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93 posts categorized "Translation"

15 July 2019

Animals, Folk Tales and Tragedy: the family story behind a Ukrainian reading book

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Borys and Mariia Hrinchenko were two of the most prominent Ukrainian educators, folklorists, writers and linguists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Yet while Borys is widely celebrated, far less is known about Mariia and her work. On the anniversary of her death, this blog post looks at some of her activities through the lens of one book: Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka (‘Native Word. A Ukrainian Reader’), which was compiled by Borys and Mariia and published in Kyiv in 1912 (12975.l.27.).

Family portrait

The Hrinchenko Family: Borys, Mariia and their daughter, Anastasiia. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The history behind the book’s publication reveals the vital and often overlooked role that Mariia played in preserving and bringing to light Borys’s work, as well as her role as a writer and editor. Borys initially used the reader, which he put together in 1889, to teach his daughter, Anastasiia, how to read. The book was based on the 1864 children’s reading book Rodnoe slovo (Native Word) by the writer and pedagogue Konstantin Ushinskii.

After publishing a Ukrainian primer in 1907 (012901.i.25.(1.)), Borys also planned to publish his reader. The book needed considerable work, however, and he died before it was finished. Following his death from tuberculosis in 1910, Mariia edited the reader and added additional sections. The book was received as a gift by the British Museum Library in 1913, a year after it was first published.

Ridne slovo cover

Cover of Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka (‘Native Word. A Ukrainian Reader’), Kyiv, 1912. 12975.l.27.

The reader is arranged thematically, beginning with a section on domestic and wild animals, before moving on to subjects such as flora, clothing and science. In addition to short stories and poems (including by Borys and Mariia Hrinchenko, Lesia Ukrainka and Taras Shevchenko, songs and comprehension exercises, it contains a number of riddles relating to the topic of each section, such as the following agricultural gem:

Що старше: ячмінь чи овес?
[What’s older: barley or oats?]
Ячмінь, бо вуси має.
[Barley, because it has a moustache (whiskers).]

Ridne slovo animals

Ridne slovo mushrooms

Pages from Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka (‘Native Word. A Ukrainian Reader’), Kyiv, 1912. 12975.l.27.

Mariia was herself a prolific translator, writer, poet and collector. Like Borys, she was also interested in education and Ukrainian folk culture. Between 1887 and 1893, the couple taught in a school set up by Khrystyna Alchevska, an educator, teacher and a prominent activist for national education in Ukraine and the Russian Empire. After moving to Kyiv in the early 1900s, both Mariia and Borys worked on the Slovarʹ ukraïnsʹkoï movy (Dictionary of the Ukrainian Language), which was published in four volumes between 1907 and 1909. Mariia’s role in compiling and editing the dictionary, which is considered one of the most important works in the history of the modern Ukrainian language, is rarely acknowledged, however.

Writing most commonly under the pseudonym M. Zahirnia, her translations include works by Henrik Ibsen, Hans Christian Anderson and Hermann Sudermann. Some were collaborations with her husband and daughter. Mariia also wrote pamphlets and short texts on social issues, such as Strashnyi voroh (‘The Terrible Enemy’) which discussed alcohol and alcoholism (Kyiv, 1907; Ac.2655/2.).

Books in memory of Nastiia

Title page from a book in memory of Anastasiia (Nastiia), (Kyiv, 1912). 010795.aa.5.

In 1908, Mariia and Borys’ daughter, Anastasiia, tragically died at the age of 24. Influenced by her parents, Anastasiia was also an active writer and translator during her short life. She was involved in revolutionary activities in 1905, for which she was twice imprisoned. It was during this time that she developed tuberculosis, which led to her death just a few years later. Tragically, her infant son, who was born just before her death, also died shortly after. In 1912, Mariia published a series of books (including older titles written by her and Borys) in Anastasiia’s memory (010795.aa.5.).

In her later years, Mariia was known for her philanthropic and political work. She was also responsible for organising and donating Borys’s library of over 6,000 books to the National Library of Ukraine shortly after it was founded in 1918. Mariia died a decade later, on 15 July 1928. As is clear from the story behind Ridne slovo, she was a hugely important figure as a writer and editor at this time and instrumental in shaping the way Borys’s legacy is viewed today.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

References and further reading

Borys Hrinchenko and Mariia Hrinchenko, Ridne slovo. Ukraïnsʹka chytanka. Persha pislia hramatky knyha do chytannia (Kyiv, 1912). 12975.l.27.

Borys Hrinchenko, Ukraïnsʹka hramatka do nauky chytannia ĭ pysannia (Kyiv, 1907). 012901.i.25.(1.)

Mariia Hrinchenko, Strashnyi voroh: knyzhka po horilku, No. 7 (Kyiv, 1907). Ac.2655/2.

Mariia Hrinchenko (ed.), Knyzhky pamʹiati Nasti Hrinchenko, No. 6-11 (Kyiv, 1912-1913). 010795.aa.5.

Liudmyla Nezhyva, Mariia Zahirnia: literaturnyĭ portret (Luhansʹk, 2003). YF.2007.a.23289

P. I. Skrypnyk, ‘Hrinchenko, Mariia Mykolaïvna’ Encyclopedia of Ukrainian History, Vol. 2 (Kyiv, 2004).

19 June 2019

Translating Ibsen: monstrous rare of attainment

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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?

Rosmersholm First Ed Title Page

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.’

Rosmersholm Parker Portrait

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.

