European studies blog

22 posts categorized "Sweden"

09 August 2021

Documenting the Belarus Protests, 2020-2021

In August 2020, Belarus was catapulted onto the world stage as a wave of anti-government protests swept the country. Although demonstrations had begun in May after President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, declared his intention to run in the 2020 elections, the protests intensified when the first official results were announced on the evening of 9 August.

Thousands of protesters were arrested in the months that followed, with human rights organisations documenting hundreds of cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees. Local and international journalists covering the events were also arrested and/or stripped of accreditation, internet access was periodically blocked, and an increasing number of books and media channels have been labelled ‘extremist’.

A year on from the elections, this blog post brings together accounts, reflections and creative responses to the protests. Published outside of Belarus – in Germany, Poland and Sweden – they include diaries, photographs, poems, essays and a play.

Photo from Ia vykhozhu, Plakaty belorusskikh protestov showing a large number of protesters holding flags and placards

L. Pirs, Ia vykhozhu, Plakaty belorusskikh protestov (Warsaw, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark

In November 2020, 31-year old artist Raman Bandarenka died in police custody after being arrested at an anti-government protest in Minsk. His last known words, Ia vykhozhu (‘I’m going out’), which he posted on Telegram, became a rallying cry for thousands of protestors in the days following his death. Those words also form the title of this book, which brings together over 350 photographs of posters from the 2020 protests in Belarus. Bold, direct, heartfelt and at times humorous, the posters speak to the creativity of the protestors and the range of issues they are fighting for.

Cover of Plays International & Europe

Andrei Kureichik, ‘Insulted. Belarus’, translated by John Freedman, in Plays International & Europe, Vol. 35, Nos 9-12 (Winter 2020), pp. 30-45. P.903/1085

Written by leading Belarusian playwright Andrei Kureichik, Insulted. Belarus (Обиженные. Беларусь(сия)) is a short, powerful play focusing on the days immediately before and after the contested presidential elections on 9 August. Through a series of monologues, we are introduced to seven fictional and non-fictional characters: Oldster, based on long-time president Alexander Lukashenko; Novice, representing opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (Svetlana Tikhanovskaya); Youth, Lukashenko’s video-game obsessed teenage son Kolya; Cheerful, a fictional character who believes in the power of the Universe; Raptor, a storm trooper engaged to Cheerful’s sister; Corpse, a 26-year-old football fan who detests the old regime; and Mentor, a middle-aged teacher involved in rigging the elections.

Kureichik contacted translator John Freedman in early September 2020 with a request to translate the play into English and to bring it to the attention of an international audience. Nearly a year later, it has been translated into more than 20 languages and performed (as readings, productions, videos and films) in more than 25 countries, including the US, Nigeria, Slovakia, Turkey and the UK. Freedman’s English translation was published in the Winter 2020 issue of Plays International & Europe.

You can watch a reading of Insulted. Belarus in English here

Cover of BELARUS! Das weibliche Gesicht der Revolution

BELARUS! Das weibliche Gesicht der Revolution (Berlin, 2020). YF.2021.a.8763

Much has been written about the central role women have played in the Belarus protests, from opposition figures Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Maria Kalesnikava to the defiant images of women, dressed in white and holding flowers, standing against police brutality.

Published in Germany in late 2020, this book (‘Belarus! The Female Face of the Revolution’) brings together analytical and journalistic texts, poems, essays, and documents by women. Among them are the poets and translators Iulia Tsimafeeva (listen to her contribution ‘My European Poem’) and Volʹha Hapeeva, artist and activist Marina Naprushkina, and Irina Solomatina, Head of the Council for the Belarusian Organization of Working Women and co-author of a 2015 book on women’s activism in Belarus.

Cover of Die Revolution hat ein weibliches Gesicht. Der Fall Belarus

Another of the contributors, the philosopher Olga Shparaga, has written a separate book on the topic of women’s participation in the protests, Die Revolution hat ein weibliches Gesicht. Der Fall Belarus (‘The Revolution has a Female Face. The Case of Belarus’).

Parallels have of course been drawn with Nobel Prize-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich’s 1985 work The Unwomanly Face of War, which documents the experience and memories of Soviet women who fought during the Second World War. As Shparaga has pointed out, however, a key difference is that women have become visible in Belarus through the protests.

Alexievich recently announced that she is also focusing on the role of women in the pro-democracy movement in Belarus for her new book.

Cover of Dagar i Belarus

Julia Tsimafejeva, Dagar i Belarus (Stockholm, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark

Iulia Tsimafeeva (Julia Tsimafejeva) also kept a diary during the protests, which was translated into Swedish and published at the end of 2020 as Dagar i Belarus (‘Days in Belarus’). Extracts from Tsimafeeva’s diary appeared in English in the Financial Times, including a passage in which she describes preparing to join the protests:

When we leave the house, we go prepared. First, I dress carefully, in case I end up spending a night or two in the detention centre. Second, I intensively water dozens of my plants. Third, we leave our cat enough food for a few days. (One of my friends says that her cat has become fat with all these Sunday rallies.) Fourth, we take passports and a bottle of water. It’s important, too, to clear the history of your mobile phone, as these are often checked in the detention centres.

Now ready, our small family brigade goes out into the street, into the unknown.

Tsimafeeva’s third poetry collection, ROT, was published in Belarus in July 2020, YF.2021.a.4086.

Cover of Die weißen Tage von Minsk with a photo of Vitali Alekseenok

Vitali Alekseenok, Die weißen Tage von Minsk (Frankfurt am Main, 2021). YF.2021.a.6322

Vitali Alekseenok, the musical director of the Abaco Orchestra of the University of Munich, organised protests in Germany last summer before returning to Belarus in August to support the protest movement there. The conductor documented his experiences during the six weeks he spent in Minsk in a book entitled Die weißen Tage von Minsk (‘The White Days of Minsk’).

A Deutsche Welle article commented that Alekseenok’s book ‘reads like a travelogue dotted throughout with matter-of-fact impressions of war. It combines background information about the country and its people into a kind of "How-to-Belarus" for those who know little about the country and its present problems’. 

