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

14 November 2018

Lady Paget and Serbia

The Serbian community in Britain recently commemorated the 60th anniversary of the death of Louise, Lady Paget and celebrated her life and her work for Serbia.

Lady Paget (1881-1958) is known for her humanitarian and hospital work in the Balkans during the First World War. Among the Serbs, she is remembered as a best friend in need.

She arrived in Belgrade in 1910 with her husband Sir Ralph Paget who served there as British Minister to Serbia. Her early hospital work in this country began during the Balkan Wars (1912-13). While in Serbia, Lady Paget’s humanitarian engagement was closely associated with a Serbian national charitable organisation called the League of Serbian Women (Kolo srpskih sestara).

I Skopje From W. Mead, ‘With a British hospital in Serbia. The experiences of Lady Paget’s unit at Skoplje’, in C. Roberts (ed.), The World’s Work (London, 1915), pp. 243–258. P.P.6018.ra.

At the beginning of the First World War Lady Paget was among a group of Balkan experts and Serbian friends in London, who founded a charity for wounded and sick people in Serbia, named the Serbian Relief Fund. She was soon put in charge of the first Serbian Relief Fund’s hospital, which arrived in Skopje in November 1914.

II WoundedFrom Mead, op. cit.

The hospital workload during the first two months was extremely demanding and challenging. The epidemic of typhus, which spread rapidly throughout the country like wildfire, was to assume serious proportions in the Serbian Relief Fund’s hospital in Skopje too. In Serbia half a million people suffered from this epidemic and over 100,000 died from infectious diseases.

  III Typhus Colony
The Typhus Colony in Skopje. From Mead, op. cit.

To fight typhus, Lady Paget’s hospital arranged a group of buildings known as the Typhus Colony in Skopje. This were soon to become – thanks to its organisation, knowledgeable staff and efficient scheme for isolating patients – a model fever hospital for the whole of the country, despite difficult general conditions in Skopje.

IV Typhus Ward Typhus Ward. From Mead, op. cit.

Lady Paget and other members of the staff went down with typhus themselves but, despite all the hardships and dangers, the Serbian Relief Fund’s hospital in Skopje held the proud record of not having lost a single member of its British staff, all of whom were nursed back to health at the Typhus Colony in Skopje.

V Typhus Nurses From Mead, op. cit.

At the time of Lady Paget’s departure from Skopje in 1915 a Serbian tribute appeared in a local paper which read: “The members of Lady Paget’s mission have left with us the happiest memories. Our thanks and our gratitude for their work of devotion can have no limits, for they have done far, far more than we could ever have dared to ask or to expect. The Serbian race will never have words enough to express its gratitude to these members of a nation, the humanity of which has always been a tradition.”

VII Lady Paget leaving SkopjeLady Paget leaving Skopje. From The World’s Work Vol. 26, no. 153. 

VIII People's Farewell Crowds at Lady Paget’s departure from Skopje. From Lousa Paget, With Our Serbian Allies (London, 1915). 09080.b.64.

After the First World War Lady Paget led a quiet life with her husband in Kent before moving to Warren House, her late father’s mansion at Kingston Hill, Kingston upon Thames. During the Second World War she had Warren House turned into a convalescent home for wounded soldiers who were treated at the Kingston Hospital.

IX Warren HouseWarren House, Kingston upon Thames. From Spomenica Ledi PedĆŸet (Melbourne, 1959). P.P.7615.h.

Warren House also became a friendly meeting place for Serbian exiles during and after the Second World War. The number of Serbian displaced persons and refugees in Britain in 1948 amounted to about 10,000 people. These were mostly former prisoners of war and students. Lady Paget supported a large number of Serbian students both in Britain and abroad. According to a contemporary Serbian account she spent a fortune on their education.

Irinej Djordjević, Bishop of Dalmatia and former president of the Society of Great Britain and America in Yugoslavia, was among the first post-war refugees whom Lady Paget brought to London to support the mission of the Serbian church in Britain.

