European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

40 posts categorized "Women's histories"

12 May 2017

A feisty Finnish feminist: Minna Canth

In 1820 James Finlayson, a Scottish Quaker and self-taught engineer, received permission from the Senate of Finland to build a textile factory in Tampere using water power from the Tammerkoski rapids. Three years earlier he had been invited by Tsar Alexander I to set up a similar factory in St. Petersburg, and he was now bringing modern industrial methods to Finland, then under Russian rule. Finlayson, a passionate philanthropist as well as a good businessman, was zealous in providing the best possible conditions for his employees; the enterprise throve and grew to become Tampere’s biggest provider of employment, with considerable benefit to the town’s social conditions. Finlayson founded not only an orphanage but also a school for the workers’ children, and it was here that Minna Canth, one of the most important figures in the Finnish women’s movement received her early education.

Photograph of Minna Canth with a facsimile of her signature

Portrait of Minna Canth from Hilja Vilkemaa, Minna Canth: elämäkerrallisia piirteitä (Helsinki, 1931) 10797.b.40.

Ulrika Wilhelmina Johnsson was born in Tampere on 19 March 1844, the elder daughter and first surviving child of Gustav Vilhelm Johnsson, whose hard work in the Finlayson textile factory enabled him to become a foreman there. At home and at school she was strongly influenced by the emphasis on industry and piety, and when in 1853 her father was promoted to manager of the Finlayson textile shop in Kuopio, she continued her education there, doing so well that she was allowed to enter a school for daughters of the upper classes and, in 1863, to enrol at the newly-founded teacher training college in Jyväskylä  (now the University of Jyväskylä), the first institute in Finland to admit women to higher education and to deliver teaching in Finnish.

However, before completing her studies, Minna married the college’s natural sciences teacher, Johan Canth, who was nine years her senior, and over the next thirteen years produced a family of seven children. Nevertheless, this was not the end of her ambitions, which developed in a literary direction. Canth became the editor of the newspaper Keski-Suomi (Central Finland), and his wife contributed articles on matters particularly relevant to women, including temperance, which she saw as a means of combating the addiction to alcohol which reduced many families to poverty. Her polemical attitude, which her husband shared, compelled them to leave Keski-Suomi in 1876 and to move in 1877 to a rival newspaper, Päijänne, which began to print her stories. Two years later her first collection of these, Novelleja ja kertomuksia (‘Novellas and Tales’) appeared in print.

Minna Canth did not shrink from taking on prominent public figures such as churchmen and authors when the occasion demanded. In 1885 she published one of her most famous plays, Työmiehen vaimo (‘The Wife of a Workman’), the story of a spirited and capable woman, Johanna, whose shiftless husband Risto ruins the family by drinking her money away while the laws governing women’s property render her helpless to prevent him. Set in contemporary Kuopio, the drama created a considerable scandal; that same year, its author spoke out robustly against a bishop who claimed that emancipation was against God’s law and the writer Gustaf af Geijerstam who supported him by arguing that men’s different needs and nature made it impossible for them to achieve feminine purity. Before the year was out, the Finnish Parliament had passed a new law allowing married women to hold property in their own right.

Title-page of Työmiehen vaimo

Title-page of Työmiehen vaimo (Porvoo, 1885) 11755.df.20

Canth wrote many other plays and works of fiction, but her last drama, Anna Liisa  is among the greatest and is still often performed. Seduced by Mikko, a local youth, the fifteen-year-old heroine conceals the resulting pregnancy and stifles her baby in a fit of panic. Mikko’s mother Husso buries it secretly, but she and Mikko resort to blackmail when, some time later, another suitor, Johannes, proposes marriage to Anna Liisa. Refusing to give in even if it means sacrificing her happiness, Anna Liisa confesses and goes to prison, but with a calm mind and clear conscience. Although critics have argued against the unfairness of a conclusion in which Mikko escapes punishment and Anna Liisa bears it alone, she emerges as a strong woman capable of making moral choices and determining her own future on the basis of their integrity.

Title page of Anna Liisa
Title-page of Anna-Liisa (Porvoo, 1895) 11758.df.32

Johan Canth had died in 1879, and while pursuing her literary career his widow continued to manage not only her household and family of seven but the draper’s shop which she had taken over from her father. Her vitality and outspokenness made her a tireless worker for women’s rights and human rights at a time when the Grand Duchy of Finland was striving towards independence from Russia, and her birthday is marked every year as a celebration of social equality throughout Finland.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities & Social Sciences), Research Services.

10 May 2017

A New Path, A New Dawn: Women’s Magazines in 1920s Soviet Uzbekistan

The status of women in the Soviet Union and their role in the construction of the new Socialist society are issues that spur great enthusiasm and debate. Even for the less-studied regions of the USSR, such as Central Asia and the Steppe, a number of scholars are blazing new trails towards an understanding of gender and its impact on the Soviet experiment. Their research dissects the imbrication of gender, class, ethnicity, religion and political affiliation that went into constructing the identities of Soviet women during this period.

But what exactly did these identities look like? Given the myriad of experiences embodied by Central Asians during this period, we will never know for certain just what it was like to be a woman in Stalin’s Uzbekistan or Tajikistan. We do know, however, what the Communist Party wanted it to be like, thanks to a series of periodicals held at the British Library.

Yangi Yol - Cover of April 1927 Issue

 Cover of the April 1927 issue of Yangi Yo’l 14499.tt.16

Yangi Yo’l  (‘New Way’) was a monthly women’s and girls’ periodical published by the Uzbekistan Communist Party (Bolshevik) Central Committee for Women. The British Library holds only four issues, all from 1926-27: Volume 1, Nos 11-12 and 13-16; and Volume 2 Nos 4-7 and 9. The articles, supplemented heavily by photographs, sketches and diagrams, are all written in the old Perso-Arabic script. The new Latin alphabet  proposed for the Turkic languages in 1926 made only sporadic appearances, never in a form meant to teach readers how to use it.

