European studies blog

234 posts categorized "Slavonic"

10 March 2022

Rare editions of Taras Shevchenko’s ‘Kobzar’ in the British Library

The British Library holds a number of interesting editions by and about the great Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. Some of them are very rare. In addition, in 2014, as part of the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), which is administered by the British Library, the Taras Shevchenko National Museum digitised print and archival materials relating to Shevchenko. These files are available via the EAP website and searchable via the British Library Archives and Manuscripts catalogue. This digital collection compliments the British Library’s holdings of print materials.

Title page of the British Library’s copy of the 1881 Kobzar

Title page of the British Library’s copy of the 1881 Kobzar (volume one). 1451.a.42.

I first had the opportunity to learn about rare copies of Shevchenko’s works in the collections of the British Library while working on a bio-bibliography of the outstanding Ukrainian bibliographer and librarian Iurii Mezhenko in the early 1990s. It was Mezhenko who collected the world’s largest private collection of Shevchenko’s works and books about the poet. His collection contained a very rare edition of Kobzar in two volumes, published in 1881 in Geneva by Mykhailo Drahomanov. As stated in the preface of the bio-bibliography, only two copies of this Kobzar have survived: one in Mezhenko’s collection and the other (volume one only) in the British Library (Iurii Oleksiiovych Mezhenko… p. 32). The British Library (then the British Museum Library) copy was discovered by Volodymyr Doroshenko, author of the most complete bibliography of Shevchenko, as early as 1942

What makes this edition so rare? Five years before its publication, in 1876, a decree banning the use of the Ukrainian language in the Russian Empire was issued by Tsar Alexander II. Known as the Ems Ukaz after the German town where it was promulgated, the decree also forbade the import of Ukrainian publications. That is why Shevchenko’s poems were published abroad. Another reason for this decision was that all previous publications of Shevchenko’s works in the Russian Empire were censored, and uncensored poems were only distributed in manuscript copies. Any criticism of the Empire, any hint of the subjugation of Ukrainians, any allusion to a separate Ukrainian identity or former Hetman state was removed from the poems. For example, from the poem ‘The Night of Taras’ lines 15-16, 45-64, and 131-136 were all cut. Among them:

Once there was the Hetmanate
It passed beyond recall.

…. Where the freedom-destiny?
The Hetmans and their banners?
Where is it scattered? Burned to ashes?
Or has the blue sea drowned
And covered over your high hills
And the lofty mounds?

(Translated by Vera Rich)

Copies of the 1878 and 1881 editions of Kobzar in Mezhenko’s collection

Copies of the 1878 and 1881 editions of Kobzar in Mezhenko’s collection. Reproduced with kind permission.

Mykhaylo Drahomanov, a scholar and political thinker who had been forced to emigrate following his dismissal from the Kyiv University of St. Volodymyr by the Russian government, initiated the publication of uncensored editions of Kobzar by the Hromada publishing house in Geneva, which operated there from 1876 until 1889. Both the 1881 Kobzar and an earlier edition printed in 1878 (a digitised copy of the 1878 Kobzar is available via the V. Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine), open with the text of the Ems Ukaz and are very small in size. Part of the print run of the 1878 edition (5,5 x 8,5 cm) was transported to the Russian Empire “legally” under the guise of cigarette papers manufactured by the well-known French factory ‘Abadie’ as, wrapped in a branded cover, the small book resembled a stack of cigarette papers.

Abadie cigarette paper advert with a cat

Abadie cigarette paper advert by E. Hilda.

The 1881 edition is a little bigger (7 х 11 cm) but is also of a pocket size which was convenient for transporting to Russian-controlled Ukraine and for hiding. Both of these editions were printed using a reformed Ukrainian alphabet called Drahomanivka. This phonemic orthography was developed in Kyiv in the 1870s by a group of Ukrainian intellectuals including Drahomanov. However, following the ban of Ukrainian language publications and the relocation of publishing activities abroad, this reformed orthography had no chance to be used in Ukraine. The alphabet was named after Drahomanov, who had used it in publications since 1876. As Drahomanivka did not catch on, these and some other editions are historical examples of its usage.

Example of Drahomanivka from the 1881 edition of Kobzar

Example of Drahomanivka from the 1881 edition of Kobzar

Title page of ‘Mariia’ by Taras Shevchenko

Title page of ‘Mariia’ by Taras Shevchenko (Geneva, 1882). 011586.ff.49.(3.)

Later, in 1882, Drahomanov used Ukrainian orthography based on the Latin alphabet for printing Shevchenko’s poem ‘Mariia’ in Geneva. This very interesting and rare edition is also held by the British Library, as well as a copy of Drahomanov’s printed report ‘La Littérature Oukraïnienne proscrite par le Gouvernement Russe’, which was distributed at the Paris Literary Congress in 1878 (11851.ccc.19.).

Title page of the 1876 Prague edition of Kobzar

Title page of the 1876 Prague edition of Kobzar. 11585.k.11.

