screenshot of digital edition

Digitising the European Cult of Saint Margarete of Antioch

Reposted from the History of the Book blog.

“Launch” of the completed edition at the Weston Library Coffee Morning on 11 November 2022 (Lucian Shepherd presenting from the Bibelsaal of the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel)

One Wednesday afternoon, Week 1 of Trinity term 2022, I was perusing through the Digital Bodleian database. Having finally set aside the time for Emma Huber’s Taylor Edition course, I was in search of a text to edit. When I first came across Douce MM 493, my interest was instantly piqued with its printed illustrations and hagiographical content, namely a Middle French ‘Life of Saint Margarete of Antioch’. However, as soon as I started scanning through the other folios, I very quickly found much more than Middle French. It contained folios in Middle English, Dutch, Latin and even some woodcuts cut out of an Early Modern Spanish text, and what ties them all together is their joint focus on St Margarete of Antioch. It was at that moment that I knew — this was the text for me.

Figure 1: MS Douce MM 493, Upper flyleaf verso and fol. A2r

Digital Humanities is an area of research which I have only recently discovered. In Oxford, we are quite fortunate to be in the company of many researchers who do use and lecture on digital techniques such as textual encoding, quantitative analysis, and stemmatics. Last year, I attended a ‘History of the Book’ digital launch which showcased the work of graduate students who had digitised their own selected texts, such as Philippe de Thaon’s Bestiary encoded in TEI P5 XML by Sebastian Dows-Miller (Oxford, Merton College Library, MS 249). (For more on this text, see Sebastian Dow-Miller’s post.) This was a truly eye-opening experience for me as Digital Humanities represented a way to merge my passion for language and literature with the mathematical side of me which I had left behind at A-level. After a discussion with Emma Huber, I knew this was an area I wanted to explore.

As two Oxford terms flew by, I felt the growing sense of urgency to start the course this Trinity term before the stress of fourth year, and now that I had finally found a suitable text, I felt more enthused than ever. To summarise briefly the main contents of the miscellany, I have laid them out as bullet points below:

  • Front and rear endleaves: Two woodcuts of the life of St Margaret taken from Pedro de la Vega’s ‘Flos sanctorum’, Medina del Campo, 1578.
  • ff. A2r – B8v: A printed Middle French ‘La Vie de sainte Marguerite’ from c.1495? with woodcuts throughout.  It, however, is missing folio A8.
  • ff. 2r – 5v: Folios 2 and 5 of a fragmentary printed Middle English ‘Life of Saint Margarete’, suggested to be from 1493.
  • pp. 369 – 372: Two folios from a Dutch book ‘Den Roomschen Uylen-Spiegel’, ed. J. Lydius (Dordrecht, 1671), containing a hymn for St Margaret in Latin and in Dutch.
Figure 2: MS Douce MM 493, Lower flyleaf recto

The main reason for the eclectic nature of this miscellany is its collector, Francis Douce (1757–1834). Well known by archivists for perfecting the “cut-and-paste” technique, he often disassembled volumes and cut out woodcuts to be glued down in other copies or held in guard books for fragments. This can best be seen here with the front and rear woodcuts bound into the volume and on the lower flyleaf recto where you can see an image, the size of a stamp, glued on to the page. For more on Douce, see his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

When looking for a suitable text, I learned that there are a number of points which you should consider: Firstly, it should be of a suitable length to transcribe and encode over the time period of the project, in this case the eight weeks of an Oxford term. Secondly, it should be a manageable project with a clear plan from the start. You might think about whether you are going to transcribe the whole text or only an extract from it and which codicological features you are going to include, such as marginalia, shifting hands (i.e. scribes), and ownership inscriptions. Thirdly, you of course must consider any ethical and legal issues which may arise. For example, you should always doublecheck the copyright license of any text or photo you plan on using, as any derivative work, such as a digital critical edition, would still fall under the license’s jurisdiction. For this reason, I chose to work with a text held by the Bodleian libraries, which was out of copyright and already digitised so I did not need to worry about taking images of the volume myself either.

Figure 3: MS Douce MM 493, fol. A6r in Digital Bodleian

The second hurdle to overcome was how to transcribe the text. Transcription is when you record whatever is on the pages of a text, either very literally or with some leniency. I ended up choosing to make two transcriptions: one diplomatic which corresponded strongly with the text, and one standardised which I edited to make more readable and accessible. Thus, my edition could be used by an audience with a broader range of experience with Middle French. One particular advantage that this twofold approach had was that it highlighted common contemporary writing and printing practices, such as a lack of distinction between i’s and j’s, and u’s and v’s, and the frequent mixing up of u’s and n’s by the typesetter. For example, I struggled over the word ‘duue’ on fol. A6r (see the image above the title) which could be read as either ‘duve’ or ‘dune’, before realising that it was meant to be ‘d’une’. Whilst I did start transcribing entirely by “eye”, I discovered mid-way through Week 2 a platform called ‘Transkribus’ which uses Artificial Intelligence to recognise text and transcribe it. While a free version is accessible to anyone, you can also use pre-paid credits to train the software yourself to recognise a particular typeface or hand for a large corpus of texts, thus making it an effective time-saving tool for quantitative research. For MS Douce MM 493, its free AI models were very effective for the Middle English and Dutch parts, producing very few errors. Hence, I found the best approach to be a combination of the latest technology and a trained eye glancing from folio back to Word document.

Figure 4: MS Douce MM 493, p.372.

Having completed both versions of my transcription and painstakingly perfected them under the guidance of Professor Daron Burrows and my dear friend, Michael Angerer, it was time to encode. Whilst I was certainly hesitant at first, I would say to any prospective course participants, “Don’t be so scared!” Following the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) guidelines is not as complicated as you might think. TEI is a type of XML (Extensible Markup Language) used to describe our data (here: an early printed text transcription) which can then be read and interpreted by a computer. Through a set of guidelines agreed upon by the TEI community, a consistent standard can be adhered to with fixed meanings, as defined in the online guidelines. For example, the following line describes the catchword ‘Dat’ on p. 372 of MS Douce MM 493:

<fw type=”catch” place=”bottom-right”>Dat</fw>

<fw> is an element which stands for ‘forme work’ and describes headers, footers, catchwords, etc. The type attribute specifies the type of ‘forme work’ (here: a catchword) and the place attribute describes the location of the ‘forme work’ on the page. The marked-up XML document can then be transformed via XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations) into various other formats such as HTML for a webpage, PDF, or EPUB for a publication. For my project, TEI enabled the text to become a searchable critical edition as opposed to mere online facsimiles. Looking to the future, both the Middle French and Middle English verse narratives can now be used for linguistic analysis to compare with other versions of the ‘Life of Saint Margarete of Antioch’. In addition, this could further lead to stemmatological research where you examine the codicological relationships between the various versions in terms of time, language, and degree of influence, etc. Hence, textual encoding is just as important as transcription as it opens up new methodologies for research in the humanities.

Figure 5: MS Douce C subt. 249, fol. clxl

Once the encoding was complete and I had checked through everything again, my digital edition was ready for publication. What at first seemed to be a challenging project was now a complete critical edition, free for anyone to access and use. Over the course of these eight weeks, I have even been fortunate enough to be able to examine my volume up close, see its beauty in real life and then try to highlight its most interesting features through digitisation. At times, this project has almost become like a detective game, questioning how accurate the catalogue entry is and hunting down other copies in Oxford for comparison (metadata can be found both in the entry for La vie de sainte Marguerite [French] and for The Life of St. Margaret [English verse]). For example, whilst the catalogue entry claims that the Spanish woodcuts are connected to MS Douce adds. 125, I can say with near absolute certainty that this is not true. Out of the three editions of Pedro de la Vega’s ‘Flos sanctorum’ held in the Bodleian Libraries (MS Douce C subt. 249, MS Douce adds. 125, and MS Balliol College Library, St Cross, 0550 e 05), only MS Douce C subt. 249 contains a printed illustration of St Margarete of Antioch which corresponds exactly with the rear endleaf woodcut (see above and the rear woodcut), thus proving that the woodcut was cut out from this version of ‘Flos sanctorum’. Through the Taylor Edition course, I have learnt a lot about the history of this miscellany: compiled in the 19th century, yet stretching from the late 15thcentury Middle French verses to the 19th century note on the upper flyleaf, and now available for all future students to read and admire for its eclectic nature.

To see my digital edition of MS Douce MM 493, click this link.

Figure 6: MS Douce MM 493, p. 372 on the Taylor Editions website

For more on the numerous ‘Vies de sainte Marguerite’, see their entry on ARLIMA (Archives de littérature du Moyen Âge)

For more on the Middle English ‘Life of Saint Margaret’, see the catalogue entry and this entry in the Digital Index of Middle English Verse. I also later found a transcription from the University of Otago with some interesting metadata.

Lucian Shepherd is a 2nd year undergraduate student at Oriel College, University of Oxford . He studies Modern Languages (French and German) and is hoping to pursue a career in academia in the future.

Exhibition launch poster

Violent Victorian Medievalism

Taylor Institution Library, 21st Nov-2 Dec 2022 and online

medievalism, n.

‘the reception, interpretation or recreation of the European Middle Ages in post-medieval cultures’

Louise D’Arcens, 2016

‘Violent Victorian Medievalism’ was an exhibition which took place at the Taylor Institution Library (21st November-2nd December 2022) and continues online. It tells part of the story of how ‘medieval’ often becomes synonymous with ‘violent’ in later responses to the Middle Ages by bringing together some of the Bodleian’s collection of Victorian and Edwardian English-language adaptations of the Nibelungenlied and related material. These publications are accompanied by eye-catching images, often focusing on some of the more violent aspects of the narrative.

The Nibelungenlied is the most famous medieval German version of a collection of heroic legends known also in various Scandinavian incarnations. It tells of the hero Siegfried, his courtship of the Burgundian princess, Kriemhild, and his involvement in facilitating the marriage between Kriemhild’s brother, King Gunther, and the warrior queen, Brünhild. Siegfried is subsequently betrayed and murdered by Gunther and Hagen, the king’s vassal. The widowed Kriemhild subsequently marries Etzel, King of the Huns, and engineers a catastrophic revenge, resulting in the complete annihilation of the Burgundian men.