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections 

Publications and resources relating to the protests in Belarus:

Vitali Alekseenok, Die weißen Tage von Minsk (Frankfurt am Main, 2021). YF.2021.a.6322

Edyta Banaszkiewicz, Marsz Białorusi Sierpień–grudzień 2020 (Warsaw, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark

Alice Bota, Die Frauen von Belarus. Von Revolution, Mut und dem Drang nach Freiheit (Berlin, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark

Iya Kiva, My prokynemos' inshymy (Chernivtsi, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark 

Andrei Kureichik, ‘Insulted. Belarus’, translated by John Freedman, in Plays International & Europe, Vol. 35, Nos 9-12 (Winter 2020), pp. 30-45. P.903/1085

L. Pirs, Ia vykhozhu, Plakaty belorusskikh protestov (Warsaw, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark

Olga Shparaga, Die Revolution hat ein weibliches Gesicht. Der Fall Belarus (Berlin, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark

Maria Stepanova, Brev till en lycklig tid (Stockholm, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark. Stepanova’s essay is in part a response to the open letter written by Svetlana Alexievich in September 2020. 

Dmitrij Strotsev, Belarus: motståndets konst (Stockholm, 2021). Awaiting shelfmark. This essay was originally published in Russian by COLTA.RU in December 2020. 

Julia Tsimafejeva, Dagar i Belarus (Stockholm, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark

BELARUS! Das weibliche Gesicht der Revolution (Berlin, 2020). YF.2021.a.8763

I’m a Journalist. Why Are You Beating Me? Stories of repressed Belarusian journalists (Open Access e-book published by the Polish Association of Journalists. Available in Polish, English, Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian) 

‘The Sociology of Protest in Belarus-Social Dynamics, Ideological Shifts and Demand for Change’, Slavic Review, vol. 80 (Spring 2021) 

The British Library has contributed to a collaborative web archiving project to document the events in Belarus 

Further reading:

Katerina Andreeva, and Ihor' Il'iash, Belorusskii Donbass (Khar'kov, 2020). YF.2021.a.10548

Stephen White, Elena Korosteleva and John Löwenhardt (eds.), Postcommunist Belarus (Lanham, MD, 2005). m05/.18747

Andrew Wilson, Belarus: The last dictatorship in Europe (New Haven, Conn.; London, 2011). YC.2011.a.14827 (New edition March 2021, Belarus: The Last European Dictatorship. Awaiting shelfmark)

N.B. Many of the books featured in this blog post have recently been acquired by the British Library and are not yet available to Readers. We will update the shelfmark information as soon as they are ready to order.

25 June 2021

Euro 2020: What to Read (Part I)

With Euro 2020 in full swing, we've come up with a few football-related titles from the collections. First up, the Nordic teams and Germany... 

There were initially three teams represented in the Euros from the Nordic region, Denmark, Finland and Sweden (only Denmark and Sweden have made it through to the last-16). Denmark’s game with Finland was marred by Christian Eriksen’s awful cardiac arrest and the Nordic teams – and every other team – have continued to show their support for his recovery above anything else.

A few avenues for Nordic football exploration… Of course, Denmark won the 1992 Euros courtesy of the disputably greatest ever Nordic footballer, Michael Laudrup. That championship-winning experience was made into the film Sommeren ’92. You can read about the legendary but alas trophy-less Danish team of the mid-eighties, the pre-Laudrup era, in Rob Smyth’s Danish dynamite: the story of football's greatest cult team.

Cover of Rob Smyth’s Danish dynamite

Cover of Rob Smyth’s Danish dynamite: the story of football's greatest cult team (London; New York, 2014) ELD.DS.73176

Running Laudrup close in the GOAT-stakes has to be Zlatan Ibrahimović, who’s known universally by his forename alone and for his highly entertaining talent for self-promotion, hence the recent book I am Football (YKL.2019.b.3638). Readers would be wise to go to Zlatan’s autobiography I am Zlatan Ibrahimović (ELD.DS.185859), which gives insight into the challenging upbringing of a second-generation migrant in Malmö. Zlatan unfortunately cannot play this tournament but his understudy, Alexander Isak, raised the literary stakes when he recently revealed a love of reading stoic philosophy, which surely rubbed off on the team in their first gritty outing against Spain.

Cover of I am Zlatan Ibrahimović with a photograph of the footballer

Zlatan’s autobiography I am Zlatan Ibrahimović translated by Ruth Urbom (London, 2013) ELD.DS.185859

The biggest surprise had to be Finland’s first-time qualification for the Euros. They no doubt channelled their famous pessimism to manage their expectations at the tournament, as The Guardian’s run-down of potential exclamations from Finnish fans implies: “Hävittiin kenelle pitikin”, meaning “We lost against a team we expected to lose against”. Literature around Finnish football is a little harder to come by at the library. Manager Markku Kanerva did however win the annual “Markku of the Year” award in 2009 and the BL is a lot stronger in collections by other worthy Markkus, if environmental economics is your thing.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections 

 

Masthead of Jedermann sein eigner Fussball with a photomontage of a human-football hybrid

Masthead of Jedermann sein eigener Fussball: illustrierte Halbmonatsschrift No. 1, 15 February 1919 (the only issue published) P.P.4736.hmd.

Apparently football-related titles in German literature may not always be what they seem. The short-lived magazine Jedermann sein eigenes Fussball (‘Every man his own football’) has nothing to do with the beautiful game. Its surreal title and accompanying vignette of a human-football hybrid are expressions of the Dada movement of the early 20th century. Likewise Peter Handke’s short novel Der Angst des Tormanns vor dem Elfmeter (The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick) relates only tangentially to football. The protagonist is a former goalkeeper, but this has little bearing on the story, and the title is a briefly-referenced metaphor for the way he reacts to events rather than initiating them.

