THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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13 posts categorized "Switzerland"

05 November 2015

Despite the chocolate and the leather boots, one feels this country to be torture: Switzerland in 1915

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100 years ago, during the First World War, an extraordinary mélange of intellectuals converged in the one safe haven left in a self-destructing continent. In 1915, Switzerland – and Zürich in particular – hosted the likes of James Joyce, Tristan Tzara and Lenin, which quickly made the neutral state one of the most fertile grounds for avant-garde ideas in literature, art and politics.

Hugo Ball brought together the band of artists including Richard Huelsenbeck and Tristan Tzara that went on to collaborate under the banner of ‘Dada’ – a movement, which Annemarie Goodridge, in the catalogue of the British Library’s 2007 ‘Breaking the Rules’ exhibition, describes as acting out of the ‘desire to use new art forms to express opposition to the perceived spiritual bankruptcy of the age’ . In their minds, the war was a consequence of a ‘failing enlightenment project’ with an uncritical faith in scientific and technological “progress”’ (Stephen Foster, Dada: The Coordinates of Cultural Politics). Dada represented an attempt at a clean break from previous culture, a ‘tabula rasa’ in the words of Paul Dermée.

Tzara portrait
Robert Delaunay, Portrait of Tristan Tzara (1923). Madrid, Museo nacional centro de arte Reina Sofia (image from Wikimedia Commons)

One striking example of Dada creativity is first volume of the Collection Dada series published by Tristan Tzara between 1916 and 1919 containing the play by the same author, La première aventure celeste de Mr Antipyrine, illustrated with coloured woodcuts by Marcel Janco. Characters’ names like Mr Bleubleu and Mr Cricri set the tone for what is an exploration into sound as much as anything else, with speeches developing into nonsensical noise.

Tzara Mr Antpyrine 1
Cover (above) and opening (below) from Tristan Tzara, La première aventure celeste de Mr Antipyrine (Zürich, 1915) British Library Cup.408.u.39.
 

Tzara Mr Antpyrine 2

In 1916, the same year as the Dada artists exploded convention into fragments of spontaneity, absurdity and illogicality in their new home of the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich, the Nobel Prize for Literature (the belated award for 1915) was conferred upon a writer based not far away in Geneva, Romain Rolland. The writer of the ten-volume bildungsroman Jean-Christophe (the complete manuscript of the tenth volume is part of the British Library’s Stefan Zweig Collection) and biographies of key figures in culture like Michelangelo, Beethoven and Tolstoy, a humanist and pacifist, might seem worlds apart from the tenets of Dada but this is not necessarily the case.

  Rolland Jean Christophe preface
The preface to vol. 10 of Romain Rolland’s Jean-Christophe, British Library Zweig MS 184-186

Rolland’s 1915 collection of essays Au-dessus de la mêlée, even in its title, suggests a position beyond dogmatism, ‘above the battle’, as the English rendering has it. Rolland writes in the title essay:

The spirit is the light. It is our duty to lift it above tempests, and thrust aside the clouds which threaten to obscure it; to build higher and stronger, dominating the injustice and hatred of nations, the walls of that city wherein the souls of the whole world may assemble.  

Romain_Rolland_1915
Romain Rolland in 1915 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

We might call Rolland’s words a manifesto against manifestos in the sense of Tzara’s famous 1918 Dada manifesto, in which he writes, ‘je suis par principe contre les manifestes, comme je suis aussi contre les principes’ , where ‘principles’  are the same fixed truths that give way to  ‘tempests’ of dogmatic belief, the same truths that Rolland cannot tolerate. Clearly, Rolland draws upon a continuous notion of  ‘spirit’, something Dada renounced, yet their divergent approaches still led both to the same geographical and anti-establishment space.

A little late to the Swiss party, Stefan Zweig, Rolland’s close friend and intellectual ally, moved to Zürich in 1917. It is testament to the tolerance of the city and its commingling cultural movements that Zweig’s serious anti-war play Jeremias could open there, no doubt a short distance from the riotous events at the Cabaret Voltaire. Zweig, initially unconvinced by Switzerland, writes in his diary that ‘despite the chocolate and the leather boots, one feels this country to be torture’. Yet, in a diary entry 20 years after his time in Zürich, he reminisces, ‘how different was it in those times in Austria and Switzerland, where I could speak my own language and encourage others’.

Indeed, Zweig’s writing was influenced permanently by the humanist spiritual  ‘brotherhood’ in Switzerland, with his later biography of Erasmus the height of his humanist line of thought. Erasmus, for Zweig, embodies ‘Überparteilickeit’, that is a certain non-partisanship, linguistically akin to Rolland’s formulation for Au-dessus de la mêlée, where both reside ‘above’ something. In a letter to René Schickele in 1934, Zweig writes, ‘I do not connect myself to any party, to no group, […] but whatever I do, I try to do silently and would rather be attacked for it than celebrated.’ Tristan Tzara’s famous 1918 manifesto also asserts that the author is against action and for continual contradiction, for affirmation. He continues ‘I am neither for nor against and I won’t explain since I hate reason (bon sens)’.The only difference might then be expressed, adapting Zweig’s words, Tzara does not connect himself to anything and everything he tried to do, he tried to do it loudly.

