European studies blog

17 posts categorized "Switzerland"

22 September 2016

‘The greatest German storyteller’? Johann Peter Hebel

In the English-speaking world, the Swiss-born author Johann Peter Hebel is less well known that he deserves to be – possibly through confusion with his near-namesake, the poet and dramatist Friedrich Hebbel. Their fields of activity, however, were very different, for besides his poems and stories Hebel was also a pioneering supporter of a Swiss-German dialect which defeated even Goethe.

Portrait of Hebel sitting under a tree
Portrait of Hebel by Hans Bendel from Zwölf Allemannische Gedichte (Winterthur, 1849) 11527.g.12.

Tragedy struck the Hebel family in the first year of his life, when his father and baby sister Susanne succumbed to typhus. His parents had been working in Basel at the time of his birth, and with his mother Ursula he spent part of the year there and the rest in her native village of Hausen im Wiesental,  where he began his education, continuing his studies in Basel and at the grammar school in Schopfheim. When he was thirteen, his mother fell seriously ill, and with the local magistrate he hurried to Basel to bring her back by ox-wagon to Hausen, only to see her die on the journey.

With the help of sponsors Hebel was admitted to the Gymnasium illustre in Karlsruhe, graduating in 1778. Like Hegel, Hölderlin and Schelling, he studied theology but turned to teaching when he was unable to obtain a parish. Among the subjects which he taught were botany and natural history; he amassed a considerable collection of plants, and was also an honorary member of the Jena mineralogical society. His modest ambition to live out his days as a country pastor was never fulfilled; instead he became director of the Karlsruhe Gymnasium, and spent the rest of his life there. However, in 1819 he was appointed prelate of the Lutheran churches in Baden, and thus a member of the upper chamber of the local assembly. This allowed him to support social and educational enterprises such as the establishment of institutions for the deaf, dumb and blind and better training for Roman Catholic priests. He remained actively involved in this work until his death from cancer on 22 September 1826.

Alongside these duties, however, Hebel maintained a rich creative life. Devoted to the language as well as the nature of the country where he had grown up, he composed, on returning from a visit there in 1799, a collection of 32 poems in the local dialect, the Allemannische Gedichte (‘for friends of rural nature and customs’). No Basel publisher, however, would risk publishing a book in such an obscure tongue as Alemannic, and it was not until 1803 that it came out anonymously in Karlsruhe. The British Library possesses a copy of this first edition.

Title-page of 'Alemannische Gedichte' Title-page of the first edition of Hebel’s  Allemannische Gedichte (Karlsruhe, 1803) 11525.e.18 

One of the most famous poems in this volume is ‘Die Vergänglichkeit’ (‘Transience’), a dialogue between a father and his young son as they travel through the evening landscape by cart, passing the exact spot at which Hebel’s own mother had died before his eyes. The sensitive evocation of human emotions and picturesque landscapes brought the poems such success that a second edition followed in 1804, this time under Hebel’s own name.

His interest in education led to two more of his most famous productions, the ‘calendar stories’ which he wrote as editor of the Rheinländischer Hausfreund, at the rate of 30 per year, and a collection of Bible stories for use for pupils aged 10-14 in Protestant schools, the Biblische Geschichten (Stuttgart/Tübingen, 1824; 1011.d.8), whose lively narrative style made them so popular that a version for Catholic schools was published the following year (3126.aa.8). The British Library also holds a first edition of the Schatzkästlein des rheinischen Hausfreundes (Tübingen, 1811; 12315.d.19), a treasury of stories from the Rheinländischer Hausfreund which remain enduring favourites among German readers, including one of his most famous stories, Unverhofftes Wiedersehen (‘Unexpected Reunion’), an eerie tale set in the Swedish mining district of Falun which also inspired E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Die Bergwerke zu Falun.

