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130 posts categorized "Russia"

18 December 2018

Russian cats 3: Muri in Search of his Kingdom

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Although this cat was created by a Russian author who made him live in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, this is a universal cat, because what can be a more cat-like name than Muri? Muri, invented by Ilia Boiashov is quintessence of cathood. The title of this book, Put’ Muri, can be translated as ‘Muri’s Way’ or ‘Muri’s Path’. Published in 2007, this is not the first book by Ilia Boiashov, but it is the one that brought the author the National Best-seller award.

Put Muri
Ilia Boiashov, Put’ Muri (St Petersburg, 2007) YF.2008.a.8579

The publisher marketed Boiashov as “Russian Kusturica”, probably because of the Yugoslav and cats connections. I would also say that this book will probably appeal to Paulo Coelho’s fans.

The story is a classic example of a philosophical and allegorical travel novel. We first meet Muri as a young imprudent cat from a Bosnian village who thinks that he is a master of the world (or at least the house, the garden, the barn and the storehouses) and the universe revolves around him. As his peaceful life comes to an abrupt end due to the war, the cat starts its quest for “his armchair and warm blanket”. Muri travels around Europe in search for his owners, or rather his servants in his own view, a family of father, mother and two children. On his way Muri, as prescribed by the genre, meets other characters – people, sprites, and animals – who are either on the move too or static. Unlike other travel stories this one is not interested in the characters as such, but in their destiny.

Apart from Muri and the characters that he meets, there are quite a few other stories illustrating different scenarios of personal paths in life. A sheikh makes several attempts to circle around the planet in a small plane; a whale travels around oceans; a Serbian driver is on his way to his dream home. All the stories are framed by an academic argument between two rival groups of scholars divided by their attitude to the philosophical concept of movement and their views whether animals are capable of conscious decisions. While the philosophers debate the question of Super-significance of the True Being, Muri circles around Europe and through Austria, Belarus, Russia and Finland finally reaching Goteborg, where his universe has been preserved by his Bosnian family who are staying in a barrack for refugees in the outskirts of the city. Neither Muri, nor his servants-masters are surprised to see each other. Muri takes his milk as given and goes to sleep planning to explore this new kingdom tomorrow.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s free exhibition Cats on the Page continues until 17 March 2019, with a series of accompanying events for all ages and interests.

07 December 2018

Russian Cats 2: The Hermitage Cats

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I wonder whether you were suitably confused by the first post about Russian cats that didn’t make it to the British Library exhibition Cats on the Page. Now, I want to tell you a story about more Russian cats on the page. No, I’ll start again: they are not all quite Russian, but they live in Russia. And they do not live quite on the page or in libraries, because the heroes of this blog live in museums. To be precise, in one particularly important and beautiful museum – the Hermitage in St Petersburg. In 2009, curators who work in the Hermitage, published a book about the cats in their collection – cats on canvas, cats on lithographs and prints, in other words, all drawn, painted, photographed and sculptured cats.

Image 1
Cover of N. Gol’, M.Khaltunen, Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe (St Petersburg, 2009) YF.2011.a.360.

The book tells how cats were sacred in Ancient Egypt and how cats’ lives were worth more than human lives. Readers would also learn how Ancient Greeks smuggled cats in amphorae and how having a cat as a pet was a sign of wealth in the antiquity.

Image 2
Fragment of a red-figure vase, South of Italy, 4th century B.C., reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe
.

In mediaeval and early modern Europe cats were believed to possess demonic power and attributes. But later cats became just naughty. For example, they were portrayed numerously by a Flemish painter Frans Snyders to animate his game still lifes.

Image 3
Detail (above) from Frans Snyders, Cook at a Kitchen Table with Dead Game, 1634-37 (below), reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe

Image 3a

Cats in China are believed to be descended from the Sacred Tiger. While the Tiger was busy safeguarding good men by protecting them from evil, he found it very difficult to maintain his responsibility to protect fields from rodents. Once, accidently touched by a mouse, escaping from him, he sneezed a cat out of his nostril and thus – delegated his responsibilities.

Image 4
This Chinese picture from the Hermitage collections (late 19th/early 20th century) shows cats scaring mice who are enjoying a wedding procession. Reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe.

Cute Japanese okimono of waving cats bring luck. Legend has it that one poor woman said goodbye to her cat because she could not feed it any more. The loyal cat, instead, gave her a good advice to make a clay figurine of him waving his paw. And so she did! And her figurine sold well. And so were more figurines. So we can conclude: always listen to your cat and do what he says.

Image 5
 Okimono and netsuke from the Hermitage collections. Reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe.

The first cats came to the Old Rus’ and Muscovy in the 13th century and for the next 200 years remained an expensive curiosity. Since then cats in Russian folklore have occupied their place next to babies’ cots mewing lullabies, as ‘pioneers’ first entering newly built houses and showing the best and the worst corners, and in the kitchen forecasting the weather: curled-up cats mean frost the next day, while stretching cats predict a nice day ahead and pleasant visitors. And of course, like in many other countries, they are in confrontation with mice. One of the most popular stories presented on cheap prints sold for home decoration in the 19th century, shows a funeral procession where mice are taking their cat neighbour to the cemetery. We are still not quite sure whether the cat is dead or alive. We can treat this story as we feel fair and depending where our sympathies lie: the cat is trying to give the bothersome mice a lesson, pretending to be dead and then suddenly scaring them away (or worse, if you like!), or being naughty and greedy he indeed had fed on mice and died of surfeit (awful!).

