European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

217 posts categorized "Romance languages"

14 May 2024

European prose in transformation (Part 2) The European Writers’ Festival returns to the British Library

30 established and emerging authors from across Europe gather under one roof to delve into the theme of ‘Transformation’ at the second European Writers’ Festival taking place over the weekend of 18-19 May 2024 at the British Library. Two days of performances and panels will discuss how storytelling, its creators, its original language as well as its translation, are changing as the continent itself is transforming. While writing about personal experience embedded in history remains central to European literature, the Festival’s guests attempt to break literary traditions and established boundaries, setting off for transformative new journeys – and carrying us with them. This is the second of two blog posts examining some of the themes of the Festival. (You can read the first here.)

Cover of 'The Postcard' with a photograph of Noémie Rabinovitch, and author photograph of Anne Berest

Cover of The Postcard with a photograph of Noémie Rabinovitch, a budding writer who was murdered before she could fulfil her potential as her great-niece Anne (pictured right) has been able to do

Anne Berest, The Postcard - Sunday 19 May, Panel 1, ‘Transforming Historical Narratives’

Anne Berest is a French novelist and scriptwriter born in 1979. With her sister Claire, she is the author of Gabriële (Paris, 2017; YF. 2018.a.8864), a critically acclaimed biography of her great-grandmother, Gabriële Buffet-Picabia, wife of the painter Francis Picabia, highlighting her contribution to the French avant-garde. Gabriële and her daughter Jeanine, who both joined the French Resistance, feature in La carte postale (Paris, 2020; YF. 2022.a.8192) and Samuel Beckett makes an appearance too! Translated into English by Tina Kover as The Postcard, the book opens on a snowy morning in 2003 when Anne’s mother Lélia, receives an anonymous postcard inscribed with the names Ephraïm, Emma, Noémie and Jacques. The names are those of Anne’s great-grandparents and her great-aunt and uncle, the Rabinovitch family, all of whom died in Auschwitz. Anne’s grandmother, Myriam, escaped deportation and was her family’s sole survivor, but she never talked about the past. The book’s novelistic techniques (invented dialogue, omniscient narration) may initially seem questionable, but the book is based on Lélia’s meticulous research and Anne’s own investigations. Viewing the dreadful fate of European Jews deported from Vichy France under German occupation through the prism of named individuals that we get to know and care about makes for a compelling take on history and on what it is to be a Jew in France today as a third-generation survivor. And who wrote and sent that postcard? All is revealed on the last page.

Teresa Vernon, Lead Curator, Romance Collections

Cover of 'Niki' with a photograph of a woman in profile with four blue bars superimposed, and photograph of Christos Chomenidis leaning on a car

Cover of Niki and photograph of Christos Chomenidis (photograph by Kokkalias Nikos from the Other Press website)


Christos Chomenidis, Niki - Sunday 19 May, Panel 1, ‘Transforming Historical Narratives’

Through his 2014 novel Niki, author Christos Chomenidis narrates his real family adventures against the dramatic historical backdrop of 20th century Greece through the eyes of his mother, Niki. Daughter of the deputy secretary general of the Greek Communist Party Vassilis Nefeloudis (Antonis Armaos in the book), infant Niki will be swept up in turmoil when her parents are arrested: just 70 days old, she will join her mother in exile in the Cyclades; growing up, she will experience the Italian and German invasion, the Nazi occupation, and the civil war that came after, and will often be caught between her socialist values and those of the right-wing establishment, to which half her relatives belong; as a young woman, she will fall madly in love, giving the already divided family yet another reason to clash. “Niki’s life is the life of all children who come into the world with a heavy burden on their shoulders; they do not renounce it, but neither do they let it to bend them” says Chomenidis and continues: “The people of Niki are the History of 20th century Greece”.

Following his mother’s death in 2008, the author became the last of his line who knew all the protagonists’ stories and so, he decided to record them, initially in a letter for his own daughter (who was named Niki after her grandmother) and gradually into a novel, tackling complex events in a way that is simple and understandable even to readers who are not familiar with these aspects of Greek history.

Niki was awarded the Greek State Literature Prize in 2015 and the European Book Prize for Fiction in 2021. Its English translation by Patricia Felisa Barbeito is the featured book from Greece at the European Writers’ Festival 2.

Lydia Georgiadou, Curator, Modern Greek Collections

Cover of 'Journey to the South' with a picture of a lone figure silhouetted against a colourful abstract landscape of blocks, and photogtaph of Michal Ajvaz

Cover of Journey to the South and photograph of Michal Ajvaz (photograph by Rafał Komorowski from Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Michal Ajvaz, Journey to the South – Sunday 19 May 2020, Panel 2, ‘Breaking Boundaries’

Michal Ajvaz, who studied Czech and Aesthetics at the Faculty of Philosophy, Charles University, worked during the normalisation period as a janitor, nightwatchman, and petrol pump attendant among other jobs. Ajvaz debuted in 1989 with the poetry collection Vražda v hotelu Intercontinental, (‘Murder at the Hotel Intercontinental’, Brno, 2012; YF.2013.a.7148) and has since authored over 20 works blending imaginative prose with philosophical essays.

Ajvaz’s literary influences trace back to his early readings of Edgar Allan Poe and E.T.A. Hoffmann. His exploration of magical realism began with Druhé město (Prague, 1993; YA.1995.a.26185. English translation by Gerald Turner: The Other City, Champaign, Dallas, 2009; YK.2010.a.31674), which stirred discussions on its role within Czech literature. Ajvaz’s works are filled with mirrored landscapes and parallel worlds, adventures and quests that span the world.

The Magnesia Litera award-winning novel Lucemburská zahrada (Brno 2011; YF.2012.a.2551), delves into linguistics with a newly invented language and takes the reader on a journey through Paris, Nice, Nantes, in the state of New York, Moscow, Santa Lucia, Sicilian Taormina and the invented city of Lara. The writer-philosopher's love of linguistics reached its peak in this work, resulting in an appendix offering a key to deciphering some of the novel's content.

