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37 posts categorized "World War One"

17 December 2015

“In true heroic mould”: witnessing the retreat of Serbia, 1915

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A century ago, in December 1915, the first complete calendar year of the First World War was drawing to a close.

A number of new countries had entered the fray during the preceding 12 months, adding pressure to those states which had been fighting one another since 1914. Among the most vulnerable nations of all was Serbia, a small country ravaged by typhus and other diseases, and fighting its third war in as many years. Because of its government’s alleged role in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, it was the main target for annihilation by the Austro-Hungarian high command.

Serbia had emerged as chief victor from the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, but assimilating its new territories was a huge challenge without the added burden of another war, and fallings-out among former allies left wounds which reopened in 1915. In September, Bulgaria joined the War on the side of the Central Powers, hoping to win Macedonian territory taken by Serbia in 1913.

Thus, in autumn 1915, Serbia faced a double onslaught. Austrian and German troops renewed their assault on Belgrade from across the Danube, while Bulgaria joined the attack from the east. This was finally too much for the beleaguered country. To avoid surrender, Serbia’s leaders instructed the army to make for the Albanian coast, and so it set out, led by the elderly King Petar and Field Marshal Radomir Putnik, both borne on stretchers before the busy pencils of war artists. Periodically, the stretcher-bearers were forced to halt so they could swap with other colleagues, and the entire convoy of refugees, several miles long, had to halt behind them, standing exposed in wind and rain until the leaders were ready to move on again.

Serbia 1 (2)
The convoy of refugees, picture from Jan and Cora Gordon, The Luck of Thirteen: Wanderings and Flight through Serbia and Montenegro (London, 1916). British Library 12208.a.1/223.

Along the narrow mountain passes and through knee-deep muddy valleys they went, sleeping in makeshift bivouacs or in the open air, leaning on their animals for warmth: the Serbian army, hundreds of Austrian prisoners-of-war, hordes of camp-followers, foreign journalists and medical staff (whose own governments had also instructed them to leave the occupied country) and finally thousands of civilians, encouraged by the government to evacuate rather than fall into enemy hands.

“Quantities of carts passed us filled with furniture, baths, and luggage,” wrote two intrepid British artists who were there. “A smartly dressed family was picnicking by the roadside, sitting on deck-chairs.….Crowds were congregated round a man who was carrying over his shoulder a whole sheep on a spit and chopping bits off for buyers. On a hillside a woman was handing out rakia ….The Crown Prince passed, touching his hat to fifty kilometres of his people.”

Serbia Women resting
Women with an ox-cart resting on the journey.  Picture from The Luck of Thirteen. 12208.a.1/223.

These authors are resourceful and jaunty through all their privations, but some foreign witnesses captured the human pathos with greater sensitivity, noting children who were full of bravado by day but wept quietly in their rough camps at night, when they thought no-one could hear. Tens of thousands of the party of soldiers and refugees died of hunger or disease en route, or in mountain ambushes by Albanian tribesmen avenging incidents from the Balkan Wars.

Serbia Ipek pass (2)
The refugees crossing the Ipek pass, from The Luck of Thirteen, drawn by the authors. 12208.a.1/223.

Ultimately, up to 200,000 desperate survivors were evacuated at the coast by those Entente ships which got through the bombardment by the Austrian navy and air force. They went on to exile in France, North Africa or Greece, where many more would die of flu or of the effects of their journey.

Over the months that followed, a series of books appeared in Britain and the United States, describing the valour and agony of the retreating nation through the eyes of the foreigners who had taken part in the exodus. Many bore a dedication to “Alexander, Crown Prince of Serbia”, for the young man became a symbol of hope for the future of his country, “an apostle of progress as well as a knight Paladin”. After their appalling ordeal, both he and stoic, defeated Serbia seemed “a curious blending of the medieval and the modern,” imbued with “a fine glamour…[and] cast in the true heroic mould.”

Regrouped Serbian troops under the Crown Prince’s command went on to fight on the Salonika Front, which delivered fatal blows to Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire and hence to the Central Powers. Returning home in 1918, the Crown Prince (and Regent for his venerable father) found his ambitions for the future well-supported by his western Allies, greatly bolstered the body of sympathetic literature produced in the aftermath of 1915’s extraordinary journey.

Janet Ashton, Western European Languages Cataloguing Team Manager

References/further reading:

Alice and Claude Askew, The stricken land: Serbia as we saw it. (London, 1916) Copies at W15/8483 and 9082.ee.20.

Fortier Jones, With Serbia into exile: an American’s adventures with the army that cannot die  (New York, 1916). Three copies at W82/6627, 9083.ff.25., and 9081.e.7.

Mabel Stobart, The flaming sword in Serbia and elsewhere. (London, 1916) . 09082.cc.12.

Peter Gatrell , ‘Europe on the move: refugees and World War One’. British Library Website: http://www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/refugees-europe-on-the-move

05 November 2015

Despite the chocolate and the leather boots, one feels this country to be torture: Switzerland in 1915

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100 years ago, during the First World War, an extraordinary mélange of intellectuals converged in the one safe haven left in a self-destructing continent. In 1915, Switzerland – and Zürich in particular – hosted the likes of James Joyce, Tristan Tzara and Lenin, which quickly made the neutral state one of the most fertile grounds for avant-garde ideas in literature, art and politics.

Hugo Ball brought together the band of artists including Richard Huelsenbeck and Tristan Tzara that went on to collaborate under the banner of ‘Dada’ – a movement, which Annemarie Goodridge, in the catalogue of the British Library’s 2007 ‘Breaking the Rules’ exhibition, describes as acting out of the ‘desire to use new art forms to express opposition to the perceived spiritual bankruptcy of the age’ . In their minds, the war was a consequence of a ‘failing enlightenment project’ with an uncritical faith in scientific and technological “progress”’ (Stephen Foster, Dada: The Coordinates of Cultural Politics). Dada represented an attempt at a clean break from previous culture, a ‘tabula rasa’ in the words of Paul Dermée.

