Index Librorum Prohibitorum, (Salamanca,1564). 1365.d.1.

Published for four centuries, the Index included endless works of Theology, as well as Philosophy (Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Hobbes, Baruch Spinoza, Voltaire, and many more), Science (Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Iohannes Kepler, Jérôme Lefrançois de Lalande, Gerardus Mercator, amongst many), Literature (Giovanni Boccaccio, Honoré de Balzac, Alexandre Dumas father and son, Victor Hugo, Giacomo Leopardi, John Milton, Georges Sand, Stendhal), but also History, Law, Medicine.

The last of the 20 lists was published in 1948, with some additions made in 1961: this issue bans the opera omnia of some notable authors of the 20th century: Gabriele D’Annunzio, André Gide, Maurice Maeterlinck, Alberto Moravia, and Jean-Paul Sartre, as well as single works by Simone de Beauvoir, Nikos Kazantakis, and Curzio Malaparte.

Page from Index Librorum Prohibitorum, 1948

Page from Index Librorum Prohibitorum, 1948

1961 additions to the 1948 issue of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, HLR098.11

Quite interestingly, it is worth noting what was not banned. The increasingly political role of the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith left Adolf Hitler and Karl Marx out of the Index, but banned works by the fascist ideologues such as Giovanni Gentile and Alfred Rosenberg.

The Index was suppressed with a papal document after the end of the Second Vatican Council, in December 1965. However, the wider public overlooked the news at the time. Ironically, a prominent Cardinal, Alfredo Ottaviani, had to give an interview to the popular Italian illustrated magazine Gente, to publicise this decision.

Cover of Gente, 13 April 1966

A typical issue of Gente from the period (no. 15, 13 April 1966) 

He explained that the Index no longer had juridical value, that the list was not going to be updated, and that it was going to be considered only a historical document.

The Index died because the role of the book had profoundly changed since its inception in the 16th century. The Index died because the publishing world had become too complex, impossible to keep up-to-date with. The Index died because new media were emerging. The Catholic Church will continue censoring ‘dangerous’ ideas, but nobody is going to be excommunicated for reading Sartre!

Valentina Mirabella, Curator, Romance Collections

References / Further Reading:

Index Librorum Prohibitorum: SS.MI D. N. PII PP. XII. Iussu Editus ed. ([Vatican City], 1948). F8/4644

Jesus Martinez De Bujanda and Marcella Richter, Index Librorum Prohibitorum 1600- (Sherbrooke, [Québec], 2002) Index Des Livres Interdits; 11. YF.2018.a.21220

Giovanni Casati, L’Indice Dei Libri Proibiti. Saggi E Commenti. (Milan, 1936-39). 2709.c.12.

“Index Librorum Prohibitorum.” Index Librorum Prohibitorum, 1948. 

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

05 September 2019

A ‘Colonial Anecdote’ in Translation: Jean-Baptiste Picquenard’s Adonis in Swedish

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The Library has recently acquired Jean-Baptiste Picquenard’s first novel, Adonis, ou le bon nègre, anecdote coloniale, translated into Swedish by Sven Johan Collin in 1802 as Adonis, eller den förträfflige negern. It tells the story of the slave revolt on Saint-Domingue, what is now known as the Haitian Revolution, through a ‘colonial anecdote’ that follows the capture of the enlightened plantation owner d’Hérouville and his loyal slave Adonis by Biassou, the leader of the revolt. Victor Hugo was inspired to write his first novel Bug-Jargal (1826) after reading Adonis.

Map of Saint-Domingue 1722

Map of Saint-Domingue by Guillaume de L’Isle (Amsterdam, 1722) Maps K.Top.123.35

The book is an extremely rare copy of a work that was not translated into many languages. Swedish interest was not simply due to some residual francophilia around the Enlightenment but also due to the reading public’s own Caribbean imaginary, sparked by Sweden’s ownership of the island of Saint Barthèlmy since 1784. The copy once belonged to the library at Östanå Castle, which points to the ownership of once director of the Swedish East India Company, Simon Bernhard Hebbe.