The magic permeating Ajvaz’s literary worlds stems from his philosophy and writing process. This is how he describes it in an interview published on the literární.cz website

Usually, it's just a feeling, often associated with a specific place... These feelings remind me of a white fog in which dozens of indistinct figures with their own stories flicker, and these characters and stories beckon me to free them from the fog, to give them some form. It's true that some ideas eventually make their way into my fiction books, but that's because from the initial feeling a certain world gradually unfolds with everything that belongs to it—and to the world belong not only characters, spaces, and plots but also ideas. However, ideas should not dominate the novel; they must not be privileged over the other inhabitants of the novel. 

Now the British public has an opportunity to become immersed in Ajvaz’s world and walk alongside the characters of Journey to the South, translated to English last year by Andrew Oakland (Dallas, 2023). Pack your imagination and join the fellow travellers!

Olga Topol, Curator, Slavonic and East European Curator

 

Cover of 'Home' with a photograph of a barn in a field of yellow flowers, and photograph of Andrea Tompa

Cover of Home and photograph of Andrea Tompa (Photograph by Petőfi Literary Fund via Hungarian Literature Online)

Andrea Tompa, Home – Sunday 19 May 2024, Panel 3, ‘Europe on the Move’

Thirty years after relocating from Cluj-Napoca to Budapest in 1990, Hungarian writer and theatre critic Andrea Tompa felt the time was finally ripe to share what leave-taking and homecoming truly mean for her. With her latest novel now translated into English by Jozefina Komporaly under the title Home (London, 2024), Andrea is bringing her contemplations to this year’s European Writers’ Festival.

Many of us left our homeland behind, prompted by circumstances, driven by various forces. Although the book narrates a journey back to an unnamed home country for a school reunion, with several classmates also returning after long absences, its essence is not so much a story of a trip. The focus is on different kinds of travel: past journeys, journeys into the past - and into ourselves.

A reunion inevitably induces reflection, it can serve as a reality check relative to our own youth and also to our peers while we reacquaint as adults. How much do we leavers share as to the nature of our connections to the place we came from? Some decide to cut all ties, others will always be longing after the homeland. But the homeland has transformed since we left and we ourselves changed in many ways, so all points of reference have shifted.
Identity, personal relationships, culture, patriotism, belonging – just a few of the complex emotional questions to delve into, with language as a vital theme in its own right, weaving through the book.

The Hungarian original Haza (Budapest, 2020; YF.2022.a.16166) is already in our collection, hopefully the translation will arrive soon as well.

Andrea is a guest on the ‘Europe on the Move’ panel at 3 pm on 19 May. She also offers some insight into her journeys in an English-language interview by Hungarian Literature Online .

Ildi Wollner, Curator, East and SE European Collections

Cover of 'The moon in foil' with a photograph of a woman seen from behind looking over a river, and photograph of Zuska Kepplova standing in fromt of bookshelves

Cover of The Moon in Foil  and photograph of Zuska Kepplova (photogtaph by Juraj Starovecký from Slovak Literature in English Translation website)

Zuska Kepplova, The Moon in Foil – Sunday 19 May 2024, Panel 3, ‘Europe on the Move’

In an interview for the Chicago Review of Books Zuska Kepplova – a writer, editor and political commentator – makes a statement that resonates with many Eastern European world nomads, as those ‘who were born in late socialist societies and grew up after the revolutions, [this label] is a novelty. They were not used to thinking about themselves as “Eastern Europeans” and dealing with prejudices, their own or of others. Entering the free world thus also means entering a hierarchy or a web of relations of power.’

Kepplova’s book Buchty švabachom (Bratislava 2017; YF.2019.a.10137), recently translated into English by Magdalena Mullek as The Moon in Foil (Chicago, 2023), traces people’s relationships with each other and their place of migration. The short story form is a perfect fit for Kepplova’s storytelling. The deliberately scattered narrative is thoughtful, gives glimpses into the chaotic lives of young Slovaks tempted by newly opened world enticing them with a vision of success, but leading to a life of mundanity and struggle for social advancement, often devoid of self-fulfilment. Many a reader will relate to the characters' commonplace existence and reflect on their own longing for buchty  or pierogi left behind at home far away. Those who want to see what happens when the migratory birds return should read Kepplova’s Reflux. Niekto cudzí je v dome (‘Reflux. There is a stranger in the house’; Levice, 2015; YF.2017.a.24619).  

Olga Topol, Curator, Slavonic and EE Curator

10 May 2024

European prose in transformation (Part 1). The European Writers’ Festival returns to the British Library

30 established and emerging authors from across Europe gather under one roof to delve into the theme of ‘Transformation’ at the second European Writers’ Festival taking place over the weekend of 18-19 May 2024 at the British Library. Two days of performances and panels will discuss how storytelling, its creators, its original language as well as its translation, are changing as the continent itself is transforming. While writing about personal experience embedded in history remains central to European literature, the Festival’s guests attempt to break literary traditions and established boundaries, setting off for transformative new journeys – and carrying us with them. In this and a second blog post, our curators and one guest contributor highlight some of the themes of the festival.

Photograph of Laurent de Sutter and the cover of his book 'After Law' with the book title in a red stop sign design

Laurent de Sutter and the cover of his book After Law (Cambridge, 2020) (Author photograph from the website of the Law Art Politics podcast)

Laurent de Sutter, After Law – Saturday 18 May, Panel 2, ‘Changing Gears’

On Saturday 19 May 2024, Belgian philosopher Laurent de Sutter will take part in the panel ‘Changing Gears’, alongside other authors who switch jobs and genres.

A real 21st century polymath, Laurent de Sutter wrote his law thesis on the politics of representation while working as a freelance writer for pop-rock magazine Rif-Raf. He then wrote about pornography and porn-stars, pop-culture, aesthetics, drugs and capitalism, and cinema, while becoming an editor directing a collection for the Presses Universitaires de France.

