26 October 2021
The modernist Ukrainian writer Lesia Ukrainka (pen name of Larysa Kosach-Kvitka) pioneered a new feminist literature at the forefront of European trends of the time. Her dramas, poetry and prose address concerns from gender and race to feminism and environmentalism. In the year of the 150th anniversary of her birth, the British Library and the Ukrainian Institute London will shine a light on this remarkable figure at an event on 16 November 2021. To whet your appetite, this two-part blog post explores aspects of Ukrainka’s life, work and legacy through items held in the British Library. It is co-authored by Dr Sasha Dovzhyk, a Ukrainian writer and scholar based in London, who will take part in the event.
Cover of Pershyi vinok: zhinochyi al’manakh (New York, 1984). X.958/33534
The First Wreath
Born in 1871 into a family of intellectuals, Ukrainka’s upbringing profoundly shaped her socio-political outlook and literary career. Her mother, Olha Kosach (better known by her pseudonym, Olena Pchilka), was a writer, ethnographer, activist and central figure in Ukrainian literary life. Unusually for the time, she educated her children exclusively in Ukrainian, laying the foundations for Ukrainka’s love and command of the language. It was Pchilka who encouraged her daughter to write, inventing Ukrainka’s pen name, ‘Lesia (a diminutive of Larysa) of Ukraine’, when she sent her first poems for publication as a young teenager.
Pchilka was also active in the Ukrainian women’s movement, which emerged in the late 19th century. Together with Nataliia Kobrynska, she edited and published the first Ukrainian feminist almanac, Pershyi vinok (‘The First Wreath’) in 1887. The teenage Ukrainka was among its contributors with her poem ‘Rusalka’ and other verses. Published by the Ukrainian Women’s League of America in 1984, almost a century later, this second, expanded edition includes an introduction and biographical notes by Larissa M. L. Z. Onyshevych.
Cover of Lesia Ukrainka, Starodavnia istoriia skhidnykh narodiv (Luts’k, 2008). YF.2013.a.13005
The Ancient History of Eastern Peoples
The Ancient History of Eastern Peoples is a textbook Ukrainka wrote in 1890–91 at the age of 19 to help with the education of her younger sister, Olha Kosach-Kryvyniuk. In popular introductions to the author’s life and work, this prodigious textbook is routinely mentioned among the top ten quirky facts. Olha Kosach-Kryvyniuk published it in 1918, and a facsimile edition was produced 90 years later. What is most surprising about this volume is the sheer distances Ukrainka travelled in her research, both time- and geography-wise. The 252 pages of her History delve into the beliefs and literatures of ancient India, Media, Persia, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Phoenicia, and Israel. The book also includes Ukrainka’s poetic translations of sacred hymns from Rig Veda, one of the earliest and most important texts in the Hindu tradition.
Working on her study in a remote Ukrainian village, Ukrainka relied on the correspondence with her uncle, a revered Ukrainian historian and political thinker in exile Mykhailo Drahomanov, as well as works by French orientalist scholars Louis Ménard (Histoire des Anciens Peuples de l'Orient, 1883 (9055.bbb.5.)) and Gaston Maspero (Histoire ancienne des peuples de l’Orient, 1875 (9055.a.34.)). Ukrainka remained fascinated with ancient spiritual beliefs and practices throughout her life.
Petro Odarchenko, ‘Die Weber’ H. Haine v perekladi Lesi Ukrainky, Slavistica, no. 77. 2nd ed. (Washington, 1976/77). Ac.9890.a
Translation of Heinrich Heine’s ‘Die Weber’
An accomplished polyglot (by all accounts she knew nine languages in addition to her native Ukrainian), Ukrainka translated a number of works from English, German, French and Greek. This booklet includes a copy of her translation of Heinrich Heine’s political poem ‘Die schlesischen Weber’ (‘The Silesian Weavers’ or ‘Weaver-song’), which he wrote in response to the attempted uprising in 1844 by Silesian weavers against exploitation and falling wages. Ukrainka was herself a member of Marxist organisations and, in 1902, she translated the Communist Manifesto into Ukrainian.
Ukrainka’s unpublished translation was identified by the writer and critic Petro Odarchenko in the literary museum of the Drahomanov family. It first appeared in print alongside Odarchenko’s commentary in 1927 and was published in a second edition as part of the Slavistica booklet series.
Lesia Ukrainka, Poezii: vybrani tvory (Regensburg, 1946). 11588.a.59.
Lesia Ukrainka, Ternovyi vinets: zbirka poezii ([Germany], 1946). Awaiting shelfmark
Displaced Persons Camp poetry editions
Petro Odarchenko also wrote the introduction to a small volume of Ukrainka’s works published in the Regensburg Displaced Persons (DP) Camp in 1946, the 75th anniversary of her birth. Like thousands of Ukrainians who were displaced at the end of the Second World War, Odarchenko lived in the Augsburg DP camp before moving to the USA with his family in 1950. Ukrainka’s younger sister, Olha Kosach-Kryvyniuk, also spent time in the same camp, where she died in November 1945.
Permitted by authority of the US Military Government in the American Allied Occupation Zone, the British Library copy also contains the stamp of the London-based Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau, which is believed to have donated the book to the Library in 1948. It is one of two rare DP camp editions of Ukrainka’s poetry published in her anniversary year and held by the British Library. The other, a collection of 25 poems entitled Ternovyi vinets (‘Crown of Thorns’), was reproduced from typescript and illustrated by Edvard Kozak.
