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29 posts categorized "Women's histories"

19 April 2021

Two women, a lawyer and a book chest

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Today, 19 April, is the anniversary of the death of Maria van Reigersberch, or Reigersbergen the wife of Hugo de Groot a.k.a. Grotius. Her husband is well known for his legal writings in which he launched the idea of the freedom of the seas and international law. Grotius is credited with stating that rights are not just connected to objects, but also to people, although that doesn’t make him a human rights activist in the modern sense: his work is very much aimed at the advancement of the interests of the Dutch Republic.

Portrait of Maria van Reigersbergen

Maria van Reigersbergen by a painter from the circle of Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt. Source: Wikipedia.

Grotius had made his career in the service of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt the most powerful man in the Republic, who got himself in trouble with the Stadholder Maurits. It cost him his head and he dragged Grotius down with him. Grotius was actually lucky to escape with his life, but he was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Castle Loevenstein.

Maria van Reigersberch campaigned hard to obtain better living conditions for her husband and permission to join him at the castle, together with their maid Elselina (Elsje) van Houwening. The women were allowed to join Grotius. Big mistake!

Maria negotiated with the authorities to have books brought to Hugo, so he could continue his studies and work. The books were delivered in a large trunk and I can just imagine Maria looking at that trunk and thinking: ‘Trojan Horse in reverse!’

Portrait of Hugo de Groot

Hugo de Groot, by Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt (1631) Source: Wikimedia 

Portrait of a woman presumed to be Elselina van Houwingen

Portrait of a woman presumed to be Elselina van Houwingen (anonymous, 1656). Source: Houweningen, Elselina van (?-1681) (knaw.nl)

They prepared their plan very well. Maria made Hugo lie in the chest very still for up to two hours for several evenings. Then on 22 March 1621 Hugo climbed in the chest, Maria made up the bed with his clothes and put his slippers in front of the bed to make it look like he was asleep. She sent the trunk off, out of the castle. Elselina went with it and watched over it fiercely.

Maria stayed behind in prison. She was eventually released and joined Hugo in Paris. He was never allowed to return to his home country and Maria returned there only to die.

Hugo was also a rather accomplished poet and he wrote a poem in thanks to his wife: Silva Ad Franciscum Augustum Thuanum (Paris, 1621; 11405.i.18.(13.)). 

The story of this audacious escape has been written about in books, poems, and plays over the centuries. The first to record it was Gerard Brandt, who actually spoke to Elselina herself, so it is a first-hand account. Brandt’s son Caspar compiled his father’s notes and published them as Historie van het leven des Heeren Huig de Groot, beschreven tot den aanvang van zyn gezantschap ... aan’t hof van Vrankryk (Dordrecht/Amsterdam,1727; 10760.g.12.). 

Brandt’s notes show how Elselina looked after the chest with its precious contents with great dedication. The chest was of course heavy and the soldiers carrying it noticed that and suggested De Groot must be in it. To see if that were true they wanted to drill a hole right through the chest. She replied that they needed a drill as long as the way to his rooms in the castle. Then the captain of the ship that would take them to Gorinchem wanted to put down a rickety plank over which the soldiers had to carry the chest. She was having none of it, saying that the chest could easily fall in the water and then ‘all the books would be spoiled. They were fine books that had been borrowed, so had to be returned in good order.’ I think she missed her vocation as a librarian. A sturdier plank was duly supplied.

Elselina van Houwening survived Hugo and Maria by decades. She died in March 1681 and was buried on the 8th of March, only a few weeks short of the 60th anniversary of the escape.

Image of Grotius’s book chest

Image of Grotius’s book chest from Het Leven van Hugo de Groot, getrokken uit de voornaamste historie-schryvers en dichters (Amsterdam 1785) 10760.e.1

And what happened to the chest? Well, as with so many ‘mythical’ objects, there are three chests which the institutions that hold them claim to be the real one. These are at the Rijksmuseum, Slot Loevestein and Het Prinsenhof in Delft. Recent research has concluded that the Delft chest has the best claim, but the outcome was not conclusive. It is much more likely that the original chest disappeared sometime in the 17th century.

Front cover of De Boekenkist van Hugo de Groot

Front cover of De Boekenkist van Hugo de Groot, by Arnout van Cruyningen. (Utrecht, 2021). (awaiting shelfmark)

The latest book on the topic has just come out and is by Arnout van Cruyningen. (Utrecht, 2021) which will be available for BL readers later this year.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

References and further reading

Jeronimo de Vries, Hugo de Groot en Maria van Reigersbergen (Amsterdam, 1827). DRT Digital Store 1560/1614.

Marco Barducci, Hugo Grotius and the century of revolution, 1613-1718 : transnational reception in English political thought (Oxford, 2017) YC.2018.a.7730

Henk Nellen, Hugo Grotius: a lifelong struggle for peace in church and state, 1583-1645, translated from the Dutch by J.C. Grayson. (Leiden, 2014) YD. 2015.a.204

Grotius and law, edited by Larry May and Emily MGill. (Farnham, 2014) YC.2015.a.11580

Grotius, edited by John Dunn and Ian Harris. 2 vols. (Cheltenham, 1997) YC.1998.b.5202

De Hollandse jaren van Hugo de Groot, edited by H.J.M. Nellen and J. Trapman. (Hilversum, 1996) YA.1997.b.411

For more information on women in Dutch history:
Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland, or Digital Womenlexicon of the Netherlands. Freely available on [Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland (knaw.nl)]

Els Kloek, et al, 1001 Vrouwen uit de Nederlandse geschiedenis (Nijmegen, 2013) YF.2015.a.1208.