Title page of the Swedish translation of Adonis

Title page of the Swedish translation of Adonis (Strengnäs, 1802) RB.23.a.38783

As Chris Bongie has discovered, Picquenard was intimately involved in ‘the revolutionary violence that accompanied the successful imposition of egalitarian principles in France’s most prosperous colony’. He was deputy secretary to the French Civil Commissioners Légér-Félicité Sonthonax and Étienne Polverel, who aimed to take over power from the white Saint-Domingue population on behalf of the new republican government. Picquenard voiced the revolutionary ideas of the commission in his newspaper L’Ami de l’Égalité, frequently defending the use of violence.

Yet, none of this is necessarily apparent when you read Adonis, which avows broad humanist principles that both support the abolition of slavery and admonish the violence that enabled it. The first paragraph sets out the position:

I will not start by deciding whether or not the sudden abolition of slavery in the French colonies has been of real benefit to humanity. It will be nice, undoubtedly, for the philosopher to see the fertile plains of Saint Domingue cultivated by free hands soon – but the terrible tremor that the Antilles felt in order to reach this happy outcome has caused the ruin of so many European families, and the deaths of many others, such that I would not dare even pronounce myself in favour of such principles without fear of being accused of injustice and inhumanity.

Title page of the original French version of Adonis

Title page of the original French version of Adonis by Jean-Baptiste Picquenard (Paris, 1798) RB.23.a.37666

With the archival knowledge of Picquenard’s early engaged and violent writings on the island, Bongie can reread Adonis as not simply exemplary of the active forgetting of the Terror that typified the turn of the 19th century in France, but as an agonized site of friction between Terror and Enlightenment. Picquenard’s authorship demands that we read what has been ‘written over’, that is, ‘the entanglement of revolutionary violence and the humanist projects of Enlightenment’.

S. J. Collin’s translation stays faithful to the French original, in other words staying faithful to a certain ambivalence and infidelity in the authorial voice. It would be worth investigating the extent of French slave narratives – a significant genre in the slim period when France first temporarily abolished slavery (1792-1802) – translated into Swedish. Adonis is at the very least a curious book that reveals a shared anxiety between colonial powers.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

Further Reading

Chris Bongie, Friends and Enemies: The Scribal Politics of Post/Colonial Literature (Liverpool, 2008) YC.2009.a.4169

Youmna Charara, Fictions coloniales du XVIIIème siècle: Ziméo; Lettres africaines; Adonis, ou le bon nègre, anecdote coloniale (Paris, 2005) YF.2011.a.12978

02 September 2019

Digging within digging: ‘Rosso Malpelo’

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He was called Malpelo because he had red hair, and he had red hair because he was a bad, malicious boy, who gave promise of turning out a rascal of first order. Hence everyone at the mine of red sand called him Malpelo, and even his mother, by dint of always hearing the word, had almost forgotten his real name. Besides, she only saw him on Saturdays, when he brought home the few pence that made up his week’s earnings, and since he was Malpelo, there was always the fear that he might keep back some of the pence, so, given the doubt, and to avoid mistakes, his older sister would give him cuffs by way of a receipt. [Giovanni Verga, ‘Red-headed Malpelo’, from, Cavalleria Rusticana and other tales of Sicilian peasant life. Translated by Alma Strettel (London, 1893) 12600.d.d.1/29]

Photograph of a shepherd boy sitting on a heap of straw

Photograph by Giovanni Verga – ‘Tébidi, 1900: pastorello su un cumulo di paglia’, reproduced in Giovanni Garra Agosta, Verga: Fotografo. (Catania, 1991) YA.1995.b.1157

When Giovanni Verga published Rosso Malpelo (1878), child labour was high on the political agenda. In 1876, Agostino Depretis formed Italy’s first left-wing government, the so called Sinistra Storica, and swiftly introduced compulsory education for children aged between six and nine. In 1877, Depretis also launched the first ministerial inquiry into child and female labour in factories, highlighting the need for better legislation. A few months before the publication of Verga’s short story, Leopoldo Franchetti and Sidney Sonnino, two opponents of Depretis, had published their unofficial inquiry into the state of Sicilian society, Inchiesta in Sicilia. It described the working conditions in Sicilian mines, which Verga read carefully, as scholar Romano Luperini points out in his essay Verga e le strutture narrative del realismo. As his collaboration with the Rassegna settimanale, the journal funded by the authors of the inquiry shows, Verga was far from being a socialist. However Rosso Malpelo remains a fine literary denunciation of the horrible conditions of child labour during that time, as Luperini adds: “His political-social ideology precipitates into the artistic result through the mediation of a philosophy […] not reducible to that ideological level […] and in which elements of private existential reflection flow.” In other words: there is more humanity in Verga’s literary work than his political views might suggest.

