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Exploring Europe at the British Library


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28 May 2016

And yet the time will come: Ivan Franko in Memoriam

Ivan Franko (1856-1916), together with Taras Shevchenko and Lesia Ukrainka, is one of the three pillars of classical Ukrainian literature. His extraordinary life and enormous creative output are well described by Marko Robert Stech and Arkadii Zhukovsky in the Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine with a very useful bibliography for researchers at the end:

With his many gifts, encyclopedic knowledge, and uncommon capacity for work, Franko made outstanding contributions to many areas of Ukrainian culture. He was a poet, prose writer, playwright, critic, literary historian, translator, and publisher. The themes of his literary works were drawn from the life and struggle of his own people and from sources of world culture: Eastern cultures and the classical and Renaissance traditions. He was a ‘golden bridge’ between Ukrainian and world literatures.


Ivan Franko in 1886 (From Wikimedia Commons)

The death of Ivan Franko on May 28 1916 was a great blow to the whole of Ukrainian society, then part of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires. He died in his beloved Lviv, amidst the horrors of the First World War, when  Ukrainians from both empires were fighting each other.  Soon after his funeral, through the efforts of his friends and especially Mykhailo Vozniak, the League of Liberation of Ukraine in Vienna published a book Pamiaty Ivana Franka. 

Cover of Pamiaty Ivana Franka (Vienna, 1916) 10790.v.6 (An electronic version of the work is available at:

This rare book is part of our significant collection of works by and about Ivan Franko. It describes his funeral in Lviv, with speeches and reactions from all over the world. Rare photographs of the funeral are part of the book.

Franko’s funeral procession in Lviv on May 31 1916. From Pamiaty Ivana Franka, p. 67

In 1932 the Canadian priest and translator Percival Cundy, before presenting his translations of selected poems into English in A Voice from Ukrainia, wrote in the biographical sketch:

In his great epic Moses, Franko puts these words into the mouth of the prophet and nation-maker of Israel as he surveys their tents from Mount Nebo, on whose peak he was soon to die:

As thou shalt through the centuries march,
Thou’lt bear my spirit’s stamp on thee

Franko could justly apply these words to himself in the relation to his own people, the Ukrainians of Galicia, for no man in modern times so profoundly influenced, spiritually and culturally, a nation than did he.

VoiceFromUkrainiaThe title page of A Voice from Ukrainia (Roland, Manitoba, 1932) 10795.p.34.

“The spirit’s stamp” of Ivan Franko was indeed so great that it could not be ignored even by the Soviet authorities. During Soviet times most of his works were published, with special emphasis on his radical activities (Franko was imprisoned three times for political activities) and early interest in socialism. The title of one of his poems, Kameniari  (‘Stonecutters’ ), was widely used when talking about him. Yet the process of re-interpretation of Franko started as early as the mid-1980s, and continues to this day. In her two studies, the literary critic Tamara Hundorova concentrates on the artistic aspects of Franko’s works instead of the usual ideological ones. The famous modern Ukrainian writer Oksana Zabuzhko and literary scholar Volodymyr Mazepa looked at his philosophical works, and the historian from Lviv, Yaroslav Hrytsak,  re-evaluated Franko as a scholar and important political figure in Galicia. New insights about Franko as a writer of criminal stories appeared in the book Ivan Franko – maister kryminal'noho chtyva (‘Ivan Franko as master of criminal stories’; Lviv, 2006; YF.2007.a.19860).

Some recent books about  Ivan Franko from our collections 

More books, articles and PhD theses will be published this year marking the centenary of Franko’s death and 160th anniversary of his birth in August this year. I hope the year will also be marked by new translations of Franko’s works into English.  The famous British translator Vera Rich translated the poem Moisei ('Moses'), beginning with its famous  Prologue :

And yet the time will come and, radiant shining,
You’ll shake the Caucasus; one of the free nations,
With the Carpathians as your girdle twining.

You’ll set the mighty sound of freedom racing
Over the Black Sea, free-holder, well-seated,
In your own house, in your own fields’ broad spaces!

It resonates with all interested in Ukrainian studies 100 years after Franko’s death.

