THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

Introduction

Discover the British Library's extensive collections from continental Europe and read news and views on European culture and affairs from our subject experts and occasional guest contributors. Read more

29 March 2017

Celebrating the Stefan Zweig Collection

Zweig in 1912
Stefan Zweig in 1912

You’d be forgiven for thinking the British Library’s Stefan Zweig Study Day, which took place on Monday 20 March, would be a sombre occasion. Beginning with Klemens Renoldner, esteemed Director of the Stefan Zweig Centre in Salzburg, and his presentation entitled ‘When Europe was destroyed’ and ending with translator and poet Will Stone’s readings from the essay collection, Messages from a Lost World: Europe on the Brink (London, 2016; ELD.DS.115440), the programme might have struck a warning rather than warming tone. Yet the Library’s day of events brought together experts and fans – old and new – in a true celebration of Stefan Zweig and his collection of manuscripts around the 75th anniversary of his death.

Zweig Study Day KJ
Dr Kristian Jensen, British Library Head of Collections and Curation opening the Study Day

In the sold-out Eliot Room of the Library’s Knowledge Centre, guests were presented a programme that united the very latest research – namely on Zweig’s personal library, and on the relationship between Richard Strauss and Zweig –, the anecdotal and personal aspects of Zweig’s experiences across Europe, as well as the writer’s own words in the most recent translations of his more political essays. As Will Stone read from the concluding essay in Messages from a Lost World, ‘In this Dark Hour’, written in 1941, the day approached its end with the lines: ‘Darkness must fall before we are aware of the majesty of the stars above our heads’.

As darkness fell on Monday and on the study day, the shining stars of the Stefan Zweig Collection took centre stage at the Library’s ‘Evening of Music and Poetry from the Zweig Collection’. As Samuel West spoke the first lines in the role of Zweig himself, the audience was welcomed into a different era.

Zweig_SamuelWest
Samuel West as Stefan Zweig (photograph © Samantha Lane Photography)

In the words of West, and Zweig, following the performances of Schubert’s ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’ and ‘An die Musik’ by soprano Ilona Domnich and baritone Simon Wallfisch respectively, accompanied on the paino by Simon Callghan, we forgot ‘time and space in our passionate enthusiasm, truly transported to a better world’.

Zweig_Baritone
Baritone Simon Wallfisch and pianist Simon Callaghan (photograph © Samantha Lane Photography)

Our performers navigated the often turmoiled life of Stefan Zweig through diary entries and letters, piercing the darkness of war and exile with moments of hope and friendship, and by bringing to life the sublime moments of creativity present in the manuscript collection.

Zweig MS 56 Das Veilchen
W.A. Mozart, ‘Das Veilchen’, a setting of words by Goethe (Zweig MS 56), one of the pieces performed at the evening event

From Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, via Keats, Verlaine and Wilde, to Mahler and Richard Strauss, Europe’s cultural heritage was on show, so that we for a moment could only share Zweig’s feeling that in the collection was the whole universe. As Zweig exited the stage, disillusioned with collecting and with a Europe lost to him forever, it was left for Ilona Domnich to bid us goodnight and to let the darkness fall once again with Strauss’s ‘Beim Schlafengehen’.

Zweig_Soprano
Soprano Ilona Domnich and Simon Callaghan (photograph © Samantha Lane Photography)

We thank all those involved in bringing the Zweig Collection to life and we hope to become aware once more in the near future of the majesty of those stars above our heads and in our collections.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Collaborative Doctoral Student, British Library / University of Bristol

The Catalogue of the Literary and Historical Manuscripts from the British Library Stefan Zweig Collection is now published and can be purchased through BL Publishing. A display of manuscripts from the Zweig Collection will be in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library Gallery until 11 June.

27 March 2017

Hommage to the French Resistance: two recently donated books

Dr Catherine Delano-Smith, former reader in historical geography at the University of Nottingham, and now Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research in the School of Advanced Studies at the University of London, donated two books to the British Library in spring 2015 relating to the French Resistance and its fighters in the Second World War.