Above and beyond the normality and madness of world war, the contrasting figures of the avant-garde and humanism co-existed in neutral Switzerland. In June 1919, Zweig was one of the signatories of Rolland’s ‘Declaration of the Independence of the Mind’. Rolland writes that the role of these guardians of spirit is to be the fixed point in the ‘centre of the whirlwind of passions, in the night’. Switzerland was precisely that centre – a continuous and varied productive culture out of which spiralled many more movements. What was common to all these movements, to Dada and Rolland, was their shared desire to ‘not only change art but also life by means of art’ (Roy Allen, ‘Aesthetic transformations: Origins of Dada’, in Foster op. cit.).

Pardaad Chamsaz, Collaborative Doctoral Student

References/further reading:

Breaking the Rules: The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937, edited by. Stephen Bury (London, 2007), YC.2008.b.251

Dada: The Coordinates of Cultural Politics, edited by Stephen Foster (New York, 1996) YC.1997.b.488 v.1

Tristan Tzara, La première aventure céléste de Mr Antipyrine (Zürich, 1916) Cup.408.u.39 

Tristan Tzara, Dada 3, (Zürich, 1918) W18/5841

Romain Rolland, Au-dessus de la mêlée, (Paris, 1915) W18/5841

Stefan Zweig, Jeremias : eine dramatische Dichtung in neun Bildern (Leipzig, 1922) 11747.h.31.

Stefan Zweig, Tagebücher (Frankfurt am Main, 1984), X3-0904

Stefan Zweig, Triumph und Tragik des Erasmus von Rotterdam (Vienna, 1935), 2214.a.9

12 December 2014

From Sanatoria to Skis: Winter Holidays in Switzerland

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At this time of year many people are dreaming of – perhaps even planning – a skiing holiday, and Switzerland is a popular destination.  But in the 19th century the idea of holidaying in the snow would have been considered very strange. Back then, if wealthy foreigners spent  the winter in Switzerland, it would almost certainly be because they were ill: the clean, cold, fresh mountain air of the Swiss alps was considered effective in curing various illnesses, especially lung diseases such as tuberculosis.

Book cover showing an icy mountain scene by night
An icy prospect for the sick: Alfred Tucker Wise, The Alpine Winter Cure (London, 1884) 7470.ff.36

The world of the Swiss sanatorium where these patients spent months or even years was most famously captured in Thomas Mann’s novel Der Zauberberg, set in Davos in the years before the First World War. But by the time Mann was writing – and even during the period when his novel takes place – Davos and other Swiss mountain resorts were just as well-known and popular for their winter sports as for their curative properties. 

How did this come about? A recent newspaper article about the Swiss resort of St Moritz described how in 1864 local hotelier Johannes Badrutt lured some English tourists to stay there in winter with an ‘enjoy your holiday or get your money back’ offer. His gamble paid off, and St Moritz soon became a winter playground for the rich of Europe who, when they tired of indoor games, started to pursue outdoor ones, including skiing and tobogganing. Suddenly the snow-covered alps became a world full of sporting possibility.

  Bird's eye view of St Moritz
St Moritz in 1904. Picture by H.J. Burger (1849-1917), reproduced in 100 Jahre Bobsport (Basel, 1990) YA.1992.a.11011

Badrutt and his guests may have been pioneers in St Moritz but they were part of a wider trend at the time. Skiing purely as a sport started in the mid-19th century in Norway, where it already had a long tradition as a practical methods of travelling in snow-bound landscapes. It soon spread to alpine regions elsewhere in Europe, particularly Switzerland (and further afield: one of the earliest ski clubs was founded by Norwegian immigrants in Australia). Skiing in the Alps led to changes in the cross-country skiing familiar in Norway, as the steep slopes encouraged the development of downhill skiing.

Book-covers showing a skier (left) and ski-jumper (right)
Two early 20th-century skiing manuals: H. Hoek & E.C. Richardson, Der Ski und seine sportliche Bentzung (Munich, 1906) YA.1991.a.4184, and Adolf Zarn, Der Skifahrer (Zurich, 1920) 7922.b.6.

