Writing Norwegian Literary Histories. The Marie Wells Collection in the Bodleian Libraries

By Marie Martine, on behalf of the TORCH critical thinking community for Scandinavian Studies (in collaboration with Leif Bjarne Hammer and Sarah Fengler)

A Transformative Donation

exhibition posterIn 2023, the Taylor Institution received a generous donation from Dr Marie Wells, comprising a substantial selection of Norwegian books (along with some Danish titles), significantly enriching the institution’s collection. As part of our TORCH critical thinking community for Scandinavian Studies, we organised this exhibition ‘Writing Norwegian Literary Histories’ to showcase the best holdings of this recent acquisition.

This donation will undoubtedly support the work of current and future scholars in Scandinavian Studies, including the work of Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, expert in Ibsen’s theatre and Professor Dan Grimley, expert in Scandinavian music and the Head of Oxford’s Humanities Division. Numerous DPhil students currently research Scandinavian cultural history, among them the four co-convenors of the TORCH critical thinking community: Leif Bjarne (History) who analyses in his thesis eighteenth-century university culture in Oxford and Copenhagen; Marie Martine (MML) who researches women’s writing at the end of the nineteenth century, including the Norwegian feminist writer, Amalie Skram;  Sarah Fengler (MML) whose thesis in German and Norwegian literature explores European Old Testament tragedies in the Age of Enlightenment; and Tzen Sam (English) who uncovers in her research Ibsen’s women translators into English. We sincerely hope that this donation and this exhibition will encourage an even more active engagement with Scandinavian Studies at the University of Oxford.

Plural Literary Histories

The exhibition title ‘Writing Norwegian Literary Histories’ not only refers to the various literature histories included in the collection, but also pays homage to the diverse range of voices, styles, and genres that characterises modern Norwegian literature.

The exhibition starts from the 1800s which marks Norway’s entry into the European cultural scene and its trajectory towards modernity. It thus does not include Old Norse texts, considered as part of a wider pan-Scandinavian literary tradition. It also does not delve into the fascinating evolution of Norwegian literature from Christian writing, the baroque, classicism and enlightenment eras. Instead, the exhibition starts from the date 1814, when Norway gained its independence from Denmark and entered a political union with Sweden. From this pivotal cultural and political moment, Norwegian authors and intellectuals concentrated their efforts to carve out a distinctly ‘Norwegian’ identity, through language, literature, and culture. It is also at that time that Norwegian became distinct from Danish, by creating two written languages, Bokmål and Nynorsk. Concurrently, many writers gained critical acclaim abroad, notably through their creative appropriation of European literary movements, ranging from Realism to Modernism.  The authors featured in this exhibition showcase a diverse spectrum of writing styles, spanning from Norway’s quest for independence to the present day.

Norwegian Realism

As Norway achieved political and cultural independence, it emerged onto the European cultural stage, engaging with and contributing to its literary trends. While Norwegian authors at the beginning of the nineteenth century embraced national romanticism to convey Norwegian identity and rediscover folktales, starting in the 1850s, many shifted their focus towards realism.

The transition from a romantic style to a realistic one is evident in the trajectory of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s career (1832-1910). He started his literary journey with Synnøve Solbakken (1857), which aligns with the ideals of national romanticism, but then took on a realistic approach in his prose. His dramas and novels provide a critical examination of Norwegian society in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Bjørnson is also celebrated for his poetry, particularly ‘Ja, vi elsker dette landet’ (Yes, we love this country), which became the Norwegian national anthem, set to music by his cousin, Rikard Nordraak.

The first Norwegian novel adopting a realistic style is Camilla Collett’s (1813-1895) Amtmandens Døtre (The District Governor’s Daughters, 1855-6) which tells the story of Sophie Ramm who is prevented from marrying the man she loves by the social conventions of the time. This novel set a precedent for the realistic representation of life typical of that period. While many women authors featured in this exhibition have only recently been rediscovered by scholars, their success during their lifetime was significant. An author like Collett had a great influence, setting a precedent for the realistic representation of life typical of that period.

Women’s Voices

photo of Amalie Skram

Ovesen, R., Portrett av Amalie Skram, Nasjonalbiblioteket Oslo (1877)

Another major woman author within the Norwegian literary tradition is Amalie Skram (1846-1905). Born in Bergen, she moved to Denmark in 1884 when she married the Danish author, Erik Skram. She was an influential member of the Danish literary circles and at the end of her life she declared that she was a ‘Danish writer’ because she found her country of adoption more accepting of her writing than Norway. Nevertheless, Skram’s works focus on Norwegian society. Her saga Hellemyrsfolket (The People of Hellemyr, 1887-1898) is considered a masterpiece of the naturalist canon. Feminist scholars have recently refocused attention on what they term Skram’s ‘marriage novels’, depicting unhappy marriages, ruined by double standards and women’s lack of freedom.

In Skram’s footsteps, we find Cora Sandel, pseudonym of Sara Fabricius (1880-1974), painter and writer who grew up in Tromsø. Sandel tried to pursue a career as a painter while living in Paris between 1908 and 1911, where she was also active as a journalist, before moving to Sweden and becoming an author. In her most famous work, the Alberte trilogy (composed of Alberta and Jacob, Alberta and Freedom, and Alberta Alone, 1962-1965), she describes the trajectory of Alberte, who grows up in Norway and later comes to Paris, a journey which draws on Sandel’s own life. The trilogy offers a poignant portrayal of a woman grappling with finding her voice in a patriarchal society, emerging as a writer—a powerful symbol of emancipation.

A prominent figure in 20th-century Norway, Torborg Nedreaas (1906-1987) was a communist and feminist and played a pivotal role in shaping Norway’s post-war literary landscape. Her debut novel, Av måneskinn gror det ingenting (Nothing Grows by Moonlight, 1947), fearlessly confronts the topic of abortion and women’s reproductive rights at a time when abortion was still punishable by imprisonment in Norway. Following a similar narrative trajectory as Sandel, Nedreaas’ ‘Herdis trilogy’ (1950-1971) chronicles the journey of its heroine from childhood to womanhood.

Modern Norway’s most famous feminist writer is Gerd Brantenberg (born in 1941) who earned critical acclaim with her novel Egalias døtre (1977) which was translated into English as Egalia’s daughters. In this utopia (which reveals itself to be a dystopia), Brantenberg imagines a society where women hold power over men, a gender hierarchy justified by men’s inability to bear children. It is a difficult novel to translate as Brantenberg highlights how language is gendered by making everything feminine: the hero, Petronius, indeed dreams of becoming a ‘seawoman’, a job forbidden to him as a man. Because it inverses gender norms to better unveil women’s oppression, this novel quickly became a classic of feminist literature.

Norwegian Literature and Politics

painting

Krohg, Christian, Albertine i politilægens venteværelse, oil on canvas, Nasjonalmuseet for Kunst, Arkitektur og Design, Oslo (1887)

Norwegian literature counts numerous other politically engaged authors. An author who made history was the realist painter and novelist, Christian Krohg (1852-1925). His novel Albertine (1886) was forbidden as soon as it came out. It portrays the fall of a young seamstress into prostitution and her abuse at the hands of a patriarchal system supported by doctors and the police. One of Krohg’s best-known paintings depicts a scene from the novel in which Albertine goes to the police station to undergo a medical examination. This novel and Krohg’s painting sparked wider debate on prostitution in Scandinavia, culminating in the abolition of public prostitution in 1887.

Jens Bjørneboe (1920-1976), was a renowned poet, playwright, and novelist. He is also celebrated for his radical political views, notably expressed in his polemical essays. His novel Jonas (1955) presents a harsh critique of the public school system and 1950s Norwegian society and is considered one of the most significant Norwegian literary works of the post-war era. In Under en hårdere himmel (Under a Harsher Sky, 1957), Bjørneboe describes his contemporary society and criticises its practice of imposing death penalties with retroactive effect, leading to intense debates upon its publication.

A Country of Prize-Winners

Norwegian literary history also features a lineage of Nobel Prize laureates in literature.

The first Norwegian laureate was Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson who was awarded the third Nobel prize in literature in 1903 for his poetry, although he is now mostly remembered for his realist prose.

Knut Hamsun won the prize in 1920 for his monumental novel, Growth of the Soil (1917), set in rural Norway. This neorealist novel uses the stream of consciousness technique to convey the characters’ inner lives and criticises modernity, advocating for a return to nature. Hamsun’s most renowned novel today is arguably Sult (Hunger, 1890), chronicling the wanderings of a failed artist through the streets of Kristiania (the former name of Oslo), tormented by hunger. Hamsun’s legacy is however tarnished by his support for the Nazi regime towards the end of his life, sparking debates among scholars regarding the influence of his political beliefs on his literary works.

Sigrid Undset (1882-1949) was awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 1928, principally for her trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter (published between 1920 and 1922) which chronicles the experiences of Kristin in medieval Norway. While Undset’s fictional works may be set in the Nordic Middle Ages or in contemporary Norway, they consistently centre around women.  Beyond her literary writing, Undset actively participated in the public debate on women’s emancipation.

The latest Nobel Prize winner in literature is Jon Fosse (born 1959), honoured with the prestigious award in 2023. In his Nobel Prize lecture, Fosse tells how he was overcome by fear when asked by his teachers to read aloud and how writing became a way to reclaim a voice: ‘In a way it was as if the fear took my language from me, and that I had to take it back, so to speak. And if I were to do that, it couldn’t be on other people’s terms, but on my own. I started to write my own texts, short poems, short stories. And I discovered that doing so, gave me a sense of safety, gave me the opposite of fear. In a way I found a place inside myself that was just mine, and from that place I could write what was just mine’. Language and the struggle to articulate one’s emotions and perspectives through it are central themes in Fosse’s plays and prose.

Nynorsk Voices

Fosse’s writing also exemplifies another significant facet of Norwegian literature through his use of Nynorsk, a written Norwegian variant that emerged in the nineteenth century.

Norwegian indeed counts a high number of dialects which follow either one of the two written variants: Bokmål (literally: ‘the language of the book’) and Nynorsk (‘New Norwegian’). In the nineteenth century, the political and cultural elite used Danish for both oral and written communication, but Norwegian dialects were spoken by around 95% of the population. After declaring its independence from Danish rule in 1814, Norwegian intellectuals sought to build a unique and unified Norwegian culture and language. There were three central positions defended by nationalists: keep speaking and writing in Danish (a solution which was ultimately rejected), developing a new written language based on Norwegian dialects, or ‘norwegianise’ Danish.

Knud Knudsen (1812-1895), a grammarian, had the goal of altering Danish orthography until it reflected the informal speech of the educated classes in Norway. It was established as a norm (Bokmål) with a spelling reform in 1907. Bokmål is used as a written form by 85% to 90% of the Norwegian population, but the spoken dialects can differ greatly.

Ivar Aasen (1813-1896) was a linguist and poet from rural Norway. Drawing from rural dialects in the western and central regions of southern Norway, he pioneered the language standard known as Landsmål, culminating in the publication of a grammar book in 1848. It was renamed Nynorsk in 1929.

A pioneer of adopting Nynorsk as a literary language was Arne Garborg (1851-1924). His literary and journalistic works provided an example for Nynorsk authors after him. His enthusiasm for and defence of rural dialects led to the official recognition of Landsmål (later Nynorsk) in 1885, even though his work was dismissed by some of his contemporaries. Garborg even translated The Odyssey into Nynorsk.

In the same vein, Olav H. Hauge (1908-1994) was a Nynorsk poet and translator. In 2016, his poem ‘Det er den draumen’ (‘It is that dream’, 1966), was chosen as the best Norwegian poem of all time by the national TV channel NRK. Hauge is praised for the expression of deep human concerns in his poetry, as well as his descriptions of nature, often in concrete language and in humorous ways.

A major figure of Norwegian modernism and Nynorsk is Tarjei Vesaas (1897-1970). His 1957 novel Fuglane (The Birds), written in Nynorsk, tells the story of Mattis, who has a cognitive disability and lives with his sister in rural Norway. Vesaas described this novel as a self-portrait, a description of an artist longing to attain the ineffable as symbolised by the language of birds. He is also known for his symbolic novel Is-slottet from 1963 (The Ice Palace), and today he lends his name to a high-profile literary award for debutants.

Despite Bokmål being the majority written language, Nynorsk can pride itself of having a long and exceptional literary history.

Henrik Ibsen

portrait of Ibsen

Peterssen, Eilif, Henrik Ibsen, oil on canvas, Private collection, Oslo (1895)

Among all these extraordinary books (and this article has not even brushed on the collection’s holdings of the works by great authors like Alexander Kielland, Jonas Lie, Liv Køltzow, Aksel Sandemose, Tove Nilsen etc.), the Taylorian now holds many works by Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906). Ibsen is indisputably Norway’s most renowned playwright, appreciated for his nuanced character portrayals, often giving female protagonists the central role within his work. His play Et dukkehjem (A Doll’s House, 1879) scandalised European audiences by foregrounding the perspective of Nora, a young housewife, who leaves her husband and children when she realises that her marriage stilted her self-discovery.

