30 December 2022
C is for Czechoslovak Independence Day, which marks the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak State in 1918.
D is for Digitisation, including the 3D digitisation of Marinetti’s Tin Book.
E is for Annie Ernaux, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in October.
Examples of Fraktur letter-forms from Wolfgang Fugger, Ein nützlich und wolgegründt Formular manncherley schöner Schriefften ... (Nuremberg, 1533) C.142.cc.12.
F is for Festive Traditions, from songs to fortune telling.
G is for Guest bloggers, whose contributions we love to receive!
H is for Hryhorii Skovoroda, the Ukrainian philosopher and poet whose anniversary we marked in December.
I is for our series on Iceland and the Library’s Icelandic collections.
J is for Jubilees.
Abetka (Kyïv, 2005). YF.2010.a.18369.
K is for Knowledge systems and the work of Snowchange Cooperative, a Finnish environmental organisation devoted to protecting and restoring the boreal forests and ecosystems through ‘the advancement of indigenous traditions and culture’.
L is for Limburgish, spoken in the South of the Netherlands.
M is for Mystery – some bibliographical sleuthing.
N is for Nordic acquisitions, from Finnish avant-garde poetry to Swedish art books.
O is for Online resources from East View, which are now available remotely.
Giovanni Bodoni and Giovanni Mardersteig, Manuale tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura di Giovanni Mardersteig. (Verona, 1968) L.R.413.h.17.
Q is for Quebec with a guest appearance by the Americas blog featuring the work of retired French collections curator Des McTernan.
R is for Rare editions of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s Kobzar.
T is for Translation and our regular posts to mark Women in Translation Month.
Alphabet Anglois, contenant la prononciation des lettres avec les declinaisons et conjugaisons (Rouen, 1639). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)
V is for Victory – a contemporary Italian newspaper report of the Battle of Trafalgar.
W is for Richard Wagner who wrote about a fictional meeting with Beethoven.
X is for... (no, we couldn’t think of anything either!)
Y is for You, our readers. Thank you for following us!
Z is for our former colleague Zuzanna, whom we remembered in February.
Azbuka ōt knigi osmochastnye̡, sirěchʹ grammatikii (Lviv, 1574). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)
02 December 2022
On the night of 7 May 2022 a Russian missile completely destroyed a historic 18th-century building in the small Ukrainian village of Skovorodynivka, situated in a rural area, far from any infrastructure. This building housed the National Literary-Memorial Museum of Hryhorii Skovoroda – a Ukrainian poet and philosopher whose creative legacy consists of philosophical treatises, poems, fables, parables, and translations from Plutarch and Cicero. The house was where Skovoroda worked in the last years of his life. There he died.
The National Literary-Memorial Museum of Hryhorii Skovoroda after a Russian missile strike
Meanwhile this year we mark the 300th anniversary of Hryhorii Skovoroda’s birth on 3 December 1722 to a Cossack family in the small Ukrainian town of Chornukhy. It was a transition period for Ukraine and Ukrainian independence when some old traditions of the Hetman state, which had a wide autonomy, still existed. But this autonomy had been gradually limited by the Russian empire. Just before Skovoroda’s birth Ukrainian printing houses were forbidden by decrees of the Russian Tsar (1720) and the Synod (1721) to publish anything except reprints of old editions which were not supposed to differ in language and even accents from Russian. Certainly, none of Skovoroda’s works were published during his lifetime and thus could not become part of the scholarly discourse of that period.
H. Luk’íanov. Portrait of Hryhorii Skovoroda, 1794
At the age of 11 Skovoroda was enrolled in the famed Kyiv-Mohyla Academy where he studied poetics, rhetoric and philosophy, as well as Latin, Greek and Hebrew; he read Aristotle, Plato, Plutarch, Cicero, and other classical authors.
From early childhood Skovoroda was musically gifted and he carried a love for music and church singing through his whole life. He played the flute, violin, bandura and harp. Later, in one of his parables Skovoroda wrote: “Music is a great medicine in sorrow, comfort in sadness, fun in happiness.”
At the end of 1745, eager to see foreign lands and to get to know a wider ‘circle of sciences’ Skovoroda travelled to Tokai (Hungary). In the following five years he visited Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, possibly Rome, Venice, and Florence, where he met with scholars, studied philosophy and improved his knowledge of foreign languages. Biographers believe that he also attended German universities, in particular the University of Halle. The German roots of his mystical philosophy were thoroughly studied by Dmytro Chyzhevs’kyi, one of the best interpreters of Skovoroda’s life and thoughts. Chyzhevs’kyi’s book The Philosophy of H. S. Skovoroda was published in 1934 in Warsaw and also included an analysis of Skovoroda’s poetry. The well-known Ukrainian emigré poet Ievhen Malaniuk wrote that it is difficult to imagine the spiritual life of his generation without this book.
Cover of Dmytro Chyzhevs’kyi, Skovoroda: Dichter, Denker, Mystiker, Harvard series in Ukrainian studies; vol. 18 (Munich, 1974) X.0800/445.(18.)
Chyzhevs’kyi also prepared a German edition of this book. It was supposed to appear in 1946 but was not published until 1974. Skovoroda: Dichter, Denker, Mystiker is different from the Warsaw edition. The author enhanced the biographical materials and added quotes from the texts of German mystics.
After returning to Kyiv in October 1750 Skovoroda taught poetics at the Pereiaslav Collegium, again studied at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and from 1753–1759 worked as a tutor. Then he taught poetics, syntax, Greek, and ethics at the Kharkiv Collegium. His last attempt to teach there in 1768–1769 ended in a conflict with the bishop because Skovoroda’s course on the catechism differed from what was generally accepted. After that he left all positions and became a traveling philosopher and poet.
