THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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111 posts categorized "Translation"

19 May 2020

Esperanto and Endangered Languages

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Esperanto can be described as the language of hope, peace, and solidarity as Professor Renato Corsetti, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto has discussed in his previous posts for the European Studies blog. Hope remains the governing principle, as the name of the language attests (espero in Esperanto).

Driven by hope for enhancing linguistic diversity, dedicated Esperantists have been translating minority language literatures into Esperanto, ranging from local stories to epic poems.

Local stories of the Pyrenees are featured in Christian Lavarenne’s translations from Occitan: Kvar mirindaj rakontoj el la Pireneoj and Mirindaj rakontoj el la Pireneo (Balagué, 1998; YF.2019.a.18502 and YF.2019.a.18517).

Portrait of Federic Mistral

Portrait of Federic Mistral from La poemo de Rodano (Laroque Timbaut, 1988) YF.2011.a.10850. Image courtesy of the Esperanto Museum at the Austrian National Library, Vienna. A digitised copy is also available.

The gem of classic Provençal literature, Mirèio by Federic Mistral was translated into Esperanto (Mirejo) by Paul Champion and Eugène Noël in 1909. At the time Mistral was still active and Esperanto was still a new language.

Mistral’s other masterpiece, the pensive Le Poème du Rhône en XII. Chants (Paris 1897; 11498.b.64.), translated into Esperanto as La poemo de Rodano (Laroque Timbaut, 1988; YF.2011.a.10850) by Rajmundo Laval or Valo has a particular resonance for us now as it tells the story of the end of an era.

Cover of Le Poème du Rhône en XII. Chants 

Cover of Le Poème du Rhône en XII. Chants 

Cover of the Esperanto translation of Le Poème du Rhône

Cover of La poemo de Rodano. Image courtesy of the Esperanto Museum at the Austrian National Library, Vienna. A digitised copy is also available.

While the title implies the poem is about the river Rhône, it is actually about the river’s people, the bargemen, the Coundriéulen (Provençal), Condrillots (French). Fitting to a monumental opus, the bargemen are portrayed in the opening stanza as giants who can only be described by the beauty and strength of their natural environment, the river, the sun and the trees:

From Lyons at the blush of early dawn
The bargemen, masters of the Rhône, depart,
A robust band and brave, the Condrillots.
Upright upon their crafts of planks of fir,
The tan of sun and glint from glassy wave
Their visages have bronzed as with gold.
And in that day colossuses they were,
Big, corpulent, and strong as living oaks,
And moving beams about as we would straws.

Translation: K. Katzner

First stanza of the Esperanto translation of Le Poème du Rhône

First stanza of the Esperanto translation of Le Poème du Rhône. Image courtesy of the Esperanto Museum at the Austrian National Library, Vienna. A digitised copy is also available.

The beginning, however, foreshadows the end: the strength of these natural giants succumbs to a new era’s unnatural giants, the steamboats of industrialisation. It is a tragic story not only of the lovers on board but also for lovers of the past. Although the bargemen lose their barge, hauling horses and people on board, they keep their dignity. After an epic journey, literally and metaphorically, we can see them on the shore, saying not a word about their loss, but moving forward. A digitised copy of the original Provençal and French text is available via Project Gutenberg.

Bargemen on the river Rhône

Bargemen on the river Rhône. From Joannès Drevet, Aux Environs de Lyon: préface de M. Coste-Labaume. Édition illustrée de 250 dessins de J. Drevet, etc. (Lyon, 1892.) 10172.g.9. 

Mistral was more than a storyteller. His ambition was to revitalise Provençal, the language of southern France, particularly Provence. With his magnificent poetry Mistral connected the rough 19th-century bargemen and the better-known refined Provençal singers, the troubadours of the 12th and 14th centuries, and expressed his hope that the language would thrive, whoever its speakers came to be.

Illustration of Troubadours

The Troubadours of the 12th-14th centuries were the best-known Provençal singers. Image from J.B.M. Challamel, La France et les Français à travers les siècles (Paris, 1882.) 9226.m.1.

Today the surviving variants of Occitan and Provençal are designated as ‘definitely’ and ‘severely’ endangered languages according to UNESCO’s Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.

Map of Occitan dialects speaking regions

Map of Provençal dialects speaking regions

Maps of Occitan (above) and Provençal (below) dialects speaking regions (yellow: definitely endangered; orange: severely endangered) UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger 2010 © UNESCO

Inter-generational transmission is the most prominent of the nine factors considered in the designation.

Definitely endangered means ‘children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in the home’.

Severely endangered refers to a language which is ‘spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves’.

Keeping a language alive can take many forms, even in translation. For example, Jomo (Jean-Marc Leclerq), a French Esperantist promotes Occitan in songs.

The British Library’s Esperanto collection contains works translated from over 50 languages, including some in anthologies. The most translated languages, not surprisingly, are the larger ones: English, Russian, French, German and Polish, followed by Chinese, Czech, Hungarian, Italian, Dutch and Spanish, Swedish, Japanese, Bulgarian, Portuguese, Croatian, Serbian, Danish, and Romanian. The list is indicative of the languages spoken by the most active Esperantists. However, within the collection a special corpus is dedicated to translations of minority language literatures including Occitan, Provencal, Basque, Walloon, and Welsh. 

In addition to books, Esperanto journals, most importantly Literatura Mondo (1922-1949; ZF.9.b.266), La Nica Literatura Revuo (1955-1962; ZF.9.a.7040) and Beletra Almanako (2007- ; ZF.9.a.7847) have also regularly published translations, both poetry and prose, from various languages.

Etnismo, an international organisation with an online newsletter, connects Esperantists who are interested in minority issues including minority languages.

Translators of minority and endangered language literatures into Esperanto often publish dictionaries as well. These are either embedded in the translated book as addendum or constitute stand-alone titles, for example: Basque-Esperanto dictionary (Bilbao, 2015; YF.2016.a.2481), and Catalan-Esperanto dictionary (Barcelona, 2014; YF.2015.a.22072).

So, why is it important to translate endangered language literature into Esperanto? By raising awareness of endangered languages and making their literature accessible to a larger readership through translations, Esperantists promote linguistic diversity. As Professor Renato Corsetti explains: ‘Esperantists think that all languages, large and small, are equally valuable, and Esperanto wants to contribute to the revitalization of all languages.’

Andrea Deri, Cataloguer

With contributions from:

Olga Kerziouk, former Curator, British Library Esperanto Collections

Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics, La Sapienza University Rome, Former president of the World Esperanto Association, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto

Acknowledgement

We would like to thank Professor Corsetti for his generous assistance in acquiring images from La poemo del Rodano from the Esperanto Museum at the Austrian National Library, and Candide Simard and Phil Hatfield for their helpful suggestions.

Further reading:

Moseley, Christopher (ed.), Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 3rd edn. (Paris, 2010).