Tzara portrait
Robert Delaunay, Portrait of Tristan Tzara (1923). Madrid, Museo nacional centro de arte Reina Sofia (image from Wikimedia Commons)

One striking example of Dada creativity is first volume of the Collection Dada series published by Tristan Tzara between 1916 and 1919 containing the play by the same author, La première aventure celeste de Mr Antipyrine, illustrated with coloured woodcuts by Marcel Janco. Characters’ names like Mr Bleubleu and Mr Cricri set the tone for what is an exploration into sound as much as anything else, with speeches developing into nonsensical noise.

Tzara Mr Antpyrine 1
Cover (above) and opening (below) from Tristan Tzara, La première aventure celeste de Mr Antipyrine (Zürich, 1915) British Library Cup.408.u.39.
 

Tzara Mr Antpyrine 2

In 1916, the same year as the Dada artists exploded convention into fragments of spontaneity, absurdity and illogicality in their new home of the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich, the Nobel Prize for Literature (the belated award for 1915) was conferred upon a writer based not far away in Geneva, Romain Rolland. The writer of the ten-volume bildungsroman Jean-Christophe (the complete manuscript of the tenth volume is part of the British Library’s Stefan Zweig Collection) and biographies of key figures in culture like Michelangelo, Beethoven and Tolstoy, a humanist and pacifist, might seem worlds apart from the tenets of Dada but this is not necessarily the case.

  Rolland Jean Christophe preface
The preface to vol. 10 of Romain Rolland’s Jean-Christophe, British Library Zweig MS 184-186

Rolland’s 1915 collection of essays Au-dessus de la mêlée, even in its title, suggests a position beyond dogmatism, ‘above the battle’, as the English rendering has it. Rolland writes in the title essay:

The spirit is the light. It is our duty to lift it above tempests, and thrust aside the clouds which threaten to obscure it; to build higher and stronger, dominating the injustice and hatred of nations, the walls of that city wherein the souls of the whole world may assemble.  

Romain_Rolland_1915
Romain Rolland in 1915 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

We might call Rolland’s words a manifesto against manifestos in the sense of Tzara’s famous 1918 Dada manifesto, in which he writes, ‘je suis par principe contre les manifestes, comme je suis aussi contre les principes’ , where ‘principles’  are the same fixed truths that give way to  ‘tempests’ of dogmatic belief, the same truths that Rolland cannot tolerate. Clearly, Rolland draws upon a continuous notion of  ‘spirit’, something Dada renounced, yet their divergent approaches still led both to the same geographical and anti-establishment space.

A little late to the Swiss party, Stefan Zweig, Rolland’s close friend and intellectual ally, moved to Zürich in 1917. It is testament to the tolerance of the city and its commingling cultural movements that Zweig’s serious anti-war play Jeremias could open there, no doubt a short distance from the riotous events at the Cabaret Voltaire. Zweig, initially unconvinced by Switzerland, writes in his diary that ‘despite the chocolate and the leather boots, one feels this country to be torture’. Yet, in a diary entry 20 years after his time in Zürich, he reminisces, ‘how different was it in those times in Austria and Switzerland, where I could speak my own language and encourage others’.

Indeed, Zweig’s writing was influenced permanently by the humanist spiritual  ‘brotherhood’ in Switzerland, with his later biography of Erasmus the height of his humanist line of thought. Erasmus, for Zweig, embodies ‘Überparteilickeit’, that is a certain non-partisanship, linguistically akin to Rolland’s formulation for Au-dessus de la mêlée, where both reside ‘above’ something. In a letter to René Schickele in 1934, Zweig writes, ‘I do not connect myself to any party, to no group, […] but whatever I do, I try to do silently and would rather be attacked for it than celebrated.’ Tristan Tzara’s famous 1918 manifesto also asserts that the author is against action and for continual contradiction, for affirmation. He continues ‘I am neither for nor against and I won’t explain since I hate reason (bon sens)’.The only difference might then be expressed, adapting Zweig’s words, Tzara does not connect himself to anything and everything he tried to do, he tried to do it loudly.

Above and beyond the normality and madness of world war, the contrasting figures of the avant-garde and humanism co-existed in neutral Switzerland. In June 1919, Zweig was one of the signatories of Rolland’s ‘Declaration of the Independence of the Mind’. Rolland writes that the role of these guardians of spirit is to be the fixed point in the ‘centre of the whirlwind of passions, in the night’. Switzerland was precisely that centre – a continuous and varied productive culture out of which spiralled many more movements. What was common to all these movements, to Dada and Rolland, was their shared desire to ‘not only change art but also life by means of art’ (Roy Allen, ‘Aesthetic transformations: Origins of Dada’, in Foster op. cit.).

Pardaad Chamsaz, Collaborative Doctoral Student

References/further reading:

Breaking the Rules: The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937, edited by. Stephen Bury (London, 2007), YC.2008.b.251

Dada: The Coordinates of Cultural Politics, edited by Stephen Foster (New York, 1996) YC.1997.b.488 v.1

Tristan Tzara, La première aventure céléste de Mr Antipyrine (Zürich, 1916) Cup.408.u.39 

Tristan Tzara, Dada 3, (Zürich, 1918) W18/5841

Romain Rolland, Au-dessus de la mêlée, (Paris, 1915) W18/5841

Stefan Zweig, Jeremias : eine dramatische Dichtung in neun Bildern (Leipzig, 1922) 11747.h.31.

Stefan Zweig, Tagebücher (Frankfurt am Main, 1984), X3-0904

Stefan Zweig, Triumph und Tragik des Erasmus von Rotterdam (Vienna, 1935), 2214.a.9

24 May 2015

The War Poet who wasn’t: Simon Gregorčič and the Soča Front

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May 24th marks the centenary of Italy’s entry into the Great War. In previous blog entries related to this event, I have focussed on the Isonzo/Soča Front, which bore the brunt of the first Italian military operations.  For today’s entry, I return there again, to write about a character who played a significant role in that action, but who had died almost a decade before war broke out.

Simon Gregorcic (X989-6888)Portrait of Simon Gregorčič from Anton Burgar, Simon Gregorčič: življenjepis (Ljubljana, 1907) British Library X.989/6888.

