European studies blog

194 posts categorized "Romance languages"

23 December 2021

Festive Feasts

It’s the festive season again! Conversations in our multi-national department invariably turn to colleagues’ national Christmas and New Year traditions, especially what we have to eat in our home countries. In today’s post colleagues share some Christmas Eve cuisine from Central Europe, Ukraine and France

Christmas Carp 

In Central Europe, carp is a popular traditional dish for Christmas. ‘The queen of rivers’, as it was called by the 17th-century English writer Izaak Walton, this fish is quite oily and bony. So the first thing to do is to remove as many bones as possible, so that your Christmas dinner is not spoilt by a call to the ambulance. Choking on carp bones was a typical Christmas accident and is the source of many songs and anecdotes. However, you really should risk it, as carp scales are a symbol of wealth, so don’t forget to place them under plates before dinner, or hold in the palm of your hand, or put them in your wallet.

If you want your taste-buds get excited this Christmas and are seriously concerned about your wealth, why not visit your fishmonger and then indulge in a quality family time removing bones together during dark December evenings? Once the bones are out of the way, you can be creative with rubbing salt, spices, and pepper into the fish. Some recipes suggest using mustard and lemon juice or eggs to mix with flour or breadcrumbs for wrapping. Each household in Czechia or Poland would have their own traditional recipe, but the most important thing is to fry carefully and not overdo it.

Of course, carp is not only for Christmas, it is a really big part of Central European culture all year round. Books have been written about this wonderful and really tasty fish, as for example this one, promoting carp from the southern regions on the Czech Republic in national and foreign cuisines.

Book cover with a cartoon of a carp wearing a chef's hat

Cover of Vilém Vrabec, Jihočeský kapr v naší a zahraniční kuchyni (České Budějovice, 1979) X.629/16113

In fact, in Polish territories neighbouring the Czech lands carp was popularized by Czech Cistercians in 12th century. Although it became one of the staples of Polish cuisine, for a long time it was not considered as an essential part of the Christmas Eve table. Other fish dishes were equally, if not more popular. However, after the Second World War when freshwater fish farming could not come back to its former glory and the Baltic fleet was depleted, the Polish Minister for Industry and Trade, Hilary Minc, came up with an ingenious trade and marketing strategy. First, he decided that the answer for the ‘fish crisis’ was to set up carp breeding ponds which would offer fish-starved Poles a cheap but hefty chunk of protein. The slogan ‘Carp on every Christmas Eve table’ became a reality. Since 1947 almost every Polish child has been able to pet their own carp, held for days in bathtubs, in a run up to Christmas. Live carp were often offered to workers as a festive bonus.

In recent years animal rights activists launched a very successful campaign ‘Uwolnić karpia!’(‘Free the Carp!’) to put a stop to animal suffering which for years has been a part of the festive season. The campaign, which is ongoing, does not aim to fight the Polish Christmas tradition, but to get rid of the part which is unnecessarily cruel to animals. So let us celebrate with a cheerful: Happy Carp – Happy Christmas!

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator and Olga Topol, Curator, Slavonic and East European Collections

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Ukrainian Christmas Dishes

In Ukraine the whole family gathers at the table for the Christmas Eve dinner. Traditionally they wait for the first star to be appear in the sky. It reminds them of the star of Bethlehem which once announced to the Magi the birth of the Son of God. Only after that (and after prayer) can they start dinner.

Since Christmas Eve is the last day of the Advent fast, all meals should be lean. Traditionally it is 12 festive dishes in honour of the 12 apostles.

Chief among these are kutia and uzvar. The dinner starts with kutia – a porridge made from wheat or barley grain which symbolize eternal life and prosperity. Before cooking, the grain is soaked in cold water. Traditionally some people cook it in clay pots. Cooked porridge is placed in a deep, preferably earthenware, bowl or makitra and crushed poppy-seeds, walnuts, raisins and honey are added. Everything is mixed thoroughly.

Kutia recipe from the book 'Ukraine: Food and History'

Recipe for kutia from Ukraine: Food and History, edited by Olena Braichenko (Kyiv, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark.  

The traditional Christmas drink Uzvar is made from dried fruits. Uzvar means ‘boil down’ because the fruit is boiled over a low heat. First of all it is apples, pears, plums and cherries which give it an intense and warm colour. It could be also dried apricots and raisins or other fruits depending of the area of Ukraine.

Cover of the book 'Ukrainian Christmas Feast'

Cover of Igor Stassiouk, Ukrainian Christmas Feast = Ukraïnsʹke Rizdvo (Kyïv, 2010) YK.2012.a.9322

The other 12 dishes are not so prescriptive, and among them could be holubtsi (stuffed cabbage with mushrooms), lean borsch, vinaigrette, deruny (potato pancakes), varenyky (dumplings with cherries or grated poppy seeds), baked apples, etc. Recipes for these and other festive dishes can be found in the British Library’s collections, for example in the works illustrated above and cited below.

For Christmas and Easter: religious holiday dishes = Na Rizdvo i na Velykdenʹ: zakarpatsʹki sviatkovi stravy. Compiled by Valentyna Dzioba English translation by Valentyna Babydorych. (Uzhhorod, 2002) YF.2007.a.29847

Olha Verbenets, Vira Manko, Obriady i stravy sviatoho vechora (Lviv, 2007) YF.2008.a.30595

Lidiia Artiukh, Zvychaï ukraïntsiv u narodnomu kalendari (Kyïv, 2015) LF.31.a.5017

Nadiia Strishenets, British Library Chevening Fellow

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A ghost and thirteen desserts

Christmas is associated with many things: seasonal food and drink, dancing, games and a festive generosity of spirit. Since Charles Dickens, maybe, it has also been associated in literature with ghost stories and  just supernatural retribution for mistakes, past and present.

French author Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897), who was instrumental in reviving and creating a canon of Provençal folklore, somehow managed to combine food and ghosts in his story of the ‘three low masses’, which was part of his work Lettres de mon moulin (Letters from my Mill; Paris, 1879; 11483.aaa.13).