Image 6
Russian popular print (lubok) showing mice burying a cat 
(1879), reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe.

And, of course, I don’t need to remind you about the pussy-cat who visited the Queen.  Some lucky Russian cats not only visited Tsars and Tsarinas, but were courtiers. The book tells us about the rules how palace cats were catered for. Catherine the Great imposed people’s social structure on cats, who were divided into two uneven categories: general palace cats (business class) and room cats (first class).

Image 7
Dasha Chernova made this picture when she was 8 years old. Reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe.

 

Image 8
These well-fed cats eating asparagus in a palace garden came to Russia from France on Princess’s Dagmar of Denmark’s fan and settled down in the Winter Palace among other things that belonged to Maria Feodorovna, Empress of Russia.

The last chapter of this book is devoted to the cats who live in the Hermitage now. If you are to travel to St Petersburg and visit the Hermitage, say hello to Ksiusha, Dasha, Wonderful Prince, Vas’ka, Timur, Tishka, Katya, Lana, Vlada, Lera, Matilda, Liutik and Van Dyck.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The free exhibition Cats on the Page continues until 17 March 2019, with a series of accompanying events for all ages and interests.

27 November 2018

Some Russian Cats

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These cats didn’t make it in a tough competition to be displayed at and contextualised within the British Library exhibition Cats on the Page, but they still deserve a couple of nice words.

One of the first cats on the page that any Russian child would see, is an arrogant and conceited fashionista cat who did not allow her young orphaned relatives into her nice luxury house, preferring to entertain a company of servile ‘friends’. Guess what? The house is burnt to the ground the next night and, homeless and miserable, she finds that none of her former companions would want to provide shelter and share food with her. Of course, the kind kittens, who have very little food and live in a tiny cold hut, are generous and happy to help. This teaches the cat to be kind and she becomes a responsible and respectful auntie who takes good care of the kittens and they will take care of her when she is old.

Image 1S.Marshak, Koshkin dom (‘The Cat’s House’) Illustrated by Iu. Vasnetsov (Moscow, 1996) YA.1999.b.278

Fairy-tale cats don’t always act as characters. Some of them are enigmatic story-tellers themselves. Like other most popular cat in Russian literature, created by Alexander Pushkin. He lives in the mysterious land called Lukomor’e, walks up and down the chains fixed on a huge oak tree and mews his stories. One of them, a love story of Ruslan and Liudmila, he mewed to Pushkin himself.

Image 2a Endpapers from A. Pushkin, Ruslan and Liudmila. Illustrated by L.Vladimirskii (Moscow, 1989) YA.1997.b.2434

Actually, some cats are really strange. I would say that all cats are strange, but some cats are stranger than others. Because they are actually dogs. Or they are dogs, who are actually cats. This strange phenomenon was discovered and described by Tim Sobakin (‘sobaka’ is ‘a dog’ in Russian, so he might be a little bit of a cat himself), a contemporary children’s author. His character Shar lives with his master Auntie Solveig, somewhere in Glasgow, but actually in Oslo. You see, they all are quite eccentric, so why should the dog/cat or cat/dog be different? So, the story goes that Shar once climbed a tree as a cat, but while climbing, forgot how to get down, because on the tree he felt like dog. Only a passing fisherman could save Shar, because Shar suddenly felt like a hungry cat chasing fish and remembered how to climb down trees.

It all is getting too confusing, isn’t it, especially if you don’t read Russian? But if you do, it is actually more confusing. These cats can confuse anyone. So, I’ll leave you with this for the time being and come back with more confusing stories about cats on the page with lots of confusing Russian words.

Image 3 T. Sobakin. Sobaka, kotoriaia byla koshkoi. Illustrated by A.Grashin (Moscow, 1995)

 Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

12 November 2018

Signed by the artist: the free and honest life of Oscar Rabin

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On 8 November 2018, the exhibition ‘Two Ways’ presenting Oscar Rabin and Tatyana Lysak-Polischuk opened at the Florence branch of the St. Petersburg State Academic Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, named after Ilya Repin. From the news, we also learned that the 90-year old Oscar Rabin had died one day earlier in a Florence hospital.

Image 1- Painted life
Arkadii Nedelʹ, Oskar Rabin: narisovannaia zhiznʹ (‘Oscar Rabin: the life that has been painted’; Moscow, 2012) YF.2013.a.116

Rabin was born in Moscow to a family of doctors. Both of his parents had died before Oscar reached adulthood, so the teenager had to learn to provide for himself. Sometimes living in slums and earning money by hard manual and unskilled labour, Rabin kept studying fine art first at the art studio led by poet, composer and artist Evgenii Kropivnitskii and later at higher education institutions in Riga and Moscow. Although Rabin’s talent was recognised by his teachers and peers, he was soon expelled from the course, when started deviating from socialist realism. Having married Kropivnitskii’s daughter Valentina, who developed into an original artist in her own right, Oscar was also close to his first teacher and shared his ideological and artistic views. In the late 1950s, several young nonconformist artists formed the so called Lianozovo group with Kropivnitskii and his family, including Valentina, Oscar and his son Lev (1922-1994) at the heart of it.

