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164 posts categorized "Slavonic"

21 May 2019

P. G. Wodehouse under Continental Covers

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Some time ago our Translator in Residence, Rahul Bery, wrote a post for the BL English and Drama blog about translations of the works of P.G. Wodehouse. As an unexpected but welcome response to this we were contacted by Wodehouse expert Tony Ring, who asked if we would be interested in a donation of Wodehouse novels in various European languages. We were of course delighted to accept and recently the collection of 100 books, in Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Norwegian, Russian and Swedish, arrived in the Library.

Unpacking them I was fascinated by the range of different cover designs. I always associate Wodehouse with the gently humorous drawings of ‘Ionicus’ (J.C. Armitage) which adorned the British Penguin editions for many years. but readers abroad would encounter Wodehouse under many different covers, some of them quite surprising.

To start with some straightforward ones, in the 1970s and 80s, the Dutch publisher Spectrum issued a number of Wodehouse novels in its ‘Prisma’ series with covers by the well-known political cartoonist Peter van Straaten and there are nine of these in the collection. Straaten’s lively drawings clearly represent characters and situations from the books – not as common as you might think! Here are two, from Summer Lightning (De ontvoerde zeug), translated by W. Wielek-Berg, and Something Fresh (Nieuwe Bezems), translated by W.N. Vandersluys.

Wodehouse Dutch 1

Van Straaten’s illustrations show the characters dressed more or less appropriately for the period when the books were set. However, this is not always the case. This 1962 cover by Georges Mazure for Dokter Sally, translated by Henriëtte van der Kop, reflects the fashions of the day rather than of its original publication date thirty years before.

Wodehouse Dutch 2

Likewise, Ulrich Lichtenhardt’s cover for this 1980 German edition of Spring Fever (Frühlingsgefühle) bears all the hallmarks of the late 1970s rather than of 1948 when the book first appeared. Incidentally, all seven German translations in the collection bear the rider ‘Heiterer Roman’ (‘light-hearted novel’) on their covers – playing to a stereotype of an earnest German reader needing to be assured that laughter is allowed?

Wodehouse German

If the Germans want to emphasise humour, some of the Russian covers seem to imply a darker side to the tales. The Angler’s Rest and its regulars have surely never looked as louche as on the vaguely expressionistic cover of this 2011 translation by I. Gurova of Mulliner Nights (Vechera s misterom Mullinerom). This is probably my favourite cover in the whole collection.

Wodehouse Russian 2

Two other Russian Mr Mulliner collections also use expressionist artwork on the cover, to rather angst-ridden effect, but most worrying is this bleak 2002 cover for A Damsel In Distress (Deva v bede), which to my mind looks better suited to Tess of the d’Urbervilles than to the world of Wodehouse. I can only think that the designer was given nothing to go on but the title.

Wodehouse Russian 3

I find there’s also something slightly threatening about this Italian cover by Stefano Tartatrotti for Adriana Motti’s translation of Uncle Dynamite (Zio Dinamite) from 1998, but as with the Russian Mulliner Nights, the humour wins out.

Wodehouse Italian 3

Another Italian cover is very literal: a 1966 edition of Young Men in Spats (Giovanotti con la Ghette), translated by Zoe Lampronti.

Wodehouse Italian 1

To my mind one of the most attractive covers in the collection is this Swedish dust-jacket by Björn Berg for Birgitta Hammar’s translation of Full Moon (Fullmåne), one of a number of Wodehouse covers that Berg illustrated in 1984. He also includes a brief portrait sketch of Wodehouse on the back of the jacket (and one of the Empress of Blandings on the title page).

Wodehouse Swedish 1

The back cover is also put to good use in Birgitta Hammar’s 1956 Swedish translation of French Leave (Fransysk visit), describing the characters and outlining the plot of the story on a ‘menu’ from the Hotel Splendide in the fictional French town where the story is set.

Wodehouse Swedish 4b

As for the French themselves, this 1947 translation of My Man Jeeves (Mon valet de chambre) has a vignette by J. Jacquemin which I think nicely captures Jeeves’s imperturbability.

Wodehouse French 1

A later series of Jeeves stories in French all use the same cover image of British actor Arthur Treacher playing the role, but change the colour of his cravat and buttonhole for each cover. I’m not sure Jeeves would really have approved of this sartorial frivolity; perhaps that’s why he looks rather troubled here.

Wodehouse French 2

But for sheer oddity, I think the prize goes to the Dutch for this 1974 cover for Jan Wart Kousemaker’s translation of Plum Pie (Plumpudding) which at first glance looks more like a cheap thriller than a collection of humorous stories.

Wodehouse Dutch 3Of course, we should never judge a book by its cover, and there is much more to say about this wonderful donation and the ways in which translators have tackled Wodehouse’s distinctive style. For now the books will go to be accessioned and catalogued so that they can be available for students of literary translation and reception – and for interested Wodehousians – in our reading rooms.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Wodehouse Swedish 2
P.G. Wodehouse, ‘the world's most popular humourist’. Sketch by Björn Berg from the dustjacket of Fullmåne  

03 May 2019

Up the garden path with the Brothers Čapek and friends

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This is National Gardening Week, and with three Bank Holidays in quick succession, many of us will be inspired to get out and take stock of our plots, tubs and window-boxes. Not surprisingly in view of the British fondness for horticulture, one of the first and most popular works by Karel Čapek to appear in English translation was Zahradníkův rok (‘The Gardener’s Year’: Prague, 1929; YF.2005.a.31522 ). With its lively illustrations by the author’s brother Josef, it quickly became a favourite, and the translation by M. and R. Weatherall, which ran into multiple impressions, was succeeded by a more recent one by Geoffrey Newsome (London, 2004; ELD.DS.288828), testifying to its lasting appeal.

Capek tpTitle page with vignette by Josef Čapek for The Gardener’s Year (London, 1966) X.319/191

Čapek himself was an enthusiastic gardener, and part of the enduring charm of his book is his lack of illusions about the cussedness of nature and the sheer hard labour involved in maintaining a garden. The text consists of a chapter for every month of the year, interspersed with others on topics such as ‘How a man becomes a gardener’, ‘Seeds’, ‘On the Cultivators of Cacti’ (Czech cousins of the Kaktusfreunde portrayed in paintings by Carl Spitzweg?), ‘The Blessed Rain’ and ‘On Market Gardeners’.