Simon Gregorčič is one of Slovenia’s best-loved poets, and a significant figure in the 19th-century struggle for national rights. He was born in 1844 in the village of Vrsno, nestling beneath Mount Krn very close to the then Austro-Italian border, and the local landscape and lifestyle imprinted itself profoundly on his work. His family were peasant farmers who raised sheep in the pastures of the Soča valley, but young Simon had been born at a time of fast-rising literacy. He went to the grammar school in the regional capital Görz/Gorica (now Gorizia, in Italy), and then studied to become a priest; yet, apart from a brief period at the University of Vienna, he never really went far from his beloved Valley.

He worked as a chaplain in Kobarid, not far from his birthplace, where he had a formative love affair with a young teacher and promoted the cultural life of the little town. During subsequent appointments, Gregorčič began to publish poetry, each of his four books called “Poezije”, with its number. For these, which he promoted in public readings, he became a local celebrity in his own lifetime. His style was profoundly musical, full of feeling and even sensuality – for this Catholic priest had quite a number of intense relationships with women.  He wrote about social injustice, Slovene rights, the landscape that surrounded him. Among his best-known poems – and one of the few which have been translated into English - was  ‘Ash Wednesday Eve’, in which he warned the rich and proud among his congregation of their mortality while inviting the poor and dispossessed, including his relatives, to take their place in the Church and celebrate “Resurrection morn.” Its theme may sound gloomy and didactic, but the poem is so beautifully written that it evokes the twilight falling over his native Valley, its little churches lit up amid the dark peaks, spilling smells of incense into the night air as the people hurry in from near and far.

Gregorčič’s most famous poem of all is ‘Soči’ – ‘To the Soča’- describing the river’s progress from its mountain source to the plains of Trieste. At the beginning the turquoise water (it really is!) is fast and vigorous, “like the walk of the highland girls”, and its refrain runs, “You are splendid, daughter of the heights!” (“Krasnà si, hči planin!”). But when the river reaches the exposed plain it grows sluggish, sensing its vulnerability. Gregorčič foresaw a day when it would be filled with blood, surrounded by a “hail of lead”, and would need to burst its own banks to “draw the foreigners ravenous for lands to the bottom of your foaming waves.”  

SocaPostcard, reproduced in Mihael Glavan, Simon Gregorčič na Soški fronti (Nova Gorica, 2012) YF.2014.a.12826

Simon Gregorčič suffered lifelong ill-health (probably tuberculosis) and died in Gorizia in 1906. His funeral procession from the city to his grave in the village Smast was a huge public event. Nine years later, Gorizia, along with Trieste and the whole Soča Valley, would be among Italy’s chief targets in its attack on the Austrian Empire. Simon Gregorčič  was summoned from the grave to spur on the Slovene troops in defence of their homeland: he was shown on postcards greeting the Emperors Franz Joseph or Karl when they visited the battle-torn region, or looking protectively down upon the river with the military commanders Archduke Eugen or Svetozar Boroević von Bojna alongside him in the sky (pictures above). Sadly prophetic, the words of ‘Soči’ featured widely, particularly the verse urging the river to drown the foreign invader.

LIBUNJ~1SIMONGREGORCICFUNERAL

Funeral of  Simon Gregorčič un 1906 (From Wikimedia Commons)

Austria’s one major victory in the awful stalemate was 1917’s infamous Caporetto (the Italian name for Kobarid). The town which lay so close to the poet’s heart was symbolically the site of a total rout of the Italian invaders. A bust of his friend, the composer Hraboslav Volarić, symbolically watched from a corner of the square.

They would, however, return victorious a year later, and Kobarid stayed under Italian rule until 1945. Volarić’s bust, along with other symbols of Slovene culture, was badly damaged by fascists, but in 1945 the town became part of Yugoslavia. The bust was replaced, and a full-length statue to Gregorčič  erected in 1959 on the opposite side of the main square.

Naturally, Simon Gregorčič’s birthplace is now a tourist site, and hikers can follow his route and inspiration through the villages and meadows around.


With particular thanks to Jože Šerbec of the Kobarid Museum.

Bibliography:

Mihail Glavan. Simon Gregorčič na Soški fronti. (Nova Gorica , 2012). YF.2014.a.12826

Simon Gregorčič. Poezije. (Ljubljana, 1885-1908). 11530.a.26

W.A. Morison (translator). “Ash Wednesday Eve”, in The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 23, No. 62 (Jan., 1945), pp. 23-25, Ac.2669.e.  (also available online via  JSTOR).  

Translation of Soči by an unknown author at http://spinnet.eu/wiki-anthology/index.php/Soca_River

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager

 

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager

 

23 March 2015

The Serbian Typhus Epidemic - 100 years on

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The devastation caused by the influenza pandemic at the end of World War One is well known; what is less well known is that many parts of Europe were badly affected by diseases throughout the war. One of the first of these was an epidemic of typhus and relapsing fever which started in Serbia at the end of 1914 and killed upwards of 150,000 people in a population of around four and a half million.  Both diseases shared similar symptoms – a high temperature, rashes and constant itching - and were spread by the same means – lice. They were also highly infectious and often occurred together. While the exact start date of the epidemic was disputed, sources agreed that it ended in June 1915. Even in this short time the epidemic was still devastating in a small country where the diseases spread rapidly.

Rockefeller                                                   New York, 1915.  British Library 08248.h.19.

The documents listed below are the key contemporaneous accounts of this epidemic. The differences in emphasis are dramatic, ranging from the appeal for assistance from the Rockefeller Foundation to Minkine’s more clinical account of the epidemic, and from the self-promotion of the Hunter and Strong reports to the critical soul-searching analysis by Serbian doctors in 1925, edited by Stanojević.  

Minkine                                                      Paris, 1915. British Library F7/3088

In contrast to the first of these accounts to be published (that of the Rockefeller Foundation) where the Serbs were portrayed as helpless victims, by the time of the Stanojević analysis there was an active desire not just to understand the causes of the epidemic, but to prevent any future recurrences. The Hunter and Strong reports, published immediately after the war, emphasised the actions taken by their respective groups to relieve the epidemic, but without clear advice about what ‘weather-proofing’ was needed for Serbia to remain disease-free.