As a philosopher, he was not so much concerned with the creation of a general world-view. He reflected on ethical issues and mainly focused on the philosophy of happiness, what happiness is and whether everyone can achieve it. Freedom and happiness through knowing oneself were key themes for Skovoroda. He was looking for a new, better world and taught that there is no need to seek happiness in other countries, in other centuries. It is everywhere and always with us; as a fish is in water, so we are in it, and it is near us looking for ourselves. It is nowhere because it is everywhere, similar to sunshine – only open your soul.
Cover of Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, The Garden of Divine Songs and Collected Poetry … translated by Michael M. Naydan (London, 2016) YKL.2018.a.13622
All of Skovoroda’s writings were preserved in manuscripts. They comprise a collection of poems, The Garden of Divine Songs, fables (Kharkiv Fables) and philosophical treatises often written in the form of dialogues. Only after his death was a dialogue ‘Narcissus. Know thyself’ partly published in St Petersburg in a collection, without specifying the author’s name. The first full edition of works (in two volumes) appeared as late as in 1961 during a short cultural thaw.
The most comprehensive and authentic collection of Skovoroda’s works was published in independent Ukraine under the guidance of the outstanding researcher Leonid Ushkalov. All texts were checked against their manuscripts and quotations were correctly distinguished from the actual author’s text. A detailed and professional commentary adds value to this edition.
At the British Library the most complete collection of Skovoroda’s works (translated into modern Ukrainian) is the two-volume edition prepared by the T. Shevchenko Institute of Literature in Kyiv (1994).
In his poetry Skovoroda developed the same philosophical themes as in his treatises and dialogues. But in the poems they often sound more expressive and emotional. In the ‘Eleventh Song’ from the collection The Garden of Divine Songs he wrote “The spirit in man is an abyss, wider than all the waters and heavens”. Skovoroda was the last and the most prominent poet of the Ukrainian literary baroque, a style characterised by the emphatic use of metaphors and symbols, a variety of rhythms and stanzas.
Wandering folk minstrels sang his poems as songs. They were translated into different languages. The British Library has a Polish translation of some poems made by Jerzy Litwiniuk in an anthology of Ukrainian poetry.
Cover of Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, The Complete Correspondence of Hryhory Skovoroda, Philospher and Poet, translated by Eleonora Adams and Michael M. Naydan ; edited by Liliana M. Naydan; guest introduction by Leonid Rudnytzky (London, 2016) YKL.2018.a.21042
A special part of Skovoroda’s legacy are his letters. Most of them (79 letters) were addressed to his best friend Mykhaĭlo Kovalyns’kyi. They were written mainly in Latin and resemble the ‘Moral Letters to Lucilius’ by Roman philosopher Seneca or the Earl of Chesterfield’s letters to his son. Skovoroda advised his friend to read good books, to look for real friends, to listen to exquisite music and to look at the theatre of everyday life from above.
It was Kovalyns’kyi who wrote the first biography of Skovoroda in 1795, just after Skovoroda’s death. However, for almost a century this invaluable source existed only in manuscript and was known only to the philosopher’s friends and admirers. Hryhorii Danylevs’kyi referred to this manuscript in his detailed biography of Skovoroda in 1862. However, Kovalyns’kyi’s memoir was only published as a separate edition in 1894, in Kharkiv.
Cover of Leonid Ushkalov, Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda vid A do IA (L’viv, 2019) YF.2019.b.2030
The first modern biography based on different archival sources, which helped to decode many controversial and unclear facts, was published by Leonid Makhnovets (1972). It was very important because various legends had arisen about Skovoroda, even during his own lifetime. The modern Ukrainian writer Valeriĭ Shevchuk wrote a comprehensive biography combined with an analysis of Skovoroda’s poetry, fables and letters (2008). Leonid Ushkalov’s scrupulous biography (2017) contains numerous references to works, people and the environment in which Skovoroda lived. It creates a vivid image of 18th-century Ukraine. Ushkalov also wrote a monograph on the literature and philosophy of the Ukrainian Baroque, largely based on the works of Skovoroda, and compiled a beautiful illustrated edition for children (2019).
The British Library contains books in different languages about Skovoroda, including a monograph by Elisabeth von Erdmann, a German professor of Slavic Studies, which places him in the tradition of philosophia perennis. This enabled a transparent and coherent reading of his writings in the contexts of the Baroque and Enlightenment eras and of Europe’s cultural and religious history.
Cover of Elisabeth von Erdmann, Unähnliche Ähnlichkeit: die Onto-Poetik des ukrainischen Philosophen Hryhorij Skovoroda (1722-1794). Bausteine zur slavischen Philologie und Kulturgeschichte. Reihe A, Slavistische Forschungen; n.F., Bd. 49 (Cologne, 2005) ZA.9.a.4768(49)
As well as his writings another no less valuable part of Skovoroda’s legacy was his way of life, with conscious rejection of the temptations of the world. He lived very simply, and had no family or permanent home. He gave priority to personal spiritual freedom, taught a true Christian attitude to life and showed how to be satisfied with the simple joys of life. In his own life Skovoroda followed what he taught. It can be said of him: “He lived as he taught, and taught as he lived”.
Nadiia Strishenets, Leading Researcher at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine and British Academy Fellow
Dmytro Chyzhevs’kyi, Filʹosofiia H.S. Skovorody = La philosophie de Grégoire Skovoroda (Warsaw, 1934) Ac.1147.d.
Dmytro Chyzhevs’kyi, Skovoroda: Dichter, Denker, Mystiker, Harvard series in Ukrainian studies; vol. 18 (Munich, 1974) X.0800/445.(18.)
Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, Tvory u dvokh tomakh, ed. Mykola Zhulynsʹkyĭ et al. Kyïvsʹka biblioteka davnʹoho ukraïnsʹkoho pysʹmenstva. Studiï; t. 5-6 (Kyiv, 2005) ZF.9.a.3589
Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, The Garden of Divine Songs and Collected Poetry … translated by Michael M. Naydan ; with an introduction by Valery Shevchuk ; translations edited by Olha Tytarenko (London, 2016) YKL.2018.a.13622
Od Iłariona do Skoworody: antologia poezji ukraińskiej XI-XVIII w.. ed. Włodzimierz Mokry (Kraków, 1996) YF.2010.a.22281
Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, The Complete Correspondence of Hryhory Skovoroda, Philospher and Poet, translated by Eleonora Adams and Michael M. Naydan ; edited by Liliana M. Naydan; guest introduction by Leonid Rudnytzky (London, 2016) YKL.2018.a.21042
Hryhorii Skovoroda: Vybrani tvory v dvokh tomakh / [Uporiadkuvannia, pidhotovka tekstiv ta prymitky B. A. Derkacha.] (Kyiv, 1972) X.989/26377
Leonid Makhnovets, Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda (Kyiv, 1972) X.519/15878.
Valeriĭ Shevchuk, Piznanyĭ i nepiznanyĭ sfinks: Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda suchasnymy ochyma: rozmysly (Kyiv, 2008) YF.2008.a.38916
Leonid Ushkalov, Lovytva nevlovnoho ptakha: zhyttia Hryhoriia Skovorody (Kyiv, 2017) YF.2017.a.17493
Leonid Ushkalov, Literatura i filosofiia: doba ukraïnsʹkoho baroko. Sloboz︠h︡ansʹkyĭ svit; 13 (Kharkiv, 2019) YF.2020.a.8355
Leonid Ushkalov, Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda vid A do IA (L’viv, 2019) YF.2019.b.2030
Elisabeth von Erdmann, Unähnliche Ähnlichkeit: die Onto-Poetik des ukrainischen Philosophen Hryhorij Skovoroda (1722-1794). Bausteine zur slavischen Philologie und Kulturgeschichte. Reihe A, Slavistische Forschungen; n.F., Bd. 49 (Cologne, 2005) ZA.9.a.4768(49)
Skovoroda, philosophe Ukrainien... : colloque tenu le 18 janvier 1973 à l'Institut d'études slaves de Paris à l'occasion du 250e anniversaire de la naissance de Skovoroda (1722-1972). Collection historique de l’Institut d’études slaves; 23) (Paris, 1976) Ac:8808.d/2
Hryhorij Savyč Skovoroda: an anthology of critical articles, ed. Richard H. Marshall, Jr. and Thomas E. Bird (Edmonton, 1994) YC.2019.a.10287
Hryhoriĭ Skovoroda, 1722-1794: bibliohrafichnyĭ pokazhchyk (Kyiv, 2002) YF.2004.a.2767
10 November 2022
There are countless adaptations of the Alexander Romance, a collection of fantastical stories about Alexander the Great originally brought together in Greek, probably in the third century AD. Among the earliest adaptations to appear in print was Hartlieb’s Alexanderbuch. Nine editions of this German translation are known to have appeared from 1473 to 1514 at Augsburg and then Strasbourg. Each is enriched with woodcuts that depict, for example, Alexander’s first encounter with his man-eating horse Bucephalus, his meetings with naked philosophers, and his discussions with talking trees. By comparing the editions, it’s easy to see how the illustrations fall into three distinct categories and to begin to understand something of their development over time.
Johann Hartlieb (c.1410-1468) was a physician who wrote the Alexanderbuch around 1444 for his patron, Duke Albrecht III of Bavaria. His principal source appears to have been the popular Historia de preliis, which in turn was a Latin-language translation of a long lost Greek text made in the 10th century by Leo of Naples. That said, Hartlieb’s text begins with the phrase ‘Hereafter followeth the story of the Great Alexander, which was written by Eusebius’, and Hartlieb’s German adaptation is as a result often indexed under Eusebius of Caesarea in many reference works and catalogues.
Hartlieb’s text circulated in manuscript for three decades until Johann Bämler issued the first printed edition at Augsburg in 1473. His publication is illustrated with nearly 30 woodcuts, many seemingly inspired by the miniatures in a manuscript now at the Pierpont Library in New York (MS M.782). With the exception of the frontispiece portrait (see below), the same woodcuts then appear in three subsequent Augsburg editions (1478, 1480 and 1483) printed by Anton Sorg. Among them is the image of Alexander in a diving bell.
Alexander’s diving bell in the Sorg edition of 1483, IB.5949
The Greek Alexander Romance (Stoneman, Book II, Chapter 38) talks of a descent of 464 feet to the bottom the sea, but here the impression is of a rather cramped-looking Alexander being lowered into a fish pond.
The next group of early editions are all published in Strasbourg. (Unfortunately no copies can be traced of a further Augsburg edition of 1478 reported in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue). These Strasbourg editions (1488, 1493 and 1503), whether issued by Martin Schott or Bartholomäus Kistler, are curious because they contain broadly the same woodcuts as seen in the Augsburg volumes, but they have been redrawn and printed in reverse.
Alexander’s diving bell in the Schott edition of 1488, IB.1178
The most obvious explanation is that they were created by copying or tracing the illustrations in one of the earlier Augsburg editions.
The last of these early Hartlieb editions also appeared in Strasbourg, but this time from the press of Matthias Hupfuff. Visually, this work is very different, with the text printed in two columns for the first time. The woodcut illustrations are also different, although the subjects are much the same. In the new woodcut of the diving bell, Alexander is still in an impossibly cramped vessel, but there is only one person on the shoreline instead of the usual three.
Alexander’s diving bell in the Hupfuff edition of 1514, C.39.h.14
In common with other illustrations in this 1514 edition, the woodcut appears to have been extended, unsatisfactorily, by the addition of a piece from a different illustration. This opens up the possibility that the woodcuts were not made specifically for this edition, and were in fact being re-used.
