European studies blog

57 posts categorized "Theatre"

17 December 2021

Vaclav Havel’s Pokouseni - Temptation of a bibliophile

I am sure that every bibliophile can recall the feeling of excitement that accompanies us when we take a new book into our hands. The sensation of moving fingers along the surface of the cover, flipping through pages, the distinctive scent of a new book. However, what is even more rewarding and satisfying, is to find a book that has lived well and aged beautifully bathed in genuine interest and love received from its readers.

There are many special books in the British Library collections. However, for me there is one which evokes the very feeling of joy I felt as a child visiting a bookshop or a library. It is Vaclav Havel’s Pokouseni (‘Temptation’). Havel, Czech writer, dissident and former president, who passed away ten years ago this month, wrote this play inspired by the story of Dr Faust.

Photograph of Vaclav Havel

Vaclav Havel, black-and-white photograph of the author mounted on the cover's verso of Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech (1985). Awaiting shelfmark

His intellectual interest in the tale was ignited by Goethe’s and Thomas Mann’s literary adaptations that he read while being imprisoned. This prompted him to consider philosophical questions on the relativity of truth and how it can be transformed into a lie. Olga Tokarczuk once said that to write a book she needs to get obsessed with the story first. It was definitely the case with Vaclav Havel and Pokouseni. In published letters written from prison to his wife Olga, Havel explains: ‘As you know, I’m a man obsessions, and I hate giving anything up before I’ve exhausted all (my) possibilities. And so, in fact – though at a distance – I remain with the theatre.’

Cover of the samizdat edition of Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech

Cover of the samizdat edition of Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech (1985). Awaiting shelfmark

Eda Kriseova in her authorised biography of the Czech writer describes the creative process that lead to the birth of Temptation. It took Havel ten nights to finish the work. He was physically and mentally exhausted and ended up falling down the stairs and hurting his head. He was staying in his country house in Hradecko at the time. Feverish, hurt, trembling the playwright was cut from the world by a sudden snow storm without any food and no way out. Once Havel came back to the world he felt like he had got away from the devil himself. This strenuous yet cathartic creation process resulted in a play that many found disturbing. Presenting the clash of a metaphysical view of the world with a rational one – inflated to surreal and absurd – the play reflected a contemporary Czechoslovakian existence.

Title leaf designed by Viktor Karlik, Pokouseni

Title leaf designed by Viktor Karlik, Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech (1985). Awaiting shelfmark

Havel wrote Pokouseni in 1985, after he had been released from prison. He was imprisoned three times for a total of almost five years under the communist regime. Following his incarceration, Havel became an even more internationally recognisable public figure. His works, banned in Czechoslovakia, were smuggled out of the country to be read around the world. Pokouseni was promptly translated to German and premiered in Vienna in 1986.

An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik

An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik

It is actually fitting that the literary work whose conception took such a toll on Havel’s body and mind was published as samizdat. The physicality of the copy we are lucky to have almost mirrors the process the writer went through to create it. It is not the clinical, perfectly cut and immaculately bound product of a mass manufacturer, but rather a raw body of paper turned with love and care into an artefact testifying to the tender effort of a craftsman. Every little detail adds to the story. Were it not for it, the book would look like a plain, boring file folder. Original and unique tape binding has the author’s name typed directly into the fabric before it was closed. What makes this edition exceptional is a collage on the cover and hand-printed linocut illustrations by another Czech dissident Viktor Karlik. Both the artist and the writer were a part of a close-knit circle of friends forming anti-regime opposition in Czechoslovakia. Although Karlik later fell out with Havel over his engagement in politics, his illustrations to Poukuseni complement and enrich the story. The linocut technique fits perfectly Havel’s imaginary universe achieving it through the otherworldly look, stark lines and abstraction. Rarely in samizdat publications that relied on fast printing can we find such a beautiful companionship of imagery and text – the book is a work of art itself.

An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik

An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik

Vaclav Havel’s most prolific years as a writer came before his presidency. Although his political legacy is sometimes contested, he was committed to all the roles he came to play in his life. One may speculate that he was able to achieve this thanks to his very personal understanding of hope, which according to Havel’s conviction is ‘this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed’. See the book Disturbing the peace: a conversation with Karel Hvizdala (London, 1990; YC.1991.a.1826)

When I hold the Havel-Karlik copy of Pokouseni in my hand, I am taken back to this place of hope once occupied by those who wanted to change the world by the sheer power of words and art.

An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik

An illustration to Pokouseni by Viktor Karlik

Olga Topol, Curator, Slavonic and East European Collections

References/further reading:

Vaclav Havel, Pokouseni. Hra o deseti obrazech (1985). Awaiting shelfmark

Vaclav Havel, Letters to Olga: June 1979-September 1982 (London, 1988). YC.1989.a.2933

Vaclav Havel, Disturbing the peace: a conversation with Karel Hvizdala (London, 1990). YC.1991.a.1826

Eda Kriseova, Vaclav Havel (Prague, 2014). YF.2015.a.17320

 

28 October 2021

Lesia Ukrainka at 150: A journey through the British Library collections (Part II)

The modernist Ukrainian writer Lesia Ukrainka (pen name of Larysa Kosach-Kvitka) pioneered a new feminist literature at the forefront of European trends of the time. Her dramas, poetry and prose address concerns from gender and race to feminism and environmentalism. In the year of the 150th anniversary of her birth, the British Library and the Ukrainian Institute London will shine a light on this remarkable figure at an event on 16 November 2021.

In the second of a two-part blog post, we explore aspects of Ukrainka’s life, work and legacy through items held in the British Library. It is co-authored by Dr Sasha Dovzhyk, a Ukrainian writer and scholar based in London, who will take part in the event.

Title page of Dumy i mriï

Lesia Ukrainka, Dumy i mriï (L’viv, 1899). 20009.e.44.

Thoughts and Dreams

In a review of Lesia Ukrainka’s second poetry collection, Dumy i mriï (‘Thoughts and Dreams’), the writer Ivan Franko, who was a considerable influence on her work, remarked, ‘[…] one cannot resist the feeling that this fragile, invalid girl is almost the only man in all our present-day Ukraine (Spirit of Flame, p. 19).’ Intended as praise of her directness in addressing Ukrainian identity, Franko’s assessment of Ukrainka and her work nevertheless speaks volumes about the construction of gender roles in the society in which she lived and wrote.

For more than two centuries, the Imperial Russian government had sought to stamp out the existence and understanding of a separate and distinct Ukrainian national consciousness. This first edition of Dumy i mriï was published in 1899 in L’viv, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as books and pamphlets in the Ukrainian language were banned in the Russian Empire from 1876 by a secret decree known as the Ems Ukaz.

The theme of subjugation and liberation, as told through historical examples, is present throughout much of Ukrainka’s work, not least in the collection Dumy i mriï. The second poem, ‘Robert Brus, korol’ shotlands’kyi’, tells of the struggles (and ultimate success) of the Scottish people under Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, to free themselves from the English King.

Poster for the Ukrainian Literature in Translation Prize 2021

Poster for the Ukrainian Literature in Translation Prize run by the Ukrainian Institute London 

Poetic dramas 

Ukrainka was a prolific poet, translator, prose writer, and cultural critic. However, it is her 20 poetic dramas that form the core of her legacy. The subjects and settings range from Homeric Greece and the ancient Middle East to the 17th-century Tsardom of Muscovy. The Stone Host (1912) reviews the classic story of Don Juan, while Cassandra (1907) looks at the fall of Troy through the eyes of a seemingly marginal female character. During Ukrainka’s lifetime, her plots were deemed too ‘exotic’ by Ukrainian critics who, in accordance with the 19th-century populist doctrine, identified the Ukrainian nation with the peasant class. Ukrainka’s ambition lay elsewhere. Envisioning Ukrainian literature as an equal participant in the conversation with major world literatures, she almost single-handedly coined the required cultural vocabulary through her dramas. Poetic translations of several of these works by Percival Cundy were printed in Spirit of Flame in 1950 (12263.d.14.). A selection of dramas was also translated by Vera Rich and published in Lesya Ukrainka: Life and work in 1968 (X.900/3941.). Run by the Ukrainian Institute London, the Ukrainian Literature in Translation Prize 2021 has focused on Ukrainka’s work and is promising to give an English voice to a greater number of her dramatic characters. The winners will be announced at the event on 16 November.

Title page from Lisova pisnia

Lesia Ukrainka, Lisova pisnia (Kyïv, 1914). 20001.g.48.