The wit, humour and keen observation which characterize Hebel’s writings attracted many illustrators. Especially charming are the lithographs based on pen and ink drawings by Hans Bendel for a revised version of the Allemannische Gedichte (Winterthur, 1849; 11527.g.12) containing settings of five of the poems with piano accompaniment. Equally appealing are the Dreißig Umrisse zu J. P. Hebel’s allemannischen Gedichten, 30 sketches by Julius Nisle. Both evoke a vanished world in which the dignitaries of Schopfheim, the rustic lovers Hans and Verene,  beggars, ghosts and tipsy peasants are portrayed in loving detail, every feature of the  landscape and local costume faithfully depicted, yet without sentimentality.

Picture of a man encountering an angelIllustrations by Julius Nisle from Dreißig Umrisse zu J. P. Hebel’s allemanischen Gedichten (Stuttgart, 1845) 506.aa.7

A tavern scene with drinkers round a table

These qualities also won Hebel many admirers, including Tolstoy, the Brothers Grimm, Goethe (who found him a ‘splendid man’ and tried, not very successfully, to write a poem in Alemannic), and Hermann Hesse, who considered him the greatest German storyteller, on a par with Gottfried Keller  and with a surer touch and more powerful effect than Goethe himself.

Paradoxically, while his fellow-poet Eduard Mörike chafed at the restrictions of life as a country parson, this represented an ideal which Hebel was never to attain. Yet, as he himself acknowledged, an invisible hand seemed to lead him far beyond his humble aspirations, and his importance to literature as well as to education and the humanities is marked by the decision of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland to commemorate him in its calendar on 22 September, the day of his death 130 years ago.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Engagement  

10 July 2016

The English and football – then and now

Many people will have seen the sadly familiar images of some English football fans engaging in antisocial behaviour in the streets of French towns during Euro 2016. The reputation of the English for violent pastimes and delight in disorder has a long pedigree. Here’s a Swiss view from the last decade of the 17th century.

Béat Louis de Muralt (1665-1749), the scion of a patrician family from Berne, visited England in 1694. His Lettres sur les Anglois (translated into English in 1726 as Letters describing the character and customs of the English… nation, 10106.ee.6 ), consisting of six letters to an unnamed Swiss correspondent, were written during this visit, but not published until 1725.

Title-page of 'Lettres sur les Anglois et les François', printed in red and black
Titlepage of Béat Louis de Muralt, Lettres sur les Anglois et les François et sur les voiages … (Cologne, 1725). 792.c.3 (also available online)

A friendly, though not uncritical observer, Muralt, in common with other foreign visitors, comments adversely on the ferocious pastimes of the common people such as throwing at cocks, watching men or animals fight, and playing football in the streets:

Quelquefois il [le Peuple] se divertit de maniere incommode, & où il y a de l’insolence mêlée; comme lors qu’il pousse le Balon à coup de pieds par les ruës; & se plait à casser les Vitres des Maisons  & les Glaces des Carrosses qu’il rencontre sur son chemin… (Lettres sur les Anglois, pp. 44-5)

There’s another [diversion], very troublesome and insolent; this is Foot-ball, where they take a great deal of Pleasure in breaking Windows, and Coach Glasses if they meet any… (Letters describing the character and customs..., p. 38)

 

Men playing football in an empty market-place, one of them knocked to the ground
A small, but seemingly aggressive, 18th-century football game in the market place at Barnet. Reproduced in Robert W. Malcolmson, Popular Recreations in English Society 1700-1850 (Cambridge, 1973) X.529/44470.

Teresa Vernon, Lead Curator, Romance Collections

04 July 2016

Continental Utopias

2016 marks the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia, a book which gave a new word to the English language. But it was not until 35 years after that first publication that an English-language edition of the book actually appeared, also the first edition to be published in England. The early printing and publishing (and linguistic) history of Utopia is very much a continental one.

Woodcut map of the Island of Utopia with a ship in the foreground
The Island of Utopia, from the first edition of the book (Louvain, 1516)
British Library C.27.b.30.