Rosmersholm Parker Title Page

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)

01 February 2019

Unlocking Access to Ancient Science in Renaissance Italy: the vernacularization of Pliny’s ‘Historia Naturalis’

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In most cases, literary works which have marked a turning point, a watershed moment in the history of literature, are new and original creations. However, in some cases, a similar literary outburst has come from a translation rather than the original text. It will suffice to recall the Latin version of the Bible by St. Jerome at the end of the 4th century, the so-called Vulgate and the enormous historical and cultural impact it had on Western Europe at the time.

A less known case, but no less historically important in its impact on the formation of the European Renaissance culture, is the vulgarization of the Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder published in 1476 by the Florentine humanist Cristoforo Landino, on which new light has been shed from the recent study of the Italian philologist Antonino Antonazzo in his Il volgarizzamento pliniano di Cristoforo Landino. (Messina, 2018; YF.2019.b.21).

Landino study

In a period which witnessed the rediscovery of classical literature, through the revival of Greek and Latin authors fallen into oblivion during the Middle Ages, the translation of Pliny’s text truly marked an epochal event: Landino’s great historical merit was to make a grandiose 37-volume encyclopedia of Greek-Roman antiquity accessible in the vernacular for the first time: the editio princeps of the translation is a monumental 830-page folio volume.

The British Library holds two copies at shelfmarks IC.19693 and C.3.d.2.

Pliny IC.19693 Dedication Translator’s dedication (f.2) from Historia naturale di C. Plinio Secondo tradocta di lingua Latina in Fiorentina per Christophoro Landino (Venice, 1476) Above: IC.19693 ; below: C.3.d2.

Pliny C.3.d.2

Landino’s laborious work filled an important cultural void that could no longer wait. Many readers from different backgrounds benefited from it: poets, such as Luigi Pulci; artists – to name one, Leonardo da Vinci; and even explorers such as Christopher Columbus. The aftermath was so great throughout Europe, that Landino’s translation remained the only vernacular translation of Naturalis historia for almost a century: the first French translation was published in 1562 (Antoine du Pinet), the English was published in 1601 (Philemon Holland ), the Spanish in 1624 (Gerónimo de Huerta) and a complete German translation as late as 1764 (Johann Daniel Denso).

Pliny IC.19693 Preface
Opening of Pliny’s preface from Historia Naturale (IC.19693)

The Florentine vernacularization became a key work because it placed itself at the confluence of many questions until then unanswered: was it acceptable to translate classical literary works into the very vernacular used in everyday life by common people? How to translate a peculiar lexicon of scientific disciplines, such as astronomy, meteorology, zoology, botany, medicine and mineralogy?

And, among the many vernaculars spoken in the regions of Italy, which one was the most suitable? The debate around this last question was in fact now centuries old: it had been a burning one since the origins of Italian literature in the 13th century and had left many conflicting theories; Dante Alighieri in his unfinished De Vulgari Eloquentia (1303-04) reviewed 14 Italian vernaculars in order to identify the most ‘illustrious’ and suitable for poetry, and ended up discarding them all, including the Florentine itself – which is the reason why scholars believe he interrupted the work, the theory conflicting with the practice, as the Divine Comedy would demonstrate.

Cristoforo_Landino_-_Wikimedia

 Portrait of Cristoforo Landino from a fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, ca 1486-90. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Landino’s translation answered all these questions, and even though it did not please some humanists, it was received with enthusiasm by the general public. A significant example of this is its success with a female public, as we read in Giovanni Sabadino degli Arienti’s description of his wife with her books in Gynevera de le clare donne.

...havea piacere assai in audire legere li versi de Virgilio; legea lei voluntiera Plinio de naturali hystoria, posto in materna lingua, et de li libri spirituali et sancti.
[...she very much enjoyed having Virgil’s verses read to her; she gladly read Pliny’s Naturalis Historia in her mother tongue, and holy and spiritual books...]

The relevance of this testimony is reinforced by the reaction of Francesco Florido Sabino, who, 60 years later, in his Apologia in Marci Actii Plauti aliorumque poetarum et linguae Latinae calumniatores, cursed Landino for allowing not just anybody access to Pliny’s work, but even to women. (See Antonazzo’s study p. 50)

Landino’s intention to reach a wide audicence is expressed in his dedicatory letter to the King of Naples Ferrante d’Aragona, which begins with these words:

Essendo gli animi nostri per loro natura di tanta celerità quanta né mia né altra lingua exprimere non poterebbe, né essendo altro cibo che gli pasca et nutrisca se non la cognitione, chi non vede che nessuna più grata chosa può alloro adivenire che havere vera scientia di tutte le cose?
[Our soul in its nature being as rapid as neither mine nor any other language can express, and there being no other nourishment that satisfies and feeds as cognition does, how can anyone not see that there is nothing that makes it happier than the true knowledge of all things?]

Giuseppe Alizzi, Curator Romance Collections

References

Dante Alighieri, De vulgari eloquentia, a cura di Enrico Fenzi, con la collaborazione di Luciano Formisano e Francesco Montuori (Rome, 2012) YF.2013.a.25815

Sabadino Degli Arienti, Gynevera de le clare donne (Bologna, 1888). 12226.de.8.(1.)

Francesco Florido Sabino, In M. Actii Plauti aliorumque Scriptorum calumniatores apologia ... (Basle, 1540) C.81.i.9.

27 August 2018

“Buried at his feet”: Fanny Susan Copeland, Triglav and Slovenia

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August 26 2018 marked the 240th anniversary of the first successful ascent of Triglav, the three-headed mountain that has become a national symbol of Slovenia and a striking part of its flag. This was one of the earliest ascents in the Alps, several years before anyone made it to the peaks of Mont Blanc or the Matterhorn.

Copeland Triglav View towards the Vrata Valley and Triglav from the village of Mojstrana. (Photo: Janet Ashton)

Triglav has been a magnet for mountaineers ever since, its relatively modest height of 2,863 metres attracting people of even limited experience – some of whom take unacceptable risks in scaling it.