Forest Song 

The neo-Romantic Lisova pisnia ('Forest Song') is a poetic drama that has historically introduced young Ukrainians to Ukrainka’s work. Even in Soviet Ukraine, the neo-Romantic story of a forest nymph Mavka’s love for a peasant seemed a fitting choice for school syllabi and, unlike Ukrainka’s dramas that openly deal with the questions of power, an ideologically harmless one. The first book-form edition of Lisova pisnia appears to lay the groundwork for the provincialising perception of the drama as a naïve folk tale. Apart from the text and the author’s picture, the book includes three photographic landscapes and three portraits of peasant ‘types’ from the Volyn region of Ukraine as well as 16 musical notations for a reed-pipe (supposedly the simple songs played by Mavka’s beloved). Such a quasi-folkloric presentation distracts from some of the more radical aspects of the drama, including Ukrainka’s subtle commentary on female agency, creativity, and embodiment. Indeed, Lisova pisnia taps into the foundational questions of European literature about the power of art, traceable from the myth of Orpheus to Gerhart Hauptmann’s The Sunken Bell (1896). Unusually for this tradition, Ukrainka subverts the male-centric plot and transfers the creative power to her female character. As she straightforwardly stated in a letter to her mother, ‘Mavka’s story can only be written by a woman’. Lisova pisnia was translated into English by Percival Cundy (12263.d.14.) and by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps (YF.2009.a.28990).

Cover of Notre Dame d’Ukraine with a photo of Lesia Ukrainka

Oksana Zabuzhko, Notre Dame d’Ukraine: Ukraïnka v konflikti mifolohiĭ (Kyïv, 2007). YF.2007.a.26516

Notre Dame d’Ukraine

An intriguing reading of Lisova pisnia in the light of Gnosticism and chivalric culture is offered by a pioneering and widely translated Ukrainian author Oksana Zabuzhko, who interprets Ukrainka’s fairy-tale drama as the Ukrainian version of the Grail epic. Starting with her influential novel Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex (1996), Zabuzhko’s writing has foregrounded feminist and postcolonial perspectives on Ukrainian culture while repeatedly acknowledging her debt to Ukrainka. The most significant testament of Zabuzhko’s commitment to reviewing and reviving Ukrainka’s legacy is the 600-page magnum opus Notre Dame d’Ukraine. This volume positions Ukrainka as the last representative of the Ukrainian chivalric tradition. Aided by her passion for the subject and her engrossing literary style, Zabuzhko argues that Ukrainka and her small intellectual milieu had embodied the idealism and knightly code of honour exterminated in Ukraine under Soviet rule. Pointedly, Zabuzhko is also the most compelling advocate of Ukrainka’s Europeanism and of the international significance of her oeuvre. This accent is particularly important in relation to the canonised national writer whose image has been habitually subjected to reductionist nationalist approaches. As Notre Dame d’Ukraine will not let us forget, Ukrainka’s worldview is not only firmly grounded in European culture; her literary voice is also this culture’s knowledgeable and at times subversive interlocutor.

Screen shot from a Zoom performance of 'Virtual Forest Song'

Screen shot from a Zoom performance of 'Virtual Forest Song' in June 2021. Credit: Yara Arts Group

Performance 

Some of the most innovative productions of Ukrainka’s work have been created by the New York-based Yara Arts Group. Taking Lisova pisnia as a starting point, in 1993 Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps created an award-winning English translation of the play. Over the years, Yara Arts Group has staged different versions of the play, including a bilingual show at the Kurbas Theatre in L'viv and at La MaMa in New York, and the immersive ‘Fire Water Night’ in 2013. Their translation of the play is included in the bilingual anthology In a Different Light, which was published in 2008.

150 years after her birth, Ukrainka’s work continues to inspire and adapt to a changing world; in June 2021, Yara Arts Group performed its ‘Virtual Forest Song’ on Zoom. Reviewing the production in Ukrainian Weekly, Olena Jennings praised the online format, observing that it ‘[…] emphasizes the connection between nature, humans and technology. The space between the Zoom boxes becomes fluid as actors reach across boundaries.’

Sasha Dovzhyk, writer and scholar, and Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

The event The Unknown Feminist of Fin-de-siècle Europe: Lesia Ukrainka will take place at the British Library on 16 November 2021. 

Additional reading and resources:

Lesia Ukrainka at 150: A journey through the British Library collections (Part I)

Sasha Dovzhyk, ‘Subverting the Canon of Patriarchy: Lesya Ukrainka’s Revisionist Mythmaking’, The Los Angeles Review of Books, 25 February 2021

Olga Kerziouk, ‘Lady on Banknotes’, European Studies Blog, 1 August 2013 

Lesia Ukrainka: Fin-de-siècle Ukrainian Feminism (short film), Ukrainian Institute London, 2020

Lesia Ukrainka, Dramatychni tvory (Kyïv, 1923). 20009.ee.71.

In a Different Light: a bilingual anthology of Ukrainian literature, translated by Virlana Tkacz and Wanda Phipps; compiled and edited with foreword and notes by Olha Luchuk; introduction by Natalia Pylypiuk (L’viv, 2008). YF.2009.a.28990

26 October 2021

Lesia Ukrainka at 150: A journey through the British Library collections (Part I)

The modernist Ukrainian writer Lesia Ukrainka (pen name of Larysa Kosach-Kvitka) pioneered a new feminist literature at the forefront of European trends of the time. Her dramas, poetry and prose address concerns from gender and race to feminism and environmentalism. In the year of the 150th anniversary of her birth, the British Library and the Ukrainian Institute London will shine a light on this remarkable figure at an event on 16 November 2021. To whet your appetite, this two-part blog post explores aspects of Ukrainka’s life, work and legacy through items held in the British Library. It is co-authored by Dr Sasha Dovzhyk, a Ukrainian writer and scholar based in London, who will take part in the event.

Cover of Pershyi vinok: zhinochyi al’manakh

Cover of Pershyi vinok: zhinochyi al’manakh (New York, 1984). X.958/33534

The First Wreath

Born in 1871 into a family of intellectuals, Ukrainka’s upbringing profoundly shaped her socio-political outlook and literary career. Her mother, Olha Kosach (better known by her pseudonym, Olena Pchilka), was a writer, ethnographer, activist and central figure in Ukrainian literary life. Unusually for the time, she educated her children exclusively in Ukrainian, laying the foundations for Ukrainka’s love and command of the language. It was Pchilka who encouraged her daughter to write, inventing Ukrainka’s pen name, ‘Lesia (a diminutive of Larysa) of Ukraine’, when she sent her first poems for publication as a young teenager.

Pchilka was also active in the Ukrainian women’s movement, which emerged in the late 19th century. Together with Nataliia Kobrynska, she edited and published the first Ukrainian feminist almanac, Pershyi vinok (‘The First Wreath’) in 1887. The teenage Ukrainka was among its contributors with her poem ‘Rusalka’ and other verses. Published by the Ukrainian Women’s League of America in 1984, almost a century later, this second, expanded edition includes an introduction and biographical notes by Larissa M. L. Z. Onyshevych.

Cover of Starodavnia istoriia skhidnykh narodiv

Cover of Lesia Ukrainka, Starodavnia istoriia skhidnykh narodiv (Luts’k, 2008). YF.2013.a.13005

The Ancient History of Eastern Peoples

The Ancient History of Eastern Peoples is a textbook Ukrainka wrote in 1890–91 at the age of 19 to help with the education of her younger sister, Olha Kosach-Kryvyniuk. In popular introductions to the author’s life and work, this prodigious textbook is routinely mentioned among the top ten quirky facts. Olha Kosach-Kryvyniuk published it in 1918, and a facsimile edition was produced 90 years later. What is most surprising about this volume is the sheer distances Ukrainka travelled in her research, both time- and geography-wise. The 252 pages of her History delve into the beliefs and literatures of ancient India, Media, Persia, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Phoenicia, and Israel. The book also includes Ukrainka’s poetic translations of sacred hymns from Rig Veda, one of the earliest and most important texts in the Hindu tradition.

Working on her study in a remote Ukrainian village, Ukrainka relied on the correspondence with her uncle, a revered Ukrainian historian and political thinker in exile Mykhailo Drahomanov, as well as works by French orientalist scholars Louis Ménard (Histoire des Anciens Peuples de l'Orient, 1883 (9055.bbb.5.)) and Gaston Maspero (Histoire ancienne des peuples de l’Orient, 1875 (9055.a.34.)). Ukrainka remained fascinated with ancient spiritual beliefs and practices throughout her life.

Cover of ‘Die Weber’ H. Haĭne v perekladi Lesi Ukraïnky

Petro Odarchenko, ‘Die Weber’ H. Haine v perekladi Lesi Ukrainky, Slavistica, no. 77. 2nd ed. (Washington, 1976/77). Ac.9890.a[77]

Translation of Heinrich Heine’s ‘Die Weber’ 

An accomplished polyglot (by all accounts she knew nine languages in addition to her native Ukrainian), Ukrainka translated a number of works from English, German, French and Greek. This booklet includes a copy of her translation of Heinrich Heine’s political poem ‘Die schlesischen Weber’ (‘The Silesian Weavers’ or ‘Weaver-song’), which he wrote in response to the attempted uprising in 1844 by Silesian weavers against exploitation and falling wages. 

Ukrainka’s unpublished translation was identified by the writer and critic Petro Odarchenko in the literary museum of the Drahomanov family. It first appeared in print alongside Odarchenko’s commentary in 1927 and was published in a second edition as part of the Slavistica booklet series.