More started writing Utopia in 1515 while in Antwerp as part of a diplomatic mission to Flanders to negotiate commercial treaties. When the negotiations stalled, he used his time there to renew his acquaintance with the Dutch humanist Erasmus and make contact with other scholars in his circle, including Pieter Gillis, who appears as a character in Utopia and to whom the book is dedicated. The work grew in part from their discussions, and More wrote it not in English but in Latin, the international language of scholarship. After finishing the manuscript back in London, he sent it to Erasmus, asking him to find a printer. Erasmus sent it to Dirk Martens, then working in Louvain, who printed the first edition. 

Title page of the 1st edition of Utopia (1516) with an inscription by the donor Thomas TyrwhittTitle page of the first edition of Utopia, with the Louvain imprint and Martens’ Latinised name (‘Theodoricus Martinus’).

A small flurry of editions followed the first one, all in Latin, and all from continental printers: Gilles de Gourmont (Paris, 1517; C.65.e.1.), Johannes Froben (Basel, March 1518; G.2398.(1.), and November 1518; C.67.d.8.; both in editions with More’s Epigrams), and Paolo Giunta (Florence, 1519; in an edition of Lucian’s works).

 
Opening of 'Utopia' with a woodcut showing three men talking in a garden, being joined by a fourth figure
Johannes Froben’s March 1518 printing of Utopia, with woodcuts by Ambrosius Holbein (G.2398.(1.)). The image here shows More and Pieter Gillis (‘Petrus Aegidius’) with the fictional Raphael Hythlodaeus who describes the Island of Utopia

The first vernacular edition of Utopia was in German, printed again in Basel, by Johann Bebel, in 1524. After this the work apparently went out of fashion for over two decades, with no new editions in any language appearing until an Italian translation was printed in Venice in 1548. In the same year the first Latin edition since 1519 appeared in Louvain (522.b.22).

Title-page of the first German edition of 'Utopia' with a decorative woodcut border
Above: The first German edition of Utopia (Basel, 1524). 714.b.38.

Below: The first Italian edition (Venice, 1548) 714.b.16.(1.)

  Title-page of the first Italian translation of 'Utopia'

Interest in More’s work was clearly growing again: in 1550 a French translation appeared from the press of Charles L’Anglier in Paris, and in 1551 Utopia at last appeared its author’s native land and language, in an English translation by Ralph Robinson published by Abraham Vele. These translations and other early editions of Utopia can all be seen in the current display ‘Visions of Utopia’ in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery.

The early printing history of Utopia reminds us that an international book trade is nothing new (and of course that English printing goes back to William Caxton’s first partnerships in Flanders: the first book printed in the English language came out of Bruges). It is also a reminder that international networks of scholars and writers were as alive and fruitful in the 16th century as they are today.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

05 February 2016

Why can’t a tree be called Pluplusch?

On 5 February 1916 at the Holländische Meierei restaurant on Spiegelgasse 1, Zürich, the Cabaret Voltaire was launched. The Cabaret was the brainchild of Hugo Ball (1886-1927) in collaboration with a small group of artists and writers disillusioned with conventional politics and an equally conventional aesthetic response. 100 years since the inauguration of the Cabaret Voltaire, it is worth sparing a thought for this radical intervention that resonates still today. Dada m’dada, dada m’dada dada mhm, dada dera dada.

Photograph of Hugo Ball  in 1916 Hugo Ball in 1916, reproduced in Hugo Ball, Gesammelte Gedichte (Zürich, 1963). X.907/140.

Immediately unsuccessful and threatened with closure, the Cabaret Voltaire housed performances of progressively more outrageous, absurd and irrational pieces of poetry (of the “sound” and “parallel” varieties most famously), song, drama and manifesto. Their provoking output piqued the curiosity as well as the anger of the Zürich public.