Hunter                                                    London, 1920. British Library Wf1/4919

The fact that the epidemic took place during a war, which made ascertaining the facts especially difficult, explained some of the differences between the accounts. These sources reveal why typhus was such a feared disease even after it was found to be preventable; in 1909 it was discovered that the disease was caused by body lice, although the cure was not known until after the war.  

Strong                                              Cambridge USA, 1920. British Library X8/2016

In a parallel with the recent Ebola crisis, the international community was scared that the disease would spread. They realised that an epidemic was not just the concern of one country, but had global implications. A number of countries, particularly in Europe, implemented new and stricter quarantine laws in 1915, specifically citing the risk posed by Serbia.

Stanojevic                                               Belgrade, 1925. British Library YF.2011.a.22007

Despite the dramatic and tragic losses, the typhus and relapsing fever epidemic taught some useful lessons. The epidemic was ended very quickly by the standards of the time. It was a good example of the international community coming together in a common cause, and it demonstrated a key principle in terms of epidemic management, namely that prevention was cheaper than relying on a cure that had not been invented.  


Tara Finn, the First World War Centenary Commemorations Team of Foreign and Commonwealth Office


References:

William Hunter, The Serbian epidemics of typhus and relapsing fever in 1915 (London, 1920).  Wf1/4919 [available online from PubMed]

M. Jeanneret-Minkine, Le typhus exanthematique (Paris, 1915).  F7/3088    

The Rockefeller Foundation, The relief of suffering non-combatants in Europe: Destitution and disease in Serbia (New York, 1915).  08248.h.19.

Vladimir Stanojević, ed., Istorija srpskog vojnog saniteta (Beograd, 1925).  YF.2011.a.22007

Richard P. Strong, ed., Typhus fever with a particular reference to the Serbian epidemic (Cambridge, Mass., 1920). X8/2016 [available online (copy from Harvard University) at https://archive.org/details/typhusfeverwith00zinsgoog]

29 December 2014

Tango with Cows – Mystical Images of War - Russian First World War posters: celebrating their centenary.

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Before the year is out I thought I would reflect on some of the most notable Russian artistic publications held by the British Library that were published a century ago in 1914. Tango with Cows (Tango s korovami) has always been one of the most popular Futurist works with art students. They are initially fascinated by the brightly coloured original Russian flowered wallpaper from 1914 on which are printed poems by the Russian Futurist Vasily Kamensky.  This artist’s book with a corner deliberately cut off and held together by staples reflects the Russian Futurists’ desire to produce anti-aesthetic books made of rough materials such as newsprint, wrapping paper or even gingerbread, reproduced cheaply for an audience of artists, writers and students.

Pages from 'Tango s korovami', showing the pattern of wallpaper and a page of experimental typography                     Vasily Kamensky, Tango s korovami (Moscow, 1914) C.114.n.32.  

The collection is sub-titled “ferroconcrete poems” (not to be confused with the later Concrete Poetry movement).  Each poem is presented on a single page where the words are literally poured into segments. As there is no syntactic structure it would be difficult to read the poem in a linear way. Instead the text – mostly nouns and a few verbs – is organized by word association and visual links encouraging the reader to look at it as if it were a painting. In the poem Cabaret (see above) the reader’s eye is attracted to people, music, food, drink, sights and sounds in Maksim’s cabaret by the various types and sizes of font used for that person etc. For example the word MELLE (Mademoiselle) appears both in the upper and lower segments as if dressed in a different typeface. The text also includes the chemical formula H2SO4 (perhaps to indicate a danger area in a top left segment), and humour, as at the bottom right where it says entrance is 1 rouble and exit is 1000 roubles. The typographical innovations of this book show the influence of both Italian Futurist poetry and French calligrammes as for example the poem Vasya Kamensky’s aeroplane flight in Warsaw where the poem forms a visual representation of a plane taking off.       

Misticheskie obrazy voiny (Mystical Images of War; Moscow, 1914; C.114.n.24) by Natalya Goncharova has been much discussed this year in the context of World War 1 centenary events. Two of the 14 lithographs in this collection, Angels and Aeroplanes and A Common Grave, were included in the British Library’s exhibition Enduring War. This collection of lithographs is Goncharova’s response to the First World War and combines images based on Russian icons and popular prints (lubki) with aspects of modern life. This combination of the realistic detail with the metaphysical often calls to mind the works of the English artist Stanley Spencer. This is particularly so in Angels and aeroplanes which demonstrates an ironic approach to the war where the pilots and planes appear vulnerable in the hands of the angels. Unlike the Italian Futurists who glorified war, Goncharova expresses a more pacifist attitude to war here.

The Library also holds Russian First World War posters designed by the well-known artist Dmitry Moor (real name: Orlov). Moor took his pseudonym from the surname of three characters in Schiller’s drama The Robbers – no doubt this choice reflected his liking for biting satire and caricature in which he excelled in his posters.

Caricature showing vegetables and fungi morphing into the Austrian and German emperors and their armies Dmitry Moor, Kak chort ogorod gorodil (‘How the devil guarded the garden’). Poster [Moscow, 1914]. HS.74/273.(16)

Finally I’d like to mention a number of Russian First World War posters published in 1914 with captions by Vladimir Mayakovsky  held by the British Library.

Cavalry soldiers chasing infantry soldiers away from a stylised townSdal avstriets russkim L'vov... (‘Austrians surrended L'vov to the Russians...’] design by Aristarkh Lentulov; captions by Vladimir Mayakovsky. (Moscow, 1914). HS.74/273(10).

The Russian Futurists at first supported the war and created patriotic posters for the government when Russia was doing well at the beginning of the war. The project ‘Today’s Lubok’ employed Mayakovsky, Malevich and Lentulov in a scheme to make propaganda posters of the war in colourful lubok or folk styles for mass distribution. Although Mayakovsky is principally known as a poet, he originally studied at art school in Moscow and also designed posters as well as writing captions for posters designed by Malevich and Lentulov. You can find more examples on the Library’s ‘Images Online’ pages. For more information and images of those designed by Malevich with text by Mayakovsky see my earlier post. 

