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28 November 2014

‘All Horrid’ – but not all German

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One of the display cases in our current Gothic Exhibition shows a collection of books whose fame today rests largely on their being mentioned in a novel by Jane Austen (much like Kotzebue’s Lovers’ Vows, discussed in an earlier post).  These are the ‘Horrid Novels’ which Isabella Thorpe recommends to her new friend Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey as the two girls embark on a spree of gothic fiction reading.

The titles Isabella lists are:  ‘Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries.’ Unlike Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian, which the girls also read, these titles had pretty much sunk into obscurity by the time Northanger Abbey was posthumously published, and early literary critics believed that they were inventions of Austen’s, parodying typical titles of the genre. Later researchers, however, established that, although Austen (or Isabella) made some minor errors in transcribing the titles, all seven books were genuine products of the time.

However, one thing less than genuine about some of them is a claim to be of German origin. Of the seven, only Clermont offers no hint of German-ness on its title page. The Orphan of the Rhine clearly indicates a German setting, but goes no further, while the other five are all billed as ‘a German story/tale’ or ‘From the German.’ However, this is only strictly true of two: The Necromancer is an adaptation of Karl Friedrich Kahlert’s Der Geisterbanner, and The Horrid Mysteries is a translation of Carl Grosse’s Der Genius. The Castle of Wolfenbach, The Mysterious Warning and The Midnight Bell are only ‘German stories’ insofar as their action is at least partially set in Germany – and this was probably not all that the authors meant to imply

Castle of Wolfenbach-titlepage
Title-page of The Castle of Wolfenbach, [not] a German story. (London, 1794) British Library C.192.a.187

Claiming a false (and often foreign) origin for a work of gothic fiction was not uncommon. The first gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, purported to be translated from an Italian manuscript (and the device of an invented source goes back further still). Indeed, the original German editions of both Der Geisterbanner and Der Genius claim to be based on other sources: Danish accounts collected by ‘Lorenz Flammenberg’ and the ‘papers of the Marquis C* von G**’ respectively.

Grosse Genius (Gothic)
The German title-page of Carl von Grosse, Der Genius (Halle, 1791) 12547.b.22.

But why such a German flavour in a list of English gothic novels? After all, the gothic novel began with Walpole’s supposedly Italian tale, and Ann Radcliffe’s novels also tend towards Italian settings. Italy, France and other southern, Catholic countries of Europe were popular backdrops for British gothic writers since sinister, conspiratorial monks, nuns and priests could be introduced as villains, pandering to the prejudices of a Protestant audience. Yet a German source was clearly a sign of gothic credibility for readers like Catherine and Isabella.

One reason is that there was a definite German influence on English gothic fiction. This came partly via the works of the Sturm und Drang movement and partly from the translations of the more popular and less literary ‘Schauerromane’ (literally ‘shudder novels’), themselves often influenced by British gothic models. (The false translation traffic could go both ways, too: a number of German gothic novels were ascribed to Ann Radcliffe in the first years of the 19th century.)  This German influence was not always welcomed. In 1807 the writer Charles Maturin wrote of literary ‘horrors’ reaching British shores on a ‘plague-ship of German letters’. Two years earlier The Critical Review had rather sarcastically described Matthew Lewis’s The Bravo of Venice as a ‘Germanico-terrific Romance’. The Bravo was an adaptation of a real German work, Heinrich Zschokke’s Abällino, although the reviewer, ‘not acquainted with the original’, and obviously on his guard against false claims of translation from the German, casts doubt on this. Nonetheless he still has some harsh words for the ‘writers of the German school’ and their constant desire to shock.

Mysterious warning frontispiece
Gothic goings-on in the frontispiece of The Mysterious Warning (London, 1796) 1153.f.32.

Apart from actual literary influences, the fact that ‘Gothic’ was still a synonym for ‘Germanic’ or Teutonic’ was no doubt another factor in the identification of Germany with things gothic, as was the Germans’ continued use of ‘gothic’ type. Interestingly, the Minerva Press, which published six of Austen’s ‘Horrid Novels’ and many other gothic works, printed its name in gothic type on its title pages – an early example of this kind of typeface being used as a kind of branding for the demonic and supernatural.