Rediscovered in the eighteenth century, the Nibelungenlied was quickly acclaimed the German national epic, but over the course of the nineteenth century, various anglophone writers also identified it as their own cultural inheritance, based on a belief in a shared so-called Germanic ancestry. Particularly after the premiere of Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen, English-language adaptations proliferated, often illustrated, and many aimed at children. While – given the Nibelungenlied’s plot – references to violence are unavoidable in adaptations, it is striking how often editors or adapters chose to highlight these events in illustration.

Panels

Panel 1: Doomed Heroes

Here we see heroes who will not go on to triumph, whether they are to meet their deaths in a blaze of glory, or as a result of betrayal. Two images show Hagen’s cowardly murder of the great hero, Siegfried, whose strength and invulnerability mean that he can only be destroyed through deception. One image shows Hagen’s desperate and violent attempt to disprove a dreadful prophecy that all but one of the Burgundians are doomed, should they continue with their journey. The other images depict the Burgundian warriors, fighting unrelentingly in the face of certain death. This panel shows courage and pathos, bravery and treachery, and it tells a complex tale: Hagen is the aggressor in several of the images, yet one of the valiant warriors fighting against the odds in the others.

The Nibelungenlied was viewed as the German national epic, but anglophone writers often also staked their own claims to it. The underdog’s struggle against immeasurable odds is a frequent feature of national narratives, including in this country, and we see here warriors depicted at their defining moment, characterised not necessarily by their virtues or achievements, but by their most desperate experiences.

Panel 2: Women and Violence

The chief architect of much of the violence in the Nibelungenlied is the beautiful Queen Kriemhild, seeking revenge for Siegfried’s death. This was a source of difficulty for many nineteenth-century adapters, who sought variously to make an example of her, to make excuses for her, or to rehabilitate her entirely. But even where there was an attempt to explain her actions, the temptation to depict her at her most transgressive – brandishing the decapitated head of her brother – was almost irresistible. And the scale of that transgression also gave illustrators licence to depict Kriemhild’s own violent death, with her final victim, Hagen, lying at her feet.

Kriemhild is not the only violent woman in the Nibelungen material. Her sister-in-law, Brünhild, who is a valkyrie in both Norse legend and Wagner’s Ring, was possessed of immense physical strength before her marriage, and children’s books in particular often include images of her with her spear. In contrast to Kriemhild, there is ultimately no direct victim of Brünhild’s violence, but the illustrators commonly show the fear of the male heroes, as they cower behind a shield, emphasising the threat offered by a physically strong woman.

Panel 3: Fantasy Violence

In this panel, we see the continuities between nineteenth-century medievalism and more recent medievalist fantasy material, particularly onscreen (e.g. Game of ThronesThe HobbitMerlinHarry Potter). Siegfried’s fight with the dragon takes place entirely off-stage in the Nibelungenlied, and it is only mentioned once or twice in passing. It is, though, far more prominent in other traditions, and its appeal to illustrators, especially of children’s adaptations, needs no explanation.

These versions for younger readers frequently avoid adapting, or fully adapting, the second half of the narrative, with its focus on brutal vengeance. This has the effect of rebalancing the story into one focused entirely on Siegfried’s heroics, with Kriemhild simply functioning as a mild and beautiful love interest. Such adaptations also tend to bring in material which is omitted from, or played down in, the Nibelungenlied itself. While Siegfried’s violent death prevents such adaptations from culminating in a traditionally child-friendly happy ending, their emphasis on fantasy elements like the dragon give them a fairy-tale quality which we recognise today.

Visit the digital exhibition

Amazing inventions : printing from the 15th – 21st Century

Exhibition for Oxford Open Doors 10 September 2022

The Taylor Library opened its doors to the public on 10th September 2022, including an exhibition on the history of printing designed to fit in with the general theme of Oxford Open Doors: ‘Amazing inventions’.

Johannes Gutenberg started printing with moveable type in the early 1450s. The oldest printed books kept in the Taylor Library date back to 1470 and 1472.

Books printed before 1501 were called incunabula, literally meaning prints in swaddling clothes, i.e. in their infancy. They still imitated manuscripts in their layout and in the variety of letter forms used. Also, initials and other forms of rubrication were added later by hand, just like in manuscripts.

The Taylor Institution Library is fortunate enough to have enough early printings to be able to show some features of the manufacturing process from books in its collections.

The two oldest incunabuls in the Taylor collection are two copies of the Liber de vita ac moribus philosophorum poetarumque veterum . These were printed by different printers, close to each other in time, not in location (Nuremberg and Cologne). The printing was done with black ink only, so anything in a different colour needed to be added later manually, e.g. initials and highlighting of letters.

In this Spanish incunable (1491) (below) the printing and colouring process is clearly visible: the black text was printed first, the red heading separately in a second pull of the press; space for a large initial was left blank except for the so-called “guard letter”, a letter indicating which initial to fill in by hand. It would have been left to the person buying the printed book to decide how costly and ornate a decoration they would want. Sadly, he (or she! women owned books and illustrated them) did not bother to have the guard letter expanded to a fully fledged initial and never found the time (or the materials?) to do so.

Page from La primera parte de Plutarcho. Publisher e ambos volumines se imprimierō en seuilla : cō[n] industria de Paulo de Colonia: e Johannes de Nurenberg e de Magno: e de Thomas Alemanes e todos son quadernos. ARCH.FOL.Sp.1491

La primera parte de Plutarcho.
Publisher: e ambos volumines se imprimierō en seuilla : cō[n] industria de Paulo de Colonia: e Johannes de Nurenberg e de Magno: e de Thomas Alemanes e todos son quadernos. ARCH.FOL.Sp.1491

The Taylorian also holds two copies (shown below) of a commentary on Dante’s Commedia.

Both editions of the same text were printed in Venice, though by different printers. Bernardino Benali & Matthio di Parma printed the book in 1491 and Piero de zuanne di quarengii in 1497.  Marginal woodcuts were added around the text in the 1497 edition.

The same woodblock was used for the main image in both copies. Woodblocks were harder wearing than type, so they would often be passed on or sold to other workshops. When printer Piero di Quarengii reused it in 1497, he had God the Father cut out from the semi-circle near the top, possibly to allow for the insertion of hand-painted coat of arms – there is already a blank shield ready for personalisation at the bottom but book owners liked to splash their identity all over the page. The second printer obviously had to typeset the text, so he could add woodcut borders. He had to use a smaller initial N to make the text fit.

Page from DANTE, La Commedia, commento di Cristophoro Landino. Publisher: Venice: Bernardino Benali & Matthio di Parma [B. Benalius & Mathaeus [Capcasa] de Parma], 3 Mar. 1491. Folio. ARCH.FOL.IT.1491.

DANTE, La Commedia, commento di Cristophoro Landino.
Publisher: Venice: Bernardino Benali & Matthio di Parma [B. Benalius & Mathaeus [Capcasa] de Parma], 3 Mar. 1491. Folio. ARCH.FOL.IT.1491.

Page from DANTE, La Commedia, commento di Cristophoro Landino. Publisher: Venice: Piero de zuanne di quarengii da palazago bergamasco. [Petrus de Quarengiis], 11 Oct. 1497. Folio. ARCH.FOL.IT.1497.

DANTE, La Commedia, commento di Cristophoro Landino.
Publisher: Venice: Piero de zuanne di quarengii da palazago bergamasco. [Petrus de Quarengiis], 11 Oct. 1497. Folio. ARCH.FOL.IT.1497.

Early 16th Century

Below are two editions of Le Rommant de la Rose printed in Paris in 1505 and 1538 by different Parisian printers, N. Desprez (1505) and Arnoul et Charles L’Angelier (1538), the first printed in folio format and the second in octavo.

Written between 1225 and 1280, the Roman de la Rose enjoyed an immense success first in manuscript form and then in print, so it is not surprising that two printers have produced an edition.  The 1538 edition in octavo is much smaller than the 1505 in folio edition.

In the 16th century, Luther used printing to spread Reformation ideas, cooperating closely with the Wittenberg workshops. Thin pamphlets and the hefty Bible translations which Luther wrote, could easily be printed in multiple copies and spread over the country and beyond. The pamphlets often only consisted of one or two broadsheets folded into quires. The volume below, which contains 19 Luther pamphlets printed between 1519-1521, was bound together in one 16th century leather binding by a collector and thus survived. Each of the ‘tabs’ indicates another pamphlet.

LUTHER, Martin, 1483-1546 Doctoris Martini Luther Appellation odder beruffung an eyn Christlich frey Cōciliū von dem Bapst Leo vnd seynem vnrechtem freuell vornerveret vnd repetiret.. ARCH.8o.G.1519(11)

LUTHER, Martin, 1483-1546
Doctoris Martini Luther Appellation odder beruffung an eyn Christlich frey Cōciliū von dem Bapst Leo vnd seynem vnrechtem freuell vornerveret vnd repetiret..
ARCH.8o.G.1519(11)

The two anti-papist pamphlets below use woodcut illustrations for greater impact; the Taylorian owns two copies of the 1527 pamphlet, one of them coloured in with stencils.

Page from CRANACH, Lucas, 1472-1553; LUTHER, Martin, 1483-1546; MELANCHTHON, Philipp, 1497-1560; SCHWERTFEGER, Johann, active 1521; CRANACH, Hans, -1537, Passional Christi vnnd Antichristi. Publisher: Erfurt: Matthaeus Maler, 1521. ARCH.8o.G.1521(19)

CRANACH, Lucas, 1472-1553; LUTHER, Martin, 1483-1546; MELANCHTHON, Philipp, 1497-1560; SCHWERTFEGER, Johann, active 1521; CRANACH, Hans, -1537,
Passional Christi vnnd Antichristi.
Publisher: Erfurt: Matthaeus Maler, 1521. ARCH.8o.G.1521(19)

A polemic in the form of thirteen pairs of woodcuts (with captions) depicting scenes from the life of Christ contrasted with scenes from the life of the Pope.

The Passional Christi vnnd Antichristi, a translation of the Antithesis figurata vitae Christi et Antichristi was published in 1521 shortly after the Diet of Worms in Wittenberg. The work features 26 woodcuts designed by Lucas Cranach in which scenes from the life of Christ are contrasted with those of the Antichrist, identified as the Pope. The Taylorian copy was published later that year in Erfurt.