Reinhard Haupenthal, La unuaj libroj de Schleyer (1880) kaj de Zamenhof (1887): pri la lanĉo de du plan-lingvoj (Schliengen, 2000) YF.2008.a.12642

15 May 2020

Fairytales across borders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pages from Shchasʹ livy Prynts with illustrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

Further reading and references:

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

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

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

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

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

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

27 April 2020

PhD Studentship Opportunity – The Michael Hamburger Archive: Mediating European Literature

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We are delighted to announce that the British Library, in collaboration with the University of Bristol, is offering a fully-funded PhD studentship (fees and living allowance) on the theme: The Michael Hamburger Archive: Mediating European Literature. The project will be co-supervised by Steffan Davies and Rebecca Kosick (University of Bristol) and Rachel Foss and Pardaad Chamsaz (British Library).

Box of drafts and correspondence from the archive

One of the 94 boxes of drafts and correspondence from the archive. Photo by Jen Calleja

In 2012, the British Library acquired the archive of Michael Hamburger (1924-2007), one of the foremost mediators of modern European—mainly German and Austrian—literature to readers in English. Born into a German family of Jewish descent, Michael Hamburger came to the UK as a refugee in 1933. He became a poet, a literary critic, and the translator of a very broad range of writers, including Hölderlin, Goethe, Rilke, Celan, Brecht, Ernst Jandl, Hans Magnus Enzensberger and W. G. Sebald.

Copy of BBC schedule for a recording of Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s poems in 1967

Copy of BBC schedule for a recording of Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s poems in 1967. Translations and notes by Michael Hamburger. Photo by Jen Calleja

The Archive comprises 94 boxes of drafts of translations, poems and essays; correspondence with writers, publishers and friends; and diaries and personal reflections among many other documents. The Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) offers a unique opportunity to illuminate processes that have been at the core of Anglo-German relations in the past three-quarters of a century: the translation of literature; the writing of literary criticism; and reflection on translation and cultural transfer. Equally, the existence of such a full archive makes this an outstanding opportunity for Translation Studies research.

Alongside the PhD research, the studentship will involve a significant contribution to the organisation and cataloguing of the archive, and to the evolving approaches to and understanding of translators’ archives in the Library. The research could approach the Archive from many angles, focusing on, for example: Michael Hamburger as translator; a methodology for archive-based translation studies; connections between the creativity of the poet and that of the translator; a critical reappraisal of translation as cultural mediation; and the (in)visibility of the translator figure.

Title page of draft of String of Beginnings: Intermittent Memoirs, 1924-1954 by Michael Hamburger

Draft of String of Beginnings: Intermittent Memoirs, 1924-1954 by Michael Hamburger. Photo by Jen Calleja

The project is part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) scheme, which offers doctoral studentships as part of collaborations between a Higher Education Institution and an organisation in the museums, libraries, archives and heritage sector. The doctoral grant will cover fees and pay the student a stipend; the British Library will also provide a research allowance of up to £1,000 a year for agreed research-related costs. In addition to being able to draw on the researcher development opportunities and postgraduate community in both the School of Modern Languages and the Bristol Doctoral College at the University of Bristol, the successful student will become part of a vibrant cohort of collaborative doctoral researchers at the British Library, and benefit from staff-level access to its collections, resources and training programmes.

Die Zeit article by Michael Hamburger

Die Zeit article by Michael Hamburger. Photo by Jen Calleja

The deadline for applications is 5pm on Monday 1 June. Applicants must have a very good reading knowledge of German and meet the standard UKRI residency requirements for Training Grants. The successful student will be expected to begin on 1 October 2020.

For further details of the studentship, and the CDP programme, see the British Library Research Collaboration page or visit the University of Bristol website.

If you are interested in applying, you are welcome to contact the following for an informal discussion about this opportunity in advance of submitting an application: Steffan Davies (steffan.davies@bristol.ac.uk), Rebecca Kosick (rebecca.kosick@bristol.ac.uk), Pardaad Chamsaz (pardaad.chamsaz@bl.uk) and Rachel Foss (Rachel.Foss@bl.uk).

23 April 2020

Poems from the Edge of Extinction II

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This blog continues our theme of poetry in languages on the edge of extinction. It is part of a collaborative mini series with our Americas and Oceania collections colleagues. 

Cover of Swallows and Floating Horses

Cover of Swallows and Floating Horses (details below)

Frisian

Frisian is the language closest related to English. As the old saying goes: ‘Bread, butter and green cheese is good English and good Friese’. In Frisian this reads as ‘Bûter, brea en griene tsiis, etc.’

Otherwise Frisian and English are each other’s opposites. For a long time, Frisian was scarcely written down. Over the centuries it has stubbornly refused to die out, but it has changed with the times and is as strong now as ever. It is now the second official language of the Netherlands.

The above image is from Swallows and Floating Horses: An Anthology of Frisian Literature (London, 2019, awaiting shelfmark), published last year by Francis Boutle as part of their series ‘Lesser Used Languages of Europe’. It covers 1,000 years of Frisian poetry and prose, in English and Frisian. In February 2019 at UCL it was presented to the British public, with Frisian poet Tsead Bruinja, currently Poet Laureate of the Netherlands, performing some of his poems. You can read and listen to his poem, ‘Gers dat Alfêst Laket’ (Grass that’s Started Laughing) from Swallows and Floating Horses here

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections 

Cover of Sovremennaia literatura narodov Rossii. Poeziia. Antologiia

Cover of Sovremennaia literatura narodov Rossii. Poeziia. Antologiia (Moscow, 2017). YF.2019.b.1108

Russia

In 2017, the well-known Moscow publishing house OGI (The United Humanitarian Publishing House) published a really unique book – an anthology of poetry in 57 minority languages spoken in the Russian Federation in original languages and Russian translations (BL YF.2019.b.1108). The editor of the volume was Maksim Amelin, himself a poet, translator, publisher and literary critic. In the foreword to the book, it is compared to an encyclopaedia of living national languages, cultures and worldviews. Here you can see several pages of this book and read poems (alongside their translations into Russian) by:

  • Anisa Kettunen, who writes in Finnish. Although 5.4 million people in the world are native speakers of Finnish, it is a minority language in the Russian Federation, where we see permanent decrease in the use of the Finnish as a native language.
  • Pimagomed Aslanov and Giulbika Omarova, whose poetry represents 129,000 speakers of the Tabasaran language from the Lezghin group of the Nakh-Dagestan language family. Apparently, this is one of the most difficult languages to learn.
  • Georgii Tsvetkov and Radmira Bogdanova – two poets who use for their creative expression the North Russian dialect of the Romani language. 128,000 people speak the Romani language in Russia.
  • Brontoi Bediurov, who in his native Altai language created a ritual verse on the spring worship to the Holy mountain Babyrgan.Altai, 

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections 

 

Cover of People like us. Seļļizt nemē mēg

Cover of People like us. Seļļizt nemē mēg (details below)

Livonian

Livonian (līvõ kēļ or rāndakēļ), currently spoken by around 20 people (three of them poets!), is on the UNESCO list of endangered languages. For centuries it was spoken in fishing villages along the Livonian Coast of Latvia. Unlike Latvian, which is a Baltic language, Livonian belongs to the Finnic branch of the Uralic language family and is related to Estonian, Finnish and Karelian. Even though the last native speaker of Livonian is thought to have died in 2013, there is a sustained interest in Livonian language and culture. In 2018 the University of Latvia Livonian Institute, the first research institution solely focused on the history, culture and language of Livonia, was established. In May 2019 the Institute’s director Valts Ernštreits, who is also a poet writing in Latvian and Livonian, took part in the European Literature Night: Poetry and Performance event held at the British Library. The poem below comes from Ernštreits’ first bilingual (Livonian and English) collection of Livonian poetry People like us. Seļļizt nemē mēg, translated by Ryan Van Winkle and Ernštreits (London, 2019, awaiting shelfmark).