Title page of Cavellerìa Rusticana

Title-page of Giovanni Verga, Cavallerìa Rusticana and other tales of Sicilian Peasant life, translated by Alma Strettell (London, 1893) 12600.d.d.1/29

From the very beginning of Rosso Malpelo, the reader is absorbed in the essence of Verismo: the author looks at the main character through the eyes of the people close to him. The popular superstition that redheads are bad people is not only left intact, but also enhanced by blending the boy’s red hair with the red sand at the mine where he works, and the mine itself is nicknamed ‘Malpelo’s mine’. We see Rosso Malpelo buried in his own destiny from the very beginning: “He was always ragged and soiled with the red sand”. The story unravels and the events follow one another “like concentric circular ripples caused by the fall of the fateful stone in a pond” as Vincenzo Consolo puts it in his introduction [Vincenzo Consolo presenta Rosso Malpelo… (Bari, 1996) YA.2001.a.35936 (My translation)].

Photographic self-portrait by Giovanni Verga

Photographic self-portrait by Giovanni Verga, 1887, reproduced in Verga: Fotografo.

For Malpelo, going from a state of metaphysical damnation to the awareness of social injustice, means to face a lower level of hopelessness: the death of his father, who also worked at the mine, and whose affection is the only human warmth Malpelo has ever known, marks this shift. He was nicknamed Master Misciu the Donkey, “the beast of burden of the whole mine”, as he would take on whatever job he was given, and he dies while digging around a pillar at the mine in order to remove it. The moment when Malpelo tries to save him is one the most poignant in the story:

In all the commotion and chatter, no one had paid any heed to a child’s voice, which had lost all human sound, and kept crying, – Dig here, dig here, quick, quick! – […] he was deep down in the hole, so that no one had seen him before, and they turned the light on him they beheld such a distorted face, with glassy eyes and foam at the mouth, as was enough to terrify one; his nails were torn off and hung from his bleeding hands. When the time came to get him away from the place, they had a bad job of it; being no longer able to scratch, he bit like a mad dog, and they were obliged to lay hold of his hair in order to drag him away.

Entrance to a 19th-century Italian mine

A 19th-century Italian mine, photograph by G. Verga “Stelvio, Braulio, 18 agosto 1892”, reproduced in Verga: Fotografo.

Rosso Malpelo’s hardship is claustrophobically condensed in just over 30 pages: “– For us who are made to work underground – thought Malpélo – it should be dark always and everywhere”. Even the only chance given him to get out of that metaphysical apnoea even just for a moment, Malpelo rejects with remarkable lucidity. One fine summer night, after a long day of work, Ranocchio (a poor boy who came to work in the mine soon after Malpelo’s father died) tries to talk about the stars shining in the sky, “delighted in explaining to Malpelo what they were doing up there, and he would tell him that Paradise is there on high, where the dead go who have been good […]”. “My father was so good, never doing any one any harm, that they even called him ‘Donkey’. And he is down there, underground; and they found his very tool and shoes, and the trousers I have on”, says Malpelo.

Malpelo is never told in which state his father’s body was found, “[…] he must have died a lingering death, as the pillar had formed an arch over him and buried him alive […] he was digging on that side, while his boy was digging in this side”.

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

References/Further reading

Giovanni Verga, Vita dei campi (Milan, 1880) 12471.cc.28

Romano Luperini, Verga Moderno (Rome, 2005) YF.2006.a.2953

Romano Luperini, Verga e le strutture narrative del realismo: saggio su Rosso Malpelo (Padova, 1976) YA.2000.a.35165

Alfred Alexander, Giovanni Verga: a great writer and his world (London, 1972.) X.981/3278.

Leopoldo Franchetti and Sidney Sonnino, Inchiesta in Sicilia (Florence, 1974) X.709/18934

Leopoldo Franchetti and Sidney Sonnino, ‘Sicily in 1876. Political and Administrative Conditions’. Rivista di politica economica, vol. 88 (1998), no. 3/4, pp. 347-367. 7992.730000

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.