Page from OSIANDER, Andreas, 1498-1552; SACHS, Hans, 1494-1576, Eyn wunderliche Weyssagung, von dem Bapstum, wie es yhm bisz an das endt der welt gehen sol: in Figuren,ode/ gemäl begriffen, gefunden zu Nürmberg ym Cartheuser Closter, vnd ist seher alt. Publisher: Nürmberg: Gedrückt durch Hans Güldenmundt, 1525. ARCH.8o.G.1527(7) f.3v-4r

OSIANDER, Andreas, 1498-1552; SACHS, Hans, 1494-1576,
Eyn wunderliche Weyssagung, von dem Bapstum, wie es yhm bisz an das endt der welt gehen sol: in Figuren,ode/ gemäl begriffen, gefunden zu Nürmberg ym Cartheuser Closter, vnd ist seher alt.
Publisher: Nürmberg: Gedrückt durch Hans Güldenmundt, 1525. ARCH.8o.G.1527(7) f.3v-4r

A Pamphlet with allegorical woodcuts illustrating the history and ultimate defeat of the papacy, each accompanied by an explanation by Andreas Osiander and two rhyming couplets by Hans Sachs. The wood cuts by Erhard Schön have been printed first and then coloured in by hand. Staying within the lines with a brush was difficult, see the Pope’s cross (3v) and the Pope’s banner (4r).

For more information about early printing and incunabula, explore these two blogs: https://historyofthebook.mml.ox.ac.uk/ and https://teachingthecodex.com/blog/

17th Century

The art of printing had developed further again and it was now possible to print in two colours. There are still many differences between the title pages of these two English-Dutch dictionaries whereas the 1721 publication looks much more regular.

Three books printed by father, wife and (heirs of) son Leers in 1658/60, 1675 and 1721 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. It seems that the printer’s workshop was continued by the widow and later the son of Arnold Leers. The author of the dictionaries was Henry Hexham who was bilingual, having spent many years in the Dutch army. Hexham’s dictionary was the first bilingual English-Dutch dictionary. It comprises an English-Dutch and a Dutch-English part, as well as a grammar ‘for the instruction of the learner’.

Printing in different alphabets required whole new sets of type. It is remarkable that Cyrillic matrices were available in Oxford. The University Press had bought them from an Amsterdam printer to publish the first ever printed Russian grammar. In the basement of the Sheldonian Theatre, the first home of Oxford University Press, Ludolf‘s grammar rolled off the press.

Page from LUDOLF, Heinrich Wilhelm, 1655-1712, Grammatica russica. Publisher: Oxford: e Theatro Sheldoniano, 1696. ARCH.MORF.G268.696

LUDOLF, Heinrich Wilhelm, 1655-1712, Grammatica russica.
Publisher: Oxford: e Theatro Sheldoniano, 1696. ARCH.MORF.G268.696

20th Century: printing as art

The art of printing was perfected over time, until there was a return to manual printing in the 20th century for small sections of the printing spectrum: art or samizdat literature or a combination of the two. In South America art was used in cordel literature, cheaply produced folk tales. Manual or small-scale printing allowed for artistic expression and for the use of cheap materials. Small print runs also allowed for distribution away from the public eye, e.g. by post.

East-German samizdat publications have used various creative ways of printing in small print runs. The Taylor Institution Library is fortunate to have some of these items in their collections.

Page from HAVEMEISTER, Heinz; SCHLEYER, Susanne. (hrsg.). Liane. 8 : Berlin, 1989/94 Manufactured by: Berlin : SILKeScreen Tacheles

HAVEMEISTER, Heinz; SCHLEYER, Susanne. (hrsg.). Liane. 8 : Berlin, 1989/94
Manufactured by: Berlin : SILKeScreen Tacheles

The avantgarde publication Liane started in 1989 before the end of communism and continued afterwards. Jacket illustration: “Gewalt” by Moritz Götze, signed, 1989. The Taylorian is proud to own one of the of the 30 copies of this limited edition, a kind donation from the editors Susanne Schleyer and Heinz Havemeister who presented the book with original drawings and graphics in various techniques in person.  It started as samizdat literature, using printing as art.

Uni/vers(;) was an East German illegally published journal, so called ‘samizdat’ literature.

Guillermo Deisler was a visual poet who had been imprisoned under the Pinochet regime in Chile in 1973 and went into exile, settling in Halle, East-Germany in 1986. He produced mail art (sent by mail to subscribers) and visual poetry between 1987 and 1995 in 35 issues.

Printing was used as art and as poetry.

Cordel literature

From Brazil, cordel (string) literature is a popular and affordable means of publishing, in which small pamphlets are sold from strings, often in local markets. These include ballads, folktales, and educational works. Most have brightly coloured covers and include an eye-catching woodcut design. Woodcuts (same technique as in the 15th/16th Century!) were used to illustrate the cordel books, as the materials required were relatively inexpensive. Although the cordel form is usually associated with cheap, throwaway works, we find books on socially important themes made available to a wider audience. Cordel literature is an important tool for literacy and literary culture in the Brazilian northeast, an area with a rich folkloric tradition but high levels of poverty. Originally, the ballads of cordel literature came to Brazil from Portugal in the late 18th century and were passed down in the oral tradition, sung to audiences who could often neither read nor write. Now, cordel literature has spread in popularity across Brazil and a new generation of cordelistas even disseminate their work online.

Several items of rare cordel books, published by the Academia Brasileira de literatura de Cordel. featured in the exhibition.

 

Printing has been an amazing invention, many technical hurdles had to be overcome which took some time. As an early form of mass communication, it has changed society. It has become the precursor of modern electronic forms of communication, whilst the art of printing has become art itself on the one hand and child’s play on the other.

Children’s printing set, 1950s

Children’s printing set, 1950s

Johanneke Sytsema
Taylor Institution Library

 

Visiting our Pre-Covid Past: Artists’ Books on Display at the Taylor Institution Library

Viewing Walter J. Strachan’s Livre d’artiste Collection with Geoffrey Strachan

Remember the Taylor Institution Library in the days before Covid? A busy place, full of academics, students and visitors en route to lectures — and to the library. Indeed, some individuals were attending seminars and other events at which the library’s special collections were on view. In this post we look back twelve months, to (as you will discover if you read on) one of our more memorable special collections events……

Giullaume Apollinaire. Si je mourais là-bas. Illustrated by Georges Braque (Paris: L. Broder, 1962)

 

In May 1945, less than a fortnight after the German surrender marking the end of  World War II in Europe, a British schoolteacher took his French language students on a trip to London. They were going to the National Gallery (whose collection of paintings had been transferred to Wales for the duration of the War) to see an exhibition of livres d’artistes, or artists’ books, a still relatively minor avant-garde art form imported from the Continent — principally Paris; one can assume that for the students the exhibition was little more than an excuse to experience a post-VE Day London still ecstatic with the new, incompre-hensible peace in Europe.

 

Whatever the students thought of it, the exhibition was nothing short of life-changing for their teacher, Walter Strachan, who described first seeing the livres d’artistes as simply “over-whelming”. He took his pupils home and returned not long after, traveling to Paris as soon as the Channel was re-opened to tourists. There he met the artists, authors, printmakers, typesetters and publishers in situ, with a dream of stimulating interest in the livre d’artiste genre back home in the UK. Strachan’s advocacy was greeted with open arms in France and he returned home rich with examples of recently-created works to show to potential collectors, such as V&A curators and librarians who, thanks to his urging, ultimately acquired over 60 such pieces. This trip was followed by another, and then another, until an annual tradition began.

Paul Verlaine. Parallèlement. Illustrated by Pierre Bonnard (Paris: A. Vollard, 1900)

By the time he was 80, Strachan had formed a working collection of over 250 complete and semi-complete livres d’artistes, spanning works incorporating lithographs designed by Pierre Bonnard (1900) to Pierre Tal-Coat etchings (1983). Strachan sought a permanent home for his collection, where it could be used as it had been throughout his life—not untouched in a collector’s drawer, but as a living body of work that would continue to promote the genre as a wildly creative and important art form.

Jean Cocteau. La voix humaine. Illustrated by Bernard Buffet (Paris: Parenthèses, 1957. Pierre Reverdy. Le chant de morts (Paris: Teriade, 1948)

In 1987, after a commemorative exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Strachan found that home at the Taylor Institution Library. Thirty-two years later, the collection is still used by both researchers and students from across the University—and occasionally shown to visiting groups, as happened in July 2019.

It was the hottest day on record in Oxford’s history: not the kind of day one would choose to mount a display of our livres d’artistes. With the support  of our premises manager, Piotr Skzonter—without whom the whole display would have fallen apart—we exhibited a selection of pieces chosen for a visit by the Charlbury Art Group, led by Walter Strachan’s son, Geoffrey. The Taylorian’s lecture  hall was mercifully cool, its high windows, blinds and thick walls protecting us from the inferno outside; still, we wondered, given the heat would anyone come?

Slowly, the hall filled up and, despite the  temperature,  soon the whole group was with us. The afternoon was introduced by Clare Hills-Nova, Librarian in Charge, Sackler Library, where the collection is now held (on long-term loan) in a climate-controlled environment. Clare noted that this was the largest livre d’artiste event that the Taylor had yet hosted. As library staff – together with Geoffrey Strachan — brought together selected works to show our visitors, we discovered pieces that we had never seen before; one example—Mario Prassinos’ rendering of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, with its many iterations of the raven image—reminding us what an unparalleled didactic tool the collection serves for University of Oxford researchers and students. Since Strachan’s pieces were often page proofs, ‘off-cuts’ and/or working drafts, or even rejects from the artists (the finalized works too valuable to give away) our collection reveals the thought processes behind livres d’artiste production and the 30 works we showed that day represented a microcosm of this artistic dynamic.

Edgar Allan Poe. The Raven. Illustrated by Mario Prassinos (Paris: Pierre Worms, 1952

Alongside our selections of semi-complete artists’ books were a few complete works, either owned by the Taylorian or held by other libraries, to show how each of the incomplete works fitted into the finished whole, and what might have changed between Strachan’s visits with the artists and their books’ completion.

Aeschylus. Agamemnon. Illustrated by Abram Krol (Paris: A. Krol, 1965)

Geoffrey Strachan gave a stimulating talk, setting the stage by walking us through his father’s journey from that momentous National Gallery exhibition to his pivotal role promoting the livre d’artiste in Britain. That we have this collection is not only thanks to his father’s passion, Strachan reminded us, but also thanks to the generosity of the artists he met.