Cover of Poezii: vybrani tvory

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

Cover of Ternovyi vinets: zbirka poezii 

Lesia Ukrainka, Ternovyi vinets: zbirka poezii ([Germany], 1946). Awaiting shelfmark

Displaced Persons Camp poetry editions 

Petro Odarchenko also wrote the introduction to a small volume of Ukrainka’s works published in the Regensburg Displaced Persons (DP) Camp in 1946, the 75th anniversary of her birth. Like thousands of Ukrainians who were displaced at the end of the Second World War, Odarchenko lived in the Augsburg DP camp before moving to the USA with his family in 1950. Ukrainka’s younger sister, Olha Kosach-Kryvyniuk, also spent time in the same camp, where she died in November 1945.

Permitted by authority of the US Military Government in the American Allied Occupation Zone, the British Library copy also contains the stamp of the London-based Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau, which is believed to have donated the book to the Library in 1948. It is one of two rare DP camp editions of Ukrainka’s poetry published in her anniversary year and held by the British Library. The other, a collection of 25 poems entitled Ternovyi vinets (‘Crown of Thorns’), was reproduced from typescript and illustrated by Edvard Kozak.

Postcard from Lesia Ukrainka to her sister Olha

Postcard from Lesia Ukrainka to her sister, Olha. In Lesia Ukrainka, Lysty (1876-1897), compiled by Valentyna Prokip (Savchuk), (Kyiv, 2016), p. 22. YF.2017.a.2022

Letters

The three volumes of Ukrainka’s letters comprise a palimpsest in which the layers of Ukrainian and European cultural history coexist with the personal trials of the emergent heroine of her time, the New Woman. Whether it is the nation-building work of the secret societies of the Ukrainian intelligentsia in the Russian Empire, the latest breakthroughs in Scandinavian theatre, or the challenges encountered by an emancipated woman traveller at the turn of the century, Ukrainka’s analysis is sharp, lucid, erudite, and often interlaced with humour. Her correspondence offers a unique perspective on some of the topical issues of the period, from the redefinitions of the traditional family to the anti-colonial ethical code. Ukrainka dismantled patriarchal hierarchies in her literary work and in her personal life. Thus her letters shed light on such matters as the writer’s opposition to her family’s wishes concerning the choice of her life partner, a confrontation viewed by Ukrainka as a stepping-stone in the general struggle for women’s liberation. Her correspondence with another pioneering feminist writer of the Ukrainian fin de siècle, Olha Kobylianska, reveals a search for a new radical model of female intimacy which the literary scholar Solomiya Pavlychko called a ‘lesbian phantasy’. Like Kobylianska, Ukrainka was a feminist committed to the Ukrainian national project, which was at the time dominated by patriarchal and populist approaches.

Photo of Ukrainka’s funeral procession where her coffin is carried by six women. Reproduced in Spohady pro Lesiu Ukraïnku

Photograph from Spohady pro Lesiu Ukrainku, edited by Tamara Skrypka (New York; Kyiv, 2017-). ZF.9.a.11700

Remembering Lesia Ukrainka

Bringing together memoiristic prose by Ukrainka’s family members and photographs from museum collections and private archives, Remembering Lesia Ukrainka is a precious collage that brings us closer to the culture of the long fin de siècle in Ukraine. The Kosach-Drahomanov family included illustrious scholars and translators, political activists and pioneering feminists, whose memoirs offer a truly gratifying read. During the Soviet period, their aristocratic background led to political repressions as well as the inescapable censoring of their recollections. Some of the pieces in Remembering Lesia Ukrainka are published for the first time in unexpurgated form.

The photographs of the Kosach-Drahomanov estate and of Ukrainka and her siblings in traditional Ukrainian clothes, and musical notations compiled by her husband, famous folklorist and musicologist Klyment Kvitka, open a window onto a vanished society, the relics of which had been hidden from public view for a major part of the 20th century. One of the most haunting images reproduced in the book is a photo of Ukrainka’s funeral procession where her coffin is carried by six women: a testimony of the writer’s feminist legacy.

Linocut of the house in Surami where Ukrainka spent the days before her death

Linocut from Oleg Babyshkin, Lesia Ukrainka v Gruzii (Tbilisi, 1953). 10796.b.58.

Lesia Ukrainka in Georgia 

Ukrainka spent much of the last ten years of her life living and working in Georgia, where she died on 1 August 1913. Since the age of 12 or 13, she had been afflicted by tuberculosis and travelled constantly in search of treatment and warmer climes, from Yalta to Egypt. While it is important not to define Ukrainka by her illness, it undoubtedly had a significant impact on her life and work; she spent long periods away from home and family, often confined to her bed. As Clarence A. Manning observed, ‘It compelled her to live with her books, to think in terms of books, and to frame her intellectual and spiritual life on what she read, rather than on what she saw and experienced’ (Spirt of Flame, p. 13).

Published in Tbilisi in 1953, this book by the Ukrainian literary critic Oleh Babyshkin about Ukrainka’s time in Georgia focuses on three key cities and a town in which she lived: Tbilisi, Telavi, Khoni, and Kutaisi. The final chapter explores her legacy in Soviet Georgia. The text is accompanied by linocuts of significant places and buildings, including the Lesia Ukrainka Museum in the resort town Surami, her place of death.

Sasha Dovzhyk, writer and scholar, and Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

The event The Unknown Feminist of Fin-de-siècle Europe: Lesia Ukrainka will take place at the British Library on 16 November 2021. 

Additional reading and resources:

Lesia Ukrainka at 150: A journey through the British Library collections (Part II)

Sasha Dovzhyk, ‘Subverting the Canon of Patriarchy: Lesya Ukrainka’s Revisionist Mythmaking’, The Los Angeles Review of Books, 25 February 2021

Olga Kerziouk, ‘Lady on Banknotes’, European Studies Blog, 1 August 2013 

Lesia Ukrainka: Fin-de-siècle Ukrainian Feminism (short film), Ukrainian Institute London, 2020

15 May 2020

Fairytales across borders

As part of its 15th anniversary celebrations and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) has launched a fairytale-inspired campaign called #LoveOverVirus. Members of the theatre company, as well as a number of famous figures including Stephen Fry and Juliet Stevenson, are reading extracts from their favourite fairytales and short stories every evening at 6pm until the end of May. In addition, BFT has opened up its archive to stream 24 productions between April and June. Each show can be accessed for 24 hours and English subtitles are available for performances in Russian and Belarusian. The theatre company is banned in Belarus; its co-founding artistic directors, Natalia Kaliada and Nikolai Khalezin, came to the UK as political refugees in 2010, and rehearse its underground performances in Minsk via Skype.

Stephen Fry’s contribution to the Love Over Virus project is a reading of The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. First published in 1888, the tale is part of Wilde’s collection of short stories for children and adults, The Happy Prince and Other Tales (a free digitised copy is available to download from Project Gutenburg). Influenced by traditional fairytales, the seemingly whimsical stories offer an astute social commentary on Victorian society, depicting poverty, suffering and cruelty, but also love, kindness and sacrifice.

Cover of Shchasʹlivy Prynts with a drawing of the swallow and Egyptian pyramids

Cover of Shchasʹlivy Prynts (The Happy Prince) translated by L. Khvalʹko (Watenstadt, 1947) 12256.dd.8.

The title-story from the collection, The Happy Prince, similarly aimed to bring solace to children and adults when it was translated into Belarusian as part of Displaced Persons (DP) camp publishing activities in 1947. At the end of the Second World War, approximately 11 million people had been displaced from their home countries, with seven million in Allied-occupied Germany. They included concentration camp survivors, and former forced labourers and prisoners of war. DP camps were set up in Western Germany, Austria and Italy, and largely organised by nationality.

Double page from Shchasʹlivy Prynts with a drawing of the statue of the Happy Prince

Final pages from Shchasʹlivy Prynts with drawings of an angel and the swallow

Pages from Shchasʹ livy Prynts with illustrations

During the German occupation of Belarus between 1941 and 1944, approximately 380,000 Belarusians were deported to Germany as labourers. Thousands more subsequently fled the returning Soviet regime in 1944 (Silitski and Zaprudnik, pp. 135–136). Following the end of the war, Belarusian refugees lived in DP camps throughout Western Germany before they were resettled.

This translation of The Happy Prince (Shchasʹ livy Prynts in Belarusian) was reproduced from a typewritten copy and translated from the English by L. Khvalʹko. The text is accompanied by simple yet powerful pen and ink illustrations throughout. It was published in a camp in Watenstedt in the British zone (now incorporated into the city of Salzgitter) in Lower Saxony, Germany, by the Belarusian Relief Committee (Belaruski dapamahovy Kamitėt).

Photograph of a series of buildings at the A1 Heerte displaced persons camp in the Salzgitter region of Germany, 1946

Photograph of a series of buildings at the A1 Heerte displaced persons camp in the Salzgitter region of Germany, 1946. Museums Victoria Collections [Accessed 11 May 2020]

Salzgitter had been the site of Reichswerke Hermann Göring, a state-owned iron and steel complex that used slave labour during the war. Prisoners were housed in concentration camps in the area. After the war, DP camps were established for the some 37,000 (mostly Polish) displaced persons in the city (Neumann, p. 28). Many DP camps were set up on the sites of former German concentration camps and conditions were extremely difficult. Nevertheless, political, educational, religious and cultural activities, including publishing, flourished.