Published in 1875, Daudet’s short story ‘Les trois basses messes’ imitates the tradition of folk-tale and evokes the delicious food of Christmas with a celestial retribution that sees gourmand Priest Dom Balaguère so impatient for his Christmas réveillon feast of truffled turkeys, pheasant, eels, trout, and wine that he succumbs to the Devil’s tricks and rushes through the required three low masses for Christmas Eve… As a punishment, God decrees that the priest shall not enter heaven until he has celebrated 300 Christmas masses in his chapel, where for centuries his ghost will be heard saying the masses he had first botched because of his gluttony. The British Library has several recordings of readings of excerpts from Lettres de Mon Moulin including some by French actor Fernandel (Sound Archive 1LP0095903), and in English by British actor Stephen Fry (Sound Archive 1CA0029425).

It has been argued that Daudet, following Provencal Poet Frederic Mistral’s success, deliberately exaggerated his links to Provence to further his literary career and social success; but Provence has been, and still is, an acknowledged source of Christmas traditions, be they religious, musical or culinary.

The true Provençal Christmas delicacy, is nowadays considered to be the tradition of the ‘thirteen desserts’ (Occitan: lei tretze dessèrts), the traditional table of delights arranged for the celebration of Christmas in the South of France. In Provence particularly, the ‘Réveillon de Noel’ (Christmas Eve supper) ends with a ritual of thirteen desserts, representing Jesus Christ and the 12 Apostles – you can read a nostalgic and love-filled description of this in Marcel Pagnol’s Le Chateau de ma mère (Paris, 1958; F9/5843).

Reveillon

Definition of the reveillon, from Petit almanach perpétuel de gastronomie (Paris, 1859). Source: Gallica

The food should be presented on Christmas Eve and remains on the table for three days. The precise composition varies in each province, town, or even family. There are only six compulsory items including the four mendiants (‘beggars’), evoking religious orders that had taken a vow of poverty (walnuts or hazelnuts for the Augustinians, dried figs for the Franciscans, almonds for the Carmelites and raisins for the Dominicans), black and white nougat (which counts as one dessert) and the famous pompe à l’huile d’olive, a sweet focaccia-type brioche made with olive oil and flavoured with orange blossom water. Other treats might include calissons (a sweet made of almonds and candied melon), fresh fruits, oreillettes (a type of light doughnut) and all sorts of delicious things.

If only poor Dom Balaguère could have waited for a few hours…

Thirteen desserts

The traditional thirteen desserts served for the celebration of Christmas in the South of France. Photo by Jean-Louis Zimmerman from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

08 December 2021

Book Donation by Roberto L. Bruni (1945-2020): a collection on Italian Studies

The British Library recently accepted a generous donation of books belonging to the late Dr Roberto Bruni (1945-2020). The books have been catalogued and are available in our reading rooms. Roberto Bruni was a keen reader of the British Library, and his personal collection of books compliments our holdings on Italian and Renaissance studies well. In this blog post, Roberto’s colleague and friend, Prof Diego Zancani, remembers his extraordinary contribution to Italian Studies in the UK.

Roberto Lorenzo Bruni was a Florentine through and through, literally born quite near the Brunelleschi dome in 1945. He grew up and went to school in Florence and lived there while studying Medieval and Modern Languages at Pisa University. In November 1966 in the aftermath of the disastrous flooding of the river Arno, he helped rescue elderly people in Florence, and later salvaging works of art and rare books, many of them held in the National Library situated by the river bank. In 1969, he was appointed as a Lector in Italian at the University of Reading. The Faculty of Letters of this university hosted the largest department of Italian Studies in the UK, directed by Luigi Meneghello, a philosopher by training and a writer who had taken part in the Italian Resistance, and who reached literary fame in Italy.

Title page of Mostra di incisioni di Stefano Della Bella

One of the books donated by Roberto Bruni. Mostra di incisioni di Stefano Della Bella (Florence, 1973) YF.2021.a.14250

In 1973-74 Roberto took up a teaching position at the University of Victoria, in Vancouver. After one year he returned to Britain as a Lecturer in Italian at the University of Exeter. There he founded and edited an innovative series of “Italian Texts”, publishing numerous editions of rare poems and studies, mainly concerning Renaissance linguistic and literary debates. Roberto’s interests then slowly moved from literature and philology to the History of the Book, and he became an expert researcher and cataloguer of early Italian editions in British libraries. He worked together with his colleague D. Wyn Evans to produce catalogues of early Italian books in Exeter libraries, and later the massive catalogue (of some 5700 items) of 17th-century books in Cambridge libraries.

Roberto was interested in early Italian manuscripts, and together we wrote a monograph on Antonio Cornazzano, an Italian humanist who worked at the court of Francesco Sforza, in Venice and in Ferrara. Later, we worked again together on the writings by the late 16th-century popular poet Giulio Cesare Croce existing in British libraries. He was also a contributor to scholarly journals, especially La Bibliofilia, and Studi Secenteschi. In the 1980s he started writing poetry in English and in Italian, and he developed this interest even more after he retired from Exeter university in 2005.

Cover of Roberto Bruni and D. Wyn Evans, Italian 17th-century books in Cambridge libraries: a short-title catalogue

Cover of Roberto Bruni and D. Wyn Evans, Italian 17th-century books in Cambridge libraries: a short-title catalogue (Florence, 1997) YA.2001.a.4311

He also wrote some short stories in English that were printed privately in Florence, where he used to spend a few months every year, working on early books in Florentine historical libraries, and writing his own texts.

His poetical works are unique and quite extraordinary: most of them are in terza rima, and the language is essentially Tuscan with a vocabulary based on 15th- and 16th-century texts.
He published them in 2019 under the name of Guzzabruno (a name made up using the maiden name of his mother, Guzzo, and Bruni), this alter ego lived at the court of Elisabeth I and of King James, and was a friend of the great lexicographer John Florio. These were followed by a shorter volume of Rime di Guzzabruno, cantimbanco fiorentino, published in March 2020.

Roberto died on 9 July 2020, and left a substantial number of books in his house in Exeter. His heirs wanted his collection to be shared among his friends, and important cultural institutions, in accordance with Roberto’s wishes.