One of many foreigners who were drawn to the mountain was a Scottish woman, Fanny Susan Copeland (1872-1970), who moved to Ljubljana in 1921. She would climb Triglav several times, including one snowy New Year’s Eve, when she joined a couple of students who had accepted a bet of a stick of chocolate that they dare not do it! Most remarkably, she made her last ascent in 1958 at the age of almost 87.

Copeland Beautiful mountains TriglavTriglav, illustration by Edo Deržaj from Fanny S. Copeland, Beautiful Mountains: in the Jugoslav Alps (Split, 1931) 10205.g.32 

Fanny Copeland was a linguist, musician and journalist who left an unhappy marriage to become a translator working for the exiled Yugoslav Committee  in London during the First World War. Her own early writing echoes the ideology of that body, which was intent on establishing an independent state by uniting the south Slav people of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro, with whom they were currently at war. It had the ear of the liberal Habsburg dissident and future Czechoslovak president, Tomas Masaryk, and greatly influenced Allied attitudes to the future. Copeland delivered lectures on the fate of the besieged “Women of Serbia” and spoke rather crudely of south Slav people as a single entity: “a race which lives in a land which stretches from the Carinthian Alps … to the heart of Macedonia – and from the Danube … to the rock-bound coast of the blue island-studded Adriatic”, attributing to all “but one language … correctly called the Serbo-Croatian tongue … one tradition of the past and one hope for the future.”

Copeland Women of Serbia

 Cover of The Women of Serbia (London, 1917) 08415.f.26.

Not long after this, however, she translated Bogumil Vošnjak’s Bulwark against Germany, an in-depth study of the particular position of the Slovenes. When the war was over, she visited the new-minted Yugoslavia for the first time, and settled in Slovenia, drawn by a post teaching English and by mountains which seemed to remind her of Scotland.

Copeland Beautiful mountains Kot ValleyThe Kot Valley, from Beautiful Mountains.

Copeland believed strongly in Yugoslavia and was certainly no Slovene separatist, but she soon developed a more subtle knowledge of the distinct culture and language of the country’s most northerly nation, and was one of the first people to write a lot about it for English-speaking audiences, keen to attract visitors to her beloved mountains. In the 19th century, the provinces that became Slovenia were often dismissed by foreign observers and pan-Slavs as “part of the hereditary Habsburg lands” and therefore too complex a case for their future to be considered alongside that of other Slavs. By the 1920s, with the Habsburgs gone, this had been replaced by a tendency to classify the Slovenes as a branch of the “Serbo-Croatian” people, who ought to act according to current notions of what that meant. Generally, the more “Russian” a nation seemed, the more truly Slavic it was deemed by British scholars. The traveller and writer Stephen Graham for example, loved Serbia passionately, but wrote mockingly of Slovenes who spoke German to tourists, claiming they did it not to be understood but “to show they are cultured” and “not barbarians from the Balkan peninsula” like many of their new compatriots. He smelt “the pleasant odour of old Austria” in Slovenia’s resorts, but could not acknowledge the legacy of a thousand years of shared history and culture as anything other than a pretension.

Copeland Triglav map  10026.l.12 Map of the Julian Alps, from Emile Levasseur, Les Alpes et les grandes ascensions (Paris, 1889) 10026.l.12

Fanny Copeland, however, was amused by and instinctively sympathetic to the differences she soon detected between the south Slavic nations she had previously thought of as “one.” She envisaged the Slovenes as the backbone of the nation, more practical and pragmatic than their southern neighbours. “The Slovene regards the Croat much as a Scot regards the Sassenach,” she wrote: the mountains, in both cases, were a decisive factor. Her Slovenian friends blamed their neighbours for any disarray or damage they found in the mountain huts on their climbs to Triglav, and gently mocked Croats for setting out with pet dogs or in unsuitable footwear.

Copeland Beautiful mountains hutA mountain hut, from Beautiful Mountains.

Fanny Copeland’s writing on the Slovenian Alps is immensely evocative and close to anthropomorphic in places. Love them and take risks with them as she did, she never failed to convey the dangers posed by the mountains. Writing of the Vršič Pass, a former military road built in 1916 by Russian prisoners of war, she spoke of “a fine road, well-built and skilfully laid out, with bridges and culverts, winding, twisting and looping like a snake – and white as dead men’s bones … All along its course, the loveliness of an alpine world unfolds its splendours, each picture fairer than the last … But it is a Sorrowful Road, built by … wretched aliens, driven and starved. Russians, sons of the boundless plains … penned here in the narrow pass between awful mountains … this road was the rack on which they suffered and died… As I walk up it in the dusk, I listen for the sobbing of its stones.”

Over the Pass looms the mountain Prisank or Prisojnik, famous for a round hole in one face. Fanny envisaged this “eye of Prisoinik” peering down, “dead and vacant in its stony socket, with the patch of snow beneath it like a monstrous tear.” Yet she spoke also of Triglav as a “father”, welcoming to those who approached it from the right angle.

Copeland Prisojnik 2Prisojnik, showing its “eye”. (Photo: Janet Ashton)

Copeland Beautiful mountains Prisojnik
Prisojnik from Beautiful Mountains.

Fanny Copeland was interned in Italy by the fascist occupiers of Ljubljana during the Second World War, but returned to Slovenia after 1945, spending the remainder of her long life living mainly in the Hotel Slon in Ljubljana, still writing and translating prolifically. She is buried in the graveyard in the village of Dovje, overlooked by Triglav itself and surrounded by numerous other mountaineers and admirers of the extraordinary alpine scenery that helped give the country its very distinctive character.

