08 December 2022
A few months ago one of the curators of our current exhibition ‘Alexander the Great: the Making of a Myth’ asked me for some information about a book they were thinking of including (but eventually did not). This was a German play of 1941, Alexander, by Hans Baumann, a writer whose career had flourished in the Third Reich, especially through the many songs he wrote for the Nazi youth movements.
Cover of Hans Baumann, Alexander (Jena, 1941) X.950/2122.
Baumann’s play is set after Alexander’s conquests in India and depicts the conflict between Alexander’s desire to advance further and that of his army to return home. Generals Cleitus and Craterus, sons of Admiral Nearchus, plot with relatives of the former Persian king Darius to encourage mutiny in the army, hoping that this will force Alexander to return to Macedon and place Persia back in the hands of Darius’s family. They initially succeed in rousing the army, but Alexander kills Cleitus to avenge an insult, and Craterus is executed for killing Alexander’s friend Hephaestion. Although the mutiny is crushed, the last scenes hint at Alexander’s own death, and it is left to Nearchus, still loyal to Alexander despite his sons’ deaths, to lead the Macedonian fleet onwards, inspired by Alexander’s example.
The plot plays fast and loose with history: Cleitus and Craterus were neither brothers nor Nearchus’s sons, Hephaestion died some time later and was not murdered by Craterus, who outlived Alexander. Baumann was clearly more concerned with symbolism than history. The play is reminiscent of a ‘Thingspiel’, a form of stylised drama designed for outdoor performance, often using historical events as allegories of the present. Baumann himself had written a Thingspiel, Rüdiger von Bechelaren, in 1939 and elements of the genre, particularly a rather static presentation and the use of choruses, remain in Alexander.
The play was widely praised on publication and won two literary prizes. It caught the attention of the actor Gustaf Gründgens, then Artistic Director of the Berlin State Theatre, who asked Baumann for permission to stage Alexander. The premiere on 19 June 1941, with Gründgens in the title role, was well received, but the play, according to different accounts, ran for only two, six or seven performances.
Gustaf Gründgens in the role of Alexander in Baumann’s play
These different accounts have much to do with Baumann’s later claim that Alexander was an expression of his growing unease at Germany’s aggression, and a plea for Hitler to treat his conquered peoples with clemency and respect as Alexander is shown to treat the Persians. In 1985 Baumann told the scholar Jay W. Baird that Goebbels had been offended by this message and ordered the play’s closure after its second performance (Baird, p. 168). Peter Jammerthal, however, in his dissertation on the Berlin State Theatre in the Third Reich, states that the play ran for seven nights, the last being a private performance for Hitler Youth members. He does agree that the play’s message was uncomfortable for the regime, but more because the depiction of mutinous generals and discord in the army sat ill with the planned attack on the Soviet Union which began on 22 June 1941 (Jammerthal, p. 211).
Most other writers agree that the invasion of the USSR was the primary reason for the play’s short run, with Gründgens worried that unwanted parallels might be drawn. (Alfred Mühr also suggests that Gründgens was increasingly disenchanted with the play and unhappy in the role (Mühr, p. 195)). However, there is disagreement as to how much Baumann’s alleged dramatization of his growing doubts about the regime affected the decision to close Alexander, and indeed how much the play truly does reflect such doubts. For all the praise of clemency there is plenty of talk of great men, great deeds, and the need to strive onwards which would not be out of place in standard Nazi propaganda rhetoric.
After the war Baumann forged a new and highly successful career primarily as a children’s writer, although his former role as the ‘bard of the Hitler Youth’ and the promotion and awards given to his work by the Nazi regime returned to haunt him in various literary scandals. His claims about Alexander and its cancellation were important in his attempts to distance himself from the past. But although he described himself as having increasingly withdrawn from glorifying the Nazis, his record suggests somewhat otherwise. In 1942 he edited and contributed to a volume of laudatory essays, Der Retter Europas (‘The Saviour of Europe’), marking Hitler’s birthday, and as late as April 1944 he addressed Hitler Youth members in Passau, using typical Nazi rhetoric about ‘Bolshevik hordes’ and treacherous neighbours, and warning against accepting ‘a dishonourable and deadly “peace”’ from their enemies (Rosmus, p. 280).