Alongside the sport itself a whole literature of skiing grew up. The British Library holds many such works both in English and other languages (though sadly many others were among the books destroyed by bombing in the Second World War). There are guides to the art of skiing, describing equipment and techniques; accounts of the adventures and excursions of skiing pioneers; guidebooks to the best locations for those wanting to follow in their ski-tracks; and histories of the various ski clubs and skiing centres. Skiing even found its way into fiction – although not as memorably as the sanatorium of Mann’s Zauberberg – and by the 1930s works such as Skiløperen by the Norwergian Mikkjel Fønhus (Oslo, 1936; 012584.c.23.) or Schi-Novelle by the German Ludwig Barthel (Jena, 1938; F10/0893) were available for après-ski (or armchair skier) reading.

Book cover showing the head and shoulders of a skier against a mountain landscapeHellmut Lantschner, Die Spur von meinen Ski (Berlin, 1934). X.629/14808.

However, some of the most unexpected accounts of early 20th-century accounts of Swiss skiing turn up in a magazine for wounded British Prisoners of War interned in Switzerland to await repatriation during the First World War. Arnold Lunn, a British skiing pioneer and author of many books on the sport, worked as a volunteer among the internees at Mürren in the Bernese Oberland and led a number of skiing excursions to occupy time and to boost morale and physical fitness. Although the most severely wounded men could not take part, for others, learning to ski and accompanying Lunn to the slopes must have been a form of therapy both physical and mental, a meeting of the two concepts of Switzerland as a place for winter healing and winter sports.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

Cartoon showing skiing learners getting stuck in the snowLearning to ski at Mürren, cartoon from B.I.M. (British Interned Magazine) Vol. 1, no. 10, Xmas 1917. PP. 4039.wup.

23 October 2013

Picturing Heidi

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The exhibition “Picture This” in the British Library’s Folio Society Gallery showed illustrated versions of 20th-century British children’s classics.

An earlier children’s book in which illustrations have played a key role – and one of the few translated children’s books to attain classic status in Britain – is Johanna Spyri’s Heidi. First published in German in 1880-1881, Heidi became an international success and has come to define Switzerland for many people.

The first edition of the book had no illustrations other than its decorative cover, but the temptation to draw the vivacious Heidi, her adventures and her alpine home – as well as goats galore – was too great to resist, and practically every edition since has included pictures. There are also many simplified adaptations or retellings where pictures are given almost equal weight with the text.

Heidi Teil 2 C.108.aaa.8 (SR)
Heidi kann brauchen, was es gelernt hat
(Gotha, 1881) - the second part of the original edition. (British Library shelfmark C.180.aaa.8.)

The first illustrator of Heidi, Friedrich Wilhelm Pfeiffer, set the pattern for the characters: Heidi’s grandfather with a long beard, pipe and traditional peasant costume (although Pfeiffer actually portrayed him in Bavarian rather than Bernese dress), and Heidi in a simple dirndl, barefooted and with dark, curly hair. Peter the goatherd is often distinguished by a rather battered hat, and the invalid Clara usually has straight blonde hair, in contrast to Heidi’s dark curls. Heidi herself has sometimes been given a blonde makeover, but most illustrators follow Spyri’s description and keep her dark haired.

HeidiDSC illustration
A typical depiction of Heidi and her grandfather from an undated late 19th/early 20th-century edition published in Gotha (W23/2113)

The surroundings are as important as the characters in Heidi. The mountains become central to Heidi’s life – she is both psychologically and physically ill when taken away – and play a vital role in Clara’s healing. Many illustrators created an imaginary ideal of an alpine landscape, but some had travelled in the Swiss Alps and based their pictures on sketches made there. An attractive example of this approach is seen in the pen-and-ink illustrations by Marguerite Davis for a 1927 American edition.

Heidi Marguerite Davis view
Heidi in the mountains, illustration by Marguerite Davis from Heidi, translated by Helen B. Dole (Boston, 1927). 012581.cc.55.

Also characters in their own right are the goats which Heidi and Peter take to the mountain pastures every day, and no illustrated edition is complete without at least one picture of Heidi embracing, leading or standing beside a goat or two.

Heidi English 1882 C.194.a.1225 (tp)
Frontispiece and titlepage of the first English edition (London, [1882]). C.194.1225.

While the characters’ hairstyles and clothes might change slightly to reflect the fashions of the artists’ own times, illustrations to Heidi have tended to remain fairly traditional. The current Puffin Classics edition, despite having gone through various changes of cover design, still has inside the illustrations made by Cecil Leslie for its 1956 printing.

However, some artists such as the French cartoonist Tomi Ungerer have brought a more modern sensibility to the book. The most recent Ladybird picture book edition is an example of this shift, although its spare and stylised look is perhaps surprising in a version for very young readers.

Heidi DSC detail coverBut whether modern or old-fashioned, unsentimental or kitschy, artists  continue to reimagine Heidi and to shape the way in which readers picture not only the story but the very landscape of the Swiss Alps.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

Further reading:
Heidi - Karrieren einer Figur, herausgegeben von Ernst Halter (Zürich, 2001). YA.2002.a.29456

 

 

 

 Vignette from the cover of BL W23/2113