In the exhibition, we made a deliberate choice not to place Ibsen at the centre, despite his renown. Instead, we aimed to present him alongside a diverse array of authors and networks that collectively define Norwegian literature. Ibsen, while undoubtedly significant, is just one captivating facet of the multifaceted and distinctive Norwegian literary heritage.

‘Writing Norwegian Literary Histories’ is an exploration of Norwegian literature, its linguistic richness, diverse voices, and varied thematic explorations. This exhibition represents only a part of the Marie Wells Collection and we do hope it will encourage students and readers to further explore Scandinavian literatures and histories.

With many thanks to Nick Hearn (Subject Librarian for French) and Emma Huber (Subject Librarian for German), the Taylor Institution Library, and TORCH for their support.

More information on the TORCH Critical-Thinking Community for Scandinavian Studies here: https://www.torch.ox.ac.uk/scandinavian-studies-network

Seeing Dante’s Commedia in Print from the Renaissance to Today: The Taylorian Collections

Together with the artist and printmaker Wuon Gean-Ho, two researchers from the sub-faculty of Italian, Rebecca Bowen and Simon Gilson, have been exploring the Taylorian collections of Renaissance print editions of Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’. This blog post highlights key aspects of those collections ahead of an exhibition of new artworks created by Wuon-Gean which will be displayed alongside these historical editions. The exhibition will run in the Voltaire Room from 14th – 26th June 2024. A catalogue will be available through Taylor Editions.

The Taylor holds an astonishing collection of early print editions of Dante’s Commedia, published before 1600. These books, both beautiful and rare, represent an experimental and exciting era in the development of print as a medium and as a technology. With at least 27 different editions of or about the poem, studying the Taylor’s historical collections of Dante amounts to studying the history of the Commedia in early modern print more broadly. As well as striking illustrations and interesting paratexts, these volumes hold the histories of their former owners and readers, offering a journey that moves from Dante’s Florence, to sixteenth-century Venice, and on to Oxford in the nineteenth-century, as the examples examined in the following paragraphs show.

Title Pages. (Aldus, 1515: MOORE.1.G.1; Giolito, 1555: Moore 1.A.3)

Almost all of the early printed Dante’s in the Taylorian collections were published in Venice. This reflects a very real phenomenon in the early print history of the Commedia as the Venetian city state dominated production. The earliest printed copy of the Commedia in the Taylorian collections was produced by the German craftsman Windelin von Speyer, whose brother, although not himself born a Venetian, was the first printer to be granted a licence to print in the city (ARCH.FOL.IT.1477). This book was produced in 1477 and reflects the fact that print technology was still very experimental at that time. As scholars have noted, the body of the text is interrupted by several blank spaces. Looking back at older manuscripts we can see that, where this printed edition has blank spaces, earlier copies have hand-drawn diagrams. These scientific images did not accompany Dante’s poem but were part of the commentary by Iacomo della Lana, which is printed for the first time in this edition. These blanks remind us of the technological difficulty of reproducing images alongside text in the early era of printing.

Blank space. (Speyer, 1477: ARCH.FOL.IT.1477)

The first fully illustrated edition of the Commedia was also printed in Venice, nearly fifteenth years after the last edition, in 1491. The Taylorian has a copy of this book, published by Bernardo Benali and Matteo Capcasa di Parma (or Codecà), which contains an illustration for every canto of the poem (ARCH.FOL.IT.1491(1)). The Taylorian also has copies of several of the books that were produced after this edition, using the same or similar images and even replicating its setting of the text, including an edition printed by Pietro Quarengi in 1497 also in Venice. Quarengi’s edition uses some of same woodcuts made for Codecà’s earlier book, but also uses another set of blocks made for a rival edition, printed by Pietro di Piasi months after Codecà’s book in 1491 (ARCH.FOL.IT.1497(1)).

 

Inferno 1. (Codecà, 1491: ARCH.FOL.IT.1491(1))

 

Inferno 1. (Quarengi, 1497: ARCH.FOL.IT.1497(1))

Of the 25 editions of the Commedia published before 1600 and held in the Taylorian collections, only 7 were not printed in Venice. Two of these editions were printed in Florence, Dante’s hometown. They both reflect a strand of interest in Dante’s poem that was particularly popular in Florence in the 16th century when publishers and readers of Dante were increasingly excited about exploring the poem as a source of inspiration for scientific and mathematical hypotheses on locating and measuring hell. The earliest of these editions was printed by Filippo Giunta in 1506 and presents Dante’s poem along with a new treatise on the ‘Site, Shape, and Size of Hell’ (101.C.15).

The Taylor’s copy of this edition is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is missing Dante’s poem and only contains the treatise. Secondly, the final 8 leaves of the treatise are also missing and they have been replaced with very careful handwritten replicas, including a diagram that accurately reproduces the image in the print edition on a deliberately yellowed surface. Although this approach to conversation clashes with contemporary practices—now we would understand pages as an important part of the life of the object and not a deficit to be filled—it is common to find very accurate, hand-drawn inclusions of missing parts of text in manuscripts and early printed books.

Hand drawn replacement of missing pages. (Giunta, 1506: 101.C.15)

The second Florentine edition in the Taylorian collections was released by the Manzani printshop in 1595 and edited by the newly founded Accademia della Crusca, a scholarly society still operating today that opened its doors in 1593 (MOORE.1.B1). As well as a detailed map of the Inferno printed with the expensive technique of engraving, this edition offers specialized linguistic notes for readers interested in the poem’s textual variants. The edition is plagued with typographical errors, partly because many Academicians were invited to contribute to its creation.

As well as books printed in Venice and Florence, the Taylorian holds four editions of the Commedia printed in the French city of Lyon. These are evidence of the prolific trade between Northern Italy and South-Eastern France in the early modern period (101.C.2; VET.ITAL.I.A.158; 51.E.6.B; MOORE.1.A.7). These editions present Dante’s text in Italian and include new paratextual materials to help the reader navigate the text. They also experiment with small format publication, beginning with an octavo edition printed in 1502 that is an exact copy of a book first produced by the very popular Venetian printshop of Aldus Manutius (101.C.2); a smaller edition in 12mo which was printed by Jean de Tournes in 1547 (VET.ITAL.I.A.158); and an even smaller 16mo edition printed four different times by Guglielmo Rouillio (the Taylorian edition is from 1552: 51.E.6.B).

Title page, ‘La Divina Comedia di Dante’. (Giolito, 1555: MOORE.1.A.3)

Despite their small size, these editions offer the reader a detailed visual experience that includes woodcut illustrations and the use of ‘page ornaments’ to signal the start of different sections of text. Rather than staying in France, this aesthetic crossed back into Italy and influenced the page design in publications like Gabriele Giolito’s edition printed in Venice in 1555 (Moore 1.A.3). Instead of using the same paratextual materials as the ones printed in Lyon, Giolito’s book presents new summaries and interpretations alongside a new edition of the text produced by the scholar Ludovico Dolce. Dolce was engaged in deeply politicised discussions about Dante’s poem that raged between Venice, Florence, and Rome in the mid sixteenth-century and went so far as to implicate Dante in debates about the religious orthodoxy of his text. Defending Dante in this context, Dolce’s edition is the first to refer to the Commedia as ‘divina’ (divine), highlighting the word through prominent placing and framing at the top of the title page.

Title page. (Aldus, 1515: MOORE.1.G.1)

These small books were very much inspired by an edition esteemed for its elegance and simplicity, produced by the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius. Although the Taylorian does not hold a copy of the first edition printed by Aldus in 1502, it does hold a copy of the second edition printed by Aldus in 1515 and claimed by the printer with his recognisable dolphin motif.

These collections are available for consultation and for study. As well as being of interest to students of Book History and Italian Studies, they present an opportunity for creative reflection on the history of poetry in print. For further information on the collections related to Dante and, in particular, more modern materials, consult the existing blog posts on images of the poet and audio files as well as the handbook for the 2021 exhibition ‘Illustrating Dante’s Divine Comedy’, curated by Gervase Rosser and Claire Hills-Nova.

Far from forgotten fragments in the long print history of Dante’s Commedia, these rare books are testaments to the duration of interest in this medieval poem as an object of study and as a story that transcends national and regional boundaries, offering a poetic geography that to this day invites readers to imagine ‘otherworldly’ spaces in relation to their own worldly experiences.

Some of these books will be on display from 14th – 26th June 2024 in the Voltaire Room alongside new artworks by Wuon Gean-Ho. This is the result of a TORCH Knowledge Exchange Innovation Fund. You can read more about the project at this link.

Renée Vivien, enfant terrible of the Belle Époque?

Mon œuvre sera le meilleur de moi-même, qu’elle soit donc connue, et que je demeure moi-même dans l’ombre…

In the 115 years since her death, Renée Vivien (1877-1909) has become a shadowy figure of French literary history, although perhaps not in the sense she had hoped. Dubbed ‘Sappho 1900’ or ‘Muse of the Violets,’ she has acquired a paradoxical reputation, both sulphurous and ethereal, both kitsch and otherworldly, fuelled by anecdotes about her openly lesbian lifestyle and love affairs which tend to relegate her writing to the margins. Colette’s influential portrait of Vivien in The Pure and the Impure, for instance, depicts her as a sort of Parisian Miss Havisham, an alcoholic, anorexic nymphomaniac who lurks, ghost-like, in the shadows. The decadent themes of her poetry, the timing of her untimely death, and her links with other prominent members of Paris-Lesbos conspired, for better and for worse, to turn Vivien into a lasting emblem of the Belle Époque – a nostalgic synthesis of the excesses of pre-war Europe, a disturbed ‘Albertine without her little Proust,’ doomed to vanish with the withering old world order. Although the last few decades have seen a much-needed renewal of interest in (and editions of) Vivien, this myth has managed for the most part to escape unscathed, merely adapting to the times. Whether she is decried as a bad feminist or celebrated as a martyr to the cause of gay rights, Vivien’s writing often continues to come second to her life, and the same quotes and extracts are recycled over and over again to tell the same tragic story. Yet untangling the fact from the fiction is easier said than done, given that even Vivien herself was wont to offer conflicting information about herself and her writing. What – if anything – lies beneath the many masks of Renée Vivien?

Une enfance pas très heureuse, en somme, et une enfant toujours rêveuse, toujours bizarre et presque toujours seule, aimant et cherchant la solitude, et composant déjà des histoires à l’âge de six ans…

Born in London in 1877 to a well-to-do English father and American mother, the young Pauline Mary Tarn spent most of her childhood in Paris, attending a French pension, reading Racine and La Fontaine, and playing in the Champs-Élysées. When her father died in 1886, she was taken out of her French school and given a prim and proper English governess, before being shipped off to boarding school in London, where she pined for the freedom and friends she had left behind in Paris. By all accounts, her teenage years were a deeply unhappy time. Pauline felt French at heart and misunderstood by her English peers, and turned, increasingly, to literature for comfort, beginning to write verse in French at the age of fifteen, while on holiday in Fontainebleau with her childhood friend Violette Shillito. By the time she turned 21 and came into her father’s hefty inheritance, her mind was made up: she would move to Paris and become a poet.

The Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, early 1900s. Vivien lived at no. 23 from 1901 to 1909.

The Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, early 1900s. Vivien lived at no. 23 from 1901 to 1909.

Towards the end of 1899, shortly after Pauline’s return to the French capital, Violette introduced her to Natalie Clifford Barney, an American heiress who had recently scandalised Parisian society by seducing renowned courtesan Liane de Pougy. The two soon became not only lovers, but classmates and collaborators, too, taking classes in French versification with writer Jean Charles-Brun to improve their own compositions. Charles-Brun, who would go on to become a lifelong friend, helped Pauline get her first volume of poems published by Alphonse Lemerre, albeit at her own expense. Études et Préludes appeared in the spring of 1901, shortly followed by Cendres et Poussières and Brumes de Fjords the following year. These works were signed by an elusive ‘R. Vivien,’ whom many assumed to be a man. It was only in 1903, when her translation and rewritings of the Ancient Greek poet Sappho appeared in print, that the pseudonym was extended to ‘Renée Vivien,’ making the author’s gender (and sexual orientation) indubitably clear.

Renée Vivien photographed in Nice, c. 1907.

Renée Vivien photographed in Nice, c. 1907.

In the meantime, Pauline’s life had changed drastically. In spring 1901, Violette Shillito died of typhoid, and in summer of that year, Pauline broke off her unhappy relationship with Natalie and attempted suicide. Shortly afterwards, she met the woman who would become the closest thing she had to a lifelong partner: Hélène van Zuylen van Nijevelt, a wealthy, married baroness. Together, they produced a novel, short stories, and volumes of poetry under the pseudonym Paule Riversdale, while Renée Vivien’s craft came into its own, culminating in 1906 with À l’Heure des Mains jointes, widely regarded as her best work. However, the misogynistic, hostile or, worse yet, voyeuristic responses her works garnered from critics led Pauline to distance herself, increasingly, from the literary establishment of the Belle Époque, preferring instead to focus on travelling around the world and building her impressive collection of exotic antiques and musical instruments. Her health began to deteriorate, too, either as a result of, or leading to, an alcohol and chloral dependency and malnutrition. In November 1909, she died at her home in Passy, allegedly of a ‘lung congestion,’ having converted to Catholicism on her deathbed, as her friend Violette had done almost a decade earlier. She was thirty-two years old.