Over 150 books were donated to the British Library and these include numerous volumes on Florentine literature, art and architecture, important studies on 16th- and 17th-century authors, as well as scholarly catalogues and studies of books existing in historical libraries.

Diego Zancani, Emeritus Professor in Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford, Emeritus Fellow, Balliol College, Oxford

References/further reading

Roberto L. Bruni and D. Wyn Evans, A catalogue of Italian books, 1471-1600, in the libraries of Exeter University, Exeter Cathedral, and the Devon and Exeter Institution (Exeter, 1978) 2725.bb.1

Roberto Bruni and D. Wyn Evans, Italian 17th-century books in Cambridge libraries : a short-title catalogue (Florence, 1997) YA.2001.a.4311

Roberto L. Bruni, Antonio Cornazzano: la tradizione testuale (Florence, 1992) YA.1993.b.10660

Roberto L. Bruni, Giulio Cesare Croce dall'Emilia all'Inghilterra : cataloghi, biblioteche e testi (Biblioteca di bibliografia italiana; 124 ) (Florence, 1991) P.P.6476.en.[124]

Poesie di Guzzabruno, Poeta Fiorentino. Vissuto a Londra a’ tempi della Regina Elisabetta e di Re Giacomo. Con una vita scritta da John Florio Prelettore di Lingua Italiana della Regina Anna e Valletto della Camera. E co’ Commenti alle Poesie, dove si dà compiuta Notizia de’ Significati de’ Motti. Parte Prima. (Florence 2019) Privately Printed.

See review by Prof. Luisa Avellini in Schede umanistiche: rivista annuale dell'Archivio Umanistico Rinascimentale Bolognese, XXXIII/1 (2019), pp. 248-252. ZA.9.a.9582

Rime di Guzzabruno, cantimbanco fiorentino (Florence, 2020) Privately Printed

17 November 2021

Elizabeth I and languages

The Tudors were a formidably educated family, though Giovanni Carlo Scaramelli, Venetian Secretary in England, was doubtless laying it on thick:

[Elizabeth] possessed nine languages so thoroughly that each appeared to be her native tongue; five of these were the languages of peoples governed by her, English, Welsh, Cornish, Scottish, for that part of her possessions where they are still savage, and Irish. All of them are so different, that it is impossible for those who spealk the one to understand any of the others. Besides this, she spoke perfectly Latin, French, and Italian extremely well. (Calendar of State Papers relating to English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, April 1603, pp. 562-70)

The catalogue of the current British Library exhibition Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens says she studied French, Italian, Latin and Greek, and ‘knew some Spanish too’ (p. 29).

As part of her education Roger Ascham taught her Greek; Battista Castiglione Italian. The same Ascham paid credit to ‘her perfit readines in ... Spanish’ (Randall, 231n).

Portrait of Elizabeth holding a book

Portrait of Elizabeth holding a book, from Lucas de Heere, Corte Beschryvinghe van Engheland, Schotland, ende Irland, 1573-5, Add MS 28330, f.4r 

Her reading knowledge of languages is clear from the translations she made. From French: Marguerite de Navarre, Miroir de l’âme pécheresse (for Katherine Parr); Calvin, Institution de la religion chrestienne (ch. 1); from Italian: Ochino, Che cosa è Christo and possibly Petrarch; from Latin: Seneca, (Epistle CVII), Cicero (two epistles), Boethius (De consolatione philosophiae) Horace, and Plutarch (De curiositate, via the Latin of Erasmus). (Unless otherwise stated sources are Mueller and Scodel and their reviewers.)

She also had writing skills in various languages. She wrote a letter in Italian to Katharine Parr (aged ten), wrote 27 stanzas in French, and translated Katherine Parr’s Prayers or Meditations into French, Latin and Italian as a new year’s gift to her father. Mueller and Marcus say the Latin is closer to the original than are the French and Italian.

Elizabeth’s French translation of Catherine Parr’s Prayers or meditations

Elizabeth’s French translation of Catherine Parr’s Prayers or meditations BL. Royal MS. 7.D.X. f.39r

Her translation of Erasmus’s Dialogus fidei into French for Henry is lost. She also wrote letters in Latin to her brother Edward VI and letters in French, including one to Mary Queen of Scots. And prayers in Spanish (Autograph Compositions, 141-43).

A halfway house between reading and writing is the collection of Latin tags she gathered in Sententiae.

A page from Elizabeth’s collection of Sententiae

A page from Elizabeth’s collection of Sententiae, in Precationes priuatę Regiæ E. R. ([London], 1563). Huth 139.

As regards speaking, she addressed the University of Oxford in Latin. She spoke in Latin to the Polish ambassador. On her first meeting with Guzman de Silva, the Spanish Ambassador, she spoke in Italian, ‘diciendo que no sabia en que lengua hablarme’ [‘saying that she did not know in which language to speak to me’]; he in Latin. But when the two rode together to Lord Burghley’s residence on July 26th, 1564, she, being mounted on a Spanish jennet, spoke to him in Spanish, ‘mostrandole gran contentamiento del caballo y de las lenguas’ [‘showing great content [perhaps ‘fluency’] with the horse and the languages’] (Ungerer 44). Mueller and Marcus say Elizabeth ‘had learned [Spanish] but deliberately avoided [it] later in her reign for political reasons’ (141).

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References/further reading:

Gustav Ungerer, Anglo-Spanish Relations in Tudor Literature (Madrid, 1956) 11872.w.20

Janel Mueller and Joshua Scodel (ed.), Elizabeth I: Translations, 1544-1589 [-- 1592-98] (Chicago, 2009)
YC.2009.a.8501; YC.2009.a.15444; reviewed by Retha Warnicke, Journal of Modern History, 82:4 (Dec. 2010), 923-27; Ac.2691.d/43.p

Roger Ellis, Translation and Literature, 19: 2 (Autumn 2010), 225-32. ZC.9.a.3123

Janel Mueller and Leah S. Marcus (ed.), Elizabeth I: Autograph Compositions and Foreign Language Originals (Chicago, 2003) YC.2004.a.5929

Dale B. J. Randall, The Golden Tapestry: a Critical Survey of Non-chivalric Spanish Fiction in English Translation (1543-1657) (Durham NC 1963) 011881.d.7

Elizabeth and Mary footer

03 November 2021

Venice: Tales of a Sinking City – an online event

On 8 November 2021 the British Library is hosting a free online event looking at the role of Venice in the current environmental, cultural and social global crises.