The British Library holds a handful of other Belarusian publications produced in Watenstedt between 1946 and 1948. These include a collection of poems by Maksim Bahdanovich, considered to be one of the founders of modern Belarusian literature (011586.pp.27.); a religious book ‘for the Belarusian family and school’ (4385.c.13.); and copies of the periodical Shliakham zhytsʹtsia (P.P.7615.yh.). To find more items published in Watenstedt, search by place of publication in our online catalogue in Cyrillic and using transliteration. The Library also has a growing collection of other DP camp publications in Belarusian and a number of other languages, including Russian, Yiddish, Latvian, Ukrainian and Polish.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

Further reading and references:

Jan-Hinnerk Antons, “Displaced Persons in Postwar Germany: Parallel Societies in a Hostile Environment.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 49, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 92–114

Marc Buggeln, Slave Labour in Nazi Concentration Camps, translated by Paul Cohen (Oxford, 2014). YC.2016.a.2083

Klaus Neumann, Shifting Memories: the Nazi past in the new Germany (Ann Arbor, 2000). YC.2001.a.17690

Vitali Silitski and Jan Zaprudnik, The A to Z of Belarus (Lanham, MD., 2010).

https://www.yadvashem.org/articles/general/displaced-persons-camps.html

https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/holocaust-refugees-displaced-persons-immediate-post-war-years/

19 June 2019

Translating Ibsen: monstrous rare of attainment

The Duke of York’s Theatre is currently playing Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm, a play that Michael Meyer suggests ‘marks Ibsen’s final withdrawal as a playwright from the polemical field’. It is marked everywhere by a curious sense of withdrawal, as the protagonist John Rosmer, heir to the Rosmersholm legacy and former clergyman, stirs himself towards a revolutionary popular politics, before abruptly asserting its futility. Likewise, the complex love affair between Rosmer and Rebecca West reaches the possibility of marriage, before that becomes impossible because of Rebecca’s guilt over her complicity in the suicide of Rosmer’s first wife and her manipulation of Rosmer towards her radicalism. Hints of idealism amidst the angst-ridden interactions dissolve into a resignation to unchangeable political, psychological and moral realities. This kind of thematic disappointment works also on the level of language, and Toril Moi suggests it depicts a dark modernity ‘where language has come to seem untrustworthy’. This makes you wonder: if the play is about the impossibility of communication, what does it mean to read and experience it at one remove, in translation?

Title page of the first edition of Rosmersholm

First edition of Rosmersholm (Copenhagen, 1896) BL 11755.bbb.34.

Ibsen is notoriously difficult to translate, hence the many translations and adaptations of his plays over the last century. This includes the new four-volume Penguin Ibsen, the third volume of which contains a new translation and critical apparatus for Rosmersholm and will be released in December this year. Mark Lawson reminds us of one of the problems of translating Ibsen: that he wrote in Danish in Norway at a time of linguistic transition, when Danish remained in use but was being superseded by Norwegian. ‘This means that the translator … needs two different sets of dictionaries and thesauri and a strong sense of the historical evolution of Scandinavian languages.’

Portrait of Louis Napoleon Parker

Portrait of Louis Napoleon Parker, National Portrait Gallery 1917

This combination of disappointed ideals and the thankless task of the translator emerge in the preface to the first English translation of Rosmersholm (London, 1889; 11755.e.13.) by the playwright, poet and musician, Louis Napoleon Parker. Parker writes how Ibsen was slowly becoming known to English audiences and, regarding his translation, ‘It claims only one merit: it is done from the original, and it is done as literally as my limited skill in juggling words would permit. An ideal translation is, like other ideals, monstrous rare of attainment. This is not an ideal translation; but that it is faithful I will pledge the word of one who has hitherto been considered indifferent honest.’ In his autobiography, Parker mentions an ‘obsession’ with Rosmersholm, ‘the only useful lesson in playwriting I ever had’. After first translating from an early German version, probably Marie von Borch’s (Berlin, 1887; 11755.c.2.), he returned to the original, feeling ‘instinctively that there were slips and lacunæ’ in the German.

Title Page of Louis N. Parker’s translation alongside his dedication to H. Rowland Brown

Title Page of Louis N. Parker’s translation alongside his dedication to H. Rowland Brown Cup.403.m.4.(7.)

The Ibsen Society of America see the first translations, including presumably Parker’s Rosmersholm, as being particularly faithful but also outdated: ‘older literary translations can impede meaning as much as they preserve it, as one soon discovers when struggling through any of the arch British-Victorian translations’. A couple of the tricky motifs to transmit into English, according to Toril Moi, are the verbs svælge (‘swallow’) and kvæle (‘strangle’). For Moi, these verbs ‘evoke ideas of forced or silenced expression’ in a play about the struggle to connect through language and the actual abyss between Rosmer and Rebecca, as well as between Rosmer and the outside world. These verbs are strange to a Norwegian reader in their contexts and therefore stand out. Rendering into comprehensible English, translators often miss the specific motifs of swallowing and suffocation, which Moi holds central to her understanding of the play.

Let’s compare a couple of passages from Parker’s 1889 work, Charles Archer’s 1891 translation (11755.df.45.), Michael Meyer’s 1966 version (X.908/8346.), Mike Poulton’s 2008 adaptation (YK.2009.a.18115), and Moi’s own renderings in her critical work.

The end of Act 2 sees Rosmer lament the impossibility of his political project due in part to his deep guilt over his wife’s death. Moi has it:

ROSMER: I shall never conquer this – not completely. There will always be a lingering doubt. A question. I’ll never again be able to bask in (svælge i) that which makes life so wonderfully delightful to live.
REBECCA: [leaning over the back of his chair, more slowly] What kind of thing is it you mean, Rosmer?
ROSMER: [looking up at her] Quiet, joyous freedom from guilt.
REBECCA: [takes a step back] Yes. Freedom from guilt.

Moi cannot retain the idea of swallowing but opts for a phrase that keeps a bodily sense, of absorbing something. This is lost in Meyer’s and Poulton’s translations, which go with the verbs ‘enjoy’ and ‘losing the one joyful thing’. Parker and Archer settle for ‘revel in’, retaining at least the preposition and therefore some idea of physicality.

The scene takes a turn when Rosmer asks Rebecca to become his second wife, a proposal she rejects for no clear reasons at this stage. Rosmer’s plea is about shaking off the burden of the past in marriage, demanding, according to Moi’s version, to ‘let us strangle (kvæle) all memories in freedom, in pleasure, in passion’. Meyer writes, ‘let us lay all memories to rest in freedom, and joy, and love’, a significantly more peaceful image. Poulton offers a more violent image in the verb ‘drown’. However, closer to the original, Parker and Archer prefer the verb ‘stifle’, a motif of suffocation.

One last example that provides interesting comparison is the word vidnesbyrd, the ‘testimony’ or ‘proof’ Rosmer asks of Rebecca to restore his faith, essentially demanding that she takes her own life. Moi prefers to see this as ‘bearing witness’ because the concept is distinct from ‘proof’, as it ‘has to do with a person’, whereas ‘proof’ ‘often refers to things or facts’. This word isolates one translator among our selection. The very first translation, the one that was a product of an obsession with the most faithful rendering, Louis Napoleon Parker’s work is the only version not to use the word ‘proof’. He employs the awkward formulation, ‘Let me have a token!’ The word ‘token’ insists on a visible and tangible manifestation of something in a way that ‘proof’ does not quite manage.

As strange as it sounds in Parker’s rendering, perhaps Parker’s ‘token’ is a more accurate translation after all, and, if anything, his version helps to remind us of Ibsen’s own strange language.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References/Further Reading

Louis N. Parker, Several of my Lives (London, 1928), 010855.f.42

Toril Moi, Henrik Ibsen and the Birth of Modernism: Art, Theater, Philosophy (Oxford, 2006) YC.2006.a.19524

Mark Lawson, ‘The Master Linguist: The Problem with Translating Ibsen’, The Guardian (29 October 2014)

05 June 2019

Transcending Text in Print: Lothar Schreyer’s Kreuzigung

The term Bauhaus evokes functionality, social utopia, maybe even novel pedagogical thinking, but this is often associated with its role as a school of design. However, the Bauhaus developed out of a movement that was split between the rational and what Pádraic E. Moore refers to as the ‘cosmically-inclined’. This year’s Bauhaus centenary gives pause for thought to the contrasting utopianisms at the heart of the school, and to the esoteric elements, which have been given less attention in its historiography.