Returning to Bämler’s first edition of 1473, several surviving copies contain a curious frontispiece portrait of Alexander with boars’ tusks rising from his lower jaw.
Alexander with boars’ tusks in the Bämler edition of 1473. © National Library of Scotland
The source for this strange feature may ultimately lie in the Greek Alexander Romance, which tells us that ‘his teeth were as sharp as nails’ (Stoneman, Book I, Chapter 13). In Hartlieb’s German, this has become ‘Sein zen waren garscharpff als eines ebers schwein’ (‘his teeth were as sharp as those of a wild boar’). The portrait has the same features as one seen in a Hartlieb manuscript now at the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt (Hs. 4256), and the two may have had a common model. It is replaced in other editions up to 1503 by a full-length portrait of a seated Alexander without tusks.
The British Library exhibition Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth covers 2,300 years of storytelling about Alexander, and runs until 19 February 2023. Four editions of Hartlieb’s Alexanderbuch are on display, including a copy generously lent by the National Library of Scotland that shows Alexander with the mysterious boars’ tusks.
Adrian S. Edwards, Head of Printed Heritage Collections
Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt, ‘Book Illustration in Augsburg in the Fifteenth Century’. Metropolitan Museums Studies, 4.1 (1932), 3-17. Ac.4713.b.
Richard Stoneman (editor), Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth [exhibition catalogue] (London, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark
Richard Stoneman (translator), The Greek Alexander Romance (London, 1991). H.91/1160
28 October 2022
28 October is a National holiday in the Czech Republic. Independence Day (Den vzniku samostatného československého státu) marks the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak State in 1918. It followed the publication of the Declaration of Independence of the Czechoslovak Nation by Its Provisional Government (Prohlášení nezávislosti československého národa zatímní vládou československou) on 18 October 1918. As soon as military defeat became inevitable, the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire started to disintegrate. The Allies supported the breakaway demands of the minority nations within the Empire. The 1918 ‘Autumn of Nations’ led to fundamental changes in the configuration of Central Europe.
The main author of the Declaration was the first President of Czechoslovakia, Professor Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, sociologist, political scientist and philosopher.
Reading the Declaration (Source: Wikipedia)
Although the whole process of independence revolutions in Central Europe had the American idea of national self-determination as its theoretical basis, the Czechoslovak Declaration of Independence or the Washington Declaration, as it is sometimes called, is evidently the most influenced by American political principles and President Woodrow Wilson’s 14-point programme for world peace:
We accept and shall adhere to the ideals of modern democracy, as they have been the ideals of our nation for centuries. We accept the American principles as laid down by President Wilson: the principles of liberated mankind, of actual equality of nations, and of the governments deriving all their jus power from the consent of the governed. We, the nation of Comenius, cannot but accept these principles expressed in the American Declaration of Independence, the principles of Lincoln, and of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. (Digital copy)
Although the British Library is not among the lucky few who own one of only 50 copies of the first edition, the 1933 edition with parallel Czech and English texts is a really fine piece of Czech book culture.
Prohlášení nezávislosti československého národa zatímní vládou československou, osmnáctého října, MDCCCCXVIII. (Declaration of Independence of the Czechoslovak Nation by its Provisional Government, October Eighteenth, MDCCCCXVIII). Prague, 1933. 5549.e.44
The links between the two nations and the presidents were promoted and emphasised in Czechoslovak society through imagery, such as, for example, this postcard published on the website of the US Embassy in the Czech Republic.
American political thought was of great importance for building a new nation state. Changing the focus from global political transformations to individuals, I tried to imagine a 30-year-old Czech banker and Doctor of Law, who, while on a state mission to London, came to the British Museum Library to work in its Reading Room. His name was Vladimír Dědek (1889-1941) and he is also known as an editor of research volumes on history and a translator from English. It would be good to learn more about his life, but for now I can only offer you his letter to the British Museum written in clear handwriting, where he thanks colleagues for their help and offers a donation: Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography in his translation into Czech.
BL archives, DH4, vol. 91, 1918-1920.
The book, which is signed by Dědek, is held in our main printed books collection (a digital copy is available through the National Digital Library of the Czech Republic).
Benjamin Franklin. Vlastní životopis. Přeložil Judr. V. Dědek. (Prague, ). 10884.aaa.6.
In the preface to the book, having cited Franklin’s words about freedom, Dědek concludes that “the spirit of free America, great in the history of mankind, is blowing from these lines” (p. 24). However, in the words of the father of the nation, Tomáš Masaryk, “freedom is a hard responsibility” (Hovory s T.G. Masarykem. Věk mladosti / K.Č.; ZF.9.a.2782).
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections
20 October 2022
On 10 October 2022, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the French author Annie Ernaux “for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory.”
A major literary presence in contemporary France, and the author of more than 20 books, Ernaux has been writing since the 1970s, and is no stranger to literary recognition. Her autobiography Les années won both the Prix Marguerite Duras and the Prix Francois Mauriac in 2008 as well as the Italian Premio Strega in 2016; it was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2019 when it was translated into English by Alison L Strayer – on this occasion Ernaux gave an interview to the Institut Francais in London. She had also received the Prix Renaudot for La Place. In 2017, Ernaux was awarded the Marguerite Yourcenar Prize for her life’s work. The British Library holds her books both in French and in English translation, from the earliest, Les armoires vides (1974) to the latest, Le Jeune Homme (2022).
