Author Archives: Dan Q

Playing Shakespeare in German

IMG_2885 - compressed

The Taylor Institution’s ‘Shakespeare in Translation’ exhibition illustrates the broad linguistic scope of Shakespeare reception across Europe. His plays have a particularly long history of adaptation and translation in German. This post explores some of the milestones in that history, from anonymous reinterpretation while Shakespeare was still writing, all the way to Brecht’s radio plays the twentieth century, via the authoritative Schlegel-Tieck edition of the early nineteenth century.

The Beginning

In 1586, the English comedians arrived in Germany, and continued to perform until 1660. It was they who provided Germany’s introduction to Shakespeare, during the playwright’s lifetime. Their repertoire included plays loosely based on Shakespeare’s – emphasis on the word ‘loosely’. The name ‘Shakespeare’, however, was not associated with these plays, and is generally thought not to have been mentioned in Germany until Daniel Georg Morhof’s Unterricht von der Teutschen Sprache und Poesie in 1682. Even if divorced from the name of Shakespeare, these plays do represent very early reception of his works in Germany. Some of the texts survive, both in fairly modern and near-contemporary editions, of which the oldest is Englische Comedien und Tragedien (1620). The eighth play in this collection is a German translation and adaptation of Titus Andronicus, making it the first of Shakespeare’s plays to be printed in Germany, as well as the first to be printed in England. Its temporal proximity to the earliest English performances of the play, as well as that fact of its being performed by English actors (some in English, and some in German), mean that we can learn a great deal about the history of Titus Andronicus and its original performance from this printing.

Collected Plays in Translation

Shakespe11.WielandShakespeare Theatralische Werke Band 1 p129 - compressedare’s popularity took off in Germany in the eighteenth century, when German commentaries on his work first began to appear. Although his name had been known in Germany since Morhof in 1682, and to French-reading audiences through Voltaire’s Lettres philosophiques sur les Anglais, the real development did not come for another eighty years, with Christoph Martin Wieland’s Shakespear: theatralische Werke (1762). Although Wieland did not translate all of the plays, English-language scholars of Shakespeare in Germany are united in their assessment of the significance of this publication:



Simon Williams: ‘It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Wieland’s translation in the introduction of Shakespeare into German’ (Williams, p. 52)

Roger Paulin: ‘no serious discussion of Shakespeare’s text could … be expected much   before 1762, the date of the first volume of Wieland’s translation’ (Paulin, p. 21)

Wieland’s work was neither definitive nor complete, and J.J. Eschenburg built upon it in the next decade with William Shakespear’s Schauspiele. Neue Ausgabe (1775-77, 1782). It was, though, the appearance of Schlegel’s translation (1797-1810) which irrevocably changed Germany’s relationship with Shakespeare. Schlegel’s work become the standard German Shakespeare translation, largely because of his famous principle ‘alles im Deutschen Thunliche’. Paulin summarises the impact of this approach, which:

‘means that Shakespeare can be both translatable and German … For Schlegel, poetic             rendition was an absolute requirement, not an option’ (Paulin, p. 303)

In the 1820s, Ludwig Tieck re-edited Schlegel’s translations to produce Shakespeare’s dramatische Werke. Uebersetzt von August Wilhelm von Schlegel, ergänzt und erläutert von Ludwig Tieck (1825-33). In the introduction, Tieck takes it upon himself to warn his readers against another set of translations which began appearing in the intervening 14.SchlegelTieckShakespeareÔÇÖs Werke SchlegelTieck Title Page 2 - compressedyears between Schlegel’s original publication, and his own reissue: that of Johann Heinrich Voss and his sons, Shakespeare’s Schauspiele von Johann Heinrich Voß und dessen Söhnen Heinrich Voß und Abraham Voß (1818-1829). Schlegel was not himself involved in this new version and was furious, both at the reissue of his work, and at Tieck’s supposed improvements (Paulin, p. 344). The Schlegel-Tieck edition is viewed as a ‘German classic in its own right’ (Korte and Spittel, p. 269), and Friedrich Gundolf viewed Schlegel’s work as the endpoint and the high-point of a development of Shakespeare as belonging to the German spirit, which had begun with Lessing (Gundolf, p. 356). But it was also a question of timing. George Steiner describes Schlegel’s translations as ‘formidable re-creations of the English text [which] coincided precisely with the time in which the German language was coming of literary age’ (Steiner, p. 156).

The Schlegel-Tieck edition, however seminal, did not put an end to the translation of Shakespeare into German. Paulin identifies the translations by Ernst Ortlieb (W. Shakespeare’s dramatische Werke (1842-43)) and Friedrich Bodenstedt (William Shakespeare’s Dramatische Werke (1867-71) as having been undervalued (Paulin, pp. 331, 329), and indeed they have received little modern critical attention. Moving into the twentieth century, Friedrich Gundolf’s enduring contribution to Shakespeare studies must be his Shakespeare und der deutsche Geist (1911), but a decade later he published Shakespeare in deutscher Sprache (1920-22). This, though, is ‘today only [of] antiquarian interest’ (Paulin, p. 488).

Translations of Individual Plays

20.Schroeder Ko¦ênig Lear Title Page - compressedWhere translations of individual works are concerned, we see some famous names, and some that are less familiar. The Taylor Institution holds several translations by the actor, theatre manager, and dramatist F.L. Schröder, including his Hamlet and König Lear (both editions 1778), as well as Gottfried August Burger’s Macbeth (1783). Schröder’s production of Hamlet had a particular influence on German literature, for it inspires the hero of Goethe’s Wilhem Meister’s Lehrjahre (himself named for Shakespeare) to want to put on a complete German version of the play. Hamlet, indeed, is discussed at length in the novel. Bürger, meanwhile, was Schlegel’s mentor, and although Schlegel had little complimentary to say about this version of Macbeth in later life, ‘it was Bürger who in 1789-93 was able to instil in the young Schlegel the confidence to produce a verse Midsummer Night’s Dream quite distinct from Wieland’s’ (Paulin, p. 311). Seventeen years later, Schiller also produced an adapted translation of Macbeth, and in 1812, Goethe, who as theatre director in Weimar produced a number of Shakespeare’s plays, put on his own adapted version of Romeo and Juliet, although thereafter he lost interest in translating Shakespeare. Moving forward over a century, we come to Bertolt Brecht, who used elements of many of Shakespeare’s plays in his writing, and whose free adaptations were tailored to his own critical and political purposes. In October 1927, his adaptation of Macbeth was performed on the Berliner Rundfunk radio station, but the manuscript is now lost. The same station also broadcast his Hamlet in 1931. Between 1951 and 1953 Brecht also produced a partial translation of Coriolanus. Although it remained unfinished, it was nonetheless translated back into English by Ralph Manheim.

Four hundred years after his death, Shakespeare’s popularity in Germany shows no sign of waning. He is perhaps as present in German schools as in English. Despite the great variety of interpretation made possible through the different acts of translation outlined above, however, the status of Schlegel’s achievement means that German has a standard version of Shakespeare which has something like the status which the original has in English. But while this post has focused on German translators of Shakespeare, they are only one aspect of German Shakespeare reception. Germany also has a long tradition of Shakespeare critics and commentators, some of whose names are well known, and some of whose stories have been almost forgotten.

Mary Boyle
University of Oxford



  • Bate, Jonathan (ed.), Titus Andronicus, the Arden Shakespeare (London and New York: Routledge, 1995)
  • Gundolf, Friedrich, Shakespeare und der deutsche Geist (Berlin: Bondi, 1911)
  • Guntner, Lawrence, ‘Rewriting Shakespeare: Bertolt Brecht, Heiner Müller, and the Politics of Performance’ in Shakespeare and European Politics (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2008), pp. 179-195
  • Korte, Barbara, and Christina Spittel. “Shakespeare Under Different Flags: The Bard in German Classrooms from Hitler to Honecker”. Journal of Contemporary History2 (2009): 267–286.
  • Paulin, Roger, The Critical Reception of Shakespeare in Germany: 1682-1914 (Hildesheim, Zürich, New York: Olms, 2003)
  • Steiner, George, The Death of Tragedy (Faber & Faber, new edition 2010)
  • Williams, Simon, Shakespeare on the German Stage, 1: 1586-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990, repr. 2004)




Shall I compare thee? Shakespeare in Translation Exhibition in the Taylorian

On 12 April, 6pm, Library Graduate Trainee Philippa Taylor pulled off the cover from the display case in the vestibule of the Voltaire Room and revealed to an admiring crowd of linguists, librarians and literature lovers four versions of Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest’: a Portuguese translation printed in Lisbon in 1977, Aimé Césaire’s adaptation pour un théâtre nègre from 1969, the typescript of the only Frisian translation with commentary extant and, as crowning piece, a wonderfully atmospheric large colour print from a French artist’s book based on the translation by A. du Couchet.


The Tempest arrangement forms the final case in a new exhibition in the Taylor Institution dedicated to Shakespeare in translation. The idea for putting this on was sparked by the lucky coincidence of a symposium on Ulrike Draesner, Writer-in-Residence at the German Sub-Faculty in 2015-16, and the Shakespeare 2016 events going on in Oxford. A few years ago, Ulrike had published her “radical translations” of 17 Shakespeare sonnets, set in a post-modern world of reproduction not via nature as in Shakespeare’s sonnets but via cloning. This had inspired German lecturer, translator and poet Tom Cheesman to venture a back-translation in which he “Englished” her versions again. Emma Huber as German Subject Librarian and Henrike Lähnemann as Professor for Medieval German, working together on the Reformation 2017 project, were just looking for a test case to trial a new form of library booklet as print-on-demand. They both thought that this would be the perfect copy: Shakespeare – put into German – returned to English in a literature-generating movement characteristic for Modern Languages in dialogue.

The exhibition spirals out from the display cases in the centre of the Voltaire Room. Standing high, the oldest cabinet which has seen many a distinguished publication from first editions to brand new research publications shows the genesis of ‘Twin Spin’, the Shakespeare x Draesner x Cheesman sonnet version.

Central case

The largest cabinet next to it is needed to show at least a fraction of the over 180 attempts to render Shakespeare sonnets in German, starting with Dorothea Tieck’s take on it as part of the classic ‘Schlegel-Tieck-Ausgabe’ which made Shakespeare – at least in the eyes of nineteenth century Germans – a truly German author. A special focus is on the early 20th century bibliophile versions of Stefan George and Friedrich Huch, which provide an eye-catching display in contrast to the typescript aesthetics of the 1980s and 1990s, when Shakespeare was in vogue with the likes of the singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann.

Spiralling outward from the central cabinets are two cases crammed with again just a small selection of sonnet translations into other European languages, from Sorbian to Yiddish, emphasising – as an Italian dissertation on display claims – that Shakespeare speaks ‘da poeta a poeta’. The rich material on literary engagement with Shakespeare is then taken beyond the sonnets in samples of translations of his plays across the languages – and across the media to visual material and DVDs. The Tempest display case mentioned at the beginning provides a final case study of how much more could be explored.


The exhibition was curated by Henrike Lähnemann (Professor of Medieval German Literature and Linguistics), together with Emilia Henderson and Philippa Taylor and the help of the Taylor Institution staff. Special thanks go to Lydia Pryce-Jones who designed the cover image, to Emma Huber for master-minding the operation, and to Clare Hills-Nova for her curatorial expertise! So this is an exhibition that invites visitors on a journey to discover more of the astonishing treasures of the Taylorian while engaging with Shakespeare. The catalogue of the exhibition can be downloaded here; the full edition of ‘Twin Spin’ can be bought in the Taylorian at the Issue Desk or ordered from online retailers (ISBN 978-0-9954564-0-2). This first pamphlet from the Taylor Institution Library is published on the day of Shakespeare’s 400th death day, showing that he is very much alive – not least through the constant renewal in translation.

Endangered Languages and language documentation

The Taylorian is known for its collections on Modern European Languages, be it East- or West-European. Apart from the main collections including German, French, Russian, Polish to  mention a few, the Taylorian also houses less well known collections on minority languages, such as Welsh and Breton within the Celtic section or Occitan and Yiddish. To familiarise a wider audience with these ‘hidden treasures’ of the Taylorian, the seminar series ‘Introducing Endangered Languages’ was organised in Michaelmas Term 2015. The seminars were kindly given by Oxford specialists.

Prof. Mary Dalrymple gave an introduction to language endangerment in the first seminar and paid special attention to a critically endangered language Dusner in West Papua with only three speakers left. Some of the questions she discussed were :

How many Languages are there? What constitutes a language?

The total number of languages in the world can only be estimated at around 7000. It is difficult to be certain, and it depends on what counts as a language. E.g. is Chinese one language or are Mandarin, Cantonese and other dialects regarded as separate languages?  And is Arabic one language or does Egyptian Arabic count as a separate language? Assuming Chinese is one language, than it is the most spoken language in the world with more than a billion speakers. Second comes Spanish, followed by English.  Here is a list of most spoken languages from the Ethnologue.



When is a language endangered?

Interestingly, 94% of the world population speaks only 6% of the world languages, so most people speak a main stream language as their first language. This also means that 6% of the world population speaks 94% of the world languages, so each of these languages have relatively small numbers of speakers. Numbers of speakers may vary: 10.000, 1000, 100 or even just 10 first language speakers. Over 300 languages have no first language speakers at all, all speakers are bilingual and use the minority language only in certain ‘domains’ e.g. home and family, whereas the major language may be used at school, work etc. Many of these languages without first language speakers are at risk to be ‘overtaken’ by the mainstream language.

ethnologue 2

Most users of the Taylorian will have heard of European minority languages, such as Breton or Frisian, although languages like Friulian or Istro-Romanian are less well known. Most countries in Europe can be proud of having one or a few minority languages spoken within their borders. In terms of ‘language density’ however Europe is fairly ‘poor’, other regions in the world may have many more languages within one country. One of the most densely ‘languaged’ regions is South-East Asia. It is assumed that there are at least 1000 minority languages in Papua New Guinea alone, many of which have not even been documented. In the language-rich province of West-Papua in Indonesia there is a language on the brink of dying out: Dusner, an Austronesian language, only spoken by three people over 60. Fortunately, Prof. Dalrymple was just in time to meet them in April 2011. Flying out in a hurry to West-Papua after Dr Mofu had discovered Dusner, she then travelled to the idyllic village of Dusner that can only be reached by boat.


Atlas of the world's languages in danger Moseley, Christopher & Nicolas, Alexandre. Paris: Unesco, 2010. Taylor Library Linguistics Collection P40.5.L33 ATL 2010.

Atlas of the world’s languages in danger Moseley, Christopher & Nicolas, Alexandre. Paris: Unesco, 2010. Taylor Library Linguistics Collection P40.5.L33 ATL 2010.

Together with Dr Mofu who holds a D.Phil. from Oxford, she interviewed these last speakers  to record their language. The Dusner speakers are featured below (from the project website For those interested in the sound of Dusner, the website holds audio recordings of the interviews.

These interviews were the basis of a language documentation project which resulted in the publication of the first grammar of Dusner  (by Mary Dalrymple & Suriel Mofu).


Small languages like Dusner are really valuable from a linguistic point of view, since they often maintain the more complex linguistic constructions, whereas major languages will have been simplified to make them easier to acquire by adults. English is an example of a language that simplified over time. For example In Anglosaxon there were different verbal endings as in helpe, hilpst, hilpƥ, helpaƥ, helpe, helpen (present tense of helpan ‘to help’) whereas in Modern English there are only two forms in the present: help, helps.



A remarkable feature of Dusner is the number system: it is a base five system, this means that there are separate words for one, two, three, four and five but six is expressed as ‘five one’ and seven as ‘five two’. Ten is a new word, eleven is ‘ten one’ and sixteen is expressed as ‘ten five one’.

Dusner numbers

The grammar is the only one book on Dusner ever published and this is held in the Bodleian. The Taylorian holds a good collection on endangered languages more in general, the list of recommended resources can be found below.

I’m grateful to Prof. Dalrymple for letting me use her slides and for giving me permission to use the table of  Dusner numbers and the two tables on numbers of speakers, both based on information from Ethnologue.

Johanneke Sytsema, Linguistics Librarian

Further Reading


Dalrymple, Mary and Suriel Mofu  (2012) Dusner. Muenchen : Lincom Europa
Closed Stack  M12.F01716

 Florey, Margaret J (2010) Endangered languages of Austronesia. Oxford : Oxford University Press.
Closed Stack  M09.E12948

Language Endangerment
De Dominicis, Amedeo (2006). Undescribed and endangered languages : the preservation of linguistic diversity. Newcastle-upon-Tyne : Cambridge Scholars.
Closed Stack. Also online through SOLO.

Crystal, David (2014). Language Death. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.
Taylor Institution Library Linguistics Collection P40.5.L33 CRY 2014

Harris, K.D. (2007) When Languages Die. The extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge. Oxford: OUP.
Taylor Institution Library Teaching Collection P.40.5.L33 HAR 2007

Evans, Nicholas (2010). Dying words : endangered languages and what they have to tell us. Chichester, U.K. ; Malden, MA : Wiley-Blackwell.
Taylor Institution Library Linguistics Collection P40.5.E53 EVA 2009.

Fishman, Joshua A. (1991). Reversing language shift : theoretical and empirical foundations of assistance to threatened languages. Clevedon : Multilingual Matters.
Taylor Institution Library Linguistics Collection ALN.8000.A.45

Fishman, Joshua A (2001). Can threatened languages be saved? : reversing language shift, revisited : a 21st century perspective. Clevedon : Multilingual Matters.
Bodleian Library Lower Gladstone Link Open Shelves (UBHU) M01.F01417.

Gordon, Raymond G. (2005). Ethnologue : languages of the world. Dallas, SIL International.
Closed Stack M05.D01883.

Miyaoka, Osahito, Osamu Sakiyama and Michael E. Krauss (2007) The vanishing languages of the Pacific rim. Oxford : Oxford University.
Taylor Institution Library Linguistics Collection P381.P3 VAN 2007

Nettle, Daniel & Suzanne Romaine (2000) Vanishing Voices: the extinction of the world’s languages.Oxford: OUP.
Taylor Institution Library Teaching Collection P40.5.L33 NET 2000

Thomason, Sarah Grey & Verónica María (2015)Endangered languages : an introduction
Taylor Institution Library Teaching Collection  P40.5.E53 THO 2015

Tsunoda, Tasaku (2006). Language endangerment and language revitalization : an introduction. Berlin : Mouton de Gruyter.
Taylor Institution Library Teaching Collection P40.5 L28 TSU 2004


Wurm, S. A.& Theo Baumann (1996). Atlas of the world’s languages in danger of disappearing. Paris : Unesco ; Canberra : Pacific Linguistics.
Bodleian Library Weston RBMSS Open Shelves G1.B1.53 Maps.

Moseley, Christopher & R.E. Asher (1994). Atlas of the world’s languages. London : Routledge.
Taylor Institution Library (Graduate Studies Room) L.ATL.B.AA.4
(See also the online interactive version

Moseley, Christopher & Alexandre Nicolas (2010) Atlas of the world’s languages in danger. 3rd ed. Paris : United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
Taylor Institution Library Linguistics Collection P40.5.L33 ATL 2010

Moseley, Christopher (2012). The UNESCO atlas of the world’s languages in danger : context and process. Cambridge : World Oral Literature Project.
Closed Stack

Personal accounts
Everett, Daniel Leonard (2009). Don’t sleep, there are snakes : life and language in the Amazonian jungle. London : Profile.
Closed Stack M09.G01855

Abley, Mark (2005).Spoken here : travels among threatened languages. London : Arrow Books.
Taylor Institution Library Teaching Collection P40.5.L33 ABL 2005

Drysdale, Helena.(2002). Mother tongues : travels through tribal Europe. London : Picador.
Closed Stack M02.G02997

Web Resources

Foundation for Endangered Languages


The Endangered Languages Project. A project to support language preservation and documentation around the world by the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity.The catalogue contains information on 3228 languages. Includes interactive map.

SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) (includes interactive map and list of publications)

Breton oral literature at the Taylorian

We continue the Breton theme with a post by a Breton scholar, Dr Éva Guillorel, who discusses the Taylorian’s wonderful collection of material relating to Breton oral tradition.

In the last ten years, I have had the opportunity to work regularly with three of the best library collections related to Celtic studies in the world. I was based in Brest when I completed my Ph.D. on Breton ballads and their connections with the history of early modern Brittany.

Some of the work of Dr Eva Guillorel held in the Taylorian.

Then I moved to Harvard for a post-doc on the mechanisms of transformation, renewal and transmission of oral traditions in Celtic countries. After a second post-doc in Québec on a totally different topic, Oxford was my final long lasting research experience abroad before obtaining a position as Associate Professor at the University of Caen in Normandy. The Oxford project entitled ‘Song and Social Protest in Early Modern Europe: Acts of Rebellion, Performance of Memory’, funded by the British Academy and supervised by Hertford College Lecturer David Hopkin, was based on a broad geographical area that exceeded Celtic countries. However, Breton oral literature as a source for early modern history has remained at the heart of my interests; that is why the collections of the Taylor Institution Library  rapidly caught my attention. My first reaction as I went down the narrow staircase giving access to the Breton stacks for the first time, was surprise. Breton is usually considered as the fifth wheel on the wagon of Celtic studies outside Brittany: Irish, Welsh as well as Scottish Gaelic are much more studied in Celtic departments, and I was expecting a small shelf dedicated to Breton books. But when I discovered the richness of the collection and the dynamism of acquisitions, I spent much more time in that library for my research.

A particularly rich repertoire of songs has been preserved in Breton-speaking Brittany until the present day. The most fascinating among them are certainly the ancient ballads which relate local historical events – murders, infanticides, rapes and other tragic stories – that took place from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries.

Gwennole Le Menn, Le vocabulaire breton du Catholicon (1499) (Skol, 2001)


They are known as gwerzioù, a name which appears in old dictionaries like the Catholicon, the oldest Breton dictionary written in 1464 by Jehan Lagadeuc (the Taylorian Library owns four printed editions of this precious dictionary), or the detailed eighteenth-century Dictionnaire de la langue bretonne by Dom Louis Le Pelletier (shown below).


These narrative songs are especially notable for the number of historical details they contain concerning names, events, beliefs or material culture, and for the quality of their oral transmission over several centuries. These songs have been preserved mostly without the support of handwritten or printed documents: contrary to close linguistic areas like French or English, there is very little evidence of written secular broadside ballads or chapbooks in Breton before the French Revolution. For those interested in learning more about gwerzioù and who are neither Breton nor French speakers, I strongly recommend Breton Ballads by Mary-Ann Constantine.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, some educated gentlemen started to get interested in what was not yet called “oral literature” and wrote down folktales, legends and songs heard from oral performance from beggars and poor craftsmen and women in the countryside. Théodore Hersart de La Villemarqué’s Barzaz-Breiz, whose first edition was published in 1839, was the first attempt to publish an anthology of such folksongs in France. The Taylorian library owns two of the successive editions of this book, including the last and most complete one in 1867. The anthology had such a success that French writer George Sand compared the “diamonds of the Barzaz-Breiz” to the Iliad and the Odyssey. It deeply influenced the whole wave of song collecting in France, although the methods of his author were criticized. A series of studies about the “controversy of Barzaz-Breiz” followed, and the Taylorian Library holds all major works on this question, mainly three Ph.D. theses completed in Brittany: the first one written by Francis Gourvil in 1960, the remarkable work by Donatien Laurent in 1989 and the more recent analysis by Nelly Blanchard in 2006 (see pictures below).

Following La Villemarqué, many folklorists continued to collect songs, tales and legends in Brittany from the nineteenth century to the present day. In  recent years, the publication of songs in Breton with translations into French has been very active, particularly in the Vannetais area (South-East of Breton-speaking Brittany) with songs collected by Yves Le Diberder, Augustin Guillevic and Jean-Mathurin Cadic or in the Trégor area (North-East of Breton-speaking Brittany) with for example the very recent 2015 publication of Constance Le Mérer’s manuscripts  (Constance  Le  Mérer ; textes et musiques présentés par Bernard Lasbleiz et Daniel Giraudon, Une collecte de chants populaires dans le pays de Lannion (Dastum 2015), a recent Taylorian acquisition.

l'enquete fortoul

L’enquête Fortoul (Rennes, 2010)

Both volumes also of L’enquête Fortoul, edited by Laurence Berthou-Bécam and Didier Bécam, give documented and detailed access to extensive  fieldwork carried out throughout Brittany in the mid-nineteenth century.




When one works on songs, one must also study legends, folktales, proverbs and other forms of Breton oral literature. The Taylorian  holds  a broad  range of books in this field, like the volumes of  François-Marie Luzel’s tales, legends and letters edited by Françoise Morvan or the Contes et légendes de Bretagne gathered by François Cadic and edited by Fañch Postic.

When I think about my research experiences in the different libraries mentioned above, I realize how different the atmosphere is in each of them. The library of the Centre de Recherche Bretonne et Celtique in Brest has certainly the most complete collection of Breton material, not only books but also exceptional written and sound archives; however it is really focused on Brittany, and the collections on other Celtic countries are poorer. The Widener Library at Harvard is a huge, fascinating place where one can walk for hours among stacks as far as one’s eyes can see: the Breton collections are remarkable, although dispersed in many places throughout the library. When I try to characterize what makes the Taylorian different, two words spring to mind. The first one is “accessibility”. In a space that is compact but freely accessible to researchers, one has access to a very large collection of books all kept in the same room, with a remarkable coherence in the contents. Working in this intimate underground place on the tables near the rolling stacks is one of the great memories I will treasure of my time in Oxford. The second word is “dynamism”, I mean the dynamism of the Celtic department and the librarian in constantly improving the collections by acquiring the best new publications. How couldn’t one be surprised and impressed to discover such good provision for a language, today spoken in Brittany by fewer than 200 000 people,  in a university library across the Channel? Oxford libraries are amazing!  Once discovered, it is certainly difficult not to direct one’s steps to the Breton collections of the Taylor Institution Library…

Dr Éva Guillorel, Université de Caen Basse-Normandie

Breton at the Taylorian

Following on from her popular lecture in the ‘Introducing Endangered Languages’ seminar organised by the Taylor Institution Library in Michaelmas 2015, Dr Holly Kennard gives an overview of the library’s Breton collection from the perspective of a linguistics researcher.


Breton is a Celtic language, part of the Brythonic branch of languages, closely related to Welsh and Cornish. It is spoken by about 200 000 people in western Brittany, in northwest France. It has a long history of folktales and traditional music, much of which has been passed down orally through the generations.

There are no longer any monolingual speakers, and Breton is considered to be an endangered language, with most of its speakers now quite elderly. However, language activists have been campaigning for the future of Breton, and this has seen a resurgence of interest in the language, with the establishment of Breton-medium education, broadcasting, as well as an increase in material published in Breton.

Breton linguistics

I have had an interest in Breton for a number of years, beginning first as an undergraduate studying French and Linguistics, and continuing through to my DPhil, where I focused on Breton morphosyntax in contrasting groups of older and younger speakers. Breton presents an opportunity to study an endangered minority language as well as language revival, which I find fascinating, but I am also interested in aspects of its grammar – for my thesis I examined word order patterns and initial consonant mutation, and I am about to embark upon a project looking at grammatical gender and metrical stress.


The particular strengths of the collection at the Taylor are its breadth – it has a wide range of both books and periodicals – and its combination of classic texts (like early descriptions and dictionaries) and very up-to-date publications. I often use the ‘classic’ linguistics texts such as Kenneth Jackson’s Historical Phonology of Breton and Roparz Hémon’s Historical Morphology and Syntax of Breton.



Although written from a historical standpoint, these seminal works provide detailed and valuable descriptions of Breton, as well as explaining a range of regional variation. The collection houses a number of dictionaries from different periods, and with different foci: early dictionaries such as Grand dictionnaire franҫais-breton, as well as more modern editions such as the Elementary Breton-English & English-Breton dictionary, which is likely to be more accessible to a beginner. There is a large monolingual Breton dictionary, Geriadur brezhoneg gant skouerioù ha troiennoù, and then there are the more specialist works such as Per Denez’s dictionary of the Breton of Douarnenez, a dictionary of Old Breton, and even a dictionary of Breton place-names, Albert Deshayes, Dictionnaire des noms de lieux bretons and family names, Albert Deshayes, Dictionnaire des noms de famille bretons.

Geriadur brezhoneg gant skouerioù ha troiennoù ( An Here, 1995)

Geriadur brezhoneg gant skouerioù ha troiennoù (An Here, 1995)

I find the selection of Breton grammars particularly useful. The classic is Kervella’s Yezhadur bras ar brezhoneg, but as it is written in Breton, it is perhaps less accessible to a general audience. My default choice for a reference grammar is Favereau’s Grammaire du breton contemporain, as well as Press’s book, A grammar of modern Breton, which is written in English.


Atlas 2

Of course, the collection goes far beyond reference works such as the above. From my perspective as a linguistics researcher, the descriptions of dialects are very valuable – often, researchers have published detailed doctoral research into an individual dialect, which is really interesting. Le breton de Léchiagat, by André Sinou is one such example. Of course there are also the Linguistic atlases, which deal specifically with regional variation – compiled over the twentieth century, they also allow a glimpse of language change in progress, and are a valuable reference point for linguistics researchers. This is particularly important for an endangered language like Breton, since documentation of regional forms while they are still being spoken is vital.


The collection also contains Middle and Early Modern Breton texts, as well as dictionaries of Old and Middle Breton, and etymological works, allowing researchers to document longer-term language change, and study how Breton differs from its closest neighbours, Cornish and Welsh.

Léon Fleuriot, A Dictionary of old Breton : historical and comparative = Dictionnaire du vieux Breton (Toronto, 1985), pp. 242-43

Léon Fleuriot, A Dictionary of old Breton : historical and comparative = Dictionnaire du vieux Breton (Toronto, 1985), pp. 242-43

The Catholicon is a particularly famous work – first published in 1464, it was not only the first Breton dictionary, but also the first French dictionary, and gives words in Breton, French and Latin.

Le Catholicon de Jehan Lagadeuc : dictionnaire breton, français et latin (Lorient : E. Corfmat, [1868?]

Le Catholicon de Jehan Lagadeuc : dictionnaire breton, français et latin (Lorient : E. Corfmat, [1868?])

In my own work, I am obviously interested in the above, along with other linguistics works. I also frequently refer to the Breton journals that the library holds; in addition to the Journal of Celtic Linguistics, which is a more general journal, I use La Bretagne linguistique and Klask, which is the Celtic journal produced in Rennes. However, there is also a wide range of Breton-language literature available in the Taylor. LiteratureIn addition to books written entirely in Breton, there are also bilingual (French-Breton) texts, and a range of translations, which are helpful for language learners.

Danevelloù divyezhek, An Here-Al Liamm, 2002

Danevelloù divyezhek, (An Here-Al Liamm, 2002)


Not only is this interesting as a mark of how much publishing in Breton (at one time very rare!) has increased, it also constitutes in itself a valuable corpus. I hope to draw on this as I begin my next project, when I will be looking at the Breton of younger speakers/writers.




Dr Holly Kennard,  Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics, University of Oxford

Breton –  Book Display for Endangered Languages Seminar 4th November 2015

All shelfmarks relate to the Taylor Institution Library

Language history and bilingualism

Abalain, Hervé. 1995. Histoire de la langue bretonne (Paris: Editions Jean-Paul Gisserot) C.6501.112

Broudic, Fañch. 1995. La Pratique du Breton de l’Ancien Régime à nos jours (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes) C.9400.91

Gwennig, Youenn et al. 2002. Danevelloù Divyezhek / Nouvelles Bilingues (An Here – Al Liamm) C.6640.63

Linguistic Atlases

Le Dû, Jean. 2001. Nouvel atlas linguistique de la Basse-Bretagne (Brest: CRBC, Université de Bretagne Occidentale) X.OUT.C.27

Le Roux, Pierre. 1924-1963. Atlas linguistique de la Basse-Bretagne (Paris: Champion) L.ATL.A.FR.7

Dictionaries and Grammars

Croix, Alain and Jean-Yves Veillard. 2013. Dictionnaire du patrimoine breton 3rd edition. (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes) DC611B847 DIC 2013

Favereau, Frañses. 1993. Dictionnaire du breton contemporain (Morlaix: Skol Vreizh) REF.M.21.BRE.2 (BT)

Favereau, Francis. 1997. Grammaire du breton contemporain (Morlaix: Skol Vreizh) C.6501.111

Press, J. Ian. 1986. A Grammar of Modern Breton (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter) C.6501.90

Hemon, Roparz. 1975. A historical morphology and syntax of Breton (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies) C.6501.41

Humphrey Lloyd Humphreys. 1995. Phonologie et morphosyntaxe du parler breton de Bothoa en Saint-Nicolas-du-Pélem (Côtes-d’Armor) (Brest: Ar Skol Vrezoneg) C.6501.105

Jackson, Kenneth Hurlstone. 1967. A historical phonology of Breton (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies) C.6501.24


Favereau, Frañses and Hervé Le Bihan. 2006. Littératures de Bretagne: mélanges offerts à Yann-Ber Piriou (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes) PB2858.L48 LIT 2006

La Villemarqué, Théodore Hersart, Vicomte de and Kemener, Yann-Fañch. 1999. Barzaz Breiz: Chants populaires de la Bretagne (Paris: Editions du Layeur) C.9400.107

Madeg, Mikael. 2011. Nan heb e dad (Brest: Emgleo Breizh) PB2905.M28 N36 MAD 2011

Gibson, Jacqueline and Gwyn Griffiths. 2006. The turn of the ermine: an anthology of Breton literature (London: Francis Boutle) PB2873 TUR 2006



Sorbian : an endangered language

On 28th October, the world leading expert on Sorbian Dr Gerald Stone, fellow of Hertford College, gave an inspiring lecture in the seminar series ‘Introducing Endangered Languages’ which is being organised by the Taylor Institution Library.

The Sorbs or ‘Wenden’ as they are called in German, are a Slavic nation that have always lived in Central Europe. Nowadays the Sorbs live in the area around Bautzen/Budissin and Cottbuss in Germany, close to the Polish and the Czech border. In former times, the Sorbian area streched to the rivers Elbe and Saale in the west. When Martin Luther preached in Wittenberg in the early 16th century he would have had Sorbian speakers among his German speaking congregation.

Sorbian is divided in two dialects, known as Upper-Sorbian (around Bautzen) and Lower- Sorbian (north of Cottbuss). Interestingly, the difference between the two Sorbian dialects is very much based on religious differences between Protestants and Catholics who lived in fairly closed communities in separate villages. Since intermarriage did not happen much, the villages kept their religious identity and traditions and therefore their dialects for a long time. Although there are morphological and phonological differences in addition to lexical differences between Upper and Lower Sorbian, they are still regarded as one language. The future of Sorbian seems best guaranteed in Catholic villages, mainly in Upper Sorbia, where children speak Sorbian, whereas in Protestant villages that are mainly in the north, there is hardly anyone below the age of 50 still speaking the language. The Sorbischer Sprachatlas (Sorbian language atlas) gives a detailed overview of the Sorbian dialects and the parishes in which the dialects are spoken. Just across the Polish border, no Sorbian or related dialect is spoken at all due to political circumstances after WWII when Poles from east Poland settled in the area.

H.Fasske Sorbischer Sprachatlas or Serbski rěčny atlas,Taylor Slavonic Library.

H.Fasske Sorbischer Sprachatlas or Serbski rěčny atlas,Taylor Slavonic Library.

The number of Sorbian speakers is estimated at over 6000 for Lower Sorbian and 15,000 for Upper Sorbian. The number of Sorbian speakers diminished greatly during the Nazi era, Sorbs being displaced or worse. The socialist government of the GDR took the opposite view and protected the Sorbs, enabled Sorbian schools and subsidised the publishing house Domowina, which still exists. Nowadays, the lack of economic prospects in the region is a threat for the future of Sorbian, and many young people seek employment further west.

Bilingualism in Lusatia

All Sorbian speakers are bilingual, and like to see this reflected in street name signs. In the GDR era when Sorbian was supported by the state, both languages were represented in the same font size, whereas nowadays, the German names are presented bigger than the Sorbian names. As the joke goes, this is because Germans are short-sighted….

street name

Sorbian traditions

Sorbians have lived in the area for centuries and maintained their traditions. A well known tradition is the Easter riding or ‘Osterreiten’. At Easter, the Catholic men from one village ride in procession to the next village to announce the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. Men from this village then pay a visit in return. All ride on black horses, each procession can encompass up to 400 riders in black hats.


Sorbian in print

The Sorbian exhibition in the Voltaire Room shows some of the early history of Sorbian in print: Vocabularium latino-serbicum (Bautzen, 1721) of Jurij Hawštyn Swětlik ) and the first Upper Sorbian grammar, Jakub Xaver Ticin’s Principia linguae wendicae quam aliqui wandalicam vocant, first published in Prague in 1679.

The Taylorian also holds a rare copy of the hymnbook by August Hersen who translated hymns by Graf Nikolaus von Zinzendorf into Sorbian in 1750. This copy Hłós teje njewjesty Jezusoweje…was donated to the Taylorian by Dr Stone in 1973.


The first Bible in Sorbian was printed in 1728 in Bautzen. Dr Stone kindly lent his copy of this leather bound bible for the exhibition.

I thank Dr Stone for supplying the captions for the exhibition, for his time spent in preparing the exhibition and telling me about the Sorbs. Without his contributions, I could not have written this blog. His latest book will be published in December this year.

book G.Stone

Johanneke Sytsema

Linguistics Librarian

Further reading:


  1. The largest Upper Sorbian dictionary with English translations (approximately 20,000 headwords) is Gerald Stone, Upper Sorbian – English Dictionary (Bautzen, 2002).
  1. The leading modern dictionary of Lower Sorbian is Manfred Starosta, Dolnoserbsko-      nimski słownik (Bautzen, 1999), containing about 45,000 headwords. The entries provide  German equivalents, examples, and phraseology.
  2. The biggest Sorbian dictionary of all is Karl Ernst Mucke, Wörterbuch der niederwendischen Sprache und ihrer Dialekte, 3 vols (St Peterburg-Prague, 1911-28) (over 2,000 pages). It contains more pages than any other Sorbian dictionary, but, because the entries are more detailed, the number of headwords (fewer than 40,000) is smaller than in Starosta. Much of its contents was collected orally by Mucke during his field-work in Lower Lusatia.


      1. Mucke, a dominant figure in Sorbian studies, is also the author of a detailed historical and comparative grammar of Lower Sorbian (including Upper Sorbian data): Historische und vergleichende Laut- und Formenlehre der niedersorbischen (niederlausitzisch-wendischen) Sprache (Leipzig, 1891), reprinted Leipzig, 1965. It makes use of mansucript sources and other material collected by the author.
      2. The definitive synchronic account of modern Upper Sorbian morphology is Helmut Faßke (in collaboration with Siegfried Michalk), Grammatik der obersorbischen Schriftsprache der Gegenwart: Morphologie (Bautzen, 1981).
      3. The most comprehensive grammar of modern Lower Sorbian in Pětr Janaš, Niedersorbische Grammatik für den Schulgebrauch, 2 ed. (Bautzen, 1984).

Language geography and history

      1. The Sorbischer Sprachatlas by Helmut Fasske, H. Jentsch and Siegfried Michalk (Bautzen, 1968-96), presents data from some 140 villages.
      2. Evidence of the languages spoken by the Slav inhabitants of trans-Elbian Germany in the Middle Ages is mainly onomastic. The definitive study of the place names of the southern (Sorbian) half of the area is Ernst Eichler, Slawische Ortsnamen zwischen Saale und Neiße, 4 vols (Bautzen, 1985-2009).
      3. G. Stone.1993. Sorbian. London:m Routledge.
      4. G. Stone.2015. Slav Outposts in Central European History: The Wends, Sorbs and Kashubs. London: bloomsbury.

 Sorbian Literature

    1. Beno Budar (b. 1946) is a leading Upper Sorbian writer of both poetry and prose. He has made a speciality of collecting the memoirs of ordinary people who lived through the Second World War (1939-45). His collection Tež ja mějach zbožo (I too was lucky) contains the recollections of Sorbian men who served in the Wehrmacht. The first edition (2005) was quickly sold out (unusual for a Sorbian book). This is the 3rd edition.
    2. Sorbian literature tends to be limited to small-scale works (lyric poetry, short stories, novellas). Novels are very rare. Paradiz by Křesćan Krawc (Christian Schneider) (b. 1938), the saga of a Sorbian family in the twentieth century (438 pp.), is one of the longest works of fiction in Sorbian ever published.

Brazilian cinema at the Taylorian

Walter Salles’ film Central do Brasil / Central Station (1998) depicts the journey taken by a middle-aged, apparently hard-hearted woman (Dora), and a young boy (Josué), who needs her help to find his absent father. The journey is both physical and emotional; as the pair travel together away from Rio de Janeiro into the north-east of Brazil, the friendship between them slowly develops. The film moves away from the threatening atmosphere of the city to the Brazilian rural landscape, emphasised by the greenery rolling past the bus windows; Salles has referred to the ‘possibility of redemption and change’[i] represented by this road trip into the country, and the experience of the journey with Josué seems eventually to lead to a new beginning of sorts for Dora.

With its interesting juxtaposition of the urban against the rural, its complex, subtle portrayal of the two main characters, and its sensitive but unsentimental exploration of the relationship between them, the film has much to recommend it. Central Station gained international recognition when the screenplay won the Sundance Institute International Award, [ii] and the film went on to win the Golden Bear at the 1998 Berlin Film Festival, a BAFTA for the Best Film Not in the English Language and a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. It was a milestone of the Brazilian film industry’s retomada or renaissance that began in the mid-1990s. After a decline in the country’s film-making in the 1980s was made worse in 1990, when the new government ceased to finance Embrafilme[iii] (the agency which, since the 1970s, had played a large role in the funding and distribution of Brazilian films[iv]), the industry began to pick up again several years later, when the Lei do Audiovisual (Audiovisual Law) of 1993 helped to bring about a re-growth in the industry, by encouraging private investment in film through tax incentives, and by encouraging international distributors to finance Brazilian films.[v]

Salles covers

The Taylor Institution Library’s collection of Brazilian film reflects the re-blossoming of the country’s cinema since 1995, with holdings of more than 60 DVDs of films from the mid-1990s up to 2012, by over 30 different directors. Salles, a significant figure in contemporary Brazilian cinema, is well-represented; as well as Central Station, holdings include a number of his other Portuguese-language films, including (among others) his early work Terra Estrangeira / Foreign Land (1996, co-directed with Daniela Thomas), and Diarios de Motocicleta / The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), about the road trip across South America taken by the young Ernesto (Che) Guevara in the early 1950s. Other collection highlights include a number of significant films from the early 2000s, such as the following critically-recognised films by some of Brazil’s most prominent contemporary directors: Andrucha Waddington’s Eu, Tu, Eles / Me, You, Them (2000); Beto Brant’s O Invasor / The Trespasser (2002), about the dealings of a hitman in São Paulo; Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s highly successful Cidade de Deus / City of God (2002), depicting violent crime in a poor community in Rio de Janeiro (and nominated for four Academy Awards); José Padilha’s documentary about the real-life incident of a bus hold-up in 2000, Ônibus 174 / Bus 174 (2002); and Karim Aïnouz’s Madame Satã (2003), set in the 1930s and depicting a period in the life of cabaret and carnival performer João Francisco dos Santo. More recently-released holdings include Budapeste (2009), directed by Walter Carvalho (the cinematographer who has worked on a number of Salles’ films, including Central Station), and Kleber Mendonça Filho’s first move into feature film after a number of shorts O Som ao Redor / Neighbouring Sounds (2012), well-received at various film festivals.

While particularly strong in this recent period, the Taylor’s holdings in Brazilian film also stretch back to the mid-twentieth century. Examples from the 1950s include: Lima Barreto’s O Cangaceiro / The Bandit (1953), prize-winner at Cannes and one of the 16 films produced by the internationally-influenced Vera Cruz film company; and Carlos Manga’s Matar ou correr (1954), an instance of the chanchada (musical comedy) genre popular in the 1940s and 1950s. The important Cinema Novo period of the 1960s and early 1970s is also well-represented within the collection, with films by significant figures of the movement, including Glauber Rocha, Nelson Pereira dos Santos and Joaquim Pedro de Andrade.

Brazil DVDs 1

Earlier this year, the Library’s holdings benefited from a generous donation of 19 DVDs of Brazilian films dating from 1985 to the 2000s, including Ruy Guerra’s Ópera do Malandro (1985) (adapted from Brecht’s Threepenny Opera), Fábio Barreto’s O Quatrilho (1995) – an early success of the retomada which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film – and one of Andrucha Waddington’s first films, thriller Gêmeas (1999).

With approximately 120 Brazilian films in total now in the Taylorian collection, the films mentioned here are just some of the highlights; and we will continue to add to the Library’s collection of this country’s fascinating cinema.

Brazil DVDs 2

Helen Scott, Film Studies & Women’s Studies Subject Consultant

The Taylor Institution Library film collection can be used by members of the university; films may be used for the purposes of teaching, study and research only.

All of the Library’s films are catalogued on SOLO; to browse Brazilian films, search in SOLO for PN.B6*, limiting your search to ‘in the shelfmark’.

[i] Walter Salles, originally quoted in Lúcia Nagib (ed.), O cinema da retromada: depoimentos de 90 cineastas dos anos 90 (São Paulo: Editora 43, 2002), p. 421; requoted in Lisa Shaw & Stephanie Dennison, Brazilian National Cinema (London: Routledge, 2007), p. 109.

[ii] Deborah Shaw, ‘Walter Salles’, in Louis Bayman and Natalia Pinazza (eds.), The Directory of World Cinema 21: Brazil (Bristol: Intellect, 2013), p. 27.

[iii] Natália Pinazza, ‘The Re-emergence of Brazilian Cinema: a brief history’, in Louis Bayman and Natalia Pinazza (eds.), The Directory of World Cinema 21: Brazil (Bristol: Intellect, 2013), p. 32.

[iv] Shaw & Dennison, p. 32.

[v] Pinazza, p. 32.

Soviet realia: a window on to the USSR

It is good to de-clutter your flat or house, but my mother who is 86 and has been living in St. Petersburg, Russia for most of her life, never considered the possibility. The result is that after years of collecting she has something of a museum in her flat. But it is not the antique shop you may be thinking of. People who returned to St Petersburg (then Leningrad) after the Second World War didn’t have many possessions and this is why they were reluctant to part with the things they acquired later.

During my visits to see my mother I feel like I’m using a time machine to go back to Soviet Russia, or the USSR – a country which doesn’t exist anymore.  Looking through old photos, documents, clothes and other items I tried to look at them as an artist and archivist: How can I interpret these simple but valuable objects to tell a story?

Readers at the Taylor Bodleian Slavonic & Modern Greek Library (TABS) have shown considerable interest in the reality of Soviet life during the past several years and this gave me the idea of creating an exhibition-installation of artefacts from that period. The topic for the first exhibition is “Soviet School” or “Soviet childhood”.

In this display you can find my original notebooks, cards, photos, pictures and a few toys from the late 1960s and 1970s. My mum kept them all!

In the 1st form group photo the girls are wearing dark dresses and white aprons, some with white ribbons, while the boys are dressed in dark suits. We all look serious because smiling wasn’t the done thing in school photos at that time.

school group photo 1It was a strict system, learning how to write. All children had to go through hours and hours of practising their hooks, lines and loops. This is why some Russians have very similar handwriting.

In the left-hand cabinet (shown below) is my oath before joining the Pioneer League, decorated with a portrait of Lenin; and a photo of the cruiser Aurora, whose signal started the October Revolution. During our first years at school we were called Octiabriata (the suffix “ata” means “little” like in kotiata – kittens). So we were little followers of the October Revolution and we called Lenin our grandfather.

exhib case 4The next step was the Pioneer League, a more serious organisation. Pioneer meant “The First” so we had to show an example of good study and behaviour to all other children. Before joining we had to write, learn and say by heart the oath to ardently love our country, to live, learn and fight, as set out by Lenin and as taught by the Communist Party.

5We had Pioneer rules as well. Here are just a few of them:

  • A Pioneer is devoted to the motherland, party, communism.
  • A Pioneer is the best in his/her studies, work and sport.
  • A Pioneer is an honest and faithful friend, always boldly standing for the truth.

The idea for this youth organization was taken from the Scout movement, with the addition of communist principles.

6All Pioneers had to wear red ties and badges. On ordinary days girls were in black aprons and, for special occasions, white ones, as in our school photo. We stayed at the same school for 10 years, starting at seven years old and finishing at seventeen. Or uniform remained the same throughout.

During the last year I became a little bit rebellious so I stopped wearing an apron, as did some of my friends. In the photo below, am in the bottom row, far right. No smiles again!

older group photo 7Next came the Komsomol League, joining which came very close to becoming a proper Communist Party member. A few boys in the above photograph are wearing a Komsomol member badge on their jackets. By this time we understood that it was only propaganda, nobody took it seriously, and we knew that we needed to be members of Komsomol to go to University. If you were not you could have problems with admissions.

As in all schools we had to study as well, which was a little bit of a chore. No computers, calculators or mobile phones at that time; just pens, paper, books, blackboard and an abacus.

school work 8English was my favourite subject. Here (below) is my essay on “London”, a topic we had to write and learn about in 5th form (11-12 years old). Who knew that I would be living in London some time later, before moving to Oxford!

9The curriculum was very intense and even Saturday was a day for studying. Recently, I had a nightmare that I was back in school and would not have my full weekends any more.

However, it wasn’t all hard work. We had some fun as well, and the best time was the summer holidays! Three months of freedom – from 31 May to 31 August. Children went to Pioneer camps or to their grandparents’ dachas or villages, so parents had some rest as well.  I’m still in touch with many of my classmates. Some of us are spread around the world now but we have Skype and e-mails so we stay connected.

Please  come and take a look at the Exhibition, and I will tell you more stories and anecdotes from the planet USSR.

Elena Vassilieva, Reader Services Supervisor, Taylor Bodleian Slavonic and Modern Greek Library

Polish Cinema at the Taylor Institution Library

The Polish film Ida, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, was the winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 87th Academy Awards last month. Originally released in Poland in the latter part of 2013, the Academy Award was the latest instance of widespread recognition for the film at award ceremonies and film festivals during the previous year, including Best Film at both the Polish Film Awards and the European Film Awards, as well as Best Film Not in the English Language at the BAFTAs in early February. Described by one critic as ‘a spare, haunting piece of minimalism’,[i] this strikingly shot black and white film follows the story of a young novice nun in 1960s Poland who is sent to explore her family’s past before taking her vows.

When it was issued on DVD in late 2014, the Taylor Institution Library acquired the film for its collection of European and world cinema, and Ida became one of the most recent additions to the Library’s holdings in Polish film. The Taylor’s collection of Polish cinema comprises nearly 150 feature films, plus several collections of shorts, with films ranging in date from the early 1930s – by such filmmakers as Juliusz Gardan, Józef Lejtes, and Henryk Szaro – up to the present, with works from the 2000s, including, for example, films from the ongoing careers of the directors Jerzy Skolimowski, Jerzy Hoffman, and Agnieszka Holland. With multiple works by approximately fifty Polish directors included in the Taylor Library, the collection provides a thorough introduction to the country’s national cinema.

polish films 1

In an interview for Cineaste given while promoting Ida, when asked about which Polish film directors have influenced his work, Pawlikowski remarked that he ‘loved the late Fifties Polish films by Munk and Wajda like Eroica and Ashes and Diamonds’.[ii]  These two films, both released in 1958, are key works from an exciting period of filmmaking known as the Polish School. This productive period of Polish cinema is generally regarded as beginning in 1956, when the political changes after the Polish October created a climate for new forms of creative expression, allowing a move away from the socialist realist cinema which had previously dominated the country’s filmmaking.[iii] A younger generation of filmmakers emerged, many of whom trained at the recently-founded Łódź Film School, often (although not exclusively) exploring in their work issues and themes raised by recent Polish history, in particular World War II and the occupation of Poland, and often influenced by Italian neorealism and favouring ‘a personal, auteurist approach’.[iv]

Andrzej Munk’s Heroism / Eroica – described as ‘a bitter satire on Polish heroism’[v] – is a two-part film, the first part about a soldier in the Home Army during the Warsaw Uprising, and the second set in a prisoner-of-war camp; while Ashes and Diamonds / Popiół i diament – the final work in Andrzej Wajda’s war trilogy (following on from A Generation / Pokolenie (1955) & Canal / Kanał (1957)) – is based on Jerzy Andrzejewski’s 1948 novel, and explores the conflict between Home Army and communist factions in a small Polish town as the war ends. As well as including these two milestone films, the Taylor Library’s film collection covers the breadth of the careers of these two important directors. Wajda’s work is represented through the 1970s and 1980s right up to his most recent film, Walesa. Man of Hope / Wałęsa. Człowiek z nadziei, a bio-pic of the former Polish president, released in 2013, while holdings of Munk’s work are near-comprehensive, from documentary shorts of the early 1950s up to his final film Passenger / Pasazerka (1963).

polish films 2


polish films 3

As well as Wajda and Munk, the works of other key directors from the Polish School period – such as Wojciech J. Has, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Kazimierz Kutz, and Stanisław Lenartowicz – are included in the Taylor’s film collection. From Munk’s Man on the Track / Człowiek na torze (1957), with its various differing viewpoints on the death of a railway worker on the track, to Kutz’s Cross of Valour / Kryź Walecznych (1959), based on three novellas by the Polish writer Józef Hen; from Kawalerowicz’s internationally-recognised Mother Joan of the Angels / Matka Joanna od Aniołów (1961), a film about demonic possession in an eighteenth-century convent, which won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, to Roman Polanski’s The Knife in the Water / Nóz w wodzie (1962) – Polanski’s only feature film made in Poland, before he moved to France, and the first Polish film to be nominated for an Academy Award – the Taylor Library film collection provides a rich opportunity to explore what Pawlikowski referred to as the ‘tradition of original cinema’ in Poland during the late 1950s and 1960s.[vi]

But the Taylor Library collection also moves well beyond this period to encompass Polish cinema up to the present day. The ‘Third Polish Cinema’ period of the later 1960s is represented in the collection by films such Krysztof Zanussi’s first full-length feature The Structure of Crystal / Struktura kyyształu (1969), an ‘almost philosophical story’[vii] which explores the contrasting approaches to life of two physicists, one actively ambitious and the other content with a more low-key but peaceful lifestyle, and Skolimowski’s Hands Up / Reçe do Góry (1967, 1985), banned until the 1980s because of its depiction of Stalinism (prompting Skolimowski to leave the country); while the Library’s examples from the late 1970s and early 1980s – the period of Poland’s ‘Cinema of Moral Concern’, also described as the ‘Cinema of Distrust’[viii] – include Agnieszka Holland’s early films, such as Provincial Actors / Aktorzy prowincjonalni (1979), and A Woman Alone / Kobieta samotna (1988), about the fate of a single mother living in difficult circumstances, and described as ‘one of the darkest and most brutally honest films ever made’.[ix] Library holdings naturally also include the much-acclaimed and influential works of Krzysztof Kieślowski – there are examples in the collection of his early works such as The Scar / Blizna (1976) and Camera Buff / Amator (1979), about a man who becomes increasingly immersed in making films, with significant consequences – as well as his major works of the late 1980s and 1990s (Dekalog (1989-1990), the Trois Coleurs trilogy (1993-1994)). The Taylor collection is then brought up to contemporary times with recent releases by both well-established directors and those who have emerged since 2000, such as Andrzej Jakimowski and Małgorzata Szumowska (who recently won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival).

polish films 4

Pawlikowski does not make direct comparisons between Ida and previous Polish filmmaking, but he has described the film as having ‘the confidence Polish cinema once had to go its own way’;[x] the various ways taken by generations of Polish filmmakers may be explored via the Taylor’s film collection.

Helen Scott, Film Studies Librarian

The Taylor Institution Library film collection can be used by members of the university; films may be used for the purposes of teaching, study and research only.

All of the Library’s films are catalogued on SOLO; to browse Polish films, search in SOLO for PN.P7*, limiting your search to ‘in the shelfmark’.

[i] Catherine Wheatley, review in Sight & Sound, vol. 4 issue 10, October 2014, p. 72.

[ii] Interview in Cineaste XXXIX:3 (Summer 2014), pp. 40-44.

[iii] Marek Haltof, Historical Dictionary of Polish Cinema (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2007), p. 148.

[iv] Marek Haltof, Polish National Cinema (Oxford : Berghahn Books, 2002), p. 80.

[v] Haltof, Historical Dictionary, p. 48.

[vi] Violet Lucca, ‘Interview: Pavel Pawlikowski’, Film Comment, 29 April 2014

[vii] Charles Ford and Robert Hammond, Polish Film: a twentieth century history (Jefferson, NC: MacFarland, 2005), p. 154.

[viii] Haltof, Historical Dictionary, p. 29.

[ix] Haltof, Polish National Cinema, p. 158.

[x] Violet Lucca, ‘Interview: Pavel Pawlikowski’.