Laurent de Sutter is today Professor of Legal Theory at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the author of more than 20 works translated into a dozen languages, and an essential thinker on the concept of law and of the ways we categorise and describe reality. Unexpectedly, his recent philosophical essay on modernity and anti-modernity, Superfaible! Penser au XXIe siècle (Paris, 2023) was also the recipient of the Grand prix de Poésie de l’Académie royale de langue et de littérature françaises de Belgique, 2023. Maybe this is not that surprising for a provocative and limitless writer who is also a self-confessed ‘pop-philosopher’ (a term invented by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze in the 1970s, for a genre that explores the intersections between philosophy and pop culture).

You can find his books, in French, on the life and death of superheroes (Vies et morts des super-héros; Paris, 2016; YF.2020.a.6105) or his history of law through the architecture of one contemporary building (Post-tribunal: Renzo Piano Building Workshop et l'île de la Cité judiciaire; Paris, 2018; YF.2018.a.15252) in our collections. Recent titles in English include Narcocapitalism: Life in the Age of Anaesthesia (Cambridge, 2018; YC.2018.a.13255) and After Law. The latter won the French Voices Award and the Leopold Rosy Prize of the Belgian Royal Academy and is the featured book at this year’s European Writers’ Festival.

Sophie Defrance, Curator, Romance Collections

Photograph of Ioana Pârvulescu reading a book, and the cover of 'Jonah and his Daughter' with an illustration of Jonah and the whale

Cover of Jonah and his Daughter and photograph of Ioana Pârvulescu (pictures from the Romanian Cultural Institute)

Ioana Pârvulescu, Jonah and his Daughter – Saturday 18 May 2024, Panel 3, ‘Transformation through Translation’

While I was preparing Ioana Pârvulescu’s rather mystical new novel for print, I made a trip to Rome, and more specifically to the ancient Christian burial grounds of that city, known to us as the catacombs. To my surprise, I came upon an array of depictions of the prophet Jonah – being thrown overboard on this sea journey undertaken in an attempt to outrun the will of God; languishing inside the whale or being regurgitated from the sea monster. My guide explained that the early Christians saw Jonah as a precursor to Jesus, with his internment in the belly of the great fish for three days pre-echoing those three days in the tomb before resurrection; his rebirth thereafter being the new life in faith.

Roman wall-paintings showing the prophet Jonah being thrown from a ship and being vomited out by a dragon-like whale

Paintings of the biblical story of Jonah from the Catacomb of Saints Marcellinus and Peter in Rome

While Pârvulescu’s novel is far more subtle and complicated than a mythologised story of prophecy from the Old Testament, her writing is never finer than when describing that extraordinary scene of ingestion and eventual discharge :

...Jonah grew very dizzy and felt he was falling back-ward into emptiness, looking through eyes in which there was no wide-eyed seeing. And all of a sudden, the seeing returned to his eyes and his sight filled with stars, some so close that you could catch them in your hand, stars that were in motion, others so high above that they were but specks of silver dust...

Yet this is not a novel of obscure stories and characters far removed from us in time and mentality: Jonah is a living, breathing man with a speech impediment and a prodigious sexual appetite, who befriends waifs and strays with characters that steal our hearts and make us want to sit down with these people, around a campfire perhaps, and learn their ways. Just as in her previous novel, Life Begins on Friday, the author draws us into historical periods through the quirks of her characters, their insecurities and their passions, and the empathy she evokes for them through her expert storytelling. As in all the best dramatisations of the past – be it in films, theatre plays or novels – historical figures are given height and depth because we have sat with them for a while and heard their voices.

We learn in the introduction to the book that Ioana felt compelled to write it because the vagaries of spellcheck often rendered her name to that of the ‘minor prophet’ in Romanian and that from this whimsical coincidence she was led to re-evaluate and become enamoured of a narrative different from the one she expected:

The reason his story is so beautiful and so human is because it is about deadly monsters that play a double part and which in the end are life savers, about the need for darkness, about fear and running away, about passion, about getting involved or standing aloof, about being human or separate from humanity...

Jonah’s daughter learns the story of her father, and passes it on her to her daughter, and so on down through the ages. In this way our author becomes a daughter of Jonah too, bringing the story of the recalcitrant prophet up to date with our times. In the end all the very best stories reveal aspects of our human - and mystical - experience in this realm, and I for one have been greatly enriched by this one.

Susan Curtis, Editor, Istros Books

25 August 2023

New light on the earliest ‘professor’ of Spanish in the UK?

Antonio Vieyra Transtagano – he used his toponymic ‘Transtagano’ ‘of Tras os Montes’ to distinguish himself from the baroque preacher Antonio Vieira SJ (1608-97) – was the first professor of Spanish at Trinity College Dublin and the first in the UK. (Ann Frost reminds us that at the time ‘professor’ was not the lofty title of today, and was largely used to mean ‘teacher’.)

Vieyra, like nearly all the language teachers in London, was a Protestant exile. His date of birth is often given as 1712. His first publication was in London, printed by John Nourse, who seems to have specialised in foreign languages (see ESTC and Foreign-language Printing in London).

Title page of A new Portuguese grammar

A new Portuguese grammar (London, 1768). 1568/3986

Title page of A dictionary of the Portuguese and English languages

A dictionary of the Portuguese and English languages (London, 1773). 1502/272

But he was a man of parts, who also wrote on Persian:

Brevis, clara, facilis ac jucunda, non solùm Arabicam linguam; Sed etiam hodiernam Persicam, cui tota ferè Arabica intermixta est, addiscendi methodus; quam non ita pridèm quinque speciminibus comprehensam, editamque; nunc autem novis, ac berè multis vocabulis locupletatam, (inter quae plurima celtica, imò et aliquot Asiatica et Americana, quo nonnullorum Asiae, Novique Orbis populorum felici origines investigentur exitu, reperiuntur) cum Arabicis aut Persicis affinitatem habentibus, in usum utriusque ling. tyronum, denuò edit ejusdem methodi auctor Antonius Vieyra, L.L. hisp. ac Ital. prof. reg. in Col. S.S. et ind. Trin. Dublin
(Dublin, 1789) 12903.c.20

He arrived in Dublin in 1779 to teach at Trinity College, a Protestant stronghold.