With that in mind, the group was invited to explore the display, spread across the shaded lecture hall. Grouped by theme and/or period, the pieces held different attractions for different viewers; some mulled over the more famous pieces such as Pierre Bonnard’s illustrations for Parallèlement, by Paul Verlaine, or Georges Braque’s images for Si je mourais là-bas by Guillaume Apollinaire; while others were drawn to lesser-known works such as the compelling line-images of Agamemnon, illustrated by Polish émigré Abram Krol or the fairy-tale-esque etchings in Hélène Iliadz’s Brigadnii – Un de la Brigade, by another émigrée artist, the Ukranian Anna Staritsky. One of the most popular works was French cultural icon (and Minister of Culture) André Malraux’s La Tentation de L’Occident, illustrated by Zao Wou-Ki (an émigré from 1940s China), combining emotive and explosive abstract images with an elegant typographical design.

While each work had a magic of its own, viewing the display as a whole had a kaleidoscopic effect, showing the variety of technique, colour, authors and artists within a once side-lined genre. This was magnified further by these artists’ books’  donation home: a library where the content of much-read and consequently battered texts normally takes precedence over the visual materiality of the publications themselves; a library temporarily transformed into a gallery for books whose physicality is their raison d’être. It is easy to see how this radical and at times very powerful marriage of word and image, content and form swept Strachan away in a lifelong love affair that we, with much appreciation, are still learning from.

Alex Zaleski, Library Assistant, Taylor Institution Library

Photo credits: Clare Hills-Nova, Justine Provino and Alex Zaleski

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)

Listening, Reading, Responding : students, researchers, and librarians shaping collections together

Many libraries are re-examining how their collections shape, form or erase our perceptions of the past in the light of recent events. This is something that librarians are very aware of – avoiding censorship and discrimination when acquiring books is part of library training.  This account of a workshop held in the Taylorian last year shows how students can assist librarians and influence decisions on acquisitions and the visibility of collections.

On 13th February 2019, the Taylorian Library hosted a workshop for attendees at Veronika Schuchter and Miriam Schwarz’s open seminar on Afro-German women’s writing. This was part of a wider programme of events, ‘Länder der Dichterinnen und Denkerinnen’, which celebrated female writers and thinkers of the German-speaking countries, the programme title playing on the time-worn and exclusionary designation of Germany as ‘Land der Dichter und Denker’.

Around twenty undergraduate students were joined by Miriam Schwarz, Veronika Schuchter, Nicola Thomas and Emma Huber, Subject Librarian for German at the Taylorian Institution library.

The session began with Veronika Schuchter, who introduced students to the idea of the politics of citation via a handout with extracts from texts by Beverly Weber and Sara Ahmed, along with a bibliography for further reading. Veronika explained that who and how we cite the work of other scholars is an important part of inclusive and politically-aware academic practice: making sure that the scholarship of women and people of colour is recognised and amplified.

Emma Huber then spoke about the role of the Taylorian collections in enabling students to access academic research by an appropriate range of authors and critics. She explained how the Taylorian subject librarians use a combination of their own specialist subject knowledge and recommendations from the scholarly community to build their collections, and that student recommendations form an important part of this. Librarians at the Taylorian and college librarians welcome suggestions from students for items to acquire, and in this way students have the power to influence what is studied in Oxford, and how it is studied, by making suggestions which expand the range of voices represented in library holdings.

Nicola Thomas then introduced the hands-on part of the workshop. She gave students a choice of assignments to tackle in small groups. One group focused on auditing reading lists for canonical topics within German studies, to see how varied the range of perspectives on offer was, and whether it could be expanded. For example, does the library hold texts which will expose students to feminist approaches to Goethe’s Faust? Is ‘difficult’ modern poetry, like the work of Paul Celan, presented on reading lists as the sole preserve of male scholars?

Another group worked with a list of texts, primary and secondary, about Afro-German and Black German women’s writing. They checked whether key texts from this list were held anywhere in Oxford, and whether copies of key texts (by May Ayim, Audré Lord and others) were easily accessible and given due prominence.

The new edition of Ayim et al’s Farbe Bekennen, recently republished by Orlanda Frauenverlag.

The new edition of Ayim et al’s ‘Farbe Bekennen’, recently republished by Orlanda Frauenverlag.

A third group focused on their college library holdings, cross-checking with the Taylorian collections to see whether it would be helpful to make texts by women writers and scholars more widely available by suggesting that copies of key works were acquired by college librarians.

Tutors circulated during these group-work sessions to talk with students about their experiences of studying German and how they felt about the range of perspectives and approaches on offer, and how their experience of using the library had shaped the way they thought about who writes and reads German-language literature. This generated lots of thoughtful and interesting discussion. Students came away with increased confidence to make suggestions to librarians, at the Taylor Institution and in college, and a new critical awareness of the politics of citation, librarianship and academic teaching and learning. Above all, it was heartening and enjoyable to see students willingly engaged in researching and accessing library resources, developing a sense of the library as a shared resource in which they are important stakeholders.

Staff at the Taylor Institution Library found the concept of this workshop fascinating, as nothing in this format had been held before. Students gained a range of information skills, such as using catalogues and databases effectively, as well as how to navigate the library. They were also encouraged to view the collections with a critical eye, and engaged with library staff about the collections. These sorts of interactions are invaluable and it was a great opportunity for both students and staff.  Students made several recommendations of books the library should purchase, which the library is now acting on. Book suggestions were made for other libraries as well, so the workshop had wider benefits.

The library is very grateful to Nicola Thomas, Rey Conquer, Veronika Schuchter and Miriam Schwarz who initiated the workshop and shared their findings with us. They were instrumental in setting up Expanding German Studies, which aims to develop a database of texts in or about German culture (films, prose, drama, poetry and critical work) written by or about under-represented and historically marginalised groups, with the aim of helping to expand and diversify the German Studies curriculum across the UK.

………………….

Dr Nicola Thomas, formerly of Queen’s College, now Lecturer in Comparative Literature at Queen Mary, University of London.

Emma Huber, German Subject Librarian, Taylor Institution Library

Hair Today, Still Hair Tomorrow: Goethe’s Hair at the Taylor Institution Library

If you may not know already, the Taylor Institution Library houses a vast array of collections on Modern Languages and Literatures. We also house some amazing special collections. Including a lock of Goethe’s hair! The hair even has its own shelfmark: MS.8º.G.26. The shelfmark denotes the item as an octavo. Professor Henrike Lähnemann of the University’s Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages finds this amusing. This is because octavo refers to the size of the original German paper slip holding the hair. Lähnemann has said that the slip is like a secular counterpart to the authentication papers which comes with a saint’s relics. In the Middle Ages, they were called cedulae, where the name of the saint was noted and then tied to the relic. This placement of slip and hair in a small envelope appears to indicate the treatment of Goethe’s hair as if it were the relic of a saint. Today, Goethe’s hair continues to fascinate visitors of the library. The hair is displayed in a frame alongside a pressed violet and a portrait of Goethe, with the German paper slip and a little, ‘English’ envelope. Why does the Taylor have such a mysterious artefact, and how did the library even obtain it in the first place? All will be revealed…

Goethe’s hair, framed with sketched portrait and violet. The English envelope features on top.

Figure 1: Goethe’s hair, framed with sketched portrait and violet. The English envelope features on top.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was considered to be the greatest German literary figure of the modern era. He was a statesman, and from 1775 joined the court of the Duke of Weimar. Goethe held several responsible, administrative and advisory posts in the government. Yet, political duties got in the way of his writing. Eventually, Goethe left on a two year trip to Italy (without telling anyone!) in order to come to terms with his art. Upon returning to Germany, Goethe was no longer involved in public affairs. Instead, he cultivated his passions, including his plays, poems, and novels, but also his scientific studies. Goethe’s works include Faust (Part One and Two 1808 and 1832, respectively), Roman Elegies (1795), and The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). Goethe also found the time to translate works into German, write an autobiography (Poetry and Truth, 1811-33), and also edit and publish several literary reviews!

Goethe died unexpectedly of heart failure, and left behind a vast legacy. He had a profound impact on later literary movements, including Romanticism and expressionism. Goethe’s lifetime spanned some of the most monumental disruptions in modern history, and is often referred to as the Goethezeit or Age of Goethe.

Presumably, as was common place in western cultures when a person was gravely ill or died, locks of hair were shorn from Goethe’s head. The locks were then distributed to close family and friends. As creepy as it may seem to us in the 21st century, a lock of hair may have been comforting to the grieving and also act as a sign of prestige. By the end of his life, Goethe was highly celebrated, and to be seen to possess a lock of hair from the head of the man himself, certainly conveyed privilege. Those of you who are Goethe fans may have noticed this was in complete contrast to how his friend Eckermann viewed removing locks from Goethe’s head. In the final passage of Conversations with Goethe, Eckermann, upon seeing Goethe in his death bed, remembered how he ‘wished for a lock of his hair; but reverence prevented me from cutting it off’.

Clearly, the sheer, celestial monument of Goethe on his death bed, did not stop everyone from taking a small keepsake. There is no record whether Goethe gave his permission for a lock of his hair to be cut. Susan Halstead is a Social Sciences Subject Librarian at the British Library. According to her, Goethe’s reaction to such a request would have depended on who made it. Ottilie von Goethe, his daughter-in-law may have received a favourable response, as she cared for the elderly Goethe until his death. Whereas, Bettina von Arnim would have received a much dustier response. After all, her friendship with Goethe was ended, due to Bettina’s ‘insolent behaviour’ towards Goethe’s wife.

 It is unclear how many people were able to obtain a lock of Goethe’s hair, but one person who did was Johannes Falk. Whilst there is no mention of Falk in any accounts of Goethe’s illness in 1823 and eventual passing, chronologies of the day were compiled by scholars collating diaries, letters and conversations in the 20th century. So, it was only people who were actually there at the time, who could have known that Goethe was convalescing. At the time, Goethe was recovering from a near fatal heart illness. It is possible that the lock of hair was cut, unbeknownst to Goethe, whilst he was enjoying a restorative sleep.