Copeland Grave Fanny Copeland’s grave in Dovje (Photo: Janet Ashton)

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager

References and further reading:

Stephen Graham, Alexander of Jugoslavia, Strong Man of the Balkans. (London, 1938) 010795.m.8

Bogumil Vošnjak, A Bulwark against Germany: the fight of the Slovenes, the western branch of the Jugo-Slavs, for national existence. Translated by Fanny S. Copeland. (London, 1917) 003817864

 

18 August 2018

A Bohemian bicentenary: Václav Bolemír Nebeský and the Národní Muzeum

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It is a truism that in choosing a name one should consider whether it is likely to date – how many Kylies approaching their mid-thirties regret being given one which marks them out as children of the early 1980s? A similar phenomenon could be observed in Bohemia in the early 19th century – but with an unusual twist. Many parents who had presented their offspring for baptism with such solid Czech names as František, Josef or Magdalena must have been perplexed when their growing sons and daughters announced that they would no longer use these but in future preferred to be known as Ladislav or Dobromila. Far from being new-fangled inventions, their choices were drawn from the ancient Czech chronicles and legends and simultaneously stated the bearer’s identification with the Bohemian nation’s glorious past and rejection of alien (i.e. German) cultural influences.

Young Václav Nebeský was such a one. Born on 18 August 1818 on the Nový Dvůr estate just north of Kokořín, he was given the name of the king who became Bohemia’s patron saint (‘Good King Wenceslas’), but even that was not patriotic enough for him. He went to high school in Litoměřice, where he proved a gifted student who learned Greek and Latin with ease and went on to study in Prague at Charles University. This was a time when the National Revival was in full swing, and under the influence of its reverence for Bohemian history he decided at the age of 20 to adopt the ultra-Slavonic Bolemír as a second name – a statement all the more emphatic in confirming his sympathies while he was living in Vienna after graduating.

Nebesky portrait 010790ee3Portrait of Václav Bolemír Nebeský from Život a spisy Václava Bolemíra Nebeského by J. Hanuš (Prague, 1896)  010790.ee.3.

Like many talented young men without private means in those days, he earned his living as a private tutor. This could involve occupational hazards such as those experienced by Friedrich Hölderlin – being treated like an inferior servant or becoming emotionally entangled with the lady of the house – but Nebeský was more fortunate. He secured a post in the household of Jan Norbert z Neuberka (Neuberk), who in 1841 had become president of the Národní Muzeum. This National Museum had been established in 1818 by the nobleman and palaeontologist Kaspar Maria, Graf von Sternberg, whose letters contain frequent but unsuccessful appeals to his friend Goethe to visit Prague. Nebeský had already made a wide circle of friends among the generation who would lead the National Revival, both in literature and politics, including the dramatist Josef Kajetán Tyl, Karel Jaromír Erben, whose Kytice remains one of the best-loved works of Czech poetry, the poet and journalist Karel Havlíček Borovský, and Karel Sabina, who provided the libretto for Smetana’s Prodaná nevešta (The Bartered Bride), but was also a notorious police spy. Life in the Neuberk household introduced him to still more eminent figures and helped to develop his political awareness in a practical direction.

Nebesky National Museum 7801.d.6
The Národní Muzeum, Prague, from Národní museum 1818-1948, ed. by Gustav Skalský and others (Prague, 1949) 7801.d.6.

In his early twenties Nebeský had already begun to publish poems in almanacs such as Česká Vcela (The Czech Bee) and Vesna (Spring). His great success came comparatively early with the publication in 1844 of Protichůdci, a long poem whose title is difficult to translate but conveys the sense of ‘those who go against the grain’ or in a direction opposed to conventional ideas of progress, as exemplified by its protagonist, the world-weary Wandering Jew Ahasuerus.

Nebesky Protichudci X.907-8652
Illustration by Jan Konůpek from Václav Bolemír Nebeský, Protichůdci (Prague, 1924) X.907/8652).

He was also an exceptional translator, and his classical training enabled him to produce fluent and highly readable versions of authors including Aeschylus, Aristophanes, and Plautus’s Captivi (Pleníci; Prague, 1873; 11707.b.5.). Indeed, he was heard to say that he often wished that he had been born a modern Greek, a desire which led him in 1864 to publish an anthology of Greek folk-songs in his own translations, Novořecké národní písně. He also brought out a similar collection of Spanish romances, Kytice ze španělských romancí (Prague, 1864; 11452.b.9).

Nebesky binding 1568-4251Binding of Václav Bolemír Nebeský, Novořecké národní písně (Prague, 1864) 1568/4251.

At the same time, Nebeský was involved in many areas of public life. During 1848, the Year of Revolutions, he was politically active and was elected to the Austrian Parliament; the following year he qualified as a university lecturer in Greek and Czech literature, although he never exercised this function professionally. In 1850 he was appointed editor of the Museum’s journal Muzejník, and the following year he became Secretary of the Museum itself, continuing in office until ill-health forced him to step down in 1874.

Nebesky Museum 1609-4911 Dějiny Musea Království Českého (Prague, 1868) 11852.g.2, Nebeský’s history of the National Museum

Nebeský married comparatively late in life, in 1859, but before then he had had a close relationship with another of the National Revival’s most beloved authors, Božena Nemcová (1820-1842), best known for her novel Babička (1855). Unhappily married, she found an outlet in her friendship with Nebeský, with whom she shared not only literary but patriotic interests. Her tomb is close to the gates of Prague’s Vyšehrad cemetery where many of the great cultural figures of 19th-century Czech cultural life are buried, and when he died on 17 August 1882, the day before his 64th birthday, Nebeský himself was laid to rest nearby in the company of Karel Hynek Mácha, the poet whom he so much admired, and many of the friends who, with him, had done so much to shape their country’s future.