Image 1a - Lianozovo
‘Lianozovo Kingdom’, reproduced in Oscar Rabine (St Petersburg, 2007) LD.31.b.4101

Fresh and naive pictures by Rabin were the first manifestations of Soviet pop-art.

Dustbin-Helicopters
Works of 1958. Reproduced in Oscar Rabine (2007)

In the 1960s, Rabin managed to earn his living by illustrating small books of poetry, but soon foreign art critics and collectors took interest in his works, which brought him financial benefit and international fame, but at the same time unwelcome and intrusive attention of the Soviet authorities. The first time Rabin’s pictures were exhibited abroad was in London in 1964. This show was followed by his first personal exhibition at Grosvenor Gallery. At the same time, at home his paintings were criticised for being ‘depressive’, ‘squalid’, ‘repulsive’ and ‘lacking positive socialist message’. After Rabin took part in the famous Bulldozer Exhibition, he was forced to leave the Soviet Union and from 1977 lived in Paris. In June 1978 his Soviet citizenship was revoked, which was a common practice exercised by the KGB toward dissidents. Passports and visas are re-occurring motives of Rabin’s pictures, telling the story of an individual and the country, which does not accept her most talented sons and daughters, only because they wanted to be free and honest.

Image 3 - Passport
‘Passport N 2’. Reproduced in Oscar Rabine (2007)

Free and honest, Rabin was all his life. After the collapse of the USSR, Rabin’s art was also mistreated as being too political and formal and only in the 21st century were his works given full acceptance in Russia. During his life, Rabin had nearly 30 personal exhibitions and his pictures are held in big state and private collections. In the British Library, we have catalogues of Rabin’s major exhibitions and books about him, which can be found in our online catalogue, including several copies signed by the artist himself just in 2016.

Image 4a

Image 4
Cover and signed title-page from Oscar Rabine (2007)

 Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

Further reading and illustrations:

Interviews with and article about Oscar Rabin illustrated by his works:

https://www.izbrannoe.com/news/iskusstvo/oskar-rabin-ya-za-elitarnost-v-iskusstve/
https://loveread.ec/read_book.php?id=70741&p=40
https://newtimes.ru/articles/detail/144324

Poems by Evgenii Kropivnitskii: https://oloosson.com/yy/kropiv/kropiv.htm

Evgenii Kropivnitskii, Pechalʹno ulybnutʹsia...: (stikhi i proza) ([Paris], 1977) X.908/83734

Evgeniĭ Kropivnitskiĭ, Zemnoĭ uiut: izbrannye stikhi (Moscow, 1989) YA.1992.a.21972

Evgeniĭ Kropivnitskiĭ, Izbrannoe : 736 stikhotvoreniĭ + drugie materialy, [predislovie IU.B. Orlitskogo; sostavlenie i kommentariĭ I.A. Akhmetʹeva] (Moscow, 2004) YF.2005.a.21248

09 November 2018

The gentle giant of Russian literature: Ivan Turgenev

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The life and career of one of the greatest 19th-century Russian novelists sprang – quite literally – from small beginnings. Born on 9 November 1818 and baptized Ivan, the middle son of Sergei Turgenev, a cavalry officer, and his wife Varvara was notable as a child for his diminutive stature; only his unusually large head indicated that he would develop both physically and intellectually into one of the giants of his age.

Young Turgenev X902-218
Turgenev as a young man, from Jules Mourier, Ivan Serguéiévitch Tourguéneff à Spasskoé (St Petersburg, 1899) X.902/218.

Despite a wealthy and privileged upbringing on the family estate at Spasskoe in the province of Orel’, the three young brothers did not enjoy an idyllic childhood. Varvara Petrovna adopted a harsh approach to their upbringing, employing strict tutors and inflicting severe beatings on her sons with her own hands. Turgenev later claimed that he had not one happy memory of his early years, and on one occasion packed a bundle and tried to run away, only to be persuaded to return by his German tutor. His father was well known as a womanizer, and Turgenev’s complex relationship with his mother, his parents’ unhappy marriage and his teenage infatuation with his father’s young mistress Zinaida, reflected in his novel First Love, permanently affected his own ability to form relationships and ensured that he never married.

Spasskoe X.902-218
Turgenev’s house at Spasskoe, from Ivan Serguéiévitch Tourguéneff à Spasskoé

However, there were other sources of warmth and attention at Spasskoe: the kindness which Ivan received from the gamekeepers, who taught him the habits of wildfowl and how to handle a gun, and from his father’s valet Fyodor Lobanov, from whom he learnt to read and write Russian, inspired him with a love of nature, respect for the Russian peasant and hatred of serfdom. This contrasted with the influence of German idealism which he assimilated when, in 1827, the family moved to Moscow for the sake of the boys’ education. He had already begun to write verse which soon assumed the colours of the Russian ‘pseudo-sublime’ school, and while studying at the universities of Moscow, St. Petersburg and Berlin, travelling through Italy and Switzerland, and forging friendships with Nikolai Stankevich and Alexander Herzen in the 1830s and 1840s, he followed one false trail after another.