Je veux chercher le vrai. Rien que le vrai.

Vivien’s poetics is often characterised as a blend of Decadent, Parnassian, and Symbolist influences, allegedly indebted to such tutelar figures as Charles Baudelaire, Algernon Swinburne, and Paul Verlaine. While these affinities are undeniably present in her writing, the latter cannot be reduced to a passive pastiche. Frustrated by the blatant androcentrism of the Western literary tradition, Vivien undertook a radical revisionary project in order to redeem and re-centre the lived experiences of women, and of lesbian women in particular. Like her male predecessors, she rewrote the ancient legends of Sappho, Lilith, Delilah, and the Lady of the Lake, but unlike them, she challenged their implicit glorification of men – instead, the reader’s moral and aesthetic sympathies are directed towards the antiheroines. Everywhere in her œuvre, femininity is celebrated; associated with the moon, the sea, flowers, sensuality, and death, it represents a counter-discourse to the dominant vitalist narratives of the Belle Époque. This gynocentric agenda, more than the homoerotic content of her writing, is what sets her apart from her contemporaries – as do the technical features of her poetry. Vivien’s style is generally considered ‘old-fashioned’ for the early 20th century, laden down by formal alexandrines and unwieldy epithets. Yet what is often overlooked is its paradoxical modernity. Her novels, prose poems, and short stories experiment with form and explore the complexities of human consciousness in a strikingly proto-Modernist manner. Neglected, too, is the light side of Vivien. The frequency with which night-time, pain, and death appear in her verse has often overshadowed other, less conspicuous aspects of her writing – such as her gift for satire, her philological achievements, or her interest in syncretic spirituality. Vivien’s œuvre eludes simple definitions, oscillating, rather, between contradictory stances and aesthetics – between binary misandry and gender fluidity, between the past and the future, between pathos and irony. Like the thyrse which Baudelaire bestows upon Liszt, and no doubt wielded by her own ‘bacchante triste,’ Vivien’s poetics is an irreverent marriage of opposites.

Mercredi, 1er août 1888 : J’ai pris la résolution de devenir une petite fille sage et chrétienne. […] Jeudi : J’ai pris la décision de ne pas devenir sage ni chrétienne. C’est trop difficile.

The ‘Renée Vivien: enfant terrible of the Belle Époque?’ exhibition, held in the Voltaire Room from 22 April to 2 May 2024, is an opportunity to learn more about the life and works of this fascinating, contradictory figure from the turn of the century. Dispersing the aura of melodrama and tragedy that permeates the Vivien myth, it invites viewers to form their own understanding of who Pauline Tarn was as a person and as a poet. As well as showcasing the Taylor Institution’s array of first and subsequent editions of Vivien’s works, the exhibition has been invaluably enhanced by generous loans from the private collection of Imogen Bright, Vivien’s great-niece and literary executor. It also builds on the digital edition of Vivien’s teenage diary, titled Ma Vie et mes Idées [available soon], compiled as part of the Digital Editions course run by the Bodleian Libraries in Hilary Term 2024. Described by its author as ‘la Pauline d’aujourd’hui parl[ant] à la Pauline de demain,’ this document provides precious insight into the 16-year-old poet’s self-perception, erudition, and monumental literary ambitions.

Extract from Ma Vie et mes Idées, the diary Pauline Mary Tarn wrote in summer 1893.

Extract from Ma Vie et mes Idées, the diary Pauline Mary Tarn wrote in summer 1893.

Women writers, and Renée Vivien in particular, have traditionally been dismissed as either too feminine or not feminine enough, either dramatically sentimental or boringly scholarly. Together, the exhibition and Ma Vie et mes Idées invite us to rethink this dichotomy. What if the bluestocking and the bacchante were, in fact, one and the same?

A huge thank you to the Medieval & Modern Languages Faculty, to Nick Hearn, and to Imogen Bright, for their time, advice, and invaluable help in making this exhibition happen.

 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Albert, Nicole G. (ed.), Renée Vivien à rebours : études pour un centenaire, Paris, Orizons, 2009.

Clifford Barney, Natalie, Souvenirs indiscrets, Paris, Flammarion, 1960.

Colette, Le Pur et l’Impur, Paris, Aux Armes de France, 1941.

Goujon, Jean-Paul, Tes blessures sont plus douces que leurs caresses : vie de Renée Vivien, Paris, R. Deforges, 1986.

Islert, Camille, ‘Renée Vivien, une poétique sous influence ?’, PhD thesis, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2021. Available here: https://theses.hal.science/tel-03883263/document.

Vivien, Renée, Je suis tienne irrévocablement : lettres à Natalie C. Barney, ed. Chantal Bigot & Francesco Rapazzini, Paris, Bartillat, 2023.

Vivien, Renée, Lettres inédites à Jean Charles-Brun (1900-1909), ed. Nelly Sanchez, Paris, Mauconduit, 2020.

Vivien, Renée, Ma Vie et mes Idées: A Digital Edition, ed. Rebecca Boyd, Taylor Institution Library, one of the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford, [forthcoming].

Vivien, Renée, Poèmes choisis (1901-1909), Paris, Points, 2017.

 

Mário Cesariny (1923 – 2006): an irreverent Portuguese poet-artist

Exhibition poster for the Cesariny exhibition, shows a blue cat on a yellow background. The exhibition opened on 27th November 2023.

An enfant terrible of Portuguese Letters, irreverent iconoclast, and, above all, lover of freedom (in all the different hues that the word entails), Mário Cesariny’s life is inseparable from his work as poet, artist, critic and scholar; his legacy is thus that of an ‘absolute poet’ (as opportunely labelled by Perfecto Cuadrado), who deeply influenced a younger generation of artists and writers, admirers of his avant-garde work and his determination to live according to his own rules (or should we say, lack of them).

Black and white close-up photograph of Mario Cesariny.

Mário Cesariny, London, 1965. Photograph by João Cutileiro. Courtesy of Luís Amorim de Sousa

Born Mário Cesariny de Vasconcelos in 1923, in Lisbon, to a well-off family, Cesariny very early displayed a rebellious spirit and a hunger for exploring different creative avenues. The petty, grey and oppressive existence of life under the Estado Novo (as the Portuguese dictatorial regime came to be known) was too small and stifling for the young Cesariny, who left for Paris in 1947, where he met the father of surrealism André Breton. Upon his return to Portugal, he helped to establish the Grupo Surrrealista de Lisboa, along with others who were part of the informal groups that, in the Lisbon cafés of the 1940s, dreamt of a new country as much as about novel forms of art and creativity. Always averse to labels and rules, Cesariny later abandoned the group, but never stopped believing in and living by the principles of the surrealist movement, which release humankind from rational, aesthetic and moral judgements. During this period, he created a dissident movement called Os Surrealistas and dedicated himself to art and poetry, introducing new techniques into his art works, such as surrealist collages and automatism, as well as publishing his most famous collections of poetry – Corpo Visível (1950), Manual de Prestidigitação (1956), Pena Capital (1957) and Nobilíssima Visão (1959). His nonconformist lifestyle and not-so-secret homosexuality brought him several times face to face with agents of the PIDE (the International and State Defence Police), encounters that he would later recall with derision and caustic humour. It was also in this period that he regularly visited London and even managed to get one of his poems translated and published in the literary journal Agenda (in 1968).

Poem by Mário Cesariny, translated by Luís Amorim de Sousa and Michael Hambuger and published in the literary journal Agenda, vol. 6, n.3-4, 1968. The poem reads: "O my pure devoted wife, you keep on suffering and it breaks my heart to see you suffer like that. But wait. Let's pretend we are the stalk of a rose with its petals plucked. Our days together are sad. Life is all wrong, only torture exists and only the poem is. Youngsters won't leave me alone. They infest my soul. Please don't ask, please don't wish to come with me on the pub round, the club round.

Poem by Mário Cesariny, translated by Luís Amorim de Sousa and Michael Hambuger and published in the literary journal Agenda, vol. 6, n.3-4, 1968.

While in London, Cesariny was an observer of London life and worked on his poetry and art whilst staying with other Portuguese artists and writers who had taken refuge in the British capital from political persecution and oppression at home (Paula Rego, Alberto de Lacerda, Luís Amorim de Sousa and Helder Macedo, to mention just a few). Those days would eventually be recorded in the collection Poemas de Londres, where Cesariny, who prayed constantly at the altar of freedom, ponders on the birds of London and witnesses the journey of a pigeon crossing Piccadilly Circus.

Book cover of Mário Cesariny, 19 Projectos de Prémio Aldonso Ortigão Seguidos de Poemas de Londres. The book cover is bright pink with circular motifs.

Mário Cesariny, 19 Projectos de Prémio Aldonso Ortigão Seguidos de Poemas de Londres. Lisbon: Quadrante, 1967.

Like many other artists of his generation, Cesariny exuberantly celebrated the Carnation Revolution of 1974 that put an end to 48 years of dictatorship, and participated in a plethora of events, one example of which is on display in this exhibition. After this pivotal experience, Cesariny focused mostly on his visual work (“Poetry was a big fire that burnt out. It’s over,” we hear him saying in Autobiografia, the 2004 documentary by Miguel Gonçalves Mendes on Cesariny’s life and work), but continued to refuse coteries and to express his sometimes outrageous opinions or tactless remarks, a stance that earned him enemies throughout his life, as well as a legion of admirers who increasingly saw him as the father of the Portuguese avant-garde. This position was certainly consolidated in the last decade of his life but did not save him from dying alone and in poverty, in what can be seen as a re-enactment of the myth of the damned artist: ‘I am placed on a high plinth, they clap and then they let me go home alone. This is what we call literary glory Portuguese-style,’ he used to scathingly reply to the applause he received in later life.

In this exhibition at the Taylor Library, we wished not only to celebrate the centenary of Cesariny’s birth, but also to shed light on the links that bound his life and oeuvre to England. For that purpose, we explored the books held by the Taylor Institution Library on the poet and artist, as some of them were written in or around the periods in which he was living or visiting London.

Mário Cesariny (ed.), Antologia Surrealista do Cadáver Esquisito. With an illustration by Mário Cesariny. Lisbon: Guimarães Editores, 1961. In the photograph, it is visible the Taylor Institution Library, stamped with the date 31 July 1967.

Mário Cesariny (ed.), Antologia Surrealista do Cadáver Esquisito. With an illustration by Mário Cesariny. Lisbon: Guimarães Editores, 1961. In the photograph, it is visible the Taylor Institution Library, with the date 31 July 1967.

In so doing, we found that the University of Oxford was collecting books by Cesariny from very early on (as early as the 1960s); it therefore seems that academics and librarians of this University were well aware of the truly innovative quality of Cesariny’s work and of its revolutionary potential in the context of the Portuguese literary canon; their decision to obtain these books was also in contrast to the views and actions taken by the Portuguese dictatorship, which relentlessly persecuted the poet.

This exhibition would also not have been possible without the memories and material kindly shared with us by Cesariny’s friend and fellow writer Luís Amorim de Sousa.

Luís Amorim de Sousa discusses the life and work of fellow poet and friend Mário Cesariny at the ‘Mário Cesariny’ exhibition, Taylor Library, 27 November 2023- 12 January 2024.

Luís Amorim de Sousa discusses the life and work of fellow poet and friend Mário Cesariny at the ‘Mário Cesariny’ exhibition, Taylor Library, 27 November 2023- 12 January 2024.

Luís’s recollections of the days spent with Mário in London in the late 1960s – early 1970s are an intrinsic part of this research and ensuing exhibition. See the video below made by Noam Sala Budgen, a student of Portuguese at the Medieval and Modern Languages Faculty, and find out more about Luís’s friendship with Mário Cesariny.


Dr Luísa Coelho, Sub-faculty of Portuguese, University of Oxford

Old Frisian Summer School 2023: a student’s perspective

This summer, Oxford hosted the third edition of the Old Frisian Summer School. After a successful first edition, which was held in 2019, and an online edition in 2021, the OFSS saw its return to Oxford. The OFSS is a collaboration between the University of Oxford and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and is held once every two years in one of these historical university cities. Although this connection might not seem logical right away, both the Bodleian library in Oxford and the University Library in Groningen hold a considerable collection of Old Frisian manuscripts and both universities include departments in the field of Old Germanic and philology. This translates to the background of the participants of the OFSS: some being more advanced within the Old Germanic field, some new to the      field, yet      all being interested in what Old Frisian has to offer. A total of 35 participants travelled to Oxford, with English, Dutch, Czech, Danish, American and Chinese students (among others) being present. Meanwhile, for the first time, a handful of participants (14) attended the summer school online, following this edition from their homes elsewhere in the world, including Australia and the U.S.