British readers familiar with Dorothy Frances Gurney’s poem ‘God’s Garden’, (in God’s Garden, & other verses: London, [1933]; 011641.df.93), with its claim that ‘One is nearer God’s heart in a garden / Than anywhere else on earth’, may be pulled up short by Čapek’s far less sentimental view of things. Nature, one senses, is never more belligerent than when assailed by the gardener. From the very first attempts to lay out a garden (‘the best way is to get a gardener’) to the conclusion that ‘the gardener wants eleven hundred years to test, learn to know, and appreciate fully all that is his’, Čapek leaves us in no doubt that the way of the gardener is a stony one – in every sense. Indeed, the chapter ‘The Gardener’s May’ deals precisely with ‘the greatest pleasure and special pride of the gardener, his rock or Alpine garden’. This, he suggests, is so called because it ‘gives its owner opportunity for performing hazardous mountaineering feats’ as he lunges and scrambles among the ‘picturesque and not altogether firm stones of his rock garden’ in his attempts to plant and weed it.

Capek Alpinism

The intrepid rock-gardener in May 

Nor does Čapek underestimate the crimes of passion of which the fanatical gardener is capable in the pursuit of some prize specimen for his rockery, from stealing Campanula morettiana by night to outright murder. Those too fat or too cowardly to accomplish this shamelessly weep and implore the proud owner for a cutting, or wheedle one from the local florist. However, once acquired these treasures frequently fail to come up to expectations: the hard-won campanula proves to be nothing but a horse-radish.

Capek campanula The campanula that wasn’t.

A generation earlier another author, Mary Annette Beauchamp, had described the trials and pleasures of making a garden in East Prussia with the intervention of itinerant Russian labourers and her redoubtable German husband, Graf von Arnim, ‘the Man of Wrath’. Such was the popularity of Elizabeth and her German Garden (London, 1898; 012643.cc.34) that her subsequent works appeared as ‘by the author of Elizabeth and her German Garden’ before she adopted the permanent nom-de-plume of Elizabeth von Arnim. Yet there is nothing sweetly quaint about her sharp perceptions of the Anglo-German clash of cultures in the garden and the drawing-room, where her acid perspicuity frequently recalls Jane Austen. Nor is she a mere armchair gardener who scorns to get her fingers dirty; from the excitement of ordering from catalogues to the headaches of persuading her acquisitions to take root in sandy Prussian soil with the fitful help of her sometimes incredulous staff, she shows not only a deep love of gardening but a thorough understanding of the challenges which it presents.

Like her, Čapek is often thwarted by the resistance of his local terrain to adapt to English models of horticulture. ‘I know an excellent recipe for an English lawn,’ he declares. ‘Like the recipe for Worcester Sauce – it comes from an “English country gentleman”’ who concludes ‘If you do this for three hundred years, you will have as good a lawn as mine’. In the meantime he has to contend with bald patches and dandelions, and to persuade his neighbours to look in and water it when he goes away on holiday in August. Failing to persuade a little old lady to bring her goat to eat the clippings, he has to pay a reluctant dustman to remove them (‘You know, sir,’ he says, ‘we’re not supposed to take it.’)

Capek lawnHow to lose friends by asking your neighbour to keep an eye on your garden.

It is well known that following a spell of fine weather A&E departments in hospitals throughout the country see an influx of patients with all kinds of gardening-related injuries from infected wounds inflicted by rose-thorns to backs strained by over-enthusiastic lawn-mowing. In a sense Karel Čapek’s death was linked to his love for his garden. Although offered the chance to go to exile in England, where he had many friends, to escape persecution by the Nazis, Čapek refused to leave Czechoslovakia. While repairing flood damage to the family summer-house and garden in Stará Huť, he caught a cold which turned to pneumonia, from which he died on 25 December 1938. In the final paragraph of The Gardener’s Year he writes, ‘We gardeners live somehow for the future … I should like to see what these birches will be like in fifty years’. Sadly, he did not live to do so – but every gardener can draw comfort from the words, ‘The right, the best is in front of us. Each successive year will add growth and beauty’.

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

26 April 2019

Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages

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The annual Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages will take place on Monday 3 June 2019 in the Bronte Room of the British Library Knowledge Centre (formerly Conference Centre). The programme is:

11.00 Registration and Coffee

11.15 ALISON ADAMS (Glasgow), Claude de Seyssel’s La grand monarchie de France, Paris, Denis Janot, 1541: proof corrections

12.00 IAN MAGEDERA and ANDREW BOWHAY (Liverpool), French Books on India: Recent Developments

12.15 Lunch (Own arrangements).

1.30 LAURA CARNELOS (Reading), Choice or Mistake? Printing Defects in Italian Early Modern Books

2.15 JEREMY POTTER (Brighton), How to survive for 200 years: textbook lessons for book historians

3.00 Tea

3.30 ALEXANDRA WINGATE (London), ‘Prosigue la librería’: Analyzing the bookstore of Lorenzo Coroneu in seventeenth-century Pamplona

4.15 IAN CHRISTIE-MILLER, Lithuania, 1547, to Russia. Béarn, 1583, to Kralice with Watermarks

The Seminar will end at 5 pm.

The Seminar is free and all are welcome, but if you are planning to attend, please let the organisers, Susan Reed and Barry Taylor, know.

551.e.22(3) Kilian
Printer’s device from  Wolfgang Kilian, Serenissimorum Saxoniæ Electorum et quorundam ducum agnatorum genuinæ effigies... (Augsburg, 1621)  551.e.22.(3)

18 April 2019

Ukrainian Pysanka – the Writing on the Egg

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The egg, as a symbol of life, fertility, purity and eternity, has figured in the rituals, traditions and beliefs of people around the world, in a wide range of geographical regions and cultures, as documented in Venetia Newall’s comprehensive study An Egg at Easter.

EGGSNewall
Painted eggs, from An Egg at Easter (London, 1971) X.200/4543.

In Ukraine the custom of decorating eggs and the related rituals pre-date Christianity, and were initially associated with the pagan new year (the re-birth of spring). With the official Christianisation of Ukraine in the tenth century, the tradition was subsumed into the Christian system of belief, without ever completely losing its former significance. Among the techniques used, the most significant is “writing” on the egg (using the wax-resist method), which results in the pysanka (from the verb pysaty, to write or ornament). The pysanka’s enduring nature and ubiquity is due largely to the fact that it was one of the most accessible means for ordinary people (even if they were not literate in the accepted sense) to create ritual objects and to record their lives and beliefs, albeit in a different kind of language. This resulted in a continuity which has much to tell researchers into Ukraine’s cultural past. An overview of the pysanka tradition, by Gloria Surmach, can be found in Ukrainian Arts, compiled by Olya Dmytriw. Additionally, there are now many websites on this topic (e.g. www.pysanky.info).