09 August 2019

A Letter to Panizzi with Echoes and Sparks

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In May 1921 staff at the British Museum Library must have been rather surprised to receive a letter addressed to Sir Anthony Panizzi, the Museum’s famous 19th-century Principal Librarian, who had been dead for some 42 years. The letter was from Victor Patzovsky, a former officer in the Austrian army, who had been stationed at the Sigmundsherberg Prisoner of War camp in north-eastern Austria during the First World War, and it accompanied a parcel containing issues of newspapers produced by the Italian prisoners in the camp.

Newspaper masthead showing the Sigmundsherberg Camp
The camp at Sigmundsherberg, from the masthead of camp newspaper L’ Eco del Prigioniero, no.3 (21 January 1917)  NEWS12832 

Such newspapers were produced in many internment and prisoner-of-war camps in the First and Second World Wars. They served various purposes: to communicate the latest news from the camp and the wider world, to publicise sporting and cultural societies and events organised by the prisoners, to alleviate boredom and frustration, to share experiences, memories and jokes, and to maintain a common cultural identity while in enemy captivity.

These things were particularly important in a camp like Sigmundsherberg where conditions were poor and prisoners particularly likely to succumb to the ‘barbed-wire disease’ that accompanied long, difficult and tedious incarceration. The camp had originally housed Russian prisoners, but after Italy entered the war against her former Austrian and German allies most of the Russians were moved out, and by the autumn of 1916 some 56,000 Italians were interned there. Since this was a far greater number than the camp had been built for, overcrowding was a constant problem, exacerbated by sickness, and shortages of food and fuel, creating miserable conditions for the prisoners.

In his letter Patzovsky writes of the prisoners’ ‘sad lot’ and says that he was ‘a real friend’ to them, enclosing testimonials from some of them to support this claim. He goes on to explain that he has now fallen on hard times himself, and is hoping to sell the newspapers to the Library to raise some money. He must have heard of Panizzi and, not realising that he was long dead, thought that an Italian-born librarian would have a particular interest in the newpapers and sympathy with a man who had tried to help Italians in distress. The letter was passed on to A.W. Pollard, one of Panizzi’s successors as Keeper of Printed Books, and a pencilled note on the first page, signed with Pollard’s initials, shows that the Library offered £2 for the collection. Clearly Patzovsky was content with this as the newspapers remain in the British Library today, although the testimonials were presumably returned to Patzovsky as he requested.

Easter 1917 issue of L' Eco del Prigioniero
Easter issue of L’Eco del Prigioniero (8 April 1917)

The run of newspapers is far from complete. As Patzovsky explains, ‘the few copies that were printed went from hand to hand among the thousands of Italians until the paper fell to pieces.’ The earliest in the collection is no. 3 of the weekly L’Eco del Prigioniero (‘The Prisoner’s Echo’), dated 21 January 1917. L’Eco del Prigioniero was reproduced from manuscript using a machine known as an opalograph and each issue has a different illustrated masthead.

Newspaper masthead image of two monkeys

Newspaper masthead with stylised image of three faces

Newspaper masthead picture of Milan Cathedral
Some examples of mastheads from L’Eco del Prigioniero. Two  bear a label addressed to Patzovsky, suggesting that they were his subscription copies

The first editor was an A. Gori, but from no. 15 (6 May 1917) the role was taken over by Guido Monaldi. The content generally includes news and comment, essays poems and stories, and reports of camp activities, while a monthly supplement, L’Eco Umoristico/L’Eco Caricaturista, is devoted to jokes and cartoons.

Page from L'Eco Caricaturista with cartoons, verses and portraits
Page from L’Eco Caricaturista, May 1917, with self-portraits of the artists. HS.74/734

In August 1917 L’Eco del Prigioniero became La Scintilla (‘The Spark’), but Monaldi remained as editor, the content was much the same, and there was still a humorous supplement, La Scintilla Caricaturista. Initially the same form of reproduction from manuscript was also used, but the difficulty of obtaining the chemicals needed for the process and the low quality of the available supplies made it impossible to keep up with the demand for copies and to maintain the quality of the reproduction.

Front page of 'La Scintilla' 2 September 1917
La Scintilla, 
no, 3 (2 September 1917)  HS.74/734

By the beginning of November Monaldi and his team had succeeded in acquiring a proper printing press, and the remaining issues are all printed, losing somewhat in visual charm and variety but gaining greatly in legibility. A new and permanent masthead image soon appeared, with the image of a goddess-like figure striking sparks.