Postcard from Lesia Ukrainka to her sister, Olha. In Lesia Ukrainka, Lysty (1876-1897), compiled by Valentyna Prokip (Savchuk), (Kyiv, 2016), p. 22. YF.2017.a.2022
The three volumes of Ukrainka’s letters comprise a palimpsest in which the layers of Ukrainian and European cultural history coexist with the personal trials of the emergent heroine of her time, the New Woman. Whether it is the nation-building work of the secret societies of the Ukrainian intelligentsia in the Russian Empire, the latest breakthroughs in Scandinavian theatre, or the challenges encountered by an emancipated woman traveller at the turn of the century, Ukrainka’s analysis is sharp, lucid, erudite, and often interlaced with humour. Her correspondence offers a unique perspective on some of the topical issues of the period, from the redefinitions of the traditional family to the anti-colonial ethical code. Ukrainka dismantled patriarchal hierarchies in her literary work and in her personal life. Thus her letters shed light on such matters as the writer’s opposition to her family’s wishes concerning the choice of her life partner, a confrontation viewed by Ukrainka as a stepping-stone in the general struggle for women’s liberation. Her correspondence with another pioneering feminist writer of the Ukrainian fin de siècle, Olha Kobylianska, reveals a search for a new radical model of female intimacy which the literary scholar Solomiya Pavlychko called a ‘lesbian phantasy’. Like Kobylianska, Ukrainka was a feminist committed to the Ukrainian national project, which was at the time dominated by patriarchal and populist approaches.
Photograph from Spohady pro Lesiu Ukrainku, edited by Tamara Skrypka (New York; Kyiv, 2017-). ZF.9.a.11700
Remembering Lesia Ukrainka
Bringing together memoiristic prose by Ukrainka’s family members and photographs from museum collections and private archives, Remembering Lesia Ukrainka is a precious collage that brings us closer to the culture of the long fin de siècle in Ukraine. The Kosach-Drahomanov family included illustrious scholars and translators, political activists and pioneering feminists, whose memoirs offer a truly gratifying read. During the Soviet period, their aristocratic background led to political repressions as well as the inescapable censoring of their recollections. Some of the pieces in Remembering Lesia Ukrainka are published for the first time in unexpurgated form.
The photographs of the Kosach-Drahomanov estate and of Ukrainka and her siblings in traditional Ukrainian clothes, and musical notations compiled by her husband, famous folklorist and musicologist Klyment Kvitka, open a window onto a vanished society, the relics of which had been hidden from public view for a major part of the 20th century. One of the most haunting images reproduced in the book is a photo of Ukrainka’s funeral procession where her coffin is carried by six women: a testimony of the writer’s feminist legacy.
Linocut from Oleg Babyshkin, Lesia Ukrainka v Gruzii (Tbilisi, 1953). 10796.b.58.
Lesia Ukrainka in Georgia
Ukrainka spent much of the last ten years of her life living and working in Georgia, where she died on 1 August 1913. Since the age of 12 or 13, she had been afflicted by tuberculosis and travelled constantly in search of treatment and warmer climes, from Yalta to Egypt. While it is important not to define Ukrainka by her illness, it undoubtedly had a significant impact on her life and work; she spent long periods away from home and family, often confined to her bed. As Clarence A. Manning observed, ‘It compelled her to live with her books, to think in terms of books, and to frame her intellectual and spiritual life on what she read, rather than on what she saw and experienced’ (Spirt of Flame, p. 13).
Published in Tbilisi in 1953, this book by the Ukrainian literary critic Oleh Babyshkin about Ukrainka’s time in Georgia focuses on three key cities and a town in which she lived: Tbilisi, Telavi, Khoni, and Kutaisi. The final chapter explores her legacy in Soviet Georgia. The text is accompanied by linocuts of significant places and buildings, including the Lesia Ukrainka Museum in the resort town Surami, her place of death.
Sasha Dovzhyk, writer and scholar, and Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
The event The Unknown Feminist of Fin-de-siècle Europe: Lesia Ukrainka will take place at the British Library on 16 November 2021.
Additional reading and resources:
Sasha Dovzhyk, ‘Subverting the Canon of Patriarchy: Lesya Ukrainka’s Revisionist Mythmaking’, The Los Angeles Review of Books, 25 February 2021
Olga Kerziouk, ‘Lady on Banknotes’, European Studies Blog, 1 August 2013
Lesia Ukrainka: Fin-de-siècle Ukrainian Feminism (short film), Ukrainian Institute London, 2020
20 October 2021
Kamel Daoud is an Algerian journalist based in Oran, where he has been for several years the Chief Editor for Le Quotidien d’Oran, the third largest French-language Algerian newspaper, and the author of a much-read column ‘Raïna Raïkoum’ (‘My Opinion, Your Opinion’). His articles have appeared in Libération, Le Monde, and Courrier International.
Daoud’s first novel, Meursault, contre-enquête is a response to Camus’ L’étranger. Meursault, the protagonist of Camus’ novel murders a character known only as ‘the Arab’. Camus never gave a name to Meursault’s victim, but Daoud names him Moussa, and re-tells the story from the point of view of Moussa’s brother, Haroun. Daoud’s novel was first published in Algeria by editions Barzakh in October 2013, but mostly started to garner international attention after its publication by French publisher Actes Sud in May 2014; it was a finalist for the Prix Goncourt in 2014 and came second, just short of winning the prize. It did, however, win the 2015 Goncourt First Novel Prize, and was also awarded the prix François Mauriac, le prix des Cinq Continents de la Francophonie. It sold more than 130 000 copies in France and 14 000 in Algeria, ‘A very high number for a novel in French’ according to its Algerian publisher Barzakh.
Although it is often labelled as Daoud’s debut, Meursault, contre-enquête was in fact the third in a series of texts beginning with O Pharaon published in Oran in 2004. As recalled by Joseph Ford, far from being solely a journalist, Daoud was already a writer of note in Algeria, and knew how to use text to express and magnify his ideas about conflict and power. Daoud’s positions have not been exempt from controversy, be it in France or in Algeria and his work as novelist, as well as journalist and polemist are often the subject of examination, particularly through the prism of postcolonial studies. He has in the past expressed his dreams of forgetting journalism to dedicate himself to pure literature, but a collection of Daoud’s journalistic works: Mes indépendances: Chroniques 2010–2016 was nevertheless published in 2017 and he currently contributes a weekly column to the French magazine Le Point.