04 March 2021

Rosa Luxemburg: a brief glimpse in five items

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Rosa Luxemburg, who was born 150 years ago this month, has come to be seen as an iconic figure of socialist and revolutionary thought. Her life and legacy are reflected not only in her own works but in the many works about her that have been written in various genres – biography, academic study, polemical and literary – since her murder in 1919. Below are a handful of examples from the British Library’s collections which illuminate some of the many aspects of her story.

Cover of 'Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens'
Rosa Luxemburg, Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens (Leipzig, 1898) 8282.ff.14. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens

Luxemburg’s first published monograph was her doctoral thesis, Die industrielle Entwickelung Polens (‘The Industrial Development of Poland’). Although Luxemburg was herself Polish, she gained her doctorate from the University of Zürich, since women were barred from higher education in Poland, where Luxemburg, as a Jew and a Polish speaker in a country under Russian rule, faced additional social and educational challenges. She had sought refuge in Zürich in 1889 to avoid detention for her revolutionary activity at home. The city was something of a centre for socialist exiles, and alongside her university studies, she continued working for the cause, becoming known as a writer, organiser and highly effective public speaker. By the time her thesis was completed and published, her written work was focusing more on these issues, and a plan to write a longer economic history of Poland never came to fruition.

Cover of 'Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie'
‘Junius’, Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie (Berlin, [1916]) YA.1997.a.11594. (Image from the Bavarian State Library)

Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie

Luxemburg strongly believed in the international nature of the struggle for social justice. On the outbreak of war in 1914, she hoped that workers would refuse to fight and would recognise that the ruling classes in their own countries were the true enemy and the workers of other countries their true allies. When the German Socialist Party (SPD) members of the Reichstag gave their support to war, she felt betrayed. Together with Karl Liebknecht, the only SPD representative to remain opposed to the conflict, she founded the Spartacus League, which grew into the German Communist Party. Jailed for her socialist and pacifist activities, Luxemburg continued to write in prison, most notably the pamphlet Die Krise der Sozialdemokratie (‘The Crisis of Social Democracy’) in which she set out her views on the war as an imperialist and capitalist project and her despair at the attitude of the SPD, and calls for revolution. Published in 1916 and often referred to as the ‘Junius Pamphlet’ after the pseudonym Luxemburg wrote it under, it is one of her best-known works.

January Fifteenth. The murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg

Following the brutal murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht by right-wing ‘Freikorps’ militias in the aftermath of the Spartacist Uprising in January 1919, they were seen as martyrs for the socialist cause. Although Luxemburg had often disagreed with fellow-socialists on a range of issues, she was increasingly depicted as a heroine of the left and has sometimes been described as the woman who could have united the different strands of Weimar Germany’s left-wing politics in the face of the growing right-wing threat. In 1924 the Young Communist League of Great Britain published a pamphlet entitled January Fifteenth. The murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, 1919 (8140.i.4.). The first in a planned series of ‘Manuals for Proletarian Anniversaries’, it suggested ways to commemorate Luxemburg’s and Liebknecht’s murders, an anniversary which still sees still sees parades and acts of remembrance take place today.

Cover of 'Rosa Luxemburg', with photographs of Luxemburg and the actress who portrayed her in the 1986 film
Margarethe von Trotta and Christiane Ensslin, Rosa (Nördlingen, 1986) YA.1987.b.6118

Margarethe von Trotta’s biopic of Rosa Luxemburg

As well as eulogies and memoirs, Luxemburg was from early on remembered in poetry, drama and fiction. In 1986 the German director Margarethe von Trotta released her film Rosa, which portrayed Luxemburg in a decidedly feminist context. Luxemburg has often been regarded as uninterested in feminism as she tended to keep at arm’s length from the formal women’s movement of her time. This was partly because she felt that she would be sidelined by being associated purely with women’s issues, but also because she saw the issue of equality as being vital to all workers regardless of nationality or sex. She was also somewhat wary of the way the suffrage movements tended to be predominantly run by and focused around educated middle-class women. Nonetheless, she had close ties with leaders of the women’s movement, particularly her friend Clara Zetkin, and her own determination to live in both the personal and political sphere on an equal footing with male friends, lovers and colleagues is reason enough to celebrate her today as a feminist pioneer.

Cover of 'Red Rosa' with an stylised picture of Rosa Luxemburg surrounded by images of war
Kate Evans, Red Rosa (London, 2015) YC.2017.b.584

Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg

A recent publication that depicts the many facets of Luxemburg’s life, work and personality in a compelling and accessible way is Kate Evans’s striking graphic biography Red Rosa, a work originally commissioned by the New York branch of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. Evans initially knew little about Luxemburg, but studied in particular her collected letters (London, 2013; ELD.DS.286414), which is perhaps what gives the book such a rounded picture of Luxemburg both as a brilliant thinker and inspirational political figure, and as a very human woman determined to live on her own terms. Kate Evans will be one of the speakers at a British Library online event marking Luxemburg’s 150th birthday on 5 March 2021. Rosa Luxemburg: At Home in the Entire World brings together authors, actors and activists to examine Luxemburg’s revolutionary legacy. 