For centuries at the helm of a trading empire, the city of Venice has amassed wealth and culture in every palace, church, canal. Its lagoon constitutes a harmonious example of man-made transformation of the environment, conquered from mud, yet liveable and sustainable. A unique place for the circulation of ideas, home to fine printing, art and literature, a bridge between East and West. Venice is both a muse and a maker.

Still of flooded Venice from Homo Urbanus Venetianus

Still from Bêka and Lemoine, Homo Urbanus Venetianus, 2019 copyright of Bêka and Lemoine

After the decline and fall of the Republic of Venice, the city seemed the last Romantic fantasy during the industrial revolution. Nowadays, the number of inhabitants is diminishing, whilst tourism has reached its peak. The city is becoming a resort and is at risk of forgetting its own history, uniqueness, identity. Without its people, Venice might end up looking like one of its hundreds of replicas around the world.

There is not one way to describe Venice, nor 55. 55 is the number of fictional cities described in Italo Calvino’s 1974 work, Le Citta’ invisibili (Invisible Cities; Turin, 1978; X.908/86292) by Venetian explorer Marco Polo to Kublai Khan, Emperor of Mongolia. After hearing about all of them, Kublai Khan said:

‘There is still one of which you never speak.’
Marco Polo bowed his head.
'Venice,’ the Khan said.
Marco smiled. ‘What else do you believe I have been talking to you about?’
The emperor did not turn a hair. ‘And yet I have never heard you mention that name.’
And Polo said: ‘Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice.’

Cover of Italo Calvino, Invisible cities, translated by William Weave

Italo Calvino, Invisible cities, translated by William Weave (London, 1974). X.989/29509

F.T. Marinetti and his futurist fellows did not like Venice. They repudiated it for its slavish devotion of the past. They suggest to “burn the gondolas” and fill the canals with the rubbish of the crumbling palaces. “May the dazzling reign of divine Electrical Light at last free Venice from her venal furnished room’s moonshine”, says a manifesto thrown in thousands of copies from the Clock Tower of St Mark’s Square, in 1910.

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Futurist Venice

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Futurist Venice (Milan, 1910). 1879.c.8.(24.)

Episodes of acqua alta, high water, have been recorded since the XIII century, but Marinetti would have never imagined that the rising sea levels would become a serious threat to the very existence of the city. The exceptional acqua alta in November 2019, when 85% of the city was covered by water, has been subject of a film by architects and film makers Bêka and Lemoine, Homo Urbanus Venetianus, observing the daily habits of tourists and venetians being disrupted by environmental contingencies. Is this an admonition for other cities?

The most imitated, the most celebrated, the most oneiric of all cities is menaced by water and global tourism.
Will Venice spark a creative response to its problems and find a sustainable way to survive, as it has done in the past?

As world leaders and experts are gathered in Glasgow to find a strategy against climate change, join our free online event on 8 November 2021 to look at how Venice embodies the emergencies we globally face and how literature and technologies can uncover these stories. Guests will be Bêka and Lemoine, Professor of Architecture and Spatial Design Sophia Psarra and Dr Giorgia Tolfo, writer and producer of the podcast The Fifth Siren (read Giorgia’s blog on the event on the Digital Scholarship Blog).

The event is supported by the Festival of Italian Literature in London (FILL) and the Italian Cultural Institute in London.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections

Additional reading and resources:

Piero Bevilacqua, Venezia e le acque: una metafora planetaria (Rome, 1998). YA.2002.a.20745

Sergio Pascolo, Venezia secolo ventuno : visioni e strategie per un rinascimento sostenibile (Conegliano, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark

Sophia Psarra, The Venice variations: tracing the architectural imagination (London, 2018). DRT ELD.DS.472744

Salvatore Settis, Se Venezia muore (Turin, 2014). YF.2016.a.2992

01 November 2021

Red Élisabeth: Émigré, Intellectual, Organiser, Communarde

The current struggle can only end with the triumph of the popular cause [...] Paris will not retreat, because it carries the flag of the future.

These words are taken from the manifesto of the Paris Commune’s largest and most effective organisation, l’Union des Femmes pour la défense de Paris et les soins aux blessés (the Women’s Union for the Defence of Paris and Care of the Wounded).

Manifesto of the Women’s Union for the Defence of Paris and Care of the Wounded Central Committee

‘Manifesto of the Women’s Union for the Defence of Paris and Care of the Wounded Central Committee’, taken from Carolyn Eichner, Surmounting the Barricades: Women in the Paris Commune (Bloomington (Indiana), 2004) C.2006.a.8599.

The final signatory, Dmitrieff, belongs to one of the most interesting and important actors through the Paris Commune, the socialist and anarchist insurrection which toppled the hegemonic order for 72 days in the Spring of 1871.

Born in Saint-Petersburg, Elizaveta Lukinichna Kusheleva had already encountered socialist ideas thanks to her exposure to Nikolai Chernyshevksy’s novel What is to Be Done? (1863). Though born into a family of significant wealth, growing up she occupied a liminal social space because of the disparity in her parents ranking: a Russian aristocrat and a German nurse.

Nevertheless, a marriage blanc to retired colonel Mikhail Tomanovskii in 1867 saw her able to travel freely outside of Russia.

She chose Geneva to continue her studies. There, she was amongst the founders of the Russian émigré section of the International, as well as utilising what remained of her sizeable inheritance to fund their newspaper, Narodnoe delo, ‘The Cause of the People’.

In 1870, the Russian émigré section of the International sent her as an envoy to London. It was there she would meet and befriend Karl Marx. Their relationship was one defined by productive intellectual interactions, with Dmitrieff relaying to Marx her realities of economic and social formation in the communes of Russia.