Steeped in the ancient classics, he aspired to a professorship and plunged into the philosophy of Hegel, had an affair (with his mother’s approval) with the wife of the poet Fyodor Tyutchev, rambled through the Alps in a state of Byronic melancholy, and only returned to Russia in 1841. Two years earlier the family mansion had burnt down, apparently following an attempt by a peasant to fumigate an ailing cow. At Spasskoe he started a relationship with a seamstress employed by his mother, resulting in the birth of a daughter, Pelagia, renamed Pauline when, aged ten, she was sent to France to be raised with the children of another of Turgenev’s loves, the singer Pauline Viardot-Garcia

Zapiski okhotnika RF.2007.a.1
Cover of an edition of Zapiski okhotnika 
(A Sportsman’s Sketches; Leipzig, 1876)  RF.2007.a.1

The return to the Russian countryside bore fruit of another kind in the form of A Sportsman’s Sketches (Moscow, 1852; C.114.n.15.), a collection of short stories which reflect Turgenev’s profound knowledge of the landscape and of the wildlife and people who inhabited it. Throughout his work there runs a deep dichotomy between the traditional ways of the remote Russian provinces and the impact of Western ideas brought back by those who had travelled abroad. Despite the urbane cosmopolitan manners which Turgenev – fluent in French, German and English – had acquired in Europe, his writings frequently display a marked ambivalence and sense of conflict, embodied most memorably in Fathers and Sons (Moscow, 1862; 12590.h.25) where it is paralleled by the bewildered incomprehension with which old Kirsanov greets the ideas of his revolutionary son and the latter’s friend Yevgeny Bazarov which gave the world the term ‘nihilism’.

Turgenev and friends
Turgenev (seated, second from left) with other Russian authors of the day. Photograph by Sergei Livitsky, reproduced in Emile Haumant, Ivan Tourgénieff: la vie et l’oeuvre (Paris, 1906) 010790.de.56

Turgenev had touched on this conflict in two earlier novels, Home of the Gentry (Moscow, 1859; 12591.dd.31.) and On the Eve (1862), both of which portray the intrusion of Western modernism into communities bound by the habits and conventions of rural life and morality and raise political issues which aroused profound disquiet in the stiflingly conservative atmosphere of Nicholas I’s empire. His friendship with the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin and ‘metaphysical entanglement’ with the latter’s sister Tatiana played their part in the development of characters such as the young Bulgarian revolutionary Insarov in On the Eve, and it is difficult to overestimate the alarm which Turgenev’s writings excited in government circles. He was not merely a consummate stylist and chronicler of quaint peasant ways and the beauties of the countryside; ‘le doux géant’, as his friend Edmond de Goncourt nicknamed him, was no hectoring advocate of revolt but influenced his readers by far more subtle means. His exquisite portrayal of character makes his revolutionary figures far more persuasive and convincing than any amount of tub-thumping oratory, and in the 1860s, the decade which saw the assassination of Alexander II, the ‘Tsar-Liberator’ who freed the serfs, Turgenev was regarded with growing nervousness. A friend of Flaubert, Zola and George Sand, widely translated into English and other Western languages, and the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford, he moved between two worlds with an ease which made him suspect as a dangerous political influence back in Russia.


465px-Turgenev_by_Repin_1879
Portrait of Turgenev by Ilya Repin, 1879 (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The circumstances of his death aptly illustrate this; like Heinrich Heine, he spent the last months of his life, in 1883, in an agonizing ‘mattress tomb’ in Paris, immobilized by a spinal tumour, but gave directions that his body should be brought back to Russia for interment close to the grave of his friend, the critic Vissarion Belinsky. Ernest Renan was one of those who delivered an oration at a brief ceremony at the Gare de l’Est before the coffin began its long journey. Conversely, the Russian Ministry of the Interior clamped down on all unofficial information about the funeral on 9 October; workers’ organizations were forbidden to identify themselves on the wreaths, and a gathering at which Tolstoy was to have paid tribute to his friend (and rival) was cancelled by government decree. The contrast between ceremonies in East and West was a telling comment on the very different kinds of esteem in which Turgenev was held in the two worlds which he inhabited with equal aplomb.

Susan Halstead, Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services

 

02 October 2018

‘This art, at once so beautiful and so ungrateful…’ Celebrating World Ballet Day

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‘Terpsichore is a jealous goddess,’ warns the ‘Advice to Those Contemplating the Study of Dancing’ which opens A Manual of the Theory and Practice of Classical Theatrical Dancing, in which Cyril W. Beaumont and Stanislas Idzikowski expound the methods developed by the famous Italian ballet-master Enrico Cecchetti. The authors leave aspiring dancers in no doubt that ‘those who seek fame among her votaries must sacrifice at her altar years of patient study and hours of physical labour’. Fortunately, there have always been those determined enough to persevere with the rigorous training necessary to succeed in ballet and assure the continuation of this art form.

Manual of Classical Dancing 07911.gg.3Cover by Randolph Schwabe for A Manual of the Theory and Practice of Classical Theatrical Dancing (London, 1922) 07911.gg.3

Many would-be dancers first develop their ambition through attending a performance of The Nutcracker or Coppélia; others devour the works of authors such as Lorna Hill (A Dream of Sadler’s Wells and its sequels) or Jean Estoril (Ballet for Drina, the first of a series charting the young heroine’s progress from early childhood to professional success in Drina Ballerina). Typically, their protagonists have to struggle with financial hardship, unsympathetic relatives and similar obstacles as well as the formidable demands of a classical ballet training.