Siz ku kievād virgõbõd
tallõ vied allõ maggõnd līndõd,
nänt tūrgõd āt vel kažžizt,
nänt ēļ um vel kardõ,
nänt kēļ um vel ȭnõz ja vȭrõz.
Ku kivīd virgõbõd, paļļõd ja ōgizt,
ne nūzõbõd ilzõ jõugõst ja viedstõ, ja mūldast,
lougõ ja sitkõ,
addõŗi murdõs ja
kējid jālgad sil akkõs.
Nänt kēļ neku nänt eņtš sidām
vel um vizā, lǟlam ja tijā;
amād sõnād āt ūd,
set set sindõn,
set pimdõmst ulzõ tunnõd;
abbõrz sieldõm kūoŗ nēḑi katāb.
Kievād, ku lūomõd ja liestād,
pūošõd ja neitsõd
āt īdlimist jagdõd
pids randõ,
līndõd ja kivīd rõkāndõbõd
ūds kīels,
missõn jūŗi äb ūo
äbka īrgandõkst,
äb ka tutkāmt.

–––––

In spring, birds wake
from their underwater slumber,
their feathers damp,
voices cracked and croaking
in an empty, foreign language.
Stones, naked and grey, rise up
from the sand, soil, sea – stubborn
and heavy – breaking ploughs,
getting under your feet.
Their rocky tongues,
just like their hearts, are cold
heavy and hollow. Their words;
new born
fresh out
of darkness, swaddled
in a thin, eggshell light.
In spring, when beasts and fish
and all the young men
and all the young women
get dispersed fairly and evenly
throughout the coast,
the birds and stones
speak their rootless language,
a tongue
with no beginning, no end.

Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator Baltic Collections

 

Photograph of José María Iparraguirre playing guitar

José María Iparraguirre, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Basque

Basque, or Euskara, is a pre-Indo-European language spoken today in four provinces of Spain and three in France on both sides of the Western Pyrenees. It is an ‘isolate’, i.e. it is unrelated to any language group. Attempts have been made to find connections between Basque and an extraordinary variety of languages, living and dead. However, only the surviving fragments of Aquitanian, a language of S.W. Gaul, have revealed any meaningful coincidences.

Greater centralization after the Revolution weakened regional identity in France and minority languages suffered in consequence. In northern Spain, the fueros (local laws) were abolished in 1876. Paradoxically, Basque culture and language underwent a renaissance that lasted until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Use of the Basque language was forbidden under Franco, but it continued to be studied, initially clandestinely. Today, speakers of Basque number about 850,000. Its future is brightest in the Autonomous Community of Euskadi in Spain where it has co-official status. It is much less so in Navarra, where its status is more complex. The language is at greatest risk in the French Basque Country.

Poetry has always been a vital strand of literature in Basque. Indeed, the first book printed in the language was a collection of poems, Linguae vasconum primitiae (Bordeaux, 1545), by a parish priest, Bernart Etxepare. A feature of Basque verse, today and in the past, has been oral poetry. One of the most famous poems in the language, Jose Maria Iparragirre’s Gernikako arbola (c. 1853), is composed to a popular dance rhythm. Dedicated to the tree of Gernika, the ancient oak that symbolized the rights of the people of Bizkaia, it has become a de facto anthem of the Basque people and their aspirations. Iparragirre (1820-81) had himself been a defender of the fueros and he forms an indirect link to the cultural movement that grew up after their suppression.

The poem has 12 stanzas. We quote here the first in its original dialect spelling, as the whole poem can readily be found online:

Guernicaco arbola
Da bedeincatuba
Euscaldunen artean
Guztiz maitatuba
Eman ta zabaltzazu
Munduban frutuba,
Adoratzen zaitugu
Arbola santuba.

–––––

The Tree of Guernica
is blessed
among the Basques;
absolutely loved.
Give and deliver
the fruit unto the world.
We adore you,
holy tree.

Geoff West, Former Curator Hispanic Collections 

Further reading:

Luis de Castresana, Vida y obra de Iparraguirre. Seguida de la obra completa, original euskera y versión castellana, del autor del Gernikako Arbola (Bilbao, 1971). X.981/3103.

Nick Gardner, Basque in education, In the Basque Autonomous Community (Vitoria-Gasteiz, 2000) YA.2002.a.39245.

Luis Villasante, Historia de la literatura vasca, 2nd ed. rev. ([Oñate], 1979). BL HLR 899.92

 

22 April 2020

Poems from the Edge of Extinction I

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For this blog, the first of a mini series in collaboration with our Americas and Oceania collections colleagues, we have taken inspiration from last year’s timely anthology of poems, Poems from the Edge of Extinction (BL ELD.DS.463137), edited by poet and UK National Poetry Librarian, Chris McCabe. Published last year (the UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages), the book celebrates linguistic diversity through poetic expression, gathering 50 poems in languages identified as endangered and presenting them in both the original and in English translation. It’s got us thinking about poetry written in lesser-known languages in our collections…

Cover of Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, The Sun, My Father

Cover of Nils-Aslak Valkeapää, The Sun, My Father, translated by Harald Gaski, Lars Nordström, and Ralph Salisbury (Guovdageaidnu, 1997), YA.2001.a.9397

Sámi

Spoken in Sápmi, the Sámi languages are part of the Uralic language family. As of August 2019, and the approval of an official Pite Sámi orthography, eight of the nine Sámi languages have written standards. That said, Sámi poetry is tied much more to an oral tradition, at the heart of which is the “joik” form of song. The joik is often dedicated to a person, animal, place, a landscape and its mode of expression is to evoke its subject directly and not to speak about it. The first Sámi poet to win the Nordic Council Literature Prize was Nils-Aslak Valkeapää for his Beaivi, áhčážan (‘The Sun, my Father’) (YA.1994.b.2494), a title referring to the myth that the Sámi are the children of the Sun. Written in North Sámi, the illustrated meditation on ‘everything of which humans form a part’ (Heith), connects us to nature fundamentally:

eanan
lea earálágán
go das lea orron
vánddardan

bivástuvván
šuvččagan

oaidnán beaivvi
luoitime loktaneame
láhppome ihtime

eanan lea earálágán
go diehtá
dáppe
máttut
máddagat

––––––

the land
is different
when you have lived there
wandered

sweated
frozen

seen the sun
set rise
disappear return

the land is different
when you know
here are
roots
ancestors

(From Valkeapää’, The Sun, my Father)

Valkeapää’s unpunctuated, short-lined flow moves us through the poem as if the voice is taking the reader on the very wander it imagines. It is well worth listening to Valekapää sing the lyrics. Contemporary Sámi poetry is thriving, and McCabe’s anthology points us towards a poem by Synnøve Persen, and we have recently acquired a range of titles from leading Sámi voices such as Persen, Inga Ravna Eira, Maren Uthaug, and Rauni Magga Lukkari, to name a few.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections 

 

Engraving of a 30 year-old La Villemarqué transcribing a song

A 30 year-old La Villemarqué transcribing a song. Engraving by Ernest Boyer, half-brother of the poet Brizeux, 1845, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Breton (Brezhoneg)

Before the revival movements of the 19th and early 20th century, most literature in Breton consisted of religious writings. This revival had been first generated by the publication and international success of La Villemarqué's Barzaz Breiz (‘Songs and Ballads of Brittany’; 20010.ff.45.), the foundation of Brittany's literary renaissance.