Another rare edition of Kobzar which is preserved in the British Library (and in Mezhenko’s collection) is the Prague edition of 1876. It was published by the printing house of Eduard Grégr (1827–1907), a Czech publicist and politician who, together with his brother, founded the political magazine Národní listy (MFM.MF641; Digitised copies of Národní listy are available via the Moravian Library and the National Library of the Czech Republic).

Digitised file relating to editions of Kobzar published abroad

Digitised file relating to editions of Kobzar published abroad (EAP657/1/51)

The EAP Shevchenko collection contains a file (1881) issued by the Main Department on Print Issues of the Russian Empire relating to editions of Kobzar published abroad, including the Prague edition. The file examines issues of censorship and rights. One report, dated 12 February 1881 and signed by a Russian censor, states that the Prague edition of Kobzar is “subject to unconditional prohibition” (f.6). 

As this blog demonstrates, the stories behind these editions are part of Ukrainian history.

Nadiia Strishenets, Leading Researcher at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine and British Library Chevening Fellow. She is working on enhancing metadata for the Shevchenko digital collections.

References and further reading

Iurii Oleksiiovych Mezhenko (1892-1969): materialy do biohrafiï, compiled by T. A. Ihnatova, N. V. Kazakova, N. V. Strishenets (Kyiv, 1994). 2719.e.3344

Taras Shevchenko, “Song out of Darkness”: Selected poems translated from the Ukrainian by Vera Rich. (London, 1961) 11303.bb.3.

Ukrainian collections in the British Library 

08 March 2022

“Your problems are also my problems” – tracing Ukraine in the British Library's Solidarity Collection

As the catastrophic situation in Ukraine unfolds, as human lives and cultural heritage are under threat, the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine keeps displaying a curt and distressing message: ‘Due to the imposition of martial law throughout Ukraine, the library remains closed to readers’.

The tragic circumstances of one of the most populous countries in Europe remind us of the importance of international solidarity and the need to come together to preserve lives and heritage. In this blog post we take a look at Ukraine in the British Library’s Solidarity collection to show the prominence of international connections for building democracies.

Since 1980, when the Gdańsk Agreement was signed between the strikers of the Lenin Shipyard and the government of the Polish People’s Republic, the Polish ‘Solidarity’ movement – the trade union – has been being widely credited with playing a crucial role in ending communist rule in Poland. For many activists around the world Solidarity became a symbol of a successful battle against tyranny and dictatorship.

The British Library’s collection named after the movement holds thousands of items inspired by the theme of freedom and democracy. A detailed description of the collection can be found on our blog

The Solidarity Collection, which includes diverse pro-democratic materials from many independent bodies, is a true testament to the freedom movement spreading through the Eastern Bloc in the late 1970s and 1980s. The following collection items highlight the connection between the Polish movement and Ukraine.

Anna Walentynowicz

Cover of Tomasz Jastrun, Życie Anny Walentynowicz

Cover of Tomasz Jastrun, Życie Anny Walentynowicz (Warszawa, 1985). Sol.223.c

Anna Walentynowicz (née Lubczyk), born in 1929 in Volhynia into a Ukrainian protestant family, was an icon of the Polish solidarity movement. From 1950, when Anna started working for the Gdansk Shipyard, she was actively engaged in defending workers’ rights, protesting against financial fraud, and distributing underground newsletters. In 1978 she joined the Free Trade Unions of the Coast (Wolne Związki Zawodowe Wybrzeża, WZZW), which two years later became an excuse for firing her from her post at the shipyard just before she was due to retire. The act, which infuriated her colleagues, triggered the famed strike on 14 August 1980, and consequentially led to the signing of the Gdańsk Agreement and the birth of the Solidarity trade union. By the mid-1980s Anna’s symbolic position within the ranks of the opposition prompted Tomasz Jastrun, a fellow dissident and literary critic to write her biography, Życie Anny Walentynowicz (The Life of Anna Walentynowicz), in the form of an extended interview. Although Walentynowicz later entered into a conflict with Lech Wałęsa over the direction the Solidarity movement was going, she worked relentlessly her entire life to defend human rights. She said in one of the interviews:

Our main duty is to consider the needs of the others. If we become alive to this duty, there will be no unjustly treated people in our midst, and we, in turn, shall not be treated unjustly. Our day-to-day motto should be: “Your problems are also my problems”. We must extend our friendship and strengthen our solidarity. Source: Extracts from Polish underground publications 

A declaration of the hunger-strike protest signed by Anna Walentynowicz

A declaration of the hunger-strike protest signed by Anna Walentynowicz. Cele i zasady naszego głodowego protestu. List do społeczeństwa (Kraków, 1985) Sol.764

Anna died tragically in the Smolensk air disaster in 2010. Before her death she managed to find and reunite with her family in Ukraine from whom she had been separated during the Second World War.