Two of Daoud’s latest texts, however, have been less embroiled in obvious politics, if still actually describing some facets of Power. They explore the acts of writing and narrating, and hidden aspects of language, and of materiality: the materiality of books and of the body, and the beauty of both.
Cover of Kamel Daoud, Zabor ou les psaumes (Arles, 2017) YF.2017.a.25074
Zabor ou les psaumes (translated this year in English by Emma Ramadan as Zabor, or The Psalms), first published in French in 2017, is a work of magic realism, but also a hymn to the power of fiction. The narrator is a young man who possesses a gift: he can fight death by writing, and the people whose stories he narrates in his notebooks live longer. This is his gift, his responsibility and his mission. But does everyone deserve to be saved? This allegorical novel draws on myths, religion and fables, and as in One Thousand and One Nights, the storytelling can temporarily stave off death. But the book is also an ode to language, or rather languages, and to their transformations and appropriations, particularly in a post-colonial context: ‘C’est à partir de ce capital que je construisis cette langue, entièrement, seul avec mon propre dictionnaire sauvage’ (‘I built this language, entirely, alone with my own wild dictionary’) and so created ‘une langue folle, riche, heureuse, amalgamée avec des racines sauvages, hybride comme un bestiaire de mythologie’ (‘a mad, rich, happy, amalgamated language, with wild roots, hybrid like a mythological bestiary’).
‘Writing is a tattoo’ reads one of the last chapter’s openings. This image of the book as a body is permeating one of Daoud’s most recent published piece, tellingly titled ‘Textures ou comment coucher avec un livre’.
Cover of BibliOdyssées: foudre, index, exil, talismans, text by Kamel Daoud, Raphaël Jerusalmy; notes by Joseph Belletante, Bernadette Moglia. (Paris, 2019.) YF.2020.a.5142
This is the opening text of BibliOdyssées, and is a ‘literary piece’ companion to a book published on the occasion of the exhibition ‘L’Odyssée des livres sauvés’ held in the Musée de l’Imprimerie and Communication graphique in Lyon in 2019. Here, books have a skin, and again, this skin is ‘tattooed a thousand times’, with words and with the imprints of the hands that manipulate. In his text, Daoud compares sacred and profane books, licit and illicit objects, books for the ritual and the soul and books for the earthly body; both, with their words, magically able to express the ‘eternal unspeakable’.
Kamel Daoud will be in conversation with Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, the Financial Times’s World News Editor, at the Institut Francais on Thursday the 21st October.
Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections
Kamel Daoud, Meursault, contre-enquête (Arles, 2014) YF.2014.a.27110; English translation by John Cullen, The Mersault investigation (London, 2015) H.2016/.7708
Kamel Daoud, Mes indépendances: Chroniques 2010–2016 (Arles, 2017) YF.2017.a.18552
Albert Camus, L’étranger (Paris, 1947) 012550.p.23.
Sami Alkyam ‘Lost in reading: The predicament of postcolonial writing in Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation’, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, vol. 55 (2019), no. 4, pp. 459-471
Sylvie Ducas ‘L’entrée en littérature française de Kamel Daoud : «Camus, sinon rien!»’, Littératures, 73/2015, p. 185-197.
Joseph Ford, Writing the black decade: conflict and criticism in francophone Algerian literature (Lanham, 2021) ELD.DS.582067
24 September 2021
To coincide with the British Library's exhibition Paddington: The Story of a Bear, we've put together a series of blog posts about a few other bears (fictional and real) from the collections.
Eleanor O’Kane in her collection of medieval Spanish proverbs musters 21 dogs, 19 wolves, nine lions and one lonely bear.
Felipe Maldonado in his compilation of printed Spanish proverb books of the early modern period has captured 23 dogs, 14 wolves, two lions and no bears
The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs has tamed 176 dogs, 40 wolves, nine lions and a magnificent 23 bears.
Now, I’ve not been very careful with my sums, and the actual data can be misleading, but it’s very interesting to me that the order of the beasts is the same in all three sources.
Bear with bees and bee hives, Harley 3448, f.10v
You might recognize some English bears:
Like a bear to an honey-pot
As cross as a bear with a sore head
To sell the bear’s skin before one has caught the bear
Call the bear ‘uncle’ till you are safe across the bridge (‘an excellent Turkish proverb’, according to the Times Weekly of 1912)
But what of their solitary Spanish cousin?
The proverb occurs in the Poema de Alfonso Onceno (Epic of Alfonso XI). He reigned 1312-50, and the Poema was probably written by some tame court poet for propaganda purposes. It was never finished, which suggests that the poet wrote until the patronage was cut off at the king’s death.
First page of ‘Poema de Alfonso Onceno’. Source: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes
Picture the scene: the year is 1350. Alfonso (Castile) is fighting Yusuf I (Granada) allied with Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Othman (Morocco) for Gibraltar. The siege was dragging on, and the Granadan and Moroccan leaders were considering a settlement involving the surrender of castles and tribute. We are at their council of war:
Este rey luego provemos
Que dexe aquesta guerra
Mensageros le enbiemos,
Que salga de nuestra tierra.
E diga que le daremos
Buenos castillos fronteros.
La costa la pagaremos
En doblas e en dineros …
E de fanbre muy cuytados
Ayna se bençeran
E nos seremos honrrados.
Fablo el rey de Granada
E dixo: ‘Mal rasca el oso’ (Janer stanzas 2372-77)
Let us test this king immediately
To abandon this war;
Let us send him messengers
That he leave our land;
And tell him we will give him
Good frontier castles.
We will pay him tribute
In doubloons and dinars.