Our collections present a good selection of Breton poets, from War poet Yann-Ber Kalloc’h (1888 –1917) to Pierre-Jakez Helias (1914-1995). Born on the island of Groix, near Quimper, Kalloc’h was the son of a fisherman. Taking the name of Bard Bleimor (‘Sea Wolf’), Kalloc’h described himself as ‘not in the least bit French’ and wrote in autonomist and regionalist reviews and publications. His most famous work is the posthumous collection of poems, Ar en deulin, published by his friend Pierre Mocaer in 1925 (1963 parallel text edition at X.989/21387). This collection includes the famous poem ‘Me ’zo Ganet kreiz ar e mor’ (‘I was born in the middle of the sea’), which can also be found in Minhoarheu ha dareu. Sourires et pleurs. Poésies de Bretagne (Quimper, 1926; 10657.b.36.).

A major literary figure in Brittany (and in the whole of France) in the second half of the 20th century, Pêr-Jakez Helias directed a weekly radio programme in the Breton language and co-founded a summer festival which became the Festival de Cornouaille. Helias’s poetry includes two collections in Breton, Ar mên du (‘The Black Stone’; Brest, 1974; PP.4881.sdp.[niv.47/48.]) and An tremen-buhez ( ‘The Pastime’; Brest, 1979; X.950/1993). The Breton language itself is an important theme in his work: ‘Breton speaker that I am, my heritage lies on my tongue’.

The Library also has a collection of literary magazine Al Liamm (P.901/1500), first published in 1946. Many modern Breton authors have contributed to the magazine with poems, short stories, essays, and songs.

It is interesting to note another trend in later Breton poetry: Haikus. Contemporary Breton poets have taken to this art form, and seem particularly keen on experimenting, as in Paol Keineg’s 35 haiku (Morlaix, 1978; X.907/20940) and the recent Breton/Japanese haikus by singer and musician Alan Stivell, Amzer (2015; BL 1CD0378512)

And if you want to delve into the Breton language a bit more, we have also digitized the 1744 Dictionnaire françois-breton ou françois-celtique du dialecte de Vannes!

Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections 

 

Cover of Valzhyna Mort, Epidemiia ruzhau

Cover of Valzhyna Mort, Epidemiia ruzhau (2017). Awaiting shelfmark.

Belarusian

Belarusian is one of the two official languages of Belarus (the other is Russian), yet it is estimated that only around 10% of the population use it in everyday life.

In 1971, the first anthology of Belarusian poetry in English, Like Water, Like Fire (1971; X.981/2398.), was published as part of a UNESCO series of books aimed at highlighting literature in lesser-known languages. It contained works by 41 authors, from Francišak Bahuševič to Larysa Hienijuš and Maxim Tank, which were translated by the poet and translator Vera Rich.

Although still relatively little known outside of Belarus and the Belarusian diaspora, contemporary Belarusian poetry is thriving. In his 2015 book, Spring Shoots: Young Belarusian Poets in the Early Twenty-First Century (YC.2017.a.1460), Arnold McMillin introduces 40 poets born in or after 1980 and loosely connects them through common themes present in their poetry, including the use and defence of language, historical heritage, protest at alienation and repression, and religion.

One stand-out poet who does not feature in Spring Shoots (but is instead included in McMillin’s earlier work as a ‘poet of the future’) is the US-based Valzhyna Mort, who writes in both Belarusian and English. The British Library recently acquired Mort’s collection, Epidemiia ruzhau (‘Rose Pandemic’), which explores the themes of war and displacement, music and gardens, language and earth. In an article published on the website of Cornell University’s English Department, where Mort is a professor, she observes that, ‘The landscape of Belarus is burdened by silence, by the unverbalized history of war and colonization’ and describes the collection as ‘trying to untie the nerves of silence.’ 

Mort features on http://litradio.by/, an archive of audio recordings featuring writers, poets and translators reading their work and one of the many projects set up by Belarusian PEN Centre aimed at fostering and promoting Belarusian literature.

You can read and listen to Valzhyna Mort’s poem ‘Belarusian I’ (‘Belaruskaia mova I’) from Factory of Tears (Port Townsend, Wash., 2008; YD.2009.a.3260), which is included in McCabe’s anthology, here.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections 

Further Reading:

Read more about the Endangered Poetry Project here

Anne Heith, ‘Putting an end to the shame associated with minority culture and its concomitant negative self-Images – On gender and ethnicity in Sami and Tornedalian literature’, accessed 7/4/20

Harald Gaski, ‘Song, Poetry and Images in Writing: Sami Literature’, Nordlit 15 (1), 2011, pp. 33-54.

17 April 2020

Slovenian gay poetry in translation: Tracing the Unspoken by Milan Šelj

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Recently while cataloguing, amongst donations I came across a Slovenian gay poetry book Tracing the Unspoken by Milan Šelj (2019). I found it so intriguing that I was compelled to read it right through to the end without a break.

This is the first English language translation of the Slovenian original Slediti neizgovorjenemu (2018), translated by Harvey Vincent, a New York director, actor and teacher based in Paris, and a founding member of the American Theater Group of Paris. It is published by the American-based A Midsummer Night’s Press in their Body Language imprint devoted to LGBT voices. 

Cover of Tracing the Unspoken with a portrait by Stefano Cipollari

Cover of Milan Šelj, Tracing the Unspoken, (New York, 2019). Awaiting shelfmark

Šelj is an award-winning Slovenian poet and translator. He was born in 1960 and has lived and worked in London since 1992. He is the author of four poetry collections of which the first, Darilo (Gift), published by ŠKUC-Lambda in 2006, was described as ‘one of the most explicitly homoerotic poetry books in Slovenia thus far’. The essence of the book Tracing the Unspoken, as Gregory Woods describes it, is about ‘the individual who tries to make sense of desire’. It is not surprising that it is the unspoken that lures the reader; the emotional and sexual tension created by the universal language of desire, obsession and love. The writing is explicit and virile. Page after page, the compact stream of thoughts captures and guides through fragments of narrative that give meaning to words we would not be able to voice ourselves.

Page from Tracing the Unspoken

Excerpt from Tracing the Unspoken, p. 45. Awaiting shelfmark

An excerpt that caught my attention and resonates with the current times of lockdown will hopefully offer some comfort or escape in bridging distances with loved ones.

You have no idea how small this town is. Desperation is stifling and centuries old. Why don’t you cut off your shirtsleeves and send them to me? I’ll embrace myself with them when I’m not able to shorten your absence. To save myself, I’ll search for consolation between the scraps of fabric and let your scent linger on the cuffs.