Robotnik periodical 

Robotnik. Pismo członków Międzyzakładowego Robotniczego Komitetu „Solidarności”

Robotnik. Pismo członków Międzyzakładowego Robotniczego Komitetu „Solidarności” (Warszawa, 1986) Sol.764

This special issue of the underground periodical Robotnik (Worker) is devoted to the April 1986 atomic disaster in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. The editors of Robotnik express their sympathy and proclaim solidarity with the victims of the catastrophe, which in their view occurred as a result of systematic negligence. They declare: ‘In the Soviet system there is no space for protecting human rights, even the most elementary right to life’. [my translation]

Proclamation on the Rules of Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation

Proclamation on the Rules of the Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation

Oświadczenie w sprawie zasad współpracy polsko-ukraińskiej (Paryż, 1987) Sol.764

The Liberal Democratic Party ‘Niepodległość’/’Independence’ aimed to overthrow the communist regime and make Poland an independent country. One of their goals was to establish a common position of the Ukrainian and Polish opposition regarding mutual support for the countries’ independence and the future Polish-Ukrainian border. The 1987 ‘Proclamation on the Rules of Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation’, held in the Solidarity collection, shows a joint attempt to reach a solution. The signatories promise to respect each other’s right to national independence.

A postcard celebrating 1000 years of Christianity in Ukraine

A postcard celebrating 1000 years of Christianity in Ukraine (1988) Sol.764

Olga Topol, Curator Slavonic and East European collections 

Further reading:

Ukrainian collections in the British Library 

Shana Penn, Solidarity’s secret: the women who defeated Communism in Poland (Ann Arbor, Mich.; Bristol, 2005). YC.2007.a.10368

M. Szporer, ‘Anna Walentynowicz and the Legacy of Solidarity in Poland’ Journal of Cold War studies, 13:1 (2011), pp. 213-222. 4958.799420

03 March 2022

Ukrainian collections in the British Library

For the past week, the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine has dominated the news. War represents an existential threat not just to human lives, but to the cultural and intellectual heritage that helps us understand who we are – and which it is the mission of library staff to collect, preserve and share.

The British Library’s Chief Librarian is one of the signatories of this statement by the UK Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), which expresses solidarity with colleagues across Ukraine, and calls for the UK Government and international community to do all they can to restore peace and security for Ukraine. 

In this blog post, we highlight three items from the Library’s Ukrainian collections that speak to the country’s history, people and culture. They present just a snapshot of what the collections have to offer.

Cover of Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka

Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka (Kyiv, 1912). 12975.l.27.

Borys and Mariia Hrinchenko were two of the most prominent Ukrainian educators, folklorists, writers and linguists of the late 19th and early 20th century. They advocated the spread of the Ukrainian language at a time when it was banned from schools and print form by the Ems Ukaz, a secret decree issued in 1876 by the Russian tsar Alexander II aimed at the destruction of Ukrainian language and culture. 

Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka (‘Native Word. A Ukrainian Reader’) was compiled by Borys and Mariia and published in Kyiv in 1912. Borys initially used the reader, which he put together in 1889, to teach his daughter, Anastasiia, how to read. After publishing a Ukrainian primer in 1907 (012901.i.25.(1.)), Borys also planned to publish his reader. The book needed considerable work, however, and he died before it was finished. Following his death from tuberculosis in 1910, Mariia, edited the reader and added additional sections. The book was received as a gift by the British Museum Library in 1913, a year after it was first published.

The reader is arranged thematically, beginning with a section on domestic and wild animals, before moving on to subjects such as flora, clothing and science. In addition to short stories and poems (including by Borys and Mariia Hrinchenko, Lesia Ukrainka and Taras Shevchenko), songs and comprehension exercises, it contains a number of riddles relating to the topic of each section.

Cover of Lesia Ukrainka, Poezii: vybrani tvory

Lesia Ukrainka, Poezii: vybrani tvory (Regensburg, 1946). 11588.a.59.

This small volume of poetry by the modernist Ukrainian writer Lesia Ukrainka was published in the Regensburg Displaced Persons (DP) Camp in 1946, the 75th anniversary of her birth. Permitted by authority of the US Military Government in the American Allied Occupation Zone, the British Library copy contains the stamp of the London-based Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau, which is believed to have donated the book to the Library in 1948.

At the end of the Second World War, millions of people, including Ukrainians, were displaced from their homes, with more than six million refugees in Allied-occupied Germany alone. They included concentration camp survivors, political prisoners, former forced labourers and prisoners of war. While many were repatriated in the first few months, approximately one million people in Germany were unable to return to their countries of origin. Ukrainian and other DP communities set up schools, churches, synagogues, theatres, hospitals, and published their own newspapers and books.

The British Library holds a number of rare Ukrainian books, journals and newspapers published in and around DP Camps in Europe (predominantly Germany and Austria) between 1945 and 1955.