After just three months in London, she was deployed again as an envoy of the International to Paris, this time on behalf of Marx. Arriving in late March, just as the Paris Commune had been proclaimed, she chose Dmitrieff as her nom-de-guerre in the hope that it would help her evade authorities.

Standing 1.66m tall, dressed with a certain elegance and a particular penchant for wearing black, Dmitrieff, aged just 20, would go on to be one of the most important figures of the insurrection.

Portrait of Élisabeth Dmitrieff

Portrait of Élisabeth Dmitrieff, taken from Ivan Sergeevich Vetrov, Russkie deiateli pervogo Internatsionala i Parizhskoi Kommuny. E. D. Dmitrieva, A. V. Zhaklar, E. G. Barteneva [With portraits.], (Moscow, 1964). X.709/595.

In the weeks following her arrival, an ‘Appeal to the Women Citizens of Paris’ was published onto the streets of Paris, which alongside calls for revolutionary justice, appealed to women to join the newly formed Union des Femmes, set up by Dmitrieff and Nathalie Lemel. Though its immediate interest was finding work for women, the Union also pursued the task of economically and socially redefining traditional notions of women’s work.

Dmitrieff worked frantically through the Commune to the point of illness. This is demonstrated by the aforementioned manifesto, published on May 6th. Towards the end, the document states that:

The women of Paris will prove to France and to the world that they, at the supreme moment of danger – on the barricades, on the ramparts of Paris, and if the reaction forces it, the doors - will give their brothers their blood and their life for the defence and the triumph of the Commune, that is, the People!

Dmitrieff was no mere propagandist. She was injured on the barricades through the conflict in the last week of May which saw as many as 20,000 communards die. After a period of hiding in the home of a friend, Dmitrieff managed to evade capture and flee to Geneva, before returning to Russia.

After the death of her ‘husband’ in 1873, she married again, this time for love, to Ivan Mikhailovich Davydovskii. Together they had two children, before moving the family to Siberia following the exile of her husband – who had been implicated in an attempt by the so-called 'Jack of Hearts Club' to defraud a man of 20 thousand rubles by getting the victim drunk. Fascinatingly, the couple opened a pastry shop, hoping to cater to the political prisoners sent to Siberia. The venture would prove to be unsuccessful.

By 1902, Dmitrieff had left Davydovskii and returned to Moscow. It is here she and her daughters somewhat fall off the historical record. There is no clarity on the date of her death: estimates identify either 1910 or 1918 as likely dates.

As a figure of historical study, she was largely overlooked until Soviet histories emerging through the 1930s. Nevertheless, the Library holds several books across several languages which demonstrate her importance to both the Commune and its historians.

A starting point would be Russkie deiateli pervogo Internatsionala i Parizhskoi Kommuny. E. D. Dmitrieva, A. V. Zhaklar, E. G. Barteneva (‘Russian leaders of the First International and the Paris Commune. E. L. Dmitrieva, A. V. Zhaklar, E. G. Barteneva’) by Ivan Sergeevich Vetrov. Even if you don’t read Russian, the wonderful portraits included are still worth checking out.

Two French biographies, the first by Yvonne Signer-Lecocq, Rouge Élisabeth, and a second by Sylvie Braibant, Elisabeth Dmitrieff, aristocrate et pétroleuse, both take Dmitrieff as their centrepiece, offering sharp insights into her first experiences of Paris: a city she had never visited before her arrival in late March, 1871.

Another book worth consulting is Surmounting the Barricades: Women in the Paris Commune by Carolyn Eichner. The book takes three communardes as its subject: André Leo, Paule Mink and Dmitrieff, while referring to many others, to demonstrate the plurality of feminist-socialist interventions through the Commune. Eichner has written extensively on the subject, including a recent article on Louise Michel and the transportation of communards to New Caledonia and their eventual conflict with the indigenous Kanak community.

Place Élisabeth Dmitrieff

Place Élisabeth Dmitrieff, 3rd Arrondissement, 1851-1918. Militant feminist, co-founder of the Women’s Union for the Defence of Paris (1871). Source: Flickr 

Now recognised by Paris in the form of a small square in the city’s third arrondissement, Dmitrieff’s involvement cannot be underestimated. Her practical applications of highly-centralised socialism, emanating from her experiences in Russia and Geneva, as well as her interactions with the works of Chernyshevksy and Marx, means that Dmitrieff’s star still shines over the Commune.

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

References/Further reading:

Sylvie Braibant, Elisabeth Dmitrieff, aristocrate et pétroleuse (Paris, 1993). YA.1993.b.11074.

Catherine Clément, Aimons-nous les uns les autres : roman (Paris, [2014]). YF.2018.a.11194

Carolyn Eichner, ‘Language of Imperialism, Language of Liberation: Louise Michel and the Kanak-French Colonial Encounter’, Feminist Studies, vol. 45, no. 2-3 (2019), pp. 377-408. Special issue: Indigenous Feminisms in Settler Contexts. 3905.197800

Yvonne Signer-Lecocq, Rouge Élisabeth (Paris, 1977). X:709/24054.

Ivan Sergeevich Vetrov, Russkie deiateli pervogo Internatsionala i Parizhskoi Kommuny. E. D. Dmitrieva, A. V. Zhaklar, E. G. Barteneva (Moscow, 1964). X.709/595.

 

20 October 2021

‘Writing is a tattoo’ — Kamel Daoud and his work

Kamel Daoud is an Algerian journalist based in Oran, where he has been for several years the Chief Editor for Le Quotidien d’Oran, the third largest French-language Algerian newspaper, and the author of a much-read column ‘Raïna Raïkoum’ (‘My Opinion, Your Opinion’). His articles have appeared in Libération, Le Monde, and Courrier International.