Susan Halstead (Subject Librarian, Social Sciences) Research Services

 

30 July 2018

Wuthering around the world: Emily Brontë in translation

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It is a cliché in the world of publishing that nobody loves a one-book author, but one which Emily Brontë  proved wrong with a defiance wholly in keeping with her character. When Maria, the wife of the Irish-born clergyman Patrick Brontë, gave birth to her fifth child and fourth daughter on 30 July 1818, she also unwittingly contributed to a legend which would put the Yorkshire moors well and truly on the map and send hordes of tourists scurrying to the bleak and remote village of Haworth.

200 years later, the flood shows no sign of abating. The short lives of Emily and her siblings Charlotte, Branwell and Anne continue to capture the imagination of readers throughout the world, and their writings are studied by scholars, dissected as set books in schools and colleges, and devoured by those captivated by the fortunes of Jane Eyre or the passions of Heathcliff and Cathy. Still others know the Brontës’ works through dramatizations, films or Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’; Emily Brontë’s novel of the same name, first published in 1847, would inspire operas by Bernard Hermann, Carlisle Floyd ([United States], 1958; 11792.bb.78) and, in French, by Thomas Stubbs to a libretto by Philippe Hériat (Paris, 1961; 11303.i.103), as well as a 1996 musical starring Cliff Richard as a somewhat unlikely Heathcliff.

Later novelists drew on them for fantasies such as Rachel Ferguson’s The Brontës went to Woolworths (Harmondsworth, 1940; 12208.a.1/245) and Jennifer Vandever’s The Brontë Project (London, 2006; H.2007/2870), while others wittily satirize the Brontë industry. In Milly Johnson’s White Wedding (London, 2012; H.2013/.5979) the sparky heroine Bel visits Haworth and is startled to discover Isabella’s Chilli Con Carne, Linton Trifle and Wuthering Heights Bakewell Tart on the menu in Cathy’s Café, while Charlie Rhymer, the narrator of Trisha Ashley’s Every Woman for Herself (Long Preston, 2002/2003; LT.2013.x.1215) and her siblings are the products of her eccentric father’s ‘breed your own Brontës’ project, designed to prove his theory that Branwell actually wrote his sisters’ works (it goes awry – his own Branwell turns out to be an expert on Amharic and Anne no meek governess but a feisty war correspondent).

Before any of this, however, the first medium by which Wuthering Heights conquered the hearts of readers worldwide was translation. The British Library holds a wide selection of versions in 13 languages, including Assamese and Burmese, Polish and Hungarian, testifying to the novel’s power to overcome the boundaries of space, language and culture. It shares this with the work of an author equally skilled in evoking the landscape of northern England on the other side of the Pennines – Beatrix Potter. Yet while the biggest hurdle facing Potter’s translators might be the unusual names invented for her characters, those attempting to tackle Emily Brontë’s novel are confronted with a major obstacle in the very first word on the title-page: how best to convey the eerie, haunting and very specifically Yorkshire nature of ‘wuthering’? Add to this the impenetrable dialect of the old servant Joseph, which many a native English speaker finds barely intelligible, and you have a challenge capable of reducing even the most skilful linguist to wails as despairing as those of Cathy’s ghost as she seeks to find a way back into her old home.

The names of the characters are less of a problem; they mostly remain as they are, with the only question being whether to leave Cathy and young Catherine, her daughter, with their original names or transform them into a Slavonic Katka and Kateřina Lintonová, as Květa Marysková does in her translation Na Větrné hůrce.

Wuthering Heights Czech tpAbove: title-page and frontispiece by Zdeněk Brdlík from Emily Bronteová, Na Větrné hůrce (Prague, 1960; YF.2012.a.25773). Below: a brooding Heathcliff by the same artist, pictured later in the book.

Wuthering Heights Czech YF.2012.a.25773

Marysková opts for a translation of the title which suggests the windswept nature of the landscape, something which is also conveyed by the stormy notes of the Russian Grozovoĭ pereval (Moscow, 1990; YA.1994.a.3286), the Italian Cime tempestuose (Milan, 1926; 012604.cc.1) and the Spanish Cumbres borrascosas (Barcelona, 1963; W23/2895).

None of these, though, achieves the splendid onomatopoeia of the French translation by Frédéric Delebecque, Les Hauts de Hurle-Vent (Paris, 1925; 012601.dd.23), although the ‘traduction nouvelle de Georges-Michel Bovay’ (Lausanne, 1944; YA.1994.a.8093) breaks off in a completely different direction with Les Hauteurs tourmentées – an allusion, perhaps, to the proud and stubborn spirits of Heathcliff and Cathy? This, however, proved too much for the more prosaic Dutch translator Elisabeth de Roos, who simply rendered the heights ‘desolate’ or ‘bleak’ (De Woeste Hoogte).

Wuthering Heights Dutch X.950-11265

Title-page (above) and vignette (below) from De Woeste Hoogte (Amsterdam, 1941; X.950/11265); wood engravings by Nico Builder. 

Wuthering Heights Dutch vignette

Fittingly, in view of the Brontës’ Irish ancestry, the British Library possesses a copy of a translation into Irish by Seán Ó Ciosáin which very sensibly interferes with the title as little as possible:

Wuthering Heights Irish 875.k.58 Seán Ó Ciosáin’s Irish translation of Wuthering Heights (Baile átha Cliath, 1933; 875.k.58.)