Next to the Yugoslav King Peter II and his mother Queen Mary, Lady Paget was one of the greatest benefactors of the Serbian Church of St Sava in London.

X Lady Paget and Slobodan Jovanovic At the dedication service on the occasion of the opening of the Serbian Church of St. Sava in London on 29 June 1952. Lady Paget and Professor Slobodan Jovanović, the prime minister of the Royal Yugoslav Government in exile in London 1942-43. From Spomenica Ledi PedĆŸet.

After the First World War generations in Serbia venerated the name of Lady Paget and a street in Belgrade was named after her. A generation that lost their country in the Second World War created a lasting tribute in Spomenica Ledi PedĆŸet (‘The Memorial to Lady Paget’) published after her death. One of the testimonies published in the Memorial summed up the life of Lady Paget in one sentence: “For her, everything was about work, but her work was in the shadows.”

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

12 November 2018

Signed by the artist: the free and honest life of Oscar Rabin

On 8 November 2018, the exhibition ‘Two Ways’ presenting Oscar Rabin and Tatyana Lysak-Polischuk opened at the Florence branch of the St. Petersburg State Academic Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, named after Ilya Repin. From the news, we also learned that the 90-year old Oscar Rabin had died one day earlier in a Florence hospital.

Image 1- Painted life
Arkadii NedelÊč, Oskar Rabin: narisovannaia zhiznÊč (‘Oscar Rabin: the life that has been painted’; Moscow, 2012) YF.2013.a.116

Rabin was born in Moscow to a family of doctors. Both of his parents had died before Oscar reached adulthood, so the teenager had to learn to provide for himself. Sometimes living in slums and earning money by hard manual and unskilled labour, Rabin kept studying fine art first at the art studio led by poet, composer and artist Evgenii Kropivnitskii and later at higher education institutions in Riga and Moscow. Although Rabin’s talent was recognised by his teachers and peers, he was soon expelled from the course, when started deviating from socialist realism. Having married Kropivnitskii’s daughter Valentina, who developed into an original artist in her own right, Oscar was also close to his first teacher and shared his ideological and artistic views. In the late 1950s, several young nonconformist artists formed the so called Lianozovo group with Kropivnitskii and his family, including Valentina, Oscar and his son Lev (1922-1994) at the heart of it.

Image 1a - Lianozovo
‘Lianozovo Kingdom’, reproduced in Oscar Rabine (St Petersburg, 2007) LD.31.b.4101

Fresh and naive pictures by Rabin were the first manifestations of Soviet pop-art.

Dustbin-Helicopters
Works of 1958. Reproduced in Oscar Rabine (2007)

In the 1960s, Rabin managed to earn his living by illustrating small books of poetry, but soon foreign art critics and collectors took interest in his works, which brought him financial benefit and international fame, but at the same time unwelcome and intrusive attention of the Soviet authorities. The first time Rabin’s pictures were exhibited abroad was in London in 1964. This show was followed by his first personal exhibition at Grosvenor Gallery. At the same time, at home his paintings were criticised for being ‘depressive’, ‘squalid’, ‘repulsive’ and ‘lacking positive socialist message’. After Rabin took part in the famous Bulldozer Exhibition, he was forced to leave the Soviet Union and from 1977 lived in Paris. In June 1978 his Soviet citizenship was revoked, which was a common practice exercised by the KGB toward dissidents. Passports and visas are re-occurring motives of Rabin’s pictures, telling the story of an individual and the country, which does not accept her most talented sons and daughters, only because they wanted to be free and honest.

Image 3 - Passport
‘Passport N 2’. Reproduced in Oscar Rabine (2007)

Free and honest, Rabin was all his life. After the collapse of the USSR, Rabin’s art was also mistreated as being too political and formal and only in the 21st century were his works given full acceptance in Russia. During his life, Rabin had nearly 30 personal exhibitions and his pictures are held in big state and private collections. In the British Library, we have catalogues of Rabin’s major exhibitions and books about him, which can be found in our online catalogue, including several copies signed by the artist himself just in 2016.