While the magazine might not have been used to keep women and girls up to date with pedagogical innovations, it did seek to broaden their horizons far beyond the traditional domestic arena. An article on ‘Women-Girls’ Services in World Production’, which appeared in Nos 10 and 11-12, provides ample evidence of women’s participation in professions previously reserved for men. Photographs illustrate unveiled, smiling women operating machinery, lugging barrels, laying bricks and making horseshoes over a large anvil.

Page from Yangi Yol showing Women Workers of the World 2  Page from Yangi Yol showing Women Workers of the World

These pictures all show white women at work, rather than “emancipated” Uzbek or Central Asian women. They form part of a complicated and checkered history in which cultural imperialism and feminism intersected in a concerted effort to change the status of non-Western women. The images raise the question of how exactly the readers of these periodicals would have identified the new modern Soviet woman. Was she healthy, happy and productive on her own, participating in the construction of a Socialist paradise; or were light skin and large eyes a necessary component of that portrait too?

Indeed, Uzbek women workers strike a stark contrast with their Russian counterparts when we consider their representation in other articles. A photograph in No. 15 shows Uzbek silk makers at work: a group of middle-aged women, all but one with her hair covered, and none using machinery. Similar to this is the picture of a group of Samarqandi female artisans, also deprived of modern labour-saving devices.

Photograph of a group of Samarqandi Female Artisans

This is a far cry from the smiling, independent woman of the earlier piece, but it is likely a truer depiction of Uzbek women in the 1920s. Compare these with the images of veiled women attending a new school or the Turkmen village women watching children at a communal crèche.

Photograph of a group of Veiled Female Students at a New School in Uzbekistan

Photograph of children in a creche

The reality of Central Asian women was evidently less rosy and progressive than the image promoted by Moscow and local Communist Party cadres. That utopia, apparently, belonged to the generations yet to come, as in the scene of new graduates observing a science experiment. These girls are dressed as their Russian counterparts in Moscow or Leningrad would have been, and they demonstrate the manner in which the construction of a new Soviet society would involve the importation of social and cultural norms from the centres of Soviet power, rather than a liberalization of local contexts and restraints.

Photograph of female students watching an experiment

 Yangi Yol :  This Years New Graduates observe an Experiment at the Uzbek Peoples Science Village

Foreign Asian women were also featured in articles about liberation, albeit in a different context. The piece from No. 11-12 that follows the exposition of women’s participation in the workforce looks at ‘The Family Question in Tibet (Mongolia)’ . The work contains information that surely would have shocked many conservative women in Central Asia, including socially sanctioned pre-marital sexual relations and fornication, and female as well as male polygamy. It also recounts in detail marriage customs, education patterns and inheritance laws among the peoples of Tibet, as if to acquaint the girls and women of Central Asia with their sisters abroad. Similar articles about the women of China and Java and the girls of India would lead us to believe that Yangi Yo’l replicated a common Soviet strategy: building class-based solidarity among the dominated peoples of the world with Moscow, or at least the USSR, as the lynchpin of resistance.

Article about Chinese women with a picture of a bound foot

The Women and Girls of China along with sketch of bound foot

Photograph od Javanese women and girls

 The Women and Girls of Java.

In general, there is not much in Yangi Yo’l that we would identify as typical of a contemporary women’s magazine. There are articles about women’s social status, the education of girls, the eradication of child marriage, domestic issues and hygiene, but these are not the core of the publication. Much of the content is taken up with standard class warfare writing tinged with gender issues: the working woman fighting the faceless bourgeoisie and beys; elegiac poetry about Lenin and his importance for proletarian and peasant women; and the meaning of land reform for women workers. They fight for space with articles that might be classified more as general knowledge than women’s issues. These include pieces on the indigenous peoples of the Indian Ocean and an explanation of solar eclipses; an account of the Paris Commune; an exposé on climate and its science; and the wonders of Tutankhamen’s tomb. As much as the periodical was intended to educate and elevate women, it was also a means of broadening their horizons, introducing them to a common (largely Western) culture, and to entertain them with stories of the fabulous and awe-inspiring.

The Library’s collections of Yangi Yo’l do not extend past 1927. Indeed, it is unclear if the periodical continued to be published past this date. This dearth of information deprives us of knowing how the presentation of women and their role within the new Soviet society changed once Joseph Stalin cemented his grip on the reins of the Communist Party. What we do have, however, is a window onto the tail-end of a grand – and perhaps naïve – experiment that sought to remodel Central Asian women according to the prototype of the ideal revolutionary proletariat.

Michael Erdman, Turkish and Turkic Curator

Contemporary Soviet Turkic Periodicals of Interest:

Yer Yuzu (Uzbekistan) 
Bezneng Yol (Tatarstan) 
Maorif va O’qutg’uchu (Uzbekistan) 
Maarif ve Medeniyet (Azerbaijan) 

 

13 January 2017

Science, Art and Insects: Maria Sibylla Merian

Maria Sibylla Merian, who died 300 years ago today is justly remembered both as a pioneering naturalist and an entomological and botanical artist, and as a woman who made her mark in both art and science at a time when these fields were dominated by men.

Maria was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1647 into an artistic family. Her father was the engraver and publisher Matthäus Merian, but his death when Maria was just three years old meant that her own talent was mainly fostered by her stepfather Jacob Marrel. As well as being encouraged to draw and paint, the young Maria developed a fascination with insects and began collecting, studying and drawing them.

In 1675 Maria published a book of botanical illustrations, the Neues Blumenbuch. Four years later, the first part of a new work appeared. Der Raupen wunderbarer Verwandlung und sonderbare Blumennahrung (‘The Wonderful Transformation and Strange Floral Food of Caterpillars’ – a second part followed in 1683) drew on Maria’s interest in and close observation of caterpillars and butterflies, illustrating and describing the stages of the different species’ lives and also the specific plants that they fed on.

Decorative title-page with insects on a wreath of leaves
Title-page of Der Raupen wunderbarer Verwandlung... (Nuremberg, 1679)  445.c.15. 

It was not until 1705 that Maria published another book, but for lovers of both science and art it was worth the wait. In 1699 she had travelled  from her home in Amsterdam to Suriname with her daughter Dorothea to record the insect life of the country, then a Dutch colony. The resulting work Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium appeared in 1705 and combines careful observation and detailed recording of the insects’ habitats, lives and behaviour with aesthetic skill in depicting the different stages of their life-cycles and their favoured plants. The British Library holds a splendidly hand-coloured copy of the 1726 edition (649.c.20) from which the pictures below are taken.