Daoud’s first novel, Meursault, contre-enquête is a response to Camus’ L’étranger. Meursault, the protagonist of Camus’ novel murders a character known only as ‘the Arab’. Camus never gave a name to Meursault’s victim, but Daoud names him Moussa, and re-tells the story from the point of view of Moussa’s brother, Haroun. Daoud’s novel was first published in Algeria by editions Barzakh in October 2013, but mostly started to garner international attention after its publication by French publisher Actes Sud in May 2014; it was a finalist for the Prix Goncourt in 2014 and came second, just short of winning the prize. It did, however, win the 2015 Goncourt First Novel Prize, and was also awarded the prix François Mauriac, le prix des Cinq Continents de la Francophonie. It sold more than 130 000 copies in France and 14 000 in Algeria, ‘A very high number for a novel in French’ according to its Algerian publisher Barzakh.

Although it is often labelled as Daoud’s debut, Meursault, contre-enquête was in fact the third in a series of texts beginning with O Pharaon published in Oran in 2004. As recalled by Joseph Ford, far from being solely a journalist, Daoud was already a writer of note in Algeria, and knew how to use text to express and magnify his ideas about conflict and power. Daoud’s positions have not been exempt from controversy, be it in France or in Algeria and his work as novelist, as well as journalist and polemist are often the subject of examination, particularly through the prism of postcolonial studies. He has in the past expressed his dreams of forgetting journalism to dedicate himself to pure literature, but a collection of Daoud’s journalistic works: Mes indépendances: Chroniques 2010–2016 was nevertheless published in 2017 and he currently contributes a weekly column to the French magazine Le Point

Two of Daoud’s latest texts, however, have been less embroiled in obvious politics, if still actually describing some facets of Power. They explore the acts of writing and narrating, and hidden aspects of language, and of materiality: the materiality of books and of the body, and the beauty of both.

Cover of Kamel Daoud, Zabor ou les psaumes

Cover of Kamel Daoud, Zabor ou les psaumes (Arles, 2017) YF.2017.a.25074

Zabor ou les psaumes (translated this year in English by Emma Ramadan as Zabor, or The Psalms), first published in French in 2017, is a work of magic realism, but also a hymn to the power of fiction. The narrator is a young man who possesses a gift: he can fight death by writing, and the people whose stories he narrates in his notebooks live longer. This is his gift, his responsibility and his mission. But does everyone deserve to be saved? This allegorical novel draws on myths, religion and fables, and as in One Thousand and One Nights, the storytelling can temporarily stave off death. But the book is also an ode to language, or rather languages, and to their transformations and appropriations, particularly in a post-colonial context: ‘C’est à partir de ce capital que je construisis cette langue, entièrement, seul avec mon propre dictionnaire sauvage’ (‘I built this language, entirely, alone with my own wild dictionary’) and so created ‘une langue folle, riche, heureuse, amalgamée avec des racines sauvages, hybride comme un bestiaire de mythologie’ (‘a mad, rich, happy, amalgamated language, with wild roots, hybrid like a mythological bestiary’).

‘Writing is a tattoo’ reads one of the last chapter’s openings. This image of the book as a body is permeating one of Daoud’s most recent published piece, tellingly titled ‘Textures ou comment coucher avec un livre’.

Cover of BibliOdyssées

Cover of BibliOdyssées: foudre, index, exil, talismans, text by Kamel Daoud, Raphaël Jerusalmy; notes by Joseph Belletante, Bernadette Moglia. (Paris, 2019.) YF.2020.a.5142

This is the opening text of BibliOdyssées, and is a ‘literary piece’ companion to a book published on the occasion of the exhibition ‘L’Odyssée des livres sauvés’ held in the Musée de l’Imprimerie and Communication graphique in Lyon in 2019. Here, books have a skin, and again, this skin is ‘tattooed a thousand times’, with words and with the imprints of the hands that manipulate. In his text, Daoud compares sacred and profane books, licit and illicit objects, books for the ritual and the soul and books for the earthly body; both, with their words, magically able to express the ‘eternal unspeakable’.

Kamel Daoud will be in conversation with Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, the Financial Times’s World News Editor, at the Institut Francais on Thursday the 21st October

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections 

References/further reading:

Kamel Daoud, Meursault, contre-enquête (Arles, 2014) YF.2014.a.27110; English translation by John Cullen, The Mersault investigation (London, 2015) H.2016/.7708

Kamel Daoud, Mes indépendances: Chroniques 2010–2016 (Arles, 2017) YF.2017.a.18552

Albert Camus, L’étranger (Paris, 1947) 012550.p.23.

Sami Alkyam ‘Lost in reading: The predicament of postcolonial writing in Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation’, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 55 (2019), no. 4, pp. 459-471

Sylvie Ducas ‘L’entrée en littérature française de Kamel Daoud : «Camus, sinon rien!»’, Littératures, 73/2015, p. 185-197. 

Joseph Ford, Writing the black decade: conflict and criticism in francophone Algerian literature (Lanham, 2021) ELD.DS.582067

24 September 2021

‘Ill scratches the bear’, an endangered proverbial species

To coincide with the British Library's exhibition Paddington: The Story of a Bear, we've put together a series of blog posts about a few other bears (fictional and real) from the collections.

Eleanor O’Kane in her collection of medieval Spanish proverbs musters 21 dogs, 19 wolves, nine lions and one lonely bear.

Felipe Maldonado in his compilation of printed Spanish proverb books of the early modern period has captured 23 dogs, 14 wolves, two lions and no bears

The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs has tamed 176 dogs, 40 wolves, nine lions and a magnificent 23 bears.

Now, I’ve not been very careful with my sums, and the actual data can be misleading, but it’s very interesting to me that the order of the beasts is the same in all three sources.

Bear with bees and bee hives from Harley 3448, f.10v

Bear with bees and bee hives, Harley 3448, f.10v

You might recognize some English bears:

Like a bear to an honey-pot
As cross as a bear with a sore head
To sell the bear’s skin before one has caught the bear
Call the bear ‘uncle’ till you are safe across the bridge (‘an excellent Turkish proverb’, according to the Times Weekly of 1912)

But what of their solitary Spanish cousin?

The proverb occurs in the Poema de Alfonso Onceno (Epic of Alfonso XI). He reigned 1312-50, and the Poema was probably written by some tame court poet for propaganda purposes. It was never finished, which suggests that the poet wrote until the patronage was cut off at the king’s death.