Andrew Wakeley’s best-selling textbook on the use of the compass (first printed 1665) was translated into Portuguese by one ‘Antonio Vieira’ for Antonio Fernandes, merchant of London, in 1762.

Title page of A agulha de marear rectificada …

Page from A agulha de marear rectificada …

A agulha de marear rectificada … composto por Andre Wakeley, mathematico … traduzido do original ingles, por Antonio Vieira, Professor de Geometria na Academia Magnanense (London, 1762) RB.23.a.40456 [The Mariners-compass rectified … composed by Andrew Wakeley, mathematician … translated from the English original by Antonio Vieira, professor of geometry in the Magnanensian Academy]

Could they be related – or even one and the same?

Our Vieira writes in his dedication to Fernandes that he left his homeland in his third lustrum: as a lustrum was a period of 5 years, his age on departure was between 11 and 15.

He calls himself (in 1762) ‘professor of geometry at the Academia Magnanense’ (Orbis Latinus identifies this as Meinvelt (or Mayenfeld), a region between the Rhine and Moselle rivers). He also calls himself ‘chaplain’.

He says explicitly that he turned to translating Wakeley ‘and others’ and needed a patron: a role which Fernandes fulfilled.

Although the humanities and sciences weren’t as divided as they are now, our man’s prologue is stuffed with literary references far beyond the needs of a work of Fachliteratur. He cites Camões – well chosen on account of the maritime feats sung in the Lusiads. He refers to his annotations on the Satires of Horace, Juvenal, Persius and Petronius and draws on classical culture to praise Fernandes as a new Cicero and Juvenal among the ancients and Salignac and Locke among the moderns.

The book has no printer or publisher named: did Vieira publish it himself?

The fullest account of the Professor’s life I have been able to see is the obituary in the Dublin Evening Post, Thursday 16 March 1797:

Doctor Vieyra, who died at the College, some short time since, was King’s Professor of Spanish and Italian. He was a most worthy man, an excellent scholar, and had a perfect knowledge of almost every existing language. Having outlived his family, and most of his acquaintance, he spent his latter days almost in retirement, but his name is well known, in the literary world. His Portuguese Dictionary is the best that has been published of that language. He was born at Estremor, [sic] in Portugal, in the year 1712, and tho’ certainly deserving a more fortunate lot, met with various calamities during his whole life. His father had been taken up by the inquisition, and a small estate he had of course seized. Dr. Vieyra was sent to Padua, and from thence to Rome, where he took the vows and entered in the order of Conventuales. Ganganelli (afterwards Pope [Clement XIV]) was in the same convent at that time, and they were of course well acquainted. The Doctor, after a residence of twenty years in Italy, got leave to return to Portugal, where he narrowly escaped the fate of his father – and was obliged to quit the country, & after many extraordinary adventures, settled in London where he was patronized by the Chevalier Pinto. He got the appointment in Dublin College, many years ago. From the time he quit the convent at Rome, he renounced the Roman Catholic religion. He had several children, who all died before him. – The family of the late Provost, and Lady Moira, were always particularly kind to him. He wrote several volumes on the derivations of words and names; had he spent half the time taken up in such uninteresting works in writing memoirs of his life, he would have gained more, and have given the public some very curious and extraordinary anecdotes.

Chevalier Pinto was Luís Pinto de Sousa Coutinho, Viscount Balsemão (1735-1804), Portuguese Minister Plenipotentiary in London, 1774-88. With his wife, Catarina de Lencastre, he made his home into a literary and scientific salon. He supplied George III with books on Portugal, used by Southey for his History of Brazil. (All this according to Rodrigues.)

On 9 November 1774 Pinto wrote to the Bishop of Beja in support of two scholars: Manuel Azulay, a Jew, son of Portuguese parents, who aspired to a job teaching Hebrew in Portugal (he promises not to draw attention to his religion); and a monk who has written a Portuguese grammar and dictionary and has knowledge of Arabic and Persian, who seeks travel money and access to becoming a secular priest (Malato Borralho, 58). (Pinto also aided António de Morais e Silva, father of Brazilian lexicography, when he fled the Inquisition: Rodrigues 98.)

Who could this be but our man? But wasn’t he a Protestant by then?

It may not be too fanciful to draw the following chronology: Antonio Vieyra Transtagano was born in 1717; left Portugal in his third lustrum; went to Rome, became a Protestant, went to Mayenfeld; arrived in London in need of a patron and where he slaved as a dogsbody translator; by 1762 he was teaching and publishing in London; in 1774 he had the patronage of Chevalier Pinto; in 1779 he was in Dublin.

Translators have always sought patronage, and translators were often hacks – one thinks of George Borrow translating for newspapers, or the women readers in the British Museum in the nineteenth century (described by Bernstein).

Professor Antonio Vieyra’s biography has many lacunae, but perhaps this book allows us to fill them in.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

Barry Taylor, ‘St Anthony of Padua, alias Fernando of Lisbon’, European Studies Blog

Foreign-language printing in London, 1500-1900, edited by Barry Taylor. (Boston Spa, 2002) 2708.h.1059 

Maire Kennedy, ‘Antoine d’Esca: First Professor of French and German at Trinity College Dublin (1775-1784)’

Carmem Rodrigues, ‘Chevalier Pinto: “Um dos homens mais ilustrados que já viveram no Brasil”’, Fênix: Revista de História e Estudos Culturais, 19 (2022), 93-112

Maria Luísa Malato Borralho, "Por acazo hum viajante --" : a vida e a obra de Catarina de Lencastre, 1a Viscondessa de Balsemão (1749-1824) (Lisbon, 2008) YF.2010.a.8017

Ann Frost, The emergence and growth of Hispanic studies in British and Irish universities ([Great Britain]: Association of Hispanists, [2018]) YD.2019.b.1143

Dublin Evening Post, Thursday 16 March 1797 (Irish Newspaper Archives)

Susan David Bernstein, Roomscape: women writers in the British Museum from George Eliot to Virginia Woolf (Edinburgh, [2014?]) ELD.DS.47217

16 June 2023

The Petit Prince and animals

Our current major exhibition, Animals: Art, Science and Sound, shows how the animal world has resulted in some of humankind’s most awe-inspiring art and science… But did you know that animals are also major characters in one of the best-selling books in history?