UkrainianArtCover1

Cover of Ukrainian Arts (New York, 1952) 7946.e.98

Possibly the earliest mention of the pysanka in print is in Guillaume Le Vasseur de Beauplan’s Description d’Ukranie, in which the author describes the celebration of Easter in Ukraine. After a service in Kyiv, for example, each member of the congregation:

kneels before the Bishop [...] and presents him with a red or yellow painted egg, while greeting him with the words ‘Christos vos Christ’ (sic)*, and the Bishop, raising each from their knees, replies ‘Oustinos vos Christos’ (sic)*, at the same time kissing the women and girls, so that My Lord Bishop, in less than two hours, amasses over five or six thousand eggs, and has the pleasure of kissing the prettiest women and girls present in his Church ...

            *Beauplan’s attempt to transliterate the traditional Easter greeting: “Christ is risen – He is risen indeed”

Description d'Ukranie 980.f.6. Cover of Description d’Ukranie (Rouen, 1660) 980.f.6.

Whilst this may have been a slightly unusual way of acquiring a collection of eggs, in the 19th century, with the rise of interest in ethnography, collectors all over Ukraine (in lands within both the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires) started collecting pysankas, both as objets d’art and for their cultural significance. This, in turn, sparked the interest of scholars, who began to study these collections and present academic papers on them. For example, the anthropologist Fedir Vovk mentioned the uniqueness of pysankas at the Third Archaeological Congress in Kyiv in 1874:

there is fairly rich, very original and interesting material [...] in the motifs on krashankas or pysankas [...] As far as I am aware, the custom of decorating Easter eggs with motifs does not appear to exist in the Great Russian gubernias, and for that reason the forms of ornamentation of pysankas constitute material which is probably distinctive within the ethnographic context ... (Proceedings of the Congress, vol.2 )

One collection of pysankas, amassed by arts patron Kateryna Skarzhynska in Lubny, Poltava Region, formed the basis for the first comprehensive publication on the subject, Opisanie kollektsii narodnikh pisanok, by the ethnographer and archaeologist Serhii Kulzhynskyi (written in Russian at a time when publications in Ukrainian in the Russian Empire were severely restricted by tsarist decree). Lamenting the paucity of published material relating to the Ukrainian pysanka, Kulzhynskyi emphasises “the extraordinary interest which pysankas represent for scholarship and art”.

OpisanieCover
Above: Cover of Opisanie kollektsii narodnikh pisanok (Moscow, 1899) 1711.a.3. Below: Plate XVI from the book
.

Opisanie kollektsii narodnikh pisanok pl.16

From Kulzhynskyi’s time onwards, interest in the pysanka as an object of serious study has fluctuated, often depending on the political situation in Ukraine. In the 1920s a number of Ukrainian-language books and articles on the subject were published: in the Ukrainian SSR, for example Ukrainski pysanky iak pamiatky narodnoho maliarstva, by Stefan Taranushchenko (Kharkiv, 1927); in Galicia under Polish rule, for example Pysanky Skhidnoi Halychyny i Bukovyny u zbirtsi Natsionalnoho muzeiu u Lvovi, by Iryna Gurgula (Lviv, 1929), and Boikivski pysanky, by Mykhailo Skoryk (Sambir, 1934); and in the near diaspora, where there were considerable concentrations of Ukrainian writers and intellectuals, such as Vadym Shcherbakivskyi, author of Osnovni elementy ornamentatsii pysanok ta ikhnie pokhodzhennia.

CoverShcherbakivskyi
Reprint of Osnovni elementy ornamentatsii pysanok ta ikhnie pokhodzhennia (Prague, 1925) YA.1992.b.2180 (original available online here)

After the Stalinist crackdown in the late 1920s and early 1930s (and the suppression of most Christian denominations in the USSR), little was published in Ukraine, and it fell to the post-Second World War diasporas, particularly in the USA, Canada and the UK, to popularise the pysanka as a cultural tradition, to re-introduce it as an Easter ritual and to produce publications on the subject. In Ukraine, it was not until the post-Stalinist thaw in the 1960s that a small but significant work on the pysanka (drawing in part on Kulzhynskyi’s work) was published, namely Ukrainski pysanky, compiled by Erast Biniashevskyi.

The political repressions of the 1970s again limited the practice of, and research into, the pysanka in the Soviet Bloc. An exception was the publication of Ukrainski pysanky Skhidnoi Slovachchyny by Pavlo Markovych, a scholarly book on Ukrainian pysankas in Eastern Slovakia.

SlovakBookPysanky
Women decorating pysankas, from Ukrainski pysanky Skhidnoi Slovachchyny (Prešov, 1972) X.0800/181[no.6,kn.2]

Since Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991, much has been published, both in Ukraine and abroad (in various languages), promoting the pysanka as an objet d’art, its symbolism, methods, designs and associated traditions, for example Ukrainska narodna pysanka, by Vira Manko.

CoverManko
Cover of Ukrainska narodna pysanka (Lviv, 2005); YF.2007.b.2920

There are collections of pysankas in many museums, both in Ukraine and abroad, as, for example, in the Ukrainian Museum in New York. In Kolomyia, in western Ukraine, a pysanka museum (established in 1987) currently houses over 12,000 exhibits. Today, the pysanka is undergoing a revival and, as in the villages of Ukraine in past centuries, people all over the world (and not just of Ukrainian heritage) are experiencing this unique phenomenon for themselves. There is, though, so much more to learn about the pysanka.

Marta Jenkala, Senior Teaching Fellow in Ukrainian, UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies

09 April 2019

In the footsteps of Princess Izabela Czartoryska

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In the second half of the 18th century, Britain attracted a great deal of interest as a destination for the European aristocracy and nobility. This was a result of the country’s Industrial Revolution and rising political power in the world. Traditionally trips to Europe, called the Grand Tour, were a regular feature of aristocratic education in the 17th and 18th centuries. The typical itinerary included countries such as France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece and the German-speaking parts of the continent, with Britain joining this list in the end.