These elements are often reduced to the influence of Wassily Kandinsky, who articulated a ‘spiritual vision’ for 20th-century art. Kandinsky sought to unite form, colour, sound, and movement in ‘the gradual forming structure of the new spiritual realm’. Der gelbe Klang (‘The Yellow Sound’) is one such ‘symphonic composition’ that paved the way for a new theatre. It first appeared in Der Blaue Reiter Almanac (Munich, 1912; C.107.h.16) and comprises six ‘pictures’ almost without dialogue, detailing elaborate staging and actor movements.

Kandinsky was a key influence on Lothar Schreyer, pioneer of expressionist theatre, who, according to David F. Kuhns, ‘built a whole theory of performance on the expressive process first suggested in The Yellow Sound’.

Title-page of Lothar Schreyer's, Kreuzigung
Title-page of Lothar Schreyer, Kreuzigung (Hamburg, 1920) C.180.cc.8.

Where Kandinsky offers lengthy stage directions as a surrogate for synesthetic art experience, Schreyer’s Kreuzigung: Spielgang Werk VIII attempts to represent a spiritual experience in a singular score, employing a distinct set of signs and symbols, colours and forms. Its publication triggered Walter Gropius to invite Schreyer to the Bauhaus, where he led the stage workshop between 1921 and 1923.

Photographic portrait of Lothar Schreyer
Lothar Schreyer  in 1918. (Picture from Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Kandinsky was influential but Schreyer’s Bauhaus experience was shaped more by Johannes Itten and Gertrud Grunow, two less familiar names. Schreyer’s thinking around rhythm maps onto ideas simiular to theirs. Itten led the Bauhaus Preliminary Course [Vorkurs] and Grunow the course in ‘Practical Harmonization’ [Praktische Harmonisierungslehre], both forming the foundation of a student’s education. Itten’s devotion to Mazdaznan opened his practice to regulating physical exercises, including breathing and rhythmic drawing. Likewise, Grunow encouraged rhythmic breathing and a response to colours through movement. Both were committed to strengthening students’ ‘self-awareness in relation to both the corporeal and the spiritual’ (Linn Buchert). In the focus on fundamental words, tones, colours, forms, Schreyer also encourages in each of his practitioners an inner harmony, sound, or rhythm, which pushes to a limit the experience of ‘word’. This is more than the ‘transmission of a message’; it is the evocation of spirit.

Kreuzigung developed out of Schreyer’s work with Der Sturm, the most influential journal of German expressionism, an offshoot of which, Die Sturm-Bühne, he edited in collaboration with the Hamburg Kampfbühne, his parallel theatre project. Schreyer’s expressionism went against the overly literary dramatic tradition, which he declared defunct: in his 1916 essay ‘Das Bühnenkunstwerk’, he wrote: ‘It is necessary to forget theatre. […] A stage art [Bühnenkunstwerk] is necessary’. That stage art privileged performance over print, synesthetic experience over dialogue. Kreuzigung then returns to the print medium in order to explode the representative possibilities of literature.

The book is not described as a playscript [Theaterstück], rather Schreyer prefers the neologism Spielgang. Whereas the usual term refers to a piece, the new term draws attention to the mobility of the text through Gang (path, walk, derived from the verb gehen, to walk or go). It is the only Spielgang to materialize from a workshop process that was usually reserved for the Kampfbühne’s community of artists. Schreyer only rarely allowed outsiders into performances and practically no reviews. Yet Kreuzigung became the exemplary work ‘to grant others the knowledge’ of this creative experimentation through, in Schreyer’s own words, ‘the system and sign, in which a stage work was given the stability of form [die Beständigkeit der Gestalt]’.

The text is evocative rather than wholly readable. It works in connection with the representation of movement, figures (as coloured forms), and sound. That is apparent from the title page, headed with the motto, ‘Sturm dir Sturm allen Sturm’, which might be translated as ‘Storm to you Storm to all Storm’ but also works on the level of sonic rhythm and visual symmetry, especially in the heightened artistry of the wood-block setting.

Text 'What the reader must know' from 'Kreuzigung'
‘What the reader must know‘, from Kreuzigung

The next page sets out what the reader, performer, and spectator ‘must know’. Schreyer writes in the essay ‘Bühnenwerk Spielgang und Spiel’ that ‘in order to learn the Spielgang system and its signs, no particular course of study is necessary’. Yet, the universal pretensions are qualified in the work itself as ‘Anyone can read the score who can hear word-tones [Worttone] internally and see the movement of coloured form’. Likewise, ‘The play can only be seen and heard with a circle of friends as a shared experience, as a shared act of devotion, as a shared work’. On one level, Kreuzigung acts as a representation of performance but, on another, it points to the impossibility of that very representation. It is at once readable by all and penetrable only by the initiated.

The system and symbols from Kreuzigung
The system and symbols from Kreuzigung

The system is unpacked on the following page. Three levels are represented on a stave: word sequence, tone sequence and movement sequence. A zigzag line on the tone sequence denotes pitch based on its position and on the yellow (high) or blue (low) lines. The bracket symbols refer to volume and the target signs to pauses in both sound and movement. Words are stretched and contracted as appropriate to the bar by way of the woodcut text. The cross-like symbol relates to the ‘Man’ character, the single red circle to the ‘Mother’ character, and the two red circles to the ‘Beloved’ character.

The figures of ‘Man’ and ‘Beloved’ from 'Kreuzigung'
The figures of ‘Man’ and ‘Beloved’ from Kreuzigung

These symbolic referents point to the ‘de-individuated “art-body” stripped of socially conditioned speech and movement patterns […] capable of expressing universal truths’ (Buckley). In fact, the Spielgang was a communal creation based on an original process of meditation and vocal practice to identify the performer’s ground-tone [Grundton], becoming word-tones [Wortton] when applied to language and Sprachtonspiele when in sentence combinations.

Schreyer glosses the play itself as a ‘desperate struggle for humanity against daemonic forces’. It evokes a post-war apocalypse, around which man wanders wounded in the company of two female characters in the conventional guises of mother and mistress, ultimately seeking escape through spiritual transcendence.

Page from 'Kreuzigung' showing the text and the symbols representing the characters and their movements
‘Man: Wounded feet of men carry us | Woman: My heart is blood’, from Kreuzigung (all translations by Mel Gordon)

Ultimately, while salvation is demanded, it does not arrive, as the figures are left to call for the world to wake, to realize itself beyond the material desperation. Yet, Kreuzigung is not just the representation of some failed transcendence; that would neglect the formal purity of a project less concerned with content. Rather, ‘the actual logic of the work of word art [Wortkunstwerk] is more of an artistic logic’. Spiritual transcendence is a process entered into in the performance and experience of such universal stage art.

Complex movements All tasks we perform
Complex movements: ‘Beloved: I am (Beloved alternately moves arms up and down four times) | Man: All tasks we perform. Flames break at midnight. (Mother quarter turn left, right arm horizontal sideways. Hand behind, then in front, opens left hand on breast; Beloved quarter turn right, right arm horizontal sideways. Hand behind, then in front, opens left hand on left breast; Man forearm on cross, straight in front; Mother right hand on right breast; Beloved right hand on right breast)

Page from 'Kreuzigung' showing the text and the symbols representing the characters and their movements
‘Saviour!’ (All together)

Page from 'Kreuzigung' showing the text and the symbols representing the characters and their movements
The End: ‘Awake. World. Awake.’ (All together)

Kreuzigung is an attempt to encapsulate the anti-literary in print, what Buckley terms the manifestation of Schreyer’s ‘anxious utopianism’, which enacts the tensions ‘between its knowledge and its hopes – between the Werk as commodity and the Arbeit of the community, between mediation and immediacy’. A contemporary of Schreyer, Robert Musil, articulated this negotiation between spirit and rationality a year after the publication of Kreuzigung, as ‘an abiding miscommunication between the intellect and the soul. We do not have too much intellect and too little soul, but too little precision in matters of the soul’. In the urge to leave something material, ‘out of which creative people in the future could understand what forces had moved and shaped our plays’ (Schreyer, Erinnerungen), Schreyer and the Kampfbühne showed their precision in works of the soul and underlined that tension at the heart of the Bauhaus. Kreuzigung is thus the result of precise printing craft and a meticulous pedagogical process that might just also tend towards the divine.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References / Further Reading

Wassily Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, edited and translated by Hilla Rebay (New York, 1946), 7813.b.1.