Cover of Annie Ernaux, Ecrire la vie (Paris, 2011). YF.2012.a.18786
As brilliantly demonstrated by Elise Hugueny-Leger in an article from 2018, Ernaux has been the subject of academic publications since the early 1990s, and notably, very early on, in the English-speaking world, via a chapter by Loren Day in Contemporary French Fiction by Women: Feminist Perspectives (1990) and Diana Holmes in French Women's writing 1848-1994 (1996). She has since become an academic subject of study in her own right, while slowly becoming more accessible to the general public, through her becoming more prominent in the media and, also, through a change in her style. She is now a figurehead of contemporary French Women writers, but one of Ernaux’ wishes is that her books “may be read and received by a great number of readers who don’t necessarily have a university background” (E Hugueny-Léger).
Melding the biographical and the sociological, deploying an array of autobiographical novels, illustrated photographic diaries, and biographical narratives, some of her publications are referred by Michel Tournier’s term “Journaux extimes,” because, despite being in the format of a personal journal, they focus on the external and on the observation of the author’s surroundings. Ernaux’s genre is difficult to define in one word, but it is based on and around her life, and her experiences, and what she observes, recounted in a deliberately pared down and at times clinical voice. “Her work is uncompromising and written in plain language, scraped clean,” said Anders Olsson of the Swedish Academy on Thursday as he announced her accolade.
Cover of Annie Ernaux, Le jeune homme (Paris, 2022) YF.2022.a.24142
Annie Ernaux was born in 1940 to working-class parents in Normandy. In 1958, she spent a summer looking after children in a summer camp and her sexual awakening during that time is recounted in Memoire de fille (2016). In 1960, she left home to study in Rouen. In the following years she married, had two sons, and qualified as a secondary school teacher. In 1974 she published Les armoires vides, a fictionalised account of the illegal abortion she had undergone ten years earlier. Ernaux continued to teach until she retired in 2000, and now devotes herself to writing.
In 1960, Annie Ernaux had spent several months as an au pair in London looking after two boys, Jonathan and Brian Portner. During this stay, she started writing her first novel, which remains unpublished. In the anthology Ecrire la vie, a few pages are devoted to this period in Ernaux’s life, with photographs and extracts from her diary.
Annie Ernaux in the 1960s. Photo credit: L’Inventoire
The following touching and surprising story, which is recounted on the website Annie Ernaux, focuses on the author and her work and, through its largely bilingual construction, attempts to bring her work to the attention of the anglophone world. The site is maintained by Elise Hugueny-Léger (University of St Andrews) and Lyn Thomas (University of Sussex).
I see a miraculous convergence of coincidences. First there is a writer and translator, Anthony Rudolf, who reads Mémoire de fille the year after its publication. He is struck by the mention of the Portners, in Finchley, as among his acquaintances there is a certain Jonathan Portner, a dentist located a few miles away. Informed by Anthony Rudolf, Jonathan Portner tells his daughter Hannah about this discovery. Now Hannah Portner is studying French with Elise Hugueny-Léger, a lecturer at the University of St. Andrews, whose thesis focuses on my work and who has participated in many conferences I have attended. Thanks to Elise Hugueny-Léger, Hannah has read and loved one of my books, Journal du dehors, which inspired her to create a beautiful text about Paris and Madrid: Journal de deux voyages. Observation et mise en mots du réel. Things could not have come full circle in a more wonderful way… From one woman’s writing – it was in the summer of 1960, au pair with the Portner family, that I started a novel – to another woman’s writing…
Some might say that this observation of life as a wonderful circle might be uncharacteristic. But the impression, the mark left by London on Ernaux is also recorded in her usual clean, sharp and yet somewhat poetic style:
‘L’Angleterre, Londres anesthésiant et doux, eaux éternellement couleur d’étang, maison des Portner, feutrée. Si j’ai eu vingt ans là-bas, je ne m’en suis jamais vraiment aperçue.’ (Mai 1970)
“London, London soft and narcotic, waters eternally the colour of marshes, The Portners’ house, hushed and elegant. If I ever were twenty there, I never realised”. (May 1970)
Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections
Annie Ernaux, Les armoires vides (Paris, 1974) X.908/29849.
Annie Ernaux, La place (Paris, 1983) X.958/33342
Annie Ernaux & Marie, Marc, L’usage de la photo (Paris, 2005) YF.2006.a.37419
Annie Ernaux, Les années (Paris, 2008) YF.2008.a.14343
Annie Ernaux, Mémoire de fille (Paris, 2016) YF.2016.a.23982
Annie Ernaux, Le jeune homme (Paris, 2022) YF.2022.a.24142
Contemporary French fiction by women: Feminist perspectives, edited by Margaret Atack and Phil Powrie (Manchester, 1990) YC.1991.a.445
Elise Hugueny-Léger, ‘Annie Ernaux’, French Studies: a Quarterly Review, 72 (2018) 256-269. ELD Digital store, doi: 10.1093/fs/kny014
D. Holmes, French Women’s Writing, 1848–1994 (London, 1996), pp. 246–65. DRT ELD.DS.419322
28 September 2022
Last November, the British Library, in partnership with the Ukrainian Institute London, hosted an event to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ukrainian writer and poet Lesia Ukrainka. Alongside a captivating panel discussion, Olesya Khromeychuk, Director of the Ukrainian Institute London, announced the winner of the Institute’s inaugural Ukrainian Literature in Translation Prize. First prize was awarded to translator and poet Nina Murray for her translation from Ukrainka’s poetic drama Cassandra.
Francis Legat after George Romney, Cassandra Raving (Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, Act 2, Scene 2) first published 1795, Print. The Met.
First published in 1908, Ukrainka’s drama retells the story of the Trojan war through the eyes of Cassandra, the fiery prophetess who persists in fighting for the truth when no one will believe her. An extract from Nina Murray’s translation of Cassandra appeared in the second issue of the London Ukrainian Review in August, and the full text will be published by Harvard University Press next year.
Cover of Lesia Ukrainka, Cassandra: A Dramatic Poem. Translated by Nina Murray. Awaiting publication.