Cover of Fussball literarisch with an illustration of a foot kicking a ball

Cover of Karl Riha (ed.), Fussball literarisch, oder, Der Ball spielt mit dem Menschen: Erzählungen, Texte, Gedichte, Lieder, Bilder (Frankfurt am Main, 1982) X.958/16256

However, Handke’s short poem ‘Die Aufstellung des 1. FC Nürnberg vom 27.1.1968’ is firmly football focused, consisting entirely of the eponymous line-up (in 5-3-2 formation) of FC Nürnberg for a game against Bayer Leverkusen. This is one of the pieces collected in the anthology Fussball literarisch, which brings together poems, songs, stories, playlets and pictures. Most of the authors are clearly fans, and some, such as Eckhard Henscheid, Ror Wolf and Ludwig Harig, are or were well known for their love of the game and their writing about it. Henschied is a member of Germany’s ‘Academy for Football Culture’, a body that encourages the recognition of football as a ‘cultural and social phenomenon’. This shows how seriously the Germans take their football, as does the existence of their National Writers’ Team, whose members have produced two other footballing anthologies, Titelkampf and Fußball ist unser Lieben.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections 

Peter Handke, Der Angst des Tormanns vor dem Elfmeter (Frankfurt am Main, 1970) X.907/11653. English translation by Michael Roloff, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (London, 1977) Nov.34737

Titelkampf: Fussballgeschichten der deutschen Autorennationalmannschaft, herausgegeben von Ralf Bönt, Albert Ostermaier und Moritz Rinke (Frankfurt am Main, 2008) YF.2009.a.21279

Fussball ist unser Lieben: neue Geschichten der deutschen Autorennationalmannschaft, herausgegeben von Norbert Kron, Albert Ostermaier und Klaus Cäsar Zehrer (Frankfurt am Main, 2011) YF.2011.a.13451

 

More European Studies blog posts about Euro 2020:

Euro 2020: What to Read (Part II)

The mystery link between The Brass Bottle and Soviet football revealed

Euro 2020: Orange Madness

23 June 2020

Inheritance Books: Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

This post is part of our 'Inheritance Books' series, where colleagues choose an 'inherited' item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to 'pass on' to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they're important to us. This week, Pardaad Chamsaz, responsible for the Nordic collections, shares his selections. 

It’s coming up to three years that I’ve been responsible for the Nordic collections and I learned early on that, while most of what we inherit comes with an explanation, there will always be something unexpected. For me, it was the unmarked acid-free envelopes in the secure cupboard. After finally getting round to an audit, I discovered tied together a set of 18th-century Swedish official orders and privileges. Two of these concerned Sweden’s colonial activity in the Caribbean, something I had not really considered before but was now inspired to dig into further. Sweden’s acquisition of the island of St Barthélemy from France in 1784 featured prominently. The most interesting of these pamphlets was the notification ‘Til hämmande af obetänkte utflyttningar til Ön St Barthelemy’ of 2 May 1786. It effectively rows back on the previous year’s efforts to encourage Swedish traders to travel to the island due to unsustainable living conditions and the harsh uncultivated land, telling aspiring travellers to stay put and think about working the Fatherland. In this brief order we can almost read the whole story of Sweden’s colonizing efforts.

Notification discouraging travel to the Caribbean

Notification discouraging travel to the Caribbean. Awaiting shelfmark.

One thing I’m happy my successors will inherit is a healthy collection of contemporary Nordic comics and graphic novels. After a conversation with the Finnish comics association and artist collective Kuti Kuti, they kindly agreed to send over their back catalogue of comics.

Illustrated covers of Kuti Kuti issues

Kuti Kuti issues, ZF.9.d.403

As a result, we started thinking about doing more work around Nordic comics, culminating in the Nordic Comics Today events. One of the artists who joined us, Kaisa Leka, donated an exquisite copy of her and Christoffer Leka’s Time after Time, which I am very happy to be able to hand down to whoever comes after me!

Cover of Time after Time

Time after Time. Awaiting shelfmark.

06 March 2020

Children’s Tales from Across the Channel (2)

The British Library has just launched its new ‘Discovering Children’s Books’ web pages, a treasure-chest of stories, poems and illustrations from old favourites to modern classics, with plenty to discover along the way. This venture has inspired us here in European Collections to reflect on some favourite and classic children’s books from the collections we curate and the countries we cover.

Cover of Ježeva kućica with an illustration of the hedgehog smoking a pipe and having tea in his underground home

Cover of Branko Ćopić, Ježeva kućica (Zagreb, 1974). X.902/3982

Branko Ćopić, Ježeva kućica (Hedgehog’s Home)

Chosen by Lora Afric, Languages Cataloguing Manager

‘There is no place like home’ and there is no other story that better conveys that message than the Yugoslav fable Ježeva kućica by Branko Ćopić. Ćopić wrote the story in 1949 but the famous picture book came to life in 1957, with illustrations by a well-known Croatian painter and illustrator, Vilko Gliha Selan (1912-1979).

The main protagonist is a hedgehog called Ježurka Ježić, a name cleverly derived from the word jež (hedgehog in both Serbian and Croatian). His English counterpart is Hedgemond the Hunter, as named by S.D. Curtis in Hedgehog’s Home, a relatively recent and first translation into English published by Istros Books (YK.2013.b.3589).

Ježurka Ježić wanders in the woods, hunts and is known by all of the other animals. One day Ježurka receives a letter from Mici the fox inviting him to a party, which he gladly accepts. After what seems like an abundant feast, Mici tries to persuade Ježurka to stay but he is keen to get back to his cosy home. The curious fox decides to follow Ježurka and see what the fuss is about. On her way she picks up the angry wolf, the hungry bear and the greedy wild boar, only to discover that Ježurka’s home is indeed a very humble abode. But for Ježurka his home is his castle, he takes pride in working and defending his precious home. The message of this popular and timeless Yugoslav tale is universal, that of love for what is ours, especially for our home.

Three covers of Histoires de Babar with illustrations of Babar the elephant

Three copies of Histoires de Babar (1930s) from the British Library collections: LB.31.c. 2337, LB.31.c.2154, LB.31.c.2155.

Jean de Brunhoff, Histoires de Babar

Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

In the summer of 1930, a pianist named Cecile de Brunhoff invented a bedtime story for her two sons about the adventures of a little elephant. The boys liked it so much that they asked their father, the artist Jean de Brunhoff, to illustrate it for them. This led him in 1931 to produce a book published by the Jardin des modes – an avant-garde fashion magazine and publishing house directed by his brother Michel de Brunhoff. It was an immediate success. Histoire de Babar: le petit éléphant (The Story of Babar), was quickly followed by Le voyage de Babar (The Travels of Babar), in the same year, and Le Roi Babar (King Babar) in 1933.