Image 4a

Image 4
Cover and signed title-page from Oscar Rabine (2007)

 Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

Further reading and illustrations:

Interviews with and article about Oscar Rabin illustrated by his works:

https://www.izbrannoe.com/news/iskusstvo/oskar-rabin-ya-za-elitarnost-v-iskusstve/
https://loveread.ec/read_book.php?id=70741&p=40
https://newtimes.ru/articles/detail/144324

Poems by Evgenii Kropivnitskii: https://oloosson.com/yy/kropiv/kropiv.htm

Evgenii Kropivnitskii, PechalÊčno ulybnutÊčsia...: (stikhi i proza) ([Paris], 1977) X.908/83734

EvgeniÄ­ KropivnitskiÄ­, ZemnoÄ­ uiut: izbrannye stikhi (Moscow, 1989) YA.1992.a.21972

EvgeniÄ­ KropivnitskiÄ­, Izbrannoe : 736 stikhotvoreniÄ­ + drugie materialy, [predislovie IU.B. Orlitskogo; sostavlenie i kommentariÄ­ I.A. AkhmetÊčeva] (Moscow, 2004) YF.2005.a.21248

09 November 2018

The gentle giant of Russian literature: Ivan Turgenev

The life and career of one of the greatest 19th-century Russian novelists sprang – quite literally – from small beginnings. Born on 9 November 1818 and baptized Ivan, the middle son of Sergei Turgenev, a cavalry officer, and his wife Varvara was notable as a child for his diminutive stature; only his unusually large head indicated that he would develop both physically and intellectually into one of the giants of his age.

Young Turgenev X902-218
Turgenev as a young man, from Jules Mourier, Ivan SerguĂ©iĂ©vitch TourguĂ©neff Ă  SpasskoĂ© (St Petersburg, 1899) X.902/218.

Despite a wealthy and privileged upbringing on the family estate at Spasskoe in the province of Orel’, the three young brothers did not enjoy an idyllic childhood. Varvara Petrovna adopted a harsh approach to their upbringing, employing strict tutors and inflicting severe beatings on her sons with her own hands. Turgenev later claimed that he had not one happy memory of his early years, and on one occasion packed a bundle and tried to run away, only to be persuaded to return by his German tutor. His father was well known as a womanizer, and Turgenev’s complex relationship with his mother, his parents’ unhappy marriage and his teenage infatuation with his father’s young mistress Zinaida, reflected in his novel First Love, permanently affected his own ability to form relationships and ensured that he never married.

Spasskoe X.902-218
Turgenev’s house at Spasskoe, from Ivan SerguĂ©iĂ©vitch TourguĂ©neff Ă  SpasskoĂ©

However, there were other sources of warmth and attention at Spasskoe: the kindness which Ivan received from the gamekeepers, who taught him the habits of wildfowl and how to handle a gun, and from his father’s valet Fyodor Lobanov, from whom he learnt to read and write Russian, inspired him with a love of nature, respect for the Russian peasant and hatred of serfdom. This contrasted with the influence of German idealism which he assimilated when, in 1827, the family moved to Moscow for the sake of the boys’ education. He had already begun to write verse which soon assumed the colours of the Russian ‘pseudo-sublime’ school, and while studying at the universities of Moscow, St. Petersburg and Berlin, travelling through Italy and Switzerland, and forging friendships with Nikolai Stankevich and Alexander Herzen in the 1830s and 1840s, he followed one false trail after another.