The publisher’s website describes the forthcoming work as follows:
Cassandra: A Dramatic Poem encapsulates the complexities of Ukrainka’s late works: use of classical mythology and her intertextual practice; intense focus on issues of colonialism and cultural subjugation—and allegorical reading of the asymmetric relationship of Ukrainian and Russian culture; a sharp commentary on patriarchy and the subjugation of women; and the dilemma of the writer-seer who knows the truth and its ominous implications but is powerless to impart that to contemporaries and countrymen.
This strongly autobiographical work commanded a significant critical reception in Ukraine and projects Ukrainka into the new Ukrainian cultural canon. Presented here in a contemporary and sophisticated English translation attuned to psychological nuance, it is sure to attract the attention of the modern-day reader.
Poster for the Live Canon and the Ukrainian Institute London production of Cassandra
Ukrainka’s Cassandra has astounding relevance at this time of war, and Live Canon and the Ukrainian Institute London will present the play for the first time on the UK stage, in Nina Murray’s award winning translation. Directed by Helen Eastman, the production will run from 4-16 October 2022 at Omnibus Theatre. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Theatre’s website. There will be a post-show Q&A on Sunday 9 October (free to ticket holders).
Additional reading and resources
Olga Kerziouk, ‘Lady on Banknotes’, European Studies Blog, 1 August 2013
Recording of ‘The Unknown Feminist of Fin-de-siècle Europe: Lesia Ukrainka’ which was held at the British Library in November 2021
Sasha Dovzhyk, ‘Subverting the Canon of Patriarchy: Lesya Ukrainka’s Revisionist Mythmaking’, The Los Angeles Review of Books, 25 February 2021
Lesia Ukrainka: Fin-de-siècle Ukrainian Feminism (short film), Ukrainian Institute London, 2020
Lesya Ukrainka. Life and work by Constantine Bida. Selected works, translated by Vera Rich. (Toronto, 1968). X.900/3941. An electronic copy of Vera Rich’s translation of Cassandra is available.
Lesia Ukrainka, Cassandre: Poème dramatique. Traduit de l'ukrainien, préfacé et annoté par Andry Swirko. (Brussels, 1973). X.909/27847.
Lesia Ukrainka, Dramatychni tvory (Kyiv, 2008). YF.2009.a.24435
26 September 2022
The Institut français regularly addresses issues and perspectives on women’s rights through events, film screenings and discussions.
On Tuesday 27 September, it will host a conversation between acclaimed writers Maylis de Kerangal and Shumona Sinha, together with translator and author Lauren Elkin, and Russell Williams, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the American University of Paris. Kerangal and Sinha will be discussing their newly translated short novels, Eastbound (translated by Jessica Moore) and Down with the Poor! (translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan).
Maylis de Kerangal by Francesca Mantovani © éditions Gallimard, and Shumona Sinha © Patrice Normand
Published in France one year after Kerangal’s award-winning novel Naissance d’un pont, (Birth of a Bridge), Eastbound (originally published as Tangente vers l’Est) tells the story of Aliocha, a very young and desperate Russian conscript bound for Vladivostok, who hopes that a chance encounter with a French woman on the train will offer him a chance to flee. The short novel was born as a radio story, ‘Lignes de fuites’, written for France Culture and broadcast in August 2010, which was inspired by a real-life trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway between Novosibirsk and Vladivostok.
Sinha, who was born and grew up in India, started learning French at the age of 22 and moved to Paris a few years later. She has translated and published several anthologies of contemporary French and Bengali poetry. Her first novel, Fenêtre sur l'abîme, was published in 2008. Down with the Poor! is Sinha’s second novel. Originally published as Assommons les pauvres! in 2011, it won the Prix du roman populiste 2011 and the Prix Valéry-Larbaud 2012. Sinha’s work addresses themes of immigration, exile, and identity, and poetry (‘Assommons les pauvres!’ was the title of a prose-poem in Charles Baudelaire’s Petits Poemes en prose. In very short chapters, Sinha’s Assommons les pauvres! describes the work of a translator working with migrants somewhere in a suburb of Paris:
‘Les mots s’ajoutaient aux mots. Les dossiers s’entassaient. Les hommes défilaient sans fin. On ne distinguait plus leur visage ou leur corps.’
Words were added to words. Files piled up. An endless procession of men. You could no longer distinguish their faces or bodies.
Both novels tell stories of separation, of exile, of fleeing by different means and of searching for one’s place in the world. They both touch upon the very act of translating – emotions into words, or without words (Eastbound is a novel without dialogues), of writing when one is not in one’s country (Sinha is an acclaimed exophonic writer, i.e. one who writes in a language that is not their own), or of the different ways that one can flee, physically or not, the infinite confinements and boundaries imposed by the world.
Join us for what promises to be a fascinating exploration tomorrow evening at 6:30 pm at the Institut français du Royaume-Uni.
Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections
Maylis de Kerangal, Naissance d’un pont, (Paris, 2010) YF.2011.a.20739; English translation by Jessica Moore, Birth of a Bridge (London, 2010) H.2018/.7466
Maylis de Kerangal, Tangente vers l’Est (Paris, 2011) YF.2013.a.23272; English translation by Jessica Moore, Eastbound (London, 2022) [on order]
Shumona Sinha, Assommons les pauvres! (Paris, 2011) YF.2013.a.26285; English translation by Teresa Lavender Fagan, Down with the Poor! (London, 2022) [on order]
31 August 2022
August is Women in Translation Month, a 2014 initiative aimed at celebrating and promoting women writers in translation, as well as their translators and publishers. As in previous years, we are highlighting a selection of books from across the European collections that we have recently enjoyed. We hope you enjoy them too.
Lize Spit, The Melting, translated by Kristen Gehrman (London: Pan Macmillan, 2021) ELD.DS.611746.