Peter Hellyer, Curator Russian Studies

Useful Sources

Breaking the rules: the printed face of the European Avant-Garde 1900-1937. Edited by Stephen Bury. (London, 2007).

Susan P. Compton, The world backwards: Russian futurist books, 1912-1916. (London, 1978). X.981/21715

Peter W.  Hellyer, A  catalogue of Russian avant-garde books 1912-1934 and 1969-2003. (London,  2006) YC.2008.b.251

Gerald Janecek, The look of Russian literature: avant-garde visual experiments, 1900-1930. (Princeton, 1984). X.955/3162

Vladimir Markov, Russian futurism: a history. (London, 1969). X.981/1801

Margit Rowell and Deborah Wye, The Russian avant-garde book, 1910-1934. (New York, 2002). LC.31.a.179

 

12 December 2014

From Sanatoria to Skis: Winter Holidays in Switzerland

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At this time of year many people are dreaming of – perhaps even planning – a skiing holiday, and Switzerland is a popular destination.  But in the 19th century the idea of holidaying in the snow would have been considered very strange. Back then, if wealthy foreigners spent  the winter in Switzerland, it would almost certainly be because they were ill: the clean, cold, fresh mountain air of the Swiss alps was considered effective in curing various illnesses, especially lung diseases such as tuberculosis.

Book cover showing an icy mountain scene by night
An icy prospect for the sick: Alfred Tucker Wise, The Alpine Winter Cure (London, 1884) 7470.ff.36

The world of the Swiss sanatorium where these patients spent months or even years was most famously captured in Thomas Mann’s novel Der Zauberberg, set in Davos in the years before the First World War. But by the time Mann was writing – and even during the period when his novel takes place – Davos and other Swiss mountain resorts were just as well-known and popular for their winter sports as for their curative properties. 

How did this come about? A recent newspaper article about the Swiss resort of St Moritz described how in 1864 local hotelier Johannes Badrutt lured some English tourists to stay there in winter with an ‘enjoy your holiday or get your money back’ offer. His gamble paid off, and St Moritz soon became a winter playground for the rich of Europe who, when they tired of indoor games, started to pursue outdoor ones, including skiing and tobogganing. Suddenly the snow-covered alps became a world full of sporting possibility.

  Bird's eye view of St Moritz
St Moritz in 1904. Picture by H.J. Burger (1849-1917), reproduced in 100 Jahre Bobsport (Basel, 1990) YA.1992.a.11011

Badrutt and his guests may have been pioneers in St Moritz but they were part of a wider trend at the time. Skiing purely as a sport started in the mid-19th century in Norway, where it already had a long tradition as a practical methods of travelling in snow-bound landscapes. It soon spread to alpine regions elsewhere in Europe, particularly Switzerland (and further afield: one of the earliest ski clubs was founded by Norwegian immigrants in Australia). Skiing in the Alps led to changes in the cross-country skiing familiar in Norway, as the steep slopes encouraged the development of downhill skiing.

Book-covers showing a skier (left) and ski-jumper (right)
Two early 20th-century skiing manuals: H. Hoek & E.C. Richardson, Der Ski und seine sportliche Bentzung (Munich, 1906) YA.1991.a.4184, and Adolf Zarn, Der Skifahrer (Zurich, 1920) 7922.b.6.

Alongside the sport itself a whole literature of skiing grew up. The British Library holds many such works both in English and other languages (though sadly many others were among the books destroyed by bombing in the Second World War). There are guides to the art of skiing, describing equipment and techniques; accounts of the adventures and excursions of skiing pioneers; guidebooks to the best locations for those wanting to follow in their ski-tracks; and histories of the various ski clubs and skiing centres. Skiing even found its way into fiction – although not as memorably as the sanatorium of Mann’s Zauberberg – and by the 1930s works such as Skiløperen by the Norwergian Mikkjel Fønhus (Oslo, 1936; 012584.c.23.) or Schi-Novelle by the German Ludwig Barthel (Jena, 1938; F10/0893) were available for après-ski (or armchair skier) reading.

Book cover showing the head and shoulders of a skier against a mountain landscapeHellmut Lantschner, Die Spur von meinen Ski (Berlin, 1934). X.629/14808.

However, some of the most unexpected accounts of early 20th-century accounts of Swiss skiing turn up in a magazine for wounded British Prisoners of War interned in Switzerland to await repatriation during the First World War. Arnold Lunn, a British skiing pioneer and author of many books on the sport, worked as a volunteer among the internees at Mürren in the Bernese Oberland and led a number of skiing excursions to occupy time and to boost morale and physical fitness. Although the most severely wounded men could not take part, for others, learning to ski and accompanying Lunn to the slopes must have been a form of therapy both physical and mental, a meeting of the two concepts of Switzerland as a place for winter healing and winter sports.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

Cartoon showing skiing learners getting stuck in the snowLearning to ski at Mürren, cartoon from B.I.M. (British Interned Magazine) Vol. 1, no. 10, Xmas 1917. PP. 4039.wup.

05 December 2014

Spanish insiders and outsiders

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It’s hardly a catch-penny title, as the title accurately reflects the contents:

First issue of the journal 'Pure Catholicism'Pure Catholicism. (El Catolicismo Neto.) A religious journal in the Spanish Language, published quarterly by Messrs. Partridge and Oakey, Paternoster-row, with the object of promoting the knowledge of the pure religion of the Gospel.  Price 1s. 6d. a number.  But the paper will be supplied gratuitously to such Spaniards, and natives of countries where the Spanish language is spoken, as may not have the means of purchasing it. (London, 1849) RB.23.b.7452(1)

Look inside and you will find a tipped-in slip:

In the Royal Gazette of April 2nd 1851 the Catholicismo Neto was prohibited by the Spanish Government at the request of the Bishop of Lerida: decreto prohibiendo la introduccion, circulacion y ventas de una Revista que se imprime en Londres titulado El Catolicismo Neto.

Spanish-language printing in London was often motivated by the desire to spread Protestantism among the Catholics, and the earliest authors so published were converts.