First page of ‘Poema de Alfonso Onceno’ 

First page of ‘Poema de Alfonso Onceno’. Source: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes 

Picture the scene: the year is 1350. Alfonso (Castile) is fighting Yusuf I (Granada) allied with Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Othman (Morocco) for Gibraltar. The siege was dragging on, and the Granadan and Moroccan leaders were considering a settlement involving the surrender of castles and tribute. We are at their council of war:

Este rey luego provemos
Que dexe aquesta guerra
Mensageros le enbiemos,
Que salga de nuestra tierra.
E diga que le daremos
Buenos castillos fronteros.
La costa la pagaremos
En doblas e en dineros …
Apeonados estan
E de fanbre muy cuytados
Ayna se bençeran
E nos seremos honrrados.

Fablo el rey de Granada
E dixo: ‘Mal rasca el oso’ (Janer stanzas 2372-77)

Let us test this king immediately
To abandon this war;
Let us send him messengers
That he leave our land;
And tell him we will give him
Good frontier castles.
We will pay him tribute
In doubloons and dinars.
They are impoverished
And stricken with hunger;
They will be soon defeated
And we will be honoured.
The king of Granada spoke
And said: ‘Ill scratches the bear’.

Translated by Barry Taylor

He continues at length, and Yusuf I and Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Othman change tack.

I’m sure ‘Ill scratches the bear’ refers to a bear scratching his back on a tree. I suppose it means something like ‘You’re barking up the wrong tree’.

As I say, it’s unique in Old Spanish. It could conceivably reflect an Arabic proverb. And it needn’t be an existing proverb but a newly minted coinage.

But all bears are precious, especially to the paremiologist.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References:

Eleanor S. O’Kane, Refranes y frases proverbiales españolas de la Edad Media (Madrid, 1959) X.900/4431.

Felipe C. R. Maldonado, Refranero clásico español (Madrid, 1970) X19/7679

F. P. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs (Oxford 1970) X.981/1907.

‘Poema de Alfonso Onceno’, ed. F. Janer in Poetas castellanos anteriores al s. XV (Madrid, 1864) 12232.f.1/57. Available online

More bear-themed posts from the European Studies blog:

British Intellectuals and Russian Bears

Bears of Bern – Fictional and Real

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14 September 2021

700 years of Dante at the British Library

Today, 14 September 2021, we mark the 700th anniversary of the death of Italian poet Dante Alighieri. His main work, the Divine Comedy, is widely considered one of the most important works of literature. His vision still informs our idea of afterlife: how Hell, Purgatory and Paradise look like. His poetry still moves and inspires.

The British Library holds outstanding Dante collections, dating from the Middle Ages right up to the present day, which you can find out about in the following video made especially to celebrate this anniversary. The video has been made by European and American Collections in collaboration with Western Heritage Collections.


This video offers the rare opportunity to look at the circulation of one work of literature across seven centuries. Nothing survives in Dante’s own hand. The manuscripts of the Divine Comedy are, for this reason, even more important. The invention of printing shows how Dante was very popular in the 15th and 16th centuries in Italy, and his limited fortune during the Baroque and Enlightenment eras.

The Romantic era, the Risorgimento and the Italian unification sparked a new and increased interest in Dante as national poet. The Divine Comedy was acknowledged as the greatest work of poetry in Italian and became the subject of studies in Italian schools and universities. Translations started to become popular outside of Italy (we have editions of the Divine Comedy in about 40 different languages in our catalogue) and Dante studies became a subject in itself.

Plate by Amos Nattini depicting purgatory

Amos Nattini, Purgatorio, Canto XXVIII

Dante became popular in the mass media: for example, the first Italian feature length movie, commissioned in 1911 for the 50th anniversary of Italian unification, was inspired by the Divine Comedy and titled Inferno.

The political importance of the Divine Comedy is shown by the number of editions published in the 20th century, many directly sponsored by the Italian government.

Two of them are shown in the video. La Divina Commedia novamente illustrata da artisti italiani a cura di Vittorio Alinari (Firenze, 1902-3; 11420.k.11.) is the first. This lavish edition includes works of 59 young artists who had won a contest to produce new illustrations for the Divine Comedy. Two of them, Duilio Cambellotti and Alberto Martini, both in their early twenties at the time of the competition, distinguished themselves with a work of great graphical interest that shows their Symbolist style and anticipates the development of Art Nouveau.

Illustration by Duilio Cambellotti depicting Inferno

Duilio Cambellotti, Inferno, Canto X

The second work that I show is La Divina Commedia / illustrazioni di Dalì ([1963-64], awaiting shelfmark). On the occasion of this anniversary the British Library had the opportunity to acquire a precious edition of the Divine Comedy illustrated by the Spanish painter Salvador Dalì. This edition was commissioned on the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth, in 1965. The painter took nine years to complete this work. In this collection of 100 watercolour woodcuts, Dalì adds elements of his iconic and unique imagination to Dante’s vision: desolate landscapes, crutches, spiders, figures with drawers.

Watercolour woodcut by Salvador Dalì depicting purgatory

Salvador Dalì, Purgatorio, Canto I

We couldn’t include them all in the video, but here are some other remarkable editions:

La Divina Commedia. Illustrazione su cento cartoline eseguita da artisti fiorentini, ideata e diretta dall’ingegnere Attilio Razzolini. (Milano, [1902, 03]). 11421.e.23. This is a collection of 100 postcards, one for each canto, in Gothic revival style. Each of them is decorated with miniatures by the illustrator.

La Divina Commedia, with plates by Amos E. Nattini. (Turin, [1923-41]). Cup.652.c.

La divina commedia. Introduzioni ai canti, di Natalino Sapegno. Disegni a colori di Antony de Witt. (Firenze, 1964). L.R.413.w.37.

Interested in learning more on Dante? Join us tonight for the online event Dante in the British Library: Hell, Purgatory and Heaven (Tuesday 14 September 2021, 19:30 - 20:30).

Valentina Mirabella, Curator, Romance Collections

10 September 2021

Celebrating 700 years of Dante at the British Library

Tuesday 14 September 2021 will be the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death. The British Library holds extensive Dante collections, with some richly illuminated manuscripts and precious printed editions of Dante’s masterpiece, the Divine Comedy.