Princess Izabela Czartoryska (1746-1835) was a member of one of Poland’s most prominent aristocratic families. She was a writer, patron of the arts, and founder of Poland’s first museum, the Czartoryski Museum. Politically and socially active, Izabela also travelled around Europe. Her manuscript diary of her tour through England and Scotland in 1790 surprisingly survived the turbulent periods of wars and relocations of the archives. Translated from French into Polish and English, the diary was recently published in Poland. It is a record of her observations and impressions and gives an insight into urban and rural life in England at the end of the 18th century.

Izabela Czartoryska
Izabela Czartoryska. Caption: Cover of Izabela Czartoryska, Tour through England: diary of Princess Izabela Czartoryska from travels around England and Scotland in 1790 (Warsaw, 2015) LD.31.a.2829

In 1790, Izabela visited England as a chaperone to her twenty-year-old son Adam Jerzy Czartoryski (1770-1861). The first port of call was London. While Adam was busy with his six-month studies, his mother occupied herself with excursions around London and visits to the city’s attractions. Although impressed with London’s diversity, she wrote to her friend: “I will never be able to accustom myself to the climate and the people. One is humid to the extreme and the other is unspeakably cold; one is bad for my health, the other is damaging my soul”.

However, in the summer of that year they both embarked on a tour of England and Scotland. This was a very fruitful expedition – they travelled through the whole country, covering 3000 kilometres. The visits included cities and industrial estates as well as nature sites and agricultural wastelands. The route followed the well-beaten track recommended in numerous guides to the country. In nearly three months of travelling, the party spent most of their time visiting gardens and residences. Izabela mainly focused on country houses with rich collections of works of art. Places visited included Stowe, Blenheim, Stourhead, Castle Howard, Studley Royal and many more. However, landscape gardens and parks were her particular interest, as she was a skilled gardener herself. She admired some of them for their beauty and calming and consoling effect, while those neglected provoked her criticism. In Scotland, Czartoryska considered Dunkeld the most beautiful site she had ever seen, and its description is the most sophisticated of all in her diary.

Dunkeld 010370.dd.26.
View of Dunkeld, from A Series of Select Views in Perthshire with historical and descriptive illustration … (London, 1844) 010370.dd.26

Upon her return to her palace in Pulawy, Izabela redesigned the garden in the English style with the help of James Savage, a gardener from London. He was only employed for three years; however, he stayed in Poland for the rest of his life. As a lover of Shakespeare’s poetry, Izabela was delighted to see what she was told was his chair in Stratford-upon-Avon and became obsessed with it. Using all her energy and charm, she managed to secure its purchase.

Czartoryska had great admiration for industrial landscapes, finding them to be complementary to the natural beauty of the countryside. As much as she enthused about industrialisation, she nevertheless noticed, on a tour of the factories, the exploitation of both women and men. She also noted the changes in agriculture resulting in mass misery for ordinary people.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

 

05 April 2019

The Russian in Britain: the Most Essential Book for Every Traveller and Tourist

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In September 2018, an exhibition Language Learning through the Ages was on display at the Taylor Institution Library in Oxford. In the section on Conversation books, one could observe J.H.Wisdom’s The Briton in Russia, published by Leopold B. Hill in 1915. In the words of the exhibition curators, this was “a guide not just to the language but also to Russia”. Also, “the other big step forward is that an attempt is made to help the traveller with pronunciation. The International Phonetic Alphabet had been in existence since 1888 and increasing knowledge of phonetics influenced phrasebooks in that they started to contain phonetic information but would have been too complex to use in a phrasebook”.

Briton in Russia
J. H. Wisdom, The Briton in Russia: a pocket interpreter and guide to Russia and its language (London, 1915) 012902.eee.31/8.

Alongside other genres and titles, the publisher was clearly specialising in travel guides and ‘pocket interpreters’, such as The Briton in Spain, The Briton in France, and The Briton in Flanders within The Briton Abroad series. Interestingly, in her book of travel memoirs Honeymooning in Russia (London, 1911; 10291.bbb.10.), Ruth Kedzie Wood complained that having arrived in London from America, they had to buy “Baedeker’s Russian in French”, as “none being published in English”.

The gap in guidebooks in English started to get filled in the next couple of years and, ironically, production was in full swing during the time when Europe was being torn apart by the bloodiest war ever experienced. However, not only Britons travelled the world. The British publisher also was interested in profiting from guests to the islands. But while the book in German Der Deutsche in England: Taschenbuch für nach Grossbritannien Reisende was published in 1912, The Russian in Britain = Russkii v Anglii (yes, one may say that the Russians didn’t care about Britain and were preparing to visit England only, and therefore the titles in English and Russian were different!), came out in 1917, when the Russians were probably the least inclined travelling for leisure and sightseeing.

Russian in Britain cover S. I. Lyubov,The Russian in Britain = Russkii v Anglii (London, 1917) 012002.eee.31/11.

However, the phrase book caters for much more than a short city break with simple ordering from an a-la carte menu and enquiring about vacant rooms. The book suggests that a traveller might need to visit a barber or do extensive shopping.

Russian in Britain greetings double page
Polite greetings, small talk, and that ever-useful British topic of the weather from The Russian in Britain.

Russian in Britain barber double page
 ‘At the Hairdresser’s’ from The Russian in Britain.

Apart from phrases, the book contains practical advice, such as the most convenient itineraries, the gist of the British Aliens’ Act of 1905, information on customs regulations, recommendation of hotels and restaurants, lists of places for sightseeing and entertainment, a section on the British currency and the measurement system.

Russian in Britain coins Guide to British coins from The Russian in Britain.

In a time when a transatlantic flight seems like a very long journey, it is quite refreshing to imagine, what it meant to organise a journey from Moscow to London via Warsaw, Berlin, Rotterdam (route 1) or Petrograd, Helsingfors (Helsinki), Stockholm, Christiania (Oslo), Bergen, and Newcastle (route 2). It is not clear whether the 1st and 2nd class passengers were admitted to Britain without any restrictions, but passengers of the 3rd class were supposed to demonstrate that they had enough means to sustain themselves in the country, and to have on them no less than £5 (50 Roubles) and at least £2 per each family member travelling with them. According to the author, travellers would be pleased to see how wonderful the public transport was in London and around. The author claims that trains consist of mostly 1st and 3rd class carriages, but 3rd class carriages are surpassingly clean and comfortable, just as the 2nd class in Russia.