In Suriname, as in Frankfurt, Maria’s primary interest was in butterflies:

Butterflies and caterpillars around a pineapple
Plate 2 from Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium

A butterfly and caterpillar on a watermelon plantPlate 15 (The rather plump larva about to feast on a watermelon here might remind the modern reader somewhat of Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar)

 Details of individual butterflies show Maria’s talents:

A butterfly with brown, blue-tipped wings  A butterfly feeding on a seed pod

A butterfly on a bunch of grapes
Details from (top to bottom) plates 20, 44 and 34

But as well as butterflies, Maria also depicted and described other insects as in these images.

Beetles and their larvae on a yellow-flowering plant
Plate 24

Insects and their larvae on an ivy-like plant
Plate 50. The painter has used gold to capture the iridescence of the fly in the bottom right-hand corner

She also portrayed spiders (for the sake of sensitive arachnophobes I merely add a link), snakes and lizards:

A green lizard and two butterflies
Plate 14

A caiman attacking a red and black snake which is trying to steal its eggs as the young hatch
Plate 69, the famous image of a caiman attacking a snake which is trying to steal its eggs as the young hatch

In one image she even shows a mammal, a tree-rat carrying its young on its back, although her hand seems a little less sure here than with the insects: 

  A tree rat with its young on its back, with two mantises on a branch above
Plate 66

Like many fine-printed books of its day, our 1626 edition of Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium has a fine engraved frontispiece which has also been hand coloured. It shows a woman instructing an eager group of botanising putti, with a Surinamese landscape in the background.

Decorative frontispiece with a woman and some putti in front of a tropical landscape

The artist of the frontispiece clearly knew the work he was illustrating. The open book in the bottom left-hand corner of the picture shows one of Maria’s plates, in a nice tribute to the original creator of the work. 

Detail of the frontispiece showing an open page of Merian's book

Detail from the frontispiece (above) and plate 29 (below)

Butterflies and a caterpillar around a large orange-yellow fruit

I hope the gallery above will likewise act as a tribute to a woman who is justly celebrated  today for her achievements as both artist and natural historian.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

 

06 October 2016

Mistress, Mädchen and Minzmeat Pasteten: Kitchen English with Elsa Olga Hollis

Readers may remember a blog post some time ago featuring  a manual for Czech servicemen simultaneously fighting alongside their British comrades to repel the threat of invasion and struggling with the English language. They were not, however, the only ones forced by history to grapple with a new language and bewildering customs.

The British Library holds a copy of a curious little book published at the modest price of three shillings and sixpence and ‘specially compiled to help the mistress and her German-speaking maid’ by Elsa Olga Hollis. Nothing is known about the author, who claims in the preface that she was encouraged to publish her work by friends and their foreign maids who had used her as an interpreter. She acknowledges the help of ‘Miss Lorna Yarde Bunyard’, who typed the manuscript and revised the English, and was presumably responsible for some of the oddly unidiomatic expressions and misprints, as when the maid is directed to close, not the Flügeltür (French window), but the Flügeltier, a strange winged creature.

Deutsche und englische Haushalt Phrasen und Wörter  first appeared in May 1937 and by November of that year had already gone into a third edition. Clearly it was in great demand – but why?

Cover of 'Mistress und Mädchen'
Cover of Elsa Olga Hollis, Deutsche und englische Haushalt Phrasen und Wörter = German and English household phrases and words. (Mistress and Mädchen. A comprehensive German and English domestic phrase-book) (London, 1937) 12964.bb.54.

Hollis’s book was published some months before the British government introduced a visa requirement for refugees seeking entry from Germany and Austria following Hitler’s annexation of Austria in March 1938. Many of the women who arrived as domestic help came from wealthy and cultured families which employed servants, and had never had to make a bed or lay a table in their lives, let alone ‘throw the ashes and hard clinkers into the dustbin’, ‘empty slops and wipe utensils dry’ or tackle the ‘light work … getting tea, cleaning silver, ironing, mending clothes, cleaning out cupboards and so on’ between three o’ clock and the preparation of the evening meal. Marion Berghahn’s Continental Britons: German-Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany (revised ed., Oxford, 2007; YC.2007.a.9766) notes the psychological adjustments needed and the frequent insensitivity of employers who ‘lacked any clear ideas of their domestics’ backgrounds’ and exploited them mercilessly as cheap labour.

In fiction, characters who arrived in England in this way appear in Natasha Solomons’s  The Novel in the Viola ([Bath], 2011; LT.2012.x.1871) and Eva Ibbotson’s The Morning Gift (London, 1994; H.95/761). Both authors recalled the experiences of relatives who escaped from Austria in the 1930s on domestic service visas, like Solomons’s Elise Landau, who confidently advertises ‘Viennese Jewess, 19, seeks position as domestic servant. Speaks fluid English. I will cook your goose’, or Ibbotson’s heroine Ruth Berger’s Aunt Hilda, an eminent anthropologist but inept housemaid who is repeatedly bitten by her employer's pug and gets the sack when she brings a glass-fronted bookcase crashing down on her while attempting to dust.

In Mistress and Mädchen the adventure begins with ‘Meeting the Boat’ (‘the crossing was (very, not) good, bad. I have (not) been seasick’), the Customs, and a train journey, culminating in ‘Arrival at the House’ (‘the chauffeur will bring in the rest of your luggage’) and ‘A Little Talk over Tea’, where the mistress of the house presses jam, cake, rolls and pastries on Marie, the new housemaid. She is informed that she will have to undertake the housework and all the cooking, though a charwoman comes for the rough work (‘grobe Arbeiten’), and assured ‘Sometimes we will try your native cookery’. Weekly and daily plans for housework are included, beginning with washing day on Monday (‘Here is the wash-tub, washing machine, soap, soda, soap-powder, Lux, copper stick, Blue and starch, mangle’) leading to the puzzled enquiry, ‘We do not “air” clothes at home. Why is it done?’), whereupon it is explained that ‘in England the air is so moist that everything gets damp’. Weights, measures and ‘really economical’ recipes are provided, together with precise instructions about how to make tea and ‘Toast machen’. One can picture poor Marie’s perplexity when requested to prepare ‘Reis Pudding’, ‘Talg-Puddings’ (the unappetizing translation of ‘suet puddings’), and ‘Minzmeat Pasteten’ for Christmas, not to mention ‘Rührei auf Toost’.