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

12 February 2021

Multi-tasking women from the 1920s to the 2020s

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One of our key roles as curators is to explore the contemporary resonance of the Library’s collections in national and international contexts. I was acutely reminded of this two weeks ago when showing an item at an event connected to the exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights. Together with colleagues from the European, Americas and Oceania collections, we each selected and discussed an item that we felt spoke to the themes of the exhibition and went beyond its UK focus, before joining the audience for an informal Q&A session.

Beginning with women's suffrage cartoons from a 19th-century newspaper published in Aotearoa New Zealand, the session also introduced our online audience to the cartonera book Afro Latina by the Afro-Brazilian lesbian author Formiga, as well as a work by the 19th-century French writer, feminist and anarchist Victoire Léodile Béra, known as André Léo.

The event was originally scheduled to take place in June 2020 at the British Library but was postponed – along with the exhibition – due to the pandemic and eventually re-conceived as an online session. Like many of the Library’s brilliant online events over the past year, the format allowed us to reach a much larger audience, with close to 100 people tuning in.

Ialtinskaia Delegatka

Ialtinskaia Delegatka. Yalta, 1927. Add MS 57556.

The item I presented was an enormous 2-metre long, hand-drawn Soviet wall newspaper, Ialtinskaia Delegatka (The Yalta Woman Delegate). Created by a local women’s committee in Yalta, Crimea, in the late 1920s, it contains reports on their achievements, as well as amateur poetry, drawings and stories intended to inspire and promote communist values.

In the bottom right hand corner is a drawing of a woman carrying out an epic feat of multitasking. She is simultaneously writing (possibly carrying out committee work for the newspaper), cooking, cleaning and watching a child. I find it particularly fascinating as it encapsulates the different – often conflicting and gendered - responsibilities that the new Soviet woman was supposed to balance: those of a Communist citizen, worker, mother and, increasingly by the late 1920s, wife.

Close up of a drawing from the newspaper of a woman simultaneously writing, cooking, cleaning and caring for a child

Close up of a drawing from the newspaper of a woman simultaneously writing, cooking, cleaning and caring for a child

The newspaper is important as it gives us an idea of how the 1917 Russian Revolution and the first years of Bolshevik rule affected the lives of many women – as seen from the perspective of women themselves.

The Bolshevik revolution established the legal equality of women and men. In October 1918, legislation known as The Family Code granted illegitimate children the same legal rights as legitimate ones, secularised marriage, and allowed a couple to take either the husband or wife’s name once married. Divorce became easily obtainable, abortion was legalised in 1920, and communal facilities for childcare and domestic tasks were introduced with the aim of relieving women of household chores and dismantling the traditional, nuclear family. In 1919, a Women’s Bureau (Zhenotdel) was established. Its purpose was to disseminate propaganda among working class women and attempt to engage them in public life and the revolutionary process.

Cover of the women's journal Rabotnitsa featuring a woman worker with a banner

Cover of the women's journal Rabotnitsa, No. 1, 1923. BL copies at Mic.F.866 and Mic.A.20186. Image from Wikimedia Commons

By the mid- to late-1920s, both public and party attitudes towards family policy had become more conservative. This was partly in response to the social impact of some of the reforms of 1918, particularly de facto marriages, which were seen to in fact create inequality for women.

High unemployment among women in the 1920s and rising numbers of homeless children played a significant role in the return to the more traditional family unit. In 1926 a new marriage law granted registered and unregistered marriages equal rights and placed more emphasis on the obligations that came with marriage. Plans to free women from childcare and housework by creating communal facilities had also failed to fully materialise – as is perhaps clear from the drawing of the multi-tasking woman.

In the 1930s, Stalin further reversed many of the rights granted to women and families in the 1918 Family Code. Abortion was banned, divorce became extremely difficult to obtain, and the law on the rights of illegitimate children was revoked.

Stalin also closed the Zhenotdel in 1930 on the basis that women’s emancipation had been achieved in the Soviet Union and the department was therefore no longer needed. Despite this, throughout the entire history of the Soviet Union, women constituted (on average) only 3–4% of the party’s Central Committee.

Thus, the early Communist vision of women’s equality and liberation was never fully realised. As emphasis shifted back towards the traditional family unit in the 1930s, women were faced with the double burden of combining domestic duties with full-time work.

Although the newspaper had been at the back of my mind before the pandemic, it took on an additional significance in the context of the past year’s events. On seeing the drawing of the multi-tasking woman, one colleague remarked that it gave her goosebumps. Across the world, women are doing more unpaid domestic chores and family care as a result of the pandemic, often in addition to other work responsibilities. According to global data from UN Women, it could wipe out 25 years of increasing gender equality.

Stay home advert showing a woman carrying out domestic chores and home-schooling children while the only man depicted is seen relaxing on the sofa

Official social media advert from January 2021 urging people to ‘Stay Home. Save Lives’

The use of gender stereotypes in the media only serves to reinforce this inequality. Just the day before the event, it transpired that the UK government had withdrawn a ‘Stay Home’ advert after it was criticised for its sexist portrayal of women. The advert showed a woman carrying out domestic chores and home-schooling children while the only man depicted is seen relaxing on the sofa. 

The backlash to the advert, along with the countless inspiring stories of activism featured in the Unfinished Business exhibition, demonstrate that the fight for gender equality is far from over.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

Although the physical exhibition space is currently closed due to lockdown restrictions, you can discover more about the stories, people and events that have shaped society, as well as the work that remains unfinished, through the exhibition web resource, podcast and fantastic series of online events.