Falk (1768-1826) was a German publisher and poet. Frequenting the literary circles of Schiller and Goethe, he became a close friend of Goethe. Therefore, Falk may have been one of Goethe’s visitors when he was taken ill. One inscription accompanying the hair was possibly penned by Falk himself (see Figure 2). The inscription is simply entitled Goethes Haar (Goethe’s hair) and reads as follows:

Diese Locke(n) wurden ihm 2ten März in den Tagen seiner Genesung von der Krankheit abgeschnitten. 

This lock was cut from him on the 2nd March in the days of his convalescence from illness

There is currently no direct evidence that Falk was the true author of this inscription. To establish true authorship, handwriting analysis would have to be undertaken. Manuscripts which are kept in the Falk Archive in Weimar, would need to be compared with the inscription. Despite this, there is still a high possibility that Falk wrote it.

According to the testimony of John Falk, the living descendant of Johannes Falk, he passed on the hair to a daughter, who then proceeded to pass it onto John’s great grandfather. A second inscription also accompanies the artefact and seems to confirm this, with the heading of Goethe’s hair (see Figure 2). The text is in English and is as follows:

Given me by my Aunt, Mrs Gabriele Saeltzer, of Weimar, the only surviving child of my Father’s Uncle, Johannes Daniel Falk, the Satirist and Friend of Goethe.  Given me at Catsclough, Cheshire on Fri Aug. 19. 1881.  H. John Falk.

German slip (left) and English envelope (right

Figure 2: German slip (left) and English envelope (right)

The inscription is on the English little envelope in which the lock of hair was kept for 58 years. It is unclear if Gabriele Saeltzer was visiting Catsclough or if she was a resident. It is very possible that she was one of Falk’s daughters, as out of the ten children he had with his wife Caroline Rosenfield, only two daughters survived. If Gabriela was Falk’s youngest daughter, she would have been in her sixties in 1881. Therefore, she must have treasured the hair for most of her life. It may be natural to assume that she wanted to pass it and other small relics such as the portrait of Goethe and the pressed violet onto the next generation. Gabriele or Falk may have added these items, intending them to be accompanied with the hair wherever it went. Presumably in a similar act of veneration, H. John Falk may have framed the three little items (see Figure 1).

A violet seems to be an odd choice to accompany the hair. But the reason for this, as Lähnemann explained, is due to the popularity of Das Veilchen (The Violet), which is a poem by Goethe. The last stanza of the poem is:

Ach! aber ach! das Mädchen kam
Und nicht in Acht das Veilchen nahm,
Ertrat das arme Veilchen.
Es sank und starb und freut’ sich noch:
Und sterb’ ich denn, so sterb’ ich doch
Durch sie, durch sie,
Zu ihren Füßen doch.
Das arme Veilchen
Es war ein herzigs Veilchen!

But alas, alas, the girl drew near
And took no heed of the violet,
Trampled the poor violet.
It sank and died, yet still rejoiced:
And if I die, at least I die
Through her, through her
And at her feet.
The poor violet!
It was a dear sweet violet!

Goethe’s poem was composed as a song for voice and piano by Mozart in 1785. Mozart’s composition would have made Das Veilchen a staple piece to be enjoyed in the 19th century drawing room. The violet is a tad masochistic, but its addition is a romantic touch, alluding to the popular ‘crush’ on Goethe.

The sketched portrait has been observed to be similar to other portraits of Goethe. In particular, in Goethes aussere Erscheingung:  literarische und kuenstlerische Dokumente seiner Zeitgenossen by Emil Schaeffer, we can see striking similarities between it and the porcelain painting by Ludwig Sebbers (1826) in Figures 3.1 and 3.2.

There also noted similarities in a lithograph by Grevedon, a copy of a lost drawing by Orest Adamovitsch Kiprensky (1823) (Figures 3.1 and 3.2). In both portraits, we can see the same receding hairline. However, the Kiprensky portrait differs from the sketched portrait and Sebbers’ porcelain painting as Goethe’s facial expression is more severe. It is interesting to note that on these portraits, Goethe’s hair is depicted as being quite frizzy, whilst the lock of hair appears to be straight. Despite this, in the chalk drawing by Karl Christian von Vogelstein (1824), Goethe is depicted with much straighter hair (see Figure 4). Vogelstein’s sketch of Goethe is not as flattering as Sebbers’ and Kiprensky’s portraits. Goethe is depicted with large, liquid eyes and a prominent nose. Depending on the artist, Goethe’s appearance will differ. Overall, considering the three portraits, there are features which do bear resemblance to the sketched portrait. Therefore, the unknown artist of the sketched portrait may have been inspired by other, contemporary portraits of Goethe.

Figure 4: Chalk drawing by Karl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein (1824) Schaeffer’s Goethes Aussere Erscheinung 1914: pl 60

Figure 4: Chalk drawing by Karl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein (1824) Schaeffer’s Goethes Aussere Erscheinung 1914: pl 60

At the start of this post, I mentioned Lähnemann’s observations regarding the hair as if it were a relic of a saint. Johannes Falk and his daughter may have intended the lock to be revered as something holy and immortal. This appears to be a sentiment that Taylor librarians have also shared. In 1953, John’s grandfather, Oswald, agreed to have the hair displayed at the Taylor. The librarian at the time, Donald Sutherland, promised Oswald that the hair would be kept in a show-case in one of the Reading Rooms. For nearly 70 years, the hair has been either on display or kept in the rare book room at the Library. It has never been taken out of its frame, nor separated from the crushed violet or sketched portrait.

Nick Hearn, French and Russian Subject Consultant at the Taylor, adds that in the lock of Goethe’s hair the comical and frivolous seem to combine with the eternal and the hagiographical.

Our obsession with Goethe continues.


Chloe Bolsover
Graduate Trainee, Taylor Institution Library

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my colleagues at the Taylor: Katie Day, Emma Huber and Nick Hearn – for their assistance. Thank you for lending me notes and forwarding some very interesting email chains.

Thank you Professor Henrike Lähnemann and Susan Halstead for your intriguing interpretations surrounding the lock of hair.

References

Eckermann, Johann Peter. 1839. Conversations with Goethe in the last years of his life. Hilliard, Gray, and company: Boston. Translated from the German by Margaret Fuller.

Schaeffer, Emil. 1914. Goethes Aussere Erscheinung. Insel-Verlag: Leipzig

http://www.online-literature.com/goethe/

https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/f/faust-parts-1-and-2/johann-wolfgang-von-goethe-biography

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/johann-wolfgang-von-goethe

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/02/01/design-for-living-books-adam-kirsch

https://www.fembio.org/english/biography.php/woman/biography/charlotte-buff-kestner/

https://www.oxfordlieder.co.uk/song/648

 

Literatures of Multilingual Europe: Polish

The lecture series on Literatures of Multilingual Europe, most of which took place in the course of Michaelmas 2018 came at a very significant time. As we were giving our talks at the Taylorian, we could hear the almost imperceptible sound of the Brexit time-bomb  ticking  towards its final countdown like the calm before the storm. How ironic to introduce ‘lesser-known’ European literatures such as Scandinavian, Irish, Hungarian, Czech, Polish, Modern Greek, and Yiddish to -our English-speaking audience at a time when we  could not even take an interest in the more mainstream ones for granted? This thought kept nagging  away at the back of my mind as we discussed the rather flimsy position of translated literature in the UK and the US during our introductory panel.

2018 was a particularly successful year for Polish literature and film in the UK. The Man Booker International Prize was awarded to Polish contemporary writer (and later the 2018 Nobel Laureate in Literature) Olga Tokarczuk and her American translator Jennifer Croft for Flights (Fitzcarraldo). This happened only the year after yet another Polish author, Wioletta Greg (based in the UK), made it onto the longlist alongside her translator Eliza Marciniak for Swallowing Mercury (Portobello Books). In 2019, Tokarczuk was shortlisted again with her other translator, Antonia Lloyd-Jones, for Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (Fitzcarraldo). Some might call it a literary hat-trick, others might see it as a positive trend for the British reception of Polish works. In other news relating to the visual arts in 2018, the UK-based and Oxford-educated Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski, known for his previously Academy-awarded Ida (2014), created another black-and-white masterpiece entitled Cold War. The film earned him the Best Director prize in Cannes and three nominations for the Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film.

London : Portobello Books

Wioletta Greg ; translated from the Polish by Eliza Marciniak. London : Portobello Books, 2017.

While this was clearly a reason to celebrate the significance of Polish artistic output in the UK, it still felt like a parallel universe somewhat disengaged from everyday problems. Polish is currently the second most widely spoken language in the UK after English and, on a wave of anti-EU sentiment, the Polish minority in the UK has been subject to a range of xenophobic assaults, including verbal and physical violence such as hostile graffiti, offensive messages and gang attacks. Of course, there  have been strong moves to commemorate the presence and contribution of Poles in the UK way before 2004 (e.g. the Chopin statue in Manchester, the Joseph Conrad bike tour, Polish ENIGMA code breakers in Bletchley Park, the statue of war hero General Maczek, the statue of Wojtek the Bear, and the Great Polish map of Scotland, to mention a few).

However, it is very difficult to  bring the two divergent worlds together, when there is so little academic interest in Polish literature and culture. Whilst the study of the history, economy, and politics of the country is also crucial, elevating and re-evaluating the status of Poland’s vibrant literary and cultural activity across the centuries might be a more promising way of changing  the way it is perceived ‘under Western eyes’. This was partly the intention of the introductory talk which I gave for the series. In addition to serving as a taster of a lesser-known literature and highlighting the Bodleian and Taylorian’s collection, the talk was meant to condense the long rich history of a literature which represents Britain’s ‘invisible minority’. This literature perhaps remains overshadowed by the stereotyped view of a community which is thought of as just another Eastern European country supplying the UK with skilled manual labour.

2018 was also symbolic for another reason: it marked the centenary of Poland regaining its independence after more than a century of being partitioned between three empires (those of Prussia, Austria, and Russia). These partitions  took place at the end of the eighteenth century, after hundreds of years of a prosperous Kingdom of Poland and later a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and exerted a stranglehold over Polish life and culture throughout most of the nineteenth century up until 1918. It is towards the end of this tumultuous period interspersed with failed uprisings and frustration that anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski and writer Joseph Conrad (or more accurately: Józef Konrad Korzeniowski) arrived in London at the heart of the British Empire. It is also half way through this period, in 1850, that the Bodleian Library purchased a large collection of early Polish books known as Libri polonici (see Stone 2005), which would become one of the major collections of the kind in the West. This repository includes less than two thousand items such as printings of sixteenth-century literature, a unique copy of the first Polish newspaper dating back to 1557 and material related to Polish Arianism in the age of Reformation.