Recipes for mincemeat and mince pies
A culture shock for Marie? The recipes for mincemeat and mince pies from Deutsche und englische Haushalt Phrasen und Wörter

Not surprisingly, the heavy work, unfamiliar food and peremptory demands of her mistress (‘You will have to wait at table. See what Baby wants. You must finish your work sooner’) take their toll on Marie’s health, spirits and digestion. ‘What is wrong with you?’ barks Madam, to be met with a catalogue of ailments: ‘I have head-, eye-, ear-, tooth-, stomach ache. …I have a cold in the head, a nosebleed, a cough, indigestion’ (it must be all those tallow puddings). The plaintive query ‘Do I give satisfaction?’ receives only the chilly reply, ‘I have no reason to complain’, and the domestic tyrant continues ‘Be more careful with the breakable things…. If that happens again I shall have to give you notice! … I must send you back home’. Finally, the worm turns: ‘I wish to give notice,’ announces Marie. Triumphantly, her mistress brandishes the permit: ‘This permit is valid only for the particular employment for which it is issued … If you wish to leave now, I am afraid you will have to go home’.

It would be pleasant to think that Jan Novák, the Czech airman from Vojáci, učte se anglicky!, was invited to tea in the household and captivated by the sight of Marie, trim in her afternoon uniform (‘black, brown or wine-coloured dress (wool), small cap, and “afternoon” apron’); their eyes meet over the tea-tray, and they arrange a tryst in her meagre leisure time (‘one afternoon and evening a week and every other Sunday afternoon and evening free’), shyly exchanging phrases from their respective handbooks… One fears not. The German preface, unlike the English one, emphasizes the need to rise early, work quickly, and suppress any homesickness, ‘taking a great interest in everything new’ instead. But despite the unhappiness which many a Mädchen (of whatever age) endured, the domestic service visa was, all too often, a life-saver.

Susan Halstead,  Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Engagement

08 August 2016

Helena Modrzejewska, a Polish Shakespearean actress

Legend has it that she was a daughter of the aristocrat Prince Władysław Sanguszko. Born on 12 October 1840 in Kraków as Jadwiga Benda, she was later baptised Helena Opid after her godfather’s surname. Raised in an open-minded family, she experienced poverty during her childhood and youth. An eager reader since her early years, Helena also displayed great talent for acting. She adopted her stage name after marrying her former guardian Gustaw Zimajer, an actor performing under the pseudonym Gustaw Modrzejewski. In her early career Helena played in the provincial towns of southern Poland before moving to Kraków where she separated from Gustaw.

Cover of Modjeska's autobiography with the title inside a stylised proscenium arch
Helena Modrzejewska’s a postuhmously published autobiography, Memories and impressions of Helena Modjeska (New York, 1910). 010795.i.22

In 1868 Modrzejewska married Count Karol Bożenta Chłapowski, a politician and critic, and moved to Warsaw. After seven successful years on the stage there Modrzejewska, together with her husband and a few friends, emigrated to the USA. Among the party was Henryk Sienkiewicz, future author of Quo Vadis and the Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1905. They bought a ranch in California and formed a utopian colony. When the experiment failed Modrzejewska returned to the stage, acting in Shakespearean roles that she had performed in Poland. She played in San Francisco and New York, having modified her name to Modjeska in order to facilitate the pronunciation for English speakers. Despite her imperfect knowledge of English and a heavy Polish accent Modjeska rose to fame and achieved great success on the American stage.

Modrzejewska in costume as Shakespeare’s Viola, with a short tunic, cloak and cap
Modrzejewska as Shakespeare’s Viola. From Memories and Impressions. 

In 1880 she went to England to improve her English and try her luck on the stage. To play Shakespeare for an English audience was her dream. Through her husband’s connections Modjeska was introduced to London society and met some influential people. With the help of Wilson Barrett, the manager of the Court Theatre (today the Royal Court Theatre), Helena made her debut on the London stage in an adaptation of La Dame aux Camélias by Dumas under the title Heartsease. She was received by the audience with a thundering ovation. The success surpassed her expectations and paved the way for her to play Juliet in Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare’s homeland. She also made a trip to Poland from London and played her repertoire in her native Kraków, Lwów (now Lviv) and Poznań.

Modrzejewska in the play Heartsease, wearing a long, dark gown and holding a fan against her head
Modrzejewska in Heartsease, the play in which she made her London debut. From Memories and Impressions.

Helena returned to America in 1882 and continued her acting career until her death in 1909. She developed a reputation as the leading female interpreter of Shakespeare on the American stage. Numerous theatre critics praised Modjeska for her magnetic personality, excellent acting techniques and innovative style of interpretation. Her repertoire included 260 roles from comic and romantic to tragic characters. However, she was best known for her performances of Shakespearean and tragic parts, including Lady Macbeth, Ophelia, Cleopatra and Mary Stuart.

Head-and-shoulders photograph of Modrzejewska as Shakespeare's Cleopatra with her hair loose and a decorative collar
Modrzejewska as Cleopatra, from Memories and impressions.

Magda Szkuta, Curator East & South-East European Collections

Further reading

Marion Moore Coleman, Fair Rosalind: the American career of Helena Modjeska. (Cheshire, Conn., 1969) X.981/1443.

Mabel Collins, The Story of Helena Modjeska-Madame Chłapowska. (London, 1883). 10790.bbb.14.

Andrzej Żurowski, Modrzejewska Shakespeare Star (Gdańsk, 2010). YF.2011.a.14470

Beth Holmgren, Starring Madame Modjeska: on tour in Poland and America (Bloomington, 2012). YK.2011.a.41430

06 June 2016

‘The whole gain of my life is to lament her loss’: Christiane von Goethe

In the spring of 1789 the polite society of Weimar had a new subject of gossip. One of its most prominent and respected members, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – famous author, privy counsellor, friend of the ruling Duke – had acquired a mistress. Not only that: the woman was pregnant and he had taken her openly into his house.