Further reading and references:

Barbara Alpern Engel, Women in Russia, 1700–2000 (Cambridge; New York, 2004)

Catherine Baker, ed., Gender in 20th Century Eastern Europe and the USSR (London; New York, 2017)

Elizabeth A. Wood, The Baba and the Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia (Bloomington, 1997)

Jane McDermid and Anna Hillyar, Midwives of Revolution: Female Bolsheviks and Women Workers in 1917 (London, 1999)

Marianna Muravyeva and Natalia Novikova, eds., Women's History in Russia: (Re)Establishing the Field (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2014).

Melanie Ilic, ed., The Palgrave Handbook of Women and Gender in Twentieth-Century Russia and the Soviet Union (London, 2017).

Richard Stites, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism, 1860–1930 (Princeton, NJ; Oxford, 1991)

Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild, Equality and Revolution: Women's Rights in the Russian Empire, 1905–1917 (Pittsburg, Pa., 2010)

Rosalind Marsh, ed., Women in Russia and Ukraine (Cambridge, 1996)

Wilma Rule and Norma C. Noonan, eds., Russian Women in Politics and Society (Westport, Conn.; London, 1996)

29 January 2021

A radical duo and their Italian connection

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Antonio Gramsci’s influence and legacy has been extraordinarily rich and vast, producing new ideas, interpretations and seeds all over the world. But how is Gramsci indirectly related to the current BL exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights?

Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960) was the only regular foreign correspondent for the Italian newspaper L’Ordine Nuovo (‘The New Order’), established by Gramsci and three other editors (Angelo Tasca, Palmiro Togliatti, and Umberto Terracini) on 1 May 1919 in Turin. Her monthly contribution entitled Lettere dall’Inghilterra (‘Letters from England’) was translated by Palmiro Togliatti (1893 –1964).

Front page of L’Ordine Nuovo

Front page of L’Ordine Nuovo, 11-18 December 1920, n. 22. Source: Wikipedia Commons 

More than just a workers’ newspaper, L’Ordine Nuovo was the vibrant engine of the mass education policy set up by Gramsci in Italy’s vibrant ‘Motor City’. During the strikes of 1919-20 (the so-called Biennio Rosso), Turin became the ‘City of Factory Councils and Red Guards’, the ‘Mecca of Italian Communism, the ‘Italian Petrograd’, almost on the verge of a Bolshevik-style Italian revolution. At the heart of this revolutionary hive was L’Ordine Nuovo’s office, where all sorts of people flocked to visit Gramsci. Among the international visitors to Gramsci’s office, during the turbulent year of 1919, was Sylvia Pankhurst. The trait d’union, who arranged the meeting between two advocates of working-class interests, was Silvio Corio (1875-1954), Sylvia’s partner and interpreter during their clandestine journey across Italy (Turin, Milan and Bologna).

Photographs of Sylvia Pankhurst and Silvio Corio

Sylvia Pankhurst and Silvio Corio. Source: Westminster Libraries 

An anarchist printer and journalist, Corio joined the network of Italian radical activists in London in 1901. The elective affinity (of heart and mind) between Corio and Pankhurst blossomed in 1917 and produced the first and most influential duo of antifascists in Great Britain during the two World Wars. Corio worked shoulder to shoulder with Pankhurst at the London communist newspaper Workers' Dreadnought (1917-24), being a major source of influence and support in all her campaigns and activities, although he was keeping a low profile to avoid any trouble threatened by the Aliens’ Act of 1918.

Front page of The Workers' Dreadnought,

The Workers' Dreadnought, 3 May 1919 (LOU.LON.702). Image from Spartacus Educational 

Three years before Mussolini’s ascent to power, the contacts with Gramsci and the other leftist intellectuals ignited the spark of anti-fascism in Pankhurst. During her critical journey to Italy she experienced first hand the polarization of Italian society, and realised the risks arising from the fascist and colonialist propaganda on the international arena. Back in London, together with Corio and other activists, she was the first influential voice to ring alarm bells against Mussolini’s regime, the Italian occupation of Ethiopia (1935-1937) and the looming prospect of a second world war.

I picture Pankhurst, along with Corio, supporting the international campaign organised by the economist Piero Sraffa (1898-1983) at Cambridge University and Gramsci’s sister-in-law Tatiana Schucht (1887-1943) in order to demand Gramsci's release in 1934.

Thanks to this trio of visionary activists and thinkers the seeds for a modern civil society, such as we have and enjoy today, had been sown.

Ramona Ciucani, West European Languages Cataloguing team

References/ Further reading:

Rachel Holmes, Sylvia Pankhurst: natural born rebel (London, 2020). ELD.DS.553677

Maurizio Rodorigo, ‘Una storia di amore e di tenebra: mostra a Manchester sugli antifascisti italiani negli anni ’20 in Inghilterra’ in La Repubblica. Londra, 9 April 2019, available here 

Alfio Bernabei, Esuli ed emigrati italiani nel Regno Unito, 1920-1940 (Milan, 1997). YA.2000.a.20751

Antonio Gramsci, Il giornalismo, il giornalista: scritti, articoli, lettere del fondatore de “l'Unità” a cura di Gian Luca Corradi (Florence, 2017). YF.2019.a.4541

Antonio Gramsci, L’Ordine Nuovo 1929-1920, in Opere, v. 9 (Turin, 1954). 12228.bb.4 and YA.1999.a.4692