This copy bears the bookplate of Philip H. Calderon, with the motto “Por la fe moriré”.

Bookplate of Philip H. Calderon, with the motto “Por la fe moriré” and a coat of arms showing five ships and a tower
This is the artist Philip Hermogenes Calderon R.A. (1833–1898), historical genre painter. He was the son of the Revd Juan Calderón, a Spanish former priest who came to England in 1845 and became minister to the Spanish Reform church and professor of Spanish literature at King's College London (allow me as a King’s alumnus to remark that such posts were not as lofty as they sound); the faith referred to in the family motto is presumably Protestantism.

Portrait of Philip H. CalderonPhilip Hermogenes Calderon, from Percy Lubbock, George Calderon. A sketch from memory (London, 1921)  010855.dd.6.

Much information about the family, and an interesting link with the British Library, can be found in Percy Lubbock’s memoir of George Calderon.  

George was Philip’s son. Born in 1868, after Rugby, Trinity and the Bar he studied in St Petersburg (1895-97);

his knowledge [of Russian] was in some ways that of a scholar, and before long [in 1900] he took up a post in the library of the British Museum, where use was made of his special familiarity with certain Slavonic subjects.  (Lubbock, p. 41)

but

As the process [of research for a book he was writing] went on, he found it increasingly difficult to maintain, beside his regular work on the staff of the Museum. The implications of the book grew and spread, and at length it became clear that it could never be finished in by-hours; he left the Museum in 1903, and never afterwards held any professional post (Lubbock, p. 65).

P. R. Harris says sternly: ‘he only stayed three years’ (p. 445). Among other publications, George translated Two Plays by Anton Tchekhof (London, 1912; 11758.cc.1) and Ilya Tolstoy’s Reminiscences of Tolstoy (London, 1914;  010790.g.50); he was reported missing presumed killed at Gallipoli  on 4 June 1915.

Photograph of George Calderon with a facsimile of his signatureGeorge Calderon, from Percy Lubbock’s memoir.

Descended from the ultra-orthodox seventeenth-century playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca, the Calderons, grandfather, father and son, were both insiders and outsiders. Insiders because father was an RA, and his son, WWI victim and secretary to The Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage, boasted Rugby, Trinity and the Bar and the BML in his CV. Outsiders because the Revd Juan Calderón’s Protestantism made him a stranger in his own country and his grandson was a mediator between Britain and the literature of Russia.  

Barry Taylor, Curator  Hispanic studies

References

Barry Taylor, ‘Un-Spanish practices: Spanish and Portuguese protestants, Jews and liberals, 1500-1900’, Foreign-language printing in London 1500-1900, ed. Barry Taylor (London, 2003) 2708.h.1059,  pp. 183-202

Percy Lubbock, George Calderon. A sketch from memory (London, 1921)  010855.dd.6.

David Cast, ‘Calderon, Philip Hermogenes (1833–1898)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 

Percy Lubbock, ‘Calderon, George Leslie (1868–1915)’, rev. Katherine Mullin, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004

P. R. Harris, A History of the British Museum Library 1753-1973 (London, 1998) 2719.k.2164

Patrick Miles, ‘Calderonia – a writer goes to war’ website and blog: https://georgecalderon.wordpress.com/front-page/

21 November 2014

The Death of a Countess and the Draw of Local History

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Some time ago, in my blog post about the Austro-Italian Front of the First World War, I mentioned the accidental death of Lucy Christalnigg, which occurred in the tense months before war broke out, and rather presaged it.

Shortly after my post was published, I was contacted by the author of a new book about Lucy, who then kindly donated a copy to the Library (The Last Summer: the story of Lucy Christalnigg and the end of a world, by Nello Cristianini, now at YK.2014.a.19718).

Dr Cristianini gave us the English version, since we’re the British national library, but it is also available in Italian, German and Slovene, reflecting the complicated history of the borderland area in which Lucy’s story took place. My colleagues tell me that mine is the first European Studies blog entry which has led to a donation, and, to me, this illustrates the symbiotic relationship between the Library and authors. The BL is eligible to receive a copy of all books published annually in the UK and Ireland, and uses many acquisition processes for tracing and claiming these books. Overseas publications come to staff attention through publisher catalogues, approval plans and other means, but there are always books which slip through the net, whether they be UK or overseas publications. These are often items from small publishers, whose output is not listed as systematically as that of the big ones. We are still reliant on authors to contact us and let us know about these books. Even in this day and age, the computer cannot completely replace interpersonal contact, in-depth collection knowledge, or the ability to acquire it.

I had assumed, finding her story in newspapers on the centenary of her death, that Lucy Christalnigg’s story was quite well-known. In fact, although known along the Italian-Slovenian border where she died, it had never been fully researched until Dr. Cristianini, who was born in Gorizia himself, went to search the archives of three countries for this piece of his local history. Lucy’s story is a snapshot of her time and place. As an Austro-Hungarian aristocrat, she represented a class which did not survive the War, yet she was also a thoroughly modern woman, a racing driver who won many prizes and had apparently taken her own car at great speed around the hairpin bends of pitch-black mountain passes the night she died.  Ironically, it was on the straight valley road where she was shot that she probably least expected to die.

Photograph of Lucy Christalnigg at the wheel of a car with two passengers and a dogLucy Christalnigg at the wheel of her car. (Photo courtesy of Dr Nello Cristianini)

Lucy’s husband, Oskar Christalnigg von und zu Gillenstein, was a scion of a Carinthian family who were apparently of Slovene blood. Count Christalnigg was active in the Slovenian publishing society, the Slovenska Matica, and encouraged education in the Slovene language. His close political contacts included Ivan Hribar, the Liberal mayor of Ljubljana and a renowned pan-Slav. Count Christalnigg is likely to have been of a less radical inclination than Hribar, like the many other Austro-Hungarian aristocrats who sponsored “national revivals” in their local areas, expecting these to reinforce the empire. However, the awakening of local patriotism had unintended consequences, and after 1918 the old, trans-national Habsburg aristocracy found itself living in a variety of brand new states, some of which suspected their loyalty. The best-known case is that of the Bohemian nobility, which had to learn to be Czech, with mixed results (a substantial number later aligned with the Sudeten German cause and then became Nazis), but others faced similar dilemmas.