Lothar Schreyer, Theateraufsätze (Lewiston, 2001), YC.2002.a.12966

——, Erinnerungen an Sturm und Bauhaus. Was ist des Menschen Bild? (Lewiston, 2002), YK.2002.a.21881

Robert Musil, Precision and Soul: Essays and Addresses (Chicago, 1990), YC.1991.b.1058

Hans M. Wingler, The Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago (Cambridge, MA, 1979), f80/0186

Mel Gordon, ‘Lothar Schreyer and the Sturmbühne’, The Drama Review, vol. 24, no. 1 (1980), pp. 85-102. 3623.197000

David F. Kuhns, German Expressionist Theatre: the Actor and the Stage (Cambridge, 1997), YC.2002.a.15612

Jennifer Buckley, ‘The Bühnenkunstwerk and the Book: Lothar Schreyer’s Theatre Notation’, Modernism.modernity, vol. 21, no. 2 (2014), pp. 407-24. 5900.120000

Pádraic E. Moore, ‘A Mystic Milieu: Johannes Itten and Mazdaznan at Bauhaus Weimar’, bauhaus imaginista, edition 1

Elizabeth Otto and Patrick Rössler (eds), Bauhaus Bodies: Gender, Sexuality, and Body Culture in Modernism’s Legendary Art School (New York, 2019), ELD.DS.381646

Linn Buchert, ‘The spiritual Enhancement of the Body: Johannes Itten, Gertrud Grunow, and Mazdaznan at the early Bauhaus’, in Bauhaus Bodies

21 December 2018

The ‘Artist Maks’: The Ukrainian Disciple of Aubrey Beardsley

2018 has marked 120 years since the death of Aubrey Beardsley (1872–1898), the British master of Art Nouveau who has been repeatedly named an emblem of Victorian Decadence. Born into the age of quick photomechanical reproduction of images, he exploited this new technology to circulate his black-and-white designs worldwide. ‘No artist of our time’, noted the poet Arthur Symons in his tribute to Beardsley, ‘has reached a more universal, or a more contested fame; […] none has had so wide an influence on contemporary art’.

Figure 1 (Beardsley portrait)
Above: Frederick Hollyer, photograph of Aubrey Beardsley, 1890s. Below:  Aubrey Beardsley, ‘The Dancer’s Reward’, illustration from Salome, 1893. Both images reproduced in Arthur Symons,
Aubrey Beardsley (London, 1898) L.R.269.a.2/3.

Figure 2 (Salome)

Among the histories of Beardsley’s extraordinary international influence, his Ukrainian reception is among the most surprising ones. Thus, a single look at the works by Vsevolod Maksymovych (1894–1914) justifies the artist’s nickname of the ‘Ukrainian Beardsley’. Like Beardsley, Maksymovych was a prodigy. At 19, he produced most of his paintings that shared the period’s preoccupations with exoticism, mysticism, and sexuality. At 20, he committed suicide. His short life did nevertheless overlap with key cultural events of the early 20th century, including the fading of the Art Nouveau style, the birth of the Futurist movement, and the earliest avant-garde experiments in film.

Figure 3 (Masquerade)
Vsevolod Maksymovych, Masquerade, 1913, Oil on canvas, reproduced in Ukrains´kyi modernizm 1910-1930 = Ukrainian Modernism, ed. by Anatolii Mel´nyk and John E. Bowlt (Kyiv, 2006), LF.31.b.3196

Maksymovych was born in the city of Poltava in 1894. In the West, it was the year of the Beardsley Boom, when the volumes of the Decadent almanac The Yellow Book and Oscar Wilde’s drama Salome disseminated Beardsley’s notorious designs. After Beardsley’s premature death in 1898, the international circulation of his images persisted through fashionable periodicals. In Eastern Europe, his drawings were popularised by the St Petersburg aesthetic journal Mir iskusstva (1899-1904; P.P.1931.pmb.) and the Moscow review Vesy  (1904-1909; Mic.F.430). The Kyiv magazine V mirie iskusstv (1907-1910) dedicated an illustrated essay to Beardsley in 1907.

Figure 4 (V mirie iskusstv)
Cover of V mirie iskusstv, 1 (1909). ZA.9.d.620

At the beginning of the 20th century, a Ukrainian art lover such as Maksymovych would have inhabited a world permeated by Beardsley’s visual language and imagery. While it was common for the artists of the 1910s to adopt Beardsley’s stylised line and black-blot technique, Maksymovych stood out among the imitators. The painter transferred the intricate graphic lace of Beardsley’s black-and-white illustrations to his colossal – up to four-metre-wide – oil canvases. As the art historian John Bowlt observes, ‘if certain esthetic ideas did bloom late on Ukrainian soil, they tended to assume luxuriant, hybrid proportions’.

Figure 5 (002)

 Vsevolod Maksymovych, Self-Portrait, 1913, Oil on canvas, National Art Museum of Ukraine, reproduced in Ukrains´kyi modernizm 1910-1930 

Maksymovych’s life-size Self-Portrait is an example of such luxuriant blooming. The picture centres on the immaculately-dressed figure of the artist who, like Beardsley, posed as a dandy. Even more fascinating than Maksymovych’s self-depiction is the backdrop which incorporates familiar details from Beardsley’s Salome designs: the dramatic peacock patterns formed of curvilinear tails and foaming crescents. Those Beardsleyesque backgrounds dominated the responses of contemporaries to Maksymovych’s work. In the words of the Futurist writer Boris Lavrenev: ‘His canvases consisted of circlets and rings, tangled and intertwined, […] which resembled a pile of soаp bubbles’. 

Lavrenev and Maksymovych met in Moscow in 1913 during the filming of The Drama in Cabaret No 13. This film is considered the first cinematic experiment of the global Avant-Garde. Directed by a pioneer of abstract art, Mikhail Larionov, it featured Futurist celebrities such as Vladimir Mayakovsky and David Burliuk. Although the film itself has been lost, surviving frames allow the identification of the male lead. It was, undoubtedly, Maksymovych, or the ‘artist Maks’ as he was called within the Futurist milieu.

Figure 7 (002)
A scene from The Drama in Cabaret No 13 featuring V. Maksymovych and N. Elsner, reproduced in M. L. Polianovskii, Maiakovskii-kinoakter (Moscow, 1940) YA.1997.a.3234.

The ‘artist Maks’ lived through the clash of the languorous Art Nouveau aesthetics with the revolutionary Avant-Garde. Despite Maksymovych’s prominent position in the Futurist networks, the style of his work was sadly out of date by the standards of 1914. When his one-man Moscow exhibition of that year failed, the ‘Ukrainian Beardsley’ overdosed on drugs.

Figure 8
A scene from
The Drama in  Cabaret No 13, from M. L. Polianovskii, Maiakovskii-kinoakter

After the painter’s suicide, his works did not stand much chance of entering official Moscow art collections. Maksymovych’s mother and the art collector Fedir Ernst eventually succeeded in bringing his works back to Ukraine. Ideologically incompatible with official Soviet culture, the paintings reemerged from the cellar of the National Art Museum of Ukraine only at the turn of the 21st century. Today, as we celebrate the international legacy of Aubrey Beardsley, it is time to look closely at his Ukrainian disciple and examine the transformations of art works, styles, and myths when they travel across national borders.

Sasha Dovzhyk, Birkbeck, University of London

References/Further reading

R. M. Iangirov, ‘Smert´ poeta: Vokrug fil´ma “Drama v kafe futuristov No. 13”’, in Tynianovskii sbornik: Sed´mye Tynianovskie chteniia, ed. by M. O. Chudakova, E. A. Toddes, and Iu. G. Tsiv´ian (Riga, 1995) YF.2004.a.14913

Linda Gertner Zatlin, Aubrey Beardsley: a catalogue raisonné (New Haven, 2016) LC.31.b.15403

V. N. Terekhina, ‘Vsevolod Maksimovich sredi moskovskikh futuristov’, in Russkoe iskusstvo: XX vek, Vol. 3 (Moscow, 2009), pp. 147–156. ZF.9.a.7176

02 October 2018

‘This art, at once so beautiful and so ungrateful…’ Celebrating World Ballet Day

‘Terpsichore is a jealous goddess,’ warns the ‘Advice to Those Contemplating the Study of Dancing’ which opens A Manual of the Theory and Practice of Classical Theatrical Dancing, in which Cyril W. Beaumont and Stanislas Idzikowski expound the methods developed by the famous Italian ballet-master Enrico Cecchetti. The authors leave aspiring dancers in no doubt that ‘those who seek fame among her votaries must sacrifice at her altar years of patient study and hours of physical labour’. Fortunately, there have always been those determined enough to persevere with the rigorous training necessary to succeed in ballet and assure the continuation of this art form.

Manual of Classical Dancing 07911.gg.3Cover by Randolph Schwabe for A Manual of the Theory and Practice of Classical Theatrical Dancing (London, 1922) 07911.gg.3

Many would-be dancers first develop their ambition through attending a performance of The Nutcracker or Coppélia; others devour the works of authors such as Lorna Hill (A Dream of Sadler’s Wells and its sequels) or Jean Estoril (Ballet for Drina, the first of a series charting the young heroine’s progress from early childhood to professional success in Drina Ballerina). Typically, their protagonists have to struggle with financial hardship, unsympathetic relatives and similar obstacles as well as the formidable demands of a classical ballet training.

Naomi Capon’s Dancers of Tomorrow provides a balanced account of such a training, designed, perhaps, to reassure parents as well as to leave ballet students in no doubt about the challenges they face. Illustrated with photographs taken at the Sadler’s Wells School (as it then was), it describes ten-year-old Ann Blake’s admission to the School despite her father’s misgivings and her studies within a curriculum where equal emphasis is laid on a good general education to equip those who, like her friend Barbara, prove unsuitable for further training to undertake a different career. The author emphasizes the hard work and concentration required from the outset and Ann’s realisation, on making her stage début as one of the Morning Hours in Act III of Coppélia, that ‘it’s only the beginning’.