You can watch a recording of a 2021 event at the British Library to mark the 150th anniversary of Lesia Ukrainka’s birth on the Ukrainian Institute London’s website

Copies of The Ark of Unique Cultures: The Hutsuls

Copies of The Ark of Unique Cultures: The Hutsuls (Tallinn: Ukrainian Cultural Centre, 2014). RF.2020.b.31. (Reproduced by kind permission of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre)

This handmade book celebrates the history and culture of the Hutsuls, an ethnic group from the Hutsul region in the Carpathian Mountains. It is one of a limited series of 35 items, which were donated to major libraries around the world by the Ukrainian Cultural Centre (UKK) in Tallinn, Estonia. One of the most striking and important aspects of the project is its collaboration with Hutsul communities. In addition to the plant specimens, which were collected from the Ukrainian side of the Carpathian Mountains, each book contains postcards and bookmarks from community members with their comments and reflections on aspects of Hutsul life and culture, as well as a cycle of poems in the Hutsul dialect by the poet Mariya Korpanyuk. The postcards were distributed in Hutsul villages and the hundreds of responses, with their stamps and postmarks, were divided among the individual books, further adding to their unique composition and design.

The UKK also partnered with the National Museum of Hutsulshchyna & Pokuttia Folk Art, which selected pre-Second World War photographs of Hutsul life to reproduce and include in the books. Located in Kolomyia, the largest town on traditional Hutsul territory, the museum is dedicated to preserving and promoting Hutsul culture. The photographs are thematically paired to speak to the themes of Korpanyuk’s poems, from childhood and marriage to crafts, music and mushroom picking.

Discover more about the project in this interview with a colleague from the UKK on our blog

Further information about the collections

From rare 16th-century books and banned texts published in volumes small enough to smuggle across borders, to a futurist literary almanac and digital ephemera from the 2013-14 Euromaidan protests, the Ukrainian collections at the British Library reflect the wealth and strength of Ukrainian culture. Each year we add more than 1,500 items to the collections from all regions of Ukraine and strive to bring them to as wide an audience as possible.

Find out more about the Library’s Ukrainian collections and Ukrainian culture and history by exploring our blog, collection guide, and the Ukrainian Institute London’s website – particularly their series of short films ‘10 Things Everyone Should Know About Ukraine’.

 

28 February 2022

Love, like any other - Maria Dąbrowska and Anna Kowalska

Hardly anyone growing up in Poland in the 1980s can say they are not familiar with the flagship Polish TV production Nights and Days. The movie, later followed by a TV series, was a frequent guest in Polish homes and for many young people a much more dreaded part of the Christmas period than Home Alone is today. The production was based on Maria Dąbrowska’s novel of the same title, Noce i dnie.

Title page of Noce i dnie by Maria Dąbrowska

Title page of Noce i dnie by Maria Dąbrowska. (Warsaw, 1934-35) 012591.dd.85

The author’s opus mundi was by most critics considered the greatest achievement of Polish interwar literature. Awarded the Golden Laurel of the Polish Academy of Literature Dąbrowska was nominated five times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Sketch of Maria Dąbrowska by Anna Linke

Maria Dąbrowska by Anna Linke, illustration from Maria Dąbrowska, Dzienniki, (Warsaw, 1988) YA.1989.a.16391)

To be perfectly honest, her epic (and compulsory) novel was a difficult read for a teenager. Barbara, the main protagonist, her fears of spinsterhood, unhappy marriage, burdens and boredom of mundane living are much better understood later in life – just like John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte’s Saga or Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks. Nonetheless, generations of Polish pupils were ‘taught’ Nights and Days and learned about Maria Dąbrowska from zealous teachers who insisted on instilling in us the love of literature and of our mother tongue. However, what they mostly failed to teach at the time was an appreciation of diversity through the true life-story of the author.

Only years after my graduation from the Polish school system have I learned that Maria Dąbrowska was much more complicated and considerably more exciting a person that our teachers made us believe. Coming from impoverished landed gentry Dąbrowska was a socialist, an ardent critic of anti-Semitism, a tolerant and unprejudiced person who lived in an open relationship with her husband Marian Dąbrowski and later with her long-time partner, the social activist and freemason Stanisław Stempowski. However, the longest lasting and probably the most emotionally close relationship Dąbrowska had was that with a fellow writer, Anna Kowalska.

Cover of Anna Kowalska, Dzienniki 1927-1969

Cover of Anna Kowalska, Dzienniki 1927-1969, (Warsaw, 2008) YF.2009.a.30901

Although Dąbrowska met Kowalska by chance at a party in pre-war Lviv, their relationship did not start until the 1940s when Anna and her husband Jerzy arrived in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. In the course of their life-binding relationship Anna and Maria exchanged almost 2400 letters that testify to their turbulent relationship and deep affection for each other. Anna looked up to Maria who encouraged her to take more care with her writing. Nonetheless, Anna was a brilliant translator, publicist and intellectual. She was a creator and active participant of Wrocław’s post-war literary scene. In 1949 she received a Pen Club award for her Opowiadania greckie (Warsaw, 1956; 12596.bbb.18.). The two women constantly challenged and stimulated each other both emotionally and intellectually. Anna wrote in her diary: “Before I go to sleep, when I lie awake, after I wake up, when I wash, cook, drink and clean, I make up conversations with M. Only recently have I noticed that I stopped being lonely, or rather alone (as you can be lonely with someone) in my existence.” [Dzienniki, my translation]

Maria Dąbrowska, Bronisław Linke and Anna Kowalska at Anna and Bronisław Linke’s flat in Warsaw

Maria Dąbrowska, Bronisław Linke and Anna Kowalska at Anna and Bronisław Linke’s flat in Warsaw 1951. Illustration from: Anna Kowalska, Dzienniki 1927-1969.