Jean de Brunhoff created four more Babar books, but died of tuberculosis at the age of 37 in 1937. Laurent, who was 12 when his father died, later succeeded him and went on to produce more Babar books. Over the years, Babar has been many things to many people and embodied many of the complexities of children’s literature (accusations of colonialist undertones and of scenes too scary or sad for children have even led to an essay boldly asking “Should we burn Babar?” (Kohl, 2007)) but the stories of Babar, now the subject of exhibitions the world over, are still read by parents and children alike today.

Cover of the first Swedish translation of The Hobbit with an illustration of Bilbo by Tove Jansson

Cover of J. R. R. Tolkien, Bilbo. En Hobbits Äventyr, translated by Britt G. Hallqvist, with illustrations by Tove Jansson (awaiting shelfmark)

J. R. R. Tolkien, Bilbo. En Hobbits Äventyr, translated by Britt G. Hallqvist, with illustrations by Tove Jansson (awaiting shelfmark)

Chosen by Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

Bending the rules slightly, here is an English classic in its first Swedish translation that the library has just recently acquired. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, or There and Back Again was first published in 1937 to critical acclaim, leading to the demand for the sequels that became The Lord of the Rings. Although revisions were made to subsequent editions of The Hobbit as the fictional universe developed through the later works, the Swedish translation, published in 1962, is based on the original. The library holds some unique archival material from Tolkien, including this Map of Middle Earth. Tolkien’s world was influenced by the sagas and legends of Northern Europe and its own significant contribution to that fantasy tradition is evident in the choice of Tove Jansson, creator of Moomins, as illustrator. Jansson’s wide-eyed, juvenile figures populate Tolkien’s epic mountains and dark forests, an imaginary landscape already so familiar to the artist’s imagination.

A selection of covers of Éva Janikovszky’s books

A selection of covers of Éva Janikovszky’s books: Happiness! (X.990/2342), Felelj szépen, ha kérdeznek! [=Answer nicely when you're asked!] (YA.1990.a.12972) and If I were a grown-up… (X.990/2343), with an opening from Happiness! below.

Hungarian children’s books by Éva Janikovszky, with illustrations by László Réber

Chosen by Ildi Wollner, Curator East & SE European Collections

During the 1960s-1980s Hungary's young enjoyed a series of attractive and witty children's books written by Éva Janikovszky (1926-2003). Her typographically chopped-up texts are abundantly interspersed with distinctive illustrations by caricaturist László Réber (1920-2001). The stories tend to revolve around child-adult relationships, voicing the ponderings of a young boy. He proudly shares his reservations and realisations on the weighty issues of life at his age, all with the utmost seriousness. On the one hand, these books were presumably aimed at helping children to navigate the maze of the big world – refreshingly, not in an overly dogmatic way so typical of those times. On the other hand, they also made grown-up readers smile (including hopefully at themselves!), as they were confronted with their own ingrained but not always reasonable behaviours. We hold several of Janikovszky’s books in our collections, in both the original Hungarian and English translation.

An engraving of the white cat by Voldemārs Krastiņš in Kārlis Skalbe, Pussy’s Water Mill

Engraving by Voldemārs Krastiņš from Kārlis Skalbe, Pussy’s Water Mill, translated by W.K. Matthews (Stockholm, 1952). 12802.aaa.42

‘Kakīša dzirnavas’ (‘The Cat’s Mill’)

Chosen by Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator Baltic Collections

The fairy tale ‘Kakīša dzirnavas’ (‘The Cat’s Mill’) by the Latvian writer and politician Kārlis Skalbe (1879-1945) is firmly part of the Latvian literary canon. This tale of compassion and forgiveness was recently recognised as the nation’s favourite book. It tells the story of a white cat who owns a mill. After spending his money on his daughters’ dowries, the cat falls on hard times and sees his mill being taken over by an evil black cat. Turned away by his daughters, chased by dogs and pelted with sticks and stones by children, the cat finally finds his way to the royal palace where he tells his story to the sick king who “grieved for all that man and beast suffered in the world” and is so compassionate that “skilled court physicians advised him to bind his heart with golden hoops, that it should not tremble so easily at every sigh”. The cat surprises the king by refusing to bear any grudges against his tormentors, teaching him the value of forgiveness. As in traditional fairy tales, order is restored at the end – the cat gets his mill back, the king is cured of his illness and new life begins at the palace.

29 February 2020

Children's Tales from Across the Channel (1)

The British Library has just launched its new ‘Discovering Children’s Books’ web pages, a treasure-chest of stories, poems and illustrations from old favourites to modern classics, with plenty to discover along the way. This venture has inspired us here in European Collections to reflect on some favourite and classic children’s books from the collections we curate and the countries we cover. Here’s a first selection.

Cover of 'The Mitten', showing a child losing a mitten in a snowy wood

Cover of Alvin Tresselt, The Mitten (Kingswood, Surrey, 1964) X.992/87.

‘Rukavychka’, traditional Ukrainian folktale
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

‘Rukavychka’ (‘The Mitten’) is a much-loved Ukrainian folktale about a lost mitten that stretches and stretches (and stretches!) to provide shelter for an increasing number of woodland animals, ranging from a mouse to a bear. Eventually the mitten bursts and they all tumble out. There are a number of different versions of the story, including a 1964 retelling in English by Alvin Tresselt  with beautiful illustrations by Yaroslava (pictured above), but the overarching message is one of sharing and helping others in need.

Illustration of Vitalis the Fox, walking on his hind legs with a nest of birds perched on his tail
Vitalis the Fox, from Jan Brzechwa, Od baśni do baśni (Warsaw, 1969) X.990/1813

Szelmostwa lisa Witalisa’ (‘The Tricks of Vitalis the Fox’)  
Chosen by Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

This verse tale by Jan Brzechwa tells the story of a mischievous fox, Vitalis, who is renowned for his beautiful tail and exceptional intellect. Unfortunately, he uses his intelligence again and again to trick other animals for his own benefit. Following an election campaign full of empty promises, Vitalis becomes president of the forest animals. His tyrannical, exploitative rule triggers a revolution, in which the fox’s tail is shaven and Vitalis himself chased away from the forest. And thus a brilliant, but overly arrogant dictator is punished by his subjects – a scenario by no means limited to fairy tales.