Baird suggests that Baumann had continued to toe the propaganda line out of reluctant necessity, and that his post-war children’s books reflected an ‘intellectual transformation’ (Baird, p. 171). Others, however, such as the literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki and the children’s writer Gudrun Pausewang took a more critical view, arguing that the post-war Baumann had never truly admitted the extent of his complicity with the Nazis and of his role in turning a generation of young people into willing fighters for Hitler and his regime through the propaganda in his songs.
Cover of Hans Baumann, Der große Alexanderzug (Munich, 1967) X21/6285
Baumann returned to the theme of Alexander the Great in one of his historical novels for children, Der große Alexanderzug, published in English by Stella Humphries as Alexander’s Great March (London, 1968; X.709/6502). The story is narrated by one of Alexander’s couriers, who concludes that ‘Alexander did not inspire my love’ but that he did have admirable qualities, especially in the way ‘he removed the distinctions between the conquerors and the conquered, [and] reconciled the nations in spite of the opposition of his own people’. This was what the older Baumann described as the key message of his Alexander play, and it is significant that he ended his children’s novel on the same note. Was it perhaps a message to his critics, and a reinforcement of his argument that Alexander was a veiled critique of aggressive Nazi expansionism? We will probably never know, but the history of this play and its author tell a fascinating if inconclusive story.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Jay W. Baird, To Die for Germany: Heroes in the Nazi Pantheon (Bloomington, 1990) YA.1991.b.6310
Peter Jammerthal, Ein zuchtvolles Theater: Bühnenästhetik des Dritten Reiches. Das Berliner Staatstheater von der Machtergreifung bis zur Ära Gründgens. Dissertation, Freie Universität Berlin, 2007 https://refubium.fu-berlin.de/handle/fub188/4017
Alfred Mühr, Mephisto ohne Maske: Gustaf Gründgens, Legende und Wahrheit (Munich, 1981) X.950/15850
Anna Rosmus, Hitlers Nibelungen: Niederbayern im Aufbruch zu Krieg und Untergang (Grafenau, 2015) YF.2016.b.1305
Marcel Reich-Ranicki, ‘Hans Baumann’ Die Zeit, 9 March 1962 https://web.archive.org/web/20140202135736/https://www.zeit.de/1962/10/hans-baumann/komplettansicht
Karl H. Ruppel, Berliner Schauspiel: dramaturgische Betrachtungen 1936 bis 1942 (Berlin, 1943) 11868.aaa.19.
‘Hans Baumann’ Regensburg europäisch: Jahresgabe 2016.
Wilhelm Haefs, ‘Hans Baumann. Die Karriere eines Schriftstellers im Nationalsozialismus’, Das Bücherschloss: Mitteilungen aus der Internationalen Jugendbibliothek, 2016-2017 (‘Themenheft Hans-Baumann-Tagung’), pp. 20-39. ZF.9.a.7322
‘Hans Baumann’, Literaturportal Bayern
17 December 2021
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.
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 (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. 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
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
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
Olga Topol, Curator, Slavonic and East European Collections
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
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.
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 run by the Ukrainian Institute London
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.
Lesia Ukrainka, Lisova pisnia (Kyïv, 1914). 20001.g.48.
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).
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' in June 2021. Credit: Yara Arts Group
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:
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
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 (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 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.
Petro Odarchenko, ‘Die Weber’ H. Haine v perekladi Lesi Ukrainky, Slavistica, no. 77. 2nd ed. (Washington, 1976/77). Ac.9890.a
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.
Lesia Ukrainka, Poezii: vybrani tvory (Regensburg, 1946). 11588.a.59.
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. In Lesia Ukrainka, Lysty (1876-1897), compiled by Valentyna Prokip (Savchuk), (Kyiv, 2016), p. 22. YF.2017.a.2022
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.
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 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:
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
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 (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.
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. 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).
19 June 2019
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?
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, 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 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
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
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’.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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: ‘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)
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
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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
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
‘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.
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.’
Other ballerinas and danseurs nobles also inspired evocations of their grace in other media, as seen in Robert Montenegro’s work celebrating Vaslav Nijinsky:
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).
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.).
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.
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”.
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
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
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