Antonio Gramsci, Socialismo e Fascismo: L’Ordine Nuovo 1921-1922, in Opere, v. 11 (Turin, 1966). 12228.bb.4 and YA.1999.a.4692

M. Ledwith, ‘Antonio Gramsci and Feminism: The elusive nature of power’, Educational Philosophy and Theory (vol 41, number 6, 2009, pp. 684-697) 661.480000

Laura E Ruberto, Gramsci, migration, and the representation of women's work in Italy and the U.S. (Lanham, 2007). YK.2009.a.8920 and m07/.36400

Selections from political writings [of] Antonio Gramsci, selected and edited by Quintin Hoare (London, 1977). X.0700/1032

Video of Rachel Holmes in conversation with Shami Chakrabarti on latest biography “Sylvia Pankhurst: Natural Born Rebel” available on the British Library Player

https://www.fondazionegramsci.org/archivi/archivio-antonio-gramsci/

www.marxists.org/archive/gramsci/index.htm

 

25 January 2021

Beyond the Exhibition: Unfinished Business – Curators' Lunchtime Session

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From bodily autonomy and the right to education, to self-expression and protest, the British Library’s exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, explores how feminist activism in the UK has its roots in the complex history of women’s rights.

Photograph of people at a women's rights march

Image © Molly Adams, CC BY 2.0

Although the physical exhibition space is currently closed due to lockdown restrictions, you can discover more about the stories, people and events that have shaped society, as well as the work that remains unfinished, through the exhibition web resource, podcast and fantastic series of online events.

As part of this events series, on Friday 29 January curators will discuss women’s rights in Europe, the Americas and Oceania through items from their collection areas that they think deserve a spotlight.

Looking beyond the UK focus of Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women's Rights, the curators will be in conversation about their handpicked choices that speak to the themes of the exhibition and, in many cases, challenge and disrupt pre-conceptions of women’s activism, experiences and struggles for equality.

This free, online event will take place on Friday 29 January 2021, 12.30 – 1.30pm. To register, please visit the Library’s event page. Bookers will be sent a Zoom link in advance giving access.

17 November 2020

Feminism in Early Modern Venice: Lucrezia Marinella

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In the light of the current exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, I want to show a new acquisition, an Italian poem printed in Venice in 1618.

This religious, heroic and allegorical poem has an extraordinary feminist subtext and its title is Amore innamorato, et impazzato poema di Lucretia Marinella; con gli argomenti, & allegorie a ciascun canto. Alla serenissima [...] Caterina Medici, Gonzaga, duchessa di Mantova [...] – “Poem on enamoured and mad love by Lucretia Marinella, with topics and allegories before each canto. Dedicated to Catherine de’ Medici Gonzaga, Duchess of Mantua”.

References to the author’s intentions are already clear in the choice of the dedicatee, a female patron, Caterina Gonzaga, whom she actively encourage to read the poem.

Title-page of Amore innamorato, et impazzato

Title-page of Amore innamorato, et impazzato (Venice, 1618) awaiting shelfmark

The poem tells the story of Cupid’s conversion to Christianity. The literary form is inspired by Ariosto, Boiardo, Tasso and the epic poems of the Counter-Reformation. The author’s aim is indeed to promote the values of the Church, through the allegory of Cupid’s religious journey and conversion. The poem at a first glance follows the religious constraints of its time, but its main female character, Ersilia, is an independent woman fully in charge of her destiny. She will reject Cupid’s love and the passive role of the ethereal donna angelicata provided by the Italian literary canon of Dante and Petrarch.

Ersilia is stronger than Cupid, and her resistance to his advances asserts her religious values, but is also imbued with feminism. Religion had to be used to validate work and ideas and to get published.

The author, The author, Lucrezia Marinella (1571-1653), was the daughter of the writer and physician Giovanni Marinelli, and is usually known by the feminine form of her father's surname. Her father encouraged her to study poetry, music and philosophy. She became the most versatile, prolific, and learned woman writer of her generation. She was close to the Accademia Veneziana, but led a reclusive life of private study. She married a physician and had two children.

Engraving of Lucrezia Marinella

Lucrezia Marinella by Giacomo Piccini, 1652

Lucrezia Marinella’s fame as one of the very first feminist writers ever is mostly due to the treatise Le Nobilità et Eccellenze delle Donne, et i Diffetti, e Mancamenti de gli huomini.. (Venice, 1600; 1080.k.7.(2.)) ‘The nobility and excellence of women’, recognised as a landmark in the history of women’s contribution to the querelle des femmes

Engraving of Moderata Fonte

Moderata Fonte, anonymous 16th-century engraving

Marinella’s work will sit alongside that of another Venetian author of the same period: Modesta Pozzo or Moderata Fonte (1555-1592). Although little known to modern criticism before around 1980, Fonte is recognised as one of the most accessible and appealing of 16th-century Italian women writers. Her best-known work is the posthumously-published dialogue Il merito delle donne ‘The Worth of Women’ (Venice, 1600; 721.f.17.), which is one of the most original contributions to early modern debate on sex roles, as well as one of the earliest to have been authored by a woman. Other women writers who preceded and inspired Marinella are Gaspara Stampa and Vittoria Colonna.