The relationship dated back to the previous summer, when Christiane Vulpius had approached Goethe with a petition on behalf of her brother, Christian August. Christiane was the daughter of a minor civil servant who had died in 1782 after losing his post; she helped to support the family by working in a small factory making artificial flowers. Goethe had once inspected the factory, and had helped the Vulpius family before, but had never met Christiane. Soon after their first encounter – perhaps on the same day, precise facts and dates are uncertain – the two began a sexual liaison. While this might appear at first sight an exploitative and rather sordid transaction (‘Sleep with me and I’ll help your brother’ / ‘Help my brother and I’ll sleep with you’), the subsequent history of their relationship proves that it was, or soon became, far more than that, enduring for 28 years until Christiane’s death.

Four sketches of Christiane Vulpius
Sketches of Christiane, drawn by Goethe in the early years of their relationship. Reproduced in Gerhard Fellem (ed.) Corpus der Goethezeichnungen, Bd. IVb, no. 35-38 (Leipzig, 1968). Ac.9476.(3d) 

If Goethe had paid Christiane off or discreetly set her up in a separate home when she became pregnant, the relationship might have created a minor scandal and briefly aroused some moral outrage. But by bringing Christiane into his home to live as an unmarried couple, Goethe caused not only scandal, but confusion and anger among his peers. Weimar society generally thought that Goethe had lost his senses with respect to Christiane and rather pitied him for it, but attitudes to Christiane herself were far harsher. She was accused of drunkenness, gluttony and stupidity, called a ‘whore’ and a ‘trollop’, Goethe’s ‘fatter half’, a ‘round nothing’, who had ‘spoilt everything’.

Page of a letter from Christiane to Goethe
Christiane’s handwriting, a page of a letter to Goethe from June 1793. Reproduced in Wolfgang Vulpius, Christiane: Lebenskunst und Menschlichkeit in Goethes Ehe (Weimar, 1956). W31/3621

This must have made even harder what was already an odd and difficult situation for Christiane: she lived in Goethe’s house, bore him five children (only one, August, survived beyond infancy), was his domestic companion, sexual partner and one of his muses, but was largely cut off from his public life and from the court and high society of Weimar, where he was lionised while she was despised and ignored. Yet Christiane and Goethe somehow made their unusual partnership work and made it last. There was even one sphere where Christiane could share in Goethe’s public duties: both loved the theatre and she advised him in his role as director of the Weimar Court Theatre. And there were a few people who did accept her, not least Goethe’s own mother, who wrote to Christiane as ‘Dear daughter’.

  Picture of a woman and child at the top and bottom of a flight of steps in a garden
Drawing by K. W. Lieber, based on an original by Goethe, thought to show Christiane and their son August in the garden of Goethe’s house. Reproduced in Etta Federn, Christiane von Goethe: ein Beitrag zur Psychologie Goethes (Munich, 1916) 010705.ee.61.

Christiane’s strength of character, necessary to survive in a common-law marriage surrounded by poisonous gossip, was demonstrated in a practical way in October 1806, when Napoleonic troops entered Weimar. She is said to have stood up to soldiers intent on plundering Goethe’s house, while Goethe himself feared for his life. Two days later, Goethe set aside his long-standing aversion to wedlock and married Christiane.

As ‘Frau Geheimrätin von Goethe’, Weimar society was forced to accept Christiane. Johanna Schopenhauer made a kindly start, famously declaring that ‘if Goethe gives her his name, we can surely give her a cup of tea’, but not everyone was so gracious, and many who were polite to Christiane’s face still insulted her behind her back. The most notorious insult came from Bettine von Arnim, a regular guest of the Goethes during her visits to Weimar, who described Christiane as a ‘black pudding’ who had ‘gone crazy’ following an argument between the two women. Although Goethe’s usual advice to Christiane seems to have been to ignore such attacks, this time he took her side wholeheartedly, and permanently broke off his friendship with Bettine and her husband; most of Weimar, predictably, took Bettine’s side.

Covers of three books about Christiane von Goethe
Fictional and factual depictions of Christiane from the British Library’s collections

Posterity could be equally unkind to Christiane. Goethe’s lifelong devotion was often given less weight than the malicious gossip of the Weimar court by biographers and critics, who tended to portray Christiane as a coarse and common woman whose only importance to Goethe was as a sexual plaything, a ‘Bettschatz’, or as Thomas Mann once (inexcusably) described her, ‘a nice piece of meat’. Fortunately, modern critics have been more nuanced; in particular, Sigrid Damm’s detailed biography Christiane und Goethe strips away many myths. A shorter, albeit fictional, way to encounter a believable Christiane is through Christine Brückner’s monologue, ‘Ich war Goethes dickere Hälfte’. The words of Brückner’s Christiane, ‘I am as I am, and he is as he is. That’s how he wants me, and that’s how I want him’, seem to me to come close to describing how their unconventional, and perhaps surprisingly modern, relationship worked. Other modern fictional portrayals, even when they veer towards the lurid and novelettish, are generally favourable to Christiane – sometimes even at Goethe’s expense.

Manuscript draft of Goethe's poem 'Gefunden'
Goethe’s first draft of the poem ‘Gefunden’, reproduced in Wolfgang Vulpius, Christiane

But finally, if anyone doubts Christiane’s importance to Goethe, they need only read his own words: the touching poem ‘Gefunden’ which he dedicated to her on the 25th anniversary of their relationship, or the lines he wrote for her gravestone following her death on 6 June 1816:

Du versuchst, o Sonne, vergebens,
Durch die düstren Wolken zu scheinen!
Der ganze Gewinn meines Lebens
Ist, ihren Verlust zu beweinen
(You seek, O Sun, in vain / to shine through the dark clouds! / The whole gain of my life / Is to lament her loss)

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References:

Sigrid Damm, Christiane und Goethe: eine Recherche (Frankfurt am Main, 1998) YA.1998.a.9440

Christine Bruckner, Wenn du geredet hättest, Desdemona: ungehaltene Reden ungehaltener Frauen (Hamburg, 1983). (English translation by Eleanor Bron, Desdemona - if only you had spoken! Eleven uncensored speeches of eleven incensed women (London, 1992) YK.1993.a.5906.)