Pages from the Petit Prince with illustrations of the Little Prince and the tower of elephants

Le Petit Prince, YA.1996.a.20552

When I was a child, no long trip in the car was complete without listening to the tape of Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), read by famous French actor Gerard Philippe. First published in 1943, and since translated into hundreds of languages, few books have touched the world like Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s modern fable. It had first been published in English and French by Reynal & Hitchcock in the USA, where Saint Exupéry was in exile, in April 1943, so exactly 80 years before the opening of our exhibition. It was published posthumously in France in 1945, after the Liberation.

Le Petit Prince became Saint Exupéry’s most successful work, selling an estimated 200 million copies worldwide, which makes it one of the best-selling books in history; but it is also a bit mysterious, and like no other literary form. Maybe the book is so successful because it is both a fairy-tale, an adventure story, a social comedy, and a philosophical lesson on how to live ones’ life and live with others. And it is full of animals.

Pages from the Petit Prince with illustrations of the Little Prince and the snake

Le Petit Prince, YA.1996.a.20552

The story follows the dialogue between a narrator, an aviator stranded in the desert following the breakdown of his plane, and a strange young boy, a little prince who suddenly appears in the desert with a strange request: “Draw a sheep for me, please”. The Prince tells his story: he has travelled from a distant asteroid, where he lives alone with a single rose. The rose has made his life so difficult that he decides to take advantage of a passing flock of birds to travel to other planets. During his journey, he meets various characters (a King with no subjects, a drunkard, a businessman, a geographer…), before arriving on Earth.

There the Little Prince also meets a talking fox, who teaches him the nature of love and friendship, and that the important things can only be seen with the heart, not with the eyes. He also encounters a deadly snake, who speaks in riddle and who tells him that he can help him to go home. The little Prince tells his story to the Aviator, who becomes attached to him. In the end, however, the Prince is bitten by the snake, the only way, he believes, to return to his own planet; and to the narrator’s distress, he disappears. And while our Aviator manages to repair his plane, he ends the story by requesting to be immediately contacted by anyone in that area encountering a “small person with golden curls who refuses to answer any questions”.

Pages from the Petit Prince with illustrations of the Little Prince with the fox and roses

Le Petit Prince, YA.1996.a.20552

The conversations between the adult, the mysterious interstellar youngster, and the animals, address themes of loneliness, friendship, love and loss. Although presented as a children’s book, using animals as archetypes of wisdom or cunning Le Petit Prince touches on deeper questions about adult life and human nature. And it ends on a bittersweet note: in spite of having been prepared to the disappearance of his friend, and in spite of knowing that when he will now look at stars, they will laugh for him, the Narrator/Aviator feels bereft and lost; but he has learnt the value of affection, and of dreams, and questions.

One of the reasons of the success of the book is the wonderful imagery, the watercolours painted by the author. Antoine de Saint Exupery had liked to draw and doodle since his childhood (that’s actually how the story starts!), and chose to illustrate the book himself. Today, these illustrations are part of our memories, and are maybe even more famous than the book itself. The art of the Petit Prince has become famous, and along with its golden-haired hero, the sheep and the fox are instantaneously recognisable; but there are also wonderfully unexpected illustrations of nature and animals, such as the tiger attacking the rose or the boa constrictor-who-has-swallowed-an-elephant-but-looks-like-a-hat, one the most famous doodles in the history of literature.

Pages from the Petit Prince with illustrations of the hunter and the fox

Le Petit Prince, YA.1996.a.20552

When the war started, Saint Exupéry joined the French Air Force, until the armistice with Germany in 1940. After being demobilised, he went into exile in North America. He spent just over two years in America, and it is there that he wrote his most famous work.

Like his hero, Antoine de Saint Exupéry just disappeared one day. In 1943 he had joined the Free French Air Force in North Africa, and he is believed to have died while on a reconnaissance mission over the Mediterranean in July 1944. Although the wreckage of his plane was discovered in 2000, the cause of the crash remains unknown. But also like his hero, he has left us with a tale: a most successful story based on affection for humankind, and commitment, and with dreams of tamed foxes, treacherous snakes and birds that can take you away.

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance collections

Animals-email-footer

14 April 2023

The Art of Collecting and the Futurist Avant-garde

Next week, on Friday 21 April, the Italian Cultural Institute will host a round table about Futurist books, with Dr Günter Berghaus (University of Bristol) and Giacomo Coronelli (Libreria Antiquaria Pontremoli, Milan). Introduction and chair by Valentina Mirabella (Curator of Romance Collections, British Library). The event is free but places are limited and registration is required.

Front cover of Ardengo Soffici’s Bïf§zf + 18. Simultaneità e chimismi lirici

Front cover of Ardengo Soffici’s Bïf§zf + 18. Simultaneità e chimismi lirici. (Firenze, 1919), 20009.f.12.

The event is dedicated to the work and collecting of Chris Michaelides (1949-2017), former Curator of Romance Collections, British Library. Chris was co-curator of the exhibition Breaking the Rules: The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937 (2007) and we owe to him the acquisition of Marinetti’s tin Futurist book, Parole in libertà, and of an original edition of La prose du Transsibérien, Blaise Cendrars’s and Sonia Delaunay’s poem–painting.