Russian in Britain menu ‘The Bill of Fare’ from The Russian in Britain

From the recommended restaurants, some are very famous and have a long history, such as, for example, the Horseshoe pub in the former Horseshoe Hotel at 264-267 Tottenham Court Road, the building of which was only demolished in 2004. It was also interesting to learn about the ‘precursor’ of NHS – a free French hospital for anyone who could speak French, regardless of nationality, which was situated in Shaftesbury Avenue.

We could find nothing about the author, S.I. Liubov, and may suggest that this could be a pseudonym.

To learn more about a history of tourism, explore our print resources and the digital collection recently released by Adam Mathews and available in the British Library’s reading rooms: http://www.masstourism.amdigital.co.uk/ 

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

Further reading

Dr Susan Barton, review of ‘Leisure, Travel and Mass Culture – The History of Tourism’, Reviews in History. Review no. 2114. DOI: 10.14296/RiH/2014/2114 (https://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/2114). Date accessed: 1 April, 2019.

26 March 2019

Fairytales on trial: the Good and the Beautiful in early Soviet children’s literature

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“Education means evoking a revolutionary spirit” wrote Maxim Gorky in 1933 – an uncompromising statement uttered in an uncompromising environment. The 1920s in the newly-born Soviet Union, however, were still quite different. There still seemed to be room for discussion, to explain and convince people. Only two years after the October Revolution, Gorky had expressed his opinion on children’s education more elaborately in a well-known programmatic statement ‘Slovo k vzroslym’ (‘A word to grown-ups’) in the first issue of the first Soviet journal for children, Severnoe Siianie (The Northern Lights), founded by Gorky himself. There he advanced the importance of exploiting children’s stories to shape the new Socialist Man, by instilling “an active spirit, an interest in and respect for the power of reason, the discoveries of science, and the great mission of art, which is to make man strong and beautiful”.


Image 1
Severnoe Siianie
no. 10-12 October-December 1919, P.P.1213.ad

Sadly, the artistic quality of the journal was far from being able to fulfil such an ambition. Grey social realism always prevailed. It was mostly concerned with instructing children of the proletariat in basic practical scientific and technical knowledge, or about the harsh living conditions in Russia before that glorious October of 1917. In a regular section called ‘Klub liuboznatel’nykh’ (‘Club of the Curious’) one can, ironically, find some of the most uninspiring titles. In the October-December 1919 issue, for instance, ‘Club of the Curious’ opens with a brief piece of ‘fiction’, entitled ‘Polchasa v sutke’ (‘Half an hour a day’), aimed at raising awareness of the importance of chewing one’s food thoroughly for at least the stated period to aid healthy digestion for a healthy and strong body. This provided what the Narkompros sought in terms of acceptable educational methods: useful, practical knowledge that contributes to raising stronger citizens.

Image 2
‘Club of the Curious’ in Severnoe Siianie, no. 10-12 (October-December 1919)

The fact that a culturally influential figure like Gorky was behind such publications as Severnoe Siianie does not mean that the early Soviet era was devoid of fine literary works addressed to the smaller ones. On the contrary, it was an extraordinarily rich age for children’s literature in terms of experimentation. While the endeavours of Gorky and his circle contributed to a surge in literacy in the first decades after the Revolution, the efforts of talented authors such as Korney Chukovsky and Samuil Marshak resulted in the creation of a distinct artistic and literary current, a true Golden Age of Russian children’s literature.

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A passage from Korney Chukovsky’s Krokodil illustrated by Re-Mi (Nikolai Remizov). ([Petrograd, 1916-1919?]) 12833.dd.27. Krokodil Krokodilovich swallows up a policeman who tried to get in his way.

Chukovsky’s famous Krokodil (Crocodile) is one of the most exhilarating pieces of literature ever written for children. In this old, very old fairytale (as the subtitle ironically goes) traditional fairytale anthropomorphism is reenacted in a typical Futurist setting. Krokodil was one of the most discussed pieces of children’s literature in the 1920s and 1930s. In a 1928 article in the newspaper Pravda, Lenin’s widow, Nadezhda Krupskaia, discouraged parents from reading the story to children, “not because it is a fairytale, but because it is a bourgeois nonsense [‘burzhuaznaia mut’]”. Obviously, it was not Chukovsky’s artistic audacity and mind-blowing stylistic virtuosity that were under attack. Quite simply, there was no acceptable educational content in the poem: a cigar-smoking, Turkish-speaking crocodile called by his first name and patronymic was certainly funny, but had nothing to teach about crocodiles as a species.

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Korney Chukovsky, Telefon, illustrated by Vladimir Konaschevich. (Leningrad, 1935) Cup.410.e.89.

It was first published in 1926 with drawings by Konstantin Rudakov.

Chukovsky’s Telefon (‘Telephone’) takes anthropomorphism to the extreme: the narrator’s telephone keeps ringing and an elephant, crocodile, gazelle and hippo each call to tell him about their needs and problems. Although this tale can be said to “teach children the art of communication” or telephone etiquette, as а scholar pointed out, its central features are the overwhelmingly nonsensical, whimsical plot and absurd humour.

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Above: Chukovsky’s Malen’kie deti, first edition (Leningrad, 1928). Cup.410.g.176.; below: The third edition (Leningrad, 1933), retitled Ot dvukh do piati ('From two to five’). 12975.ccc.11.

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An ideologically more suitable work by Chukovsky, and one fully appreciated by Krupskaia, is the collection of articles, observations and reflections on pre-school age children’s communication, Malen’kie deti (‘Young children’). Every passage in this book oozes Chukovsky’s sincere marvel at and interest in children’s psychology and his effort to unveil the complexity behind a child’s apparent simple-mindedness to adults (to whom the book is addressed).

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Cover and two-page spread from Samuil Marshak, Master-Lomaster, first edition with drawings by avant-garde artist Alexei Pakhomov (Leningrad, 1930) YA.1992.a.7157.

The British Library also holds many early editions of Samuil Marshak’s works. Master-Lomaster is a poem satirizing the disastrous consequences of self-confidence and self-reliance in an individual’s work attitude, instructing children to grow up collective-minded instead. The title, an untranslatable pun, often rendered as ‘Master of disaster’, is also an example of Marshak’s skillful wordplay.

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Above: Cover of Samuil Marshak, Pozhar 3rd edition (Leningrad, 1925) Cup.408.r.18. Below: Kuzma and the fire brigade fighting their way through the flames

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In Pozhar (‘Fire’) the main theme is again one’s attitude to work, but this time Marshak provides a positive example in the heroic fireman Kuzma and the team spirit of the fire brigade. Kuzma, like the Soviet version of an Old Russian bogatyr is outstanding for his courage and collective-mindedness, which lead him to save little Lena, allured and trapped by the evil fire.