They are impoverished
And stricken with hunger;
They will be soon defeated
And we will be honoured.
The king of Granada spoke
And said: ‘Ill scratches the bear’.
Translated by Barry Taylor
He continues at length, and Yusuf I and Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Othman change tack.
I’m sure ‘Ill scratches the bear’ refers to a bear scratching his back on a tree. I suppose it means something like ‘You’re barking up the wrong tree’.
As I say, it’s unique in Old Spanish. It could conceivably reflect an Arabic proverb. And it needn’t be an existing proverb but a newly minted coinage.
But all bears are precious, especially to the paremiologist.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections
Eleanor S. O’Kane, Refranes y frases proverbiales españolas de la Edad Media (Madrid, 1959) X.900/4431.
Felipe C. R. Maldonado, Refranero clásico español (Madrid, 1970) X19/7679
F. P. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs (Oxford 1970) X.981/1907.
‘Poema de Alfonso Onceno’, ed. F. Janer in Poetas castellanos anteriores al s. XV (Madrid, 1864) 12232.f.1/57. Available online
More bear-themed posts from the European Studies blog:
31 August 2021
As we come to the end of Women in Translation Month 2021, this blog post brings together three books by women authors in translation from across Europe.
Mercè Rodoreda, In Diamond Square, translated by Peter Bush (London, ). ELD.DS.1778
Chosen by Geoff West, Former Curator Hispanic Studies
Written when its author was still living in exile, Mercè Rodoreda’s novel tells the story of a young woman in working-class Barcelona from the early 1930s to the aftermath of Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War. At a dance in the Square, the impressionable Natàlia meets a confident young man, Quimet, and soon falls under his spell. He insists that she will be his wife within a year and on giving her the nickname ‘Pidgey’. Inevitably they do marry, and they have two children. However, Quimet now earns little as a carpenter and decides to rear pigeons in their flat. Natàlia takes on work as a cleaner in a middle-class household, adding to the burden of her own housework.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Quimet goes off to fight on the Republican side and is killed. The full impact of the conflict is now conveyed as food and fuel run short. Natàlia loses her job and sends her son away to a camp for refugee boys to ensure he will be fed. After being forced to sell all her possessions to survive, she finally contemplates suicide for herself and her children. However, a providential conversation with a local grocer, who offers her work, saves her. The pair get married and Natàlia achieves an accommodation with the possibilities offered by her new existence.
Rodoreda’s first-person narrative effectively conveys the experiences and reactions of a woman initially unprepared for marriage in a male-dominated society. It also graphically documents the resilience required of ordinary people during war. The final chapters articulate the trauma of coming to terms with the past.
First published in 1962, La plaça del Diamant has now been translated into English three times and into more than twenty other languages. It remains one of the most successful works of Catalan fiction.
Mercè Rodoreda, La plaça del Diamant (Barcelona, 1962) 11303.n.12
Mercè Rodoreda, The Pigeon Girl, trans. Eda O’Shiel (London, 1967) X.909/10529
Mercè Rodoreda, The Time of the Doves, trans. David H. Rosenthal (New York, 1980)
Christine Brückner, Desdemona – if you had only spoken! Eleven uncensored speeches of eleven incensed women, translated by Eleanor Bron (London, 1992) YK.1993.a.5906
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Romance Collections
The prolific and successful German writer Christine Brückner published this collection of dramatic monologues in 1983, giving voices to well-known fictional and historical women, from Clytemnestra to Gudrun Ensslin. Some, like Katharina Luther, address their husbands. Others speak to other women, including Brückner herself criticising the overly-idealistic utopianism of 19th-century reformer Malwida von Meysenbug. In the title monologue, Desdemona’s willingness to confront Othello’s suspicions changes her fate: he listens and they reconcile. In other stories, the women reflect on their lives and situations, speaking as much to themselves as to any imagined interlocutor.
In the introduction to her English translation, the actor Eleanor Bron explains how “during the interval of a dreary play” in Hamburg she saw photographs from a production of the pieces and was immediately intrigued. She bought Brückner’s book and resolved to resurrect the German she had studied at university to prepare a translation, an experience she describes both entertainingly and insightfully.
Daniela Hodrová, Prague. I See a City. Translated by David Short; Foreword by Rajendra Chitnis. 2nd rev. ed. (Folkestone, 2015). Awaiting shelfmark.
Chosen by Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections
Have you ever been to Prague? If you have visited this wonderful city, you have probably noticed that Prague radiates some magical gleam that is not always easy to catch. Prague has its own unique charm and opens up to those who care to enquire about its history and character. While wandering through the streets of Prague, which guidebook did you have in your hands: Lonely Planet, Eyewitness Travel, or Rough Guides? Maybe, next time you can take Prague. I See a City by Daniela Hodrová.
Born in 1946 in Prague, Hodrová is one of the most distinct and original authors in contemporary Czech literature. Being a literary scholar by training and working as a researcher, she is very aware of rich literary traditions and techniques, as well as theoretical issues of aesthetics, theology and philosophy. Prague. I See a City is a very stylish and moving description of the city through a woman’s eyes. The author takes her readers through the city of her life. It is full of love and dreams, sounds of music and every-day scenes. Written straight after the November 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia (translated into English in 2011), the book is a poetic meditation on the history of the country and how this is reflected in a woman's life and in the city itself: “City of torment! City of puppets! City of Monsters! In all likelihood I am partly to blame for your awakening, I have brought you to life with words.”
27 August 2021
There is only one author in the Netherlands who is laying down the law about how to write biographies as fiction and that is Connie Palmen.
30 years ago she burst onto the literary scene with her book De Wetten, a semi-autobiographical ‘Coming of Age’ story about a woman trying to understand the world and herself. Over the course of seven years she meets seven men who all seem to have a grip on life without having read many books; they just ‘know’. The protagonist doesn’t understand how this is possible. Translations appeared in 24 languages, including Richard Huijing’s English version, The Laws (London, 1992; H93/2400). The novel was voted European Novel of the Year in 1992 and was shortlisted for the 1996 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Cover of Connie Palmen, De Wetten (Amsterdam, 1993.) YA.1994.a.3161.