Cover of 'Glasblåsarns barn' with an illustration of two children and a coachman
Cover of Maria Gripe, Glasblåsarns Barn (Stockholm, 1987) YA.1997.a.9920.

Maria Gripe, Glasblåsarns Barn (The Glassblower’s Children)
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

First published in 1964, Glasblåsarns Barn tells how Klas and Klara, children of the brilliant but impoverished glassblower Alfred and his long-suffering wife Sofia, are kidnapped by a nobleman as a gift for his own childless and unhappy wife. But their presence doesn’t make her any happier, and in the great house beyond the River of Forgotten Memories the children are neglected and traumatised. A governess is hired to look after them but turns out to be a monster who makes life unbearable for the whole household. It it takes a benevolent witch from the children’s home village and her wise raven to defeat the awful Nana, restore happiness to the nobleman and his wife, and return Klas and Klara to their parents. Maria Gripe’s story, attractively illustrated by her husband Harald, is funny and moving by turns, a fantasy that asks real-life questions about family life, love and loss, and the nature of human desires. It was translated into English by Sheila La Farge (London, 1974; X.0990/4514) and that was how I came to discover the book as a child in my local public library.

Cover of a 1924 edition of 'Pinocchio' with an illustration showing some of the characters of the story
Cover of Carlo Collodi, Le Avventure Di Pinocchio: Storia Di Un Burattino (Florence, 1924) F10/1460

Carlo Collodi, Le Avventure di Pinocchio (The Adventures of Pinocchio)
Chosen by Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections

The story of the rebellious wooden marionette who wants to become a real boy is universally known, yet every edition of Pinocchio carries a unique freshness, a special appeal that continues to charm readers across generations. The iconic pointy nose, that grows every time he lies, the cone-shaped hat made of bread crumbs, these are Pinocchio’s most recognizable features across almost 150 years of this popular character.

Over 200 editions of Carlo Collodi’s story, first published in Italian in 1883, are held by the British Library, in virtually every language and dialect, illustrated by famous and lesser-known artists, so it’s been really hard to pick one. I chose the popular 1924 paperback edition, richly illustrated by Maria Augusta and Luigi Cavalieri, because this could be the copy that every average Italian household keeps in its bookshelves. These are the images that children look at before learning how to read.

The book is a bildungsroman telling the adventures and the many metamorphoses of an innocent and ignorant young character, who is granted human nature at the end of the story, as a reward for his efforts and hard work. Quintessentially Italian, Collodi’s book wasn’t my favourite as a child, but I can now see it in all its literary richness, not only as a reminder of the importance of frugality, honesty and education in become young adults. In fact, Pinocchio’s pedagogical value follows the introduction of mandatory education for children in the newly unified Italian Kingdom, but Collodi adds an unruly, almost anarchic edge to his story, making it a global evergreen.

Cover of 'Afke's Ten' with a picture of a small sailing-boat on a river
Cover of Nynke van Hichtum, Afke’s Ten, translated by Marie Kiersted Pidgeon (Philadelphia, 1936) 12801.f.21.

Nynke van Hichtum, Afke’s tiental (Afke’s Ten)
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

Afke’s tiental is a timeless story about ten children growing up in a poor household in Friesland, the Northern province in the Netherlands where Frisian is spoken. Since its first edition in 1903 it has seen over 60 editions. The author Nynke van Hichtum (pseudonym of Sjoukje Maria Diderika Troelstra-Bokma de Boer) was married to Pieter Jelle Troelstra, the leader of the socialist party in the Netherlands
The foreword of the first English edition describes it as:

A story of modern child-life in a large, happy Dutch family in a Frisian village, written by a pioneer for better children’s books in the Netherlands, “Afke’s Ten” (Afke’s tiental) is not only considered a juvenile classic in Holland, but has been recognized by the International Bureau of Education in Switzerland as one of the best “international goodwill” stories in the world for boys and girls.

It adds that ‘Mrs Troelstra had already made a name for herself with translations of Robinson Crusoe, Kipling’s ‘White Seal’ and other English stories.’

25 November 2019

Pippi and others: Astrid Lindgren’s young rebels

One of the ‘young rebels’ featured in our current exhibition Marvellous and Mischievous is Pippi Longstocking (Pippi Långstrump), probably the most famous character created by the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. Pippi’s adventures have been loved by generations of children in many countries. She is supernaturally strong, a gifted and irresistible teller of tall tales, and, at the age of nine, completely independent. She lives exactly as she pleases, confounding the adults who want to send her to a children’s home or make her conform to social and educational norms.

Cover of 'Pippi Långstrump' showing Pippi and her pet monkey
Cover illustration by Ingrid Vang Nyman for Pippi Långstrump (Stockholm, 1945) X.990/6375.

Although most of Lindgren’s books have been translated into English and published in the UK, only the Pippi stories are really well known here. This is a shame because, while none is as uniquely and fantastically anarchic as Pippi, Lindgren created many other strong, brave and mischievous characters in a variety of settings.

Cover of 'Emil in Lönnebergs'showing Emil jumping in the air
Cover illustration by Björn Berg for Emil i Lönneberga, 10th ed. (Stockholm, 1977) X.990/19403

Take Emil, for example, who appears in a series of books set in rural Sweden in the early 20th century. He is the son of a farming family and constantly in trouble. In most stories an initial prank, such as getting a soup tureen stuck on his head or hoisting his little sister up a flagpole, escalates into a series of comic escapades. Emil’s father regularly locks him in the toolshed as a punishment, although Emil is actually quite content in there and spends his time carving wooden figures; when we first meet him aged five he has already made 54, and by the last book this has gone up to 369! But Emil is basically kind-hearted, and some of his misdemeanours are the result of a well-meaning gesture gone wrong. In the last story, he puts his strong will and defiance of rules to noble use, making a dangerous journey through snowbound country to save the life of the farmhand Alfred.