Amore innamorato, et impazzato has been purchased with the generous help of the British Library Collection Trust.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections

References/Further Reading:

P. Malpezzi Price, Lucrezia Marinella and the "querelle des femmes" in seventeenth-century Italy ( Madison, c2008.) YC.2009.a.11706

S. Kolsky, ‘The literary career of Lucrezia Marinella (1571-1653)’, in: F.W. Kent & Ch. Zika, eds. Rituals, images, and words: varieties of cultural expression in late medieval and early modern Europe (Turnhout, 2005) pp. 325-342. YC.2006.a.12963

A. Cagnolati, A portrait of a Renaissance feminist : Lucrezia Marinella's life and works ( Rome, 2013.) YD.2013.a.3057

Stephen Kolsky, ‘Moderata Fonte, Lucrezia Marinella, Giuseppe Passi: an early seventeenth-century feminist controversy’, The Modern Language Review, Vol. 96, No. 4 (Oct., 2001), pp. 973-989. P.P.4970.ca.

Paola Malpezzi Price, ‘A Woman's Discourse in the Italian Renaissance: Moderata Fonte’s “Il merito delle donne”’ Annali d’Italianistica, Vol. 7 (1989), pp. 165-181. 1014.600000

Prudence Allen and Filippo Salvatore, ‘Lucrezia Marinelli and Woman’s Identity in Late Italian Renaissance’ Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance et Réforme, New Series / Nouvelle Série, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Fall / Automne 1992), pp. 5-39. 7356.865100

04 September 2020

Jadwiga Piątkowska, the forgotten poet of Solidarity

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This post is a part of a series of blogs written on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Solidarity movement. You can read the first here

Cover of a book on Jadwiga Piątkowska with her photograph

A cover of a book on Jadwiga Piątkowska published by her daughter. Ewa Korczyńska, Jagoda sierpniowa, Jagoda grudniowa (Kraków: 2014), YF.2017.a.5431

Jadwiga Piątkowska (1949-1990), also known as Jagoda, was a member of the opposition movement and a poet writing about Solidarity and events related to the political struggle in Poland in the 1980s. A single mother, Jagoda was on holiday in Czechoslovakia when she heard about the onset of the strike at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk on 14 August 1980. She immediately returned to Poland and convinced Lech Wałęsa, the future leader of Solidarity, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the first democratically elected president of Poland, that she might be of help to the protesters. She began working as a typist and, after Solidarity was established on 31 August, as an editor and journalist for its periodical Rozwaga i Solidarność (‘Prudence and Solidarity’; Gdańsk, 1982-1989; Sol.90), in which she published many of her poems. The shipyard workers' journal was established in April 1981. During the duration of the martial law in Poland (13 December 1981 - 22 July 1983), it became an underground publication of the movement, which circulated documents related to Solidarity and described repressions suffered by the political opposition.

Photograph of Jadwiga Piątkowska during her visit to a coal mine in Silesia

Jadwiga Piątkowska during her visit to a coal mine in Silesia as a reporter for Rozwaga i Solidarność. Photograph taken from Ewa Korczyńska, Jagoda sierpniowa, Jagoda grudniowa (Kraków, 2014), YF.2017.a.5431

Piątkowska’s work describes the struggle of the opposition against the Polish communist government. In one of her best-known poems, ‘Ewie-mojej 12 letniej córce’ (‘For Eve, My Daughter of 12’), Piątkowska tries to comfort her child, who hasn’t seen her in a long time, but who gave her the energy to persist in the strike along with other protesters. The poem was written on August 29, 1980, at 23.45 — two days before the Solidarity movement was officially established.

A copy of the poem ‘For Eve, My Daughter of 12’

A copy of the poem ‘For Eve, My Daughter of 12’, from a Collection of Polish underground ephemeral publications. Sol.764

Hold out a while longer, my little daughter.
Our destiny is at stake.
Never mind that so many days
I’ve been away from you.
Never mind the sleepless nights,
the tired eyes and hands.
Faith heals people,
and people are with us (…).

(Translation from the album Solidarity! — Postulat 22: Songs from the New Polish Labour Movement (Nowe Polskie Piesni Robotnicze) (Folkways Records, 1981). You can listen to this poem set to music from the album here).

Jagoda’s letter to Maciej Pietrzyk

Jagoda’s letter to Maciej Pietrzyk, an actor, singer and voice of the Solidarity movement. Sol.764

After martial law had been declared in Poland, Piątkowska stayed with other members of Solidarity until the Lenin Shipyard was pacified by the militia. She witnessed a female colleague being crushed to death by a tank and got arrested. Once released from prison, she returned to her work in the opposition, this time underground. After a few months, she was re-arrested, subjected to torture and threatened with deprivation of parental rights. Her poem ‘Behind the walls’ reflects the despair many political prisoners felt at that time:

(…) I znowu nic.
Pustka. Oczekiwanie.
Zgrzyt klucza
W grubych drzwiach.
Moje serce otoczyły
Chwasty.
Wiem, że nie przyjdziesz
Chryste.

(…) And again nothing.
Void. Anticipation.
A creak of a key
In the thick door.
My heart is surrounded
By weeds.
I know you will not come,
Christ.

As a result of her imprisonment, Piątkowska suffered damage to her health, which resulted in her premature death at the age of 41.

Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

References and further reading:

http://jagodapiatkowska.blogspot.com/ 

‘Rozwaga i Solidarność’ in: Encyklopedia Solidarności (2010-), available at: http://www.encysol.pl/wiki/Strona_g%C5%82%C3%B3wna  

28 December 2018

Two Distinguished Women and a Seasonal Greetings Card Mystery

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While I was looking for a nice seasonal picture (preferably, with lots of snow to compensate for another grey Christmas) to tweet @BL_European, I found this postcard from our collection of Russian Imperial postcards.