But perhaps another, although less easily demonstrable, explanation is that Germany simply lent itself more readily to gothic imagery in the popular imagination, with all the necessary forests, mountains and mediaeval buildings to furnish the scenery. Italy, despite its suspect Catholicism and its fair share of mountains and bandits, also carried connotations of fine art, classical civilisation and the Renaissance, all the antithesis of gothic. Perhaps even the idea of lowering North European skies as opposed to the sunshine of southern climes played a part: it’s harder to be gothic under a blue and sunny sky.

The continuing identification of German and gothic probably explains why Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein, despite coming from rational, Protestant, French-speaking Geneva, has a German surname, and conducts his anatomical experiments while studying in Germany.  And it survives to this day, not least in the use of gothic lettering (and oddly superfluous umlauts) in the marketing of heavy metal and gothic rock bands.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

References/Further reading:

The seven ‘Horrid Novels’ as displayed in the current British Library exhibition are:

Eliza Parsons, The Castle of Wolfenbach, a German Story (London,  1794) C.192.a.187

Regina Maria Roche, Clermont, a Tale (London, 1798) 1152.h.1.

Eliza Parsons, The Mysterious Warning, a German Tale (London, 1796) 1153.f.32.

Karl Friedrich Kahlert, The Necromancer: or The Tale of the Black Forest: founded on facts, translated from the German of Lawrence Flammenberg by Peter Teuthold. (London, 1794)  C.175.i.8.

Francis Lathom The midnight bell, a German story, founded on incidents in real life… (London, 1798) C.117.ff.31.

Eleanor Sleath, The Orphan of the Rhine, a Romance (Dublin, 1802) Loan from University College Cork Library

Carl von Grosse Horrid Mysteries, a story from the German of the Marquis von Grosse, translated by P. Will (London, 1796) Loan from the Taylor Institution Library, Oxford

 

Michael Sadleir, Things Past (London, 1944) 12359.f.26.

Patrick Bridgwater, The German Gothic Novel in Anglo-German Perspective (Amsterdam, 2013) ZA.9.a.5563(165)

 

26 November 2014

Are you afraid of the fairies? You should be.

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A visit to the Gothic exhibition and reading reviews of Marina Warner’s latest book, Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale  have spirited me away to the popular literature which Dillon’s University Bookshop in Torrington Place used to keep in the section labelled “Folk and Fairy”.

The corpus of old Spanish folk ballads (in Spanish, romances) is vast. They are known from early printed books, from the oral tradition (recorded from the 19th to the 21st centuries) of communities including the Sephardi of Salonika (victims of the Nazis) and North Africa (still surviving) and from a tiny number of medieval manuscripts.

The assumption is that they were conveyed by word of mouth from illiterate poet to illiterate listeners and finally consigned to paper. It is also sometimes thought that ballads started out as reports of the latest news of battles etc. fought on the frontier with Moorish Andalusia (the parallel is often drawn with the English-Scottish border ballads). And it was also commonly thought that Spanish literature, like the Spanish people, had a granite strain of realism in it, unlike the exaggerations of the French.

There is also a huge body of ballads composed by learned authors such as Góngora and García Lorca.

They’re often studied on Spanish courses in British schools and universities, as they are usually quite short, the language is direct and the themes of love, sex and violence are of immediate interest.

Special attention is paid to the ballads on magical themes, but these are only a tiny proportion of the corpus. Smith’s student anthology has 15 ‘novelesque’ ballads (nos. 56-70), of which only two feature otherworldly beings.

My two favourites are Conde Arnaldos and La Infantina.

On the morning of St John’s Day (the summer solstice) Count Arnaldos is out hunting with his hawk on his hand on the coast. He spies a faery-ship: its sails of silk and its rigging of gauze, its anchor of silver and its decking of coral.  Aboard a sailor’s song is so powerful that it calms the waves of the sea and draws the birds to settle on the mast. Arnaldos says to the sailor: ‘Tell me your song.’  The reply: ‘I do not tell my song but to him who comes with me’ (‘Yo no digo esta canción / sino a quien conmigo va.’)