Naomi Capon’s Dancers of Tomorrow provides a balanced account of such a training, designed, perhaps, to reassure parents as well as to leave ballet students in no doubt about the challenges they face. Illustrated with photographs taken at the Sadler’s Wells School (as it then was), it describes ten-year-old Ann Blake’s admission to the School despite her father’s misgivings and her studies within a curriculum where equal emphasis is laid on a good general education to equip those who, like her friend Barbara, prove unsuitable for further training to undertake a different career. The author emphasizes the hard work and concentration required from the outset and Ann’s realisation, on making her stage début as one of the Morning Hours in Act III of Coppélia, that ‘it’s only the beginning’.

Why are so many dancers of the future still drawn to ballet despite the prospect of years of extreme physical exertion and gruelling discipline? Very few can hope to achieve the glamour and acclaim surrounding the greatest dancers of the past, such as Marie Taglioni, whose fame even spread to the remote Russian province of Tver, as E. M. Almedingen recounts in Little Katia, based on the memoirs of her great-aunt:

‘One of the visitors […] from St. Peterburg was devoted to ballet. Once Uncle Nicholas appeared, a white gauze scarf in his hands, and started pirouetting about in the middle of the hall. The elegant gentleman […] asked: “May I ask what you are trying to do, Nicholas?” “I am not Nicholas, my dear friend, […] I am Taglioni.” After that, the visitor did not indulge in further monologues about the great dancer.’

Taglioni 558.g.33 Bayadere
Illustration from Six Sketches of Mademoiselle Taglioni ... Drawn from the life by A. E. Chalon... (London, 1831) 558*.g.33.

Other ballerinas and danseurs nobles also inspired evocations of their grace in other media, as seen in Robert Montenegro’s work celebrating Vaslav Nijinsky:

Nijinsky Tab.761.a.3. Spectre Le Spectre de la Rose from Vaslav Nijinsky : an artistic interpretation of his work, in black, white and gold (London, [1913]) Tab.761.a.3.

The work of the great stage designers can be regarded as art in its own right as well as part of the spectacle; many prominent artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries collaborated with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and other companies to create strikingly original sets and costumes. Among the finest examples of these are those devised in 1921 by Léon Bakst  for a production at London’s Alhambra Theatre of The Sleeping Princess (the title was modified as the dancer portraying Aurora, Lydia Lopokova, did not consider herself a ‘beauty’ in the conventional sense).

Bakst LR.23.a.8. Princess AuroraPrincess Aurora (above) and Prince Charming (below), illustrations from The Designs of Léon Bakst for The Sleeping Princess (London, 1923) L.R.36.a.8.

Bakst LR.23.a.8. Prince Charming

At times of national privation and austerity such as the periods after two World Wars, these productions satisfied a need for lavish and sumptuous beauty, capturing the imagination and offering a glimpse of a world where drabness and rationing had no place, even though ‘the wonderful velvets were coarse and dirty, and the laces looked like limp pieces of rag when they no longer whirled in the dances’, as young Ann discovers on her first visit backstage. It was also with a performance of The Sleeping Beauty that the Royal Opera House  reopened in 1946 in a legendary production designed by Oliver Messel and produced by Ninette de Valois: clothing coupons had to be used to provide costumes, while the sets were constructed using cheap canvas and paint.

The success of this production, starring Margot Fonteyn and Robert Helpmann, inspired a surge of renewed interest in ballet as an art form and the publication of books devoted to it. One of the authors involved in this was Caryl Brahms, renowned not only for classic guidebooks such as A Seat at the Ballet and Footnotes to the Ballet but the wickedly funny satires which she penned with S. J. Simon, A Bullet in the Ballet and Six Curtains for Stroganova, featuring not only the inimitable impresario Vladimir Stroganoff and his temperamental troupe but also delicious allusions to Marie Rambert (‘Assez de chi-chi!’), Arnold Haskell and other figures of the contemporary ballet world.

Some ballets, such as Cecchetti’s Eve, whose heroine escapes her creditors by joining an expedition whose crew is wiped out by hungry polar bears, are unlikely to be revived. Today, though, ballet flourishes as vigorously as ever, with all the tenacity and vitality which it exacts from those who keep its traditions alive.

Susan Halstead, Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services

References

Lorna Hill, A Dream of Sadler’s Wells (London, 1950) 12833.b.27

Jean Estoril, Ballet for Drina (London, 1957) 12839.e.21.

Jean Estoril, Drina Ballerina (London, 1991) YK.1991.a.932

Naomi Capon, Dancers of Tomorrow (Leicester, 1956) 7923.ff.8

E. M. Almedingen, Little Katia (London, 1966) X.990/512

Caryl Brahms, A Seat at the Ballet (London, 1951) 7900.ff.46

Caryl Brahms, Footnotes to the Ballet (London, 1936) 07908.ff.57

Caryl Brahms and S. J. Simon, A Bullet in the Ballet (London, 1937) NN.27474.