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Collaborations by Samuil Marshak and Vladimir Lebedev. Above: Tsirk 2nd edition (Leningrad, 1928) Cup.408.r.24. Below: Vchera i Segodnia, 3rd edition (Moscow, 1928) Cup.408.r.23.

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Marshak’s collaboration with the talented graphic artist Vladimir Lebedev fuelled what was to become the trademark of children’s poetry in the early Soviet Union: a balance between drawing and text, so that the former was not a mere illustration of the latter. Their works often resemble the Soviet propaganda posters that people were familiar with, making each individual page a potential artistic object in itself.

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Illustrations from Vchera i Segodnia

In Vchera i Segodnia (‘Yesterday and Today’) Marshak and Lebedev introduce children to new technologies. A kerosene lamp, candle, bucket and quill pen lie unused in their old home, faced with intruders from the new world: a cheap electric lightbulb, water pipes, and a typewriter. This short fairytale enables the reader to see how the new inventions have made the old ones redundant, while also sympathizing with the old objects’ baffled and nostalgic sense of loss.

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Images from Tsirk

With Tsirk (‘Circus’), Marshak and Lebedev produced one of the most outstanding picture books, appealing not only to children. The poster-like layout of each page, the short and memorable text and the clever rhymes make it one of the most representative and original of their works. Futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky was reportedly impressed by the line “po provoloke dama | idet, kak telegramma” (“along the wire the lady | goes like a telegram”).

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Cover of Samuil Marshak, Usaty-Polosaty (Leningrad, 1930) RB.23.b.4211,
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Usatyi-Polosatyi (‘The Whiskered-Tabby’), is the clear product of a long-standing oral composition process. It is a simple, humorous story about a tabby kitten and its child owner who repeatedly tries (and fails) to make it behave like a human – hence the repeated line “Vot kakoi glupyi kotenok!” (“What a stupid kitten!”). The story ends with the child growing up and the cat “becoming” clever – a subtle move which children would likely only understand and laugh at when looking back at it as adults. This edition contains drawings by a different Lebedev.

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Images from Usaty-Polosaty. Above: The child wants the kitten to say ‘grandma’, ‘horse’, ‘teacher’, ‘electricity’, but the kitten only replies ‘meow’. Below: The kitten has “become a clever cat”

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These publications represent only a small portion of Marshak’s great contribution to Soviet children’s literature in the 1920s and 30s. But, like Chukovsky’s works, they were far from immune to ideological criticism. Master-Lomaster, for instance, lacked propaganda value. In Pozhar, Lena’s fear of death was a private not a collective concern. While Chukovsky’s creative force was soon to be crushed by constant ideological attacks, Marshak turned to editing work and became the chief editor of the children’s journals Ëzh (1928-) and Chizh (1930-). These were for many years virtually the only magnet for talented writers, first and foremost Daniil Kharms and the Oberiuty, who would not have been able to publish freely elsewhere, due to the stricter censorship imposed on adults’ literature.

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First and last issues Chizh (1937, No. 1 - 1940, No. 7-8). RB.31.c.774. The title, meaning ‘siskin’, is also the acronym of Chrezvychaino Interesnyi Zhurnal (‘Extremely Interesting Journal’), indicating the humour at the very core of these publications and of most high-quality children’s literature of the period.

The British Library’s holdings of Chizh span from 1937’s first issue to 1940. These are representative of a new stage in Soviet children’s literature, one where a previously very fortunate symbiosis between the Good and the Beautiful faded into a series of more and more exclusively politically committed works.

Nilo Pedrazzini, Graduate Student, University of Oxford

Further reading

Ben Hellman, Fairy tales and true stories: The history of Russian literature for children and young people (1574 - 2010) (Boston-Leiden, 2013). YD.2013.a.2535

Marina Balina & Larissa Rudova (eds.), Russian children’s literature and culture (New York, 2013). YK.2008.a.24810

Julian Rothenstein & Olga Budashevskaia (eds.), Inside the rainbow: Russian children's literature, 1920-35: beautiful books, terrible times (London, 2013). YC.2014.b.1207

20 March 2019

Documenting Georgian Costume in the 19th Century

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Interest in the Caucasus increased considerably in Europe and especially in Great Britain in the 19th century. A number of scholars, travellers and adventurers were attracted to this mountainous region by the Black Sea. As a result, several works were published about the Caucasus and about Georgia. Of these, Robert Ker Porter’s Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia, Ancient Babylonia during the years 1817,1818, 1819 and 1820 remains one of the most impressive.

Sir Robert Ker Porter was a man of the most varied talents. He was justly described as distinguished alike in the arts, in diplomacy, and in literature. He published the record of his long journey, which extended from Georgia to modern-day Iran, in 1821. It is a substantial work in two volumes, full of interest and illustrated by the author himself with drawings of the landscape, people, buildings and antiquities.

Georgian costume Ker PorterEngraving of a portrait of Sir Robert Ker Porter by George Henry Harlowe, from Porter’s collection of manuscript sketches, ‘From Travels in the Caucasus, Georgia, Persia, Armenia, ancient Babylonia, etc., with notes, maps, plans, surveys, views, and other drawings of interesting objects’. Add. MS. 14758

The British Library is fortunate to hold not only two copies of Porter’s Travels, but also a large number of his original sketches, some of which were not reproduced in the published book. The British Museum acquired them after his death when they were offered for purchase by his sister Jane (who also pasted the above portrait into the album). Several sketches in this manuscript depict people in Georgian national costume. One of the portraits is unfinished, two show ethnic minorities living in Georgia and another depicts the dress of a Georgian living in Persia. These sketches combine ethnological accuracy with a talented artist’s eye for detail, character and even emotion. They portray people from different social classes, different regions, males and females and show the variety of Georgian national dress.