Lora Afrić, Languages Cataloguing Manager

References/Further reading:

Milan Šelj, Slediti neizgovorjenemu (Ljubljana, 2018) YF.2019.a.11088

Milan Šelj, Gradim gradove (Ljubljana, 2015) YF.2016.a.15174




 

06 March 2020

Children’s Tales from Across the Channel (2)

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The British Library has just launched its new ‘Discovering Children’s Books’ web pages, a treasure-chest of stories, poems and illustrations from old favourites to modern classics, with plenty to discover along the way. This venture has inspired us here in European Collections to reflect on some favourite and classic children’s books from the collections we curate and the countries we cover.

Cover of Ježeva kućica with an illustration of the hedgehog smoking a pipe and having tea in his underground home

Cover of Branko Ćopić, Ježeva kućica (Zagreb, 1974). X.902/3982

Branko Ćopić, Ježeva kućica (Hedgehog’s Home)

Chosen by Lora Afric, Languages Cataloguing Manager

‘There is no place like home’ and there is no other story that better conveys that message than the Yugoslav fable Ježeva kućica by Branko Ćopić. Ćopić wrote the story in 1949 but the famous picture book came to life in 1957, with illustrations by a well-known Croatian painter and illustrator, Vilko Gliha Selan (1912-1979).

The main protagonist is a hedgehog called Ježurka Ježić, a name cleverly derived from the word jež (hedgehog in both Serbian and Croatian). His English counterpart is Hedgemond the Hunter, as named by S.D. Curtis in Hedgehog’s Home, a relatively recent and first translation into English published by Istros Books (YK.2013.b.3589).

Ježurka Ježić wanders in the woods, hunts and is known by all of the other animals. One day Ježurka receives a letter from Mici the fox inviting him to a party, which he gladly accepts. After what seems like an abundant feast, Mici tries to persuade Ježurka to stay but he is keen to get back to his cosy home. The curious fox decides to follow Ježurka and see what the fuss is about. On her way she picks up the angry wolf, the hungry bear and the greedy wild boar, only to discover that Ježurka’s home is indeed a very humble abode. But for Ježurka his home is his castle, he takes pride in working and defending his precious home. The message of this popular and timeless Yugoslav tale is universal, that of love for what is ours, especially for our home.

Three covers of Histoires de Babar with illustrations of Babar the elephant

Three copies of Histoires de Babar (1930s) from the British Library collections: LB.31.c. 2337, LB.31.c.2154, LB.31.c.2155.

Jean de Brunhoff, Histoires de Babar

Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

In the summer of 1930, a pianist named Cecile de Brunhoff invented a bedtime story for her two sons about the adventures of a little elephant. The boys liked it so much that they asked their father, the artist Jean de Brunhoff, to illustrate it for them. This led him in 1931 to produce a book published by the Jardin des modes – an avant-garde fashion magazine and publishing house directed by his brother Michel de Brunhoff. It was an immediate success. Histoire de Babar: le petit éléphant (The Story of Babar), was quickly followed by Le voyage de Babar (The Travels of Babar), in the same year, and Le Roi Babar (King Babar) in 1933.

Jean de Brunhoff created four more Babar books, but died of tuberculosis at the age of 37 in 1937. Laurent, who was 12 when his father died, later succeeded him and went on to produce more Babar books. Over the years, Babar has been many things to many people and embodied many of the complexities of children’s literature (accusations of colonialist undertones and of scenes too scary or sad for children have even led to an essay boldly asking “Should we burn Babar?” (Kohl, 2007)) but the stories of Babar, now the subject of exhibitions the world over, are still read by parents and children alike today.

Cover of the first Swedish translation of The Hobbit with an illustration of Bilbo by Tove Jansson

Cover of J. R. R. Tolkien, Bilbo. En Hobbits Äventyr, translated by Britt G. Hallqvist, with illustrations by Tove Jansson (awaiting shelfmark)

J. R. R. Tolkien, Bilbo. En Hobbits Äventyr, translated by Britt G. Hallqvist, with illustrations by Tove Jansson (awaiting shelfmark)

Chosen by Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

Bending the rules slightly, here is an English classic in its first Swedish translation that the library has just recently acquired. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, or There and Back Again was first published in 1937 to critical acclaim, leading to the demand for the sequels that became The Lord of the Rings. Although revisions were made to subsequent editions of The Hobbit as the fictional universe developed through the later works, the Swedish translation, published in 1962, is based on the original. The library holds some unique archival material from Tolkien, including this Map of Middle Earth. Tolkien’s world was influenced by the sagas and legends of Northern Europe and its own significant contribution to that fantasy tradition is evident in the choice of Tove Jansson, creator of Moomins, as illustrator. Jansson’s wide-eyed, juvenile figures populate Tolkien’s epic mountains and dark forests, an imaginary landscape already so familiar to the artist’s imagination.

A selection of covers of Éva Janikovszky’s books

A selection of covers of Éva Janikovszky’s books: Happiness! (X.990/2342), Felelj szépen, ha kérdeznek! [=Answer nicely when you're asked!] (YA.1990.a.12972) and If I were a grown-up… (X.990/2343), with an opening from Happiness! below.

Hungarian children’s books by Éva Janikovszky, with illustrations by László Réber

Chosen by Ildi Wollner, Curator East & SE European Collections

During the 1960s-1980s Hungary's young enjoyed a series of attractive and witty children's books written by Éva Janikovszky (1926-2003). Her typographically chopped-up texts are abundantly interspersed with distinctive illustrations by caricaturist László Réber (1920-2001). The stories tend to revolve around child-adult relationships, voicing the ponderings of a young boy. He proudly shares his reservations and realisations on the weighty issues of life at his age, all with the utmost seriousness. On the one hand, these books were presumably aimed at helping children to navigate the maze of the big world – refreshingly, not in an overly dogmatic way so typical of those times. On the other hand, they also made grown-up readers smile (including hopefully at themselves!), as they were confronted with their own ingrained but not always reasonable behaviours. We hold several of Janikovszky’s books in our collections, in both the original Hungarian and English translation.

An engraving of the white cat by Voldemārs Krastiņš in Kārlis Skalbe, Pussy’s Water Mill

Engraving by Voldemārs Krastiņš from Kārlis Skalbe, Pussy’s Water Mill, translated by W.K. Matthews (Stockholm, 1952). 12802.aaa.42

‘Kakīša dzirnavas’ (‘The Cat’s Mill’)

Chosen by Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator Baltic Collections

The fairy tale ‘Kakīša dzirnavas’ (‘The Cat’s Mill’) by the Latvian writer and politician Kārlis Skalbe (1879-1945) is firmly part of the Latvian literary canon. This tale of compassion and forgiveness was recently recognised as the nation’s favourite book. It tells the story of a white cat who owns a mill. After spending his money on his daughters’ dowries, the cat falls on hard times and sees his mill being taken over by an evil black cat. Turned away by his daughters, chased by dogs and pelted with sticks and stones by children, the cat finally finds his way to the royal palace where he tells his story to the sick king who “grieved for all that man and beast suffered in the world” and is so compassionate that “skilled court physicians advised him to bind his heart with golden hoops, that it should not tremble so easily at every sigh”. The cat surprises the king by refusing to bear any grudges against his tormentors, teaching him the value of forgiveness. As in traditional fairy tales, order is restored at the end – the cat gets his mill back, the king is cured of his illness and new life begins at the palace.