The books originally came from the library of André Canivez (1909-1981), professor of philosophy at the University of Strasbourg. André Canivez was related to Dr Delano-Smith by marriage, as her mother’s sister was his second wife, Mouza Raskolnikov. Her first husband was Fedor Raskolnikov (1892-1939), a Bolshevik and eminent Russian politician who went into exile to France in 1938 and died the following year in unclear circumstances. Mouza had spent the rest of the Second World War hiding in the Massif Central at Treignac. She married Canivez at the end of the hostilities and moved to Strasbourg with him. André Canivez had been a prisoner of war and taken to a camp when France capitulated; he survived his POW camp experiences but was left in very poor health.

Dr Delano-Smith and her mother visited the couple and, after her mother’s death in 1978, Catherine returned to Strasbourg regularly to visit Mouza, who was by then suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. After Mouza’s death, Catherine inherited part of André Canivez’s library and decided to donate the above books. She supplemented them with a photograph of an unnamed French Resistance fighter (without a blindfold) taken just before his execution. She feels that this picture was of significant importance to André Canivez as it used to hang in his study. This picture has always been a mystery and despite extensive research it has never been possible to identify the man.

French Resistance Temoins half-title
Half-title page of  Les Témoins qui se firent Egorger ([s.l.], 1946)  RF.2015.b.32

The first donation, entitled Les Témoins qui se firent Egorger, is an account of conditions in the concentration camps in Germany and Poland, and also of life in the French Resistance. It is a touching tribute to all those who died in horrific circumstances. The book is enriched with many photographs, none too horrific to look at but sufficient to bring home the terrible conditions these men and women endured. As well as many anonymous pictures there are also tributes to specific Resistance fighters who fought for their country. In addition to the current edition, 500 copies were printed for the families of the deceased. The A4 size photograph has been inserted in the British Library copy at the request of Dr Delano-Smith.

French Resistance Temoins women
Portraits of women from the Resistance who died in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, from Les Témoins qui se firent Egorger

The second donation, Geoles Allemandes (Loos 1942-1943) (Avesnes-sur-Help, 1945) is a fictionalised account by Dr Denis Cordonnier, who was detained in the prison of Loos in northern France for a year and released before the end of the war. Whilst in prison he had promised his fellow Resistance prisoners that if he was released he would write a novel testifying to their sufferings but also celebrating the bravery and patriotism of these men who had been ready to give their lives for their country. Geoles Allemandes (Loos 1942-1943) is the fruit of this promise. Names were changed, but events and characters closely reflected reality. The story is narrated by a Dr Duval who through his practitioner’s experience, his commitment to the Resistance, and his shrewd analysis of the human mind, is the perfect person to depict the effect of incarceration on the prisoners at Loos. Without lapsing into pathos, it is a very sensitive and realistic account.

 French Resistance geoles allemandes1   French Resistance geoles allemandes (Canivez)
Cover and title-page (inscribed to André Canivez), from, Geoles Allemandes (Loos 1942-1943) (Avesnes-sur-Help, 1945)

These two donations were very timely, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and are a valuable addition to the British Library’s French literature of the war. These two volumes are not only a poignant testimony to the horrors of the Second World War, but also a celebration of the Maquisards and a reminder of how much France owes to the French Resistance.

Annick Mann, Quality Assurance, Content and Metadata Processing

23 March 2017

From Cubism to concentration camp: the life and death of Josef Čapek

Many English speakers who claim that they do not know a word of Czech would be surprised to hear that at least one has found a firm place in their vocabulary: robot. Those who are aware of its origins might confidently state that it owed them to Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), first performed in 1920. However, he declared that he had merely given it currency, and the term had actually been coined by his elder brother Josef Čapek (1887-1945).

CapekSelf-portrait Self-portrait from Co má člověk z umění a jiné úvahy (Prague, 1946) 07812.m.41.

The two brothers had been born in the Bohemian town of Hronov as the sons of a doctor, and enjoyed a happy childhood there with their older sister Helena, who later remembered them affectionately in her memoir Moji milí bratři (‘My dear brothers’: Prague, 1962; 11880.r.19). All three siblings showed talent as writers from an early age, but Josef also displayed a gift for painting and drawing, and it was as an artist that he found his true vocation, studying at the Uměleckoprůmyslová škola in Prague and the Académie Colarossi in Paris. In later life he often illustrated the writings of Karel and Helena, but the paintings which initially made his name were in a very different style with a strong Cubist element, even in portrayals of Czech peasant life which recall the angular and bizarrely-coloured figures who people Chagall’s Vitebsk.