Cover of 'Madicken' showing Madicken using an umbrella as a parachute
Cover illustration by Ilon Wikland for Madicken, 6th ed. (Stockholm, 1980) X.990/19408

Milder forms of mischief appear in the tales of Madicken and of Lotta. Madicken is a tomboyish girl living in Sweden during the First World War.  She is quick-tempered and fights with her rival Mia, and her imaginative games often lead her into trouble, most seriously when she tries to fly off the roof using an umbrella as a parachute. When she starts school, she blames her initial bad behaviour (breaking her slate, vandalising her books, pouring ink on her clothes) on an imaginary classmate.

Cover of 'Lotta på Bråkmakargatan' showing Lotta waving her hands in the air
Cover illustration by Ilon Wikland for Lotta på Bråkmakargatan, 8th ed. (Stockholm, 1980) X.990/20827

Four-year-old Lotta’s main characteristic is stubbornness: on a visit to the dentist she keeps her mouth so tightly shut that he cannot extract a bad tooth. She is also outspoken, asking an elderly neighbour if she was on Noah’s Ark and explaining that she can’t politely wait for an adult to finish talking before speaking herself because “they don’t stop.”

Cover of 'Ronja Rövardotter' showing Ronja in the forest with a bow and arrow
Cover illustration by Ilon Wikland for Ronja Rövardotter (Stockholm, 1981) X.990/20858

Lindgren’s fantasy novels for older readers also feature rebellious young characters. The heroine of Ronja Rövardotter (Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter) is the only child and heir of a robber chief. Her parents let her run wild in the forest, where she learns to understand the natural world and the creatures that live there, and grows brave, strong and confident. When she meets and befriends Birk, the son of a rival robber band, the two defy their feuding parents and run away to live in the forest rather than be kept apart. The children’s devotion to each other and determination to be together finally persuade the robber bands to reconcile.

Cover of 'Bröderna Lejonhjärta' showing the two brothers sitting on a bridge over a stream
Cover  illustration by Ilon Wikland for
 Bröderna Lejonhjärta, 4th ed. (Stockholm, 1981) X.990/19149

When we first meet Jonatan in Bröderna Lejonhjärta (The Brothers Lionheart), he seems almost too good to be true, the very opposite of a rebel or mischief-maker. He is handsome, clever, brave and popular, and a devoted son and brother. He even gives his own life to save his ailing brother Karl. But in the afterlife-world of Nangijala, where the boys are reunited, Jonatan is a rebel in a very literal sense: he belongs to an underground movement fighting to free a neighbouring valley from the tyrant Tengil. His dangerous missions and daring escapes help inspire the timid Karl to confront his own fears and to play a part in the liberation struggle.

These characters, like many of Lindgren’s other young protagonists, may cause havoc on a small or large scale, but they are never ‘bad’ children. Emil’s mischief stems from adventurousness and curiosity rather than any malicious intent. Like Pippi, he has strong sense of justice and a desire to make the adults around him recognise and understand his perspective. Madicken and Lotta are lively and imaginative little girls learning the ways of the world and making mistakes as they do so. Ronja, Birk and the Lionheart brothers rebel at some personal cost, but also do so on their own terms: Ronja and Birk renounce their fathers’ profession and vow to live honestly, while Jonatan, although aware that he is fighting a war, refuses to kill.

All of Lindgren’s books reflect her belief that children should have the freedom to be themselves and that adults should treat them with respect and understanding, and never with violence. From mischievous pre-schoolers to teenaged freedom-fighters, her characters express and develop their personalities through their strength of character, independence and sense of adventure – even when these things are manifested as mischief!

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Marvellous and Mischievous: Literature's Young Rebels is a free, family-friendly exhibition bringing together young rebels from children’s literature. It runs until 1 March 2020. Please note that on Tuesdays (9.30-16.00) and Wednesdays (9.30-13.30) during term time the exhibition is reserved for school groups and not open to the general public. 

05 September 2019

A ‘Colonial Anecdote’ in Translation: Jean-Baptiste Picquenard’s Adonis in Swedish

The Library has recently acquired Jean-Baptiste Picquenard’s first novel, Adonis, ou le bon nègre, anecdote coloniale, translated into Swedish by Sven Johan Collin in 1802 as Adonis, eller den förträfflige negern. It tells the story of the slave revolt on Saint-Domingue, what is now known as the Haitian Revolution, through a ‘colonial anecdote’ that follows the capture of the enlightened plantation owner d’Hérouville and his loyal slave Adonis by Biassou, the leader of the revolt. Victor Hugo was inspired to write his first novel Bug-Jargal (1826) after reading Adonis.

Map of Saint-Domingue 1722

Map of Saint-Domingue by Guillaume de L’Isle (Amsterdam, 1722) Maps K.Top.123.35

The book is an extremely rare copy of a work that was not translated into many languages. Swedish interest was not simply due to some residual francophilia around the Enlightenment but also due to the reading public’s own Caribbean imaginary, sparked by Sweden’s ownership of the island of Saint Barthèlmy since 1784. The copy once belonged to the library at Östanå Castle, which points to the ownership of once director of the Swedish East India Company, Simon Bernhard Hebbe.

Title page of the Swedish translation of Adonis

Title page of the Swedish translation of Adonis (Strengnäs, 1802) RB.23.a.38783

As Chris Bongie has discovered, Picquenard was intimately involved in ‘the revolutionary violence that accompanied the successful imposition of egalitarian principles in France’s most prosperous colony’. He was deputy secretary to the French Civil Commissioners Légér-Félicité Sonthonax and Étienne Polverel, who aimed to take over power from the white Saint-Domingue population on behalf of the new republican government. Picquenard voiced the revolutionary ideas of the commission in his newspaper L’Ami de l’Égalité, frequently defending the use of violence.

Yet, none of this is necessarily apparent when you read Adonis, which avows broad humanist principles that both support the abolition of slavery and admonish the violence that enabled it. The first paragraph sets out the position:

I will not start by deciding whether or not the sudden abolition of slavery in the French colonies has been of real benefit to humanity. It will be nice, undoubtedly, for the philosopher to see the fertile plains of Saint Domingue cultivated by free hands soon – but the terrible tremor that the Antilles felt in order to reach this happy outcome has caused the ruin of so many European families, and the deaths of many others, such that I would not dare even pronounce myself in favour of such principles without fear of being accused of injustice and inhumanity.