Picture postcard of a Russian village in the snow

Address on the reverse of the postcard illustrated above

Just a standard greeting card in French. The postcard was sent from Kharkiv to Paris on 31 December 1902 and signed by ‘Christine Altchevsky’. The name looked vaguely familiar. Having looked at it more carefully, I realised that the postcard must have been written by either mother or daughter Alchevska on behalf of both of them since they bore the same first name – Khrystyna – and were distinguished women in their generations.

Khrystyna Danylivna Alchevska (1841-1920) was an educator, teacher and a prominent activist for national education in Ukraine and the Russian Empire, vice-president of the International League of Education in Paris.

Photograph of Khrystyna D. Alchevska
Khrystyna D. Alchevska (image from Wikimedia Commons)

She created and promoted a training methodology, implemented in many schools, established the Kharkiv Women’s Sunday School, the first free girls’ school in Ukraine, which remained in existence for 50 years, and published articles on adult education. Khrystyna Alchevska wrote and taught in Russian and Ukrainian, promoting her native language and culture.

Khrystyna D. Alchevska teaching a reading class at the Kharkiv Women’s Sunday Schoo
Khrystyna D. Alchevska teaching a reading class at the Kharkiv Women’s Sunday School (image from Wikimedia Commons)

She also initiated, edited and, as we would call it now, ‘project managed’ a fundamental three-volume annotated bibliography Chto chitat’ narodu? (‘What should people read?’ 1888-1906), to which she contributed 1150 articles and annotations. It is difficult to call this work simply a bibliography, as it is really an interesting combination of bibliographic, encyclopaedic and pedagogical knowledge. The book is divided into subject sections, such as History, Science, Fiction, Religious and Moral literature, Biographies, Geography, etc., and each book is fully described, annotated with certain critiques, and supplied with methodological instructions for teachers, including questions and suggestions for lesson planning. There are also several indexes and tables, including those that recommend texts according to levels of difficulty and suitability for adult and young learners. It is interesting to note that the core contributors to the work were fellow women teachers and educators.

A volume of "Chto chitat’ narodu?" in a blue gold-tooled binding
A volume of Chto chitat’ narodu? (St Petersburg, 1888) 11907.g.32

Khrystyna Alchevska left very interesting memoirs about her life and the people whom she had met, and corresponded with Leo Tolstoy, Fedor Dostoyevsky and Ivan Turgenev.

A talented and creative woman herself, Khrystyna Danylivna brought up five bright and creative children, among whom were an entrepreneur, a composer, a singer, and a theatre critic. The youngest in the family was Khrystyna (or Khrystia) (1882-1931), who became known as a distinguished Ukrainian poet, translator and educator.

Entry for Khrystia Alchevska from a biographical dictionary with a photograph
Khrystia Alchevska, from Ukrains’ka literatura mezhi XIX-XX stolit’. Khestomatiia (Kyiv, 2016) YF.2016.a.19260.

1902 was the year when Khrystia’s poems were first published in Ukrainian magazines and almanacs. In 1907, her first book of poems appeared in Moscow and was noted by the maitre of Ukrainian literature of that time Ivan Franko. Later, Khrystyna translated Franko into Russian and French, but he was not the only author that she was interested in. She translated Pushkin and Pierre-Jean de Béranger, Voltaire and Alexey K. Tolstoy, Victor Hugo and Nikolai Ogarev into Ukrainian, and Taras Shevchenko and Pavlo Tychyna into French. In the 1920s she was friendly with Henri Barbusse, under whose influence Krystyna created two verse dramas.

Title page of the poetry collection "Moemu kraiu" (1914)
A collection of poems ‘To My Land’, K. Alchevska, Moemu kraiu. (Chernivtsi, 1914) 20002.a.9

Unfortunately, I could not find who Madame and Monsieur de Namur (?) of 30, Boulevard Flandrin were and how both Khystynas could have known them. But if someone knows the link between the Alchevskas and this family in Paris, please let us know. But I still like this story with an open ending that old Christmas cards can tell.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

Further reading:

K.D. Alchevska. ‘K russkim zhenshchinam’ (To the Russian Women), Kolokol, 8 March 1863, No. 158. C.127.k.4.

K.D. Alchevska. Peredumannoe i perezhitoe. Dnevniki, pis’ma, vospominaniia. (Moscow, 1912) X.525/82

The Book for Adults (written by the teachers at the Kharkow Sunday school, under the direction of Mme. Christine Altchevsky), and the surroundings which inspired it ... Translated from the French by Mme. Auguste Serraillier. (Paris, 1900) 4193.h.62

Sava Zerkal’. Clematis. [About the Alchevsky family]. (New York, 1964) X.909/5465.

A fairly comprehensive bibliography relating to works by and about the Alchevsky family can be found here: http://mtlib.org.ua/ukazateli/34-semya-alchevskikh.html

27 August 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Pen-and-ink drawing of TriglavTriglav, illustration by Edo Deržaj from Fanny S. Copeland, Beautiful Mountains: in the Jugoslav Alps (Split, 1931) 10205.g.32 

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

Cover of  'Women of Serbia' with a vignette of a stringed instrument

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

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

Pen-and-ink drawing of the Kot ValleyThe Kot Valley, from Beautiful Mountains.