OFSS: The programme

Dr Alex Kerkhof giving the second of three lectures on Old Frisian grammar

Dr Alex Kerkhof giving the second of three lectures on Old Frisian grammar

The summer school was structured with a couple of lectures taking place in the mornings and translation seminars in the afternoons. After the summer school was officially opened by organisers dr Johanneke Sytsema (Oxford) and mr. Anne Popkema MA (Groningen), dr Alex Kerkhof (Fryske Akademy, Leeuwarden) started the first of three lectures on Old Frisian grammar and its place within Old Germanic languages.  Old Frisian, an Ingveonic or North Sea Germanic language, bears close resemblance to Old English. Old Frisian used to be spoken in large areas along the current Dutch and German coasts, from the river Sincfal in the south to the river Weser in the east. All surviving manuscripts and text fragments originate from the Frisian lands east of the river Vlie and west of the river Weser. This includes nowadays East Frisia in Germany, the Dutch provinces of Groningen and, finally, Fryslân. The oldest manuscripts date back to the 12th century.

Historical range of Frisian-speaking areas. Note that there are still three Frisian-speaking areas; the province of Fryslân in the Netherlands, North Frisia in Germany and Saterland, also in Germany.

Historical range of Frisian-speaking areas. Note that there are still three Frisian-speaking areas; the province of Fryslân in the Netherlands, North Frisia in Germany and Saterland, also in Germany. URL link: https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friezen_%28vroege_middeleeuwen%29#/media/Bestand:Frisians.png

Hilbert Vinkenoog in the Old Dining Hall of St. Edmund Hall on early medieval Anglo-Frisian connections

Hilbert Vinkenoog in the Old Dining Hall of St. Edmund Hall on early medieval Anglo-Frisian connections

The grammar lectures and translation seminars were alternated with lectures focusing on the sociohistorical background. Historian Hilbert Vinkenoog (known for his YouTube channel History with Hilbert) enlightened the audience on the Anglo-Frisian connections and Frisian settlements in early medieval England, explaining how the Frisians might even have had settlements on the Faroe Islands, taking part in a local feud. Local Faroese nursery rhymes still bear Frisian aspects in them! Prof. Andreas Deutsch (Heidelberg) delved into the place of Old Frisian law within the Old Germanic legal landscape, elaborating on the widely recorded Frisian fine registers. These fine registers entail large sets of different crimes and the fines that needed to be paid in order to compensate for these crimes. For example, if one were to cut off his neighbour’s ear, he or she would need to pay the neighbour a certain amount of money. The extensiveness and details of the Old Frisian fine registers makes them truly unique within the Old Germanic legal landscape.

Dr Rafael Pascual in the Taylorian Library on Germanic Philology

Dr Rafael Pascual in the Taylorian Library on Germanic Philology

On Wednesday, Dr Rafael Pascual (Oxford) gave a practical introduction into Germanic philology in the Taylorian Library, discussing various view on the Indo-European language tree and on related linguistic theories. Prof. Arjen Versloot (Amsterdam and Groningen) joined the summer school online, highlighting innovative research methods on determining the age of Old Frisian texts in Codex Unia, one example of a typical Old Frisian compilation between Old Frisian texts and manuscripts. Since the texts are mainly legal in nature, on Friday, Prof. Simon Horobin (Oxford) delved deeper into Old English and Old Frisian studies by Franciscus Junius (1591-1677), whose collection of various Old Frisian manuscripts is kept in the Bodleian Library.

Participants during the translation workshops in the Old Library of St. Edmund Hall

Participants during the translation workshops in the Old Library of St. Edmund Hall

The translation workshops increased in difficulty during the week: at the start, texts such as the Ten Commandments were translated, along with grammar assignments to familiarise participants with Old Frisian morphology and syntax. Although translating was the main focus during these seminars, other aspects of working with medieval texts and manuscripts were also highlighted. Making a critical edition out of a diplomatic edition from part of the early printing of the Freeska Londriucht, for example, proved not to be as easy as one would have thought.

 

Codex Aysma (ms. Junius 78) on display in the Weston Library

Codex Aysma (ms. Junius 78) on display in the Weston Library

While most of the OFSS took place in St. Edmund Hall, which accommodated most of the participants, the participants were also welcomed wholeheartedly in the Taylorian and Weston libraries for lectures, manuscript viewings and tours. In the Weston Library, two Old Frisian manuscripts were viewed (Codex Aysma and Codex Unia), which were originally brought to England in the 17th century by philologist Franciscus Junius. In addition, two copies of the incunabulum Freeska Londriucht also known as ‘Druk’ were also shown. Physically viewing these manuscripts was, perhaps, the highlight of the summer school, as it gave most participants a clearer view and example of what they had previously learned: how are manuscripts written and produced, why certain texts featured in it, how the manuscripts survived, who were their owners, and, most importantly, what exactly do the texts in the manuscript entail? In short, the manuscript viewing brought the content of the Old Frisian Summer School to life.

Old Frisian and Old English cognates

Old Frisian was taught in the context of other Old Germanic languages, especially Old English which with Old Frisian forms the Anglo-Frisian branch of West Germanic.  The tables below show some of the similarities. In the verb conjugation, the personal pronouns are very similar and the present tense endings are near-identical (far/faran).  The verb ‘to be’ had two stems in Old English. The Old Frisian paradigm shows stems correlating both to OE stems wessan and beon. Learning Old Frisian was an interesting experience for those who already knew some Old English.

Example of the present tense of some key verbs in Old Frisian and Old English

pronouns OFR/OE Wessa (to be) OFR wesan – beon (to be) OE Fara

(to go) OFR

Faran

(to go) OE

1st singular ic – ic bin eom – beo fare fare
2nd singular thu – þu bist eart – bist ferest færest
3rd singular hi – he is is – biþ fereth færeþ
1st plural wi – we sind sind – beoþ farath faraþ
2nd plural ji / jemman – ge/ye sind sind – beoþ farath faraþ
3rd plural hia – hie sind sind – beoþ farath faraþ

Example of  some Modern Frisian-English cognate nouns

Old Frisian Modern Frisian Modern English
Ku / ko Ko Cow
Jeft(e) Jefte Gift
Gren(e) Grien Green
Morn Moarn Morning
Hors Hynder Horse

A mix of academia, culture & leisure

The OFSS did not only provide its participants with the opportunity to delve deeper into this gem among Old Germanic languages, it also allowed for a unique glimpse into Oxford university life for those who had not experienced that before. In addition to the formal programme, tours of the Taylorian & Bodleian & St. Edmund Hall Libraries were hosted, to give participants an insight into the enormous variety of books and knowledge that are held there. Furthermore, a pub quiz on Monday, a Conference Dinner on Wednesday and punting on Saturday were the ‘icing on the cake’ of a week that was not only informative, insightful and fascinating, but also much fun. All kinds of participants, older and younger, with diverse backgrounds, interests and research fields met during this week in Oxford, paving the way for a very vibrant, valuable atmosphere, for interesting conversations and for new networks.

The 2023 Old Frisian Summer School participants before the Conference Dinner in St. Edmund Hall

The 2023 Old Frisian Summer School participants before the Conference Dinner in St. Edmund Hall

2025

As the past editions of the OFSS have proven to be successful, each with their own programme, content and with their own activities, the 2025 edition is the first one that will be held in Groningen in person. This new décor will make for a totally new experience, as Groningen is in the middle of the area that used to be Old Frisian speaking centuries ago. Manuscripts, both in Groningen and Leeuwarden, will be viewed and historically significant sites such as the Upstalsbam in Aurich (Germany), the Frisian and Groninger terpen (dwelling mounds) and the Frisian eleven cities will be within reach when the OFSS will take place at Groningen.

Further reading

To get a glimpse of what the OFSS2023 looked like, take a look at the after movie on our Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CvClS9FonDw/?igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA%3D%3D.

For more information on the 2019 edition of the OFSS, Old Frisian in general, and the connection between the University of Oxford and the University of Groningen, see Dr Johanneke Sytsema’s Taylorian Blog of September 2019 (https://blogs.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/taylorian/2019/09/).

A link to the video about Frisians on the Faroe Islands on the History with Hilbert YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leUbHnnFoDk

References to the handbooks used in the OFSS

Hofmann, D. & A.T, Popkema (2008) : Altfriesisches Handwörtebuch. Heidelberg: Winter Verlag.

Bremmer, R.H. (2009) Introduction to Old Frisian: history, grammar, reader, glossary. Amsterdam/Philadelphia : John Benjamins.

 

Sierd Prins,
OFSS Conference assistant,
Groningen University

An exhibition of the Taylor Institution’s collection of Georges de Peyrebrune’s Works

Marie Martine, DPhil in Modern Languages (German and French)

Georges de Peyrebrune, Woman. Writer. Feminist is an exhibition currently on display at the Taylor Institution (Voltaire Room) from 12th October until 26th October. It showcases the Taylor’s unique collection of Georges de Peyrebrune’s works.

Georges de Peyrebrune was born Mathilde Marie Georgina Elisabeth de Peyrebrune Judicis on the 18th of April 1841 in the Dordogne as an illegitimate child. She marries at the age of 18 a man ten years older than her, and their marriage is an unhappy one. She starts publishing in regional journals soon after and goes to Paris after the 1870 war, at 30 years old. Despite her literary success, Georges de Peyrebrune will struggle all her life with money and will die in poverty, in 1917. This exhibition is a tribute to her work and feminist engagement.

Because of Peyrebrune having been forgotten and erased from the French literary canon, her works are difficult to access. The Taylor Institution’s collection of her works is therefore unique in the United Kingdom as it holds several first editions of Peyrebrune’s works, as well as a wide range of digitalized ones. In the exhibition, visitors can find first editions of her novels Gatienne (1882), Au Pied du mât (1899), and of the short story ‘Giselle’ (1892). It also shows the new editions of her most successful novel, Victoire la Rouge (1883, republished in 2020), De Fouillis-les-Oies à Paris. Odyssée burlesque (1878) and Jupiter et les bas-bleu (1894). The exhibition also showcases Sarah Bernhardt’s autobiography Ma Double vie (1907) and several texts by the decadent writer Rachilde, both contemporaries of Peyrebrune.

Why rediscover Georges de Peyrebrune today?

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Firstly, Georges de Peyrebrune’s trajectory tells us about what it means to be a woman and a writer in nineteenth-century France. Writers like George Sand and Madame de Staël, among others, have certainly paved the way for the next generation of women wanting to make a career out of writing; but men still reproach women to be too fragile and sentimental. Additionally, writing is seen as a distraction from women’s sole duty: motherhood. It is well-known that women of the time used different strategies to access the literary market: writing under a male pseudonym or using their husbands’ or fathers’ names, under initials, or anonymously. Peyrebrune chose the unisex name of ‘Georges’ that is derived from her birth name, Georgina, but which we can see as a tribute to many other women writers who chose the name George as well. These strategies, however, are limited: the Decadent writer, Barbey d’Aurevilly, claims he can ‘smell’ a woman writer from a book, because the feminine smell always betrays itself, even if the author used a male pseudonym. He uses the qualifier ‘bas-bleu’ to negatively designate women with literary ambitions, a name derived directly from the English ‘blue stockings’. For him and numerous of his contemporaries, women are physically incapable to write books comparable to those by men and are to be labelled as ‘hysterical’. This sexist discourse reveals male anxieties in fin-de-siècle France: not only did men worry about women getting out of their dedicated sphere, the household and motherhood, but they also worried about women writers becoming serious competitors on the literary market.

title page of RomanGeorges de Peyrebrune is aware of those discourses and she proudly reappropriates the term ‘bas-bleu’ to designate herself and her peers. She directly responds to those male anxieties in her play Jupiter et les Bas-bleu published in 1894, which has been republished by Jean-Paul Socard and Lydia de Haro Hernandez (displayed in the exhibition). In this comic play, she stages Emile Zola, one of the main literary figures of the time,  under the traits of Jupiter, posing as a judge putting her contemporaries on trial. Well-known women writers defend themselves in front of an ruthless judge who reject women’s ability to write on principle. The text ends with his definitive judgement: ‘elles n’enteront jamais à l’Académie !’. This is unfortunately true: the French Academy will only admit women as their members in 1980. Ironically, Zola himself will never get admitted either! What is interesting with this recently republished text is that Georges de Peyrebrune smartly mocks the anxieties of men writers fearing the competition from women. She debunks their pseudo-scientific arguments to justify women’s exclusion from public life and shows that the women of her generation have proven their ability to write.