Oskar Christalnigg’s family seat lay in a part of north-east Carinthia that in 1919 was substantially Slovene-speaking. As the empire split apart and reformed as new states, it was claimed by both German Austria and Yugoslavia, to which the majority of Slovene lands had already been assigned (though the western-most lands were occupied by Italy as a consequence of the War). The resulting plebiscite left his main home just inside Austria, but his properties to the south were now in Yugoslavia and Italy, and Yugoslavia quickly embarked on land reforms which aimed to break up the old Austro-Hungarian landed estates, with compensation to landowners as long as they were not members of the Habsburg dynasty. Oskar Christalnigg quietly retired to his Austrian castle   with his second wife, no doubt relieved that the Austrian Republic had stripped him of only his title.

Schloss Erverstein, a castle on a rocky hillSchloss Erverstein, Oskar Christalnigg’s Austrian Castle (picture by Johann Jaritz from Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Local history books seem to me to be rooted in the same enthusiasm for particular places that motivated “national revivals” and their patrons. It is this enthusiasm and sense of place which brings the past to life through hunting down information on obscure or forgotten tales, and gives it a human face.

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager

07 November 2014

Is your governess really a spy?

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Ever since Baroness Lehzen taught the young Princess Victoria, German governesses had occupied a place in 19th-century British consciousness. Many German women came to Britain during the century to teach either in schools or private homes, and a Verein deutscher Lehrerinnen in England  was founded in 1876 to offer them advice and assistance. By the beginning of the 20th century it was common – and fashionable – for upper-class families to employ a ‘Fräulein’ to help educate their daughters, even against the background of rising of anti-German sentiment.

Vereinsbote PP.1215.fb
Der Vereinsbote. Organ des Vereins deutscher Lehrerinnen in England
. Vol. 26, no. 1, February 1914 (P.P.1215.fb). The journal of the Association of German Teachers in England. Like other British German newspapers and periodicals, it ceased publication in August 1914.

On the outbreak of war, however, governesses were among the Germans in Britain viewed with particular suspicion. Because some lived closely with the families of well-connected employers, they could easily be demonised as potential spies or fifth columnists.  A browse through contemporary newspapers via the British Newspaper Archive reveals a number of stories, or variations on the same story, about German governesses whose trunks were found to conceal bombs or secret documents. A report in the Lichfield Mercury of 21 August 1914 even claims that a German ‘secret order book’ had been discovered which recommended the placing of ‘handsome German governesses’ in the families of British military officers to gather information; presumably their handsomeness was intended to help tempt the officers into indiscretions  of various kinds.

These stories may strike us as faintly absurd, but their underlying message was taken seriously at the time, even in high places. In 1916, the Prime Minister of New Zealand specifically mentioned governesses, alongside waiters and clerks, as Germans employed in Britain who had used their position to collect information which was ‘promptly conveyed to Berlin.’ And of course these attitudes could have serious consequences for the women who suddenly found themselves designated ‘enemy aliens’, perhaps after many years as part of a British family, and suspected of spying.

Families who employed a German governess sometimes themselves fell under suspicion. A Mr Cunningham was still pursuing damages from the War Office in 1923, claiming that his business had collapsed when it was boycotted following a military search of his house in 1914, triggered in part by the presence there of a German governess. Even the British Prime Minister was suspected of harbouring a spy in the form of his children’s long-serving governess Anna Heinsius.

A popular example of the ‘governess as spy’ theme was the 1914 play The Man who Stayed at Home, set in a small seaside hotel where the hero, a British secret agent, affects a languid and flippant air to disguise his true mission as a spy-catcher. One of the first characters we meet is Fräulein Schroeder, described in the stage directions as ‘a tall, angular and unattractive spinster with a dictatorial manner and entirely unsympathetic soul.’

A modern audience might expect, or even hope, that such an obvious candidate as Fräulein Schroeder would turn out not to be a villain. But the popular stereotypes of the day prevail: she is in fact in cahoots with the hotel’s owner, Mrs Sanderson (German widow of an Englishman), her ‘son’ Carl (actually ‘Herr von Mantel, son of General von Mantel, and paid spy of the German Government’) and the waiter Fritz (who, despite a thick stage-German accent, manages to convince everyone that he is Dutch), all spies in the service of their ‘Imperial Master’ in Berlin.

Cover of  'The Man who Stayed at Home', showing a warship firing on a U-Boat
Cover of a 1916 acting text of The Man who stayed at Home.The image was also available as a poster for groups wishing to stage the play.

The play clearly pleased the British public. It had a long run in London and was filmed twice (1915 and 1919) and adapted as a novel (1915). The novel is somewhat kinder about Fräulein Schroeder’s appearance: initially, at least, she radiates  ‘all the placid good nature and quietude of spirit of the best of her race’ and has ‘small, kindly brown eyes’. But her fanaticism and ruthlessness are far more strongly emphasised and, in a change from the play, she poisons herself when the German plot is foiled, a ‘sordid and ugly’ death depicted as encapsulating the inglorious nature of her cause.

Amidst all these tall tales and spy-panics it is comforting to encounter stories of those who supported and defended such ‘enemy aliens’ trying to continue a teaching career in Britain during the war years. The Daily Mail of 3 September 1914 reported that a man who applied to the International Women’s Aid Committee for a governess for his children was shocked to be sent a German woman. But, the report continues, the Committee’s secretary responded that, ‘Our object is to help foreign women of any nationality who are the innocent victims of the war. We do not consider that we are helping the enemy in assisting a non-combatant German governess.’ A refreshing sentiment to set against the popular jingoism of the time.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References/further reading

Lechmere Worrall / J.E. Harold Terry, The Man who Stayed at Home: a play in three acts. French’s Acting Edition No. 2535 (London, [1916]). 2304.h.71.(4)

Beamish Tinker [i.e. F. Tennyson Jesse], The Man who Stayed at Home ... From the play of the same name. (London, 1915) NN.2687

Panikos Panayi, The Enemy in our Midst : Germans in Britain during the First World War (New York, 1991) YC.1991.a.4196

This piece was posted live from Selwyn College Cambridge as part of the Women In German Studies Postgraduate workshop in November 2014.