Chris Michaelides in St Pancras Station

Chris Michaelides in St Pancras Station in 2016, courtesy of Günter Berghaus

The Futurist book was instrumental in the circulation of Futurist ideas and represents a very experimental phase in book production, paving the way for the book object, the artist’s book, advertising and design. This round table will look at its importance and at the history of collecting Futurist books, in Italy and in the UK.

On this occasion, Valentina Mirabella will present an article she recently published on the British Library Electronic Journal, which contains a survey of the Italian Futurist collections held at the British Library. The survey, arranged by date of acquisition, is a tool for studying the circulation of Italian Futurist books in the UK, based on acquisition data contained in the British Library Corporate Archives and on the books themselves.

The event is organized with the support of Libreria Antiquaria Pontremoli.

For more information, visit the website of the Italian Cultural Institute

09 February 2023

La Nuit des Idées

Hélène Duchêne, Ambassador of France to the UK and writer Zadie Smith will open the 7th edition of the “Night of ideas” on Thursday 9 February 2023, at the Institut français in London.

This year’s edition will gather 40 leading figures from both sides of the Channel, including member of the House of Lords and former Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson, writer Constance Debré, Head of Literature and Spoken Word at Southbank Centre Ted Hodgkinson and Thomas Jolly, Artistic Director of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Paris 2024 ceremonies.

Exchanging French and British perspectives, writers, philosophers, artists, scientists, academics, journalists, activists and students will explore the recent changes in our world through a series of free discussions. The question that will drive the debate is “MORE?” More preoccupations and risks, but also more questions, and more discussions. All debates and events in the Night of Ideas are free to attend and open to all, but prior registration is required.

The audience will be able to engage and tackle contemporary issues, from the climate crisis to post #Metoo politics, to the new geopolitics, and to feed your reflection – before or after the event! – Here are a few of the books, in French, that you could find in our collections (you could also find all the books of the authors based in Britain, but let’s focus on the French ones!)

One of the panels at the event “Sexual (R)evolutions” deals with the politics of sex, which has considerably evolved in the past decade, and asks, “are we living through a new kind of sexual revolution, only this time more preoccupied with gender identity, consent and justice? How do we represent desire, break existing norms and reinvent relationships in its aftermath?” You can find the latest book by panellist Constance Debré in our collection at shelfmark YF.2022.a.24144 and her novel Love me tender at YF.2022.a.24114. Ivan Jablonka’s Des hommes justes: du patriarcat aux nouvelles masculinités is available at YF.2020.a.5611 while his Un garçon comme vous et moi has just arrived at the library, and is awaiting cataloguing.


Copy of Ivan Jablonka's Des hommes justes

The panel “You’ve reached maximum capacity” discusses issues such as environmental costs, political radicalism or algorithmic discriminations linked to the digital worlds and our ever-growing dependence to the internet - You can find panel participant Guillaume Poix’s novel Les Fils conducteurs, which described the situation of legal and illegal environmental dumping of electronic waste (or e-waste) from industrialized in Agbobloshie, a commercial district near the centre of Accra, in Ghana, at YF.2018.a.3342

Guillaume Poix’s Les Fils conducteurs

The new edition of L’Atlas des frontières: murs, conflits, migrations, by Bruno Tertrais, is also awaiting cataloguing. Bruno Tertrais takes part in the panel “A More Cordial Entente?” on how Franco-British relations have always had their ups and downs, their successes and shares of misunderstandings. Against a challenging and fast-evolving geopolitical backdrop and in light of the war in Ukraine, the panel and the audience will be looking at what brings France and the United Kingdom together.

All these works are available to you when you are a reader at the British Library. Registration is free and gives you access to our collections and Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire). 

This exciting series of events organised by the Institut Francais highlights the relevance of our French collections at the British Library – and as ever, do not hesitate to contact the curator to recommend books that will allow you to participate in the next debate!

Meanwhile you can find details of the panels highlighted above and the rest of the programme at https://nightofideas.co.uk/whats-on/.

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

20 January 2023

PhD placement opportunity: Enhancing access to manuscripts and archives in the French language

The British Library has released a call for applicants for PhD placements in 2023–24. The PhD placement scheme supports the professional development of researchers for future career paths both within and outside academia.

One of these placements, ‘Enhancing access to manuscripts and archives in the French language’, offers an opportunity for a PhD student currently registered at a UK university to work alongside curators to make French language material in the archives and manuscript collections (after 1600) more accessible to researchers and members of the public.

The Modern Archive and Manuscript collections (1601–1950) contain a wealth of exciting historical, scientific, political, and literary material. They include letters and manuscripts by French writers and historical figures such as Voltaire, the Chevalier d’Éon, Napoleon, George Sand, and Charles Baudelaire, and Royal, scientific, and diplomatic correspondence.

Charles Baudelaire, 'Les sept vieillards' and 'Les petites vieilles' [1859]. Fair copy made for Victor Hugo to whom the poems are dedicated

Charles Baudelaire, 'Les sept vieillards' and 'Les petites vieilles' [1859]. Fair copy made for Victor Hugo to whom the poems are dedicated. Zweig MS 136, f1r

You will undertake research into the manuscript collections and write a structured collection guide for the website that provides an overview of the main collections of French manuscripts and archives (after 1600) in the British Library and guidance about how to find them in the catalogue and access them (online or in the Reading Room). The placement also offers opportunities to catalogue or enhance the description of a small archive or group of manuscripts, to write a blog post to promote the guide and/or one of the collections, and to deliver a staff talk or contribute to an event to promote the French collections.

Please see the project description on the website for further information and read the Application Guidelines carefully before applying.

The deadline for this call is: 5pm on Monday 20 February 2023.

30 December 2022

An A to Z of the European Studies Blog 2022

A is for Alexander the Great, subject of the Library’s current exhibition

B is for Birds and Bull fighting.

C is for Czechoslovak Independence Day, which marks the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak State in 1918.

D is for Digitisation, including the 3D digitisation of Marinetti’s Tin Book.