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
‘It wasn't a good day, but at least there's a story in it.’ Lize Spit consoled herself as a child with writing when life was against her. After a long, hard struggle she entered the literary world in Flanders and the Netherlands with her debut novel Het Smelt, or The Melting. It is part coming-of-age novel, part thriller about a young woman who takes revenge on her childhood friends for things done to her 13 years before. Spit doesn’t pull any punches, doesn’t flinch from cruelty. Just how good it is can be seen from the number of languages Het Smelt was translated into: Arabic, Bulgarian, Catalan, Danish, German, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Croatian, Norwegian, Polish, Spanish, Czech, Swedish and English. The English translation is by Kristen Gehrman, who translates from Dutch into English, German and French.
Contemporary Georgian Fiction, translated and edited by Elizabeth Heighway (Champaign, Ill., 2012), Nov.2013/1985
Chosen by Anna Chelidze, Curator Georgian Collections
Published in 2012, this volume brings together stories by 20 prominent contemporary Georgian writers. It affords a view into a vibrant literary world that has been largely inaccessible to English-speaking readers. Written over the last 50 years, the selection of stories offers a very broad mix of writers with different literary styles. Some of the writers are well known, while others have only recently entered the literary world. Among them are five female authors, all from different generations and backgrounds, and each with a distinct authorial voice. They have achieved success in a number of literary competitions and have been awarded literary prizes, both Georgian and international. Some have previously been translated into other languages, for others this is their first published translation. Their names are: Mariam Bekauri, Teona Dolenjashvili, Ana Kordzaia-Samadasvili, Maka Mikeladze, and Nino Tepnadze. They succeed in creating powerful images of Georgia and its inhabitants, seen from different perspectives. The variety of contexts reflects changes in Georgian society in recent years, while the variety of narrative styles highlights the challenges presented to the translator, Elizabeth Heighway.
Madeleine Bourdouxhe, A Nail, a Rose, translated by Faith Evans (London, 2019) ELD.DS.439385 and Marie, translated and with an afterword by Faith Evans (London, 2016) H.2018/.7905
Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections
After years of neglect, the fiction of Belgian author Madeleine Bourdouxhe is undergoing a revival with new editions of her work appearing in the UK, the US and Germany. In her stories, Bourdouxhe explores the themes of resistance, but also the life, routine, sexuality, and ennui of women in the 20th century. First rediscovered in France with the reissue of La femme de Gilles in 1985, she has since become something of a feminist icon. Faith Evans’s recent translations of two of Bourdouxhe’s books into English put her works into their historical, political and stylistic context. She also shares with us her translator’s impressions, feelings and reasoning; and perhaps even more surprisingly, as it is so rare, the author’s impressions at being translated.
Iryna Shuvalova, Pray to the Empty Wells, translated by Olena Jennings and the author (Sandpoint, Idaho: Lost Horse Press, 2019). Awaiting shelfmark
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
Presented in dual-language format, Pray to the Empty Wells is Ukrainian poet Iryna Shuvalova’s first book-length collection of poems in English. Drawing heavily on Ukraine’s folk culture and themes ranging from memory, the natural environment and Russia’s war in Ukraine, Shuvalova’s poems are meditative, intimate, unflinchingly direct and often visceral. The collection is beautifully translated from Ukrainian by Olena Jennings and Shuvalova, and forms part of Lost Horse Press Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry series.
Shuvalova will be appearing in the Worldwide Reading of Ukrainian Literature event at the British Library on 7 September, along with a host of other award-winning Ukrainian writers and translators. The event is free to attend and will also be live streamed on the LKN website.
26 August 2022
August is Women in Translation Month, a 2014 initiative aimed at celebrating and promoting women writers in translation, as well as their translators and publishers. As in previous years, we are highlighting a selection of books from across the European collections that we have recently enjoyed. We hope you enjoy them too.
Bianca Bellova, The Lake, translated by Alex Zucker (Cardigan: Parthian, 2022) ELD.DS.698424
Chosen by Olga Topol, Curator Czech, Slavonic and East European Collections
The Lake won the Czech Magnesia Litera Book of the Year Award and the EU Prize for Literature in 2017. It is a surreal coming of age story that questions the relationship between humans and nature. In a fictional world set somewhere in between a post-apocalyptic future and the post-USSR past, a boy is trying to uncover the mystery of his mother’s disappearance. It is a vivid tale about a devastated, cruel world in which a child is growing into a man while searching for his identity. Dark and beautiful.
Stefania Auci, The Florios of Sicily: a novel, translated by Katherine Gregor (HarperCollins, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark
Chosen by Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections
Stefania Auci’s bestselling novel The Florios of Sicily tells the story of an entrepreneurial family that, starting from poverty in the early 19th century, built a fortune exporting Sicilian products such as Marsala wine and invented canned tuna as we know it. This is a well-documented saga, linking decades of Italian history to the Florio dynasty, which shook the feudal immobility and introduced industrialization in Sicily. Auci is particularly good at describing the places and underlining the role of women. We owe the English translation to Katherine Gregor who, impressively, is a literary translator from Italian, French and, on occasion, Russian.
Kiki Dimoula, The Brazen Plagiarist: Selected Poems, translated by Cecile Inglessis Margellos and Rika Lesser (New Haven, Conn.; London: Yale University Press, 2012), YC.2013.a.11561
Chosen by Lydia Georgiadou, Curator Modern Greek Collections
The Brazen Plagiarist is the first English translation of a wide selection of poems from across Kiki Dimoula’s oeuvre bringing together some of her most captivating and poignant works. The highly-praised and multi-award winning Greek poet embarks on a journey to a ‘magnificent’ though ‘unknown to her’ language, ‘filled with apprehension’ but grateful to be ‘accompanied by an excellent letter of introduction – their translation’. Award-winning translators Cecile Inglessis Margellos and Rika Lesser, whom Dimoula herself considers ‘heroic’, indeed rise to the challenge of recreating the poet’s mysteriously uncanny yet inexplicably familiar writing.