Libri polonici (Polonica from the Bodleian’s pre-1920 catalogue), entry on different printings of the work by Mikołaj Rej (1505-69), one of the founders of the Polish literary language.

Fifteen years later, in 1865, the Earl of Ilchester, a friend of the Polish prince and statesman Adam Czartoryski, endowed the University of Oxford with a substantial sum to encourage ‘the study of the Polish and other Slavonic languages, Literature, and History’. He made it explicit in his will that priority should be given to Polish over any other Slavonic language. However, most likely following the advice of an amateur philologist, Lord Strangford, Convocation breached the agreement. Instead, the University funded the study of Russian, the language of one of Poland’s imperial occupiers at that time (see: Stone 2005). Taking this backstory into account, there are few places where the celebration of Poland’s regained independence from imperial forces could have been felt more powerfully so many years later than here in  Oxford.

When preparing for the talk and asking our Library Subject Specialist Nick Hearn for books to be displayed, I came to realize that the collections of both the Bodleian and the Taylorian were far more diverse and rich in Polish sources than I could ever have foreseen. As part of Libri polonici, the Weston Library holds quite a number of early seventeenth-century printings of the work of Polish Renaissance poet Jan Kochanowski (1530–84), including his cantos, epigrams (fraszki), threnodies (treny), and elegies, both  in Polish or Latin. In my talk, I introduced his cycle of threnodies or lamentations entitled Treny from 1580, movingly rendered into English by Seamus Heaney and Stanisław Barańczak, among others. In particular, I briefly discussed Kochanowski’s ‘Lament 7’:

‘Tren 7’ by Jan Kochanowski, Kraków 1639, Weston Library (Libri polonici).

The holdings of the Taylor Institution library were in particular a great surprise to me. As part of the series on Literatures of Multilingual Europe, we hosted Professor Bill Johnston from Indiana University. Bill returned to Oxford after decades (he read Modern Languages at University College in the early 1980s) to read from his newly released Guggenheim-funded translation of Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz. Originally published in Paris in 1834, Pan Tadeusz [Master Thaddeus] comprises twelve books in verse and is sometimes considered the last great epic poem in European literature as well as the Polish national epic. How excited we were to see that the Taylorian was actually in possession of the first edition!

Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz, Paris 1834, Taylorian collections.

With their worn-out edges and dog-eared pages, library holdings like this one contain whole different universes and bygone worlds, which have sadly sunk into oblivion and remain unexplored. They could almost stand for the “empty frames” in the hall of mirrors from this passage in Bill’s translation of Pan Tadeusz (p. 52):

These memories had clearly left him pained,

He wished them gone. Upstairs they came at last

To a great room that had been in the past

A hall of mirrors; now all you could see

Were empty frames and windows. A gallery

Overlooked the gate. Gerwazy hid his eyes

In his cupped hands, head bowed in thought. His gaze,

When he looked up, showed grief and hopelessness.

Dusting off some of Bodleian and Taylorian’s impressive holdings and revisiting their stories seemed like giving them a new lease of life. To speak about them to the Oxford public was an act of filling these empty frames again with some colours and reflected images. Perhaps, some other generation of readers, students, and scholars will also come to look into all these mirrors, and hopefully, they will find and recognise themselves in their reflections, too.

Dr Kasia Szymańska

Former Junior Research Fellow in ML, Oxford; Thomas Brown Assistant Professor, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies, Trinity College Dublin.

You can see the podcast of Kasia’s lecture here: http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/polish-literature


Polish literature bibliography

Adam Mickiewicz, 1798-1855 : selected poems, editor: Clark Mills (et al.) New York: Noonday Press, 1956

Foer, Jonathan  Tree of codes London: Visual editions, 2010

Gombrowicz, Witold Ferdydurke Kraków : Wydawn. Literackie, 2010

Gombrowicz, Witold Ferdydurke  Translated by E. Mosbacher, London, 1965

Greg, Wioletta  Swallowing mercury  Translated by Eliza Marciniak  London: Portobello books, 2017

Kochanowski, Jan  Laments Translated by Seamus Heaney and  Stanisław Barańczak,

Kochanowski, Jan Treny Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy imienia Ossolińskich, 1986

Krasicki, Ignacy  Mikołaja Doświadczyńskiego przypadki Warszawa: Książka, 1947

Krasicki, Ignacy The adventures of Mr Nicholas Wisdom Translated by Thomas Hoisington Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1992

Krasicki, Ignacy Monachomachia ; Antymonachomachia Warszawa : Książka i Wiedza, 1988

Krasicki, Ignacy Myszeidos pieśni X Wrocław : Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1986

Lem, Stanislaw  Solaris  Warsaw: Agora, 2008

Mickiewicz, Adam  Ballady i romanse Lipsk, 1852

Mickiewicz, Adam  Forefather’s Eve Translated by Count Potocki of Montalk  London: Polish cultural foundation, 1968

Mickiewicz, Adam  Dziady  Wrocław, 1864

Mickiewicz, Adam  Pan Tadeusz, or, The last foray in Lithuania: a story of the gentry from 1811 and 1812: comprising twelve books in verse Translated by Bill Johnston  New York: First Archipelago Books edition, 2018

Mickiewicz, Adam  Pan Tadeusz, czyli, Ostatni zajazd na Litwie : historja szlachecka z r. 1811 i 1812, we dwunastu ksiegach, wierszem Paris, 1834

Miłosz, Czesław The History of Polish Literature  Berkeley : University of California Press, 1983

Peterkiewicz, Jerzy, Five centuries of Polish poetry, 1450-1950; an anthology London: Secker & Warburg, 1960

Prus, Boleslaw  The doll Translated by David Welsh  New York: New York Review, 2011

Prus, Boleslaw  Lalka: powieść w trzech tomach  Warsaw: PIW, 1972

Schulz, Bruno  The street of crocodiles  London: Pan books, 1980

Schulz, Bruno  Sklepy cynamonowe ; Sanatorium Pod Klepsydrą    Translated by Celina Wieniewska  Kraków : Wydawn. Literackie, 1994

Tokarczuk, Olga  Flights  Translated by Jennifer Croft  London: Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2018

 

Sailing into Uncharted Waters

The Evolution of Books of Hours Printed in France

Note: The Taylorian Blog editors are very pleased to publish this post by David Sargent, student on the Introduction to Digital Humanities course, led by Emma Huber, Subject Librarian for German Language and Literature, Taylor Institution Library, Bodleian Libraries, 2019. (See https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/taylor/about/courses-and-training)

Books of Hours originally evolved during the thirteenth century from Marian prayers added to Psalters, as Christopher de Hamel has pointed out.[1]  In Roger S. Wieck’s detailed survey of the content and illustrations of late medieval Books of Hours,[2] he remarks that:

The core of any Book of Hours, and the text after which it receives its name, is the series of prayers called the Hours of the Virgin […] This series of prayers is made up of eight Hours: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. […] Ideally, these eight Hours were to be recited at seven different times throughout the course of the day.[3]

According to Wieck, as well as the Hours of the Virgin, Books of Hours usually contain a liturgical calendar, readings from the Gospels, other sets of Hours, additional prayers not grouped into Hours, the Seven Penitential Psalms, a Litany, and a service to pray for the souls of the dead.[4]  One especially famous medieval Book of Hours is the Très riches heures du duc de Berry – some of its miniatures are reproduced on Wikimedia Commons.

Early printed Books of Hours, too, have been the subject of some recent studies, particularly by Prof. Cristina Dondi.[5]  Although publications about individual editions exist, there is no systematic survey of the development of the Book of Hours as a genre after 1600.  Dondi notes the Council of Trent as a watershed in the development of the Book of Hours, after which it allegedly became a workaday textbook for religious instruction, though she calls this characterisation into question.[6]

This is where my project comes in.  I looked at four Books of Hours printed in France, which are now located in Oxford libraries: an example from around 1500 at Balliol College, one from the late seventeenth century at Keble College, one dated 1706 at the Taylorian, and one dated 1874 and also located at Keble.  Within each book, I listed exactly which sets of prayers and other texts it contains and looked at the text-image relationship.

I was able to compare what I found in the Balliol Book of Hours with the existing scholarship on the manuscript and incunable traditions.  Its content turned out to be typical.  The Balliol example is lavishly illustrated with woodcuts.

Balliol College, Arch C 12 8 [a8v]-b1r (Reproduced by kind permission of the Master and Fellows of Balliol College)

The borders on b1r (the right-hand page pictured above) are typical of the arrangement throughout the book: the outer borders depict Biblical scenes, which are not always directly relevant to the text.  The central image in the right-hand border depicts the Devil tempting Christ and the image below it shows Adam and Eve beside the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – complete with serpent – in the Garden of Eden.  Eve is examining the fruit.  Since the adjacent text is the opening of St. John’s Gospel, which is read at Christmas as it forms the basis for the theology of the Incarnation, a depiction of the Nativity might have been more relevant.  The two figures in the border at the foot of the page seem to be discussing something: perhaps the man on the right is pointing to the picture of Adam and Eve.

However, the large illustration on the facing page is relevant, since it depicts an episode from the life of St. John the Evangelist, traditionally thought to be the author of the text.  The episode is mentioned in the Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages article on the saint: he is being boiled alive in oil on the orders of the Emperor Domitian, an ordeal which he was said to have survived.[7]  The saint’s hands are in a gesture of prayer as he stands in the cauldron.  Servants stoke the fire under him while Domitian – seated on the throne and robed as a medieval monarch – looks on, with his courtiers in the background.  An official on the right turns his head away to speak to someone.  According to Wieck, this episode is often depicted at this point in Books of Hours.[8]  The large-format illustrations found the start of each of the Hours of the Virgin also follow one of the schemes listed by Wieck.[9]

Interestingly, the order of the quires in the copy at Balliol[10] is different from the copy used by the compilers of the standard catalogue of incunabula (the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke – see the entry here).  This may be due to a mistake when the book was bound or rebound.