First printed issue of La Scintilla, 4 November 1917
The first printed issue of La Scintilla (4 November 1917), showing the kind of wear and tear described by Patzovsky

Somewhat confusingly, the series numeration restarts at 1 from the first printed issue; the last issue which we hold is no. 15 in this numeration (7 April 1918), although La Scintilla is recorded as having run until August 1918.

La Scintilla masthead
Masthead for the printed issues of La Scintilla 

Incomplete as our holdings are, we must be grateful to Patzovsky for offering them to the Library and to Pollard for being willing to buy them from him.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Further reading:

Rudolf Koch, Im Hinterhof des Krieges: das Kriegsgefangenenlager Sigmundsherberg (Klosterneuburg, 2002) YA.2003.a.43771

25 July 2019

Matilde Serao: proud to be imperfect

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

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

Photograph of Matilde Serao in 1887

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

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

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

Cover of the Italian edition of Serao's Fantasia

Cover of the English translation of Serao's Fantasia

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

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

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

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

Title-page of Il Ventre di Napoli

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

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

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

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

Giuseppe Alizzi, Curator Romance Collections

References/Further reading

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

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

All translations by Giuseppe Alizzi

10 July 2019

Phrenology and English teaching: Mariano Cubí y Soler

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Mariano Cubí y Soler (1801-1875) was an early adopter of various ideas which in Spain were considered advanced: phrenology, spelling reform, anglophilia and possibly vegetarianism.

Aged 20, he set sail for the United States to teach Spanish and French; he founded schools in Cuba and Mexico.

In 1836, he travelled the States, examining heads. The result was his publication in the same year in New Orleans Introducción a la frenología por un catalán.

Title page of Cubí’s La Frenolojı́a i sus glorias..., featuring his portrait

Another of Cubí’s works on phrenology, La Frenolojı́a i sus glorias ...  (Barcelona, 1853) 7410.e.14.

A page from La Frenolojı́a i sus glorias with drawings of a man and a lion

Man compared to lion. A page from La Frenolojı́a i sus glorias, showing that the new phrenology in some senses was the continuation of the old physiognomy.

He wrote a Spanish course for English speakers, A New Spanish Grammar, adapted to every class of readers published by Boosey and Sons in London in 1826 (1211.l.12). (On Boosey as a publisher of language books, see Foreign-Language Printing in London.)

In 1851 he produced a teach-yourself English book for Spaniards, printed in Bath (‘Baz’) by Isaac Pitman. It uses Pitman’s phonography, a form of phonetic transcription.

Title page of Cubí’s Nuevo sistema, fácil en su práctica, i seguro en sus resultados, para aprender a leer i pronunciar con pureza, correccion i sentido la lengua inglesa …

Title page of Cubí’s Nuevo sistema, fácil en su práctica, i seguro en sus resultados, para aprender a leer i pronunciar con pureza, correccion i sentido la lengua inglesa … (Bath, 1851) RB.23.a.34190

This book is typical of its time in exposing its students to some demanding passages of literature, something which makes pure linguists huff and puff. An indication of Cubí’s willingness to think outside the box is that by Lesson Two we are already reading about Vegetarianism.

The first two lessons from the Nuevo sistema …

The first two lessons from the Nuevo sistema …

His left-field status might have rendered him attractive to the advanced-thinking generation of the late Franco period: it can’t be coincidental that Ramón Carnicer’s monograph on Cubí was published by the progressive house of Seix Barral, who introduced Spanish readers to the Latin American literary boom.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References

Ramón Carnicer, Entre la ciencia y la magia: Mariano Cubí y Soler (Barcelona, 1969) X.319/3922

Foreign-Language Printing in London 1500-1900, ed. Barry Taylor (Boston Spa, 2002) RAR 338.47686

Mariano Cubí y Soler, La frenolojía i sus glorias (1853) 7410.e.14

28 June 2019

The Boyfriends of Giarre

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I am very lucky: I live in a country where, since 2008, homophobia is illegal, and I work for an institution which actively promotes diversity in all its aspects. I am very lucky: I come from a country where, even though homophobia is not yet strictly speaking illegal, the LGBTQ movement has been active since its early stage: 1971, two years after the Stonewall riots, when the journal FUORI! was founded by one of the first gay associations in Italy. F.U.O.R.I., besides being the acronym of ‘Fronte unitario omosessuale rivoluzionario italiano’, as a word in itself means ‘Out’.