E is for Annie Ernaux, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in October.

Examples of Fraktur letter-forms from Wolfgang Fugger  Ein nützlich und wolgegründt Formular manncherley schöner Schriefften ... (Nuremberg  1533) C.142.cc.12.

Examples of Fraktur letter-forms from Wolfgang Fugger, Ein nützlich und wolgegründt Formular manncherley schöner Schriefften ... (Nuremberg, 1533) C.142.cc.12.

F is for Festive Traditions, from songs to fortune telling.

G is for Guest bloggers, whose contributions we love to receive! 

H is for Hryhorii Skovoroda, the Ukrainian philosopher and poet whose anniversary we marked in December.

I is for our series on Iceland and the Library’s Icelandic collections.

J is for Jubilees.

Cover of Abetka, a Ukrainian alphabet book for children

Abetka (Kyïv, 2005). YF.2010.a.18369.

K is for Knowledge systems and the work of Snowchange Cooperative, a Finnish environmental organisation devoted to protecting and restoring the boreal forests and ecosystems through ‘the advancement of indigenous traditions and culture’.

L is for Limburgish, spoken in the South of the Netherlands.

M is for Mystery – some bibliographical sleuthing.

N is for Nordic acquisitions, from Finnish avant-garde poetry to Swedish art books.

O is for Online resources from East View, which are now available remotely.

Pages from Giovanni Bodoni and Giovanni Mardersteig, Manuale tipografico showing letters M and N

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

P is for our wonderful PhD researchers, current and future.

Q is for Quebec with a guest appearance by the Americas blog featuring the work of retired French collections curator Des McTernan. 

R is for Rare editions of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s Kobzar.

S is for Samizdat and the Library’s Polish Solidarity collection.

T is for Translation and our regular posts to mark Women in Translation Month.

Page from Alphabet Anglois

Alphabet Anglois, contenant la prononciation des lettres avec les declinaisons et conjugaisons (Rouen, 1639). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)

U is for Ukrainian collections and our work with Ukrainian partners.

V is for Victory – a contemporary Italian newspaper report of the Battle of Trafalgar. 

W is for Richard Wagner who wrote about a fictional meeting with Beethoven.

X is for... (no, we couldn’t think of anything either!)

Y is for You, our readers. Thank you for following us!

Z is for our former colleague Zuzanna, whom we remembered in February.

Church Slavonic alphabet from Azbuka, considered the first dated book printed in Ukraine.

Azbuka ōt knigi osmochastnye̡, sirěchʹ grammatikii (Lviv, 1574). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)

20 October 2022

Annie Ernaux’s time in London

On 10 October 2022, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the French author Annie Ernaux “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory.”

A major literary presence in contemporary France, and the author of more than 20 books, Ernaux has been writing since the 1970s, and is no stranger to literary recognition. Her autobiography Les années won both the Prix Marguerite Duras and the Prix Francois Mauriac in 2008 as well as the Italian Premio Strega in 2016; it was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2019 when it was translated into English by Alison L Strayer – on this occasion Ernaux gave an interview to the Institut Francais in London. She had also received the Prix Renaudot for La Place. In 2017, Ernaux was awarded the Marguerite Yourcenar Prize for her life’s work. The British Library holds her books both in French and in English translation, from the earliest, Les armoires vides (1974) to the latest, Le Jeune Homme (2022).

Cover of Annie Ernaux, Ecrire la vie with a portrait of the author

Cover of Annie Ernaux, Ecrire la vie (Paris, 2011). YF.2012.a.18786

As brilliantly demonstrated by Elise Hugueny-Leger in an article from 2018, Ernaux has been the subject of academic publications since the early 1990s, and notably, very early on, in the English-speaking world, via a chapter by Loren Day in Contemporary French Fiction by Women: Feminist Perspectives (1990) and Diana Holmes in French Women's writing 1848-1994 (1996). She has since become an academic subject of study in her own right, while slowly becoming more accessible to the general public, through her becoming more prominent in the media and, also, through a change in her style. She is now a figurehead of contemporary French Women writers, but one of Ernaux’ wishes is that her books “may be read and received by a great number of readers who don’t necessarily have a university background” (E Hugueny-Léger).

Melding the biographical and the sociological, deploying an array of autobiographical novels, illustrated photographic diaries, and biographical narratives, some of her publications are referred by Michel Tournier’s term “Journaux extimes,” because, despite being in the format of a personal journal, they focus on the external and on the observation of the author’s surroundings. Ernaux’s genre is difficult to define in one word, but it is based on and around her life, and her experiences, and what she observes, recounted in a deliberately pared down and at times clinical voice. “Her work is uncompromising and written in plain language, scraped clean,” said Anders Olsson of the Swedish Academy on Thursday as he announced her accolade.

Cover of Annie Ernaux, Le jeune homme

Cover of Annie Ernaux, Le jeune homme (Paris, 2022) YF.2022.a.24142

Annie Ernaux was born in 1940 to working-class parents in Normandy. In 1958, she spent a summer looking after children in a summer camp and her sexual awakening during that time is recounted in Memoire de fille (2016). In 1960, she left home to study in Rouen. In the following years she married, had two sons, and qualified as a secondary school teacher. In 1974 she published Les armoires vides, a fictionalised account of the illegal abortion she had undergone ten years earlier. Ernaux continued to teach until she retired in 2000, and now devotes herself to writing.

In 1960, Annie Ernaux had spent several months as an au pair in London looking after two boys, Jonathan and Brian Portner. During this stay, she started writing her first novel, which remains unpublished. In the anthology Ecrire la vie, a few pages are devoted to this period in Ernaux’s life, with photographs and extracts from her diary.

Annie Ernaux portrait

Annie Ernaux in the 1960s. Photo credit: L’Inventoire 

The following touching and surprising story, which is recounted on the website Annie Ernaux, focuses on the author and her work and, through its largely bilingual construction, attempts to bring her work to the attention of the anglophone world. The site is maintained by Elise Hugueny-Léger (University of St Andrews) and Lyn Thomas (University of Sussex).