To celebrate the Italian poet (c. 1265-1321) we have organised an online event, Dante in the British Library: Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, presenting original research on the Divine Comedy. Dr Alessandro Scafi of the Warburg Institute will focus on Dante’s vision of the Garden of Eden against the backdrop of medieval tradition, seen through maps. The second lecture will be given by Elisabeth Trischler, who is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Leeds. Elisabeth will be speaking about the expansion of Florence during Dante’s lifetime and how it influenced the Divine Comedy. She will look at two examples: medieval representations of cities, and towers.

Title page of Dante con l’espositione di Christoforo Landino et di Alessandro Vellutello sopra la sua comedia dell’Inferno, del Purgatorio, & del Paradiso

Dante con l’espositione di Christoforo Landino et di Alessandro Vellutello sopra la sua comedia dell’Inferno, del Purgatorio, & del Paradiso (Venice, 1564) C.78.d.13.

We will also be sharing something really exciting about Dante and the British Library’s Dante collections in the coming weeks!

In the meantime, I would like to share some of my favourite lines from the Divine Comedy. It is a quote from Ulysses’ ‘little oration’ to exhort his companions to set sail towards the unknown. This sums up Dante’s own desire for knowledge, which he passes on to all his readers:

Considerate la vostra semenza:
fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza.
(Inferno 26.118-20)

Consider well the seed that gave you birth:
you were not made to live your lives as brutes,
but to be followers of worth and knowledge.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections

31 August 2021

Women in Translation Month 2021

As we come to the end of Women in Translation Month 2021, this blog post brings together three books by women authors in translation from across Europe.

Cover of In Diamond Square

Mercè Rodoreda, In Diamond Square, translated by Peter Bush (London, [2013]). ELD.DS.1778
Chosen by Geoff West, Former Curator Hispanic Studies 

Written when its author was still living in exile, Mercè Rodoreda’s novel tells the story of a young woman in working-class Barcelona from the early 1930s to the aftermath of Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War. At a dance in the Square, the impressionable Natàlia meets a confident young man, Quimet, and soon falls under his spell. He insists that she will be his wife within a year and on giving her the nickname ‘Pidgey’. Inevitably they do marry, and they have two children. However, Quimet now earns little as a carpenter and decides to rear pigeons in their flat. Natàlia takes on work as a cleaner in a middle-class household, adding to the burden of her own housework.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Quimet goes off to fight on the Republican side and is killed. The full impact of the conflict is now conveyed as food and fuel run short. Natàlia loses her job and sends her son away to a camp for refugee boys to ensure he will be fed. After being forced to sell all her possessions to survive, she finally contemplates suicide for herself and her children. However, a providential conversation with a local grocer, who offers her work, saves her. The pair get married and Natàlia achieves an accommodation with the possibilities offered by her new existence.

Rodoreda’s first-person narrative effectively conveys the experiences and reactions of a woman initially unprepared for marriage in a male-dominated society. It also graphically documents the resilience required of ordinary people during war. The final chapters articulate the trauma of coming to terms with the past.

First published in 1962, La plaça del Diamant has now been translated into English three times and into more than twenty other languages. It remains one of the most successful works of Catalan fiction.

Additional references:

Mercè Rodoreda, La plaça del Diamant (Barcelona, 1962) 11303.n.12
Mercè Rodoreda, The Pigeon Girl, trans. Eda O’Shiel (London, 1967) X.909/10529
Mercè Rodoreda, The Time of the Doves, trans. David H. Rosenthal (New York, 1980)

Cover of Desdemona – if you had only spoken! Eleven uncensored speeches of eleven incensed women

Christine Brückner, Desdemona – if you had only spoken! Eleven uncensored speeches of eleven incensed women, translated by Eleanor Bron (London, 1992) YK.1993.a.5906
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Romance Collections

The prolific and successful German writer Christine Brückner published this collection of dramatic monologues in 1983, giving voices to well-known fictional and historical women, from Clytemnestra to Gudrun Ensslin. Some, like Katharina Luther, address their husbands. Others speak to other women, including Brückner herself criticising the overly-idealistic utopianism of 19th-century reformer Malwida von Meysenbug. In the title monologue, Desdemona’s willingness to confront Othello’s suspicions changes her fate: he listens and they reconcile. In other stories, the women reflect on their lives and situations, speaking as much to themselves as to any imagined interlocutor.

In the introduction to her English translation, the actor Eleanor Bron explains how “during the interval of a dreary play” in Hamburg she saw photographs from a production of the pieces and was immediately intrigued. She bought Brückner’s book and resolved to resurrect the German she had studied at university to prepare a translation, an experience she describes both entertainingly and insightfully.

Cover of Prague. I See a City

Daniela Hodrová, Prague. I See a City. Translated by David Short; Foreword by Rajendra Chitnis. 2nd rev. ed. (Folkestone, 2015). Awaiting shelfmark.
Chosen by Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

Have you ever been to Prague? If you have visited this wonderful city, you have probably noticed that Prague radiates some magical gleam that is not always easy to catch. Prague has its own unique charm and opens up to those who care to enquire about its history and character. While wandering through the streets of Prague, which guidebook did you have in your hands: Lonely Planet, Eyewitness Travel, or Rough Guides? Maybe, next time you can take Prague. I See a City by Daniela Hodrová.

Born in 1946 in Prague, Hodrová is one of the most distinct and original authors in contemporary Czech literature. Being a literary scholar by training and working as a researcher, she is very aware of rich literary traditions and techniques, as well as theoretical issues of aesthetics, theology and philosophy. Prague. I See a City is a very stylish and moving description of the city through a woman’s eyes. The author takes her readers through the city of her life. It is full of love and dreams, sounds of music and every-day scenes. Written straight after the November 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia (translated into English in 2011), the book is a poetic meditation on the history of the country and how this is reflected in a woman's life and in the city itself: “City of torment! City of puppets! City of Monsters! In all likelihood I am partly to blame for your awakening, I have brought you to life with words.”

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