One of its founders was Mario Mieli (1952-1983), who, after spending some time in London as a student, where he took active part in the London Gay Liberation Front, went back to Italy and founded the journal in Turin.

Photograph of Mario Mieli

Mario Mieli. Photograph from Wikimedia Commons

In 1972, Italy witnessed the first public demonstration by homosexuals in Sanremo. This was a protest against the ‘International Congress on Sexual Deviance’ which was organised by the Catholic-inspired Italian Centre for Sexology. 40 marchers attended, from different gay associations, such as the French Front homosexuel d’action révolutionnaire (FHAR), the Belgian Mouvement Homosexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire (MHAR), the British Gay Liberation Front, the Internationale Homosexuelle Révolutionnaire (IHR ), and the recently founded FUORI.

In 1977, Mario Mieli published the essay Elementi di critica omosessuale, translated into English as Towards a Gay Communism: Elements of Homosexual Critique (London, 2018; ELD.DS.284733)

Title page of Mario Mieli's essay Elementi di critica omosessuale

Mario Mieli, Elementi di critica omosessuale (Milan, 1977) X.519/41490

The first gay liberation movement in Italy, was attempted by Aldo Mieli (1879-1950), a scientist and pioneer of gay rights; he was in contact with the German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, one of the co-founders of the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, which campaigned for the repeal of the law criminalising homosexuality in Germany. Aldo Mieli was the only Italian to participate in the first International Congress for Sexual Reform organised by Hirschfeld in 1921 which took place in Germany and led to the formation of the World League for Sexual Reform (further congresses were held in Copenhagen in 1928; London in 1929; Vienna in 1930; and Brno in 1932).

As a Sicilian, I feel particularly moved by the events that led to the birth of Italy’s largest national gay organisation, Arcigay. This is what happened: on 31 October 1980, in Giarre (a little town on the east coast of Sicily) two young men, Giorgio Agatino Giammona, 25, and Antonio Galatola, 15, who had disappeared two weeks before, were found dead, hand in hand, each killed by a gunshot wound to the head. The boys were known locally as ‘i ziti’ (‘the engaged’). Giorgio was openly gay and was also nicknamed ‘puppu cô buḍḍu’ (meaning ‘licensed homosexual’, intended in a derogatory way).

The investigations led to the identification of Francesco Messina, Galatola’s nephew, as the murderer. Messina was twelve years old at the time and below the age of criminal responsibility. He initially told the police that Giammona and Galatola had forced him to shoot them and had threatened that otherwise they would kill him, although two days later he changed his story, claiming that he had been pressured to confess.

However, the evidence suggested that the two had indeed been killed by Messina on behalf of the families and apparently with the couple’s own approval, convinced that they could never live peacefully. Italian public opinion had to acknowledge the problem of discrimination against homosexuals. The tragic story is discussed in Miguel Andrés Malagreca’s study Queer Italy: contexts, antecedents and representation (New York, 2007; YD.2007.a.8982).

As an immediate response, the first Sicilian branch of FUORI was founded. A month later in Palermo a group of activits including Nichi Vendola, a young conscientious objector who would go on to be president of the Puglia region from 2005 to 2015, founded Arcigay, the first section of the cultural association Arci dedicated to gay culture. Around the same time, lesbian feminist women founded the first Sicilian lesbian collective – Le Papesse (‘the female popes’).

Unfortunately, even though same-sex relationships have been legal in Italy since 1890, gay marriage is not yet. A lot is yet to be done, but Italy has come a long way, same-sex civil partnerships have been legal since 2016, and not only Puglia but Sicily too has had its first openly gay president: Rosario Crocetta was mayor of Gela (on the southern coast) from 2003 to 2009, and President of Sicily from 2012 to 2017. And just a few weeks ago, on 8 June, my home town, Messina, held its very first Gay Pride march, called ‘Stretto pride Messina’ and promoted with this lovely video

Giuseppe Alizzi, Curator, Romance Collections

References/further reading

‘Fleeing Dictatorship: Socialism, Sexuality and the History of Science in the Life of Aldo Mieli’ History workshop journal. Vol 72, (2011) pp. 30-51. 4318.650000

Magnus Hirschfeld, The Homosexuality of Men and Women (New York, 2000). YA.2000.a.42619

Gianni Rossi Barilli, Il movimento gay in Italia (Milan, 1999). YA.2001.a.12372