Title page of the original French version of Adonis

Title page of the original French version of Adonis by Jean-Baptiste Picquenard (Paris, 1798) RB.23.a.37666

With the archival knowledge of Picquenard’s early engaged and violent writings on the island, Bongie can reread Adonis as not simply exemplary of the active forgetting of the Terror that typified the turn of the 19th century in France, but as an agonized site of friction between Terror and Enlightenment. Picquenard’s authorship demands that we read what has been ‘written over’, that is, ‘the entanglement of revolutionary violence and the humanist projects of Enlightenment’.

S. J. Collin’s translation stays faithful to the French original, in other words staying faithful to a certain ambivalence and infidelity in the authorial voice. It would be worth investigating the extent of French slave narratives – a significant genre in the slim period when France first temporarily abolished slavery (1792-1802) – translated into Swedish. Adonis is at the very least a curious book that reveals a shared anxiety between colonial powers.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

Further Reading

Chris Bongie, Friends and Enemies: The Scribal Politics of Post/Colonial Literature (Liverpool, 2008) YC.2009.a.4169

Youmna Charara, Fictions coloniales du XVIIIème siècle: Ziméo; Lettres africaines; Adonis, ou le bon nègre, anecdote coloniale (Paris, 2005) YF.2011.a.12978

30 August 2019

Women in Translation Month: top picks from the European Studies team (Part 2)

Collage of book covers featured in the blog post

In this two-part blog post, the European Studies team have selected books by women authors in translation from across the continent. Ranging from 20th-century classics to contemporary fiction, the majority of these works were also translated by women, and several have won or been shortlisted for literary and translation awards.

Cover of Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

Olga Tokarczuk, Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2017), ELD.DS.228759
Chosen by Magda Szkuta, Curator East European Collections

Olga Tokarczuk, the winner of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights, is one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful Polish writers of her generation, particularly noted for the hallmark mythical tone of her writing. The Polish title Bieguni refers to runaways, a sect of Old Believers, who believe that being in constant motion is a trick to avoid evil. Flights is a fragmentary novel consisting of over 100 episodes, each exploring what it means to be a traveller through space as well as time. Set between the 17th and 21st centuries, the novel includes some fictional stories and some fact-based, narrated from a perspective of an anonymous female traveller. It was translated by Jennifer Croft, an American author and critic who works from Polish, Ukrainian and Spanish. She is a founding editor of the Buenos Aires Review.

Cover of The Polyglot Lovers by Lina Wolff

Lina Wolff, The Polyglot Lovers, translated by Saskia Vogel (And other stories, 2019), ELD.DS.410017
Chosen by Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

Referred to as ‘feminism for the Fleabag generation’ (Spectator), Lina Wolff’s second novel takes down ‘myths of male authorship’ (FT) in this absurb book about love and loss. Both this and Wolff’s first novel, Brett Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs, were awarded PEN Translates awards by English PEN, thanks to the translations of Saskia Vogel, prolific translator of Swedish fiction, who recently wrote about how she has mainly translated women authors, who ‘question the shape of society and the assumptions we make, with a particular interest in sex and gender, language, economics, and power.’

Covers of Parts I and II of The time is out of joint: Shakespeare as philosopher of history by Ágnes Heller, featuring an owl

Ágnes Heller, The time is out of joint: Shakespeare as philosopher of history (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), translated by Magda Módos (Osiris, 2000), YC.2003.a.4129 (English) YF.2010.a.20242 (Hungarian)
Chosen by Andrea Déri, Cataloguer

‘The time is a sphinx in Shakespeare’s plays, but a sphinx whose secret will never be known, whose riddle will never be solved.’ ‘[…] for the secret of time is the meaning of life. A life has no meaning except for the question concerning meaning itself.’

Hungarian philosopher Ágnes Heller (1929–2019) interrogates time and temporality in Shakespeare’s plays in this book and engages her readers in doing the same in their life as well; challenges foreshadowed by Hamlet’s words in the title. An obituary in the Financial Times described Heller as ‘one of the most respected European philosophers of her generation’, ‘a life-long fighter for freedom’. Magda Módos, known for her interest in philosophy, translated the book from the English original into Hungarian.

Cover of Bad Roads by Natal'ya Vorozhbit

Natal'ia Vorozhbit, Bad Roads, translated by Sasha Dugdale (Nick Hern Books, 2017), ELD.DS.228387
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

First performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London in 2017, Natal'ia Vorozhbit’s powerful and sometimes bitterly comic play focuses on the impact of the conflicts in Ukraine on women from different generations and backgrounds. A leading contemporary Ukrainian playwright, Vorozhbit is the co-founder of the Theatre of the Displaced in Kyiv and curator of the Class Act project in Ukraine. Bad Roads was translated from the Russian by the prolific poet, translator and editor Sasha Dugdale, who reflected on her experience of translating the play and its harrowing subject matter in an article for the Guardian.

Cover of Bitter Herbs by Marga Minco, featuring a drawing of a woman

Marga Minco, Bitter Herbs, translated by Roy Edwards (Oxford University Press, 1960)
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

This autobiographical novella or chronicle about a Dutch Jewish family during the Second World War was published as Minco’s debut in 1957. Bitter Herbs was given a literary award in 1958 and has been translated into several languages. Minco became the Dutch voice in European war literature. The book’s sober, clear, direct style belies its deeper meanings. Minco’s themes are loss, loneliness, fear, guilt, and a longing for security. She and her uncle were the only members of her family to survive the war. Minco received the highest Dutch literary award, the PC Hooftprijs, for her complete oeuvre in 2019, at the age of 98.