Palmen has also written about her relationships with two men, Ischa Meijer and Hans van Mierlo, both public figures in the Netherlands. Here too she chose the form of the novel over the traditional biography, making it almost impossible to tell what is fact and what is fiction, so she can reveal and hide in equal measure whilst writing a riveting story.
Cover of Connie Palmen, Jij Zegt Het (Amsterdam, 2016). YF.2016.a.2830.
In her most recent love story, Palmen focuses her attention on a different couple. Jij Zegt Het (Your Story, My Story) has Ted Hughes, speaking in the first person, reflect on his marriage with Sylvia Plath and the decades after her death. He speaks out against how the world responded to their tragedy, including the literary world.
Cover of Connie Palmen, Your Story, My Story, translated by Eileen J. Stevens and Anna Asbury. (Seattle, 2021) On order
In numerous biographies Plath is given martyr-like status, while Hughes is portrayed as a traitor and murderer, condemned by complete strangers and accused by people he regarded to be his friends.
In 1998, shortly before his death, Ted Hughes published Birthday Letters (YA.2006.a.15922), a collection of 88 poems about their relationship. It is this collection that led Palmen to write Jij Zegt Het, first published in 2015, which won the 2016 Libris Literature Award.
Palmen describes the thoughts, fears and adjurations of the husband, and the deeply tragic bond with the woman who would determine his life. This is how it begins:
For most people we only exist in a book, my bride and I. Over the past 35 years I have witnessed in horror how our real lives were smothered by a mud stream of apocryphal stories, false statements, gossip, fantasies, myths and how our true, complex personalities were replaced by cliché characters, reduced to simple images, cut to size for a sensation seeking public. She, the fragile saint, me the brutal traitor. I remained silent. Until now.
Palmen does not claim that this is the last word on the matter, and it isn’t, because the recent publication of Plath’s letters to her therapist and friend Ruth Barnhouse in a new edition of Plath’s correspondence has once again ignited debate. As long as it results in works like Palmen’s I say: ‘Bring it on!’
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
J.W Niesing, De Wetten. (Apeldoorn, 1992). YA.1993.a.26869. An introduction for students.
The letters of Sylvia Plath, edited by Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil. (London, 2019) YC.2020.a.3212 (Vol. 1); YC.2020.a.3213 (Vol. 2)
Andy N. and Amanda Steele, ‘Reading in Bed’ podcast, Ep. 37, January 2021 (Includes discussion of Your Story, My Story)
Other titles by Palmen:
Als een weke krijger: verspreid werk. (Amsterdam, 2005). YF.2016.a.2964.
Het drama van de afhankelijkheid. (Amsterdam, 2017). YF.2018.a.16391
De erfenis. (Amsterdam, 1999). YF.2005.a.2288 (Book Week Gift)
De vriendschap. (Amsterdam, 1995). YA.1995.a.14809; English translation by Ina Rilke, The friendship (London, 2012.) ELD.DS.190913.
Geheel de uwe. (Amsterdam, 2004) YF.2005.a.25865
I.M. (Amsterdam, 1998). YA.2000.a.5493 .
Een kleine filosofie van de moord. (Amsterdam, 2004). YF.2005.a.27342
Logboek van een onbarmhartig jaar. (Amsterdam, 2011). YF.2016.a.14344
Lucifer. (Amsterdam, 2007). YF.2016.a.2833
Het weerzinwekkende lot van de oude Socrates. (Amsterdam, 1992). YA.1993.a.19834
04 August 2021
To coincide with the British Library's exhibition Paddington: The Story of a Bear, we've put together a series of blog posts about a few other bears (fictional and real) from the collections.
In 1926, the Russian Bear first spoke English: twenty-one tales about bears were collected and translated into English by Jane Ellen Harrison and Hope Mirrlees. In The Book of the Bear these two British women taught the Russian Bear to speak English. Ray Garnett (Rachel Marshall, wife of David Garnett and sister of the translator and diarist Frances Partridge) shared with the British public her vision of how it might look like. The Russian Bear in its English reincarnation appeared to be well connected to the Bloomsbury group of intellectuals and even to the British Museum Library (David’s great-grandfather and grandfather both worked there).
But why did it draw such attention?
Title page of The Book of the Bear
Jane Ellen Harrison (1850-1928) received a classical education at Cambridge, which, however, did not prevent her from being truly interested in Russia. Harrison developed an interest in this distant and strange country as a child, when her father, who had business connections in the Baltic region, brought home "caviar, cranberries and deer tongues" as a gift from Russia. Later, by 1919, she completed the Russian language course at the University of Cambridge and was able to teach it, which she did for several years, using her original methodology. Despite the fact that later her interest in Russia took an academic form, Russia forever remained for Harrison a country where bears with a mysterious Russian soul live. The bear image was one of the key ones for Harrison, especially considering her passion for totemism. She once even address her friend Prince Svyatopolk-Mirsky “Dear Bear Prince”.
The opening of 'The Bear and the Crane and the Horse' in The Book of the Bear
In her preface to The Book of the Bear Harrison explained:
The bear is “in all respects like a man,” but there are many men – the stories here collected are with one exception all Russian, and in them the beast is seen as a true Russian, friendly, hospitable, cheery, the best of comrades, the worst of officials, tolerant of all social vices, pitiless only to the pretentious.