Why are so many dancers of the future still drawn to ballet despite the prospect of years of extreme physical exertion and gruelling discipline? Very few can hope to achieve the glamour and acclaim surrounding the greatest dancers of the past, such as Marie Taglioni, whose fame even spread to the remote Russian province of Tver, as E. M. Almedingen recounts in Little Katia, based on the memoirs of her great-aunt:

‘One of the visitors […] from St. Peterburg was devoted to ballet. Once Uncle Nicholas appeared, a white gauze scarf in his hands, and started pirouetting about in the middle of the hall. The elegant gentleman […] asked: “May I ask what you are trying to do, Nicholas?” “I am not Nicholas, my dear friend, […] I am Taglioni.” After that, the visitor did not indulge in further monologues about the great dancer.’

Taglioni 558.g.33 Bayadere
Illustration from Six Sketches of Mademoiselle Taglioni ... Drawn from the life by A. E. Chalon... (London, 1831) 558*.g.33.

Other ballerinas and danseurs nobles also inspired evocations of their grace in other media, as seen in Robert Montenegro’s work celebrating Vaslav Nijinsky:

Nijinsky Tab.761.a.3. Spectre Le Spectre de la Rose from Vaslav Nijinsky : an artistic interpretation of his work, in black, white and gold (London, [1913]) Tab.761.a.3.

The work of the great stage designers can be regarded as art in its own right as well as part of the spectacle; many prominent artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries collaborated with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and other companies to create strikingly original sets and costumes. Among the finest examples of these are those devised in 1921 by Léon Bakst  for a production at London’s Alhambra Theatre of The Sleeping Princess (the title was modified as the dancer portraying Aurora, Lydia Lopokova, did not consider herself a ‘beauty’ in the conventional sense).

Bakst LR.23.a.8. Princess AuroraPrincess Aurora (above) and Prince Charming (below), illustrations from The Designs of Léon Bakst for The Sleeping Princess (London, 1923) L.R.36.a.8.

Bakst LR.23.a.8. Prince Charming

At times of national privation and austerity such as the periods after two World Wars, these productions satisfied a need for lavish and sumptuous beauty, capturing the imagination and offering a glimpse of a world where drabness and rationing had no place, even though ‘the wonderful velvets were coarse and dirty, and the laces looked like limp pieces of rag when they no longer whirled in the dances’, as young Ann discovers on her first visit backstage. It was also with a performance of The Sleeping Beauty that the Royal Opera House  reopened in 1946 in a legendary production designed by Oliver Messel and produced by Ninette de Valois: clothing coupons had to be used to provide costumes, while the sets were constructed using cheap canvas and paint.

The success of this production, starring Margot Fonteyn and Robert Helpmann, inspired a surge of renewed interest in ballet as an art form and the publication of books devoted to it. One of the authors involved in this was Caryl Brahms, renowned not only for classic guidebooks such as A Seat at the Ballet and Footnotes to the Ballet but the wickedly funny satires which she penned with S. J. Simon, A Bullet in the Ballet and Six Curtains for Stroganova, featuring not only the inimitable impresario Vladimir Stroganoff and his temperamental troupe but also delicious allusions to Marie Rambert (‘Assez de chi-chi!’), Arnold Haskell and other figures of the contemporary ballet world.

Some ballets, such as Cecchetti’s Eve, whose heroine escapes her creditors by joining an expedition whose crew is wiped out by hungry polar bears, are unlikely to be revived. Today, though, ballet flourishes as vigorously as ever, with all the tenacity and vitality which it exacts from those who keep its traditions alive.

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

References

Lorna Hill, A Dream of Sadler’s Wells (London, 1950) 12833.b.27

Jean Estoril, Ballet for Drina (London, 1957) 12839.e.21.

Jean Estoril, Drina Ballerina (London, 1991) YK.1991.a.932

Naomi Capon, Dancers of Tomorrow (Leicester, 1956) 7923.ff.8

E. M. Almedingen, Little Katia (London, 1966) X.990/512

Caryl Brahms, A Seat at the Ballet (London, 1951) 7900.ff.46

Caryl Brahms, Footnotes to the Ballet (London, 1936) 07908.ff.57

Caryl Brahms and S. J. Simon, A Bullet in the Ballet (London, 1937) NN.27474.

Caryl Brahms and S. J. Simon, Six Curtains for Stroganova (London, 1945, reprinted 1964) X.909/960

Olga Racster, The Master of the Russian Ballet: the Memoirs of Cav. Enrico Cecchetti (London, 1923) 10634.d.23

16 May 2018

Southern French printing during the Revolution: Le Journal de Marseille and La prise de Toulon

0IMG_8456a
 The Destruction of the French Fleet at Toulon, 18 December 1793, from Thomas Whitcombe, The naval achievements of Great Britain from the year 1793 to 1817 (London, 1817-18) 748.d.22.

In an earlier blog post, we discussed the recent acquisition of a copy of the revolutionary Journal de Marseille published in 1793-1794, RB.23.a.37976. Now we would like to comment on the collection of pamphlets bound at the end of the volume. They include a revolutionary song, the “Chanson des sans-culottes”, by the comedian, theatre director, song writer and dramatic author Aristide Valcour. 

  1IMG_8223a
Aristide Valcour, Chanson des sans-culottes, ([Paris], 1793) RB.23.a.37976.(5)

It is followed by the left-leaning, Jacobin-inspired Constitution of 24 June 1793, which was never implemented, preceded as is often the case by the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen.  The collection also contains reports and political discourses held at the National Convention and the Committee of Public Safety , discussing topics such as religion, government or public instruction. 

2IMG_8224a Constitution of 24 June 1793, with Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen ([Paris], 1793) RB.23.a.37976.(6)

The volume is very coherent in the way it gathers contemporary revolutionary material from South-Eastern France. Initially, the titles of the additional pamphlets suggested that some were duplicates of existing tracts in the British Library’s collection. However, most of the tracts contained in the Journal volume are from different, often Southern editions, or in some cases have a different type-set. For example, the discourse Aux grands Maux les grands Remèdes by Sébastien Lacroix (the initial editor of the Journal de Marseille), held at F.617.(21.) was first printed in Paris, while the other copy, a reprint published in Marseille by Auguste Mossy in the same year (an II / 1793), is abbreviated, and followed by an order of the General Assembly of the Republican Section des Quatre nations for the printing and distribution of 3000 copies and 500 posters of Lacroix’s petition. 

3IMG_8228aSébastien Lacroix, Aux grands Maux les grands Remèdes (Marseille, 1793) RB.23.a.37976.(10)

Lacroix is the author of another tract in the Journal de Marseille collection: La Religion naturelle, la seule qui convient à des Républicains, published in 1793-94 (an II) by Auguste Mossy (1764-1820): in the compilation, this is a duplicate of BL collection item, R.337.(15.). The Mossy family of printers  seems to have played a key role in the diffusion of Jacobin literature such as that transmitted in the volume (we don’t know who were its early owners: the opening paste-down contains an ex-libris signature which has been crossed out). Auguste Mossy, who printed 3 tracts in the compilation, was a fervent revolutionary who started his own printing business in 1791 and became a municipal councillor for the city of Marseilles until 1793 (he later held other important political functions, under the Consulate and the Napoleonic Empire but was demoted under the Bourbon Restoration).

4IMG_8225a
Sébastien Lacroix, La religion naturelle la seule qui convient à des Républicains (Marseille, 1793) RB.23.a.37976.(7)

The patriarch, Jean Mossy worked with his sons Jean II and Auguste from 1784 to at least 1791. He was a printer for the Navy, the King/the Nation and the City of Marseille, and published important works in the 1770-80s on the antiquities of Marseille and the history of Provence and Comté-Venaissin. Jean II (1758-1835), who published 4 tracts in the Journal de Marseille compilation, inherited his father’s presses and his own son, Jean-Joseph Mossy, succeeded him as a printer and bookseller.

  5IMG_8227a Maximilien Robespierre, Discours prononcé à la Société populaire des Jacobins à Paris, 21 November 1793 RB.23.a.37976.(9)

Other material bound after the Journal de Marseille include several discourses by figures such as Robespierre, Billaud-Varenne, Moyse Bayle  (a member of Marseille’s Jacobins club, deputy for the Bouches-du-Rhône department at the 1792 National Convention, involved in in 1793 with the Committee of Public Safety and the Committee of General Security) and Jean-Corisandre Mittié. 

6IMG_8232a Title page of Jean-Corisandre Mittié, La prise de Toulon (Marseille, 1794) RB.23.a.37976.(14)

Mittié succeeded Lacroix as editor of the Journal de Marseille from issue 44 onwards. He was an author of dramatic works like La prise de Toulon, fait historique en un acte et en prose, the last item in the collection, and went on writing plays performed in Paris, such as the farcical La descente en Angleterre, prophétie en deux actes (performed on 24 December 1797 at the Cité-Variété theatre) or L’anniversaire, ou La fête de la souveraineté, scène lyrique et mélodramatique, mêlée de pantomime, combats et danses, et dédiée au peuple (performed in March 1798 at the Ambigu-Comique theatre). The newly-acquired Prise de Toulon is a copy of the first Marseille edition, published by Jean Mossy, while the library already owned the second edition (Paris, 1794; 11738.f.25.(7.).