The ballads often break off at a point of mystery.  Did Arnaldos ever find out what the song was, and at what price?  

Ship (BT)
Sailing ship from Llibre de Consolat dels fets maritims … (Barcelona, 1627) British Library 501.g.6.

My second has an explicit ending, and it’s not good news:

A knight goes hunting: his dogs grow tired and he loses his hawk. He takes cover under an oak (are you listening, Sir James Frazer?) and in the highest branches he sees a little princess (infantina).  ‘Do not be alarmed, Sir Knight, I am the daughter of the King and Queen of Castile: seven [NB] fairies [fadas] put a spell on me when I was in my nurse’s arms to spend seven [NB] years alone on this mountain. I beg you, Sir Knight, take me into your company, if you wish as your wife, or, if not, as your mistress [llévesme en tu compañía,/ si quisieres por mujer, / si no, sea por amiga].’  The knight asks her to wait while he consults his mother. She replies: ‘Woe be to the knight who leaves the girl alone.’  

Hawking (BT)
A king out hawking, from British Library MS Royal 10 E IV

Mother advises him to take her as his mistress (she obviously doesn’t want a fairy in the family).  When he returns, the knight finds that the princess is with another knight and his company.  He faints, and when he comes round the last words he hears are from the fairy princess: ‘The knight who loses such a thing deserves a mighty punishment. I will be the judge, I will be the executioner: cut off his feet and hands and drag him through the town.’

Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies

References

Harriet Goldberg, Motif-index of Folk Narratives in the Pan-Hispanic Romancero (Tempe, AZ, 2000)  5534.264500 vol 206

Colin Smith (ed.), Spanish Ballads, 2nd edn. (Bristol, 1996), nos. 67 and 70.  YC.1996.a.5047.

24 November 2014

When Cavafy met Marinetti

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Constantine Cavafy (1866-1933) is the best-loved modern Greek poet whose life and work has inspired a legion of artists, men of letters, and film-makers. Already a legend during his lifetime, friends and admirers held regular literary gatherings in his apartment in Alexandria, where foreign visitors also paid their respects. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944) was one of those visitors and his meeting with Cavafy must count as one of the most surprising encounters in literary history, comparable to the friendship between T.S. Eliot and Groucho Marx  or the encounter between Guy de Maupassant and Algernon Charles Swinburne.

CM Marinetti portrait      CM Cavafy photograph
Marinetti (left) and Cavafy (right) ca. 1930

The two men were temperamentally very different. Cavafy was retiring, patient and gentle, Marinetti brash, ebullient, theatrical. They were both united, however, in their love for Alexandria, their shared birthplace. Marinetti was introduced to Cavafy by Atanasio Catraro, the scion of a distinguished Triestine family (he was a great-grandson of Ciriaco Catraro, the founder of the Stock exchange in Trieste). A friend of Cavafy and an habitué of his salon, Catraro translated some of Cavafy’s poems into Italian and in the 1960s wrote a memoir about Cavafy, published only in a Greek translation in 1970.

The meeting with Cavafy came about in 1930 during Marinetti’s visit Alexandria to give a series of lectures on Futurism to the city’s Italian community. Marinetti’s account of the meeting was first published in the Gazzetta del popolo in Turin on 2 May 1930 and was included in the volume Il fascino dell’Egitto, a collection of articles about his visit to Egypt, first published in 1933. Another account is given  in Catraro’s book and it was probably Catraro who provided Marinetti with information about the Greek writers discussed.

In his article Marinetti evokes, with a few deft strokes, the atmosphere of Cavafy’s salon. The head of the poet is maliciously described as that of “the small, grey head of a sweet and intelligent tortoise whose slim arms are rowing out of its immense Greco-Roman shell of learned shadow”;  the room has dark red velvet walls and is hung with paintings encrusted with “the dust of centuries”. After whisky and soda and the traditional cheese meze are served, conversation begins with Cavafy praising Futurism and the merits of free verse. Marinetti points out  that Futurist poetry goes much further than free verse, into the simultaneism of words-in-freedom which are the expression of “our great mechanical civilization of speed.”