03 March 2020

Nordic Comics Today: A Day of Events

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On 13 March, the British Library are hosting two events under the banner of Nordic Comics Today. In the afternoon, we will welcome Kaisa Leka and Karoline Stjernfelt to showcase their work. Kaisa will speak about the life of a disabled woman in the world today, and how comic art responds to disability, while Karoline transports us to the 18th-century Danish royal court through her prize-winning graphic history I Morgen Bliver Bedre (‘Tomorrow will be better’). The event will be introduced by Dr Nina Mickwitz from the University of the Arts, who’ll ground us in contemporary comics cultures in the Nordic region.

Illustration of suffragettes marching and fighting with policemen from 'Women in Battle'

‘Votes for Women’ from Marta Breen and Jenny Jordahl, Women in Battle: 150 Years of Fighting for Freedom, Equality and Sisterhood (London, 2018) ELD.DS.339036

In the evening we turn to feminism and welcome best-selling author Marta Breen to talk about Women in Battle, the story of fearless females in the continuing journey towards rights for women today (created in collaboration with illustrator Jenny Jordahl and translated into English by Sian Mackie). Marta will be in conversation with Kaisa Leka and UK Comics Laureate Hannah Berry, as they discuss the power of comics and graphic literature to engage people around social justice.

Photo of Kaisa Leka

A photo of Kaisa Leka from her trip around the U.S.A. reproduced in Imperfect (Porvoo, 2017), awaiting shelfmark

There are some tickets remaining for both events. The afternoon is free to attend but still requires a ticket. We are also delighted to be able to display parts of the Hero(ine)s exhibition, first shown at the University of Cumbria and the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in 2018, which features iconic comic heroes re-interpreted and reimagined in their female form. This can be seen all day at the Knowledge Centre.

Double page from 'Place of Death'

from Kaisa’s Place of Death (Porvoo, 2015), YD.2019.a.6235

Comics and graphic novels certainly have a place amongst the Library’s universal and international collections, especially given the emergence of Comics Studies as an academic discipline in recent years. That’s not to say comics needed rehabilitating through academic approaches. It might be best to say, with Douglas Wolk, that comics are not a genre but a medium, and that graphic art cuts across genres. Also, the ubiquity of images in the internet age and the implications on reading habits go hand in hand with the fairly recent rise of graphic literature. So, if you want to understand the world today, a task which the BL’s collections are surely there to serve, then you need to read some comics!

Double page from 'Place of Death'

also from Place of Death

Let’s take a look at the work of our featured authors. Kaisa Leka, a Puupäähattu prize-winning Finnish artist and adventurer, has created numerous innovative books with her partner and ‘faithful sherpa’ Christoffer Leka. Imperfect (awaiting shelfmark) is a beautiful travel diary about their trip across the U.S.A. made up of the postcards they sent to Christoffer’s nephews and niece every day. Place of Death is a sort of parable about ‘fear and the kindness of strangers’, the characters being the authors’ (plus families’) alter egos.

Cover of Karoline Stjernfelt’s 'I Morgen Bliver Bedre' featuring ‘The King’, ‘The Queen’ and ‘The Doctor’

Cover of Karoline Stjernfelt’s I Morgen Bliver Bedre (Copenhagen, 2016) YF.2020.b.319

Karoline Stjernfelt’s I Morgen Bliver Bedre won the best debut category of both major Danish comics awards, the Ping Award and the Claus Delauran Award. To be published in three parts, ‘The King’, ‘The Queen’ and ‘The Doctor’, the exquisitely illustrated books take us to the late 18th century and the reign of Christian VII. The German royal physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee, wielded increasing influence in the court, having an affair with the Queen Caroline Matilda, and eventually becoming de facto regent in 1770. I Morgen Bliver Bedre captures that political chaos and the splendour of the court.

A ball scene from I Morgen Bliver Bedre

A ball scene from I Morgen Bliver Bedre

Marta Breen and Jenny Jordahl’s Women in Battle tells the story of women’s rights and we’re fortunate to hear about it just after International Women’s Day and just before the British Library opens its Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights exhibition. It sketches 150 years of struggle through figures such as Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and Malala Yousafzai. Marta and Jenny Jordahl have previously collaborated on the books 60 Women you should know about and The F Word, while Marta has also just published Hvordan bli (en skandinavisk) feminist (‘How to be (a Scandinavian) feminist’) (awaiting shelfmark).

Cover of 'Women in Battle' with illustrations of famous women activists throughout history

Cover of Women in Battle

Last but not least, we should definitely also say a word about our wonderful chairs for the events, Nina Mickwitz and Hannah Berry. Nina’s monograph Documentary Comics: Graphic Truth-telling in a Skeptical Age (awaiting shelfmark) shows the documentary potential of comics through early 21st century non-fiction examples. She has recently co-edited the collections (with Dr Ian Hague and Dr Ian Norton) Contexts of Violence in Comics and Representing Acts of Violence in Comics, and is currently interested in mobilities and negotiations of social norms and identities in comics, as well as the transnational mobilities of comics themselves.

Page depicting women’s struggle against slavery in 'Women in Battle'

Depicting women’s struggle against slavery in Women in Battle

Hannah Berry is the UK Comics Laureate and her graphic novel Livestock won the Broken Frontier Award for Best Writer. Check that out as well as her two previous graphic novels Britten and Brülightly and Adamtine here at the Library.

We look forward to introducing you to these exciting creative voices and stay tuned for more Nordic events at the library over the coming year!

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References

Douglas Wolk, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels work and what they mean (Cambridge, MA, 2007) YK.2007.a.19819

Marta Breen, Hvordan bli (en skandinavisk) feminist (Oslo, 2020) awaiting shelfmark

Marta Breen and Jenny Jordahl, Kvinner I kamp: 150 års kamp for frihet, likhet, sösterskap! (Oslo, 2018), awaiting shelfmark

Nina Mickwitz, Documentary Comics: Graphic Truth-telling in a Skeptical Age (Basingstoke, 2015) awaiting shelfmark

Nina Mickwitz, Ian Hague, and Ian Norton, Contexts of Violence in Comics (London, 2019) ELD.DS.445377

——, Representing Acts of Violence in Comics (London, 2019) ELD.DS.445165

Hannah Berry, Britten and Brülightly (London, 2008) YK.2011.b.11102

——, Adamtine (London, 2012) YK.2012.a.19765

——, Livestock (London, 2017) YKL.2018.b.3075

29 February 2020

Children's Tales from Across the Channel (1)

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The British Library has just launched its new ‘Discovering Children’s Books’ web pages, a treasure-chest of stories, poems and illustrations from old favourites to modern classics, with plenty to discover along the way. This venture has inspired us here in European Collections to reflect on some favourite and classic children’s books from the collections we curate and the countries we cover. Here’s a first selection.