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

  Map of the Julian Alps

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

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

Pen-and-ink drawing of a mountain hutA mountain hut, from Beautiful Mountains.

 

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

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

Colour photograph of PrisojnikPrisojnik, showing its “eye”. (Photo: Janet Ashton)

Pen-and-ink drawing of Prisojnik
Prisojnik from Beautiful Mountains.

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

Photograph of Fanny Copeland's grave Fanny Copeland’s grave in Dovje (Photo: Janet Ashton)

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager

References and further reading:

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

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

 

17 November 2017

A woman for all seasons: Halldis Moren Vesaas

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To English-speaking readers, the name Vesaas is perhaps best known through the work of the Norwegian poet and novelist Terje Vesaas (1897-1970), whose most famous work, Is-slottet (‘The ice palace’: Oslo, 1963; X.908/1343) was filmed in 1987 by Per Blom, winning the Grand Prix at the Flanders International Film Festival in 1988. In Norway, however, it equally calls to mind his wife, the poet, translator and children’s author Halldis Moren Vesaas, who was born on 18 November 1907 in Trysil, in the county of Hedmark.

  Black-and-white photograph of Trysil
View of Trysil from Halldis Moren Vesaas, Sven Moren og heimen hans (Oslo, 1951) 10763.a.20.

Both of them came from farming backgrounds in rural Norway, but broke away to pursue a teaching career. Terje Vesaas suffered pangs of guilt for years over his decision not to take over the family farm in Telemark, but Halldis grew up in an environment more favourable to her literary gifts, as her father was Sven Moren, a poet and playwright. The eldest child and only daughter in a family of five, she showed a natural aptitude for teaching and went away to train in Elverum before taking posts in Hamar and Oslo. However, after publishing her first collection of poems, Harpe og dolk (‘Harp and Dagger’: Oslo, 1929; YF.2011.a.23158) at the age of 22, she set off for Switzerland the following year to work as a secretary; her next volume of poetry, Morgonen (‘Morning’)  came out in this year.

Cover of 'Morgonen' with an illustration of birds flying over a coastal landscape
Cover of Morgonen (Oslo, 1930) YF.2012.a.6610

After spending three years in Switzerland, she returned to Norway and married Tarjei Vesaas in 1934. They returned to his home district of Vinje and settled on the Midtbø farm there when he took up an appointment at a local school. For both of them, nature and the Norwegian landscape in all its pitiless grandeur were important sources of inspiration and a reminder of the timeless renewal of the natural world during the dark days of the German occupation. Their use of the Norwegian Landsmål (Nynorsk) fully explored its potential as a world literary language, capable of expressing with subtlety and directness the darker psychological themes of guilt and mortality as well as the eerie splendour of an ice-cave or the beauty of the mountain pastures in spring.

Halldis Moren Vesaas’s poetry celebrates every stage of woman’s life from girlhood through marriage and motherhood to the sorrow and solitude of widowhood (Terje Vesaas died in 1970) and the joy of discovering new love in later years. As well as composing eight books of poetry, she wrote and translated for the theatre, acting as a consultant for Det Norske Teatret in Oslo and sitting on the board of the Riksteatret (1949-69). One of her most notable translations is her version of Racine’s Phèdre (Fedra: Oslo, 1999; YF.2011.a.5500), where her poetic language fully conveys the passion and drama of the original. Her fascination with Greek subjects is also evident in Den gode gåva (‘The good gift’: Oslo, 1987; LB.31.a.2374), a retelling in verse for children of the myth of Demeter and Persephone with exquisite illustrations by Kaja Thorne. Her achievements were recognized not only in Norway, where she was awarded the Bastian Prize (1961) and the Norsk kulturråds ærespris (1982) and made a Commander of the Order of St. Olav in 1984, but also in France, where she was honoured with its second-highest order as a Knight of the National Order of Merit. She died in 1995.

Halldis Moren Vesaas had the ability to speak not only to adult audiences on the world stage but also to children. In 2007 a  a lively and playful collection of poems for the young by both Halldis and her husband, Eg sette brillene på min katt (‘I put spectacles on my cat’), was published, colourfully illustrated by Inger Lise Belsvik. 

Cover of 'Eg sette brillene på min katt' with a cartoon of a cat wearing glasses and being teased by mice
Cover illustration by Inger Lise Belsvik from Eg sette brillene på min katt  (Oslo, 2007)  LF.31.a.2134

Halldis's experience as a teacher had equipped her to write for younger readers with verve and charm, without a trace of condescension but with an intuitive understanding of the child’s world and emotional and psychological needs, in verse and stories such as Hildegunn (1942) and Tidleg på våren (‘Early in spring’: 1949).

Her poetry evokes the joy of life with such sensuous vigour that it seems only fitting to allow it to speak for itself:

That you laughed aloud with gladness
when the rain came, and the first drop
fell, so strangely heavy and warm
and lay on your cheek a second or two –

that the wind which whirled the leaves
so brusquely round the trunk of the tree
sent a wave of happiness
and frost through all my blood –

that something that was nothing
still can follow me everywhere,
so that you know that nothing
as happened to me since that time –

Just because we were together?

Halldis Moren Vesaas, ‘At du –’, from I ein annan skog (‘In another forest’) Translation © Susan Reynolds Halstead, 2017).

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

Cover of 'I ein annan skog' with a picture of a woman entering a forest
Cover of  I ein annan skog (Oslo, 1955) 01565.e.107