It is also worth noting that Georges de Peyrebrune herself was awarded the prize of the Académie Française twice in her life, once in 1896 for Vers l’amour and another time in 1899 for Au pied du mât (displayed in the exhibition). This institutional recognition shows that she was read and appreciated by her contemporaries. Even if many best-sellers of any period have been forgotten and might not be interesting for us as contemporary readers, it is important to recognize that the erasure of women writers from our canon is complex and cannot be justified by saying that women’s writing was less qualitative and interesting than their male contemporaries’. Rediscovering Georges de Peyrebrune thus means rediscovering an author who was deeply aware of the contemporary discourses on femininity and authorship and who used literature to counter sexist ideas.

Secondly, Peyrebrune’s literary career gives us a glimpse of feminine and feminist literary networks of the Belle Epoque. Peyrebrune’s correspondence show that she stood in solidarity with other women writers and tried to build a literary network made of women. We unfortunately have few archives left from Georges de Peyrebrune, but some letters she received enable us to see how her contemporaries considered her as a generous mentor figure. For instance, in a letter from September 1912, Julia Daudet (the wife of the well-known writer Alphonse Daudet) asks Peyrebrune to support the publication of another woman writer. She writes: ‘Pourquoi favoriser toujours le travail masculin qui a toutes les chances, toutes les facilités ? […] Enfin je m’adresse à vous dont l’œuvre est toute généreuse et remarquable à tant de titres, dans un élan de justice féminine ou féministe, si vous aimez mieux’ (Why always favour men’s work which has all the chances, all the opportunities? […] I address you whose work is so generous and remarkable in so many ways, in a spirit of feminine or feminist justice, if you prefer). Here, Daudet reflects on the numerous opportunities given to men to get their works published and publicized, compared to the few women get. I also find her conscious choice of the word ‘feminist’ very telling: Peyrebrune’s ambition to have the value of women’s writing recognized as a feminist project. Daudet’s letter also demonstrates her confidence in Peyrebrune’s influence, highlighting that we are dealing with a respected and influential player on the literary market. Other letters from Georges de Peyrebrune’s correspondence show her as ready to help young writers by sharing her contacts within the publishing world and by giving them advice. One could think that in a society so hostile to women’s writing, the few who dared to publish would jealously protect their secret, but Georges de Peyrebrune was clearly a woman who valued other talents and strived to help other writers.

This work towards promoting women’s writing led Georges de Peyrebrune to be part of the first jury of the Prix de la Vie Heureuse. In 1904, several feminist and women intellectuals were tired to see that the prestigious Prix Goncourt was again given to a man despite the talent of a potential female candidate Myriam Harry with her novel La Conquête de Jérusalem. They thus decided to build their own literary prize to finally recognize and reward women’s talents, as well as encourage contacts among women writers. Among Georges de Peyrebrune, we find in the jury Anna de Noailles, Julia Daudet, Daniel Lesueur, Marcelle Tinayre, Gabrielle Réval, Séverine and Lucie Delarue-Maldrus all brilliant and influential writers of the time and well-established on the Parisian literary scene. This prize will become the Femina prize in 1917 and is still awarded today.

Her friendship with her contemporary, Rachilde, is also fascinating. Both women had opposite worldviews and ways to respond to literary trends of their time, but their literary ambitions brought them together. Both come from the Périgord and tried their luck as writers in Paris. At first, Georges de Peyrebrune appears as a mentor for the young Rachilde who tries to navigate the capital city and its literary circles. As she marries Alfred Valette, director of the influential journal Mercure de France, Rachilde gains more influence. It was now Georges de Peyrebrune’s turn to ask for Rachilde’s support through her literary critiques to publicize Peyrebrune’s new publications.

title page of "Une Décadente"Rachilde is known for being ‘the queen of the Decadents’ in fin-de-siècle France. She scandalized French audiences with her bold portraits of independent and sadistic heroines in her novels Monsieur Vénus (1889) and La Marquise de Sade (1887). Interestingly, she claimed loud and clear that she was not a feminist and often refused to be associated with other women writers, instead calling herself ‘homme de lettres’ (man of letters). Her pamphlet Pourquoi je ne suis pas féministe (1908 – a signed first edition is displayed in the exhibition) illustrates her anti-feminist stance, but this text could also be interpreted as a marketing move to make herself relevant. Georges de Peyrebrune, on the contrary, clearly revendicated to be a feminist, but her female characters can seem rather tame compared to the ones of Rachilde. Rachilde published several critiques of Georges de Peyrebrune’s novels in the Mercure de France and underlined her moralising tone. Georges de Peyrebrune makes Rachilde appear under fictional traits in the novel Une Décadente (The Decadent Woman – displayed in the exhibition) in which she criticizes the morbid values of the Decadents. A friendship between the two can thus seem quite surprising, but their letters (see Nelly Sanchez’s edition of Georges de Peyrebrune’s correspondence, Correspondance. De La Société des gens de lettres au jury du prix Vie heureuse from 2016) show that they shared worries and advice on how to navigate the Parisian literary circles, making for a true literary friendship.

Finally, Peyrebrune’s concern with sexual violence in her fiction makes her works strikingly relevant for readers today. In a letter from June 1886, addressed to Georges de Peyrebrune, Rachilde mentions the way sexual harassment is a banal occurrence for young women writers: ‘En bonne franchise, quand une femme de lettres n’est pas une catin il faut au moins qu’elle puisse avoir l’air de l’être et au fond vous ne pouvez pas trop me donner tort, vous qui connaissez notre siècle’ (To be perfectly frank, when a woman of letters is not a whore, she at least needs to look like one and you cannot really disagree with me, you know our century all too well). All have to deal with unwanted sexual advances from publishers and journalists and sometimes have to compromise to get published. Georges de Peyrebrune deals with this issue in Le Roman d’un bas-bleu (The novel of a Blue-Stockings, 1892) which tells the destiny of a young writer who falls into despair as she refuses to compromise her self-worth for literary success. This novel poignantly reflects the debates started by the #MeToo movement which unveiled the harassment and abuse faced by women, particularly in their professional lives. Already in the nineteenth century, Georges de Peyrebrune denounced this harassment and how it kept women from accessing the public sphere as equals to men. Her message strongly resonates with contemporary debates.

This is not the only aspect which makes Peyrebrune’s works worth rediscovering today: as you will see in the exhibition, Georges de Peyrebrune wrote across genres, always finding new styles to reflect sometimes with humor, other times with pathos, on issues of class, sexuality, and modernity. We hope this exhibition will encourage more readers to discover this fascinating figure of French literature whose versatile style and political messages deserve to be rediscovered today.

You can listen to the episode from the French History Podcast on Georges de Peyrebrune to learn more information on her trajectory as a woman writer in fin-de-siècle France: https://www.thefrenchhistorypodcast.com/rediscovering-georges-de-peyrebrune-by-marie-martine/

With many thanks to Nick Hearn, French Subject Librarian, Taylor Institution Library.

Languages, Literature, and Afterlives: Medieval Irish and Welsh Collections in the Taylor Library

This blog post and book display for June is a showcase of the library’s excellent range of books on medieval Wales and Ireland. To limit the vast number of books on the subject, we have chosen a small selection on the following three themes: languages, literature and afterlives.

Languages 

         

While Welsh and Irish are the obvious languages spoken in medieval Wales and Ireland, both cultures had many points of contact with other languages. After all, the precursor language to Welsh – British – was spoken in areas all across the island of Britain, not just where Wales is today, ranging from around southern Scotland right down to modern day Cornwall. This meant that, during the Roman rule of Britain and into the fifth century, many British speakers also spoke Latin. Some Latin loan-words still survive into today’s Welsh: for example, the word for ‘ship’ – llong – stems from the Latin navis longa. Thomas Charles-Edwards offers an excellent account of this mixing pot of languages in the early medieval period in chapters one and two of Wales and the Britons.

Ireland, by contrast, had a very different introduction to the Latin language. Ireland never came under the rule of the Roman Empire: thus, inhabitants of the island only began to learn Latin when they began to convert to Christianity, in order to read the vulgate Bible and celebrate the liturgy. Elva Johnston has carefully explored the tension between the use of the vernacular Irish language and Latin in Literacy and Identity in Early Medieval Ireland: for example, she places medieval Irish writing into context with continental rhetorical education, and explores the interdependence of literacy in the vernacular with literacy in Latin.

       

Interest in Latin was not solely linked to dealings with the Roman empire, nor to the Christian church. Two books in the Taylor’s collections exemplify Irish and Welsh authors’ complex engagement with texts and stories from classical antiquity. Brent Miles’ Heroic Saga and Classical Epic in Medieval Ireland explores how medieval Irish authors used classical epics as an interpretive lens or inspiration for their own vernacular literature. From a different angle, Paul Russell explores the engagement of medieval Welsh scribes and authors with one specific Roman author in his Reading Ovid in Medieval Wales.

       

Beyond Latin, several other languages were spoken and understood in medieval Wales and Ireland. In this display, we have taken Wales as a particular example. Borders and frontiers became more pronounced between Welsh speakers and English speakers in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, as Welsh speakers had gradually become more confined to beyond the Severn river. While interactions between these groups are usually characterised as antagonistic, the first chapter of Lindy Brady’s Writing the Welsh borderlands in Anglo-Saxon England offers a more cooperative picture of this multi-lingual landscape. In it, she studies a charter drawn up by both Welsh and English speakers, who collaborated in order to tackle the problem of cattle theft in the eleventh century.

The collection of essays, The Welsh and the Medieval World: Travel Migration and Exile, offers a number of different angles onto medieval Wales’ connections to courts and peoples living across Europe. In particular, Gideon Brough’s chapter examines Welsh diplomacy with the French court in the medieval period, demonstrating that Welsh princes and military leaders were in direct contact with continental courts and kings, rather than being isolated from continental politics or using England as a sole intermediary.

Literature 

         

A rich literary corpus has survived from both medieval Ireland and Wales, and the Taylor boasts a wide collection of editions and studies of such texts. For those not immediately familiar with literature from these cultures, you may nevertheless have heard of two particularly notable prose tales: the Irish Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) and the Welsh Mabinogion. The Taylor holds several translations of both, but we have chosen one of each for this display. Thomas Kinsella’s edition is a classic version, with some beautiful ink illustrations by Louis Le Brocquy accompanying the text. Sioned Davies’s work is a translation of the eleven tales that make up the Welsh masterpiece known as the Mabinogion. Davies also includes a comprehensive introduction to medieval Welsh literature and the culture which gave rise to such stories in this book.

Some of the earliest poems in the Welsh language are preserved in monumental compilations, such as those in the Llyfr Taliesin (The Book of Taliesin). The poems in this manuscript have recently been translated and edited by Gwyneth Lewis and Rowan Williams in a beautiful edition for Penguin. You might have heard more about this particular collection of poems at this year’s O’Donnell Lecture, where Dr Rowan Williams spoke about ‘The Book of Taliesin: Welsh Identity and Poetic Identities’. Another very early Welsh poem is Y Gododdin (The Gododdin), a battle eulogy written by the early Welsh poet Aneirin. It has received a recent edition and translation by Gillian Clarke.

        

If you want to read beyond an edition of a text, the Taylor has copies of the most important studies of medieval Irish and Welsh literature. Ralph O’Connor’s The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel is a fantastic case-study in reading an Irish scél (saga or story), and provides an excellent foundation from which to read other such stories. Togail Bruidne Da Derga (earliest portion of the text written c. 1050-1100) concerns Conaire Mór, an Irish king who is doomed to contradict the increasingly impossible conditions of a curse (geis in Irish) laid upon him. This eventually results in his gruesome demise. Scholarly attention had previously focused on philological aspects of the text, or the sources standing behind it. By contrast, O’Connor advocates for reading Togail Bruidne as a literary creation in its own right, examining the structural coherence of the text as a whole.

Another study takes a more thematic approach to Irish literature: Mark Williams explores the literary portrayal of the remnants of Ireland’s pagan pantheon in Ireland’s Immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth. Williams’ study is sweeping in its chronological range, and guides readers from the earliest original medieval Irish texts, through the late medieval and early modern period, and finishes by analysing their reworking of Irish deities in modern texts such as those by W. B. Yeats and James Joyce. If you have ever heard of some Irish divinities – like the dread war goddess, the Morrigan, or Mannanán mac Lir, the mysterious deity of the sea – but wanted to know more about how such figures actually appear in Irish literature, this is the book for you.

One of the most enigmatic texts connected to medieval Wales is the Latin De Gestis Britonum (On the Deeds of the Britons). It was written by Geoffrey of Monmouth (fl. early- to mid-twelfth century) at some point between 1123 and 1139. Geoffrey pretended that his work was a translation of a book he discovered in either Welsh or Breton into Latin. While Geoffrey drew upon some earlier works in medieval Latin or Welsh, scholars are now agreed that he creatively filled the gaps between such sources with his own fictional material. The De Gestis is credited with popularising the story of King Arthur across Europe: before Geoffrey, Arthur was only mentioned briefly in a handful of early medieval Welsh poems and texts, where he is presented as an idealised warrior figure. Geoffrey moulded this Welsh Arthur into a very different character, making him a king as well as a fierce military leader. To read more about Geoffrey’s text and the immense impact it had upon medieval European literature and beyond, you can read the excellent collection of essays in the Taylor’s copy of A Companion to Geoffrey of Monmouth, edited by Georgia Henley and Joshua Byron-Smith. The essays within range from the manuscript dissemination of the text, its connections to other Welsh and English historical writing, through to its reception in cultures as far spread from Iceland to Byzantium.