'The Bear's Lullaby' in The Book of the Bear
Svyatopolk Mirsky saw serious philosophical foundations in Harrison's totemism:
Everyone who knew her knew about the serious emotional significance she attached to what she considered her totem — the bear. Her bear cult - an emotional consequence of her anthropological research - was, it seems to me, a symbol of her entire religious worldview. Since the bear, the most human-like of the beasts <...> symbolized for her the unity between the living nature and the identity of man and beast. I venture to suggest that one of the psychological reasons for her love for Russia was the figure of the Russian bear, which had long and firmly embedded in the tradition thanks to British cartoonists. In any case, the psychological identity Russia = Bear was undoubtedly real for her, and played a significant role in her attachment to Russia.
Illustration and page from the story 'Hare Ivanich' in The Book of the Bear
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections
Jane Ellen Harrison, and Hope Mirrlees, The Book of the Bear: being twenty-one tales newly translated from the Russian. The pictures by Ray Garnett, etc. (London, 1926). 12403.aaaa.26.
More bear-themed posts from the European Studies blog:
16 July 2021
In the past authors were commonly men of means, churchmen or the servants of great houses. In times nearer our own they’ve had to turn to working in offices.
Poet Laureate Simon Armitage worked in the probation service, and describes how when looking over his papers, now in the Brotherton Library in the University of Leeds, he found drafts he’d written on the back of probation service stationery.
Spain’s greatest Romantic poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836-70) lived and wrote the life romantic. He took a copyist’s job in the Dirección de Bienes Nacionales. When the boss went on a parish visit he found Bécquer drawing.
‘What’s this?’ he asked.
Without looking up, and assuming he was talking to one of his comrades, Bécquer said, ‘It’s Ophelia, scattering her garland. And the man is her grave-digger.’
He was sacked on the spot. (López Núñez, pp. 28-29)
J.-K. Huysmans was a junior clerk in the French Ministry of the Interior for 32 years, writing reports for the Sureté Générale:
On the stroke of eleven, he arrived at the offices of the Sureté Générale in the Rue des Saussaies. Here he spent the next six hours, copying out official letters, adding up columns of figures, and – like so many other young writers employed in various French ministries – working on his own books and articles. (Baldick, p. 66)
Statue of Fernando Pessoa, by sculptor Lagoa Henriques, outside Café A Brasileira in Lisbon, Portugal. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Fernando Pessoa too lived the life of the pen-pusher, living in digs and eating in cafés. His command of English, nurtured during his boyhood in South Africa, qualified him well for commercial correspondence. (He presented his English poems, with his compliments, to five libraries in Britain, including the then British Museum Library (C.127.c.30).)
A case even nearer home was Sir Henry Thomas. He took a PhD. in French at Birmingham and was recruited to the BML in 1903 and put to cataloguing its early Spanish books. He served the BML in peace and war, giving a radio talk on Cervantes contra Hitler in 1943 (012301.m.49).
Portrait of Sir Henry Thomas by Walter Stoneman, 1938. © National Portrait Gallery, London
He was also a literary scholar of accomplishment, author of Spanish and Portuguese Romances of Chivalry (1920), still used today. Margaret Drabble in her life of Angus Wilson rather dismissively says:
Henry Thomas, Hispanologist, bachelor and bibliographer, was Deputy Keeper: he was a devoted pilgrim on the road to Santiago de Compostela, and wrote about miracles, translated his own work into Spanish, and was suspected of being very pro-Franco. (p. 80)
He studied early English translations of Góngora, and was himself a published translator. His Star of Seville (La estrella de Sevilla), from the Spanish of Lope de Vega (or at least attributed to him) came out in 1935.
Title page of The Star of Seville (Newtown: Gregynog Press, 1935) C.102.e.16.
And here I can put on record that I’ve seen the rough draft which he wrote on the back of the eggshell-blue title slips which were used for cataloguing in the BML.
Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections
Simon Armitage, ‘Writing was just for fun then’, Guardian, 19 Sept 2020
Juan López Núñez, Bécquer: biografía anécdótica (Madrid, 1916) 10632.p.28
Robert Baldick, The Life of J.-K. Huysmans (Oxford, 1955) 010665.f.94
R. W. Howes, ‘Fernando Pessoa, Poet, Publisher, and Translator’, British Library Journal, 9: 2, 1983, pp. 161-70 http://www.bl.uk/eblj/1983articles/pdf/article12.pdf
Victor Scholderer, ‘Henry Thomas, 1878-1952’, Proceedings of The British Academy, 40 (1954), 241-46.
Margaret Drabble, Angus Wilson: A Biography (London, 1996) YC.1997.a.399
04 June 2021
Translating the French Revolution: Italian printing culture during the revolutionary Triennio, 1796-1799
The British Library holds the largest collection of printed material on the French Revolution outside of France. As we know the French revolution was not limited to France but affected the historical trajectory of numerous countries in Europe and around the world. One of the first European areas where French revolutionary ideals found a fertile soil was the Italian peninsula. In 1796 the French Army, led by the young general Napoleon Bonaparte, defeated Austrian and Sardinian troops. On 15 May 1796 Bonaparte entered Milan, which rapidly became the most active political laboratory of the peninsula.
Giovanni Antonio Antolini, plans for the Foro Buonaparte in Milan, city side, c. 1801. Part of Napoleon’s ambitious but unfulfilled plan for remodelling the city of Milan (Image from Wikimedia Commons
During the revolutionary Triennio, the period between the arrival of the French troops led by Bonaparte and the French defeat in 1799, there was a veritable explosion of print culture: 40 new periodicals in Milan, ten newspapers printed in Venice in 1797 alone; 20 serial publications in Genoa, and smaller centres such as Brescia or Ferrara also produced their own revolutionary newspapers. The British Library holds two periodicals that are exemplary of this Italian revolutionary press: the Giornale della società degli amici della libertà e dell’eguaglianza (‘Journal of the Society of Friends of Liberty and Equality’) and the Osservator piemontese (‘Piedmont Observer’).