I see a miraculous convergence of coincidences. First there is a writer and translator, Anthony Rudolf, who reads Mémoire de fille the year after its publication. He is struck by the mention of the Portners, in Finchley, as among his acquaintances there is a certain Jonathan Portner, a dentist located a few miles away. Informed by Anthony Rudolf, Jonathan Portner tells his daughter Hannah about this discovery. Now Hannah Portner is studying French with Elise Hugueny-Léger, a lecturer at the University of St. Andrews, whose thesis focuses on my work and who has participated in many conferences I have attended. Thanks to Elise Hugueny-Léger, Hannah has read and loved one of my books, Journal du dehors, which inspired her to create a beautiful text about Paris and Madrid: Journal de deux voyages. Observation et mise en mots du réel. Things could not have come full circle in a more wonderful way… From one woman’s writing – it was in the summer of 1960, au pair with the Portner family, that I started a novel – to another woman’s writing… 

Some might say that this observation of life as a wonderful circle might be uncharacteristic. But the impression, the mark left by London on Ernaux is also recorded in her usual clean, sharp and yet somewhat poetic style:

‘L’Angleterre, Londres anesthésiant et doux, eaux éternellement couleur d’étang, maison des Portner, feutrée. Si j’ai eu vingt ans là-bas, je ne m’en suis jamais vraiment aperçue.’ (Mai 1970)

“London, London soft and narcotic, waters eternally the colour of marshes, The Portners’ house, hushed and elegant. If I ever were twenty there, I never realised”. (May 1970)

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

References/Further reading

Annie Ernaux, Les armoires vides (Paris, 1974) X.908/29849.

Annie Ernaux, La place (Paris, 1983) X.958/33342

Annie Ernaux & Marie, Marc, L’usage de la photo (Paris, 2005) YF.2006.a.37419

Annie Ernaux, Les années (Paris, 2008) YF.2008.a.14343

Annie Ernaux, Mémoire de fille (Paris, 2016) YF.2016.a.23982

Annie Ernaux, Le jeune homme (Paris, 2022) YF.2022.a.24142

Contemporary French fiction by women: Feminist perspectives, edited by Margaret Atack and Phil Powrie (Manchester, 1990) YC.1991.a.445

Elise Hugueny-Léger, ‘Annie Ernaux’, French Studies: a Quarterly Review, 72 (2018) 256-269. ELD Digital store, doi: 10.1093/fs/kny014 

D. Holmes, French Women’s Writing, 1848–1994 (London, 1996), pp. 246–65. DRT ELD.DS.419322

 

26 September 2022

Maylis de Kerangal and Shumona Sinha in conversation at the Institut francais

The Institut français regularly addresses issues and perspectives on women’s rights through events, film screenings and discussions.

On Tuesday 27 September, it will host a conversation between acclaimed writers Maylis de Kerangal and Shumona Sinha, together with translator and author Lauren Elkin, and Russell Williams, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the American University of Paris. Kerangal and Sinha will be discussing their newly translated short novels, Eastbound (translated by Jessica Moore) and Down with the Poor! (translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan).

Photo of Maylis de Kerangal and Shumona Sinha

Maylis de Kerangal by Francesca Mantovani © éditions Gallimard, and Shumona Sinha © Patrice Normand

Published in France one year after Kerangal’s award-winning novel Naissance d’un pont, (Birth of a Bridge), Eastbound (originally published as Tangente vers l’Est) tells the story of Aliocha, a very young and desperate Russian conscript bound for Vladivostok, who hopes that a chance encounter with a French woman on the train will offer him a chance to flee. The short novel was born as a radio story, ‘Lignes de fuites’, written for France Culture and broadcast in August 2010, which was inspired by a real-life trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway between Novosibirsk and Vladivostok.

Sinha, who was born and grew up in India, started learning French at the age of 22 and moved to Paris a few years later. She has translated and published several anthologies of contemporary French and Bengali poetry. Her first novel, Fenêtre sur l'abîme, was published in 2008. Down with the Poor! is Sinha’s second novel. Originally published as Assommons les pauvres! in 2011, it won the Prix du roman populiste 2011 and the Prix Valéry-Larbaud 2012. Sinha’s work addresses themes of immigration, exile, and identity, and poetry (‘Assommons les pauvres!’ was the title of a prose-poem in Charles Baudelaire’s Petits Poemes en prose. In very short chapters, Sinha’s Assommons les pauvres! describes the work of a translator working with migrants somewhere in a suburb of Paris:

‘Les mots s’ajoutaient aux mots. Les dossiers s’entassaient. Les hommes défilaient sans fin. On ne distinguait plus leur visage ou leur corps.’
Words were added to words. Files piled up. An endless procession of men. You could no longer distinguish their faces or bodies.

Both novels tell stories of separation, of exile, of fleeing by different means and of searching for one’s place in the world. They both touch upon the very act of translating – emotions into words, or without words (Eastbound is a novel without dialogues), of writing when one is not in one’s country (Sinha is an acclaimed exophonic writer, i.e. one who writes in a language that is not their own), or of the different ways that one can flee, physically or not, the infinite confinements and boundaries imposed by the world.

Join us for what promises to be a fascinating exploration tomorrow evening at 6:30 pm at the Institut français du Royaume-Uni

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections 

References

Maylis de Kerangal, Naissance d’un pont, (Paris, 2010) YF.2011.a.20739; English translation by Jessica Moore, Birth of a Bridge (London, 2010) H.2018/.7466

Maylis de Kerangal, Tangente vers l’Est (Paris, 2011) YF.2013.a.23272; English translation by Jessica Moore, Eastbound (London, 2022) [on order]

Shumona Sinha, Assommons les pauvres! (Paris, 2011) YF.2013.a.26285; English translation by Teresa Lavender Fagan, Down with the Poor! (London, 2022) [on order]

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