Olga Kerziouk, Curator  Ukrainian studies


Iaroslav Hrytsak, Prorok u svoii vitchyzni: Franko ta ioho spilnota,1856-1886. (Kyiv, 2006). YF.2007.a.20769

Tamara  Hundorova,  Nevidomyi Franko: Hrani Izmarahdu (Kyiv, 2006). YF.2007.b.3067

Tamara Hundorova, Franko ne Kameniar, Franko i Kameniar. (Kyiv, 2006). YF.2011.a.12205

Volodymyr Mazepa, Kul’turotsentryzm svitopohliadu Ivana Franka (Kyiv, 2004) YF.2006.a.3593.
Oksana Zabuzhko, Filosofiia ukrains’koi idei ta ievropeis’kyi kontekst:  Frankivskyi period (Kyiv, 1993). YA.1998.a.5115


25 May 2016

All the World’s a Stage: Shakespeare in Europe and the Americas

No writer’s work has been translated, performed and transformed by as many cultures across the world as Shakespeare's. As part of the programme of events accompanying the current British Library exhibition Shakespeare in Ten Acts, the British Library is holding a seminar ‘All the World’s a stage: Shakespeare in Europe and the Americas’ on Friday 10 June from 10.15-17.15 in the Conference Centre.

Travelling players
A troupe of travelling players in 17th-century Germany. From the Album Amicorum of Franz Hartmann, British Library MS Egerton 1222. From our Discovering Literature Shakespeare site

This study day brings together leading specialists to explore Shakespeare’s global cultural presence from Europe to the Americas via the Indian Ocean. Themes include Shakespeare's source material; postcolonial adaptations; performance on stage and film; and the cultural politics of European Shakespeare.

The programme for the study day is:

10.15-10.45 Registration; Tea/Coffee

10.45-10.55 Welcome: Janet Zmroczek (Head of European and Americas Collections, British Library)

10.55-11.40 Keynote: Presentation and Interview (Chair: Aleksandra Sakowska, Worcester)
Jerzy Limon (Gdańsk), ‘“The actors are come hither” - 400 years of English theatrical presence in Gdańsk’

Gdansk Shakespeare theatre
The Gdánsk Shakespeare Theatre 

11.40-11.45: Break

11.45-12.35 Panel 1: European Sources and Settings (Chair: Line Cottegnies, Sorbonne Nouvelle)
Stuart Gillespie (Glasgow), ‘Shakespeare’s European Sources: Epics, Essays, Romances, Novellas'
Graham Holderness (Hertfordshire), ‘Shakespeare and Venice’

Hecatommithi G.9875 titlepage
Giovanni Battista Giraldi, De gli Hecatommithi (Mondovì, 1565), G.9875-6, a collection of stories including sources of Othello and Measure for Measure, from our Discovering Literature Shakespeare site

12.35-13.00 Julian Harrison (British Library) ‘“Our Shakespeare” exhibition at the Library of Birmingham’ (Chair: Janet Zmroczek, British Library)

13.00-14.00: Lunch.  A sandwich lunch will be provided.

14.00-14.50 Panel 2: Translating The Tempest: Postcolonial Adaptations (Chair: Charles Forsdick, Liverpool/AHRC)
Philip Crispin (Hull), ‘Aimé Césaire’s Une tempête’
Michael Walling (Border Crossings), ‘Storm-tossed in the Indian Ocean - from Indian Tempest to Mauritian Toufann’

14.50 – 15.40 Panel 3: Shakespeare in Performance (Chair: Ben Schofield, King’s College London)
Paul Prescott (Warwick), ‘Bard in the USA: the Shakespeare Festival Phenomenon in North America’
Mark Burnett (Queen’s University Belfast), ‘Shakespeare on Film: Europe and Latin America’

15.40-16.00 Tea/Coffee

16.00-17.15 Roundtable: The Cultural Politics of European Shakespeare (Chair: Erica Sheen, York)
Short presentations followed by a roundtable discussion with Keith Gregor (Murcia), ‘Shakespeare in post-Francoist Spain’; Nicole Fayard (Leicester), ‘Je suis Shakespeare: The Making of Shared Identities on the French Stage’; Emily Oliver (King’s College London), ‘Shakespeare Performance and German Reunification’;  Aleksandra Sakowska (Worcester), ‘Shakespearean Journeys to and from Poland’

17.15- 18.00 Wine reception sponsored by the Eccles Centre for American Studies

The study day has been organised by the European and Americas Collections department of the British Library in partnership with the AHRC ‘Translating Cultures’ Theme, The Polish Cultural Institute, and the Eccles Centre for Americas Studies at the British Library.

You can book by following the link to our What’s On pages or by contacting the British Library Box Office ( +44 (0)1937 546546; Full price is £25 (concessions available: see ‘What’s On’ for full details).