Afterlives

         

The languages and literature of medieval Wales and Ireland continued to capture the imagination of authors into the early modern period and beyond. One such fascinating, but poorly-read, author is Elis Gruffydd (c. 1490–c. 1552). Elis was born in Flintshire in Wales, but served as a soldier in the English army and eventually ended up living in the English garrison in Calais. What makes Elis unique is that he poured a vast amount of energy into writing his Chronicl y Wech Oesoedd (Chronicle of the Six Ages), an ambitious history of the world from its beginning to Elis’ own lifetime and one of the longest texts in the Welsh language. Elis’ eyewitness accounts in the second volume are particularly exciting, where he reveals an insider’s view of life in London under the Tudors, or life in the trenches as a soldier in Calais or across Europe. For example, he gleefully records gossip he heard from other Welsh speakers who worked as servants in Catherine of Aragon’s household. A rich tapestry of these stories has been translated this year by Patrick Ford, along with an excellent introduction to Elis’ life and times by Jerry Hunter, in Tales of Merlin, Arthur, and the magic arts: from the Welsh Chronicle of the six ages of the world.

Another important author from the Tudor period is John Prise. We encountered Geoffrey of Monmouth in the previous section of this blog post, but his influence continued well beyond the twelfth century. By the mid-1500s, many had begun to doubt the historical veracity of Geoffrey’s work. Yet, Prise enthusiastically believed in the events of the De Gestis, and produced the Historiae Britannicae Defensio (The Defence of the British History) in order to defend its contents. Prise’s Defensio saw some of the earliest analysis in print applied to medieval Welsh poetry: he quoted mentions of Arthur in such poems in an attempt to corroborate his historical existence (although, as we now know, Prise was sadly somewhat misguided). Prise was also the author of the earliest printed book in Welsh – Yny lhyvyr hwnn (In This Book). Ceri Davies offers an excellent biography of Prise in his edition of the Historiae Britannicae Defensio.

As we move further into the modern period, some readers were not content simply to peruse the canon of Irish and Welsh literature: they wished to add their own works to this corpus, and pretend that their creations were genuine medieval artifacts. The Taylor holds two excellent studies of such authors. First, a collection of essays edited by Geraint Jenkins – A Rattleskull Genius: The Many Faces of Iolo Morganwg – explores the life and works of Iolo Morganwg. He was most famous for founding the Welsh Eisteddfod, but he also forged a number of poems by Dafydd ap Gwilym, one of the most important medieval Welsh authors and a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer. Second, Fiona Stafford’s The Sublime Savage: A Study of James MacPherson and the Poems of Ossian delves further into the biography of the Scotsman James MacPherson, who claimed to find a corpus of poetry written by Fionn Mac Cumaill’s son, Ossian, which he had actually written himself. Fionn was an important figure in Irish and Scottish fianna literature: you may have heard of Fionn through his anglicised name, Finn MacCool, or Ossian spelled as Oisín. Both MacPherson and Morganwg were genuinely talented poets in their own right, but shared an irresistible draw to the authority of their medieval predecessors.

      

Finally, the Taylor holds a number of volumes showcasing the influence of medieval Welsh and Irish literature on modern literature. We have chosen two books to exemplify this: first, Dimitra Fimi has examined the legacy of such stories in Celtic myth in contemporary children’s fantasy. In a different vein to an academic study, Matthew Francis has creatively re-translated and re-written the Mabinogion in a 2017 publication for Faber & Faber.

There are many more books on medieval Welsh and Irish culture and literature in the basement of the Taylor. We hope this small selection will inspire you to explore it further, if you haven’t done so already.

Jenyth Evans, Reader Services Supervisor, Bodleian Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library & DPhil Candidate, Faculty of English

With many thanks for additional bibliography and advice to Janet Foot, Celtic Subject Librarian, Taylor Institution Library

Bibliography

Aneirin. The Gododdin: Lament for the Fallen. Edited by Gillian Clarke, Faber & Faber, 2021.

Brady, Lindy. Writing the Welsh Borderlands in Anglo-Saxon England. Manchester University Press, 2017.

Charles-Edwards, Thomas. Wales and the Britons, 350-1064. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Davies, Sioned, editor. The Mabinogion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Fimi, Dimitra. Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy: Idealization, Identity, Ideology. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Francis, Matthew. The Mabinogi. Faber & Faber, 2017.

Gruffydd, Elis. Tales of Merlin, Arthur, and the Magic Arts: From the Welsh Chronicle of the Six Ages of the World. Translated by Patrick K. Ford, introduction by Jerry Hunter, University of California Press, 2023.

Henley, Georgia, and Joshua Byron Smith, editors. A Companion to Geoffrey of Monmouth. Brill, 2020.

Jenkins, Geraint H., editor. A Rattleskull Genius: The Many Faces of Iolo Morganwg. University of Wales Press, 2005.

Johnston, Elva. Literacy and Identity in Early Medieval Ireland. Boydell & Brewer, 2013.

Kinsella, Thomas. The Táin. Illustrated by Louis Le Brocquy. Oxford University Press, 1970.

Lewis, Gwyneth, and Rowan Williams, translators. The Book of Taliesin: Poems of Warfare and Praise in an Enchanted Britain. Penguin Classics, 2019.

Miles, Brent. Heroic Saga and Classical Epic in Medieval Ireland. Boydell and Brewer Limited, 2012.

O’Connor, Ralph. The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel: Kingship and Narrative Artistry in a Mediaeval Irish Saga. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Prise, John. Historiae Britannicae Defensio: A Defence of the British History. Edited by Ceri Davies, Bodleian Library, 2015.

Russell, Paul. Reading Ovid in Medieval Wales. Ohio State University Press, 2017.

Skinner, Patricia. The Welsh and the Medieval World: Travel, Migration and Exile. University of Wales Press, 2018.

Stafford, Fiona J. The Sublime Savage: A Study of James MacPherson and the Poems of Ossian. Edinburgh University Press, 1988.

Williams, Mark. Ireland’s Immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth. Princeton University Press, 2016.

Romanian in Oxford: Celebrating 10 Years of the Romanian Lectorate

Romanian in Oxford. An exhibition to mark ten years of the Romanian Lectorate. 15 May - 9 June 2023. Voltaire Room, Taylor Institution Library. Romanian in Oxford is an exhibition currently on display at the Taylor Institution Library from 15th May to 9th June 2023. It showcases the library collections and related research on Romanian language from the 19th century to the present day.

What is Romanian?

The clue is in the name. Romanian originates in the language of the Romans, namely Latin. It therefore is a Romance language, one that descends from the Latin of the Roman Empire, and this makes it a ‘sister’ of languages such as Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Occitan, French, Italian, Sardinian, and many other languages besides. Romanian is today the official language of Romania (and the mother tongue of 90% of its approximately 22 million inhabitants), and of Moldova, where it is the mother tongue of about three quarters of a population of 3.4 millions. Emigration has meant that it is also extensively spoken outside Romania.

Map of the Romance languages showing the geographical isolation of Romania.

Map of the Romance languages

This map of the Romance languages shows how geographically isolated Romanian is from its ‘sisters’. In fact, it has been isolated for well over a millennium. Unlike other Romance languages, Romanian has been subject to major influences from Slavonic, Hungarian, and Turkish, mainly in vocabulary. What has emerged is a language which is still demonstrably related to other Romance varieties, but whose sound system, grammar, and lexicon also display striking, sometimes mysterious, differences. We have relatively little evidence of the history of the language: the earliest documents in Romanian to have survived date only from around the turn of the sixteenth century. Moreover, Romanian was written in the Cyrillic, rather than Roman, alphabet until well into the nineteenth century.

Romanian is actually just the principal member of the ‘Daco-Romance’ branch of the Romance languages. This branch comprises four major sub- branches: the ‘Daco-Romanian’ dialects (to which standard Romanian belongs), and Aromanian, Megleno-Romanian, and Istro-Romanian.

Map of Romania and neighbouring countries.

Map of Romania and neighbouring countries, with linguistic areas marked in red.

Aromanian probably split of from the rest of Daco-Romance before the 11th century, whilst Istro-Romanian and Megleno-Romanian seem to have become detached no earlier than the 13th. Istro-Romanian—the object of one of our major research interests in Oxford—is spoken in the north-eastern Istrian peninsula (in Croatia). The Aromanians are widespread in the Balkan area, particularly Albania, central and northern Greece and south-western North Macedonia. Megleno-Romanian has a few thousand speakers, settled in villages in northern Greece, and in Northern Macedonia.

Why is Romanian important?

There are multiple answers. One is academic. An understanding of the modern structure and historical development of the Romance languages — and, beyond that, understanding of what the Romance languages can tell us about the nature of language change generally—is not really possible unless we take Romanian into account alongside other Romance languages such as Italian, French, etc. In a memorable metaphor, the Swedish Romanianist Alf Lombard wrote (Le Verbe roumain 1954:1) [our translation]:

Any comparative enquiry that does not take Eastern Latinity into account is more or less pointless, or at any rate incomplete. Actually, it rather brings to mind a table for which the carpenter has been content to make just three legs rather than four—think of the three principal sister languages: French, Spanish, and Italian—leaving the fourth corner unsupported and worryingly unstable.

The study of Romanian is simply essential to doing Romance linguistics: otherwise, our ‘table’ is forever destined to be rickety and unreliable. Actually, Romanian already possesses a most impressive body of detailed descriptive linguistic studies assembled over the past 70 years, largely under the aegis of the Romanian Academy, by Romanian scholars. These are mainly written in Romanian and therefore not easily accessible internationally. The quality of the scholarship is extraordinarily high, yet too few linguistic scholars have appreciated it or made use of it.

Another reason why Romanian is important is ‘social’. The recent Census for England and Wales revealed that Romanian is now the third most widely spoken language after English and Polish. We can ill afford not to be curious about the language spoken by one of our most significant communities. Romanian is being spoken all around us, as a stroll through central Oxford with one’s ears open will confirm!

The top ten main languages spoken in England and Wales, excluding English (English or Welsh in Wales)

The top ten main languages spoken in England and Wales, excluding English (English or Welsh in Wales). Total usual resident population, aged three years and over, who speak each language as their main language, 2011 and 2021, England and Wales.

Total usual resident population, aged three years and over, who speak each language as their main language, 2011 and 2021, England and Wales.

Of course there are many other reasons why Romanian is important. Not least the fact that it is the language of a major European culture, with a literary tradition dating back to the sixteenth century but which is still little known outside Romania. Ignorance of Romania and Romanian is no longer excusable as a result of the historical isolation of the country and its culture.

How long has Romanian been studied in Oxford?

It’s hard to say how long Romanian has been of interest to Oxford scholars. Romanian is a Romance language, and the history of the Romance languages has been studied in Oxford since at least the late nineteenth century. By 1877, the University had realized the international importance of the historical and comparative study of the Romance languages (a subject already flourishing in the German-speaking world), and the proposal was made to establish a Professorship of the Romance Languages, although the Chair was not established until 1909.  It is fair to say that the main focus of interest of the first eight Professors of the Romance Languages throughout the 20th century was French, with other Romance languages receiving less attention and Romanian being neglected.

However, this does not mean that no attention was paid to Romanian. Several Oxford scholars took a lively academic interest in the language. One of these was Frank Barnett, Fellow in French at Trinity College from 1952 to 1986, who visited Romania, knew the language well, and encouraged his students to learn  the language and visit Romania. Among these students was John Charles Smith, later to become Fellow and Tutor in French Linguistics at St Catherine’s College and now Emeritus Fellow of the College, whose work displays a constant awareness of the importance of Romanian. For example, a forthcoming paper by Smith addresses the vexed question of why ‘Moldovan’ has historically been considered a different language from Romanian (they are not different languages, in fact!).

Another Oxford scholar who contributed to Romanian studies was Graham Mallinson, Lecturer in Linguistics in Oxford in the 1970s, who was the author of one of the first descriptions of the Romanian language in English (e.g., 1979 The History and Structure of Romanian and 1986 Rumanian. Mallinson was also the author of the article on Romanian in The World’s Major Languages (ed. B. Comrie), recently revised and updated (2018) by our lector in Romanian, Dr Oana Uță Bărbulescu.

The other  Oxford scholar to explore Romanian was Dr Tony Hurren, who in the late 1970s taught Linguistics at Wadham College. Hurren’s Oxford doctoral thesis focused not on standard Romanian (although he knew the language very well) but on one of the four major branches of Romanian, ‘Istro-Romanian’ spoken in modern Croatia. Hurren’s fieldwork, thesis, and publications have formed the basis of a major research project in Oxford in the past few years, the ISTROX project. Others, too, have published on Romanian, for example Margaret Renwick, a postdoctoral research associate and later postdoctoral researcher in Oxford, author of a work on Romanian phonology.