Giornale della società degli amici della libertà e dell’eguaglianza (Milan 23 May 1796) [PENP.NT309]
The first newspaper was the work of the physician Giovanni Rasori, a vocal supporter of a democratic republic. Rasori had travelled to Britain and France, and his newspaper reflected his familiarity with the two countries. Translations of French or English works appeared frequently, such as Volney’s Ruines or tracts by radicals, such as William Morgan’s Facts Addressed to the Serious Attention of the People of Great Britain Respecting the Expence [sic] of the War and the State of the National Debt (London, 1796; RB.23.b.7561). In a similar vein the Osservatore piemontese published long extracts from Joseph Priestley’s Lectures on History and General Policy (Birmingham, 1788; 580.h.16).
Both newspapers presented the Italian translations of British works through the intermediary of a recent French translation. Rasori translated Morgan’s work as it appeared on the columns of the Parisian Moniteur Universel (Gazette nationale, ou, le Moniteur universel France, Paris, 1789-1810; MFM.MF17), while the authors of the Piedmontese newspaper commented and published large excerpts of Priestley’s work which had been translated into French in 1798.
First issue of Osservator Piemontese (Turin 1798) P.P.4175
The arrival of the French armies in the Italian peninsula favoured the publication of works that were previously forbidden. The translations of these texts appeared in periodical publications thus making more difficult for researchers to find them. These texts were partially reprinted in periodical publications, as those presented above, or were collected in anthologies such as the Biblioteca dell’uomo repubblicano. The British Library holds the prospectus for this anthology published in 1797 in Venice (awaiting shelfmark). The ambitious plan was to print 15 volumes containing the main works of philosophers like Rousseau, Voltaire and Mably. However the Peace of Campo Formio (27 October 1797), when France ceded Venice to the Austrian Empire, put an end to this effort of creating a first comprehensive compilation of political thinkers crucial to understanding the political basis of the French revolution.
The brief interlude of the Italian republics was not an ephemeral season in the Italian history. On the contrary the last years of the 18th century served as the basis of the development of new kinds of Italian political thinking, rooted in a lively exchange with other European traditions such as the French Enlightenment and the British radical movement.
Niccolò Valmori, Postdoctoral research associate at King’s College, London, working on the AHRC funded project ‘Radical Translations: The Transfer of Revolutionary Culture between Britain, France and Italy (1789-1815)’
Valerio Castronovo, Giuseppe Ricuperati, Carlo Capra (ed.), La stampa italiana dal Cinquecento all’Ottocento (Rome, 1976). X.989/90090(1)
Giorgio Cosmacini, Scienza medica e giacobinismo in Italia: l'impresa politico-culturale di Giovanni Rasori (1796-1799) (Milano, 1982). X.329/20279
Katia Visconti, L’ultimo Direttorio: la lotta politica nella repubblica cisalpina tra guerra rivoluzionaria e ascesa di Bonaparte, 1799-1800 (Milano, 2011). YF.2012.a.13963
Carlo Zaghi, Il Direttorio francese e la repubblica Cisalpina (Rome, 1992). YA.1992.b.2989
23 March 2021
Today marks the 50th anniversary of Simon Vestdijk’s death at the age of 72. He was one of the most prolific and diverse authors of the Netherlands with 50 novels, 12 collections of poetry, numerous essays and he translated Emily Dickinson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allen Poe into Dutch. He also wrote essays and reviews for a number of literary journals and newspapers, such as the Nieuwe Courant (NRC) and Het Parool.
Portrait of Simon Vestdijk. Source: Ontdek ons digitaal erfgoed | Geheugen van Nederland
Vestdijk nearly didn’t become a writer. For years he dithered between a career in medicine, music, or literature. In 1932 he both graduated as a doctor and published his literary debut, a collection of poems, which appeared in the literary journal De Vrije Bladen (P.P.4261.sa.) He still wasn’t sure which path to choose.
He won numerous prizes, the last one being awarded just a few days before his death.
Vestdijk himself divided his work into five categories:
1. Fiction with autobiographical elements around the character Anton Wachter, such as Terug tot Ina Damman (Back to Ina Damman)
2. Fiction with semi-autobiographical elements, for example De koperen tuin (The garden where the brass band played). See below
3. Contemporary psychological work, such as Else Böhler, Duits dienstmeisje
4. Historical work, such as De vuuraanbidders (The fire worshippers)
5. Fantastical work, such as De kellner en de levenden (The waiter and the living) and Bericht uit het hiernamaals (Message from the other side)
Cover of the first edition of De Koperen Tuin (Rotterdam, 1950). 12584.w.64. Source: Vestdijk.com
This year will see a full programme of commemorations; a plaque will be fitted on his house in Doorn. Today a delegation from De Vestdijkkring, a society that commemorates Vestdijk and promotes his work, will lay a wreath on his grave in The Hague. And of course there’ll be plenty of literary events during the year.
You can get a taste of his works in English from the translations listed below.
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
The Penguin book of Dutch short stories. (London, 2016). YKL.2017.a.14072
A sampling of Dutch literature. Thirteen excursions into the works of Dutch authors. Translated and adapted by James Brockway. (Hilversum, 1960). X.950/43674
The garden where the brass band played; translated by A. Brotherton; with an introduction by Hella S. Haasse. (London, 1992). H.93/3254.
‘My Brown Friend’, translated by M. C. Duyvendak, in New Writers. vol. 2, pp. 9-52. (London, 1962). 12521.d.1/2.
Rum Island, translated by B. K. Bowes. (London, 1963). 11769.g.20.
‘The Blind’; ‘The Jewish Bride’; ‘Saul and David’; ‘Rembrandt and Saskia’, translated by Jane Fenoulhet. In: Dutch Crossing, nr. 46 (1992) pp. 25-30. P.523/827
22 January 2021
Between 1926 and 1937 Antonio Gramsci was rotting away in Italian prisons, having been sentenced to 20 years by Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime, in spite of his parliamentary immunity. Mussolini had got rid of the most revolutionary and influential opponent to Fascism in Italy and, in so doing, hoped to silence the rest of his opposition. Despite his precarious state of health, Gramsci would never ask for pardon and realised that he was condemned to a lengthy period of isolation.
Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) in 1915. Source: Wikipedia Commons
How to survive annihilation and despair in prison? He turned to his singular willpower and fortitude, as he was used to doing since childhood, and plunged himself into an extensive programme of studies and critical writing. His antidote to death is collected in two major works entitled Lettere dal carcere (Letters from prison), and Quaderni del carcere (Prison notebooks).
The 33 notebooks (four of them dedicated to translations) are a compilation of all the intellectual activities undertaken by the prisoner Gramsci in order to keep his cool. Between 1929 and 1931, Gramsci perfected his knowledge of European languages through translating, starting with German and Russian, and continuing with French and English. Notebooks XV and XIX contain his exercises from the German, namely 24 fables translated from the classic Brothers Grimm collection. In 1932, thinking of a gift for his favourite sister’s young children (whom he would never meet), the author had the idea of copying his translations and posting them to his sister, Teresa Paulesu, as “my contribution to developing the little ones’ imagination” (from a letter dated 18 January 1932 [my translation]). A sketchbook, Album disegno, catalogued as notebook D (XXXI), remains as evidence of Gramsci’s intention.
Antonio Gramsci’s prison notebooks (1929-1935). Source: Wikipedia Commons
Unfortunately, the sketchbook never reached the children, due to the prison rules that prevented prisoners from sending anything outside. That is why the Album contains only the first half of fable number one, Rapunzel, in Gramsci’s final handwritten draft.
First page of the Album disegno from Favole di libertà (Florence, 1980) YL.1988.a.772
Gramsci’s translations, as well as his children’s stories, were neglected until 1980, when, finally, they were published for the first time in Favole di libertà. A second and more complete collection entitled Fiabe appeared in 2010, including letters to his two young sons, Delio and Giuliano.
Covers of Favole di libertà and Fiabe (Florence, 2010) YF.2011.a.21857
What these translations and the children’s stories show is Gramsci’s natural vocation as an educator. Whilst in prison, he never lost his ability to listen, to empathise and to be sensitive to the needs of his family, just as the intellectual had put his prodigious mind at the service of the ‘subaltern classes’ when he was a free man. Prison writings often reveal the man behind the author. Gramsci’s Fiabe reveals how he lived according to his theories and teachings, and what ‘organic intellectual’ meant in reality.
On the one hand, the philosopher deeply believed in the educational role of folklore, popular literature, and popular arts in the building of a national popular culture for the progressive society he dreamt of. Gramsci’s stress on literature and critical theory in the Prison notebooks is not accidental at all. On the contrary, his classic concepts and definitions in politics and philosophy originate from his approach and methodology as a historical linguist. He was fully aware of how language and literature are pivotal in shaping societies. As a result, his ‘pedagogy of praxis’ is a proactive call for the working class to be the protagonist of its own education and to produce its own culture. No wonder several Italian authors and educators in the 1950s-1960s followed in Gramsci’s footsteps, and one in particular, Gianni Rodari, established modern Italian children’s literature.
On the other hand, writing, translating and storytelling enabled Gramsci to shape a new relationship with his loved ones. The kindness and support that emerge from his letters and comic short stories to children and relatives testify to how much he was willing to be part of the life and education of his family beyond the bars. Writing and study became, at the same time, a way of caring for others and a way of human and intellectual resistance for the prisoner, a lifeline that lasted eleven years.
Ramona Ciucani, West European Languages Cataloguing team
References / Further reading:
Antonio Gramsci, Lettere dal carcere (last Italian version Palermo, 1996) YA.1998.a.1937. English translation by Raymond Rosenthal, Letters from prison (New York, 2011) 3v., YC.2012.a.2007 and YC.2012.a.1189
Antonio Gramsci, Quaderni del carcere (Turin, 1975) X.978/118. English translation by Joseph A. Buttigieg and Antonio Callari. Prison notebooks (New York, 2011) 2 v., YC.2011.a.8399-8401.
Ferial Ghazoul, “La prospettiva gramsciana sulla lingua e la letteratura” in Studi gramsciani nel mondo arabo: Gramsci nel mondo arabo, a cura di Patrizia Manduchi, Alessandra Marchi e Giuseppe Vacca (Bologna, 2017, pp. 157-84). YF.2018.a.9753
Derek Boothman, Traducibilità e processi traduttivi: un caso: A. Gramsci linguista (Perugia, 2004). YF.2005.a.5162
Alessandro Carlucci, Gramsci and languages: unification, diversity, hegemony (Leiden, 2013). YD.2013.a.3106
Antonio Gramsci: a pedagogy to change the world, Nicola Pizzolato and John D. Holst (editors) (Cham, Switzerland, 2017) ELD.DS.331125
Antonio Gramsci, Arte e folklore, a cura di Giuseppe Prestipino (Rome, 1976). X:972/303
Gramsci and educational thought, edited by Peter Mayo (Chichester, 2010). YC.2013.a.13402 and m10/.17512
Gramsci, language, and translation, edited by Peter Ives and Rocco Lacorte (Lanham, 2010). m10/.20216
Gramsci y la educación: pedagogía de la praxis y políticas culturales en América Latina, Flora Hillert ... [et al.] (Buenos Aires, 2011). YF.2013.a.18303
Deb J. Hill, Hegemony and education: Gramsci, post-Marxism, and radical democracy revisited (Lanham, 2007). m07/.35617
Peter Ives, Language and hegemony in Gramsci (London, 2004). ELD.DS.66257
Riccardo Pagano, Il pensiero pedagogico di Antonio Gramsci (Milan, 2013). YF.2013.a.21073
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