Cover of The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern, featuring a figure sitting on a bench
 

Hélène Gestern, The People in the Photo, translated by Emily Boyce and Ros Schwartz (Gallic Book 2014), Nov.2018/1771
Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

Hélène Gestern (born 1971) is a French writer and academic. One of her favourite themes is photography, and the power it exercises over memory. In The People in the Photo, Hélène is an archivist living in Paris. Her mother died when she was a baby, so she posts a newspaper ad requesting information about a mysterious photograph of her mother alongside two unknown men. This provokes a response from Stéphane, a Swiss scientist living in Ashford, who recognises his father. The People in the Photo revolves around the exchange of letters, emails and text messages between the two, and explores themes of memory, loss and the power of photography and images as the pair shares discoveries and speculate about their parents’ secrets. Published in 2011, the original French Eux sur la photo received the “Prix Coup de cœur des lycéens” de la Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco and the Prix René Fallet in 2012.

21 May 2019

P. G. Wodehouse under Continental Covers

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.

Covers by Peter Straaten for Dutch translations of two P.G. Wodehouse novels

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.

Cover of a Dutch P.G. Wodehouse translation showing characters in 1960s clothing

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?

Cover of a German P.G. Wodehouse translation with characters in 1970s clothing

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.

Cover of a Russian Wodehouse translation showing two men drinking in a bar and an abstractly drawn cityscape

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.

Cover of a Russian Wodehouse translation showing a straw hat and flowers on an empty chair

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.

Cover of an Italian Wodehouse translation showing a man standing in front of a sculpture of himself

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

Cover of an Italian Wodehouse translation showing two pairs of feet wearing spats

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).

Cover of a Swedish Wodehouse translation showing a man and woman in a garden at night

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.

Back cover of a Swedish P.G. Wodehouse translation listing the characters as if on a menu

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.

Cover of a French P.G. Wodehouse translation showing Jeeves carrying a tray

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.

Covers of three French Wodehouse translations showing actor Arthur Treacher in the role of Jeeves

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.

Cover of a Dutch Wodehouse translation showing a jelly heart pierced by a dartOf 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

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

02 April 2019

John Bull, or the English People in their Great Peculiarity

It’s English Tourism Week and what better to guide prospective visitors to these shores than an anonymous compilation of English customs published nearly 200 years ago in Stockholm. John Bull eller Engleska folket i sin stora Besynnerlighet was recently acquired by the British Library and appears to be a translation from multiple contemporary sources of anecdotes and summaries of Englishness. It contains all manner of veritable traditions, half-truths and fake news that you might expect.

Title Page of ohn Bull eller Engleska folket i sin stora Besynnerlighet
Title page from John Bull eller Engleska folket i sin stora Besynnerlighet (Stockholm, 1826) RB.23.a.28622

In no seeming order, the book takes us from Charles I to the Lord Mayor’s Day via brief glimpses at the Fairlop Fair, ‘Riding the Stang’, football and funeral ceremonies, and anecdotes that illuminate British attitudes under titles such as ‘The Compassionate Traveller’, ‘Paternal Tenderness’, or ‘Exceptional Orderliness’, all in just over 50 pages.

List of contents from 'John Bull, eller Engelska folket...'
Contents from John Bull, eller Engelska folket...

One possible source for the work is Popular Pastimes, being a selection of picturesque representations of the customs & amusements of Great Britain, in ancient and modern times (London, 1816; 785.h.8), which includes drawings by F. P. Stephanoff and historical descriptions by Edward Wedlake Brayley. A second source could be the less structured but equally enjoyable John Bull ou Londresiana, attributed to a ‘C.D’

Engraving showing a giant punch-bowl at an outdoor party
Engraving from
John Bull ou Londresiana, Recueil d’originalités et de singularités anglaises, avec les anecdotes, bons mots, plaisanteries, sarcasmes, et railleries particulières à ce peuple (Paris, [1820?]) 12314.df.4.

Both the French and Swedish John Bull refer to the peculiarity of their subject and understandably so given the stories they recount. In ‘En besynnerlig Ursäkt’ (‘A peculiar excuse’) we read a dark tale about a day-labourer who twice tried to drown himself but was twice saved by a peasant. He waits for his moment and on the third occasion hangs himself off a barn door. When the owner of the farm questions the peasant, who had in fact seen the whole thing, the peasant says that, since the labourer had been thoroughly soaked in the first two plunges, he thought he was hanging himself out to dry.

The book shares a chapter with Popular Pastimes on what the English publication calls the practice of ‘Selling a Wife’ and the Swedish more modestly refers to as ‘Åktenskaps-handel’ (‘Marriage trade’). Both condemn the activity, which is said to prevail among the ‘lower classes’ (John Bull) or ‘the illiterate and vulgar’ (Popular Pastimes). Our English historian finds space however to celebrate the songs that have been derived from the practice: ‘this practice, immoral and shameful as it is, has given rise to various pleasant Jeu d’esprits […]’. The examples they give differ, possibly exposing the fact that John Bull was paraphrased from various sources.

Other chapters shared between the two books include ‘Milk Maids’ Garland‘ (‘Mjölkflickans Krans‘), ‘Riding the Stang’ (‘Rida på Stången‘) and ‘St. Valentine’s Day’, which our Swedish observers tell us ‘is quite extraordinary in England. The youth yearn for it [längtar otåligt efter det] every year.’ ‘Rida på Stången’ is more or less a direct translation from its source in Popular Pastimes, which describes a practice of vigilante justice, referred to otherwise as ‘charivari’ or ‘skimmington’. The accused is forced onto a long pole, or stang, and carried through the streets to expose his dishonour. The criminal associated with this treatment was traditionally  ‘a man who had debauched his neighbour’s wife’, but not exclusively so, as ‘the virago who had beaten her husband was also subjected to riding the Stang’ (Popular Pastimes, p. 17). The method was also used in Westmoreland and Cumberland, we read, to deter anyone from conducting any business at all on New Year’s Day. While, Popular Pastimes does not delve deeper, John Bull interrogates this Cumbrian variation:

Man hwart taga dessa böter wägen? Jo, man super upp dem, man fyller sig, wältrar sig i sanden, öfwerlastad af Öl, Rumm, Win och Brännwin. — Det är ett nöjsamt tidsfordrif for Engelska folkshopen. (p. 38)
Where do the fines go? Yes, they guzzle it up, they have their fill, roll about in the mud, full of beer, rum, wine and brandy. It is a pleasurable pastime for the English crowds.

I wonder how different today’s portrait of John Bull and the peculiar English would be…

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Studies

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