Sketch of Christiane asleep on a couch
Christiane sleeping, drawn by Goethe. Reproduced in Corpus der Goethezeichnungen (no. 63)

08 April 2016

Portuguese Anagrammatic Nun Novelist

If that title sounds like a cryptic crossword clue, so much the better.

Title-page of 'Brados do desengano contra o profundo sono do esquecimento', printed in red and blackBrados do desengano contra o profundo sono do esquecimento. II. Parte. Escrita por Leonarda Gil da Gama, natural da Serra de Cintra. (Lisbon, 1739). RB.23.a.36813

An improving novel in the baroque style, interspersed with poems. The author (1672-1760?) was born Maria Magdalena Eufémia da Glória. When she entered the Franciscan order at the convent of Nossa Senhora da Esperança in Lisbon, she took the name in religion Magdalena da Gloria. She wrote under the pseudonym Leonarda Gil da Gama, an anagram of her religious name. Her convent was home also to Maria do Ceu (b. 1658), author of several baroque works. Sister Maria has been studied in recent years, but it looks as if Leonarda’s star has yet to rise again.

The reason for her affecting a pseudonym was not her sex (Maria do Ceu had no such problem) but presumably her vocation. One wonders how much of a secret this was: the Prologues recognise that her name is an anagram, and given the anagram-crazy culture of the Baroque it must have been child’s play to unmask her.


Preface to 'Brados do desengano', explaining that the author's name is an anagram
Leonarda’s use of an anagrammatic pseudonym as mentioned in the preliminaries to the book. 

The Spanish Jesuit Baltasar Gracián (1601-1658) hid his identity under that of his brother Lorenzo and the anagram García de Marlones.

Baroque style lived on in Portugal in prose and verse when it was rather in decline elsewhere. One indication of this is that most of the 17th-century poets are to be read in the anthology A Fenix renascida (‘Phoenix reborn’) of 1716-28 (we have a mixed set at 11452.a.23.).

In his bibliography, Innocêncio Francisco da Silva tells us she was much admired in her own time, dubbed the Phoenix of Wits (Phenix dos Ingenhos), although ‘today [1860] few would be able to bear reading her works, on account of her exquisitely conceptista style’.

This is a new acquisition. We have other works by her, all apparently acquired quite recently, an indication both of the long period of neglect which she has suffered and a sign that her fortunes may be rallying.

Should you wish to assist this process of reassessment, where better to start than the British Library?

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance language collections

References:

Leonarda Gil da Gama, Aguia real, fenix abrazado, pelicano amante, historia panegyrica, e vida prodigioza do inclito Patriarca ... S. Agostinho ... (Lisbon, 1744). RB.23.a.8047

Leonarda Gil da Gama, Reyno de Babylonia, ganhado pelas armas do empyreo; discurso moral …
(Lisbon, 1749). Cup.407.n.4. (also available online) Illustrated with alegorical emblems.

Sóror Maria do Céu, Triunfo do rosário : repartido em cinco autos; tradução e apresentação de Ana Hatherly. (Lisbon, 1992). YA.1995.a.8273

Rellaçaõ da vida e morte da serva de Deos a veneravel Madre Elenna da Crus : transcriçaõ do Códice 87 da Biblioteca Nacional precedida de um estudo histórico / por Maria do Céu ; Filomena Belo. (Lisbon, 1993). YA.2000.a.29236

Walter Begley, Biblia Anagrammatica, or the Anagrammatic Bible: a literary curiosity gathered from unexplored sources and from books of the greatest rarity ... With a general introduction and a special bibliography. (London, 1904) 3129.e.77.

  Decorative page header with a pattern of foliage and putti
Decorative header from Brados do desengano contra o profundo sono do esquecimento

 

07 March 2016

A British Woman Soldier in First World War Serbia: Flora Sandes

Among the many accounts written by foreigners who witnessed Serbia’s stoic retreat in 1915 were quite a number by women. Most of them were there in some medical capacity, including Cora Josephine “Jo” Gordon, who arrived in Serbia as an assistant to a Red Cross unit, along with her husband. In their “day jobs”, they were actually artists. Jo Gordon seems to have been tomboyish and highly resourceful. She learned Serbian quickly, outwitted exploitative inn owners during their hard journey to the coast, visited the frontline, and washed her adventures down with large shots of Rakiya.

Flora Sandes followed a course that was more unusual again. Having first served as a nurse, she joined the Serbian Army for her own safety during the retreat, and became the only British woman officially enlisted as a soldier in the First World War. (There were also Russian, Serbian and [Austro-Hungarian] Ukrainian women who served on different sides of the conflict). Flora’s own book is An English woman-sergeant in the Serbian Army, written in 1916 to rally support for the small country.

Photograph of Flora Sandes in Serbian Army uniform
Flora Sandes in Serbian Army Uniform (image from Wikimedia Commons)

When the retreat across the mountains began, Flora was as fussy as anyone from her well-heeled background, and must have been quite alarming. In her memoir, she recounts that she threw the furniture out of a scruffy hotel room and set about scrubbing the floor before erecting her own camp-bed. Later, she would distance herself from the male soldiers when they camped in the open air, relenting finally when she realised that her doing so constituted a security risk, as an ambush party might spot her.

Flora Sandes standing on a cart with traditionally-dressed Serbs at a country wedding
Flora Sandes (top left), attending a traditional Serbian wedding. Photograph from her second book The Autobiography of a Woman Soldier (London, 1927) 9084.df.40

Following an injury incurred in combat in 1916, Sandes returned to medical work, but was not officially demobilised until 1922. She went on to marry a Russian émigré, Yuri Yudenitch, and the pair lived in France and then in Belgrade – where many White Russian exiles found sanctuary after the Revolution – until the Second World War. In German-occupied Belgrade, her husband died of a heart condition, and Flora spent almost three years living in poverty. After the liberation of the city, she returned to the UK, still a forceful character who chain-smoked and ploughed her own furrow.