For the later books, the lack of existing scholarship meant that I had to rely almost entirely on my own observations, with the Balliol example as a point of comparison.  The following table summarises the content of each book (an x indicates that an element is present):

Book Balliol,

Arch C 12 8

Keble, Brooke 88 Taylorian, VET.FR.II.B.472 Keble, Brooke 73
Calendar x x x
Morning Prayers x x
Evening Prayers x x
Hours of the Virgin x x x
Other Hours x
7 Penitential Psalms x x x x
Gospel Lesson(s) x x
Litany/Litanies x x x x
Office of the Dead x x
Sunday Vespers x x
Sunday Compline x x
Order for Mass x x
Prayers during Mass x x x
Hymns x x
Propers x x

See also this data visualisation, below:

This data visualisation was created using skills and software (Gephi) taught on the Introduction to Digital Humanities course offered by the Taylor Institution Library

Each book’s content differs considerably, altering in response to its particular context: litanies (albeit of different kinds) and the Seven Penitential Psalms are the only texts that appear in all four books.  All the books contain a mixture of French and Latin texts.  French summaries and parallel text translations of Latin texts enabled comprehension (whether the Latin prayer was being used in public or in private), whilst French prayers did not pose such a language barrier.  The more modern the book in my sample, the greater the proportion that is devoted to helping the reader to take part in public worship.

Curiously, the 1874 Book of Hours at Keble does not include the Hours of the Virgin.  However, there are still grounds for seeing it as a later stage in the development of the same genre rather than as something altogether new: it self-designates as Heures and it contains many of the same texts as its early modern predecessors.  In fact, its use of images mimics medieval Books of Hours.  Stylistic echoes of books such as the Balliol example are evident at a glance and Wieck notes that images of King David (like the one pictured below) often open the Seven Penitential Psalms in late medieval Books of Hours.[11]  David, who was traditionally thought to have written the Psalms, kneels before God in a medieval-style interior.  His clothes are also late medieval in style and his harp is by his right knee.  The border of the facing page is floral, like the upper border in the Balliol example.

Keble, Brooke 73, pp. 30-31 (Reproduced by kind permission of the Warden, Fellows and Scholars of Keble College, Oxford)

The relationship between text and image varies from book to book.  Illustration with relevant images such as the one pictured above occurs throughout the nineteenth-century book, whilst decoration seems to be the main priority in Keble’s seventeenth-century book, Prieres du matin, (pictured below).  Indeed, the entire book is a thing of beauty; even the text is engraved.[12]  The shallow, rectangular indentations in each page show that copper plates were used throughout.

Keble, Brooke 88, p. 1 (Reproduced by kind permission of the Warden, Fellows and Scholars of Keble College, Oxford)

 

The word du in the middle of the page is highly ornamented and flanked by bunches of flowers.  These fit in well with the bucolic scenes at the top of the page and around the initial ‘V’: the former shows the gateway to a castle, flanked by trees, with a bridge across its moat, whilst the latter depicts the sun shining down on some hills, which are dotted with trees.  Perhaps we are looking east and the sun has just risen, providing an appropriate image for Morning Prayer.  Similar decorations occur throughout the book, but some of them have definite religious content which is relevant to the text, such as a depiction of the Descent of the Holy Spirit at the start of the Pentecost hymn (Veni creator Spiritus) on p. 238.

The eighteenth-century Book of Hours at the Taylor Institution Library has been scanned into a PDF file and can be viewed online here.  It was produced for the convent at St-Cyr and contains a good deal of material that is specific to this setting: there are ceremonies for visitation by a bishop, the appointing of a new Superior, etc.  (Things have moved on from the Middle Ages, when, according to Wieck, Books of Hours were produced exclusively with the laity in mind.)[13]  Almost the entire book is in Latin-French parallel text (starting with the Hail Mary on p.1, i.e. p. 22 of the PDF) which could have helped members of the convent whose Latin was not especially good, but who could read French, to participate in the services.

This book probably has the most interesting text-image relationship out of the four books that I investigated.  There are several ornaments within the text block: many of these are baskets of flowers.  However, at some time, someone has inserted eight separately printed images, each of which (with the possible exception of the one facing p. 307) is relevant to the text that it faces:

Page of PDF Facing page (original numbering) Subject of image Adjacent text
21 1 Blessed Virgin Mary Matins of the Virgin
91 69 Blessed Virgin Mary Prime of the Virgin
233 207 Holy Trinity Litany of the Holy Trinity
240 213 Christ-child Litany of the Christ-child
301 271 Adoration of the Magi Propers for Epiphany
338 307 Apparition of a Pope cursing a king Propers for Pentecost
351 317 Last Supper Propers for Corpus Christi

377

341 St. Augustine Propers for St. Augustine’s Day

Looking closely at the captions of some of these engravings reveals that they came from different print shops.  The pieces of paper to which they are glued are also of different shapes and sizes (though this is not easy to see in the PDF).  In addition, a piece of printed ephemera – a small piece of paper detailing a three-way compact in honour of the Holy Trinity – has been bound in immediately before the engraving of the Holy Trinity.  (They’re pages 230 and 233 of the Taylorian PDF.)  It seems that somebody has personalised the book by adding these fragments, as well as a manuscript litany at the back of the book (pp. 514-517 of the PDF), but when this was done is not clear.

I found this project particularly exciting because, in the case of the three post-1600 books, I was sailing into virtually uncharted waters and I hope that the description of three “locations” in those seas that I have written – with the description of the earlier book and its context as a guide – will go some way to showing that the ocean of post-1600 Books of Hours is worth mapping out in full.

David Sargent
MSt, Modern Languages, University of Oxford
Student on the Introduction to Digital Humanities course, Taylor Institution Library, 2019

[1] De Hamel, Christopher. (2013). ‘The European Medieval Book’. in Suarez, Michael F. and Woudhuysen, H. R. (eds.). (2013). The Book: A Global History. Oxford: OUP, pp. 59-79, p. 70

[2] Wieck, Roger S. (1988). Time Sanctified: The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life. New York, NY: George Braziller.

[3] Wieck p. 28

[4] Wieck p. 27f

[5] Dondi, Cristina. (2016). Printed Books of Hours from Fifteenth-Century Italy: The Texts, the Books, and the Survival of a Long-Lasting Genre. Florence: Leo S. Olschki.

[6] Dondi p. 223

[7] Berceville, Gilles, and Frédérique Trouslard. “John the Evangelist.” Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages.  James Clarke & Co, January 01, 2005. Oxford Reference. Date Accessed 3 Jun. 2019 <https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780227679319.001.0001/acref-9780227679319-e-1490>.

[8] Wieck p. 59

[9] Wieck p. 60

[10] See Rhodes, Dennis E. (1982). A Catalogue of Incunabula in All the Libraries of Oxford University Outside the Bodleian. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 937 (p. 179).

[11] Wieck p. 97

[12] The book is catalogued as ‘Engraved throughout’ here: http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph015540634

[13] Wieck p. 27

Further reading

De Hamel, Christopher. (2013). ‘The European Medieval Book’. in Suarez, Michael F. and Woudhuysen, H. R. (eds.). (2013). The Book: A Global History. Oxford: OUP, pp. 59-79.

Dondi, Cristina. (2016). Printed Books of Hours from Fifteenth-Century Italy: The Texts, the Books, and the Survival of a Long-Lasting Genre. Florence: Leo S. Olschki.

Rhodes, Dennis E. (1982). A Catalogue of Incunabula in All the Libraries of Oxford University Outside the Bodleian. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Vauchez, André. (2000). Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. Cambridge: James Clarke.

Wieck, Roger S. (1988). Time Sanctified: The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life. New York, NY: George Braziller.

Literatures of Multilingual Europe: an introduction to Modern Greek

It would be difficult to account for the whole of Modern Greek literature in a single lecture; indeed, the only possible approach is through selected highlights. This is precisely what Peter Mackridge, Oxford Professor of Modern Greek (1996-2003), contrived to do in his lecture in the Bodleian Libraries lecture series ‘Literatures of Multilingual Europe’, which took place in Michaelmas Term 2018. [You can see the full podcast of the lecture at http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/introduction-modern-greek-literature.]

Dionysios Solomos (1798-1857)

Dionysios Solomos (1798-1857)

In a wide-ranging talk, which began with the nineteenth century Romantic poet Dionysios Solomos and then circled back to him by way of Medieval, Renaissance and Modern writings, Peter took his audience on a whistle-stop tour of the major landmarks of Modern Greek Literature.

Beginning with the humorous Medieval begging poems of an author known to us only by his pseudonym, ‘Poor Prodromos’, Prof. Mackridge went on to delineate the 16th-17th century Cretan ‘Renaissance’ verse romances and the beginnings of the Modern period in the Greek revolution of 1821. Apart from Solomos, the ‘Father of Modern Greek Poetry’, Prof. Mackridge noted the two most prominent exemplars of 19th century Greek prose, Emmanouil Roidis (author of the subversive satire ‘Pope Joan’, first translated into English in an abbreviated version by Lawrence Durrell) and Papadiamandis, whose extraordinary realist novel ‘The Murderess’ has recently been retranslated by Liadain Sherrard. Prof. Mackridge himself has translated the long short story, ‘Around the Lagoon’.

Around the lagoon by Alexandros Papadiamandis (1851-1911), translated by Peter Mackridge.

Around the lagoon by Alexandros Papadiamandis (1851-1911), translated by Peter Mackridge.

As Prof. Mackridge pointed out, the astonishing continuity of Greek literature (defined as literature in Greek) is largely inherent in poetry. C.P. Cavafy, the best-known and most-translated Greek poet, who died in 1933, preceded the so-called Generation of 1930, whose shining lights include George Seferis, Yannis Ritsos and Odysseas Elytis.

 Seferis and Elytis both won the Nobel Prize for Literature, whilst Ritsos was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. All three poets have had their work set to music by Mikis Theodorakis, whose settings have proved hugely popular with people from all walks of life.

Among the issues discussed by Prof. Mackridge were the school syllabus, with its emphasis on national pride and the glorification of heroes of the War of Independence, and the related emphasis in Greek culture (including the arts) on identity: what it means to be Greek. Here, there were humorous references to “Zorba the Greek” (Kazantzakis) and the stereoptyping to which English translations of this work (there is no “the Greek” in the Greek title) have contributed.