It may be that the exigencies of attempting to grapple with the title or render Joseph’s Yorkshire fulminations comprehensible in plain language (‘Honte sur vous! Asseyez-vous, méchants enfants!’) left translators with little energy for the flights of fancy inspired by another Brontë sister’s most famous creation  but with the British Library’s Translating Cultures study day on the French Caribbean coming up  it is worth noting that in her novel La Migration des coeurs (Paris, 1995; YA.1996.b.3850) Maryse Condé transposes the story of Heathcliff and Cathy (Razyé and Catherine Gagneur) to her native Guadeloupe. It bears the dedication: ‘À Emily Brontë qui, j’espère, agréera cette lecture de son chef-d’oeuvre. Honneur et respect!’ – a sentiment surely shared by Emily Brontë’s readers, translators and admirers throughout the world on her 200th birthday.

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

12 July 2018

Announcing the British Library’s new Translator in Residence

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I am delighted, excited, and ever so slightly daunted to be embarking upon my journey as the British Library’s second-ever Translator in Residence. When I saw the advert it seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring together the things I have been most occupied with over the last decade or more: language, education, translation, cultural exploration and of course, books.

Translator in Residence Rahul
New Translator in Residence Rahul Bery at his desk in the British Library

I came to literary translation relatively recently, and more or less by chance, when a friend of mine, who had recently set up The White Review, asked if I’d be interested in translating a short essay by the Argentinian writer, Cesar Aíra, followed by a longer piece by Enrique Vila-Matas. Having just moved to Cardiff and given up my job to look after my then two-year old son, cerebral activity of this kind was most welcome. Translating work by very much established Spanish-language writers, and seeing them out in the world, was a real kick so early on. Before long I translated my first piece from Portuguese, a wonderful essay on video games by the Brazilian Daniel Galera, and soon after was selected to go to Paraty, Brazil, for a BCLT/British Council organised literary translation winter school. Since those heady days translation has become an activity I can’t do without, and I’ve worked with some brilliant authors, publications and anthologies, as well as exhibitions, universities, and even Portuguese food export firm. However, I’m still chasing that first book-length translation.

At the same time, I have spent a good part of the last five or so years working as a teacher, first as a languages teacher in secondary schools in London and the Rhondda Valleys, and then as a teacher and co-ordinator of English as an additional language (EAL) in Fishponds, Bristol. This last experience, where I had the privilege of working closely with young people who had only recently arrived in the UK, sometimes from very difficult situations, made a profound mark on me, and will be just as instrumental in my approach to the residency as my experience with translation. Witnessing the difficulty some young people have adapting to their new surroundings, combined with the ease with which they pick up English (many of the children I worked with were already fluent in two or more languages) has really altered my perspective on a lot of things.

Over the course of my residency I want to draw attention to the wealth of skills and knowledge contained within UK schools, where unfortunately many multilingual children still think of their home language as a source of shame rather than a gift. I want to bring young people from all backgrounds into the library to learn about translation and themselves contribute to BL’s incredible collection, through creative collaborations and, if all goes to plan, creating their own entries for the library’s sound archives.

Inspired by the AHRC’s current Translating Cultures project, I also want to focus on how people’s identities change and adapt as people start existing in other languages. Though I grew up speaking only English, 3 of my grandparents spoke 4 languages between them (Hindi, Sindhi, Punjabi and Welsh) but spent most of their lives existing in English. I also want to play a small role in challenging the hegemony of English, which, under the guise of utility, ends up being ubiquitous, making the world a more predictable and less exciting place.

As well as celebrating the wealth of community languages spoken somewhere like Camden, or any notable UK town or city, I’d also like to bring the many native UK languages—Welsh, Cornish, Gaelic, Scots, Manx, as well as different dialects— to the attention of people in the capital. I grew up in London but have lived in Wales for half a decade; both of my children are educated through the medium of Welsh, and I am finally learning the language myself. I’m often astonished as to how little people outside of Wales know about the thriving bilingual communities that exist there, even in a city like Cardiff. So much media attention denigrates these tongues as ‘pointless’ or ‘dead’, even while simultaneously celebrating multilingualism in general. Again, I hope to redress that balance through events, open days and online activity.

Translator in Residence book covers
Books from the British Library’s collections in (clockwise from left) Irish Gaelic, Welsh, Scots Gaelic, Manx, Scots and Cornish 

Of course, these are big ideas, and one thing I hope to take away from this year is the ability and the know-how to transform them into concrete things, with the help of the wonderful and talented staff of the library itself. I’m also hoping to involve other translators, to whom I owe so much, as collaborators, advisers, guest speakers, bloggers, and everything else!

Translation can be a hobby, a necessity, an occupation, a way of life, a process, and I’m honoured to have been given the opportunity to explore it in all its different guises, over a full year, and in such an amazing setting.

Rahul Bery, Translator in Residence

Charles Forsdick, “Translating Cultures” Theme Leadership Fellow, Arts and Humanities Research Council, said:
The AHRC “Translating Cultures” theme is delighted to be working with the British Library and the IMLR on the translator-in residence scheme for a second year, following the highly successful inaugural residency of Jen Calleja. We look forward to supporting Rahul in the role, and to ensuring that AHRC-funded researchers from among the 100 or so “Translating Cultures” projects are fully engaged in the activities he plans. The collaboration is an excellent way to enhance public understanding of translation, and to demonstrate that the multiple languages spoken in the UK are a key national resource and an integral part of everyday life.

Catherine Davies, Director of the Institute of Modern Languages Research at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, said:
Collaboration with the British Library and the AHRC on the translator-in-residence scheme is a new venture for the IMLR, and one we hope to continue in future years. IMLR promotes research in Modern Languages and of course this includes Translation and Creative Writing. Rahul’s priorities, to work with schools, migrant communities and community languages, are also priorities for the IMLR. Everyone who can speak a language other than English should be proud of their languages, and should be given due accreditation and recognition. Rahul's work at the British Library will help make this a reality and inspire us to cross borders and celebrate Britain's rich language diversity.