22 May 2016

‘All happy families are alike…’? The memoirs of Ilya Tolstoy (1866-1933)

On 22 May 1866 a third child and second son was born to Leo Tolstoy and his wife Sophia. The little boy, christened Ilya, joined his elder brother Sergei and sister Tatyana in the nursery at Yasnaya Polyana, and was followed by ten more siblings, five of whom survived to adulthood.

Ilya Tolstoy family picture
The Tolstoy family in 1884; Ilya is kneeling on the left. From Ilya Tolstoy, Moi vospominaniia (Moscow, 1933) British Library X.989/28774

In a letter to a relative, written in 1872, Tolstoy described the characteristics of his six eldest children with objective frankness and unsparing attention to detail. He notes six-year-old Ilya’s robust good health, inventiveness and tender-hearted sensitivity, but also his indolence (‘fond of eating and lying still doing nothing’), hot temper and poor performance in the schoolroom. He records with foreboding, ‘Everything forbidden delights him; he recognizes it at once… If I die Ilya will come to grief, unless he has some stern guardian whom he loves to lead him by the hand.’ Tolstoy’s comments on his son’s lack of ability may well have arisen from his own efforts to teach him mathematics, Latin and Greek; later the Tolstoy children were also educated by tutors until 1881, when the family took a house in Moscow and Ilya was sent to a private gymnasium. His father had refused to sign the declaration of Ilya’s loyalty to the Tsar which was mandatory for admission to a state-run school, and his premonitions were fulfilled when Ilya left without graduating.

In fact, for the rest of his life Ilya Tolstoy proved to be something of a rolling stone, trying his hand at one career after another. After military service as an officer in the Sumy Dragoon regiment and marriage in 1888 to Sophia Filosova, he worked in a bank and then for an insurance company to support his family of five children before going in for journalism and founding the newspaper Novaya Rossiia in 1915. His assistance with his father’s relief work during the famine of 1891-92 developed his social and humanitarian conscience, and during the First World War he worked for the Red Cross. However, it was after leaving Russia for the USA in 1916 that he developed the new career for which he was to be remembered – as a writer and lecturer on his father’s life and writings.

Ilya Tolstoy and father
Ilya and his father in 1903. From Moi vospominaniia

After an initial lecture tour he went back to Russia, but quickly left again when the Bolsheviks gained power in 1917, divorced in 1918, and returned to the United States by way of Paris, settling in Connecticut with his second wife Nadezhda Perchina. Despite the popularity of his lectures, he was never solvent, and was reduced to pawning family heirlooms to keep afloat. However, he was in demand as a literary consultant and adaptor when in 1927 a film was made of Tolstoy’s novel Resurrection,  in which he even made a cameo appearance in the character of the Old Philosopher.

Tolstoy had died in 1910, and the bizarre circumstances of his death in the railway station at Astapovo after fleeing the family home in a final act of rejection, together with the unhappiness which marred his 48-year marriage, might lead readers to expect a chronicle of bitterness and discord from his son’s memoirs. In fact, though he includes descriptions of less than idyllic episodes from his childhood and adolescence, Ilya balances these with memories of his father performing as a dancing bear at a Christmas party, disguised in a coat with a fur lining turned inside out, taking his children riding and fishing, getting left behind by the steamer on a visit to Kazan, training his horses and dogs, and compiling case notes on the ‘patients’ at the ‘Yasnaya Polyana Lunatic Asylum’. He comments on the relatives and friends who provided features of various characters in Tolstoy’s novels, and describes the devotion with which his mother repeatedly copied out her husband’s frequently illegible manuscripts.

Ilya Tolstoy X.989-28774 coverCover of the 1933 edition of Moi vospominaniia

The memoirs, Moi vospominania, first appeared in 1914, and were translated shortly afterwards by George Calderon as Reminiscences of Tolstoy (London, 1914; 010790.g.50), the first of several versions in the British Library’s collections, which also include an edition of the Russian text published in Moscow in 1933, the year of Ilya’s death. He died in poverty on 11 December in New Haven, perhaps fulfilling some of his father’s misgivings about his lack of staying-power and application. However, he left behind an absorbing account, remembered when his other writings had lapsed into obscurity, which counterbalances Tolstoy’s claim in Anna Karenina that ‘all happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’, and recalls scenes from family life like those of many other parents and children, less famous than the Tolstoys but united by similar experiences and emotions.

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