One portrait, the ‘Immeretian Prince’ (Imereti is a province in western Georgia), depicts traditional Georgian male dress, the chokha, the most typical garment worn in the Caucasus. Together with the sketches, Porter’s description provides us with a complete image of Georgian men’s attire in the 19th century:

The vest, which is cloth also, of a different colour from the shirt, has sleeves to it, sitting easy to the arm; and over this is the tunic or upper garment, coming down as low as the knees, but opening before; and bound round the waist with a cloth sash, universally white; to which is attached the wearer’s sword. The skirt of the tunic meets the termination of the full short trowser or breeches, which descend no lower than the knees; the leg being covered with a sort of stocking, and a close-laced half-boot, usually black or scarlet, with a very pointed toe. All these various garments are of cloth, of as various hues; and, frequently, very handsomely ornamented with gold lace or embroidery’ (Travels…, vol. 1, p. 134).

GeorgianCostume2 The ‘Immeretian Prince’ (MS. Add. 14758, vol. 2, fol. 186r.)

Porter also provides an important record of the attire of Georgian women:

The dresses of the Georgian ladies bear a full proportion, in point of cumbersomeness and ornament… A bandeau, round the forehead, richly set with brilliants and other costly stones, confines a couple of black tresses, which hang down on each side of a face, beautiful by nature, as its features testify, but so cased in enamel, that not a trace of its original texture can be seen; and, what is worse, the surface is rendered so stiff, by its painted exterior, that not a line shows a particle of animation, excepting the eyes; which are large, dark, liquid, and full of a mild lustre, rendered in the highest degree lovely, by the shade of long black lashes, and the regularity of the arched eye-brow. A silken shawl-like veil depends from the bandeau, flowing, off the shoulders, down the back; while a thin gauze handkerchief, is fastened beneath the chin’ (Travels, vol. 1, p. 135).

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 ‘A Georgian lady’ (MS. Add. 14758 vol. 2, fol. 187r.)

Frescoes, sculpture, tombstones and the illustrations of other travellers to the region also preserve a record of Georgian costume. However, the images created by Porter constitute the first scholarly attempt to document traditional dress in full detail and with scientific accuracy. Porter's legacy, both in text and image, remains of a great importance for the study of Georgian life in the early 19th century.

Professor George Kalandia, Director of the Art Palace of Georgia
Anna Chelidze, Curator, BL Georgian Collections

References/Further reading:

G. Poulett Cameron, Personal Adventures and Excursions in Georgia, Circassia, and Russia. (London, 1845) 1425.e.7

Laurence Oliphant, The Trans-Caucasian Campaign of Turkish Army Under Omer Pasha. A Personal Narrative (Edinburgh & London, 1856) 9077.d.30

Robert Ker Porter, Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia, ancient Babylonia… during the years 1817, 1818, 1819 and 1820 (London , 1821-22) 1786.d.11 

John Buchan Telfer, The Crimea and Transcaucasia… being the narrative of a Journey in the Kouban, in Gouria, Georgia, Armenia... and in the Tauric Range. (London, 1876). 2356.g.10

Christopher Wright, ‘Painting Persepolis’, consulted 04/03/2019.

 

05 March 2019

“I only wish my works to be known”. Faddei Bellinsgauzen: The Voyages.

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Some of our readers might remember visiting a wonderful exhibition James Cook: The Voyages, which was on show at the British Library last summer. Recently, I have come across a book that will I think would be an interesting continuation of Cook’s story.

Several months before captain James Cook was killed at Kealakekua Bay on 14 February 1779, Fabian Gottlieb Thaddeus von Bellingshausen was born on the opposite side of the globe, on Saaremaa Island (now in Estonia). Ethnically a Baltic German, Bellingshausen was a subject of the Russian Empire, which had owned the island since 1710. At the age of ten the boy was sent to study at the Naval Cadet Corps in Kronstadt and soon started using the Russified version of his name and became Faddei Faddeevich Bellinsgauzen.

His career in the Russian Imperial Navy was progressing as expected, until in 1803 lieutenant Bellinsgauzen was recommended by his commander as an officer and cartographer to participate in the first Russian circumnavigation of the Earth. The expedition headed by Adam Johann von Krusenstern took place from August 1803 to August 1806. Having established himself as a prominent cartographer, 13 years later Bellinsgauzen was appointed a leader of another circumnavigation expedition that discovered the continent of Antarctica. On his return, he became Counter Admiral, and later was promoted to Vice-Admiral after the Russo-Turkish Was of 1828-1829.

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Portrait of Bellinsgauzen from around the time of his expedition to the Antarctic. From The Voyage of Captain Bellingshausen to the Anatarctic Seas (London, 1945) Ac.6172/139

Cook had categorically denied the existence of the mythical fertile great Southern Continent. He thought that there was nothing beyond the ice, which blocked the way for his ships. As a result of Cook’s authoritative opinion, further attempts to find a new continent were put on hold for the next 50 years.

Images 2- ‘Ice Islands’ from the Atlas k puteshestviiu kapitana Bellingauzena v IUzhnom Ledovitom okeane i vokrug sveta v prodolzhenii 1819, 1820 i 1821 godov (‘Atlas for the Voyage of Captain Bellingshausen to the Antarctic Seas’) (St Petersburg, 1819-1821) 14000.h.9

In July 1819 the two ships Vostok and Mirny, led by Captain Faddei Bellinsgauzen and Captain Mikhail Lazarev, travelled from Kronstadt to Copenhagen, and then on 29 July arrived in Portsmouth. During their one month’s stay there, the expedition obtained chronometers, sextants, telescopes and other nautical instruments, which at that time had not been manufactured in Russia. The supply of provisions with canned food and some special products was also replenished. Thus, the two explorers were preparing for their circumnavigation expedition and heading to the Southern hemisphere. Bellinsgauzen and his second-in-command Lazarev became the first explorers to see the land of Antarctica on 27 January 1820. They circumnavigated the continent twice, disproving James Cook's assertion that it was impossible to find land in the southern ice-fields.

Image 3The map of Southern hemisphere showing the islands discovered by Captain Bellingshausen, from the Atlas.

The expedition collected many ethnographic, zoological and botanical specimens that later found their way into major museum collections in Russia. Pavel Nikolaevich Mikhailov (1786-1840), an artist and draughtsman, travelled on board one of the ships, documenting the voyages. In his scrap albums, he recorded the newly discovered islands, views of cities and settlements, portraits of aboriginal peoples, and carefully depicted samples of exotic flora and fauna. Mikhailov's watercolours and drawings are seem quite reliable. He faithfully followed the instructions received from both the Maritime Office and the Academy of Arts, demanding that “everything that was represented on paper ... was the true image of an object.”