Steeped in the ancient classics, he aspired to a professorship and plunged into the philosophy of Hegel, had an affair (with his mother’s approval) with the wife of the poet Fyodor Tyutchev, rambled through the Alps in a state of Byronic melancholy, and only returned to Russia in 1841. Two years earlier the family mansion had burnt down, apparently following an attempt by a peasant to fumigate an ailing cow. At Spasskoe he started a relationship with a seamstress employed by his mother, resulting in the birth of a daughter, Pelagia, renamed Pauline when, aged ten, she was sent to France to be raised with the children of another of Turgenev’s loves, the singer Pauline Viardot-Garcia

Zapiski okhotnika RF.2007.a.1
Cover of an edition of Zapiski okhotnika 
(A Sportsman’s Sketches; Leipzig, 1876)  RF.2007.a.1

The return to the Russian countryside bore fruit of another kind in the form of A Sportsman’s Sketches (Moscow, 1852; C.114.n.15.), a collection of short stories which reflect Turgenev’s profound knowledge of the landscape and of the wildlife and people who inhabited it. Throughout his work there runs a deep dichotomy between the traditional ways of the remote Russian provinces and the impact of Western ideas brought back by those who had travelled abroad. Despite the urbane cosmopolitan manners which Turgenev – fluent in French, German and English – had acquired in Europe, his writings frequently display a marked ambivalence and sense of conflict, embodied most memorably in Fathers and Sons (Moscow, 1862; 12590.h.25) where it is paralleled by the bewildered incomprehension with which old Kirsanov greets the ideas of his revolutionary son and the latter’s friend Yevgeny Bazarov which gave the world the term ‘nihilism’.

Turgenev and friends
Turgenev (seated, second from left) with other Russian authors of the day. Photograph by Sergei Livitsky, reproduced in Emile Haumant, Ivan TourgĂ©nieff: la vie et l’oeuvre (Paris, 1906) 010790.de.56

Turgenev had touched on this conflict in two earlier novels, Home of the Gentry (Moscow, 1859; 12591.dd.31.) and On the Eve (1862), both of which portray the intrusion of Western modernism into communities bound by the habits and conventions of rural life and morality and raise political issues which aroused profound disquiet in the stiflingly conservative atmosphere of Nicholas I’s empire. His friendship with the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin and ‘metaphysical entanglement’ with the latter’s sister Tatiana played their part in the development of characters such as the young Bulgarian revolutionary Insarov in On the Eve, and it is difficult to overestimate the alarm which Turgenev’s writings excited in government circles. He was not merely a consummate stylist and chronicler of quaint peasant ways and the beauties of the countryside; ‘le doux gĂ©ant’, as his friend Edmond de Goncourt nicknamed him, was no hectoring advocate of revolt but influenced his readers by far more subtle means. His exquisite portrayal of character makes his revolutionary figures far more persuasive and convincing than any amount of tub-thumping oratory, and in the 1860s, the decade which saw the assassination of Alexander II, the ‘Tsar-Liberator’ who freed the serfs, Turgenev was regarded with growing nervousness. A friend of Flaubert, Zola and George Sand, widely translated into English and other Western languages, and the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Oxford, he moved between two worlds with an ease which made him suspect as a dangerous political influence back in Russia.


465px-Turgenev_by_Repin_1879
Portrait of Turgenev by Ilya Repin, 1879 (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The circumstances of his death aptly illustrate this; like Heinrich Heine, he spent the last months of his life, in 1883, in an agonizing ‘mattress tomb’ in Paris, immobilized by a spinal tumour, but gave directions that his body should be brought back to Russia for interment close to the grave of his friend, the critic Vissarion Belinsky. Ernest Renan was one of those who delivered an oration at a brief ceremony at the Gare de l’Est before the coffin began its long journey. Conversely, the Russian Ministry of the Interior clamped down on all unofficial information about the funeral on 9 October; workers’ organizations were forbidden to identify themselves on the wreaths, and a gathering at which Tolstoy was to have paid tribute to his friend (and rival) was cancelled by government decree. The contrast between ceremonies in East and West was a telling comment on the very different kinds of esteem in which Turgenev was held in the two worlds which he inhabited with equal aplomb.

Susan Halstead, Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services