Caryl Brahms and S. J. Simon, Six Curtains for Stroganova (London, 1945, reprinted 1964) X.909/960

Olga Racster, The Master of the Russian Ballet: the Memoirs of Cav. Enrico Cecchetti (London, 1923) 10634.d.23

20 September 2018

Russian research resources – digital and free. Open access, digitisation and beyond. 

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The world of electronic resources is ubiquitous and rapidly growing. It is hard to follow even for information professionals, as resources are presented on a variety of platforms, sites and in a variety of formats, with different conditions attached. Databases behind a paywall are available for consultation from the British Library computers in our reading rooms. Please remember to check the list of the databases and do not always rely on the title search in the catalogue – some platforms might bury their title lists so deeply that search engines cannot go down that far and deliver them for you. Please-please-please!!! check our list of databases and click on individual links to their titles if you are not quite sure whether you can find what you are looking for. Here is the most useful link for you.

We are working on making these resources available remotely to all our registered readers, but – bear with us – it is a mammoth job. 

Meanwhile, I thought that I would compile a short list of free (most of them full-text, but not all) resources produced in Russia with Russian interfaces (most of them!) and aimed at Russian-speaking/reading researchers. Bearing all this in mind, I hope all Russian scholars might find them useful. 

ELibrary
ELibrary is a wonderful resource. It’s like JSTOR in Russian. You can read about it here in English, but use the address with the Russian domain for searching. Registration is free, but mandatory if you would like to access even open access material. Open access articles will be available to download or view. Some materials are behind the paywall, but you can pay and download immediately. Others are only available for reference, but you will also get a lot of useful information about journals and serials. Some publications are in English, so searches in English will produce some results, but there is no translation or transliteration going on behind the scenes, if you search in English you will find only what was written in English. 

CyberLeninka

CyberLeninka is a research resource based entirely on Open Access. Russian search engines (especially Yandex) can take you to articles collected by CyberLeninka, but you can also search directly within it. CyberLeninka also includes some research outputs in the languages of the countries from the former Soviet Union. English language search will pick up English language abstracts that some article might include. 

Feb-web  is focused of Russian Literature and folklore. This is a curated database of full-text digitised resources and include primary sources, such as collections of Russian classical authors published by academics (in many cases with commentaries, text variants, and supplements) as well as secondary sources, references and bibliographies. Research Institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences also make some of their new and old publications (including journals) available via Open Access:

Universities also have their repositories, so please do check their websites if you know where the author you are interested in works. The High School of Economics would probably be the only institution at present where one can find the interface in English, as well as quite a large proportion of English language articles, while links to some of them will lead you to familiar global publishers and databases, such as Springer or JSTOR, which might or might not require subscription or payment. 


Periodical Reading Room
Zhurnal’nyi zal (‘Periodicals Reading Rooms’)  – is a digital collection of periodicals, going back as far as the 1990s. 

Another type of resource can be described as collections of digitised materials. Apart from big libraries that would digitise their collections (as obvious place to check, of course) or electronic libraries collected by various enthusiasts, I would like to name a couple of independent projects which you might want to keep in mind when doing research in primary sources:

Digital Library of Historical Documents

  • The non-commercial Digital Library “ImWerden” which has a fairly random selection of texts, but very good for émigré Russian literature produced outside Soviet Russia and the USSR. 
  • My favourite is Prozhito (‘Lived Through’) – a growing collection of diaries digitised from publications and archival sources. This is a community and crowdsourcing project, but it is really amazing.  

Prozhito
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

09 August 2018

East European newspapers in the British Library collection

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The rapid growth of the British Museum Library from the 1840s onwards brought about the expansion of its collections of foreign material. Books, journals and newspapers in East European languages were also regularly acquired, initiating the future development of the individual countries’ collections. Newspapers, though relatively small in numbers of titles, constituted a vital part of them. The Catalogue of the Newspaper Library, Colindale (London, 1975; HLR.011.35; all records are now also available in our online catalogue) records numerous 19th-century papers from around the world. Among them the oldest titles in East European languages are:

Russkii Invalid 1815

Russkii invalid (St Petersburg, 1813-1917; NEWS13712) a paper of the Russian military.

Dostrzegacz Nadwislanski 1824

Dostrzegacz nadwiślański / Der Beobakhter an der Vayksel (Warsaw, 1823-4; NEWS15170).  A bilingual Polish and Yiddish weekly, the first Jewish journal published in Poland. Only 44 issues appeared, of which the BL holds three copies for February 1824.

In 1932 the Newspaper Library was established in Colindale and overseas titles were moved there from the British Museum building. Eastern European newspapers were part of this process. In the 1950s there were 74 titles in Slavonic and East European languages acquired annually by the Library. In 2014 a new reading room for all forms of news media opened in the St Pancras building, where these titles can now be consulted.

Political, social and economic transformations in Central and Eastern Europe following the revolutionary wave of 1989 had a huge impact on the publishing industry. Such phenomena as the free market economy, freedom of expression and the rapidly growing political movements, all new to Eastern Europe, also greatly influenced the newspaper output, giving rise to many new titles or title changes. In the early 1990s there was an explosion in the number of papers published, and at its peak the British Library was receiving about 300 titles per year. Many were short-lived and produced only one or two editions. In such chaos it became necessary to get an overall picture of the situation, especially since other UK libraries experienced a similar influx of newspapers. A Union List of Slavonic and East European newspapers in British libraries (YC.2018.b.1946), which was put together in 1992, aimed to provide information about the availability of any particular title in the UK libraries. It should be noted that there were no online library catalogues at the time, so the printed list was the most effective way of communicating.