26 September 2014

Kazimir Malevich - pioneer of Russian abstract art

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Caricature of a fat and ill-kempt German officer with his troops in the background“Look, just look, the Vistula is near”. Poster designed by Kazimir Malevich with caption by Vladimir Mayakovsky (Moscow, 1914). HS.74/273(3)

Having just viewed the excellent Malevich exhibition at Tate Modern, I was reminded that many of the images on display appear in items held by the British Library. For example the figure of an officer on one of the series of anti-German propaganda postcards in the “Works on paper” section with the caption “Look, just look, the Vistula is near” appears again on one of the lithographed posters Malevich designed for the project “Today’s Lubok” in the same year. In both the postcard and poster (which uses different colours) you can already see the tendency towards depicting the human figure as being made up of geometrical shapes, the use of bright colours (also found in Russian folk paintings or lubki) and the stylised patterns (e.g. to depict grass) of contemporary Primitivist paintings.

The British Library holds four lithographed First World War posters designed by Malevich.  One of these – “Wilhelm’s Merry-go-round” (HS 74/273(4)) – is also displayed in the British Library’s current exhibition Enduring War.

An abstract geometric shape

Kazimir Malevich, “Prayer” from Vzorval by Aleksei Kruchenykh. (St Petersburg, 1913). C.114mm.28.

Also included in the “Works on paper” section of the exhibition is Malevich’s “Molitva” (Prayer). This appears in the lithographed Futurist publication Vzorval by Aleksei Kruchenykh (known in English as “Explodity”). It is in the Cubo-Futurist style which combines the multi-viewpoints and cylindrical machine like shapes of Cubism (cf. Léger) with the dynamic approach of Futurism though here applied in the Russian manner to a static meditative pose rather than depicting movement.

During his Futurist period Malevich developed the theory of alogism where colour is divorced from the object that is being depicted. This combined with the irrationalism of the Russian Futurists can be seen in  An Englishman in Moscow (1914) where objects of different scale and unnatural colour are combined in a surrealistic collage.

Front and back covers of 'Pervyi tsikl lektsii' with abstract designs in yellow, black and blueNikolai Punin, Pervyi tsikl lektsii. (Petrograd, 1920). C.145.a.2.

There are several examples of book covers designed by Malevich included in the exhibition. One also held by the British Library is his cover for Nikolai Punin’s, Pervyi tsikl lektsii (First cycle of lectures). This cover exemplifies the use of bright colours and geometrical forms of Malevich’s abstract Suprematist  style for a book about drawing in modern art.

Page from 'O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve' with short pieces of text and a black square and circleKazimir Malevich, O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve. (Vitebsk, 1919). C.114.n.46.

In 1919 Malevich joined the art school set up by Chagall in Vitebsk. Here he began to produce books that promoted Suprematism as the correct method for modern art. His ideas were elucidated further in the manifesto O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve (On New systems in Art) published in Vitebsk in 1919. This publication was hand produced in the Art School by transfer lithography with a linocut (see above) by El Lissitzky. It was republished in abbreviated form by Narkompros as Ot Sezanna do suprematizmu (From Cezanne to Suprematism) in 1920. (C.127.g.11.) 

Photograph of Stalin addressing a meeting overlaid with collage elements“A spiritualistic séance in the Kremlin” from  Mikhail Karasik, Utverditeliu novogo iskusstva. (St Petersburg, 2007). HS.74/1966. Reproduced by permission of the artist.

An interesting use of Malevich’s Suprematist imagery can be seen in Mikhail Karasik’s artist’s book of 16 lithographs entitled Utverditeliu novogo iskusstva  (To the Affirmer of the New Art). In No.6 “A spiritualistic séance in the Kremlin: Stalin calls upon the spirit of Malevich” his black square and a robotic looking figure together with the letters of the artists’ collective UNOVIS are merged into a contemporary photo of Stalin making a speech.

Peter Hellyer, Curator Russian Studies

References

Other original works by Malevich held by the British Library:

Kazimir Malevich, Bog ne skinut: iskusstvo, tserkov', fabrika [God is not cast down: art, church, factory], (Vitebsk, 1922). C.114.n.33.

Kazimir Malevich, Ot kubizma i futurizma k suprematizmu: novyi zhivopisnyi realizm [From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism: new painterly realism], 3rd edition. (Moscow, 1916). C.114.mm.25.

Artists books containing illustrations by Malevich:

Daniel Kharms, Na smert’ Kazimira Malevicha [On the death of Kazimir Malevich], (St Petersburg, 2000). Lithographs and commentaries by Mikhail Karasik. Cover decorated with a fabric design by Malevich. HS.74/1743

Aleksei Kruchenykh and Velimir Khlebnikov, Igra v adu [Game in hell], 2nd enlarged ed. (St Petersburg, 1914). Cover and 3 lithographs by Malevich. Cup.406.g.2 and C.114.mm.41.

Aleksei Kruchenykh, Pobeda nad solntsem; opera [Victory over the sun: opera], music by M. Matiushin, (St Petersburg, 1913). A set design by Malevich appears on the cover. C.114.mm.9.

Aleksei Kruchenykh, Slovo kak takovoe [Word as such.], (Moscow, 1913). Cover illustration (Reaper) by K. Malevich. C.114.mm.23.

Troe [Three] by V. Khlebnikov, A. Kruchenykh, and E. Guro, (St Petersburg, 1913). Cover and drawings dedicated to the memory of E. Guro by K. Malevich. C.105.a.7

Zina V. and Aleksei Kruchenykh. Porosiata [Piglets], (St Petersburg: EUY, 1913). Cover (Peasant woman) and illustrations (including “Portrait of a builder”) by Malevich. C.104.e.21

Useful reference sources:

Malevich edited by Achim Borchardt-Hume. (London, 2014.) [Catalogue of the Tate Modern exhibition]

Leaflet text of Malevich exhibition at Tate Modern by Simon Bolitho.