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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

20 March 2017

Actaeon was not a voyeur

The current small exhibition about Ovid in art (primarily ceramics) at the Wallace Collection reminded me of an earlier one at the National Gallery. Here some artists of our time paid homage to Actaeon on the entirely bogus grounds that he was a voyeur, and regaled us with a mock-up of a peep-show and similar treats.

But let’s back to the text, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, book III: Actaeon was out hunting and stumbled on Diana, goddess of chastity and the hunt, bathing with her nymphs.

Actaeon MS Harley 4431

Actaeon surprising Diana at her bath, miniature from Christine de Pizan, L’Épître Othéa, part of MS Harley 4431.

In Mary Innes’s translation for Penguin Classics (1955 and much reprinted):

The nymphs, discovered in their nakedness, beat their breasts at the sight of a man ... Crowding around Diana, they sheltered her with their bodies, but the goddess was taller than they, head and shoulders above them all

Vengefully, the goddess sprinkles Actaeon with water, turning him into a stag and causing him to be killed by his hounds.

Actaeon Emblemata 12305.bbb.37 Actaeon transformed, and pursued by his own hounds, from Andreas Alciatus, Emblemata (Lyons, 1551). 12305.bbb.37

Ovid gives the message right at the start:

Fortunae crimen in illo,
non scelus invenies; quod enim scelus error habebat?
(Destiny was to blame for Actaeon’s misfortunes, not any guilt on his part; for there is nothing sinful in losing one’s way.)

Ovid himself likens himself to Actaeon in Tristia II. Explaining why the Emperor Augustus exiled him to Romania, he says “Like Actaeon, I saw something”. What we don’t know, but Ovid obviously thought Actaeon was innocent, which meant that he was innocent too.

Actaeon 833.l.1

Diana and Actaeon from Ovid, Metamporphoses (Venice, 1513) 833.l.1.

But later authorities couldn’t help wanting to put the blame on Actaeon.

Fulgentius (5th century) said that Actaeon wasted all his time on money on leisure (hunting) and was therefore consumed by his hobby.

Actaeon IB.23185

 The story of Actaeon, from Ovidio methamorphoseos vulgare, translated and allegorised by Giovanni di Bonsignore (Venice, 1497) IB.23185.

Giovanni di Bonsignore (14th century) said he turned into a stag because his love of the solitary pursuit of hunting had made his proud and anti-social, like the stag.

Camões in the Lusiads (16th century) says much the same about Actaeon, but this is interpreted by Manuel de Faria e Sousa in the 17th century as something to be applied to the young King Sebastian.


Actaeon King Sebastian 10631.c.4
 The headstrong King Sebastian of Portugal from Fray Bernardo de Brito, Elogios dos reis de Portugal (Lisbon,
1603) 10631.c.4

Headstrong young Sebastian, like Actaeon, was too keen on sports and neglectful of the need to find a wife. And of course he died young, at the battle of Alcacer Quibir, because of his hot-headedness and left Portugal without an heir, leading to what the Portuguese call the “Philippine Domination” of 1580-1640.

So, be careful when you go down to the woods.

But whatever his mistakes Actaeon was not a voyeur.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References:

Barry Taylor, ‘O mito de Actéon: interpretação e poetização’, in Mythos: a tradição mitográfica portuguesa; representações e identidade séculos XVI-XVIII, ed. Abel N. Pena (Lisbon, 2008), pp. 55-66. YF.2012.a.29085

The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Translated and with an introduction by Mary M. Innes (Harmondsworth, 1955) W.P.513/58.

Gerlinde Huber-Rebenich, Sabine Lütkemeyer, Hermann Walter, Ikonographisches Repertorium zu den Metamorphosen des Ovid : die textbegleitende Druckgraphik (Berlin, 2004-), I.1, pp. 38-39. YF.2008.b.1354