Hugo Ball in a costume of cardboard tubes, with a stiff cardboard cape and tall hat

Hugo Ball performing at the Cabaret Voltaire, image from Wikimedia Commons 

Irrationality was precisely the point, as Richard Huelsenbeck explains in his interview with Basil Richardson entitled ‘Inventing Dada’. Huelsenbeck, a German expressionist writer who helped establish the Cabaret in 1916, gives an account of the invention of Dada out of the foundations of the Cabaret Voltaire. He describes the humble beginnings borne out of life experience and not any concerted artistic movement as such. Ball and his companion Emmy Hennings worked factory jobs before deciding they must do something. This “something”, Huelsenbeck continues, was uncertain and undefined, or undefinable– what were they fighting for or against? He and the others soon realised that it was precisely this uncertainty that could define the motivations of their activity – irrationality was its essence.

Cover of 'En Avant Dada' printed in red using a mixture of typefaces
Richard Huelsenbeck’s history of Dada, En avant dada (Hanover, [1920]). Cup.403.z.47.

Out of this sense of novelty and unconventionality came Ball’s sound poems, first performed in June at the Cabaret Voltaire. One famous example is ‘Gadji beri bimba’ (1916), a recording of which, among other sound poems, is to be found on the audio collection Dada for Now. The first verse reads:

gadji beri bimba glandridi laula lonni cadori
gadjama gramma berida bimbala glandri galassassa laulitalomini
gadji beri bin blassa glassala laula lonni cadorsu sassala bim
gadjama tuffm i zimzalla binban gligla wowolimai bin beri ban
o katalominai rhinozerossola hopsamen laulitalomini hoooo
gadjama rhinozerossola hopsamen
bluku terullala blaulala loooo

Ball tried to free himself from everyday language and invent new sound patterns, ultimately attempting to display a new level of artistic invention and creativity. (The Talking Heads song ‘I Zimbra’ from the album Fear of Music sets ‘Gadji beri bimba’ to music, giving it an African-inspired beat.) One month later, on 14 July 1916, at a Dada Soirée, Ball presented the first Dada manifesto, explaining his impulse to break from all rational notions of “the word”:

Each thing has its word, but the word has become a thing by itself. Why shouldn't I find it? Why can’t a tree be called Pluplusch, and Pluplubasch when it has been raining? The word, the word, the word outside your domain, your stuffiness, this laughable impotence, your stupendous smugness, outside all the parrotry of your self-evident limitedness. The word, gentlemen, is a public concern of the first importance.

Ball soon separated himself from the ambitions of the Dadaists and, consequently, the group’s second driving force, Tristan Tzara, declared a “Dada Movement”, exactly the kind of fixity and purpose Ball and Huelsenbeck wanted to avoid. However, the last word should go to the founder of the Cabaret Voltaire, the Hugo Ball of 100 years ago,

gaga di bumbalo bumbalo gadjamen
gaga di bling blong
gaga blung

Abstract portrait of Hugo Ball by Marcel Janco

Hugo Ball ca 1916, drawn by fellow-dadaist Marcel Janco. Reproduced in Gesammelte Gedichte.


Pardaad Chamsaz, Collaborative Doctoral Student, British Library / University of Bristol


References

Breaking the rules: the printed face of the European avant garde, 1900-1937, ed. By Stephen Bury (London, 2007) YC.2008.b.251

Richard Huelsenbeck, Inventing Dada (interview with Basil Richardson) (1959), 1CD0268503

Dada for Now: A Collection of Futurist and Dada Sound Works (1985), 1LP0007598

Talking Heads, Fear of Music (1979), 1CD0000326

Hugo Ball, Gesammelte Gedichte. Mit Photos und Faksimiles, herausgegeben von Annemarie Schütt-Hennings (Zürich, 1970) X.900/11006.

Entrance to the Cabaret Voltaire as as it looks today
 The Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich today (Photo from Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0) 

 

05 November 2015

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

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

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

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.

Decorative cover of the second volume of 'Heidi', 1881
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.

Illustration of Heidi and her grandfather
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.

Illustration of Heidi against a backdrop of meadows and mountains
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.

Title-page and frontispiece from the first English edition, showing Heidi, Peter and goats
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.

Vignette of Heidi with a goatBut 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

 

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