The ensuing discussion about modern Greek literature shows how French literature, especially poetry, was, at the time, the yardstick used in assessing the merits or otherwise of all literary works. Kostēs Palamas, the great rival of Cavafy, is deemed to be verbose like Victor Hugo and sentimental like Lamartine, Miltiadēs Malakasēs a cross between Alfred de Musset and Sully-Prudhomme, Lampros Porfiras  a cross between Baudelaire and Verlaine, the sonnets of Giannēs Gryparēs like those of José Maria de Heredia. Contemporary Greek playwrights like Grēgorēs Xenopoulos and Paulos Nirvanas are deemed to be under the spell of Ibsen. By contrast,  Spyros Melas  and his “Scena libera” (Eleutherē Skēnē), headed by Marika Kotopoulē (“the Greek Eleonora Duse”), are praised for their performances of French avant-garde plays.

The conversation also touches on the merits of Demotic language in poetry, the language of Giannēs Psycharēs, its dynamism and its use of foreign words, especially Italian ones. Cavafy recites, for the benefit of Marinetti, some verses where Italian words like ‘porta’, ‘cappello’, ‘calze’, ‘guanti’, ‘carriera’ are harmoniously incorporated into the Greek text as necessary neologisms whereas English, French or Spanish words would  have a jarring effect.

The assembly then  asks Cavafy to recite one of his new poems. He finally obliges with “God abandons Antony”, his slow recitation accompanied by gestures tracing minute arabesques in the air.

In Catraro’s account Marinetti, pacing up and down and gesticulating, filled the room with his presence, like an actor on stage. He suddenly declared Cavafy a Futurist, an honour the poet gently declined, remarking that the little he knew about Futurism made him think that he would be considered a passéist. Marinetti conceded that Cavafy was, to a certain extent, a passéist in that he was not impressed by the beauty of machines and he still used verbs and punctuation: a passéist in form but intellectually a Futurist, like Michelangelo, Leonardo, Wagner and all other artists who revolted against tradition.

Marinetti’s article omits his unsuccessful attempt to proselytise Cavafy and it ends on an unexpectedly lyrical and wistful note. After leaving Cavafy he drives to the beautiful gardens of the Villa Antoniadis. In the full moon, he hears the song of nightingales which are, however, interrupted by the noise of machines demolishing the old villa to erect in its place a modern one destined for visiting foreign sovereigns. In a typical Marinetti simile, the funereal crash of demolitions is likened to the sound of exploding grenades. When the noise finally dies out, Marinetti movingly concludes his article by assimilating the landscape of Alexandria to the poetry of its great poet: “the Mahmoudieh Canal is  full of liquid nostalgia-inducing moons, like the free verses – modern and at the same time ancient – of Cavafy, the Greek poet of Alexandria.”

 Antoniades Gardens
The Gardens of the Villa Antoniadis in the 1920s, from Alec R. Cury, Alexandria: how to see it  (4th edition; Alexandria, 1925) British Library 10094.b.7.

The Villa Antoniadis, where Marinetti had his nocturnal reverie, was built in 1860, as a miniature Palace of Versailles, by Sir John Antoniadis (1818-1895), a wealthy Alexandrian of Greek origins, and in 1918 was bequeathed to the city of Alexandria by his son together with the family’s collection of Egyptian and Graeco-Roman antiquities. At the time of Marinetti’s visit its gardens formed part of  a green area which also included zoological and botanical gardens. In antiquity this area was a suburb of the city, the residents of which included Callimachus, the librarian of of the ancient Library of Alexandria. Appropriately, the villa and its gardens now form part of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.  Cavafy's apartment is now a Cavafy museum

Chris Michaelides, Curator Italian and Modern Greek Studies

References:

Atanazio Katraro, Ho philos mou ho Kavaphēs  (Athens, 1970). Awaiting shelfmark

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti,  Il fascino dell’Egitto. (Milano, 1981) X. 809/66786