The collection of newspapers for this period represents the whole spectrum of political colours, social movements and cultural diversity in Eastern European countries. Examples include:

Respekt 1992

Respekt (LOU.F631G) began publication in November 1989 as one of the first independent journals in Czechoslovakia. It was a pro-Havel liberal weekly reporting on domestic and foreign political and economic issues with a focus on investigative journalism. It is still running.

Spotkania 1991
Spotkania (NEWS13748) attempted to act as the Polish Newsweek and aimed to be an informative paper with no political bias; it lasted only from 1991 to 1993. BL holds 93 issues for the years 1991-2.

The Warsaw Voice
The Warsaw Voice (NEWS3057) is an English-language newspaper published in Poland, providing news on Poland and neighbouring countries with the focus on business and the economy. First published in 1988, it is still running; our holdings include the years 1992–2017.

Oslobodenje 1993Oslobođenje (LOU.F710D) is the oldest daily newspaper in Bosnia, which began in 1943. The paper received many international awards for continuous publication throughout the 1992–95 siege of Sarajevo. During the war, the editorial board consisted of Bosniaks, Bosnian Serbs, and Bosnian Croats, reflecting the multi-ethnic society of Bosnia.

At present our collection includes newspapers held in print form, as microfilm and in digital copies. With hard copies and microfilms creating storage and preservation problems, the policy of the Library is to subscribe to aggregated newspaper databases or link to online resources. We currently still receive 17 newspaper titles in print from Lithuania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Romania and recently Poland. A number of Russian, Ukrainian, Moldavian, Belarusian and Baltic newspapers are available online through the commercial supplier Eastview, but currently there is no newspaper coverage for the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Albania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia, mainly because of distribution problems and a lack of aggregated databases.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

 

11 April 2018

The British Library’s Russia in the UK Web Archive

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The Russian-speaking community has a long and established presence in UK cultural and political life. The UK-based Russian-speaking diaspora is a visibly distinct community with a rich and diverse history and cultural life, while also being an integral and significant part of the UK’s historical landscape.

Papers montage Three Anglo-Russian Newspapers: Nasha Rodina, 1 August 1943. P.P.3554.emz; Russkii v Anglii, 15 January 1936. LOU.LON 696 [1938]; Russkii Put’, 11 March, 1922. LOU.LON 682 [1922]

A web archive focusing on the online presence of this community in the UK will form one of the British Library’s Special Collections, Russia in the UK. This special collection will bring the online presence of Russian culture and community in the UK together in a unified archive.

Collected and curated by the British Library, the collection aims to reflect the virtual life of the UK-based Russian diaspora, from news, sports and music, to literature, art and cultural collaborations. It will include sites relating to the activity of the Russian-speaking communities in Britain, such as community events, groups and campaigns, cultural centres and schools, businesses and blogs. This special collection hopes to provide a platform which represents the diverse experiences of the Russian-speaking community, and the services and frameworks that exist to support and promote this Russian-speaking diaspora. It seeks, most importantly, to collect and preserve the online presence created for and by this community.

Legal Deposit Libraries (LDLs) like the British Library prioritise the selection of websites which reflect the diversity of a community’s life, interests and activities throughout the UK. The objective is to preserve those web resources which are expected to be of interest to future researchers. The website selection process is also influenced by considerations of whether a website is at risk of being lost, and whether selection would result in a more comprehensive collection.

Web ArchiveA snapshot of websites related to the Russian Revolution included in the British Library’s web archive. February 21, 2018

The Russia in the UK collection will serve both as an original dataset and as a means of including and engaging a diverse range of audiences. This collection represents a cross section of Russian and English UK-based websites containing a wealth of material which will be of value to researchers now and in the future.

In bringing together these virtual traces of a linguistic community, connected through their common cultural and diasporic identities, this special collection will provide a foundation for community-members and researchers curious about the heritage and influence of the Russian diaspora in the UK.

The Russia in the UK web archive is growing and is now ‘live’ and accessible to the public through the British Library’s reading rooms. We would like to invite members of the public who are interested in contributing to web archive to nominate websites they feel reflect Russia in the UK today.

For more information about this project, please send your questions and suggestions to hannah.connell@bl.uk.

Hannah Connell, Collaborative Doctoral Student, King’s College London and British Library

16 March 2018

The Russian Love Affair with the Arabian Horse

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The title does not refer to the mythical indiscretions of Catherine the Great, although she indeed kept a number of Arabian horses, but to the enthusiasm which many famous Russian equestrians and breeders have had for the type.

Arabian - CCCP AlbumAn Arabian from an album of characteristic horse breeds of the USSR, 1953. S. V. Afanas’ev, Al’bom porod loshadei SSSR (Moscow, 1953). Cup.1253.dd.28.