As Dąbrowska insisted that her diaries must not be published in an unabridged form until 40 years after her death, only recently have we been able to fully appreciate the depth of her connection with Anna and to understand better the consequences this bond had for the work and personal lives of both women. Kowalska once commented:

I am fascinated by the fate of this relationship, when everything is against it: age, gender, circumstances, and on M.’s side weariness and emotional exhaustion. She craves artistic fulfilment only. However, so do I, but I cannot bring myself to talk about it as it is a sore point, an all-consuming anxiety. [my translation]

Anna and Maria discussed the complicated nature of their relationship, as Maria struggled with the notion that their love is dangerous. In a letter to her lover Anna states:

Love is not shameful. Darling, what a joy that you are not ashamed of love. What a relief! Homosexual love, if it is not for show, but is plainly more destructive and tormenting, is no less significant or ‘dignified’. … The middle class has hated love for centuries. The extent of the taboo is surprising. [Quote from Ewa Głębicka, Rzecz prywatna, rzecz sekretna. O granicach intymności w korespondencji Marii Dąbrowskiej i Anny Kowalskiej z lat 1946-1948, (Warsaw, 2017)]

Both women dared to be different – strived to fulfil their emotional and professional ambitions – in times when being different was not perceived as a virtue. Their lives were filled with struggles against societal norms, but at the same time, in their own way, they came out victorious from this fight by living their lives to the fullest.

Cover of Sylwia Chwedorczuk, Kowalska, ta od Dąbrowskiej with photographs of the two writers

Cover of Sylwia Chwedorczuk, Kowalska, ta od Dąbrowskiej, (Warszawa, 2020) awaiting shelfmark

Poland’s struggle to officially recognise LGBTQ+ rights creates challenges to those who want to commemorate and research the minority’s history and culture. However, the upside of the situation is that it generates more interest in human rights and it prompts efforts to build awareness of those in the country’s rich history who dared to be themselves despite limitations of social conventions. Sylwia Chwedorczuk’s fascinating and non-judgmental biography of Anna, Kowalska, ta od Dąbrowskiej (‘Kowalska, the one with Dąbrowska’) is a brilliant example of this trend. Chwedorczuk, who partly based her book on unpublished correspondence between the two women, gives the reader a sneak-peek into their lives – their virtues and their flaws, to put it simply, their humanity. I hope that books like this will one day become part of school curricula. Looking back at my young self, this is the book I would have loved to read.

Olga Topol, Curator Slavonic and East European collections 

09 February 2022

PhD Placement Opportunity - Contextualising a digital photographic archive of Siberian Indigenous peoples

Applications are now open for an exciting new PhD placement working with the Slavonic and East European collections at the British Library. Under the title ‘Contextualising a digital photographic archive of Siberian Indigenous peoples’, current PhD students are invited to spend three months (or part-time equivalent) researching and promoting collections and resources related to Indigenous peoples of Siberia at the Library.

Photograph of a group of people

A group of people. Selection of Ethnographic Images from the Krasnoiarsk Regional Local History Museum.

The placement will focus on exploring the collection of photographs created as part of the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) project ‘Digitising the photographic archive of southern Siberian indigenous peoples’. This project successfully digitised, archived and distributed 3,672 glass plate negatives collected over a period of time during ethnographical expeditions in South Siberia in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century. Work was conducted in four regional archives (Irkutsk, Minusinsk, Yekaterinburg State Archive and Yekaterinburg Writer's Archive). These photographs are now accessible via our online catalogue.

Photograph of a Nenets Shaman

Nenets Shaman. Selection of Ethnographic Images from the Krasnoiarsk Regional Local History Museum.

It will focus on research into this digitised collection and other resources in the British Library related to Indigenous peoples of Siberia, in order to contextualise the photographic archive. The placement will also consider some of the issues connected with Russian language metadata supplied with the collection.

Pages from Bukvar. (Букварь на кетском языке). [Russian primer for Ket-speakers]

Bukvar. (Букварь на кетском языке). [Primer for Ket-speakers]. (Moscow; Leningrad, 1934) 012924.l.1. 

The placement will provide a hands-on introduction to the activities of a major research library and cultural organisation, with a particular focus on cataloguing, collection management, and public engagement. In undertaking the placement project, the student will have the opportunity to consult and work with colleagues across a range of collection areas and roles.

Supervised by Dr Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator of Slavonic and East European Collections, the placement will sit within the European, Americas and Oceania Department. Alongside regular meetings, pastoral support, and training opportunities, the student will benefit from being part of a welcoming and supportive wider team, which includes a number of PhD researchers.

The placement is open to UK-based PhD students from all disciplines and academic backgrounds; however, a good knowledge of the Russian language and interest in and ability to quickly acquire a degree of basic knowledge of Siberia and its peoples is essential.