Zorba the Greek (1964) by Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957)

Zorba the Greek (1964) by Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957)

Finally, Prof. Mackridge referred to more recent writings, including the poetry anthology inspired by the Greek financial crisis: “Austerity Measures” (edited by his former D. Phil. student, Prof. Karen Van Dyck).

At the beginning of his talk, Prof. Mackridge apologised for his exclusion of women writers. In fact, much of the period under discussion yields no well-known female authors, but the twentieth century has produced women novelists and poets of some stature, including Maro Douka, Rea Galanaki, Jenny Mastoraki, Maria Laïna, Evgenia Fakinou and Kiki Dimoula. There were also earlier poets, such as Maria Polydouri, who was popular in her day though her work has not really stood the test of time. The one woman writer referred to, the poet and novelist Ersi Sotiropoulou, was mentioned in connection with her recent fictionalised account of an episode in the life of C. P. Cavafy.

Ersi Sotiropoulou, 'What's left of the night', (Patakis, 2015).

Ersi Sotiropoulou, ‘What’s left of the night’, (Patakis, 2015). A fictionalised account of an episode in the life of C. P. Cavafy.

Rea Galanaki’s acclaimed novel, ‘The Life of Ismail Ferik Pasha’, translated by Kay Cicellis,  makes an interesting companion volume to the Nobel laureate Ivo Andric’s last novel, ‘Omer Pasha Latas’ (1968), recently translated by Celia Hawkesworth (winner of the 2019 Weidenfeld Translation Prize for this volume). ‘The Life of Ismail Ferik Pasha’ has been described as an ‘elaboration’ on Borges’ traitor-hero theme (Beaton, An Introduction to Modern Greek Literature, p. 291). It creates a biography for a historical figure about whom almost nothing is known. Seized in Crete as a child by the Ottomans and sold as a slave in Egypt, Ismail eventually becomes the leader of the Ottoman Egyptian army and  returns to Crete to quell a local revolt. In parallel to Ismail, Andric’s Omer Pasha is a Christian boy who converts to Islam and becomes commander-in-chief of the Sultan’s armies.

Maria Iordanidou’s autobiographical novel Loxandra is set in pre-1922 Constantinople/Istanbul. This is an earlier version of the world of the popular Greek film ‘Politiki Kouzina’/’A Touch of Spice’ (Tassos Boulmetis, 2003).

Karen van Dyck has done much to bring contemporary Greek women poets to an English-speaking audience and the leading translator of Modern Greek Literature, David Conolley, has produced sensitive renderings of Kiki Dimoula.

Dr Sarah Ekdawi

Faculty Research Fellow
Reviews Editor of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies
Assistant Director of Studies, Oxford School of English


For readers who would like to read some Modern Greek literature in excellent translations, the following selection is highly recommended. This select bibliography (compiled by Sarah Ekdawi) is followed by Prof. Mackridge’s more extensive bibliography, used to illustrate his talk.

* Names marked with an asterisk are Oxford alumni

Select Bibliography

Overview

Roderick Beaton, An Introduction to Modern Greek Literature (Oxford Clarendon Press,1994

Poetry

P. Cavafy, The Collected Poems, translated by Evangelos Sachperoglou, with an introduction by Peter Mackridge, bilingual edition (Oxford World Classics, OUP, 2007)

George Seferis, Novel and Other Poems, translated by Roderick Beaton (Aiora Press, 2016)

Yannis Ritsos Among his Contemporaries. Twentieth-Century Greek Poetry Translated by Marjorie Chambers (Colenso Books, 2018)

Rhea Galanaki, Jenny Mastoraki and Maria Laina, The Rehearsal of Misunderstanding. Three Collections by Contemporary Greek Women Poets, translated and introduced by Karen van Dyck, bilingual edition. Wesleyan University Press, 1998

Kiki Dimoula, Lethe’s Adolescence, translated by David Conolly (Nostos Books, 1996)

Novels

Alexandros Papadiamantis, The Murderess, translated by Liadain Sherrard (Denise Harvey Publisher, 2011)

Maria Iordanidou, Loxandra, translated by Norma Aynsley Sourmeli (Denise Harvey Publisher, 2107)

Rhea Galanaki, The Life of Ismail Ferik Pasha, translated by Kay Cicellis (Peter Owen Publishers, 1999)

Evgenia Fakinou, The Seventh Garment, translated by Ed Emery (Serpent’s Tail, 1991)

Menis Koumandareas, Their Smell Makes me Want to Cry, translated by Patricia Felisa Barbeito and Vangelis Calotychos, (University of Birmingham, 2004)

 

Prof. Mackridge’s Bibliography

Cretan Renaissance literature (16th-17th c.)
1. Georgios Chortatsis (c. 1550-c. 1610), Plays of the Veneto-Cretan Renaissance: a bilingual Greek-English edition, ed. & tr. Rosemary Bancroft-Marcus*, vol. 1 (OUP, 2014) [PA5610.C45 A2 CHO 2013]
2. D. Papamarkos* and G. Ragkos, Erōtokritos tou Vintsentzou Kornarou (graphic novel, Polaris, 2016) [PN6790.G73 G68 GOU 2016]

The War of Independence (1820s)
3. Dionysios Solomos (1798-1857), The Free Besieged and other poems, ed. Prof. Mackridge* bilingual edn (Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2000 [22015])

Mid-19th c.
4. Emmanouil Roidis, Papissa Ioanna (graphic novel, illustrated by Dimitris Hantzopoulos, Athens 2018; also forthcoming edn translated as Pope Joan by Prof. Mackridge*)

Turn of 19th-20th c.
5. Alexandros Papadiamandis, The Boundless Garden: selected short stories (Denise Harvey, 2007) [PA2104.P2.A3.B7]
5a. Alexandros Papadiamandis, Around the Lagoon: reminiscences to a Friend. Bilingual edn, tr. Prof. Mackridge* (Denise Harvey, 2014).

20th century
6. C. P. Cavafy, The collected poems, tr. Evangelos Sachperoglou, intro. Prof. Mackridge, bilingual edn (Oxford World Classics, 2007) [PA2105.K5.A14.2007; also Bod]
7. Kostas Karyotakis, Battered guitars: poems and prose, tr. William W. Reader and Keith Taylor (Birmingham: Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, 2006) [PA2105.K4.A2.B3.E5]
8. Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek (Faber Modern Classics, 2016) [Bod]
9. Robert Levesque (tr.), Seferis: choix de poèmes traduits et accompagnés du texte grec avec une préface (1945) [PA2105.S4.A4.L6.F8]
10. Roderick Beaton, George Seferis: waiting for the angel (Yale UP, 2003) [PA2105.S4.Z6.B3.W1 + Bod.]
11. Yannis Ritsos, Selected poems, tr. Nikos Stangos (Penguin, 1974) [Bod]
12. Odysseas Elytis, Selected poems, ed. Edmund Keeley* and Philip Sherrard (Penguin, 1981) [PA5610.E43 A213 ELY 1991]

21st c.
13. Haris Vlavianos*, History of western philosophy in 100 haiku, tr. Prof. Mackridge (Dublin: Dedalus Press, 2015)
14. Karen Van Dyck*, Austerity measures: the new Greek poetry, bilingual edn (Penguin, 2016) [PA5289.E6 AUS 2016]

Battle of the Russian Greats

‘Dostoevsky’s dead,’ said the citizeness, but somehow not very confidently.

‘I protest!’ Behemoth exclaimed hotly. ‘Dostoevsky is immortal!’

― Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

There is no prerequisite to know Russian if you work at the Taylor. The Slavonic collections returned to our St Giles’ location only three years ago from their home in Wellington Square, the newest layer to our nesting-doll of a library. We even have a cheat sheet for staff to navigate the Cyrillic alphabet, lest they be asked about a book they cannot read.

And yet somehow Russian—the language, the literature, the culture—permeates the building like a foundational block, the missing sister to the European languages carved as goddesses on our Eastern façade. Cyrillic, learned or cheated, is part of our daily rhythm.

After two years working in the Taylor and seeing some mention of Tolstoy or Dostoevsky on a daily basis, I decided it was time to fill the gap in my education and read some of the classics. I started with Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in Hilary term and spent Trinity term and the summer holiday reading Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

“Every person is either a Tolstoy person or a Dostoevsky

person,” one of my colleagues told me as

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Nikolai Ge, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Nikolai Ge, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

we discussed my progress.

“Well, which are you?” I asked.

“Oh, Tolstoy,” she said firmly.

Another colleague passed by—Nick, our Russian subject librarian.

“How about you?” I asked him. “Tolstoy or Dostoevsky?”

He paused. “Oh, that’s a hard one. But I have to go with Dostoevsky.”

We asked another colleague later—

Portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Trevor, who studied Russian and French as an undergraduate before pursuing a career in libraries.

“Tolstoy,” he answered, nodding enthusiastically.

One by one, we asked the rest of our staff the ultimate Russian literature desert island question: if you had to choose, would you read Tolstoy or Dostoevsky?

The results:

Tolstoy: 9

Dostoevsky: 6

Neither: 2

Abstain: 3

Interestingly, the results are reflected in our collection: we hold 1131 books related to Tolstoy and 986 to Dostoevsky, almost the same ratio. Why, then, the preference for Tolstoy?

His visual language appeals to many of us who find reading Tolstoy like watching a movie, the scenes of Natasha’s dance or Anna’s descent a vivid picture that lingers long after reading. Dostoevsky, in contrast, sends us deep into the human psyche in works that read almost like plays, with harrowing insight into fundamental truths. That depth, though engendering strong loyalty from those who choose him, is daunting for others.

I spoke to one of my Russian colleagues to see how she felt about these two pillars of her national canon.

“For us [Russians], these people are like monuments like Lenin,” she explained. Reading them, especially Dostoevsky, draws her back to a childhood spent playing on snowy streets in the dark Russian winter.

So whom does she choose?

“Chekhov,” she answered after deliberating for a while, preferring his shorter form, lively language, and humour.

A small selection of our Chekhov books

A small selection of our Chekhov books

As for me? I find myself in the majority camp choosing Tolstoy, drawn in by the empathetic way he writes women and the sweeping scale of his stories. I must admit, however, that I think of The Grand Inquisitor and Ivan’s conversation with the Devil more than any individual Tolstoy scene.

We would love to know what our readers think about this battle of the greats. Let us know on our Facebook poll!

Link to Facebook poll

—————————————

Alexandra Zaleski

Taylor Institution Library