CapekHnedakrajinaJosef Čapek, Hnědá krajina (1936) from Josef Čapek, ed. Emil Filla and Bedřich Fučik  (Prague, 1937) X.0423/14.(63.)

Josef possessed considerable creative versatility, however, and developed not only a variety of idioms appropriate to the authors whose works he illustrated but a literary career of his own. He collaborated with Karel on the play Ze života hmyzu (‘The Insect Play’: Prague, 1921; Cup.408.z.53). Its satirical parallels between human society and that of various species of insects, from the bourgeois Crickets to the totalitarian world of the Ants, were universally applicable, and two years later it was translated by Paul Selver and ‘adapted for the English stage’ as The Life of the Insects (London, 1923; 11758.a.40.) Under his own name he published the utopian play Země mnoha jmen (‘The Land of Many Names’), which was also translated into English in 1923. However, one of his best-loved works was a charming collection of tales about a dog and cat who set up house together, Povídaní o pejskovi a kočičce (‘The Tale of Pup and Puss’), which is still a firm favourite with Czech children.

CAPEKPOVIDANINEWTitle-page from Povídaní o pejskovi a kočičce (Prague, 1929) X.992/1488)

He also had the capacity to provide humorous illustrations which matched the style of the comic authors such as Eduard Bass as well as Karel’s fairy tales and stories for young readers; though both brothers married, Josef had only one daughter, Alena, and Karel no children, but they were both adept at creating books for them whose wit and fantasy were in no way inferior to their works for adults.

However, as the 1930s progressed, political events provided sharper and bleaker matter for Josef to portray. He had had many years of experience as a journalist, initially as a critic and the editor of various art periodicals, including Umělecký měsíčník (Prague, 1911-14; ZA.9.b.1513), the journal of the Skupina výtvarných umělců (Group of Representational Artists), which he had co-founded in 1911. From 1918 to 1921 he acted as editor of Národní listy (MFM.MF641) which he left to spend 18 years as the editor and art critic of Lidové noviny (MFM.MF623). The caricatures which he provided for the newspaper became increasingly pointed and bitter in the period leading up to the annexation of Czechoslovakia by the Nazis in 1938, and on 1 September 1939 he was seized and imprisoned by the Gestapo. Eight days later he was transferred to Dachau, and thence to Buchenwald, where he spent two and a half years. His artistic gifts led him to be assigned to a calligraphic workshop where, along with other artists including Emil Filla, he was given the task of painting the family trees of SS officers.

CapekDiktatorskieBotyA drawing from the cycle Diktátorské boty (‘The Boots of the Dictator’: 1937), reproduced in Josef Čapek, ed. Emil Filla and Bedřich Fučik  (Prague, 1937) X.0423/14.(63).

His creative spirit remained undaunted even after his removal to Sachsenhausen on 26 June 1942, where he not only translated English, Spanish and Norwegian poetry but wrote and illustrated a long poem dedicated to his brother Karel and circulated further poems in manuscript. However, on 25 February 1945 he was moved yet again – this time to Bergen-Belsen, where typhus had broken out. In his weakened state after five years of incarceration Josef soon fell victim to the disease, and although some witnesses claimed that he was still alive in April, he died shortly before the camp was liberated, and as his body was never recovered he was officially declared in 1948 to have died on 30 April 1947. Karel had died at Christmas 1938, having contracted pneumonia after working in his beloved garden, and with his spirit crushed by the fate of his country; he is buried in Prague’s Vyšehrad cemetery, where a monument also commemorates the brother whose last resting-place remains unknown.

Perhaps less well known in the English-speaking world than his brother, Josef Čapek deserves to be remembered on the 130th anniversary of his birth for the original and many-sided vitality of an artistic spirit which remained unquenched even in the grim circumstances of his final months.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Services