Further information on eligibility, funding and how to apply is available on the British Library website. The deadline for applications is Friday 25 February 2022 (5 pm UK time).

For informal enquiries, please contact Katya.Rogatchevskaia@bl.uk

 

PhD Placement Opportunity - Displaced Persons (DP) Camp Publications in the British Library

Applications are now open for an exciting new PhD placement working with the Slavonic and East European collections at the British Library. Under the title ‘Displaced Persons (DP) Camp Publications in the British Library’, current PhD students are invited to spend three months (or part-time equivalent) researching, improving catalogue records, and promoting the Ukrainian-language titles within this collection. 

Cover of Lesia Ukrainka, Poezii: vybrani tvory

Cover of Lesia Ukrainka, Poezii: vybrani tvory (Regensburg, 1946). 11588.a.59. The British Library copy contains the stamp of the London-based Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau, which is believed to have donated the book to the Library in 1948.

At the end of the Second World War, millions of people were displaced from their homes, with more than six million refugees in Allied-occupied Germany alone. They included concentration camp survivors, political prisoners, former forced labourers and prisoners of war. While many were repatriated in the first few months, approximately one million people in Germany were unable or unwilling to return to their countries of origin. The remaining displaced persons were housed in camps, organised mainly by nationality. DP communities set up schools, churches, synagogues, theatres, hospitals, and published their own newspapers and books.

Cover of Ravensbrück: naibilʹshyi zhinochyi kontsentratsiinyi tabor v Nimechchyni

Cover of Ravensbrück: naibilʹshyi zhinochyi kontsentratsiinyi tabor v Nimechchyni, illustrated by Olena Vityk-Voitovych (Munich, ca. 1946). YA.2003.a.16502.

The British Library holds a number of rare books, journals and newspapers published in and around DP Camps in Europe (predominantly Germany and Austria) between 1945 and 1955. The languages of these publications include Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Yiddish and Belarusian. Among the titles are editions of famous literary and historical works, accounts of internment in Nazi concentration camps, political manifestos, and children’s books. Many are written and/or illustrated by prominent writers and artists, and contain stamps and other information key to understanding the activities, networks and governance of the camps and DP/émigré communities. The metadata for these items is inconsistent and, in many cases, minimal. While the project will focus on the collection’s Ukrainian-language titles, there is also scope to work with DP camp publications in other languages depending on the student’s area of interest.

Cover of Selo: Al’bum Karykatur

two watercolour illustrations by Edvard Kozak, Selo: Al’bum Karykatur

Cover and two watercolour illustrations by Edvard Kozak, Selo: Al’bum Karykatur ([Germany, 1948?]). RB.31.c.713. The Library’s copy is nr 89 in a limited edition of 500 numbered copies.

The placement will provide a hands-on introduction to the activities of a major research library and cultural organisation, with a particular focus on cataloguing, collection management, and public engagement. In undertaking the placement project, the student will have the opportunity to consult and work with colleagues across a range of collection areas and roles.

Supervised by Dr Katie McElvanney, Curator of Slavonic and East European Collections, the placement will sit within the European, Americas and Oceania Department. Alongside regular meetings, pastoral support, and training opportunities, the student will benefit from being part of a welcoming and supportive wider team, which includes a number of PhD researchers.

Cover of Lev Iatskevych, Parovyi verbliud, illustrated by Edvard Kozak

Cover of Lev Iatskevych, Parovyi verbliud, illustrated by Edvard Kozak (Munich, 1947). Awaiting shelfmark.

The placement is open to UK-based PhD students from all disciplines and academic backgrounds; however, a good reading knowledge of Ukrainian is essential, and knowledge of 20th century European history and another Slavonic language (Russian, Belarusian, Polish) would be an advantage.

Further information on eligibility, funding and how to apply is available on the British Library website. The deadline for applications is Friday 25 February 2022 (5 pm).

For informal enquiries, please contact Katie.McElvanney@bl.uk  

References and further reading:

Gerard Daniel Cohen, In war’s wake: Europe’s displaced persons in the postwar order (New York; Oxford, c2012). YC.2011.a.17419

Ann Holian, Between National Socialism and Soviet Communism: Displaced Persons in Postwar Germany (Ann Arbor, 2011). YC.2011.a.13908

David Nasaw, The Last Million: Europe’s Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War (New York, 2020).

Mark Wyman, DPs: Europe’s Displaced Persons, 1945–1951 (London; Ithaca, 1998). YC.1999.b.7740

Publications by Ukrainian "displaced persons" and political refugees, 1945-1954, in the John Luczkiw collection, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto: Microfilm collection: An electronic bibliography Compiled by Yury Boshyk and Włodzimierz Kiebalo. Edited by Wasyl Sydorenko.

The Refugee Experience: Ukrainian Displaced Persons after World War II, eds. Wsewolod W. Isajiw, Yury Boshyk, and Roman Senkus (Edmonton, 1992). YA.1995.b.3753

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

**************************************************

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

**************************************************

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

01 December 2021

From Dositej Obradović with thanks: a donation of the first Serbian books

Dositej Obradović (1739-1811) was a Serbian educator and the most prominent writer of the Serbian Enlightenment. Obradović is credited for the revival of Serbian culture and he is regarded as the founder of modern Serbian literature.