Flora Sandes in Serbian military uniform seated on a stone bench
Flora Sandes as a Lieutenant of the Serbian Army in Belgrade. Frontispiece from The Autobiography of a Woman Soldier

She spent her final years living near her family in Rhodesia and Surrey, and died in 1956 at the age of 82 after making a final visit to Serbia for a reunion of her old comrades of 1915. In addition to her two autobiographies (one now translated into Serbian), she is the subject of two full biographies and a Radio 4 documentary from 1971, which can be found and listened to among the Library’s sound recordings.

Serbian postage stamp commemorating Flora Sandes

In commemoration of the war’s centenary, Serbia Post and the British Embassy in Belgrade have recently issued a set of six  stamps featuring British women who worked in Serbia between 1914 and 1918. A set has been donated to the Library, as Milan Grba explained in a recent blog post. Flora Sandes (right) is among the women honoured, a redoubtable pioneer of equality alongside those whose medical and humanitarian work did so much to gain recognition for women in fields once reserved for men.

Janet Ashton, Western European Languages Cataloguing Team Manager

References/further reading

Jan and Cora Gordon, The Luck of Thirteen: wanderings and flight through Montenegro and Serbia (London, 1916) 9083.ff.3

Alan Burgess, The lovely sergeant: the life of Flora Sandes. (London, 1965). X.639/721

Louise Miller, A fine brother: the life of Captain Flora Sandes (Richmond, 2012) YC.2013.a.2462

Flora Sandes, An English woman-sergeant in the Serbian Army (London, 1916) 09082.aa.25. (Serbian translation by Spiro Radojčić, Engleskinja u srpskoj vojsci Flora Sandes (New York, 1995). YF.2005.a.27142)

14 February 2016

Serbia celebrates British heroines of the First World War

The British Library has gratefully received a donation of a set of postage stamps which commemorate the role played by British female doctors, nurses and humanitarian aid volunteers in Serbia during the First World War.

Sheet of six Serbian postage stamps depicting British women
The Serbian Mail  issued the commemorative stamps last December in partnership with the British Embassy in Belgrade which donated a set to the British Library. BBC Scotland recently reported on this initiative, while the British Embassy in Belgrade dedicated a Facebook page  to the commemoration of the First World War events in Serbia.

Image of women in uniform marching past a Red Cross van with a group of nurses
 The stamps tell the story of the British women who arrived to Serbia to assist the wounded and sick in war. They came individually or as part of two organisations which were set up in Britain at the beginning of the war to assist the allied countries in wartime. The Scottish Women’s Hospitals was founded by the Scottish Federation of Women’s Suffrage Societies in Edinburgh through the efforts of Elsie Inglis, and the Serbian Relief Fund was founded in London by the journalist Bertram Christian, among other British experts on the Balkans.

  Stamps with portraits of Flora Sandes and Katherine MacPhailStamps showing Flora Sandes (left) and Katherine MacPhail (right). Sandes (1876-1956) was officially recruited to the Serbian Army in 1915 and promoted to Sergeant in 1916. She was the only British woman in active military service in the First World War and the only female officer in the Serbian Army. MacPhail (1997-1974) worked at the Military Hospital in Belgrade during the First World War. After the war she remained in Serbia where she founded the country’s first children’s hospital in 1921.

The collection of postage stamps is accompanied by biographical details of six British women, four of whom were members of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals, a voluntary organisation staffed entirely by women. The portraits of the women, together with the images, present instances of their work in Serbia and on the Salonika front.

Stamps with portraits of Isabel Hutton and Elsie Inglis
Stamps showing Isabel Hutton (left) and Elsie Inglis (right). Hutton (1887-1960) worked on the Salonika Front, transferring to Vranje in 1918 where she treated victims of the typhus and Spanish flu epidemics and, in 1919, helped to found a civilian hospital. Inglis (1860-1917) was the founder of Scottish Women’s Hospitals and established the first war hospital in Serbia. She refused to leave the hospital when the Serbian Army was forced to retreat, and was imprisoned and later repatriated.

The Serbian Mail issued the commemorative postage stamps in Serbian Cyrillic and Latin scripts in parallel English translation with captions in German and French.

The Serbian army and civilians suffered terribly from the war, cold, hunger and infectious diseases. The Scottish Women’s Hospitals and the Serbian Relief Fund medical units were among the first to arrive to Serbia to attend and nurse the sick and wounded. They also, together with their Serbian colleagues, doctors and hospital orderlies, gave their lives in the service of others and were among the early victims of war and disease in Serbia.

Stamps with portraits of Evelina Haverfield and Elizabeth Ross
Stamps showing Evelina Haverfield (left) and Elizabeth Ross (right). Haverfield (1867-1920) came to Serbia in 1915. Like Elsie Inglis, she was imprisoned and repatriated after the retreat of the Serbian Army but continued to work organising the Serbian Relief fund and later helped to establish soup kitchens on the Salonika Front. After the war she opened a home for war orphans in Bajina Bašta. (On Elizabeth Ross, see below.)

Elizabeth Ross, who came to Serbia from Persia where she had been working as a doctor, died in the Serbian typhus epidemic of February 1915. Dimitrije Antić, the director of the hospital where Dr Ross worked, left this account of her:

It is my duty, and the place is right, to mention with great respect the name of a foreign colleague from Scotland, Miss Elizabeth Ross, who came to help as a volunteer in the most difficult moments for my hospital. She tirelessly treated soldiers sick with typhus, fearless for her life, day and night. Everyone around her was falling down with typhus; she saw that very well and she was aware that the same destiny awaited her; but, despite my appeals and warnings to look after herself, she heroically performed her grave and noble duty till the end. Unfortunately, the inevitable came quickly: Miss Ross contracted typhus. She was even more courageous in sickness: severely ill, she lay quietly in her bed in a very modest hospital ward. Her only complaint was that she couldn’t provide medical assistance any longer to our sick soldiers! Indeed, one of the rare shining examples of medical sacrifice. She is buried in Kragujevac town cemetery.