Janet Zmroczek, Head of European and American Collections at the British Library, said:
The British Library is thrilled to be hosting its second translator in residence and to be working with Rahul, and our partners at the AHRC and the IMLR to build upon the success of the inaugural residency scheme that the BL began last year with Jen Calleja. The Library is a natural home for translation and translators, holding as it does incomparable contemporary and historical collections in a vast range of languages, from historical dictionaries and print publications in most written languages of the world, to the archives of literary translators, sound recordings and oral history interviews. Rahul’s ambitions to bring together the Library’s dedicated multilingual staff, local communities and an international community of researchers, students and visitors will I’m sure make it a busy and fascinating year ahead for us all. 

06 July 2018

‘Youngest of the seven brothers’: Eino Leino (1878-1926)

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‘Once upon a time, in a distant northern country, there lived a man who had seven sons and three daughters…’ This might be the beginning of a folk-tale – and indeed young Armas Einar Leopold Lönnbohm, the youngest of the seven, born on 6 July 1878, would grow up to lead a life shaped by myth and poetry.

Leino Portrait 2404.g.20 1Eino Leino as a young man. From L. Onerva, Eino Leino: runoilija ja ihminen (Helsinki, 1932) 2404.g.20.

At the time of his birth in Paltamo, Finland was still a Grand Duchy under Russian control, and as he grew up he became aware of the increasing friction between the Finnish people and their oppressors, culminating in the assassination in 1904 of Nikolai Bobrikov, the Governor-General of Finland, by the young Finnish patriot Eugen Schauman. Helen Dunmore’s novel House of Orphans (London, 2006; ELD.DS.193298) vividly evokes the atmosphere of that period and the fervour of the conspirators, afire not only with revolutionary zeal but with love of their country’s culture and literature.

Our hero’s father had changed his surname from the plain Finnish Mustonen (Black) to the Swedish Lönnbohm in the interests of his career, but as a loyal Finn the seventh son could not accept this, and it was under a new name of his own choice that he achieved fame as the poet Eino Leino.

Orphaned while he was still at school, the boy was taken in by relatives in Hämeenlinna, where he was educated at the local grammar school and subsequently entered the University of Helsinki. He was already showing signs of a precocious literary talent; at the age of 12 he published his first poem, and in 1896, when he was just eighteen, he brought out his first collection, Maaliskuun lauluja (‘Songs of March’). Two years later he and his elder brother Kasimir founded a literary magazine together; Kasimir became not only a poet in his own right but also a critic and theatre director.

Leino Maaliskuun laulujaCover of Maaliskuun lauluja (Helsinki, 1896) 011586.b.52.

Eino soon decided that academic study held little attraction for him, and left the university to become a journalist and literary critic for various Finnish newspapers. He also embarked on a career as a novelist, writing both historical fiction and works of social satire. In 1909-10 he travelled through Italy, Germany and Sweden, absorbing influences from European literature, including those of Gabriele D’Annunzio, Gerhart Hauptmann and Maurice Maeterlinck which inspired him to create a new Finnish theatrical tradition based on pure poetry rather than the naturalist drama typified by Ibsen. His poetry drew inspiration from Heinrich Heine and Johan Ludvig Runeberg, the poet whose words became the text of Finland’s national anthem, but also from the Kalevala, linking Finland’s present striving for independence with motifs from ancient legends. At the same time he sought to build bridges between Finland and the wider cultural legacy of Europe though his translations of Schiller, Racine, Corneille, Dante’s Divina Commedia (made in Rome in 1908-09) and Goethe’s Iphigenia auf Tauris (Helsinki, 1910; Ac.9080) and his essays on contemporary authors including Anatole France, Tolstoy, Ibsen and Strindberg.

Leino Dante 011420.d.22 Cover of Leino’s translation of Dante’s Paradiso (Porvoo, 1912) 011420.d.22

However, he experienced a constant tension between nationalist objectives and individualistic ideologies. Like W. B. Yeats, in his poetry he frequently uses symbols from folk poetry to contrast the heroism of the mythical past with the squalor and disillusionment of modern politics, and his early Symbolist dramas such as Sota valosta (‘War over light’: Helsinki, 1900; 11758.bbb.43) introduce the theme of decadence into a world peopled by heroes such as Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen and Lemminkäinen who are betrayed and rejected by a fickle populace greedy for material benefits rather than the light symbolized by Väinämöinen’s flaming sword.

When in 1905 political strike action against Russian rule brought into focus the differing political interests of the intelligentsia and the working classes, Leino’s pessimism increased as he witnessed the rise of the radical socialist workers’ movement and the clashes which occurred during the strike. From being an enthusiastic member of the Young Finland movement and ardent neo-romanticist, he became increasingly cynical; with the outbreak of the Finnish Civil War in 1917, Leino’s idealistic faith in national unity collapsed, and his influence as a journalist and polemicist diminished, although he was granted a state writer’s pension in the following year.

Leino’s personal life was similarly turbulent; he married three times, but possibly his most significant relationship was with the novelist L. Onerva (Hilja Onerva Lehtinen) whose two-volume biography of him, Eino Leino: runoilija ja ihminen (‘Eino Leino: the poet and the man’) reflects the complex intertwining of their equally strong creative personalities.

Leino Portrait 2404.g.20 2 Eino Leino in 1922. Portrait by Antti Favén, reproduced in L. Onerva, Eino Leino: runoilija ja ihminen.