7IMG_8234aInstructions for the actors; Scene 1 from La prise de Toulon

Mittié, who was sent by the Committee of Public Safety to Marseilles in 1794, asserts on the title page of La Prise de Toulon that he travelled to Toulon to be able to provide the most “exact”, “detailed information, the most authentic account and knowledge of the character and genius of the men who contributed to this memorable event”. The Siege of Toulon  led to a wealth of dramatic and lyrical revolutionary creations written by professional authors and enthusiastic revolutionaries and performed mainly in Paris at the beginning of 1794. The victory of the Republicans (including the young officer Napoléon Bonaparte) over the Royalists and a coalition of British, Spanish and Italian troops in the city of Toulon, with its strategic port and arsenal, was celebrated throughout the country. 

8Les_coalises_evacuent_Toulon_en_decembre_1793 A. Forand, ‘Evacüation des puissances coälisées du port de Toulon. Le 18 decembre 1793’ (1793). (Image from Prints, Drawings and Watercolors from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library)

The list of characters and instructions to the actors give an idea of the ideological bias of Mittié’s play. The drama is represented as “useful” with its “patriotic influence”, because it “consecrates the most memorable period of the Revolution, the most decisive for the fate of Liberty”. On Republican side the Generals and Representatives of the people (including Fréron, Barras and Robespierre), who after the flight of the English and the fall of the city, stop the pillage and execute the traitors, must have a “strong voice and physique”, and the female heroine, “citoyenne Lapoype”, who was captured but eventually liberated, “the most touching voice and accent”. 

9IMG_8233aCharacter list and Preface from La prise de Toulon

On the side of the Royalists, depicted as reactionary and dissolute, the Marquis de Sombreuil, the type of the coxcomb, must have a “tone leading to ridicule” and the Knight of Cazalés corresponds to the type of an old man. The play highlights the eventual execution and “guillotine” of “conspirators” and “traitors”. It ends with the ominous announcement by Fréron of the intended destruction of the city of Toulon (which in the end was not implemented by the authorities): “only ashes and rubble” will remain as “the hand of vengeance will erase up to the last remnant of Toulon”. It closes with the enthusiastic salutation: “the genius of Liberty hovers over us. Woe to the Royalists, war to tyrants, peace to the cottages and LONG LIVE THE REPUBLIC”.  

Irène Fabry-Tehranchi, Curator, Romance collections

References:

Jacques Billioud, Le Livre en Provence du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle (Marseille, 1962). 2704.e.4.

Hervé Guénot, ‘ Le théâtre et l'événement : la représentation dramatique du siège de Toulon (août 1793’, Annales littéraires de l'Université de Besançon. Littérature et révolution française, 354, 1987, Ac.282/6

Hubert C. Johnson, The Midi in revolution: a study of regional political diversity, 1789-1793 (Princeton, 1986). YH.1987.b.380 

Michael L. Kennedy, The Jacobin Club of Marseilles, 1790-1794 (Ithaca, 1973). 73/13539 

 

11 May 2018

‘And so I came among the Germans’… Costantinos Chatzopoulos (1868-1920)

If we are to believe the legends, to be a prominent figure in the development of Greek drama is to be almost guaranteed a sticky end; Sophocles was said to have choked on a grape, Aeschylus to have been hit on the head by a tortoise dropped by an eagle, and Euripides to have been attacked by a pack of hounds. The premature death of Costantinos Chatzopoulos was less dramatic but no less unfortunate for the modern Greek theatre. In 1920, he was returning with his family from Greece to Munich, where they had lived for several years, to collect the possessions which they had left behind on their precipitate departure in 1914. While travelling on the Montenegro, an Italian steamer, he was suddenly overcome by a violent attack of food poisoning and died shortly afterwards.

Cover of 'Kōstantinos Chatzopoulos ho prōtoporos', with three photographs of Chatzopoulos Cover of Takēs Karvelēs, Kōstantinos Chatzopoulos ho prōtoporos (Athens, 1998) YA.2003.a.5652

When Chatzopoulos was born on 11 May 1868, Greece was still a poor and culturally backward country, cut off from the rest of Europe for linguistic and historical reasons. Little had changed since Byron and Hölderlin had expressed their frustration at the incapacity of the Greeks to live up to the glorious reputation of their forefathers and throw off the Ottoman yoke. When Athens was declared the capital in 1834 it had only 10,000 inhabitants; as late as 1907 the illiteracy rate was 40.5% among men and 82% among women.

  Black-and-white postcard of Agrinio
Postcard showing Chatzopoulos’s native Agrinio, from Praktika Epistēmonikou Symposiou "Ho Kōstantinos Chatzopoulos hōs syngrapheas kai theōrētikos" (Athens, 1998). YA.2003.a.5518

Although Chatzopoulos’s father was a farmer from Agrinio, three of the seven children went into literature; Costantinos’s younger brother Dimitris became a writer and Zacharias a journalist. Costantinos did his military service in the Balkans, studied law at the University of Athens, and practised this profession briefly (1891-93) before an inheritance enabled him to devote himself to writing. In 1898 he published a volume of poetry, Tragoudia tēs erēmias (‘Songs of Solitude’) under the pseudonym Petros Vasilikos.

Cover of 'Tragoudia tēs erēmias'Cover of Tragoudia tēs erēmias (Athens, 1898) 011586.e.110

He was also active in the promotion of demotic Greek instead of the ‘sanitized’ Katharevousa, and in 1898-99 collaborated with Yiannis Cambisis on Technē (‘Art’), the first periodical in Greece to be written in Demotic. Its 12 issues contained translations of contemporary German and Scandinavian literature and critical theory, and bore witness to Chatzopoulos’s fascination with Nietzsche. He had studied German in Athens with the classicist Karl Dieterich, and in 1900 he made his first visit to Germany, wishing to improve his knowledge of the language in order to read German classics in the original.

Emerging from the narrow and constricting atmosphere of Greece, Chatzopoulos tended to view Wilhelmine Germany through rose-tinted spectacles, going so far as to describe it as a haven of personal freedom. It was during this stay that he met his future wife, the Finnish painter Sanny Häggman, and in the summer of 1901 he visited Finland. Over the next few years he embarked on a considerable career as a translator not only of German but of Scandinavian authors including Schiller, Lessing and above all Goethe, who enabled him, as he wrote to a friend, to ‘turn around and understand the Parthenon that stands right behind my window’.

The first permanent theatre in Athens had been established in 1840, but the profession of director was slow to develop. In 1901, however, the Royal Theatre was established  with Thomas Oikonomou as its director. In this climate Chatzopoulos’s translations were eagerly welcomed, and made a considerable contribution to the development of the modern Greek theatre; they included Goethe’s Iphigenie auf Tauris (1910) and Faust (1916), Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Elektra, Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken, and works by Strindberg, Grillparzer, Gogol, Gerhart Hauptmann and Hermann Bang. Not surprisingly, as an Ibsen enthusiast he was one of the first to support women’s rights in Greece.

Unlike Hölderlin’s Hyperion, whose sojourn among the Germans proved a source of disillusion and disappointment, Chatzopoulos was eager to return, and went back in June 1905 with his wife and three-year-old daughter Senta to settle in Munich. They also spent time in Berlin, and only left Germany on the outbreak of war in 1914. During these years he made the transition from poetry to prose, publishing short stories such as Taso and O hyperanthrōpos (‘The Superman’), published as a collection in 1916, which reflected social change and growing urbanization during the reforms of Eleftherios Venizelos, who became prime minister of Greece in 1910.

Significantly, this coincided with Chatzopoulos’s growing interest in the ideas of Karl Marx. However, when the socialist ideals which he had cherished in Germany were confronted with the reality back in Greece after his reluctant return, Chatzopoulos was embittered by the realization that there was little chance of mobilizing the Greek labour force to create an effective organization. An article which he published in the Greek press also noted Heinrich Mann’s all-too-accurate depiction in Der Untertan (Leipzig, 1918; 012554.a.10; translated into English as Man of Straw) of the spirit of Imperial Germany and the threat which it posed in cultural and political terms. His career closed, as it began, with poetry; in the year of his death there appeared his two final collections, Aploi tropoi (‘Simple Ways’) and Bradinoi thruloi (‘Evening Legends’; Athens, 1920; X.908/18945).

Title-page of 'Aploi tropoi'

Title-page of Aploi tropoi (Athens, 1936) 11409.l.35

He did not live to see Greek culture increasingly influenced by France rather than Germany, and his premature death protected him from witnessing developments in his second homeland which would have caused him anguish and deepened the schism between ideal and reality which many critics have identified in his work. Yet in his comparatively short life he not only captured images of a society in rapid transition but spun strong threads to weave it firmly into the fabric of wider European culture.

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

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