04 January 2022
In European Collections, where we focus on printed books post-1850, many of our acquisitions come through regular contracted suppliers. These suppliers are equipped to provide the breadth of publications the Library needs to stay relevant as an international research organisation. Occasionally, however, we acquire by different means, perhaps when the publication is more niche, or second-hand, or when we have a connection to a publisher or author, amongst other reasons. As we enter a new year, I wanted to reflect briefly on the quirkier material that has entered the BL’s Nordic collections in just such ways in 2021.
Valtatiet (‘Highways’) is an early example of the Finnish avant-garde, an illustrated poetry collaboration between Mika Waltari, Olavi Lauri Paavolainen and the artist Sylvi Kunnas, who provided its striking front cover.
Cover of Valtatiet (1928) by Sylvi Kunnas, awaiting shelfmark
Waltari and Paavolainen were prominent members of the Tulenkantajat (‘Torch Bearers’) group of artists and writers, who introduced the trending movements of European modernism to Finland. Valtatiet was itself inspired by Filippo Marinetti’s Futurism in its manifesto-like poetry of ‘machine romanticism’ (Kaunonen), while Kunnas’s cover certainly betrays an interest in Cubist style. Both poets increasingly became more politically engaged, despite their early preference for the aesthetics and experience of modernity and modern life, and both visited Nazi Germany in the 1930s, with Paavolainen producing perhaps his most famous work as a result, Kolmannen Valtakunnan vieraana (‘Guest of the Third Reich’, 1936). This acquisition complements an extensive European avant-garde collection at the Library and importantly expands it to incorporate an example of its unique Finnish expression.
Illustration by Sylvi Kunnas accompanying the poems entitled ‘Credo’ by Olavi Lauri Paavolainen
Our Finnish collections also recently welcomed a much more contemporary literary work, Fun Primavera by Elsa Tölli, which we kindly received directly from the author. Elsa won this year’s Tanvissa karhu (‘Dancing bear’) prize for poetry, the first time it has gone to a self-published work. Thrilled to be asked for a copy by the Library, Elsa sent us a beautiful note along with the book, which she described as her “wild and extravagant poetry explosion”. Thank you, Elsa! And for those of us still needing to hone our Finnish, an English translation by Kasper Salonen is available.
From Fun Primavera by Elsa Tölli (awaiting shelfmark)
Reaching out to creators has been an interesting way to learn about contemporary publishing in the region. I came across the work of Johannes Samuelsson through conversations around Swedish art books and projects centred on social action. Samuelsson, an artist and photographer, has developed an art practice that is directly concerned with uplifting his community in Umeå, making books that document but also form part of that social action. Johannes generously sent his work to the Library and I was particularly struck by the book Skäliga anspråk på prydlighet: En bok om kampen för en korvvagn (‘Reasonable claims for neatness: A book on the fight for a hot dog stall’).
Cover of Johannes Samuelsson’s Skäliga anspråk på prydlighet, featuring hot dog stall owner, Helmer Holm
When the Umeå authorities introduced new regulations for the design of hot dog stalls, Helmer Holm fought to retain his stall, which contravened the new rules. Samuelsson documents what he calls the “hot dog war”, amplifying Holm’s campaign, which was eventually successful, and the project is brought to life in the photobook. Attempting to represent the cultural life of the Nordic region, our collections need to be broad and relevant, identifying projects that also speak to universal issues and therefore that cut across the Library’s collections. With this Swedish perspective on local activism, on gentrification of common urban space, on art as social practice, we are hopefully adding richness to collections that interrogate similar ideas.
Cover of Art of Welfare, (Oslo, 2006) YD.2021.a.1210
We are always keen to incorporate independent publishing and smaller presses, especially where the publications complement the collections we already hold and the themes central to them. Art publishing tends to be produced with an international market in mind, with many books from the Nordic region appearing in English. After acquiring the Office for Contemporary Art Norway’s recent trilogy of new Indigenous writing, following a survey of contemporary publishing related to Sámi culture, we were fortunate to receive all outstanding issues of the publisher’s Verkstad series from them directly. Exhibition catalogues are often the place for leading thinkers to be creative, and there are unique essays throughout this series. Take, for example, Art of Welfare, produced for Elmgreen & Dragset's exhibition, ‘The Welfare Show’ – initially produced by Bergen Kunsthall, – at the Serpentine Gallery in London in January 2006.
As we constantly shape our collections to reflect the worlds they represent, working with authors, artists and independent publishers is an indispensable way to get at the heart of these cultural landscapes and to broaden the perspective of our own. We hope to continue to supplement our Nordic collections in this way, developing this unofficial “acquisitions through conversations” approach.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
Leena Kaunonen, ‘Avant-Garde Moments in Nykyaikaa etsimassa by Olavi Paavolainen’, in A Cultural History of the Avant–Garde in the Nordic Countries 1925–1950 (Leiden, 2019) Avant-garde critical studies; 36. pp. 746-760. 1837.116580
European studies blog recent posts
- An A to Z of the European Studies Blog 2022
- He lived as he taught, and taught as he lived: Ukrainian philosopher and poet Hryhorii Skovoroda
- The Curious Woodcuts in Hartlieb’s Late-Medieval Adventures of Alexander the Great
- The spirit of freedom, or an episode in the life of a private person in the time of transformations
- Annie Ernaux’s time in London
- Cassandra by Lesia Ukrainka: a UK premiere
- Maylis de Kerangal and Shumona Sinha in conversation at the Institut francais
- Women in Translation Month 2022 (Part 2)
- Women in Translation Month 2022 (Part 1)
- Art, poetry and social action – some of 2021’s less conventional Nordic acquisitions