Portrait of Dositej Obradović

Portrait of Dositej Obradović from Dela Dositeja Obradovića (Belgrade, 1911) 012265.dd.3.

Obradović was a man of wide interests and great learning. He spent most of his life travelling widely through the Balkans, Asia Minor, Western Europe and Russia earning a living as a private tutor.

Map from The Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović

Map from The Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović (Los Angeles, 1953) Ac.2689.g/4.

With a great interest in books and learning, Obradović set out into the world in 1760 in search of education and knowledge. His mission was to pass on the knowledge onto others. In Smyrna (Izmir) he studied classical antiquity and learned Ancient and Modern Greek. In Vienna, Modra and Bratislava he became systematically acquainted with Latin, western European languages and the German philosophy of Enlightenment. Finally in 1782-1784 in Halle and Leipzig he fulfilled a long-standing ambition to attend university lectures.

Obradović believed that South Slav peoples living in the Habsburg and Ottoman lands would be able to progress and achieve an independent and free life only in the community of cultured and enlightened European nations. He argued that reason, science and tolerance were a precondition for the emancipation of peoples. He was true to these believes in his original works about his personal life experiences and in all of his translations and adaptations from classical and modern European literature and moral philosophy of the time.

Title page of Život i priključenija Dimitrija Obradovića

Život i priključenija Dimitrija Obradovića (Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović. Autobiography, part 1). (Leipzig, 1783) C.59.d.25.(1.)

In the latter half of his life Obradović was entirely devoted to writing and printing books with the aim of promoting the ideas of Enlightenment among the Serbs. In 1783 in Leipzig Obradović found printers able to print Cyrillic texts and his first four works were printed there in the printing shop of Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf.

Title page of Sovjeti zdravago razuma

Sovjeti zdravago razuma (Common Sense Counsels). Compiled by Dositej Obradović (Leipzig, 1784) C.59.d.25.(2.)

Title page of Slovo poučitelno

Slovo poučitelno (Instructive Discourse). Translation from the sermons of Georg Joachim Zollikofer (Leipzig, 1784) C.59.ff.15.(3.)

These are the first three of Obradović’s books printed in Leipzig by which the modern Serbian literature was created. Obradović presented the books to the British Museum Library in 1785. These books would have the distinction of being the first modern Serbian books acquired by the British Museum Library.

Handwritten note of the donation, signed and dated by John Jackson, Obradović’s friend in London

Handwritten note of the donation, signed and dated by John Jackson, Obradović’s friend in London. The note is inserted in front of the title page of the first part of Obradović’s Autobiography. The note states Obradović’s abode in London. Later on Obradović moved to Rotherhithe in south-east London where he stayed until June 1785 when he left London for Hamburg.

Obradović was not only a social reformer, adopting and promoting the ideas of the Enlightenment, he was also the first reformer of the Serbian literary language. In the 18th century two languages were in parallel use among the Serbs: Russo-Slavonic and Slavonic-Serbian. Obradović opposed the general use of the Russo-Slavonic language in favour of the Serbian national language. In addition to the use of vernacular, Obradović was also an advocate of secular literature in the spirit of the Enlightenment.

VII_IMG_20190602

A plaque on the wall of a house in Clements Lane in the City of London at the site of the house in which Obradović stayed in 1784-85.

In his the second part of his Autobiography (which is inserted in his translation of Aesop’s and other fables, pp. 311-425, C.59.ff.15.(1).) Obradović published an account of his visit to London in 1784-85. In this account he expressed a boundless sympathy for the country and the people. For this early portrayal of London and its inhabitants Obradović is characterised as the first Serbian Anglophile in Serbian literature. Obradović celebrated English literature, commerce, science and the English way of life in general, as well as the friends he acquired and the ordinary people he met in London. His impressions were translated into English as ‘The London impressions of a famous Servian’ by Čedomilj Mijatović in Servia of the Servians (London, 1915) YD.2006.a.3929.

Furthermore in Anglo-Serbian literary connections, Obradović is known as the author who introduced the works of Joseph Addison and Samuel Johnson to Serbian readers.

A 1914 statue of Dositej Obradović

A 1914 statue of Dositej Obradović erected in the Studentski trg square in front of Belgrade University

Education and enlightenment of the Serbian people are Obradović’s main accomplishments. He is celebrated for the creation of a new culture in which the modern literature is written in the national language. Another important aspect of Obradović’s legacy is his commitment to the emancipation of people from spiritual backwardness through general secular education and the opening of schools for everyone. In 1808 Obradović founded a High School in Belgrade which eventually led to the establishment of the University of Belgrade in 1905.