The current, and ninth, Professor of the Romance Languages, Martin Maiden, arrived in Oxford in 1996. He is the first holder of the Chair to develop a major research interest in the Romanian language and its history. Before he came to Oxford Romanian was not, however, a particular theme of his research. His interest in the language developed slowly, over many years, but began with an attempt to learn Romanian from a grammar book in his teens, at the height of the Cold War, when Romania was a distant, inaccessible, country. It seemed to Maiden that he was so unlikely ever to meet a native speaker of the language or even hear it spoken, and that Romanian was anyway so dauntingly difficult (he was quite wrong), that he decided that he might as well give up trying to learn it!  Many years later, however, in 1987, he took an opportunity to attend the month-long Curs de Vară (Summer Course) in Romanian language and culture organized annually by the Romanian authorities in Bucharest. (By the way, Oxford now sends students from Oxford almost every year on the continuant of this course).

In 2003 Maiden spent part of a sabbatical year in Romania exploring dialectological materials held by the Romanian Academy. This renewed acquaintance with the language encouraged him to take more account of it in his work on the comparative history of the Romance languages, and after his arrival in Oxford he published a number of articles focusing on aspects of the history of Romanian morphology (word structure), notably the highly complex systems of plural formation and nouns and of diminutive derivation.

The creation of the Lectorate in Romanian in Oxford: a revolution

A crucial moment in the study of Romanian in Oxford occurred in late 2010, when Maiden was contacted by the then Romanian Ambassador to London, H.E. Ion Jinga, who wanted to discuss ‘a proposal’. This turned out to be nothing less than an extraordinarily generous offer by the Romanian government to fund a lectorate in Romanian at Oxford, administered via Institutul Limbii Române (the Institute of the Romanian Language). The Lectorate, situated within Oxford’s Faculty of Linguistics, Philology, and Phonetics, commenced in October 2012, and the Lector sent to us from the University of Bucharest, Dr Oana Uță Bărbulescu, has had her mandate renewed ever since. Dr Uță is a specialist in Romanian language and linguistics and a member of Institutul de Studii Sud-Est Europene of the Romanian Academy.

The creation of the Lectorate was also marked in 2013 by a one-day conference Romanian in Oxford: language, culture, and history, supported by the Ertegün Foundation, and attended by scholars from Britain, the US, and Romania, including the late Prof. Marius Sala, one of the world’s foremost experts on Romanian and its dialects.

It is no exaggeration that the creation of the Lectorate revolutionized the study of Romanian in Oxford. First, it made it possible to provide weekly courses, open to any member of the University (students, postdoctoral researchers, lecturers, professors), in Romanian language, at beginners’, intermediate, and advanced levels. These courses have been enthusiastically attended, and they have also provided the basis for a specialist examination subject in Romanian language and linguistics, taught by the Lector in Romanian and Professor Maiden. This subject covers the Romanian language in its historical and cultural context, and major aspects of the structure and evolution of the Romanian language and dialects. We are pleased to report that half of the students who have taken the special option to date have achieved a First Class result.

Not only has the creation of the Lectorate enabled our students (and others) to learn Romanian and about Romania, but it has given a major impetus to research into the Romanian language and its structure and history. This work, mainly led by Professor Maiden, has yielded numerous results in the past ten years: we have produced over 40 publications on Romanian linguistics in refereed journals and volumes over the past 10 years. We have also published various studies designed to introduce general readers to Romanian, such as Maiden’s general introduction to Romanian grammar, an article which came out of a course on the Romanian language and its history held by Maiden in France in 2014.

In all this, we are immensely grateful for the presence of the Lector in Romanian, who has repeatedly been a major stimulus and source of advice, and has herself been very academically productive. These publications have also been the basis for over thirty lectures and presentations at international conferences. Romanian also occupies a prominent place in our research and publications on general Romance linguistics (e.g., the chapter on Romanian and related dialects in the Cambridge History of the Romance Languages (2016), or the OUP volume The Romance Verb (2018). This is one case where you can judge a book by its cover: the cover is an image from one of the earliest Romanian linguistic atlases, and it reflects the importance accorded to Romanian in the book, which is a comparative-historical study of Romance verb morphology.

Maiden, Martin. The Romance Verb : Morphomic Structure and Diachrony. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Taylor Institution Library Shelfmark PC145.M35 MAI 2018

Maiden, Martin. The Romance Verb : Morphomic Structure and Diachrony. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.
Taylor Institution Library Shelfmark PC145.M35 MAI 2018

The Bodleian Libraries support research into Romanian through their very good collection of works on the Romanian language, and their willingness to acquire new works in the subject. A major element in the research into Romanian linguistics conducted in Oxford has been the study of Romanian dialects, and a major source of information is the remarkably detailed collection of Romanian linguistic atlases. They have all been vital research tools and without them many of our recent publications would have been impossible.

Some of these atlases are displayed in the exhibition, ranging from Gustav Weigand’s Linguistischer Atlas de dacoromunischen Sprachgebietes (1909), the earliest Romanian linguistic atlas, through Atlasul lingvistic român: this was produced in the 1960s under the aegis of the Romanian Academy – which has also overseen the production of a major series of regional linguistic atlases. Atlasul lingvistic român pe regiuni: sinteza is a synoptic synthesis of many of the valuable data contained in those regional atlases. We also show Atlasul lingvistik moldovenesk, the linguistic atlas of (what was then) the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The atlas is published in Romanian but, as was normal at that period in Moldova, it is written in a variant of the Cyrillic alphabet, based on that used for Russian. All of the maps on display from these atlases show aspects of Romanian dialect verb morphology, a topic on which we have published a great deal of research in Oxford.

Equally important is our collection of dictionaries and grammars of the language, some going back to the mid nineteenth century, and an extensive range of works describing Romanian dialects. A magnificent example from the Bodleian’s collections of old manuscripts and books from Romanian is presented by Dr Cristina Neagu (Christ Church) on Digital.Bodleian.[1]

Fol. 006v from the Bodleian Library's MS. Canon. Gr. 122, 'Gospels of Gavril'. Image from Digital.Bodleian.

Fol. 006v from the Bodleian Library’s MS. Canon. Gr. 122, ‘Gospels of Gavril’. Image from Digital.Bodleian.

A recently completed doctoral dissertation (2022) by Constanța Burlacu (Medieval and Modern Languages, supervised by Martin Maiden and Ralph Cleminson) breaks new ground: Translation and Circulation of Romanian and Slavonic of Romanian and Slavonic biblical books in the Romanian lands: a textual analysis of the sixteenth century Apostolos and Psalter texts.[2]

Romanian linguistics and Oxford University Press

Our strong links with Romanian linguistic scholars are reflected in a number of recent publications with Oxford University Press. These works, subject to OUP’s extremely rigorous processes of peer-review and quality control, are giving a much greater international prominence to knowledge of the Romanian language and its history than has ever been possible before. They include:

The Grammar of Romanian. 2013 (G. Pană Dindelegan, ed.; consultant ed. M. Maiden)
Verb Movement and Clause Structure in Old Romanian. 2016 (V. Hill, G. Alboiu)
The Syntax of Old Romanian. 2016 (G. Pană Dindelegan, ed.; consultant editor M. Maiden)
Word Order and Parameter Change in Romanian. 2019 (A. Nicolae)
The Diachrony of Differential Object Marking in Romanian. 2021 (V. Hill, A. Mardale)
The Oxford History of Romanian Morphology. 2021 (jointly by M. Maiden, A. Dragomirescu, G. Pană Dindelegan, O, Uță Bărbulescu, R. Zafiu)

Several of these items are displayed in the exhibition.

A number of these are collaborative works between Oxford linguists and Romanian linguists. Among them is what is undoubtedly the most thorough description of Romanian grammar (The Grammar of Romanian) ever published in any language other than Romanian. The most recent publication is The Oxford History of Romanian Morphology a collaborative work led by Maiden and involving our Lector, Dr Uță Bărbulescu, and three other colleagues from the linguistics institute of the Romanian Academy.

The intellectual legacy of Tony Hurren and the ISTROX project

In the late 1960s the Oxford linguist Tony Hurren (1933-2006) studied the already highly endangered language which linguists call ‘Istro-Romanian’. It was spoken by only a few hundred people in the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia and today it is recognized by UNESCO as being severely endangered. The result was Hurren’s Oxford DPhil thesis on the language: A linguistic description of Istro-Rumanian,[3]and his Istro-Rumanian: a functionalist phonology and grammar.[4] Hurren also published an article on a remarkable facet of the Istro-Romanian verb system, its grammatical ‘aspect’ system.

In 2010, Tony Hurren’s widow, Mrs Vera Hurren, generously donated to the University over thirty hours of sound recordings made by her husband in the 1960s together with his field notebooks. She later gave us other material, including photographs from the fieldwork of the 1960s where Tony Hurren interviewed Istro-Romanian speakers, making recordings and taking notes of the language.

Since 2018 the Hurren donation has inspired new research into Istro-Romanian in Oxford, funded hitherto by Oxford’s John Fell Fund, PER Seed fund project, and TORCH Knowledge Exchange Innovation Fund. In particular, we have conducted our own fieldwork on Istro-Romanian (some photos of our fieldwork are displayed). We have been exploring how this language has changed since the 1960s, and also traced how the population of speakers has dwindled over the past half-century, innovatively using online methods and social media to establish contacts with members of the speech community in émigré communities in the US and Australia.

Žejane, 2019. Visit to the ć family. Mrs ć, her older sister Mrs ć, and their families, met with us in their family home in Ž. Just over 50 years earlier, recorded both sisters, as well as their mother, Mrs ć who was 37 at the time.

Žejane, 2019. Visit to the Sanković family. Mrs Vesna Sanković, her older sister Mrs Laura Sanković, and their families, met with us in their family home in Žejane. Just over 50 years earlier, Tony Hurren recorded both sisters, as well as their mother, Mrs Maria Sanković who was 37 at the time.

Click here to listen to Vesna Sanković (‘Kljomina‘), 8 years old, as recorded by Tony Hurren in the 1960s.

You can hear further recordings of Istro-Romanian and read more about current research projects at the following pages:

All the materials associated with this project are preserved in the Oxford Research Archive.[5].

From 26 June to 24 August 2022, the ISTROX project and Hurren’s work was the subject of an exhibition (in English and Croatian) at the Lapidarium Museum in Novigrad, Croatia, entitled ISTROX 50 years of the Istro-Romanian Language: from the Oxford Hurren Collection to the ISTROX project. At the opening of the exhibition, many members of the surviving Istro-Romanian-speaking community attended – photographs below.

The Oxford tradition of research into Istro-Romanian is also now being carried forward by a doctoral student, Fabian Helmrich, who is working on a subject which also fascinated Hurren: the expression of ‘aspect’ in the Istro-Romanian verb system. Helmrich is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Maiden and Uță Bărbulescu are also involved, in collaboration with scholars at Universitatea de Vest in Timișoara, Romania, in editing and preparing for publication the fifth and final volume of P. Neiescu’s dictionary of the Istro-Romanian language, left unfinished when the author died in 2021.

Our work on Istro-Romanian in the diasporic community has earned such appreciation that one of its members, Mr Libero Soldatić, now resident in Australia, has generously endowed the annual Anton Soldatić and Antonija Soldatić (née Skalir) Memorial Prize, in memory of his parents, for the best piece of work by a student on Istro-Romanian or other languages of the Istrian peninsula.

The long-term aim of Oxford research into Istro-Romanian is to publish a comprehensive history of the language and its speakers.

Martin Maiden

Statutory Professor of the Romance Languages
Director, Research Centre for Romance Linguistics
Faculty of Linguistics, Philology, and Phonetics & Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages
Fellow of Trinity College
University of Oxford

Footnotes

[1]Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Canon. Gr. 122. Four Gospels (‘Gospels of Gavril’): https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/47dff5d9-d2a0-46a9-b28a-44f974aa1861/

[2] Burlacu, C. Translation and Circulation of Romanian and Slavonic Biblical Books in the Romanian Lands: a Textual Analysis of the Sixteenth Century Apostolos and Psalter Texts. University of Oxford, 2022. http://dx.doi.org/10.5287/ora-erej81xna

[3] Hurren, H.A. A Linguistic Description of Istro-Rumanian. University of Oxford, 1971. https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:bfb29e35-e2b8-4613-97cf-3b62bdb6a1f6

[4]Hurren, H.A. Istro-Rumanian : A Functionalist Phonology and Grammar. Unpublished manuscript. Oxford, 1999.

[5]ISTROX Dataset. The Oxford University Hurren Donation and the Istro-Romanian language, 2021. http://dx.doi.org/10.5287/bodleian:GOrqZkzVJ

 

 

An example of Vytynanka, an ornamental decoration of a dwelling, which is cut out of paper (both white and coloured) .

Pioneering women in Ukraine

Text: Clara McGrane
Images: Olena Marchyshyna

Pioneering Women in Ukraine is an exhibition currently on display at the Taylor Institution Library from 25th January until 19th May 2023. It showcases the stories of fourteen women from Ukraine’s past and present.

Seven women, who were historically pioneers in their fields, are paired with seven contemporary trailblazers. Each pair is linked by a shared background such as activism, military service, medicine or education. All are connected by the important role they played in Ukrainian women’s history. The seven figures, with their different professions, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and sexual identities, provide a snapshot of Ukrainian society. However, the exhibition aims to be neither representative nor canon-shaping. Rather, it is positioned as just one amongst a range of projects promoting women’s achievements.

The exhibition is an outcome of a collaborative project, funded by the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund, the University of St Andrews and Heinrich Boell Foundation, Ukraine.  Starting in 2020, this project was led by Dr Margarita Vaysman (School of Modern Languages, St Andrews) and her Ukraine-based collaborators: Dr Tamara Zlobina and Anna Dovgopol at Gender in Detail, a media platform that aims to promote the understanding of gender issues in Ukraine, and Dasha Nepochatova at Creative Women Space, a collective that provides a platform for projects that empower women.

This exhibition draws attention to the stereotypical ways in which women are portrayed in national histories and to general preconceptions that form as a result of this limited representation. Dasha Nepochatova, co-founder of Creative Women Space and the co-curator, along with Dr Vaysman, of the exhibition, emphasises that the team wanted to showcase the ‘complexity of these women’s lives’: their relationships, duties and achievements. The exhibition aims to make these women’s stories more widely known whilst championing different perspectives. According to Nepochatova, the power of this visible female representation is particularly important: ‘What can inspire women in Ukraine? Particularly those from very rural and poor villages. How can they believe in themselves? What can help them? I strongly believe that such stories, true stories, of women in the past who achieved great things and did so in spite of the challenges they faced are so important. It shows that if they did it, you can too.’

Each woman’s story is brought to life by the Ukrainian artist and graphic designer Olena Marchyshyna. Using the traditional paper-cutting method of vytynanka, Marchyshyna created individual portraits of the fourteen women to accompany their short biographies, also on display alongside the striking images. As Marchyshyna explains, she chose the vytynanka technique to reflect the project’s goal:

An example of Vytynanka, an ornamental decoration of a dwelling, which is cut out of paper (both white and coloured) . ‘Vytynanka is one of the traditional decorative arts in Ukraine. It first appeared in China, where people started to cut patterns from the moment when paper was invented. However, this idea came to us in the west in the mid-nineteenth century. Vytynanka is an ornamental decoration of a dwelling, which is cut out of paper (both white and coloured) using a knife or scissors. Vytynanka in Ukraine was used to decorate various corners of a home, such as windows, walls, shelves, etc. The idea of using vytynanka as a technique for working on the project was a team decision. I believe that this technique best emphasises the fact that women are sometimes “invisible”, and “unrepresented” in social life. It can be as difficult for women who “carved” new paths for themselves as it is to see a vytynanka on a blank sheet of paper. It requires illumination, manifestation, and highlighting of the silhouette to make it visible. The goal of this project was to highlight the important role of women in Ukraine by illuminating, highlighting, and displaying their stories.’

The use of vytynanka links each portrait, providing a sense of cohesion and connection. Yet, with their varied backgrounds and striking headshots that capture the spirit of their subjects, the portraits are noticeably individual, at the same time. This reflects Marchyshyna’s creative process: ‘It was an intriguing exploration for me, particularly when dealing with historical figures. I conducted extensive research in the archives, studied biographies of these women, and photographs (if available), to envision where the heroines lived, how they dressed, and what they might have liked. Afterwards, I selected the patterns that, I believed, would best accentuate their individual identities. With the contemporary heroines, I made sure that the images I chose personally appealed to them and accurately reflected their characters.’

The exhibition contains another, fifteenth portrait, titled ‘The Unknown Ukrainian Woman’. This image represents the exclusion of women’s experiences from Ukrainian history and emphasises the need to champion female voices. For Marchyshyna, creating this image

‘was the most difficult task, as I needed to reflect everyone in one image: my own generation of Ukrainian women, as well as our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. I wanted the heroine to have a direct, strong gaze, so that she would not forget her roots, that she is Ukrainian, proud of it, and that she can achieve her goals by walking her path with dignity and relying on the experience of many generations of Ukrainian women.’

Portrait, titled ‘The Unknown Ukrainian Woman’According to the curators, ‘Pioneering Women in Ukraine’ showcases women’s innovative contribution to Ukrainian history: ‘I’ve always connected this project with my story and my experience. I often wonder if somebody will remember us in one hundred years. I believe that it is our duty to find the story of women who came before us. We are a kind of pyramid. We are standing on the shoulders of each other. What we have right now – it is only because they worked so hard to get it for us. It is our duty to find their names, to dig them up and talk about them. Even if there is very little information. It’s very important. Without this, we can’t expect that future generations will remember us’, says Nepochatova.

After the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022, Dasha Nepochatova, Olena Marchyshyna, as well as many other Ukrainian women, were forced to leave their homes and have found refuge abroad. This exhibition is a small token of respect for these women’s continuous fortitude in the face of war, death, and destruction.

The Pioneering Women in Ukraine Exhibition has been produced with the financial and organisational support from St Catherine’s College, Oxford, and Barbara Costa, St Catherine’s college librarian, in 2022. We would also like to acknowledge the help of Elisabet Almunia (Bodleian Libraries Finance and Administration Officer), Matthew Smith (Taylor Institution Library Premises Supervisor) who put up the portraits so expertly and Dr Johanneke Sytsema (Linguistics and Dutch and Frisian subject specialist) who coordinates the Taylorian blog.  The exhibition is currently on loan to the Taylor Institution Library before it transfers to Scotland in autumn 2023. The digital version of this exhibition can be found here in Ukrainian and in English (translated by Dr Sasha Dovzhyk).

Manx in Oxford: Discoveries in the Taylorian Basement

The Taylor Institution Library is well known for its extensive research and teaching collections, which cover many major European languages, including French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Russian. However, if you spend time browsing the Taylor’s shelves, you might be surprised by sections of the collections dedicated to lesser-known languages.

I discovered one such section as I was procrastinating writing an essay on French literature during the final year of my undergraduate degree. My wanderings through the library took me to the Celtic section, located in the basement stacks. I picked my way through the shelves dedicated to Irish and Welsh for some time, until I landed on a section of works on Manx. This is the native language of the Isle of Man – called Gaelg or Gailck (pronounced “gilk”) by its speakers. As a speaker of this language and a resident of the Isle of Man, it was a joy for me to find this collection in my favourite library.

Unless you are a Celticist, or have an interest in endangered languages, it is likely that you have never heard of Manx. As its aforementioned autonym may suggest, this is a Gaelic language, closely related to Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and less closely related to the other Celtic languages – Welsh, Breton, and Cornish. Although Manx clearly derives from Old or Middle Irish, Manx is its own language, with its own associated history, literature, folklore, and music. Due to the influence of the Vikings, who settled extensively on Mann, a few modern Manx words are of Norse origin, e.g. skeeal (“story”).

Satellite Image of Ellan Vannin (Isle of Man).

Satellite Image of Ellan Vannin (Isle of Man). Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

As was the case with many smaller languages, the number of Manx speakers slowly declined, especially from the 19th century onwards, in this case in favour of English. Manx is often regarded to have “died” in 1974, with the death of the so-called “last native speaker”, Ned Maddrell. Although the situation was dire for Manx, a small number of enthusiasts kept the language alive by learning and teaching it, which ultimately led to the establishment of the Manx Language pre-school Mooinjer Veggey (“Little People” – a reference to a traditional Manx euphemism for the fairy folk) and the Manx-Language primary school (Bunscoill Ghaelgagh). By the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the Manx language and culture revival movement had enjoyed some measure of success. As a result, according to the Isle of Man Government Census in 2011, around 1,800 people claimed to be able to speak, read, or write Manx, which amounts to around 2% of the Island’s population. This number has likely since increased. The language now has a stronger base amongst young people; Manx is present in the education system from ages 4-18, and it is often heard at cultural events.

The Taylorian’s collections hold a wealth of works on Manx, including books and journal articles on the language, its literature, and music, as well as language-learning materials. Readers can also access CDs, including the Manx Language Archive Recordings, which consist of recordings of elderly native speakers made in the mid-20th century. These recordings, made by researchers from the Irish Folklore Commission, are immensely important for linguists to know what the language sounded like prior to its revival.

If you can brave Manx’s slightly odd spelling, the Taylorian has all the resources you need to learn to speak a little of the language yourself. Harrison’s Manx Words gives examples of frequently-used vocabulary, while Cain’s Manx Phrases will help with the “please”s and “thank you”s. Stowell’s comprehensive Y Coorse Mooar (“The Big Course”) guides the reader through the language and provides learning exercises to test knowledge. For the more linguistically-minded, Draskau’s Practical Manx is an up-to-date guide to the rules of the language, complete with examples of attested and correct usage. Every language-learner will need to use a dictionary at some stage, and the Taylorian’s collection holds both Fargher’s English-Manx Dictionary and Cregeen’s Manx-English Dictionary, as well as Kneen’s English-Manx Pronouncing Dictionary; all essential tools for the solo language-learner.

Caption: Manx learning materials on the Taylorian’s New Books Display

Caption: Manx learning materials on the Taylorian’s New Books Display.     Image Credit: Erin McNulty

Those interested in the academic study of the language may also wish to read the work of early scholars, such as Sir John Rhys, who wrote extensively on the philology of the Celtic languages. Rhys, the first Professor of Celtic at the University of Oxford, was one of the first academics to devote serious study to the Manx language. His 1894 work, The Outlines of the Phonology of Manx Gaelic, remains an incredibly important contribution to the field. In addition, Thomson’s The Study of Manx Gaelic and Outline of Manx Language and Literature are both key texts in Manx studies. As modern speakers and researchers we owe much to the works of these two men.

For a historical overview of Manx, Stowell’s A Short History of the Manx Language is also invaluable. Broderick’s Handbook of Late Spoken Manx is an exhaustive resource focussing on how the language was used by speakers in the 19th and 20th centuries, just prior to its “death”. Broderick’s Language Death in the Isle of Man charts the changes that the language went through during its decline, as well as discussing some of the economic and social factors that led to this decline.

The linguistic study of Manx as it is spoken in the 21st century is a small but growing field. A number of articles have been written on the subject, all of which are well worth a read. For example, Wilson, Johnson, and Sallabank’s I’m not dead yet’: a comparative study of indigenous language revitalization in the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey discusses how the Manx language has been and is being revived in the Isle of Man, and how its situation compares to that of the native Norman French of Jersey and Guernsey. Lewin’s Scholarship and Language Revival: Language Ideologies in Corpus Development for Revived Manx deals with issues of language ideology in modern Manx, and Ó hIfearnáin’s Sociolinguistic Vitality of Manx after Extreme Language Shift focusses on the effects of the sociology of Manx’s environment on the language.

The Taylorian also holds works on the Manx language expressed through the arts. Carswell’s Mannanan’s Cloak: An Anthology of Manx Literature is a good place to start a foray into the literary works in the language. Faragher’s Skeealyn ‘sy Ghailck (“Stories in Manx”), a collection of short traditional stories in the language, is also worth a look. Much of the reading material produced in modern Manx consists of translations of works in Irish or English, such as Kemmyrkagh (“Refugee”), a Manx translation of Pól Ó Muirí’s Irish-language novel, Teifeach. The book tells the story of Marika, a young Bosnian woman living with her daughter in a village in rural Ireland. Manx also has a rich musical history, a sample of which is given in Moore’s Manx Ballads and Music.

We can also find works on Manx folklore and history in the Taylorian’s collections. Examples of the former include Sir John Rhys’ Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx, as well as Moore’s The Folk-Lore of the Isle of Man. For the latter, Kelly’s New Manx Worthies contains biographies of notable historical Manxmen and -women. MacQuarrie and Nagy’s The Medieval cultures of the Irish Sea and the North Sea: Manannán and his neighbors also looks at the interconnected history of the Isle of Man and surrounding areas in the Middle Ages. Finally, Broderick’s A Dictionary of Manx Place-Names and Kneen’s The Personal Names of the Isle of Man are useful for anyone interested in the onomastics of Manx.

Caption: Kelly’s New Manx Worthies on display at the Taylor

Caption: Kelly’s New Manx Worthies on display at the Taylor.
Image Credit: Erin McNulty

Anyone who is interested in learning more about the resources on Manx available in the Bodleian Libraries and wider Oxford collections should consult the LibGuide page for Celtic, maintained by the Celtic Subject Librarian, Janet Foot. Here you can also find links to language-learning websites and online dictionaries, as well as further resources on many aspects of Manx Studies.

Gura mie eu as shiu lhiah! Thanks for reading!

Erin McNulty, Graduate Library Trainee (2019-20)