Among the British Library’s collections, one book in particular illustrates the aristocratic infatuation with the Arabian. Prince A. G. Shcherbatov and Count S. A. Stroganov’s Kniga ob Arabskoi Loshadi (Saint Petersburg, 1900; British Library 7293.l.33.) combines an overview of the breed with an account of the authors’ journey to what is now Syria, purchasing stallions for breeding back in the Russian Empire. It was translated into English as The Arabian Horse: A Survey, which the Library also holds (London, 1989; YK.1990.b.3731).

Book of the Arabian Horse

Above:  The lavish cover to Shcherbatov and Stroganov’s book. Below: A mare called Latifa, bought by Stroganov in Damascus in 1895.

Latifa

Shcherbatov and Stroganov championed the Arabian against the English Thoroughbred, another popular breed. They considered the Thoroughbred inferior, as it had emerged during a great confusion of equine bloodlines after the English Civil War. Cromwell’s revolution had led to the destruction of stud books and heavy loss of stallions – ‘it turned out to be impossible to reconstitute the pedigrees of the surviving animals’.

By contrast, Bedouin traditions ensured no confusion of bloodlines: ‘Our belief in the pure blood of the Arabian horse stems above all from the importance which the Arabs in horse-breeding attach to blood’. The purity of the Arabian appealed to principles close to the hearts of Russia’s ruling classes, who meticulously traced their own genealogies as well as those of their animals.

Shcherbatov and Stroganov argued that the increasing encroachment of the railway and the disruption of traditional Bedouin ways of life, such as the shift in warfare to the use of rifles from the back of camels rather than lances on horseback, brought the future of this unspoiled breed into question in its native homeland.

It fell to Russia to ensure the preservation of the Arabian’s pure bloodline, for Russia alone remained true to the aristocratic conception of an ideal purity of blood within a perceived sea of international vulgarity. In its turn, they thought, only the pure-blooded Arabian could help breed horses to out-compete the constitutional monarchies and democratic republics in equestrian sports and on the battlefield.

By 1900, the Arabian had already clearly proved its worth for improving the Empire’s stock. In the late 18th century, an Arabian stallion named Smetanka had been used as the basis for one of Russia’s best known breeds – the Orlov trotter.

Orlov Trotter - CCCP Album An Orlov trotter from the album of Soviet horses.

The project to develop a Russian trotting horse had been taken up by Count Alexei Grigoryevich Orlov-Chesmensky, in his retirement after an eventful military career. Orlov had been a central player during the 1762 coup which secured the throne for Catherine the Great, and was rumoured to have personally assassinated the deposed Tsar Peter III. Through his rigorous and experimental breeding programme, the Orlov trotter emerged as one of the leading horses for harness racing and other sporting disciplines of the 19th century.

Orlov PortraitAbove: A portrait of Count Aleksei Orlov-Chesmensky from Sergy Dmitrievich Sheremetev, Alekhan (Saint Petersburg, 1898). 09603.dd.13. Below: Tolstoy based his 1886 work Kholstomer on the life of the Orlov trotter Muzhik I, born in 1805. Leo Tolstoy, Kholstomer (Moscow, 1951). YF.2011.b.1596.

Kholstomer Cover

According to the coaching expert Andreas Nemitz, wealthy Russians typically used Orlov trotters as the centre of a troika to pull their droshkys, flanked by two gallopers. Captain M. H. Haynes, a British observer of Russia’s equine culture at the end of the 19th century, wrote that Orlov trotters ‘admirably suit the requirements of fashionable Russians, who love to go as fast as their coachmen can drive them, even over the roughest cobble stone pavement, which of course does not suit the long fetlocks’.

Orlov Pair A pair of Orlov trotters in harness from Capt. M. H. Haynes, Among Horses in Russia (London, 1900). 07293.i.46.

Russia’s Arabian and Orlov trotter populations declined sharply during the 20th century, harmed by the wars and social upheavals of this time. In 1997, enthusiasts founded the International Committee for the Protection of the Orlov Trotter to secure the future of the breed.

Despite the development of more competitive breeds since its heyday, the Orlov trotter is still well loved by enthusiasts and amateurs alike. As Sherbatov and Stroganov wrote in 1900: ‘One has only to glance at the Orlov-type trotters … to recognise immediately in the proudly-arched neck, the bright, prominent eye, the thin skin, the silky mane, the high-soaring tail and the overall nobility of their bearing, the Arabian blood infused only once, more than a century ago’.

Orlov TodayAbove: An Orlov trotter, image from Wikimedia Commons. Below: 
 the Orlov trotter in action, image from Wikimedia Commons

Orlov in action

Mike Carey, Eastern European Curator.

References

‘A Russian History’, The Arabian Magazine 29.5.2013 [online] available at http://thearabianmagazineonline.com/issue/the-arabian-magazine/article/a-russian-history [Accessed 27.2.2018].

Vsevolod A. Nikolaev & Albert Parry, The Loves of Catherine the Great (New York, 1982). 83/10566.

Andreas Nemitz, ‘Traditions and Styles in the Way of Driving Horses Part One’, The Carriage Journal 36, 4 (Spring, 1999), 152-4. P.P.8003.qn.

‘Orlov Trotter’, International Museum of the Horse (2018) [online] available at http://www.imh.org/exhibits/online/breeds-of-the-world/europe/orlov-trotter/ [Accessed 27.2.2018].