In his lifetime Obradović didn’t succeed in having all his works printed. A total of 21 works: original editions, reprints and translations into different languages were printed before his death in 1811. The British Library holds five original editions and two posthumous editions of Obradović’s main works. This collection also includes the first edition of his complete works (Zemun, 1850. 012264.e.4) and a facsimile edition of Obradović’s preserved autograph manuscripts (Novi Sad, 1961. 11880.aa.13). Literary criticism, research and scholarship of all periods about Obradović are well represented in the collection.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South East European Collections

Digitised books

Aesop's Fables. Translated and edited by Dositej Obradović (Leipzig, 1788) Digital Store C.59.ff.15.(1). 

Dositej Obradović, Song about the liberation of Serbia (Vienna, 1789) Digital Store C.59.ff.15.(2.) 

Dositej Obradović, Mezimac. A collection of essays on morale and practical philosophy (Budapest, 1818) Digital Store 869.h.34. 

Bukvice (Vienna, 1830) the abbreviated text of Obradović’s manuscript ‘Prvenac’ the first-born of Dositej Obradović written in 1770. Digital Store 8311.eee.64. 

A collection of Dositej Obradović’s 15 digitised books by from the Digital National Library of Serbia

References

Pavle Popović, Dositej Obradović u Engleskoj (Oxford, 1919) 010795.c.10.

Pavle Popović, ‘Serbian Anglophil, Dositheus Obradović’ The Quarterly Review, no. 461 (London, 1919) P.P.5989.ab.

The Life and Adventures of Dimitrije Obradović. Translated and edited by George Rapall Noyes (Los Angeles, 1953) Ac.2689.g/4.

Dositej Obradović, Sabrana dela. Introduction by Vojislav Đurić (Belgrade, 1961) 12521.w.35.

 

24 November 2021

‘The Unknown Feminist of Fin-de-siècle Europe: Lesia Ukrainka’ at the British Library

On 16 November 2021, the British Library, in partnership with the Ukrainian Institute London, hosted an event to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Ukrainian writer and poet Lesia Ukrainka. The expert panel was chaired by Lucy Delap, Professor of History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Murray Edwards College, and included Sasha Dovzhyk, a Ukrainian scholar and writer based in London, and Oksana Zabuzhko, one of Ukraine’s major contemporary writers.

Photograph of the event panel

The evening was opened by Katie McElvanney, Curator of Slavonic and East European Collections at the British Library. Oksana Zabuzhko, who joined the event remotely from Kyiv, highlighted that the complete collection of Lesia Ukrainka’s works (14 volumes) had only now been published, 150 years after her birth. She noted that Ukrainka was ‘misread’ in Soviet times and stressed the importance of re-reading and reviving her work and legacy.

Speaking about Ukrainka’s family, Zabuzhko emphasised that they were remarkable people who played an important role in the creation of modern Ukraine. She also spoke about the main themes and motifs of Ukrainka’s 21 plays, which were based on European culture and the European Christian tradition. In each of her dramas the main character is a woman and these women possess spiritual leadership, said Zabuzhko.

As part of the event, Olesya Khromeychuk, Director of the Ukrainian Institute London, announced the winner of the Institute’s inaugural Ukrainian Literature in Translation Prize. The condition of this year was the translation of Ukrainka’s works. First prize was awarded to Nina Murray for her translation from Ukrainka’s drama Cassandra. Daisy Gibbons received the second prize for her translation of extracts from Ukrainka’s letters to Olha Kobylianska and the short story ‘By the Sea’. Nina Murray, together with Uilleam Blacker, then read excerpts from Cassandra in Ukrainian and English. It should be mentioned that Zabuzhko’s novel The Museum of Abandoned Secrets was also translated into English by Nina Murray.

Continuing the panel discussion, Sasha Dovzhyk told the audience about the Ukrainian Institute London’s short film Fin de Siècle Ukrainian Feminism on Ukrainka, where she was an expert. She also spoke about Ukrainka’s letters to Olha Kobylianska. Among the subjects of their correspondence was the struggle for women's rights. Dovzhyk cited and conextualised the words of another outstanding Ukrainian poet and writer Ivan Franko who remarked of Ukrainka, ‘this fragile and sick woman is almost the only man in the whole of Ukraine’.

Oksana Zabuzhko and Sasha Dovzhyk answered a number of questions from the audience. They also stressed that 19th and early 20th-century European literature is not complete without Lesia Ukrainka. She was a part of European culture, even in her travelling, and it is vital that her work is translated into different languages. Discussing Ukrainka’s relevance and appeal in contemporary Ukrainian society, Dovzhyk noted that she has become part of mass culture in Ukraine; during the Euromaidan her image appeared on the building of the Institute of Literature of the National Academy of Sciences, along with the other prominent figures Taras Shevchenko and Ivan Franko.

Photograph of the event panel and audience

The recording of the event will be available on the Ukrainian Institute London’s YouTube channel.

Nadiia Strishenets, British Library Chevening Fellow working on collections related to the Ukrainian writer, poet and artist Taras Shevchenko

Photos by Anna Morgan and Tetiana Kharchenko. With thanks to the Ukrainian Institute London for allowing us to reproduce the photos in this blog post. 

 

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.

 

European studies blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs