Author Archives: Clare Hills-Nova

The Pring-Mill Collection: Nicaragua — Part II

Serial publications, pamphlets and propaganda

Part I of this series of blog posts introduced the Robert Pring-Mill collection at the Taylor Institution Library and explored Nicaraguan poetry. This second part focuses on serial publications, pamphlets and grey literature. Part III, the last in the series, will discuss the genre known as testimonial literature.

It is in the serial publications, political pamphlets and the literacy campaign – La Cruzada Nacional de Alfabetización, with which Ernesto Cardenal was involved – that one can clearly see the role of what Pring-Mill termed “committed poetry”. In these publications, alongside political essays and journalistic accounts of human rights abuses, we find poetry and songs. Publications such as Tlaloc, Amanecer, La Chachalaca, student journals, literacy pamphlets and revolutionary martyrs’ obituaries, as well as other genres, show the function of poetry as part of a greater expression of national identity and development.

A good introduction to Nicaragua of the late 1970s and early 1980s is the magazine Amanecer: Reflexion Cristiana en la Nueva Nicaragua. It shows the strong links, in Nicaragua, between Christianity and the Sandinista movement. As its official artist and cartoonist it had Maximino Cerezo Barredo, the liberation theologian who produced liberation art throughout Latin America. The magazine provides a good insight into what was going on in Nicaragua politically and socially, covering events from the visit of Pope John Paul II (1983), to cinema festivals and peasant workshops. The Pope’s visit resulted in a variety of articles by prominent figures in the liberation theology movement expressing frustration and disappointment over the pontiff’s position with regard to the Sandinista revolution.

Amanecer includes articles and poems from the best-known intellectuals and poets of Nicaragua, authors widely represented in the Taylorian’s collections. We find poetry by Rubén Darío, Rosario Murillo, Ernesto Cardenal (Minister of Culture 1979-87), José María Valverde and other liberation theologians such as Fray Betto and Leonardo Boff, as well as interviews with the historian Hans-Jurgen Prien. There is political analysis, including the prediction of the escalation of the Contra War (Amanecer, January 1982, p.4), alongside songs and poems. This juxtapositioning shows the deep roots that the oral tradition has in Nicaragua, and the role it plays in its national identity and by extension in its political and social development.

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Selection of periodicals in the Pring-Mill collection

The place of poetry in the reconstruction of the country after the revolution of 1979 is also evident in these serial publications. La Chachalaca (1985) was a publication of the Centros Populares de Cultura (Ministry of Culture) with the aim of developing “educational activities that contribute to increasing the level of culture of the citizens” (my own translation). This was the Sandinista project of cultural democratisation.

Article by Cortazar in La Chachalaca

Julio Cortázar. Article extract in La Chachalaca

Aurora, a trimestral publication on a variety of topics, comprises political essays, historical analysis, book reviews and poetry including, in 1964, Pablo Neruda’s poem Cita de Invierno. The number of articles on the Soviet Union in both Aurora and another publication, América Latina No. 4 (1976), reflects the close ties between the two regions. The latter, a Russian-Latin American academic publication, was probably collected by Pring-Mill for its article on Pablo Neruda as it includes 20 of the poet’s previously unpublished letters.

Various pamphlet series celebrating the lives of combatants who died during the armed struggle were published during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Each pamphlet is dedicated to the biography of an individual revolutionary martyr. Many of the combatants wrote poetry and this is included in each of their biographies. Some biographies also include a prayer or a passage from the Bible and frequently there is a direct comparison between the deceased and Jesus Christ or the Christian martyrs. It is here, as well as in Amanecer, that the influence of liberation theology in Nicaragua can really be seen.

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A publication which aims to be pedagogic as well as religious is Historia de la Iglesia de los Pobres en Nicaragua, by the Comisión de Estudios de Historia de la Iglesia en Latinoamérica (1983). The booklet is in a simple language, within a cartoon-like format. It narrates the history of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua beginning with the colonial period and ending with 1979. It explains the differing models of the Church, how the Church dealt with the different historical periods in Nicaragua, and how the Church integrated itself into the revolution.

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Less religious in focus but told in similar comic-book fashion is a translated booklet of cartoons by Roger Sánchez, a political cartoonist and social critic then aged 24, who also drew for the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN — Sandinista National Liberation Front) and its newspaper, Barricada. Sánchez’s Cartoons from Nicaragua: The Revolutionary Humour of Roger (1984) was published by the Committee of US Citizens Living in Nicaragua which, though it claimed not to align itself with the FSLN, did want to help change US policy in Nicaragua.

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Part of the Sandinista project was the creation of a space with possibilities of alliance between the workers and the middle and upper classes. The aim was to increase educational attainment as well as create a shared sense of national-popular identity. Serie Educación Popular: Programa de reactivación económica en beneficio del pueblo (small booklet version, 1980) is written in clear and simple language explaining what the economic recovery programme consists of, its strategies, aims and related problems.

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Other pragmatic pamphlets include, Revolución y El Campo: Boletín Informativo by the Centros Populares de Cultura, and Qué es el plan 80?: Plan de emergencia y reactivación económica en beneficio del pueblo: Ministerio de Planificación Nacional, among others. They were an attempt to inform citizens in an open and straightforward language about the economic plans and strategies of the new revolutionary government. Other pamphlets like these were part of the literacy campaign launched by the Sandinista government in 1980, in what was known as El año de la alfabetización (The Year of Literacy).

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Natalia Bermúdez Qvortrup
University College of Oslo and Akershus
Intern, Social Science Library, Bodleian Libraries

Further reading

Arellano, Jorge Eduardo (1997) Literatura Nicaraguense Managua: Ediciones Distribuidora Cultural

Beverley, John and Marc Zimmerman (1990) Literature and Politics in the Central American Revolutions. Austin: University of Texas.

Forster, Merlin H. and K.David Jackson (1990) Vanguardism in Latin American Literature: An annotated Bibliographical Guide. New York: Greenwood Press.

Pring-Mill, Robert “ Both in Sorrow and in Anger: Spanish American protest poetry” Cambridge Review  vol.91/ 2195 (1970).

Websites:

Maximino Cerezo Barredo: http://www.minocerezo.it/

For Beginners Books: http://www.forbeginnersbooks.com/aboutus.html

 

The World of Ariosto

The World of Ariosto

Oxford, Taylor Institution
16-17 June 2016

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Dosso Dossi. Melissa [previously thought to be Circe] (oil on canvas, 1522-1524)

2016 marks the 500th anniversary of the publication of Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, one of the most precious gems of the Italian Renaissance, a chivalric romance brimming with dazzling feats of arms and seductive love stories whose graceful irony and underlying seriousness have never ceased to enthral and intrigue readers and critics alike. Since the beginning of this anniversary year there has been a number of celebratory events in different parts of the world, with more being planned for the coming months. Oxford had no desire to overlook this centenary and on 16-17 June 2016 the Taylor Institution hosted a two-day international conference entitled ‘500 Years of Orlando Furioso’. (Link here to the conference programme: Oxford Ariosto Conference.) Two bibliographic displays, devoted to Ariosto and his world, were also on show. One group of works was exhibited in the Taylor Institution Library’s Voltaire Room; another group could be seen at the Weston Library.

These displays were designed to visually highlight key moments in both the publishing history of the poem and also the history of its reception and interpretation in Italy and Europe, with a focus on the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. They were conceived as visual counterparts to the Oxford Ariosto conference, whose main themes were tradition, reception, and interpretation. At the Taylorian, the items were drawn from the Italian collections of the Taylor Institution Library: though not as large as that of the Bodleian Library, its early printed book collection includes a number of valuable editions of Renaissance chivalric classics as well as works of literary criticism.

Ariosto’s fame began to spread far and wide soon after the publication of the 1532 Furioso. It was reprinted 16 times by 1540, and for the next decades every year saw the publication of at least one edition, mostly in Venice, one of the centres of the European printing industry in the sixteenth century. Particular highlights of the display were copies of sixteenth-century Venetian editions of Orlando furioso. The 1555 Gabriele Giolito edition, the 1562 Vincenzo Valgrisi Furioso and the 1584 Francesco de’ Franceschi Furioso are decorated with beautiful woodcuts (copper engravings in the case of the latter edition), and visitors could compare different illustrations to the first canto of the poem.

ORLANDO / FVRIOSO / DI M. / LODOVICO ARIOSTO / Nuouamente / adornato di Figure di Rame / da Girolamo Porro […], Venice, Francesco de Franceschi Senese, 1584

ORLANDO / FVRIOSO / DI M. / LODOVICO ARIOSTO / Nuouamente / adornato di Figure di Rame / da Girolamo Porro […], Venice, Francesco de Franceschi Senese, 1584

The endearingly tiny 1570 Valgrisi Furioso was displayed alongside these three luxurious books – an attractive pocket edition for less well-off readers or for those who wanted their Furioso to be of convenient size for carrying around.

Robert McNulty’s edition of John Harington’s 1591 translation of the poem, as well as the Spanish (Jerónimo de Urrea, 1553) and French (François de Rosset, 1625) translations, gave visitors an idea of Ariosto’s success outside Italy. His renown in his native land was further reflected in the selection of sixteenth-century scholarly works devoted to Orlando furioso, ranging from Simon Fórnari’s Spositione (1549) to Giuseppe Malatesta’s Della nuova poesia, o vero delle difese del Furioso (1589).

Other items included chivalric poems by Luca Pulci (a 1572 copy of Ciriffo calvaneo) and Matteo Maria Boiardo’s Orlando innamorato, together with Nicolò degli Agostini’s sequel in Domenico Imberti’s 1602 edition), Ariosto’s comedy Cassaria (the 1560 Giolito edition) and Boiardo’s translation of Herodotus (Giovan Antonio di Nicolini di Sabbio, 1533).

CIRIFFO CALVANEO / DI LVCA PVLCI / Gentilhuomo Fiorentino. / Con la Giostra del Magnifico Lorenzo / DE MEDICI […], Florence, Stamperia de’ Giunti, 1572

CIRIFFO CALVANEO / DI LVCA PVLCI / Gentilhuomo Fiorentino. / Con la Giostra del Magnifico Lorenzo / DE MEDICI […], Florence, Stamperia de’ Giunti, 1572

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ORLANDO / INNAMORATO / DEL / S. MATTEO MARIA / BOIARDO, CONTE / DI SCANDIANO. / INSIEME COI TRE LIBRI DI M. NICOLO / de gli Agostini, già riformati per M. / Lodouico Domenichi […], Venice, Domenico Imberti, 1602.

The Taylor Institution Library display was held in conjunction with another, shown at the recently renovated Weston Library. The latter featured two illuminated manuscripts of fifteenth-century chivalric poems, a manuscript of Matteo Maria Boiardo’s collection of lyric poetry, and a copy of the 1532 definitive edition of Orlando furioso. The displays were accompanied by an illustrated catalogue (here split into two parts, for easier consultation) produced by Dr Maria Pavlova with the help of Anna Wawrzonkowska, a second-year student in Italian and Linguistics.

LINK to the catalogue:   2016-06-Ariosto-Weston and Taylorian Part 1-Taylorian

LINK to the catalogue: 2016-06-Ariosto-Weston and Taylorian Part 2-Weston

Maria Pavlova
Joanna Randall MacIver Junior Research Fellow, St Hugh’s College
Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages

DISCORSO / SOPRA IL PRINCIPIO / DI TVTTI I CANTI / D’ORLANDO FVRIOSO. / DELLA S. LAVRA TERRACINA, / detta nell’Academia de gl’incogniti, Febea […], Venice, Gabriel Giolito de’ Ferrari, 1565

DISCORSO / SOPRA IL PRINCIPIO / DI TVTTI I CANTI / D’ORLANDO FVRIOSO. / DELLA S. LAVRA TERRACINA, / detta nell’Academia de gl’incogniti, Febea […], Venice, Gabriel Giolito de’ Ferrari, 1565

Further reading

Ludovico Ariosto. Orlando furioso secondo la princeps del 1516, ed. Marco Dorigatti (Firenze: Olschki, 2006)

Orlando Lina Bolzoni and Loreta Lucchetti. L’Orlando furioso nello specchio delle immagini (Roma: Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana, [2014?])

Lina Bolzoni, et al. L’Orlando Furioso e la sua traduzione in immagini: http://www.orlandofurioso.org/

Sir John Harington, trans. Ludovico Ariosto’s ‘Orlando furioso’, ed. Robert McNulty (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972)

Neil Harris. Bibliografia dell’“Orlando innamorato” (Modena: Panini, 1988)

Daniel Javitch. Proclaiming a Classic: the Canonization of “Orlando Furioso” (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991)

Ita MacCarthy. Women and the making of poetry in Ariosto’s Orlando furioso (Leicester: Troubador, 2007)

Marco Villoresi. La letteratura cavalleresca: dai cicli medievali all’Ariosto (Roma: Carocci, 2000)

 

 

The Pring-Mill Collection: Nicaragua — Part I

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In recent months, Victor Jara has been in the news again owing to a trial being brought against a former Chilean lieutenant involved in his murder. The names of songwriters such as Victor Jara, Mercedes Sosa and Quilapayún continue to resonate in Latin America and around the world. Less well known (beyond Latin America) is the poetry, with the same kind of political commitment to revolution and the people’s struggle, that emerged in Nicaragua. These writings influenced subsequent generations, including pre-eminent Latin American musicians, and they play a prominent part in Latin American cultural history.

Part of the collection that the late renowned academic Robert Pring-Mill (1924-2005) bequeathed to the Taylor Institution Library depicts and encapsulates not only a crucial period of Latin American history — the revolutionary struggle of Nicaragua — but also the struggle in Latin America for meaning and representation through literature. As scholars such as Pring-Mill, and John Beverley and Marc Zimmerman (1990) have argued, while the novel became literary nationalism in Latin America, in Central America it was poetry that took on this role. In no other country in Central America did poetry have the significance and effect on national culture and identity as in Nicaragua. Testimonial writing is also a form of literature found in the publications of this collection, and has been a central tool for writers of revolutions in Central America.

The Pring-Mill collection is fascinating as a legacy of an era where committed poetry and testimonials take centre stage. The term “committed poetry”, a term penned by Pring-Mill himself, applies to a poetry that moves beyond the aesthetic to the testimonial of not only describing reality, but acting upon it and influencing the world, using poetry as a tool for social change through critique, protest, denunciation and reporting.

The Pring-Mill collection, which I was very generously given access to study, illustrates how art and revolution are closely interwoven in Latin America; and, in the case of Nicaragua, the close interweaving of art, Catholicism and revolution.

This article has been divided into three blog posts, published separately and over the course of the coming weeks. The first post introduces the collection and then focuses on Nicaraguan poetry. The second will explore serial publications and grey literature. The third will discuss testimonial literature.

Introducing the Collection

Steve Simpson. Postcard from Nicaragua

Steve Simpson. Postcard from Nicaragua

Some good introductory publications to both the collection and to Nicaragua of that time, for those who do not read Spanish, are: Not Just Another Nicaragua Travel Guide, by Alan Hulme, Steve Krekel and Shannon O’Reilly (1990); and Postcard from Nicaragua, by Steve Simpson (1987). They approach Nicaragua from a visitor’s perspective. The travel guide gives a fantastic portrait of Nicaragua, using humour, photographs in black and white and the authors’ personal opinions. Simpson’s book is the diary of his journey through Nicaragua in 1987, with a few illustrations.

A few documents were published in Germany, Russia, the UK, France and the US and show the support coming from different sectors of these countries. Many of these are from Nicaragua Solidarity Campaigns in their respective countries, while others, such as the New Left Review and the Latin American Bureau, are of a more academic nature.

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Yet the most interesting of these, for me personally, is the counter-report on Central America by two UK Members of Parliament, Stuart Holland and Donald Anderson, with a preface by Neil Kinnock, entitled Kissinger’s Kingdom? (1984).

This report was the product of a fact-finding mission instigated by Neil Kinnock, the then leader of the Labour Party, as a response to the Kissinger Commission on Population and Development in Central America (its report was issued in 1984). The result is a wider and more balanced investigation into the struggles of the region and by extension is a criticism of American foreign policy at that time. It also includes criticism of the structural inadequacies in UK diplomatic representation and provides some analogies with other conflicts such as those in The Balkans and Vietnam. It is a short but fascinating insight not only into Central America but also into the mentality of the UK’s Labour Party at that time.

On the whole, the Pring-Mill collection on Nicaragua falls into three categories — which invariably overlap. The first and largest of the three, is the collection of Nicaraguan poetry; the second is the collection of grey material, ephemera and serial publications, mostly issued by the new revolutionary government of 1979 and onwards; and, finally, the testimonial writings.

Nicaraguan Poetry

Poetry has been identified as the starting point for the Sandinista revolution, as the vehicle for inspiration and political expression of Nicaraguans. For a good introduction to the historical development of Nicaraguan poetry there is Jorge E. Arellano’s Antología general de la poesía nicaragüense (1984). It provides a survey of all the currents, trends and styles of the poetry in Nicaragua throughout the years. It starts with pre-Columbian poetry, followed by colonial poetry, then the neoclassical and romantic poets, poets contemporary with Rubén Darío, modernists, vanguard poets and post-modernists. It also includes poets on the periphery and the ‘50s generation. But to understand the importance of poetry in Nicaragua one must go back to Rubén Darío, one of the most famous poets in Latin America. He was the first to pen the term modernismo in Latin America and later the Sandinista movement established Darío as a cult figure. There are some articles dedicated to Darío in the Pring-Mill collection, but there is more emphasis on the poets who came later in the vanguard movement, poets who in fact rejected Darío and modernismo. The Vanguardia movement in Nicaragua was, according to Forster and Jackson, by far the most vital in Central America. It was the “initial impetus”, in the mid 1920s, of José Coronel Urtecho, who published a sardonic poem “Oda a Rubén Darío” which inspired a number of famous poets whose works are in the Pring-Mill collection.  Urtecho is an important figure in Nicaragua both before and after the revolution and his support and enthusiasm for the new Nicaragua is depicted in his poem Conversación con Carlos, with engravings by Graciale Azcarate and Tony Capellán (1986), about his time with the founder of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN), Carlos Fonseca.

Urtecho was mentor to Ernesto Cardenal and other 1940s poets and intellectuals who were “incubated” in the celebrated poetry workshop, Taller San Lucas. Established in 1941, the Taller was the result of a group of friends brought together by their Catholicism and love of culture and is a product of the revolutionary fervor that was growing at that time, together with the vanguardista movement of which Pablo Antonio Cuadra was very much a part. The poetry workshop was organised by another significant vanguardista, Pablo Antonio Cuadra. It was Cuadra, together with Francisco Pérez Estrada, who collected the texts for Muestrario del Folklore Nicaragüense (1978), produced by the Fondo de Promoción Cultural as part of the series Ciencias Humanas.

Photo10The Fondo was set up by the Banco de América to promote Nicaraguan culture through a collection of historical, literary, anthropological and archaeological publications. Muestrario del Folklore Nicaragüense is a collection of popular and folkloric Nicaraguan stories, theatre pieces, songs, poems, legends, sayings, rhymes, myths and more.

Photo09As the introduction mentions, it is the fruit of research conducted by the editors during their work at Taller San Lucas during the 1940s. It is one of the most interesting publications in the Pring-Mill collection, due to the richness of its content, and it was clearly a long labour of love to put the book together.

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The publication is also an extraordinary record of Nicaraguan culture. Muestrario’s editors have maintained original spellings and the vernacular used by the locals who penned the works included. Loga del Niño Dios, for example, contains words in the Mangue language of the Chorotegas, natives of the region.

The voice of Ernesto Cardenal (Minister of Culture 1979-87)  can be found in a few items in the Taylorian collections, as well as in the interviews he gave for Margaret Randall’s Cristianos en la Revolución (1983) and Teófilo Cabestrero’s Ministers of God, Ministers of the People: Testimonies of Faith from Nicaragua (1983). His poem to Marilyn Monroe, as well as others, appeared in Tlaloc (Spring 1972. 3,4), a magazine produced by the students of the Department of Hispanic Studies at the State University of New York Stony Brook. A free publication distributed in Latin America and the US, it also includes poems and articles from Juan Rotta and Mario Vargas Llosa.

Photo11The surge and the establishment of the Sandinista movement in the ‘70s was supported by poets whose works form a significant part this collection. These authors are among Nicaragua’s most recognised poets: Fernando Silva, Julio-Valle Castillo, David McField, Tomás Borge, Pablo Centeno-Gómez and Fransisco de Asís Fernández.

Photo12Photo13Also central to the Nicaraguan poetry of this time is the work of poet-combatants such as Tomás Borge and Luis Vega.

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Yet the most striking are the writings of poet-combatants killed in the revolutionary struggle, such as Leonel Rugama (1949-1970), Ernesto Castillo Salaverry, who died at the age of twenty, and Gaspar García Laviana, a Spanish priest who became a Sandinista leader.Photo15

I am very grateful to Joanne Edwards and Frank Egerton for giving me the possibility to freely explore this collection and learn so much about a country that is seldom in the mainstream media and yet whose influence on Latin American literature and identity, in terms of its committed poetry and also its liberation theology, has been so powerful.

Natalia Bermúdez Qvortrup
University College of Oslo and Akershus
Intern, Social Science Library, Bodleian Libraries

Further reading

Arellano, Jorge Eduardo (1997) Literatura Nicaraguense. Managua: Ediciones Distribuidora Cultural.

Beverley, John and Marc Zimmerman (1990) Literature and Politics in the Central American Revolutions. Austin: University of Texas.

Forster, Merlin H. and K.David Jackson (1990) Vanguardism in Latin American Literature: An annotated Bibliographical Guide. New York: Greenwood Press.

Pring-Mill, Robert “ Both in Sorrow and in Anger: Spanish American protest poetry” Cambridge Review  vol.91/ 2195 (1970).

 

Six Unpublished Lectures by Jean Seznec

“Revival and Metamorphoses of the Gods in Nineteenth Century Art and Literature”
(1978)

For Blog-Seznec photo-ResizedJean Seznec (1905–1984) came to Oxford in 1950 as Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature and  occupied this position until his retirement in 1972. In 1989 Alain Seznec deposited a selection from among his father’s papers in the Taylor Institution (MS Fol. F. 21–28). The holdings include biographical documents, letters, reviews, and miscellaneous working notes on French authors and painters from Balzac to Voltaire – as well as a number of  polished lecture texts, never published. Especially worth recovering are the six Messenger Lectures, slide lectures that Seznec delivered at Cornell University in the Spring of 1978 on the theme ‘Revival and Metamorphoses of the Gods in Nineteenth Century Art and Literature’. These six talks are here made available for perusal for the first time.

2016-07-MessengerLectures-ResizedBiographical Matters

Of Breton stock, Seznec began his education at the Lycée in Rennes before continuing at the famed Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris and the Ecole normale supérieure, where he took the agrégation in 1928. His subsequent career unfolded largely outside of France – in Italy, the United States, and England. First a member of the Ecole française de Rome (1929–31), then a lecturer in French at Cambridge (1931–33) and briefly a Professeur de Lettres at the Lycée Thiers in Marseilles, he then proceeded to the Institut Française in Florence (1934-39), where he lectured on French literature. Having submitted his thesis at the Sorbonne in 1940, and after having served in the French forces until the armistice, he crossed the Atlantic with family in wartime (leaving books and notes behind) to join the faculty at Harvard University. Here he taught as Professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures (1941–1949) until he received the call from Oxford. In the years that followed, as a research professor and Fellow of All Souls College, he was involved in the great project, undertaken with Jean Adhémar (Conservateur en chef, Cabinet des Estampes, Bibliothèque Nationale), of editing Diderot’s salon criticism: The Clarendon Press would publish this work in four volumes (1957–67; 2nd ed. in three vols, 1975–83).

From the outset Seznec’s  scholarship was distinguished by its hybrid character. He worked between disciplines and regularly turned his attention to writers who studied art and artists who derived inspiration from literature. He is best known for his classic synthesis, La Survivance des dieux antiques – published in 1940 simultaneously as a thesis in the format required by the Sorbonne (100 copies) and as a book (530 copies) in the series Studies of the Warburg Institute. Owing to wartime conditions the volumes could not be distributed until 1945, but then the accolades came: in 1948 the book was awarded the Prix Fould by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, and it would be translated into numerous languages, the English version appearing in 1953 as The Survival of the Pagan Gods: The Mythological Tradition and Its Place in Renaissance Humanism and Art. The Messenger Lectures can be seen as the continuation of this early fascination with the enduring power of myth on the creative mind and the twists and turns of transmission of mythological material, textual and pictorial.

It was in the early 1930s, when Seznec was resident in Rome as a member of the Ecole Française, that he had begun to investigate the iconography of the ancient gods. Overwhelmed by the great mythological cycles painted in Renaissance palaces, and coming to know art historians working in the capital, he became intrigued by the question of the relation of text and image and fascinated by the impact of the great mythographic handbooks of the early modern era on art and literature.

Unusually for a young Frenchman, Seznec sought out a connection with German scholars at the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg in Hamburg, a research library dedicated to the study of the afterlife of antiquity. Its director, Fritz Saxl, offered counsel, and in time the two became close friends. The Warburgians began to call Seznec a Fernschüler – a long distance student. Seznec visited the library, renamed the Warburg Institute, in its new London quarters not long after it had left Nazi Germany. In April 1935 he delivered two lectures there: ‘Mythological Sources of the Sixteenth Century’, and ‘The Diffusion and Influence of the Iconography of the Gods.’ The Institute would publish not only his Survivance  in 1940 – which made accessible a good deal of Warburgian material – but also his Nouvelles études sur La Tentation de saint Antoine in 1949. Seznec published many an essay in the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, the first in 1937 and the last in 1982, ‘La Fontaine égyptologe’, not long before his death.

Mythographical Ventures

Again and again Seznec would return to the theme of the power of ancient myth – not only Greek and Roman. An article he published in 1931, ‘Un essai de mythologie comparée au début du XVIIe siècle’, focused on Lorenzo Pignoria’s preface to an edition of Vincenzo Cartari’s Imagini degli dei (1615) and Pignoria’s efforts to develop a general theory of religion on the basis of comparative study of disparate traditions – Aztec, Japanese, Egyptian.

The goddess Aurora in Vincenzo Cartari's Le imagini degli dei (Venice, 1556) Sackler Library, Wind Room

The goddess Aurora in Vincenzo Cartari’s Le imagini degli dei (Venice, 1556)
Sackler Library, Wind Room

Seznec’s research into the afterlife of the gods remains impressive for its chronological range. The subject of his 1952 Zaharoff Lecture at Oxford was ‘Marcel Proust et les Dieux’; here he argued that Proust’s work, ‘as modern and singular as it is, remains tributary, through all sorts of diversions, to that great classical river that has never ceased to fertilise French literature’. In 1978, the year in which he delivered the Messenger Lectures, Seznec also  gave a series of lectures at Smith College on a parallel survivance: ‘A Nineteenth Century Renaissance: The Revival of Egypt’.  The scripts for these talks, too, survive, if in less polished state, among the Seznec papers in the Taylorian. The content of one, ‘Isis Resurrected’, is shared with the fourth of the Messenger Lectures.

Seznec delivered the Messenger Lectures at Cornell University between 28 March and 6 April 1978. Cassette tapes of all six are preserved – valuable documents of oral history even if the recordings are not of highest quality – along with the handwritten texts of the lectures (MS. Fol. F 28). Seznec had planned to publish these talks and had taken the first steps in acquiring relevant black-and-white photographs. He had also had a few of the texts typed up, with occasional amplifications. I offer here straightforward transcriptions of the handwritten texts, replicating Seznec’s system of inserting red dots at points where slides would have been projected. No attempt is made to provide a proper annotated edition.  The aim is rather to take the reader into the lecture hall. I am grateful to Professor Walter Cahn (Yale University) for having collaborated in proofing the transcriptions.

Elizabeth Sears
George H. Forsyth Jr. Collegiate  Professor of History of Art, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Lecture 1 – The Passing of the Gods

Lecture 2 – After Strange Gods

Lecture 3 – The Awakening of the Centaur

Lecture 4 – The Resurrection of Isis

Lecture 5 – Olympus Parodied and the Jewelled Gods

Lecture 6 – The Cave at Ithaca

Further reading

H. T. Levi and F. Haskell, ‘Jean Joseph Seznec, 1905–1983’, in Proceedings of the British Academy 73 (1987): 643–55 (with bibliography of works)

E. Sears, ‘Seznec, Saxl and La Survivance des dieux antiques’, in R. Duits and F. Quiviger (eds), Les Images des Dieux / Images of the Gods, ed. (London: The Warburg Institute, 2010), 3-20.

M. Sheringham, ‘Seznec, Jean Joseph (1905–1983)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2011 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/62524, accessed 22 July 2016: accessible within the Oxford University network]

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Messenger Lecture 2, p. 8

Istro-Romanian and the Hurren Bequest: Documentation of an Endangered Language

Istro-Romanian is a ‘Daco-Romance’ dialect, closely related to Romanian and spoken by 200-250 people in North-East Istria, Croatia. Their villages are separated by a mountain, Mount Učka, which explains the continued existence of two dialects, northern and southern IR. The Istro-Romanian area has shrunk since the Middle Ages, when it included the islands Krk and Rab off the Croatian Coast in the Adriatic See. The Istro-Romanians probably descend from pastoral people, who settled in Istria in the 15th century, away from the Romanian homeland searching for new pastures for their flocks. This is the most likely hypothesis about their origins, although a movement of people in the opposite direction cannot be entirely ruled out.

2016-06-IRmapIstro-Romanian and Croatian

Istro-Romanian is the only Romance language that shows extensive influence from a Slavic language, i.e. Croatian, not only in vocabulary and verbal system but also in word order which is remarkably free. For example

bovu    ɨn‘trεba  asiru

Ox.the asks        ass.the

can be translated as ‘The ox asks the ass’ or as ‘The ass asks the ox’. The appropriate translation can only be deduced from the context, which would not be the case in Romanian or in Croatian.

The Istro-Romanian speakers don’t have a great sense of linguistic identity, to the extent that they do not have an indigenous name for their language. All speakers are bilingual in Croatian. There is hardly any written IR, although nowadays social media are used as a means of writing in the local language, all be it without a standardized grammar. IR is mainly orally transmitted and is not used in education in any way.

Given this situation, it is remarkable that so many works about the language have been published. A selection of titles, kept in the Taylorian, can be see below. These books were brought out after the Istro-Romanian seminar on 2nd December, given by Prof Martin Maiden, professor of Romance Linguistics at Oxford who is a specialist in Romanian.

The display included several dialect atlases and a textbook.

The Hurren Bequest

The highlight of the book display was an unpublished type-written grammar, written by Anthony Hurren, who did his DPhil at Oxford in 1972. This grammar was donated to the Taylorian as part of the Hurren bequest. It was ready to be published in 1999 but sadly, this never happened due to Hurren’s death. The book deals with phonology, grammar and lexicon of the language and contains a lovely folk tale in the southern dialect about a cat, a cock, a donkey, and a sheep who decide to travel around the world. Since there is not much written material available in IR, Hurren had to collect his language data first before he could contemplate writing a grammar. He interviewed informants from all villages in the region in the 1960s, in preparation for his Oxford DPhil thesis A linguistic description of Istro-Romanian (1972). A list of informants is provided in Appendix B in the grammar which is also based on these sound recordings.

The many hours of sound recordings provide unique Istro-Romanian language material on  reel to reel tape. All is now digitised and kept in the Taylorian as part of the Hurren bequest. A transcription project is underway.

I thank Prof Maiden for his enlightening seminar on 2nd December 2015 in the Taylorian and I am most grateful that I could have the text of his lecture on which most of this blog is based.

Johanneke Sytsema, Linguistics Librarian, Taylor Institution Library

Further reading:

Atlas

Flora, R. (2003) Micul atlas lingvistic al graiurilor istroromâne (MALGI).  București : Editura Academiei Române. (Taylor Library L.ATL.B.ROU.13)

Dictionary

Neiescu, Petru. (2011- ) Dicționarul dialectului istroromân. București : Editura Academiei Române. (Closed stack)

Language studies

Popovici, J. (1914). Dialectele romîne din Istria.  Halle a.S. (Taylor Library ARA.1.BV.5/4)

Puşcariu, S. (1926). Studii istroromâne. Bucharest; Cultura naţională. (Taylor Institution Library ARA.1.BV.5/1)

Sârbu, R. and Frăţilă, V. (1998). Dialectul istroromân : texte și glosar. Timişoara: Amarcord. (Taylor Institution Library ARA.1.BV.5/9)

Kovačec, A. (1971). Descrierea istroromânei actuale. Bucharest: Editura Academiei. (Taylor Institution Library  ARA.1.BV.5/7)

Hurren, H. A. (1969). Verbal aspect and archi-aspect in Istro-Rumanian. La Linguistique 2:59-90. (Closed stack and Online)

Hurren, H. A.  (1971). A linguistic description of Istro-Rumanian. Thesis (D.Phil.)–University of Oxford. (Weston Library, closed stack)

Scărlătoiu, Elena.(1998) Istroromânii şi istroromânâ. Relații lingvistice cu slavii de sud : cuvinte de origine veche slavă.. București : Editura Staff. (Taylor Institution Library ARA.1.BV.5/8)

Livres d’artistes / French Artists’ Books & the Avant Garde

2016-04-ArtistsBooks01-cropped

Left: Event poster. Right: Le livre d’artiste: a catalogue of the W.J. Strachan gift to the Taylor Institution: exhibited at the Ashmolean Museum, Ox, 1987 (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum and Taylor Institution, 1987)

On 1st March 2016, we welcomed Dr Camille Mathieu (History of Art Department, University of Manchester) back to Oxford, and to the Taylorian, where she presented the Taylor Institution Library’s livres d’artiste collection. This collection includes texts by French and foreign authors; with illustrations by well-known 20th century artists such as Braque, Kandinsky, Matisse and Picasso, as well as many others.

Charles d'Orléans. Poèmes. Illustrated by Henri Matisse (Paris: Tériade, 1950)

Charles d’Orléans. Poèmes. Illustrated by Henri Matisse (Paris: Tériade, 1950)

2016-04-ApollinaireBraque

Guillaume Apollinaire. Si je mourais là-ba. Illustrated by Georges Braque (Paris: Louis Broder, 1962)

Dr Mathieu’s presentation was accompanied by a display, in the Taylorian’s Voltaire Room, of related items in the artists’ books collection. The following is her summary of her talk.

As far as objets d’arts go, the artist’s book is a rather hybrid form. It turns a story or a poem into an object; it lends the weight of materiality to the metaphorical weight of narrative. It is necessarily a collaborative effort: author, artist-illustrator, typesetter, printer, editor, publisher—all of these people have a hand in producing the final product. It can be presented materially—as a bound book where only one page can be opened at a time—or immaterially, as a series of leaves and pages that feed into one another. 
It was its hybridity as a medium that drew Walter Strachan to the artist’s book; his impressive collection of sheets from these books was given to the Taylorian during Giles Barber’s tenure as Taylor Librarian (1970-1996).

A teacher of modern languages at Bishop’s Stortford College, Walter Strachan became interested in the genre of the artist’s book (or, in its French translation, livre d’artiste) in parallel with translations he was 
executing of the works of poets who inhabited Paris during the first decades of the twentieth century – Tzara, Eluard, and Apollinaire, for example, whose texts ultimately featured in Strachan’s collection.

Tristan Tzara. juste présente. Illustrated by Sonia Delaunay (Paris: Galerie Louise Leiris, 1961)

Tristan Tzara. juste présente. Illustrated by Sonia Delaunay (Paris: Galerie Louise Leiris, 1961)

Amassed in repeated visits to Parisian collectors, printers, and book artists and sometimes offered to the collector as gifts over several decades, the Strachan Collection is extremely diverse both in terms of the artists and the authors it represents.  It contains two of the most important works for the history and development of the genre, both of whose process of publication was spearheaded and supervised by the legendary post-impressionist art dealer (his “stable” included Cézanne, Renoir, Gauguin, Van Gogh) and book editeur Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939).

The collection includes two Vollard items: (1) What is arguably the first artist’s book ever produced in the avant-garde, early twentieth-century sense of the genre that Strachan devoted his scholarship to: Verlaine’s Parallèlement, illustrated by Pierre Bonnard (1900); and (2) Balzac’s Le Chef d’Oeuvre Inconnu, illustrated by Pablo Picasso (1931).

Each artist takes a different approach to the concept of illustrating the book. Bonnard’s work is arguably the more innovatively designed of the two, for his illustrations encircle the text, as opposed to providing separate, squared-off vignettes of illustration to the text, as is the case in Picasso’s work.  The rose-colored, frenetic drawing style exhibited by Bonnard in Parallèlement lends the entire production the feeling of being illustrated with sanguine chalk—a feature frequently associated in the late-nineteenth century with the Rococo drawings of Fragonard or Watteau.  This drawing style claims for the art book the purview of the luxury product.

Both Bonnard’s and Picasso’s drawings are more or less illustrative of the actual texts, providing images that generally coincide with the development of the narratives provided. In the case of the 1931 Chef d’Oeuvre Inconnu, the first artist’s book ever to be commissioned from Picasso—an artist who would go on to be prolific in the genre—the illustrations go one step further and take the power of mimesis and the pull of abstraction as their subjects; these are both underlying concepts in Balzac’s narrative as well as powerful motivators for the work of Picasso in the 1930s.  For the man who had invented Cubism (along with Braque) and whose art was currently in a broadly neoclassical phase, the importance of reconciling the live model with a kind of abstracted ideal retained all of the force with which Balzac presents it.  Picasso’s illustrations include both the more traditionally representative (the painter drawing his model) and abstract (the set of line-dot drawings that dominate the “introduction” he provides for the reader [not part of the Taylorian’ sheets from this book).

The successful marriage of disparate parts and influences that is represented by the genre of the artist’s book— edited, authored, illustrated, printed, etched/engraved/lithographed, and published by a litany of different people with disparate ideas—ironically finds its fullest and arguably most famous expression in this particular livre, whose text and illustrations both insist on the inability of the painter to successfully bind together the real and the ideal.

Dr. Camille Mathieu
Lecturer in Art History
School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
University of Manchester

Photo credits: Nick Hearn & Clare Hills-Nova (Taylor Institution Library)

Further reading

Le livre d’artiste: a catalogue of the W.J. Strachan gift to the Taylor Institution: exhibited at the Ashmolean Museum, Ox, 1987 (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum and Taylor Institution, 1987).

W.J. Strachan. The artist and the book in France: the 20th century livre d’artiste (London: Owen, 1969)

2016-04-PicassoReverdy

Pierre Reversy. Le chant des morts. Illustrated by Pablo Picasso (Paris: Tériade, 1948)

Italian Characters in Search of an Author

Siena-Resized

Siena and its environs (Photograph by Gianmaria Bonari)

A few years ago, Petra Pertici, an expert on fifteenth-century Tuscan culture, published an article entitled Novelle senesi in cerca d’autore (Pertici 2011), in which she discusses the identity of the author of an important collection of novellas previously attributed to ‘Gentile Sermini da Siena’. Written in the early decades of the fifteenth century, these novellas (forty in total, preceded by a dedicatory letter) were the work of someone certainly familiar with the town of Siena, as well as with the culture and society of other parts of Tuscany and the Italian peninsula. The use that the author made of this familiarity, with significant if uneven literary results, has long given the Novelle a place in the history of Italian prose-writing. They lie in a chronologically intermediate position between earlier collections of greater reputation – those of Sacchetti and Sercambi, and especially Boccaccio’s masterpiece, the Decameron – and the later works of Masuccio Salernitano and others. The licentious nature of many of the Novelle attributed to Sermini, however, would seem to have hindered a full appreciation of this work, and perhaps also the identification of the text’s real author. Pertici recalls that previous scholars had obliquely indicated the possibility that the author was no less than Enea Silvio Piccolomini (1405-1464), better known as Pope Pius II. Along similar lines, she develops the hypothesis that the Novelle were written by the distinguished politician and military leader Antonio Petrucci (1400-1471), another member of the same culturally-advanced elite formed of sophisticated and socially-privileged Sienese of the time. In a series of recent publications, Pertici has supported this hypothesis by assembling and discussing a wide range of evidence (most of it persuasive, though not yet conclusive – see Caruso forthcoming).

Di Legami, Flora. Le novelle di Gentile Sermini (Rome: Antenore, 2009)

Di Legami, Flora. Le novelle di Gentile Sermini (Rome: Antenore, 2009)

Indeed, the collection contains various traces of a relatively uncommon intellectual independence and moral audacity. Some novellas include unconventional erotic triangles, where husbands who neglect their wives, or fail to treat them with sufficient courtesy, are finally forced to give them up to younger, more charming lovers. The female characters, meanwhile, are not passive goods for exchange, but often take on a much more active role. In other cases, the way in which characters are presented is influenced by another typical feature of early-fifteenth-century urban elites – namely, their sense of superiority and often ironic disapproval with regard to the manners and doings of those living in the countryside (clumsy peasants, self-indulgent clerics, and other members of the rural world). In the third novella, this urbane attitude takes a sinister, conservative turn when it combines with a more radical condemnation of the greed of individuals from the rising social classes: the curt and business-minded Scopone, who lives in the countryside but has no intention of obeying the cultural and economic rules set by the local landlord, is beaten up and publicly humiliated until he finally conforms to traditional values and social hierarchies.

Testa, Enrico. Simulazione di parlato. Fenomeni dell’oralità nelle novelle del Quattro-Cinquecento (Florence: Accademia della Crusca, 1991

Testa, Enrico. Simulazione di parlato. Fenomeni dell’oralità nelle novelle del Quattro-Cinquecento (Florence: Accademia della Crusca, 1991)

This taste for descriptions, attentive to the divergent behaviours of different social and geographical milieus, is also the basis of another feature that makes the Novelle a most valuable historical document. I refer here to the linguistic characterization – not only of individual speakers, but also of shouting gangs and crowds (as in the intermezzo, set in Siena, which appears after the sixth novella – see Pseudo Sermini 2012, pp. 194-200 – as well as in the first novella, set in Perugia). Especially in the case of characters from Perugia, the author would seem to have been extremely accurate in reproducing their variety, and to have done so not only in terms of lexical choices, but also at the level of phonological and morphological developments (especially diphthongization and metaphony – see Stussi 1993, p. 146; and for a more recent and detailed account, see Marchi 2010-2011). On the one hand, commentators have long pointed to the mimesis of various Tuscan and non-Tuscan varieties as a fascinating feature of Sermini’s Novelle (e.g. Vigo 1894, pp. xi-xii), all the more important as it pertains to a period for which we do not have many other works in which dialects are used to represent realistically – or to hyper-characterize – the inhabitants of particular areas. On the other hand, however, it is not easy to use this kind of information about Italy’s vernacular languages: as we shall see, attempts in this direction have led to some problematic outcomes, especially in the absence of an authoritative edition of the Novelle.

Novelle di autori senesi (2 vols.) (London: Riccardo Bancker, 1796-1798)

Novelle di autori senesi (2 volumes) (London: Riccardo Bancker, 1796-1798)

The Bodleian Libraries – and the Taylorian in particular – hold various items that help trace the editorial history of Sermini’s Novelle. These include partial editions published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, some of which are also digitally available, as well as complete editions (Sermini 1911 and 1968) and the recent critical edition by Monica Marchi (where the name of the author is finally given as Pseudo Sermini 2012).* The earlier editions were largely based on a manuscript held at the Biblioteca Estense in Modena (It. 282 = α. H. 8. 15), which bears palaeographic and linguistic traces of a non-Sienese origin. According to Pertici (2013), this version of the text of the Novelle was copied by Masolino da Montolmo, who was born in what is now Corridonia (in the Marche region, close to the Adriatic coast) and then went on to become one of Petrucci’s assistants.** Linguistically, the Biblioteca Estense manuscript has various northern Italian features, but occasionally also preserves forms which seem compatible with the author’s Tuscan background: for instance, at the beginning of the twelfth novella, this manuscript has m’allogiai ‘I stayed’, which in Marchi’s edition is replaced by the less distinctive synonym m’albergai. The second manuscript containing the Novelle (Biblioteca Marciana, Venice, It. VIII, 16 = 6167) is more recent (it dates from the second half of the fifteenth century) and shows traces of linguistic normalization; but it has the advantage of being written in Tuscan as well as offering a far more accurate transcription of the text in comparison to the Biblioteca Estense version. Marchi has therefore decided to use the Biblioteca Marciana manuscript as the basis for her critical edition.

A modern edition of the Novelle (Sermini 1911)

A modern edition of the Novelle (Sermini 1911)

As we have already seen, scholars in historical linguistics have long been encouraged to take notice of Sermini’s work. Even in the absence of an autograph (and of sufficiently certain information about the real author), the available manuscripts provide reliable attestations of non-standard words and expressions that can still be heard in Siena, and/or in the surrounding countryside, at least in the speech of the older generation. Examples include: mira ‘look!’, rovito ‘red-hot’, molle ‘wet’, catrasta ‘stack of wood’ (cf. Standard Italian catasta), banca ‘bench’ (St. It. panca), gattivo ‘bad’ (St. It. cattivo), the double consonants in doppo ‘after’ (St. It. dopo) and robba ‘stuff’ (St. It. roba), the assimilation in portallo ‘to bring it’ (St. It. portarlo), the past volse ‘(s)he wanted’ (St. It. volle) and fusti ‘you were’ (St. It. fosti), second person singular imperatives ending in -e (e.g. scende ‘get off’, as opposed to St. It. scendi), and personal pronouns with the addition of -ne, as in tene ‘you’.

Materials on Tuscan linguistic varieties in the Taylorian Collections

Materials on Tuscan linguistic varieties in the Taylorian Collections

In addition to the linguistic features mentioned above, some scholars have also claimed to have found something less predictable, and therefore potentially even more significant. In the twelfth novella, the narrator tells us that, while in a hilly area near Siena, he overheard a conversation between a man named Roncone and some other peasants, all of them grossi et materiali ‘uneducated and coarse’ (Pseudo Sermini 2012, p. 282). He then incorporates their conversation in his narration, reporting the words of these local peasants as they were uttered. Focusing on Roncone’s direct speech, Testa (1991), Franceschini (1996) and Romanini (2014) highlight the presence of the sound [d] in brigada ‘group of friends, folks’, and most notably in the participial ending of semenado ‘sown’. Modern Standard Italian, which is largely based on medieval Florentine, retains [t] in brigata and seminato. So Roncone’s words suggest that the medieval varieties spoken near Siena had been affected by voicing of intervocalic consonants to a higher degree than the varieties spoken in Florence (the term voicing is used here to refer to a phonological process fairly similar to what we find in varieties of English in which a word such as British almost sounds like Bridish). This would probably add a crucial piece of evidence to what we know about the history of Italian consonants. (On the much debated topic of voicing in Tuscany, and on its importance for Italian and Romance linguistics, see among others Weinrich 1958, Contini 1960, Maiden 1995, and Canalis 2014.) However, the reconstruction of pronunciation (i.e. oral speech) on the basis of written records is always a problematic task, whose results are inevitably exposed to various types and degrees of contradiction. In this case, moreover, the problem becomes particularly acute in the light of Marchi’s recent edition, in which brigata and seminato are both spelt with t (see Pseudo Sermini 2012, p. 289). The variants with d come from the Estense manuscript, and may be due to those northern linguistic incrustations which, together with other factors, led Marchi to favour the manuscript of the Biblioteca Marciana.

In any case, this last methodological point is only one of the many examples that confirm the potential interest of the Novelle – a treasure trove of materials that can be usefully mined by the historian of Italian culture and literature, and of Italy’s dialects alike.

Alessandro Carlucci
Postdoctoral Research Assistant
Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages

Notes:

* There is also an English translation of some of the Novelle in Thomas Roscoe, The Italian novelists (4 volumes) (London: Septimus Prowett, 1825).

** The Bodleian’s Special Collections (at the Weston Library) also hold Petrucci’s zibaldone containing Latin and vernacular texts (MSS. Canoniciani italici 50; see Pertici 2011, pp. 701-703).

Bibliography:

Angelini, Alceste (1995), ‘Saggio di lessico montalcinese’, Studi Linguistici Italiani, 21, pp. 155-194.

Bencistà, Alessandro (2012), Vocabolario del vernacolo fiorentino e toscano (Florence: Polistampa).

Borromeo, Antonio Maria (1794), Notizia de’ novellieri italiani posseduti dal conte Anton-Maria Borromeo, gentiluomo padovano, con alcune novelle inedite (Bassano: Remondini).

Cagliaritano, Ubaldo (1975), Vocabolario senese (Florence: Barbèra).

Canalis, Stefano (2014), ‘The Voicing of Intervocalic Stops in Old Tuscan and Probabilistic Sound Change’, Folia Linguistica Historica, 35, pp. 55-100.

Caruso, Carlo (forthcoming), Review of Pseudo Gentile Sermini 2012, Giornale storico della letteratura italiana.

Castellani, Arrigo (2000), Grammatica storica della lingua italiana (Bologna: Il Mulino).

Contini, Gianfranco (1960), ‘Per un’interpretazione strutturale della cosiddetta “gorgia” toscana’, Boletim de Filologia, 19, pp. 269-281.

Di Legami, Flora (2009), Le novelle di Gentile Sermini (Rome: Antenore).

Franceschini, Fabrizio (1996), ‘Tra lingua e dialetto: censura linguistica, mimesi dialettale e rappresentazioni “blasoniche” nella Toscana del XV secolo’, in La Toscana al tempo di Lorenzo il Magnifico (Pisa: Pacini), pp. 505-608.

Giannelli, Luciano (2000), Toscana (2nd edition) (Pisa: Pacini).

Maiden, Martin (1995), A Linguistic History of Italian (London: Longman).

Marchi, Monica (2010-2011), ‘Le novelle dello Pseudo-Sermini: un novelliere senese?’, Studi di grammatica italiana, 29-30, pp. 53-90.

Pertici, Petra (2011), ‘Novelle senesi in cerca d’autore: l’attribuzione ad Antonio Petrucci delle novelle conosciute sotto il nome di Gentile Sermini’, Archivio storico italiano, 169, pp. 679-706.

— (2011-2012), ‘Lo Pseudo Gentile Sermini agli Intronati’, Bullettino senese di storia patria, 118-119, pp. 487-491.

Pseudo Gentile Sermini (2012), Novelle, ed. by Monica Marchi (Pisa, ETS).

Romanini, Fabio (2014), ‘Forme brevi della prosa letteraria’, in G. Antonelli, M. Motolese and L. Tomasin (eds), Storia dell’italiano scritto, vol. 2: Prosa letteraria (Rome: Carocci), pp. 203-254.

Sermini, Gentile (1911), Novelle (Lanciano: Carabba).

— (1968), Novelle, ed. by Giuseppe Vettori (Rome: Avanzini e Torraca).

Stussi, Alfredo (1993), Lingua, dialetto e letteratura (Turin: Einaudi).

Testa, Enrico (1991), Simulazione di parlato. Fenomeni dell’oralità nelle novelle del Quattro-Cinquecento (Florence: Accademia della Crusca).

Vigo, Francesco (1874), ‘Agli amatori delle novelle italiane’, introduction to Le novelle di Gentile Sermini da Siena (Leghorn: Vigo).

Weinrich, Harald (1958), Phonologische Studien zur romanischen Sprachgeschichte (Münster: Aschendorff).

 

 

 

 

 

Society for Italian Studies’ Biennial Conference

2015-09-SIS_logo_large_printSociety for Italian Studies Biennial Conference

Oxford, Taylor Institution,
25-28 September 2015

Before the rush of new students and returning students, the Taylor Institution opened its doors to 200-plus delegates, over three days, for the Biennial Conference of the Society for Italian Studies, 2015. (Link here to the SIS-Biennial-Conference-Programme.)

2015 has been an auspicious year for big anniversaries in Italian culture, including: 750 years since the birth of Dante Alighieri, 500 since the death of  Venetian printer Aldus Manutius, 30 since Italo Calvino’s death, and 100 since Italy revoked the Triple Alliance (with Germany and Austria-Hungary) and entered World War I on the side of the Triple Entente (France, Great Britain and Russia). We also lie on the eve of the anniversary of the first edition of Ariosto’s epochal epic, the Orlando Furioso. The conference programme, together with the display of items from the Taylor Institution Library’s Special Collections as well as the Sackler Library’s Wind Room, reflected the ongoing cultural impact of these figures and events. (Link here to the SIS-2015-Display-List.)

Throughout 2015, Dante’s 750th birthday has been celebrated by popes and politicians, with readings, concerts and conferences and, thanks in part to the 1939 deposit of the Moore Collection by The Queen’s College with the Taylorian, a number of early print editions of Dante’s Commedia were on view.

Each item shown was intriguing for different reasons, not least for allowing us to focus on the material culture and circulation of Dante’s texts during the transition from manuscript to print. An interest in these questions, the so-called ‘material turn’ in some branches of research, was also evident in a number of SIS conference panels considering the content and afterlives of Dante’s texts.

Striking images from various editions of Dante’s Commedia were on display, such as in a 1507 Venetian edition, which included illustrations based on Botticelli’s treatment of the poem. One Commedia shown (Venice, 1529), bore images of classical poets in parallel with Italy’s Tre Corone, Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio.

The display of this 1529 edition, with its Tre Corone array, of was of broader relevance in a year which, as well as marking a significant anniversary of Dante’s birth, saw the publication of the new Cambridge Companion to Boccaccio, presented in a special ‘unroundtable’ conference session by its editors, Rhiannon Daniels and Guyda Armstrong. This session served not only to present a complex and fascinating author, but also to consider the role of medieval and early modern specialists in the wider scope of Italian and modern language departments, in the humanities, and in the public sphere, picking up discussions in other venues such as the recent International Medieval Congresses at Leeds and Kalamazoo.

Petrarch, Trionfi (Milan: Ioanne Angelo Scinzenzeler, 1512)

Petrarch, Trionfi (Milan: Ioanne Angelo Scinzenzeler, 1512)

Not to be left out, Petrarch will also shortly be receiving his own Companion volume in the Cambridge series, so that the three big guns of the medieval canon will, at last, be equally well-served in terms of introductory criticism. Students of medieval Italian (Oxford Italianists taking Paper VI) have never had it so good!

During his sadly curtailed life-time, Italo Calvino (1923-1985) produced a body of work that remains a staple of undergraduate curricula, of graduate and professional research agendas (turning up in a SIS conference panel on experimental narratives), and (in the original Italian and in translations into numerous languages) of bookshop shelves around the world. In Calvino’s fiction, non-fiction, lectures, screen-plays, essays, and articles exist strands with always at least half an eye on Italian literary and narrative traditions, from fairytales to ‘classics’ of literature. This interest is reflected in Calvino’s edition of his oft-proclaimed favourite text, Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, of which a 1555 and 1570 edition were shown. In addition, a vinyl recording curated by Calvino was displayed alongside the first critical edition of the 1516 edition of the text (by Oxford scholar Marco Dorigatti).

The Furioso, its editions and afterlives also had a marked presence in a variety of panels over the course of the SIS conference. The 1570 edition of Ariosto’s text on dislay was of particular interest not so much for what had been included, but for what one reader had attempted to delete.

Lines describing discordant and unseemly behaviour among friars (Canto 27.37) have been struck through in an act of censorious literary disagreement. This somewhat drastic intervention again brings the material fates of the texts we study into sharp relief.

As well as celebrating the lives and works of figures like Dante, Calvino, and Ariosto, recent years have also marked more sombre recollections relating to the beginning of the Great War, declared on 28 July 1914, and joined by Italy, after the collapse of its Triple Alliance with Germany and Austro-Hungary, on 23 May 1915.

While these remembrances have largely focused on loss and sacrifice, the Italian Futurists thought World War I was great in a rather different sense, celebrating warfare as ‘the world’s only hygiene’, to use F.T. Marinetti’s phrase in his Founding and Manifesto of Futurism (1909). A copy of this text was included among a visually striking display of his works, along with texts by his contemporaries and co-conspirators. (See also the Taylorian’s blog posting Futurism, Fascism and the Art of War.)

Fondazione e Manifesto del Futurismo (1909)

Fondazione e Manifesto del Futurismo (1909)

This Manifesto was one of several texts featuring in the final SIS keynote, by Robert Gordon, exploring the developing role of chance and luck in ‘modernist’ Italian works.

Indeed, the exhibition provided a visual counterpart to all three keynotes. Zygmnut Barański’s address ‘On Dante’s Trail’, was very concerned with the use of archival materials in relation to ‘historically inflected research’ on Dante; Lina Bolzoni’s talk focused on the perils and pleasures of reading and the importance of texts by great authors to the construction of the self in early modern Italy; and the aforementioned Futurist and modern publications on show reflected the heart of Robert Gordon’s discussion.

David Bowe, Victoria Maltby Junior Research Fellow, Somerville College,
Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages
Further reading
For items on view, link here to the SIS-2015-Display-List.

See also:

Guyda Armstrong, Rhiannon Daniels and Stephen J. Milner, eds. The Cambridge companion to Boccaccio (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2015)

Zygmunt G. Barański and Martin McLaughlin, eds. Italy’s three crowns: reading Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2007)

Rachel Jacoff, ed. The Cambridge companion to Dante (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993)

M. McLaughlin Italo Calvino (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1998)

The Ariège Collection

Giles and Lisa Barber at their home in Lescure (Ariège)
Giles and Lisa Barber at their home in Lescure (Ariège)

When Giles Barber retired from his post as Taylor Librarian in 1996, he moved with his wife Lisa to Charlbury and they shortly also acquired a holiday house in the far south-west of France, in the département of the Ariège. La Mandro, in the commune of Lescure, very soon became their main residence, and they immersed themselves in local life, became involved in a whole variety of activities – and they collected books.  Their large collection of books on the Ariège and nearby areas of France has now been donated to the Bodleian by Lisa Barber, who writes:

We loved this area of France and anything published about the Ariège was of interest: its geographical situation in the central Pyrenees bordering Catalonia, life in the past in this region, the architecture of its many old churches, travellers’ descriptions, the painters who had worked in the region, and works both by and about its writers.

Included in this collection are a number of books on and in Occitan, and in particular on the Gascon language, spoken in Lescure in former days and still by a few of the older generation. In the collection one can find the three studies by Jean-Pierre Laurent (2002) (by profession an anaesthetist) on the dialects of Massat, the Séronais, and Aulus.

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Three dialect studies by Jean-Pierre Laurent (2002)

His information was carefully collected over many years from local people of an older generation (This and all further references are to be found in the bibliography at the end of this blog). Christian Duthil (2009) wrote on the language of the Ariège, while the dialect of Toulouse is studied by Jean Séguy (1978). Place-names of the area can be explicated by reference to two books by Bénédicte and Jean-Jacques Fénié (1992, 1997).

Abbé Grégoire, Rapport sur la nécessité et les moyens d’anéantir les patois et d’universaliser l’usage de la langue française. 1794 (Reprinted 1995)

Modern interest in these languages aims to preserve them but of great consequence was the effort to suppress them and the collection includes a reprint of a 1794 work by the Abbé Grégoire (1995) on the necessity of suppressing the dialect and ensuring that French became the standard language of communication. The Abbé’s efforts were not entirely successful and the anthologies of Gascon literature and folklore by Gaston Guillaume (1941) and Joan-Francés Bladèr (1966) contain some of the literary texts composed in the languages of the region.

There is also a fairly rare first edition of Belina, poema de tres cantas by Miqueu Camelat (1962).

Local history was one of our prime interests and our collection includes studies (of varying academic levels) of many small communes of the Ariège as well as of the larger and better-known towns. Paul Pédoya collected together all his own memories and that of others of his village of Montseron (2005), while Georges Olive wrote up the traditions of one area of the town of Saint-Girons: the Baléjou (1993). Christiane Miramont studied and wrote about the mills along the Lens valley (2005), the glass-blowers of the Volvestre (2003), and the somewhat turbulent life of Bruno de Ruade (1999).

Saint-Girons-les-Eaux (Ariège) : sources thermales Audinac; grande source chaude. Saint-Girons: 1948

Saint-Girons is the nearest town to Lescure and Giles himself wrote a book (2004), which maps out much of the history of the town through a study of its street-names. These range from the medieval Rue du Bourg to streets named after heroes and heroines of the Resistance.  We picked up many other books about Saint-Girons, including the optimistic Saint-Girons-les-Eaux (1948), the record of a doomed attempt to turn Saint-Girons into a spa town. The hopes for this scheme were based on an idea to reroute the natural mineral waters of nearby Audinac which had been studied by Michel Dubuc in his work of 1882, of which we found a 1997 re-edition. An abandoned incomplete building at the end of a side street in Saint-Girons bears witness to the disappointed hopes of the promoters of the scheme.

Picture of the rotunda in Saint-Girons in Giles Barber’s book: Giles Barber Les Rues de Saint-Girons: les noms des rues et des édifices de la ville à travers les âges, leurs origines, ainsi que ceux des quartiers, hameaux et lieux-dits avoisinants 2004

A photo of this building, a rotunda, appears in Giles’s book along with an account of the failed project.

Saint-Lizier, next-door to Saint-Girons, boasts two cathedrals, one now a museum that was the see from the Middle Ages until the Revolution, and the present one, a beautiful medieval former parish church with wall-paintings and a lovely cloister. The collection includes a number of works on Saint-Lizier and one might pick out two more unusual books: the account by Pierre Assémat (a lawyer of Pamiers) of the confraternity, membership of which was obtained by going on pilgrimage to Compostella (2007) and Ortet’s history (2004) of how the Palais des Évêques of Saint-Lizier was turned in the nineteenth century into an “asile d’aliénés” (in modern parlance a psychiatric hospital but more akin to the English “lunatic asylum”).

Photograph of the bell-tower of Noguès in Lescure from Lisa Barber’s ‘Notre Dame du Clocher et le Clocher de Noguès à Lescure (Ariège)’, Mémoires de la Société archéologique du Midi de la France, LXVII (2007), 135-44

About our own commune of Lescure we acquired from Richard de Meritens de Villeneuve, the author, the collected biographies of all those escurois who fought in the First World War (2006). Looking further back into the history of Lescure, I researched and wrote up the history of a church in Lescure (2007) and an offprint of this is included in the collections (as are others of my researches into medieval funeral slabs in the area).

Another English inhabitant of the Ariège, Scott Goodall, has been instrumental in setting up the commemorative annual four-day climb up and over the Pyrenees into Spain, in honour and remembrance of those who escaped that way from German and Vichy France during the Second World War, and both the English and the French versions of his book about this have joined the collection (2005).

Saint-Lizier, Saint-Girons, and Lescure are all in the western area of the Ariège called the Couserans, quite distinct from the eastern part which was the Comté de Foix, the difference felt by all local people and visible in such works here as J. de Lahondès (2001). Foix is still the préfecture (the rough equivalent of the county town) and houses the departmental archives, fully and competently described and listed by the current archivist, Claudine Pailhès, in her guide to the archives of Ariège published in1989. She has used these archives and other sources to write and publish a number of excellent books on the region (see bibliography below).

In this eastern area of the Ariège are found the Cathar sites of Montaillou and Montségur and one cannot live long in the area without hearing about these medieval heretics and the Albigensian crusade. Nowadays the places and buildings associated with them have been turned into tourist attractions. As much nonsense as good scholarship has been written about them. Our collection contains several books on the Cathars and also the careful study of the other side of the picture edited by Laurent Albaret (2001).

Copy of Chronique sur Rennes-le-Château : Marie d’Etienne, le trésor oublié (1998)by Germain Blanc-Delmas, dedicated to Lisa and Giles Barber by the author

Another book to look at an unusual side to matters is the often hilarious account (1998) by Germain Blanc-Delmas of his childhood in Rennes-le-Château, where his father was Mayor. Long before either the Da Vinci Code or the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, stories woven around the abbé Bérenger Saunière and his imagined discovery of a treasure beneath the stones of the present village led to incursions of illicit treasure seekers, who would hire a holiday house for a season and proceed to dig up the floors and tunnel out from there.Blanc-Delmas with a group of other young lads happily sabotaged these efforts and devised tricks and frights for the night-time diggers, while his father battled to stop the streets of the village from collapsing due to the subsidence caused by the tunnels.

Catherine Bahoum and Monique Garcia, Le Mystère du guide foudroyé – une aventure de Sherlock Holmes, Collection « Plume de Pin », Pau, 2002

 

 

Looking westwards along the Pyrenees, one finds the stirring account of Hugues-Alexandre Roy (1870) and several books by or about Count Henry Russell, that eccentric explorer of the mountains. This area also inspired a new Sherlock Holmes story by Catherine Bahoum and Monique Garcia (2002).

One may be surprised to find in the collection books on hydro-electricity, the explanation being that Aristide Bergès, “le père de la houille blanche” was born and brought up in Lorp (the next town to Saint-Lizier) where his family had a paper-mill. The Livre d’Or du centenaire d’Aristide Bergès (1933) contains two extra photographs interleaved and is a copy from the family. Their mill is now a museum of paper and printing, named after its famous son. Giles took part in its activities and also researched the splendid funeral monument to Bergès in Toulouse. An offprint of his article is included in the collection.

Livre d’Or du centenaire d’Aristide Bergès (1833-1904), Lancey, 1933

Auguste Déjean Les Indésirables, drame social pathétique en vers, en 6 actes, 10 tableaux et une apothéose, Saint-Girons : Imprimerie Vergé-Doumenc, 1925

We of course collected a number of books on local printing and publishing: a work by Louis Lafont de Sentenac (1899 reprinted 1998) and a work by Pierre Fournié (1980) as well as some of the works themselves, for instance a work by Auguste Déjean (1925) entitled Les Indésirables, drame social pathétique en vers, en 6 actes, 10 tableaux et une apothéose. One would love to find reviews of this production in the local press of the time (if indeed it was produced). Of our modern time, one finds in the collection a complete run of the very local annual periodical Vent du port, based on the area of Salau and its high pass between the Ariège and Catalonia, the scene of an annual joint gathering, the Pujada al port de Salau.

 

Gaston Caster Les Routes de Cocagne : Le siècle d’or du Pastel, 1450-1561, Privat, 1998

We collected a number of books on Toulouse, on its history, its architecture, its artists, and also a book by Gilles Caster (1998) detailing the main source of Toulouse’s great wealth in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: woad, whose southern French name is pastel. It was the trade in pastel that provided the riches used to build the splendid hôtels which are still the architectural glory of the centre of modern Toulouse.

The plant and animal life of the area feature also in the collection, with for instance John and Mavis Midgley’s preliminary account of the herbarium of Adrien Faure de Fiches (2013) (a fuller publication is in hand and will follow), and various items on transhumance (the seasonal migration of people and livestock between summer and winter pastures) such as the work by Jean-Louis Loubet (2010).

The collection is very wide-ranging, and one cannot list everything here. For anyone with an interest of any kind in this area of southern France, it is well worth exploring further.

Bibliography

Les Inquisiteurs : Portraits de défenseurs de la foi en Languedoc (XIIIe – XIVe siècles), ed. Laurent Albaret, Toulouse : Privat, 2001.

Livre d’Or du centenaire d’Aristide Bergès (1833-1904), Lancey, 1933.
Saint-Girons-les-Eaux 1948.

Assémat, Pierre, Sur le chemin de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle : les pèlerins confrères de Saint-Lizier, 1533-1710 : la quête du salut, préface de Mgr Marcel Perrier, évêque de Pamiers, 2007.

Bahoum, Catherine and Monique Garcia, Le Mystère du guide foudroyé – une aventure de Sherlock Holmes, Collection « Plume de Pin », Pau, 2002.

Barber, Giles Les Rues de Saint-Girons: les noms des rues et des édifices de la ville à travers les âges, leurs origines, ainsi que ceux des quartiers, hameaux et lieux-dits avoisinants 2004.

Barber, Lisa ‘Notre Dame du Clocher et le Clocher de Noguès à Lescure (Ariège)’, Mémoires de la Société archéologique du Midi de la France, LXVII (2007), 135-44.

Bladèr, Joan-Francés, Contes de Gasconha, prumera causida, Saint-Etienne : Lo libre occitan, 1966.

Blanc-Delmas, Germain Chronique sur Rennes-le-Château : Marie d’Etienne, le trésor oublié, Toulouse : Envolée, 1998.

Camelat, Miqueu Belina, poema de tres cantas, Sorgas – Institut d’estudis occitans, 1962.

Caster, Gilles, Les Routes de Cocagne : Le siècle d’or du Pastel, 1450-1561, Privat, 1998.

Lahondès, J. de, Les Eglises des pays de Foix et de Couserans, Lacour ré-édition, 2001.

Meritens de Villeneuve, Richard de, Lescure et ses poilus, des bancs de l’école à la croix de bois, Alliance, 2006.

Déjean, Auguste Les Indésirables, drame social pathétique en vers, en 6 actes, 10 tableaux et une apothéose, Saint-Girons : Imprimerie Vergé-Doumenc, 1925.

Dubuc, Michel Les eaux minérales d’Audinac (Ariège) 1882.

Duthil, Christian L’Almanac patoues de l’Ariejo : un almanach en occitan. Foix : Cercle occitan Peire Lagarde, 2009.

Fénié, Bénédicte and Jean-Jacques Toponymie gasconne, Editions Sud-Ouest, 1992.

Fénié, Bénédicte and Jean-Jacques Toponymie occitane. Editions Sud-Ouest, 1997.Fournié, Pierre L’Imprimerie toulousaine au XVe siècle, Toulouse, 1980.

Goodall, Scott Le chemin de la liberté : histoire et randonnée dans le Couserans.

Goodall, Scott The Freedom Trail, following one of the hardest wartime escape routes across the central Pyrenees into Northern Spain, Inchmere, 2005.

Gouy-Gilbert, Cécile & Jean-François Parent, De la houille blanche à la microélectronique : réflexions sur le patrimoine industriel de l’Isère, Lancey, s.d. (vers 2000).

Grégoire, Abbé   Rapport sur la nécessité et les moyens d’anéantir les patois et d’universaliser l’usage de la langue française. 1794 (Reprinted 1995)Guillaume, Gaston Anthologie de la littérature et du folk-lore gascons, no 3 : Florilège des poètes gascons (des troubadours aux temps modernes). Bordeaux : Delmas, 1941.

Lafont de Sentenac, Louis Les Débuts de l’imprimerie dans le comté de Foix, Lacour ré-édition, 1998 ( of the Foix 1899 edition).

Laurent, Jean-Pierre Le Dialecte de la vallée de Massat : grammaire, dictionnaire et méthode d’apprentissage, 2e edn, 2002.

Laurent, Jean-Pierre Le Dialecte gascon d’Aulus, Grammaire et dictionnaire, suivi de Histoire chronologique des vallées du Garbet et d’Ustou, 2002.

Laurent, Jean-Pierre Les dialectes du Séronais – La Bastide-de-Sérou, Castelnau-Durban, le Mas-d’Azil. Grammaire et dictionnaire, suivi de : Le Séronais, histoire exemplaire d’un pays occitan, 2002.

Loubet, Jean-Louis Un site remarquable dans le Haut-Couserans : Goutets. Contribution à une connaissance du milieu montagnard et de son organisation pastorale, Nîmes : Lacour, 2010.

Midgley, John and Mavis L’herbier d’Adrien Faure de Fiches (2013).

Miramont, Christiane Au fil de l’eau, au fil du temps : les moulins de la vallée du Lens (Ariège – Haute-Garonne), 2005.

Miramont, Christiane Bruno de Ruade, évêque de Couserans, 1999.

Miramont, Christiane Le commerce du verre soufflé dans le Volvestre Ariégeois aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles : les gentilshommes-verriers et les paysans porteurs de verres, 2003.

Olive, Georges Si le Baléjou m’était conté : chronique d’une famille et d’un quartier en Couserans. 1993.

Ortet, André Un asile d’aliénés – Saint-Lizier 1811-1969, Cazavet, 2004.

Pailhès, Claudine L’Ariège des comtes et des cathares, Editions Milan, 1992.

Pailhès, Claudine Du Carlit au Crabère : Terres et hommes de frontière, Foix : Conseil général de l’Ariège, 2000.

Pailhès, Claudine Guide des Archives de l’Ariège, 1989.

Pailhès, Claudine Histoire de Foix et de la haute Ariège, Toulouse : Privat, 1996.

Pailhès, Claudine D’or et de Sang : Le XVIe siècle Ariégeois, (catalogue d’une exposition), Archives départementales, Foix, 1992.

Pédoya, Paul Autrefois Montseron : la vie – les travaux – les fêtes – l’artisanat, l’histoire – les coutumes – les traditions, 2005.

Roy, Hugues-Alexandre Les Contrebandiers du Val d’Aran, aventures d’un commis-voyageur en Espagne 1870, new. ed. 1998.

Séguy, Jean Le Français parlé à Toulouse, 3rd edn, Privat, 1978.

Jean Cocteau in Oxford

Jean Cocteau, by Juliet Pannett (Photo credit: James Legg)

On Tuesday, 12 June 1956, Jean Cocteau wrote in his diary: ‘Je rentre de la cérémonie – très émouvante.’ The occasion was the conferment on the multi-faceted poet (‘omnis Minervae poeta’) of an honorary doctorate by the University of Oxford. As the Public Orator had proclaimed, ‘praesento vobis Parisiacae urbanitatis specimen, Ioannem Cocteau, poetam Francogallorum Academiae adscriptum paremque dignitatem apud Belgas adeptum, ut admittatur honoris causa ad gradum Doctoris in Litteris.’ Cocteau was proud of his membership of the French and Belgian Academies and of his honorary degrees, and he was particularly attached to what he habitually referred to as his ‘honoris causa’ from Oxford.

Cocteau's sketch of himself with his Oxford degree (Photo credit: David Thomas)

Cocteau’s sketch of himself with his Oxford degree (Photo credit: David Thomas)

In 2014 the Library acquired a volume of Cocteau’s verse, a copy of his Poésie 1916-1923.

Unremarkable in itself, it is simply a late printing (1947) of a work first published in 1925. What distinguishes it, however, is the fact that on the half-title Cocteau has written a dedication, ‘à Jean Seznec / amicalement / Jean Cocteau / 1956’. And he has pencilled underneath one of his typical drawings of a poet’s head crowned with a wreath of laurel leaves.

Jean Cocteau Poésie 1916-1923 (Paris: Gallimard, 1947): Half title page, with Cocteau's sketch and dedication to Jean Seznec (Photo credit: James Legg)

Jean Cocteau Poésie 1916-1923 (Paris: Gallimard, 1947): Half title page, with Cocteau’s sketch and dedication to Jean Seznec (Photo credit: James Legg)

IMG_9415

Cocteau’s letter to Seznec (Photo credit: James Legg)

Envelope adddressed to Seznec in Cocteau's hand (Photo credit: James Legg)

Cocteau’s letter (and envelope) to Seznec (Photo credit: James Legg)

 

Loosely inserted in the volume is an autograph letter, in its original envelope addressed to Professor Seznec, who was Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at Oxford from 1950 to 1972. The letter adds to the rich documentation surrounding Cocteau’s honorary degree.

The story begins at the end of December 1955 when an Oxford University student, Michael Smithies, called on Cocteau at his house in Milly-la-Forêt. ‘Il m’a semblé,’ Cocteau wrote in his diary, ‘que Smithies venait tâter le terrain pour un voyage à Oxford où je serais nommé docteur honoris causa.’ The following March, Cocteau received a letter from Dr Enid Starkie, the indefatigable and irrepressible Reader in French at Somerville, inviting him to give a lecture at Oxford and suggesting that she might be able to persuade the University to confer on him an honorary degree.

Enid Starkie, by Patrick George (Oil on canvas, 66 x 54 cm) Collection: Somerville College, Oxford (Image: Public Catalogue Foundation/BBC Your Paintings)

Enid Starkie, by Patrick George (Oil on canvas, 66 x 54 cm) Collection: Somerville College, Oxford (Image: Public Catalogue Foundation/BBC Your Paintings)

Cocteau was enthusiastic. Enid had promised nothing but Cocteau’s eyes were firmly fixed on the ‘honoris causa’ and he began to suggest that without the doctorate there could be no lecture. Enid duly set to work and handbagged her way through any resistance that might have been shown by the university authorities. ‘I won, in the end,’ she said later to Cocteau’s biographer, Francis Steegmuller, ‘but don’t ask too closely how it was done … I could only use my influence and my prestige to get him the doctorate. That is what got it for him.’ Cocteau was delighted. ‘J’aimerais faire à Oxford quelque chose d’exceptionnel,’ he wrote in an undated letter in the Taylorian’s collection of manuscripts, but he added, somewhat surprisingly, ‘ce petit voyage d’Oxford m’effraye’. His lecture, on ‘La Poésie ou l’invisibilité’, began to take shape (it would be published later in the year as Le Discours d’Oxford) and on 23 May he sent Enid a sketch of himself in cap and gown, with measurements. The following day he wrote to Professor Seznec the Library’s newly acquired letter, giving details of his arrival in Oxford with ‘l’amie et le fils adoptif’, that is, his patron, Madame Alec (Francine) Weisweiller, and Edouard Dermit, who were to accompany him. Cocteau hopes to meet Seznec that first evening to discuss the programme of his stay in Oxford and the letter concludes: ‘Il est inutile de vous dire avec quelle joie j’accepte votre invitation.’

A colourful report in the issue of Picture Post for 30 June 1956 describes Cocteau fizzling through the foyer of the Randolph Hotel ‘like an elderly Puck, wrapped around in a leaf-green cloak’ and being met ‘in a cloudburst of French by a brilliant little lady wearing scarlet slacks, beret and duffle coat’. Enid had a hard day on that Monday, 11 June. A Board meeting in the afternoon was followed by W. H. Auden’s inaugural lecture as Professor of Poetry, a post she had with characteristic energy fought for him to get, then a party for Auden in New College, and, finally, a party for Cocteau given in her ground-floor flat at 41 St Giles’. Cocteau recorded the latter event as: ‘Visite chez Enid Starkie, en kimono et saoule’!

The special meeting of Convocation (the other honorand that day was the geographer Jules Blache, Rector of the University of Aix-en-Provence) took place on Tuesday, 12 June. Enid met Cocteau that morning dressed in her beloved approximation of a French sailor’s outfit, much to Cocteau’s amusement, if not consternation: ‘Enid est charmante, éprise de la France et du français qu’elle enseigne. Mais elle boit … Quelle n’était pas notre stupeur, le matin de mon discours, de la voir arriver en matelot français, avec le béret à pompom, la vareuse, le pantalon à pont et le barda sur l’épaule.’ Lunch was held in New College and, after the ceremony, there was a garden party at the Maison Française. Other lunches and dinners were to follow, with Maurice Bowra, Isaiah Berlin and others, and a visit paid to the Ashmolean.

IMG_9407-ResizedCocteau delivered his lecture in the Taylorian on Thursday, 14 June at 5 p.m. He was introduced by Professor Seznec, and Enid, Cocteau noted with obvious relief, was now ‘en robe et toque de docteur’! The lecture was received with what Cocteau describes as ‘un tonnerre d’applaudisse-ments’, an expression of affection, warmth and enthusiasm, which, Maurice Bowra assured him, had not been the case with either Gide or Mauriac. Cocteau’s one complaint was that students appeared to have been deliberately kept at arm’s length. ‘De ce voyage,’ he says. ‘me reste une amertume, celle d’avoir été séparé des élèves par les maîtres’, but what could he do, when he was pushed around like a pawn on a chess board? Enid, he thinks, must have kept them at bay on the pretext that they would tire him. In any case, exhausted, he retired to London to the relative calm of Claridge’s Hotel.

Mixed emotions, then, but, in spite of being made fun of when back in Paris (‘On ne songe qu’à me ridiculiser, à plaisanter mon costume’), he retained an affection for Oxford and for his honorary doctorate.

MS.8o.F.129

Jean Cocteau on Oxford: MS.8o.F.129 (Photo credit: David Thomas)

In a scribbled note added to the manuscript of an address he gave to a student audience, a few years later, which the Taylorian also has in its collection, he wrote, in answer to a questioner in the audience who had asked if he was proud of any of the honours which had been bestowed on him in his life: ‘Oui, un seul – c’est d’être docteur Honoris Causa à l’université d’Oxford’.

David Thomas
Former French and Italian Literature and Language Librarian, Taylor Institution Library (1971-2004)

Further reading
Jean Cocteau Le discours d’Oxford (Paris: Gallimard, 1956) Shelfmark: L/N.3028.A.1
Jean Cocteau Le passé défini: journal 8 vols. (Paris: Gallimard, 1983-2013) Shelfmark: L/N.3432.A.1 – L/N.3432.A.8. Vol 5 covers the years 1956-1957 Shelfmark: L/N.3432.A.5
Jean Cocteau Poésie 1916-1923 (Paris: Gallimard, 1947) Shelfmark: Arch.8o.F.1947(3)
Joanna Richardson Enid Starkie (London: John Murray, 1973) Shelfmark: TAY.2.D.STA
Francis Steegmuller Jean Cocteau (London: Macmillan, 1970) Shelfmark: L/N.3720.A.2