Upon hearing the news of her death in Serbia, the residents of her home town of Tain in Scotland raised funds for the memorial ‘Dr Elizabeth Ross Bed’ at the Kragujevac Military Hospital where she served, and for surgical and medical needs in Serbia. The Serbian daily Samouprava informed its readers how Dr Ross managed six wards in the hospital without nurses, relying solely on the help of hospital orderlies. “There was no wood for cooking or for heating, something was always missing; one day there was no bread,another there were no eggs or milk and so on.” On the day of her funeral service all local stores were closed and large numbers of the people of Kragujevac came out to pay their respects.

The tradition of respect has been kept alive to the present day. Each year on 14 February at noon Kragujevac remembers Dr Elizabeth Ross.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South Eastern European Collections

References/further reading:

A History of the Scottish Women's Hospitals. Edited by Eva Shaw McLaren. (London, 1919). 9082.bbb.32.

Elisabeth Macbean Ross, A Lady Doctor in Bakhtiari Land. Edited by Janet N. MacBean Ross. (London, 1921). 010076.de.28

D. Antić, ‘Pegavi tifus u kragujevačkoj i rezervnoj vojnoj bolnici 1914-15’. In Vladimir Stanojević, ed., Istorija srpskog vojnog saniteta (Belgrade, 1925). YF.2011.a.22007.

Želimir Dj. Mikić, Ever yours sincerely: the life and work of Dr Katherine S. MacPhail. (Cambridge, 2007). YK.2008.b.4740. Serbian original: Uvek vaša: život i delo dr Ketrin Makfejl. (Novi Sad, 1998). YF.2015.a.24057.

Louise Miller, A fine brother: the life of Captain Flora Sandes. (Richmond, 2012). YC.2013.a.2462.

Ž. Mikić, A. Lešić, ‘Dr Elizabeta Ros – heroina i žrtva Prvog svetskog rata u Srbiji’. Srpski arhiv za celokupno lekarstvo, 2012, vol. 140, 7/8, pp. 537-542. Available via SCIndeks

 

13 November 2015

Germany's first female doctor: Dorothea Erxleben, 1715-1762

Despite being considered the more nurturing and caring sex, and having an age-old role as healers and nurses in families and communities, women were for centuries largely excluded from professional medicine, seen as the preserve of university-educated men.

One of the pioneering exceptions to this rule was Dorothea Christiane Erxleben, the first German woman to qualify as a doctor. She was born on 13 November  1715 in Quedlinburg to the physician Christian Polycarp Leporin and his wife Anna Sophia. Dorothea was bright and a quick learner, and her father was determined that she should share the same education as her younger brother, Christian. Both children studied Latin with a local schoolmaster and learned science and medicine from their father.

Colour portrait of Dorothea Erxleben
A contemporary portrait of Dorothea Erxleben (image from Wikimedia Commons)

However, childhood education was one thing, formal adult training quite another. While Christian might be expected to take over his father’s practice in due course, a medical career for Dorothea was impossible by contemporary standards. Nonetheless, the siblings planned to study medicine together and, with her father’s encouragement, Dorothea petitioned Fredrick II of Prussia for permission to enter the University of Halle with her brother. This was granted in 1741, but Dorothea did not actually attend the university. Accounts and chronology  vary between sources, but it seems that there was some problem involving Christian’s military service which left him unable to take up his own place at Halle and that Dorothea did not want (or was not able) to study there without his company.

Instead, Dorothea took what might seem like the complete opposite path: in 1742 she married Johann Christian Erxleben, a widowed clergyman with five children (she would have four more children of her own). But she clearly embarked  on matrimony and domestic life very much on her own terms and continued to study and practice medicine. In the year of her marriage she published a book describing and arguing against the factors that prevented women from studying. Again, her father was instrumental in encouraging her to publish, and provided a preface to the book, but Dorothea speaks clearly and firmly in her own voice.  She condemns familiar assertions that women’s education is a waste of time, goes against religious teaching, damages their health and strength, or prevents them from carrying out their ‘proper’ domestic duties. All of these beliefs she disproved in her own life, successfully combining the role of clergy wife and mother to nine children with her work in medicine.

 
Title page of 'Gründliche Untersuchung der Ursachen, die das weibliche Geschlecht vom Studieren abhalten'
Dorothea Erxleben (as Dorothea Leporin), Gründliche Untersuchung der Ursachen, die das weibliche Geschlecht vom Studieren abhalten (Berlin, 1742), British Library 8416.de.59 (and in digital form)
 

On her father’s death in 1747, Dorothea took over his practice, effectively becoming a doctor in all but name. This made her enemies among other local physicians, and the death of one of Dorothea’s patients gave them the opportunity to accuse her formally of ‘quackery’ and of practising without qualifications.  In order to clear her name and be able to continue working, Dorothea volunteered to submit a medical dissertation for examination. The civic and university authorities debated for some time whether a woman could in fact qualify as a doctor: did the university statutes allow for female students, and if medicine was a public profession, were doctors public officials, a role from which women were barred?

Finally, on 12 June 1754, Dorothea was allowed  to present and defend her dissertation before the medical faculty in Halle – in Latin, as was usual at the time. Her argument was that swift and pleasant cures were often deleterious to a patient’s health in the longer term. She impressed the examiners both with her medical knowledge and her Latin and was awarded her doctorate. The published version of the dissertation includes a number of tributes in both Latin and German by her supporters, including her old Latin teacher, Tobias Eckhard.

Title-page of Dorothea Erxleben's dissertation
Dorothea Erxleben, Dissertatio
inauguralis, exponens quod nimis cito ac jucunde curare sæpius fiat caussa minus tutæ curationis. (Halle, 1754) T.600.(33.). The dissertation which gained Dorothea the official title of doctor.

Dorothea would continue to practise medicine unhindered until her death in 1762. Sadly, however, she remained an exception in German medical history for nearly 150 years. Only at the start of the 20th century would women be admitted to German medical schools. However, Dorothea is still remembered as a pioneer. Various clinics and foundations have been named after her, a commemorative stamp bearing her image appeared in the 1980s, and on the 200th anniversary of her birth she has been the subject of the day’s ‘doodle’ on the German Google site, bringing this 18th-century pioneer into the 21st century.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

 

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