Cover of 'The Mitten', showing a child losing a mitten in a snowy wood

Cover of Alvin Tresselt, The Mitten (Kingswood, Surrey, 1964) X.992/87.

‘Rukavychka’, traditional Ukrainian folktale
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

‘Rukavychka’ (‘The Mitten’) is a much-loved Ukrainian folktale about a lost mitten that stretches and stretches (and stretches!) to provide shelter for an increasing number of woodland animals, ranging from a mouse to a bear. Eventually the mitten bursts and they all tumble out. There are a number of different versions of the story, including a 1964 retelling in English by Alvin Tresselt  with beautiful illustrations by Yaroslava (pictured above), but the overarching message is one of sharing and helping others in need.

Illustration of Vitalis the Fox, walking on his hind legs with a nest of birds perched on his tail
Vitalis the Fox, from Jan Brzechwa, Od baśni do baśni (Warsaw, 1969) X.990/1813

Szelmostwa lisa Witalisa’ (‘The Tricks of Vitalis the Fox’)  
Chosen by Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

This verse tale by Jan Brzechwa tells the story of a mischievous fox, Vitalis, who is renowned for his beautiful tail and exceptional intellect. Unfortunately, he uses his intelligence again and again to trick other animals for his own benefit. Following an election campaign full of empty promises, Vitalis becomes president of the forest animals. His tyrannical, exploitative rule triggers a revolution, in which the fox’s tail is shaven and Vitalis himself chased away from the forest. And thus a brilliant, but overly arrogant dictator is punished by his subjects – a scenario by no means limited to fairy tales.

Cover of 'Glasblåsarns barn' with an illustration of two children and a coachman
Cover of Maria Gripe, Glasblåsarns Barn (Stockholm, 1987) YA.1997.a.9920.

Maria Gripe, Glasblåsarns Barn (The Glassblower’s Children)
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

First published in 1964, Glasblåsarns Barn tells how Klas and Klara, children of the brilliant but impoverished glassblower Alfred and his long-suffering wife Sofia, are kidnapped by a nobleman as a gift for his own childless and unhappy wife. But their presence doesn’t make her any happier, and in the great house beyond the River of Forgotten Memories the children are neglected and traumatised. A governess is hired to look after them but turns out to be a monster who makes life unbearable for the whole household. It it takes a benevolent witch from the children’s home village and her wise raven to defeat the awful Nana, restore happiness to the nobleman and his wife, and return Klas and Klara to their parents. Maria Gripe’s story, attractively illustrated by her husband Harald, is funny and moving by turns, a fantasy that asks real-life questions about family life, love and loss, and the nature of human desires. It was translated into English by Sheila La Farge (London, 1974; X.0990/4514) and that was how I came to discover the book as a child in my local public library.

Cover of a 1924 edition of 'Pinocchio' with an illustration showing some of the characters of the story
Cover of Carlo Collodi, Le Avventure Di Pinocchio: Storia Di Un Burattino (Florence, 1924) F10/1460

Carlo Collodi, Le Avventure di Pinocchio (The Adventures of Pinocchio)
Chosen by Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections

The story of the rebellious wooden marionette who wants to become a real boy is universally known, yet every edition of Pinocchio carries a unique freshness, a special appeal that continues to charm readers across generations. The iconic pointy nose, that grows every time he lies, the cone-shaped hat made of bread crumbs, these are Pinocchio’s most recognizable features across almost 150 years of this popular character.

Over 200 editions of Carlo Collodi’s story, first published in Italian in 1883, are held by the British Library, in virtually every language and dialect, illustrated by famous and lesser-known artists, so it’s been really hard to pick one. I chose the popular 1924 paperback edition, richly illustrated by Maria Augusta and Luigi Cavalieri, because this could be the copy that every average Italian household keeps in its bookshelves. These are the images that children look at before learning how to read.

The book is a bildungsroman telling the adventures and the many metamorphoses of an innocent and ignorant young character, who is granted human nature at the end of the story, as a reward for his efforts and hard work. Quintessentially Italian, Collodi’s book wasn’t my favourite as a child, but I can now see it in all its literary richness, not only as a reminder of the importance of frugality, honesty and education in become young adults. In fact, Pinocchio’s pedagogical value follows the introduction of mandatory education for children in the newly unified Italian Kingdom, but Collodi adds an unruly, almost anarchic edge to his story, making it a global evergreen.

Cover of 'Afke's Ten' with a picture of a small sailing-boat on a river
Cover of Nynke van Hichtum, Afke’s Ten, translated by Marie Kiersted Pidgeon (Philadelphia, 1936) 12801.f.21.

Nynke van Hichtum, Afke’s tiental (Afke’s Ten)
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

Afke’s tiental is a timeless story about ten children growing up in a poor household in Friesland, the Northern province in the Netherlands where Frisian is spoken. Since its first edition in 1903 it has seen over 60 editions. The author Nynke van Hichtum (pseudonym of Sjoukje Maria Diderika Troelstra-Bokma de Boer) was married to Pieter Jelle Troelstra, the leader of the socialist party in the Netherlands
The foreword of the first English edition describes it as:

A story of modern child-life in a large, happy Dutch family in a Frisian village, written by a pioneer for better children’s books in the Netherlands, “Afke’s Ten” (Afke’s tiental) is not only considered a juvenile classic in Holland, but has been recognized by the International Bureau of Education in Switzerland as one of the best “international goodwill” stories in the world for boys and girls.

It adds that ‘Mrs Troelstra had already made a name for herself with translations of Robinson Crusoe, Kipling’s ‘White Seal’ and other English stories.’

20 February 2020

Travelling through the British Library’s Dutch-Surinamese Collections via Johan Fretz’s ‘Onder de Paramariboom’

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“Mummy comes from the Paramaribo-tree – that’s a tree on the other side of the ocean, and black people like mummy and Ruud Gullit grow on it.” – Johan Fretz, Onder de Paramariboom

Paramari-what? Sometimes it takes a child’s perspective to make you realise how little you really know about something; when you find you’re unable to correct what they’re saying with any degree of accuracy. Of course, when my coursemates and I were given the opportunity to work with the Dutch-Surinamese author Johan Fretz and translate part of his semi-autobiographical novel Onder de Paramariboom, I could have told you that Surinamese people don’t grow on a big tree named after the country’s capital, Pamaribo, but I couldn’t have told you much else about Suriname or its people.


Cover of 'Onder de paramariboom' with an image of two women in sihouette and an aerial view of a landscape
Cover of Johan Fretz, Onder de Paramariboom (Amsterdam, 2018) YF.2019.a.5725.

The British Library’s vast collection of maps, texts and images from and related to the former Dutch colony provides a pretty good impression of Suriname, but nowhere could I find mention of the ‘Paramaribo-tree’. The reason, of course, is that it has been invented by Johannes, the narrator of Fretz’s novel (the wordplay in the original title with the Dutch word ‘boom’ (‘tree’) is lost in English) who, despite having a Surinamese mother, has never really felt in touch with his Surinamese roots. It’s not until he visits Suriname that he realises how much he has been shaped by this part of his identity. As a fellow lover of a good pun, I adopted Johannes as my guide through the British Library’s collection.