After suffering years of health problems and financial instability, Leino died on 10 January 1926 in Tuusula and was buried in Helsinki’s Hietaniemi cemetery. His birthday is celebrated throughout Finland on 6 July, when the national flag will be flying all over the country in honour of Eino Leino Day, ‘the day of poetry and of summer’.

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

 

21 May 2018

European Literature Night at the British Library: identity and translation

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The arrival of the month of May can only mean one thing: European Literature Night!

EUNIC  and the European Writers’ Tour, with additional support from the Czech Centre and Flanders House, organised this year’s event on May 10th. As always the British Library hosted the event whereby authors from continental Europe showcased their work translated into English. They  read passages from their books in English and their own language. The readings were followed by a panel discussion with a Q&A session. Afterwards the audience was invited to buy the guest authors’ books and have them signed.

So far, so traditional. However, this year saw some radical changes. There were three authors instead of six or eight, which did the authors more justice. It made the panel discussion possible, which wasn’t there in previous years. A smaller group of authors also made the event more intimate, and this was emphasised by the new location: not the big auditorium in the Knowledge Centre, but a cosy tent in front of it, on the Piazza.

ELN2018PanelfromEUNICTwitterDc6EPL1WsAICyxR
 Panel discussion at European Literature Night, Thursday 10 May 2018 at the British Library. From left to right: Peter Terrin, Sylva Fischerová, Meike Ziervogel, Scott Pack. Taken from EUNIC Twitter feed.

We had a new host: Scott Pack, who replaced the host for many years Rosie Goldsmith. She was still there, but rather enjoying the event, with a nice glass of wine. The theme of the evening was ‘Identity’. The choice of authors obviously reflected this. All three authors share a ‘multifaceted’ identity. Poet/philosopher Sylva Fischerova was born in what used to be Czechoslovakia and is now the Czech Republic. Nothing fundamental changed, life went on. People tell each other the story of the old woman who was born in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, grew up in Germany, lived in the Soviet Union and died in Ukraine, never moving away from her home town. Borders don’t determine one’s identity.

Maybe language plays a more important part in ‘identity’ than geographical borders.
Sylva objected to having her poetry translated into English. When her good friend Stuart Friebert offered to translate her poetry she dismissed it out of hand as being ‘impossible’, but eventually he persuaded her to give it a go. He then not only translated her poetry, but also commented on the poems themselves, sometimes resulting in changes to them. Sylva now thinks the translation is even better than the original Czech version. I can’t judge, because I don’t speak Czech, but I enjoyed Sylva’s readings from The Swing in the Middle of Chaos (YC.2011.a.678)

ELN2018booksSF
Three books by Sylva Fischerová: Bizom, aneb, Služba a mise. (Brno, 2016). YF.2017a24377; The Tremor of Race Horses, transl. by Jarmila & Ian Milner. (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1990). YC.1990.a.10283; The Swing in the middle of Chaos, transl by Stuart Friebert. (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2010). YC.2011.a.678

Next up was Peter Terrin. He read from his 2015 novel Monte Carlo. The story throws up many questions about ‘identity’, such as where the protagonist belongs: in his English village, where he earns a living, repairing cars or on the Formula 1 circuits, as one of the top mechanics?

Peter Terrin sees himself as a ‘European’, rather than as a Belgian, or Fleming. ‘Identity’ is big in Belgium and language plays a major part in this, Terrin doesn’t ‘do’ borders. He speaks Flemish, English, probably French too and writes in Dutch (Flemish is very seldom used in writing). He lives in Belgium and publishes in the Netherlands.

‘This is really good,’ Peter thought, reading David Doherty’s translation of Monte Carlo. It felt almost like a new work. In a certain sense translations are new works. Translators never merely translate word by word; there is a big creative effort involved in translating any text. Still, the question remains what made him think like that. Maybe a foreign language creates the distance required to see one’s own work in a different light.

ELN2018PT MonteCarloMonte Carlo, Peter Terrin.(Amsterdam, 2015).YF.2016.a. 19205 and Monte Carlo, Peter Terrin, David Doherty. (London, 2017) DRT ELD.DS.163792.

German novelist and publisher Meike Ziervogel certainly seems to think so. She moved from Germany to the UK thirty years ago and writes solely in English. She calls herself a ‘translingual’ writer. She noticed that when writing in German she was hiding her emotions behind complicated words and constructions. At the time her ‘beginner’s’ level of English forced her to write in simpler, more direct language, which did bring out her true emotions. After thirty years English has become a native language to her and I could not help wondering if she ever feels like writing in German, doing the reverse of what she did thirty years ago, to force herself to identify her true emotions.

ELN2018MeikeZ Magda Magda, Meike Ziervogel. (Cromer, 2013). H.2015/.5439

Ziervogel is now on her fourth novel, The Photographer, about her own grandfather living through the Second World War.

ELN2018MeikeZThePhcover
 The Photographer by Meike Ziervogel. (London, 2017). DRT ELD.DS.206566 

I look forward to reading the various books that were discussed this evening, including Ziervogel’s Magda, her debut, about the wife of Joseph Goebbels. I hope I’ll finish them all before next year’s European Literature Night!


Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

 

11 May 2018

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

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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.

Chatzopoulos Karveles YA.2003.a.5652 Cover of Takēs Karvelēs, Kōstantinos Chatzopoulos ho prōtoporos (Athēna, 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.

  Chatzopoulos Arginion postcard
Postcard showing Chatzopoulos’s native Agrinio, from Praktika Epistēmonikou Symposiou "Ho Kōstantinos Chatzopoulos hōs syngrapheas kai theōrētikos" (Athēna, 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.

Chatzopoulos Tragodia 011586.e.110Cover 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).

Chatzopoulos Aploi 11409.l.35

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.