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On his return from the trip, Bellinsgauzen tried to publish a book about the expedition and its findings, supplemented by plentiful images and drawings. The publication was meant to be dedicated to the Emperor Alexander I and published ‘by the highest order’. Bellingsgauzen took a considerable effort to achieve this publication as soon as possible, but it was carried out only ten years after the return of the expedition, when he received the rank of vice-admiral. It took him three years to complete the two-volume Dvukratnye izyskaniia v IUzhnom Ledovitom okeane i plavanie vorkug sveta, v prodolzhenii 1819, 20 i 21 godov (‘Double Studies of the Southern Ocean and circumnavigation, in 1819, 20 and 21’). The manuscript was delivered to the Admiralty Department in 1824. Bellinsgauzen asked for 1,200 copies to be printed, but no decision was made about it. In 1827, he resumed his request, proposing to reduce costs by printing only 600 copies. By the way of explaining his desire to get his work published, Bellinsgauzen wrote that he did not see any benefit in this publication, “but only wished [his] works to be known”. The Science Committee at the Naval Headquarters allocated 38,052 Rubles for the publication of 600 copies of the book, making it a collector’s item from the very beginning. The British Library acquired two copies of this rare and wonderful publication (shelfmarks 1047.m.1. and 10496.w.3.).

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

08 February 2019

A Cat may Counsel a King: the Colourful World of Czech Cats

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Appropriately for a culture famous in later years for its lively animated films, talking animals were not slow to make themselves heard in Czech. Indeed, one of the first cats to find a voice expresses itself in that very language – in Smil Flaška’s Nová rada, written in the late 14th century. In this allegorical poem, the young king (the lion of Bohemia, symbolizing Václav IV), summons a ‘new council’ of birds and beasts to advise him how best to rule. Each of them offers advice appropriate to its natural qualities, including a wily and subtle cat who suggests that every king requires a cunning spy capable of seeing by night and keeping a watchful eye out for the criminals and murderers who perform their nefarious deeds under the cover of darkness – and who could be better suited to this important role than the cat?

Flaska Cup.502.aa.12

 

 Wood engraving by Antonín Strnadl from Smil Flaška z Pardubic, Nová rada, translated into modern Czech by František Vrba (Prague, 1940) Cup.502.aa.12

Although this urbane courtier is a native Bohemian cat, many of the most appealing and characterful examples in the long tradition of Czech illustration were created to accompany works by foreign authors. Among these, one of the most delightful is a very French cat depicted by František Tichý on the frontispiece of a Czech translation of Marcel Aymé’s Les Contes du chat perché, draped over the branch of an apple tree with a languid and knowing air.

Ayme RF.2000.b.66Illustration by František Tichý to Marcel Aymé, Co vyprávěla kočka na jabloňové větvi (Prague, 1939) RF.2000.b.66 

A few years earlier, Marie Majerová had published Veselá kniha zviřátek (‘The Jolly Book of Animals’), a collection of children’s stories based on English material. However, the cats depicted by Josef Lada, famous for his illustrations to The Good Soldier Švejk, bear a decidedly Czech stamp in the scene where a small boy named Jenda, in the middle of a dull afternoon when his brother and sister are suffering from colds and disinclined to play, finds himself transported to the magical Kingdom of Cats and becomes its king.

Vesela kniha zviratek X.998-3707

Jenda becomes king of the Kingdom of Cats. Illustration by Josef Lada’s from Marie Majerová, Veselá kniha zviřátek (Prague, 1933) X.998/3707

Like their English counterparts, where kittens lose their mittens and cats play fiddles and go to London to visit the Queen, Czech nursery-rhymes frequently feature cats in a starring role:

The cat took a husband,
The dog took a bride;
As groomsman our gelding
Limped at his side;
With him, as the bridesmaid,
There walked our old mare;
She gave him a nosegay
And kerchief to wear.

(This translation © Susan Reynolds 2019.)

Lada’s illustration for Karel Jaromír Erben’s Národní říkadla (‘National Nursery-Rhymes’) shows a demure white cat in wreath and veil stepping out on her bridegroom’s arm while the farm animals look on in admiration. In another picture, while their father and mother tuck into bowls of porridge and peas on top of the stove, three kittens sit in a row beneath them wearing their best bows and expressions of marked annoyance at being given nothing to eat. With a few skilful strokes Lada captures their disgruntled air as adroitly as he does the dumb insolence of Švejk and the unmistakably Czech features of the peasants who people his almanacs.

Narodni rikadlaIllustration by Josef Lada from Karel Jaromír Erben, Národní říkadla (Prague, 1921) LB.31.b.12138.

Dressed in bridal finery, advising the king of beasts or conferring royal honours on their newly-crowned human sovereign, all these cats are creatures of the imagination with very human features. One of the most charming portrayals of a cat in modern Czech literature, however, is taken directly from life. To English-speaking readers Karel Čapek may be most familiar as the creator of robots in his play R.U.R., but he was also a keen gardener and a great animal-lover (like another famous Czech author, Bohumil Hrabal, whose country home was a haven for cats). In his 1932 collection Devatero Pohádek a ještě jedna od Josefa Čapka jako přívažek (‘Nine Fairy Tales: And One More Thrown in for Good Measure’; 5th ed. 1946 at X.990/4608), he too conjures up a world in which cats enjoy adventures equal to any of those previously described.

It is in a later work, though, that Čapek reveals his true understanding of animals – Měl jsem psa a kočku (Prague, 1939; YF.2005.a.31524). Like the earlier book, it was translated into English within a short time by Robert and Marie Weatherall and became popular among British readers because of its dry, understated humour and affectionate depiction of the author’s pets. Like E. T. A. Hoffmann, the creator of Kater Murr, and his wife, Karel and Olga Čapek were childless, and it is tempting to assume that for them too animals represented surrogate children. Yet there is nothing mawkish about the ironic amusement with which Čapek describes the behaviour of his dog and cat, to which he brings the same detached, quizzical approach that he applies to the English, the Spanish or the Dutch in his various travel writings. Whether chronicling the wooing of his pet by caterwauling tomcats or the antics of the resulting litter of kittens, Čapek’s light and laconic style is perfectly partnered by that of his brother Josef’s drawings.

Capek 7294.de.34 Cat & kittens

  Illustrations by Josef Čapek to Karel Čapek, I Had a Dog and a Cat (London, 1940) 7294.de.34

Capek 7294.de.34 Kittens

For all their baffling and sometimes maddening idiosyncrasies, it is clear that for Čapek his feline friends were the cat’s whiskers – and who are we to disagree?

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