Suriname, once known as Dutch Guiana, is located on the north-east coast of South America and is just over twice the size of Scotland. Although British planters were the first Europeans to permanently settle there, Suriname was largely under Dutch rule from 1667 until its independence in 1975.

Johannes’ mother, Virginia, was born and raised in Paramaribo, where Fretz’s novel is mainly set. The historical inner city, on the left bank of the Suriname River, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002. 

The oldest and most important street in Paramaribo is Waterkant (‘waterside’). Many of its buildings were destroyed in a fire in 1821, including the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Housing, which was rebuilt and now looks, according to Johannes, “like it has been blown up and then put back together again, all higgeldy-piggeldy.” (Fretz, p.29)

The photograph below is taken from a collection of wonderful pictures taken by Dutch photographer Willem van de Poll during the 1955 state visit of the Dutch Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard.

The Waterkrant in Paramaribo with wooden colonial-era buildings
‘The Waterkant, Paramaribo’. From Willem van de Poll, Suriname (Paramaribo, [1959]) X.709/26675.

A map in King George III’s Topographical Collection lying on the desk before me tells me that Virginia’s favourite district in Fretz’s novel is Commewijne, named after the river that flows through it. Commewijne lies on the opposite side of the Suriname river to Paramaribo and is a former plantation district: the map shows plantations tightly packed along the rivers Commewijne and Suriname.

Map of Suriname in the late 18th century
Algemeene Kaart van de Colonie of Provintie van Suriname, met de rivieren, districten, ontdekkingen... (Amsterdam, [after 1758]) K.Top.124.47.1.

Many Dutch families owned plantations in Suriname, and family members would sometimes visit them. A journal by Gaspar van Breugel records one such visit in 1823 to inspect two plantations partially owned by his family. In his journal he calls these plantations ‘Carolinenburg’ and ‘Schoonwoud’, but a little bit of research provided me with their real names and details: the 500-acre Cliffort Kokshoven a coffee and cotton plantation in Commewijne, and Kocqswoud was a 163-acre coffee plantation in the Marrowijne district.

Title-page of 'Dagverhaal van eene reis naar Paramaribo' with a vignette of a white plantation owner and an African slave
“It was one of those subjects – just like slavery – that was not to be talked about, which of course meant that it was talked about as often as possible”. (Fretz, p.53).  The picture shows the title-page of G. P. C. van Breugel, Dagverhaal van eene reis naar Paramaribo en verdere omstreken in de Kolonie Suriname (Amsterdam, 1842) 10055.cc.6

Slaves were shipped to Suriname from the west coast of Africa. While the majority worked the plantations, some were domestic slaves. A major and unique publication in Dutch colonial history was Wij Slaven van Suriname (‘We Slaves of Suriname)’, by Anton de Kom. Born in Suriname to a former slave and having received an education which neglected to tell the narrative of the slaves who had been forced to work there, De Kom wrote his book to draw attention to the history of slavery in Suriname. The British Library houses a copy of the first edition of this important text.


Title-page of 'Wij Slaven van Suriname'
Title page of Anton de Kom, Wij Slaven van Suriname (Amsterdam, [1934]) X.529/73312

“Uncle Jimmy. He’s black, much darker than the rest of my family.
‘That’s because uncle Jimmy is a maroon,’ says my mother. ‘But of course, you should never say that.’
He came from the inland to Paramaribo when he was fifteen years old. (Fretz, p.54)

Slaves that managed to flee their masters tended to make their way into the rainforests of the Surinamese interior. Here, they formed groups with other runaway slaves, known as maroons, and established communities which still exist today. Johannes’ uncle Jimmy is a descendant of one such community. Often maroons would return to their former plantations and attack them, “both from a Spirit of revenge for the barbarous and inhuman treatment … they had received … & from a view of carrying away plunder … in order to provide for their subsistence and defense.” This quote is taken from John Gabriel Stedman’s  Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Suriname. Stedman was a British-Dutch colonial soldier who volunteered to assist local troops fighting maroons in Suriname.


View of a Surinamese plantation estate beside a riverView of the Estate Alkmaar, on the River Commewine. From J.G. Stedman, Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Suriname (London, 1796) 145.f.15

Stedman began writing his Narrative once back in Holland in 1778, based on the diaries he kept during his time in Suriname between 1773 and 1777. The book details the Dutch colony at the time as seen by an ‘outsider’ – Stedman documented most of what he witnessed, from military campaigns to flora and fauna to relationships between slaves and their masters. His editor, however, made significant alterations (unbeknownst to Stedman) to remove the text’s anti-slavery undertones. Indeed, extracts from later uncensored versions of the text proved valuable to those involved in anti-slavery efforts. The Narrative contains 80 etchings based on Stedman’s drawings, some made by William Blake, a close friend of Stedman during the mid-1700’s.

Slavery was not abolished in Suriname until 1863, although the slave trade had been illegal since 1814. To help prevent illegalslave trading, Dutch navy ships patrolled routes between Freetown in Sierra Leone and Paramaribo. Sierra Leone was then a British colony and, following the British Abolition of the Slave Trade Act (1807), there was a one-sided ban on the slave trade between Africa and Suriname. The British pressured other countries to ban the trade out of ‘economic necessity’, since while others continued to import plantation workers, they themselves faced labour shortages. After the British threatened not to return confiscated Dutch colonies, the Netherlands banned the slave trade in 1814. In a treaty of 1818 the British and Dutch agreed to work together to prevent illegal slave trading between their colonies. Both could search each other’s vessels, and two mixed commission courts, in Freetown and Paramaribo, were established with the power to sentence slavers.

Gerard Van Lennep Coster was a Dutch naval officer who served on one such ship from 1819 to 1821. I discovered this in his travel memoir Herinneringen mijner reizen naar onderscheidene Werelddeelen (‘Memories of my travels to different continents’), which I also find on my reading room desk alongside his Aanteekeningen, gehouden gedurende mijn verblijf in de West-Indiën... (‘Annotations kept during my stay in the West-Indies...’), a journal documenting his time in Suriname.

 

Cover of 'Herinneringen mijner reizen' with vignette showing the god Neptune in a sea-borne chariot

Above: Title page of Gerard van Lennep Coster, Herinneringen mijner reizen naar onderscheidene Werelddeelen (Amsterdam, 1836) 10027.e.7. Below: Title page from Gerard van Lennep Coster, Aanteekeningen, gehouden gedurende mijn verblijf in de West-Indiën, in dejaren 1837-1840 …(Amsterdam, 1842) 10470.d.3.

Title-page of 'Aanteekeningen, gehouden gedurende mijn verblijf in de West-Indiën'

In Fretz’s novel, Johannes’ trip to Suriname took him on a journey of self-discovery which also led me through the collections of the British Library. I may not have covered the distance that he did, but Fretz’s narrative certainly made me feel closer to Suriname. Suddenly, Suriname’s history doesn’t seem so distant, and I’m pretty sure that I could hold a conversation about the country that stretches a little further than quashing a child’s notion of the roots of the Surinamese.

Megan Strutt, University of Sheffield
Written as part of the Sheffield Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) scheme, working in collaboration with Marja Kingma (Curator Germanic Collections BL) and Filip De Ceuster (University of Sheffield).