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

28 November 2020

Friedrich Engels: politics and paradoxes

On New Year’s Eve 1857, a Manchester businessman wrote a long letter to a friend in London, ending with a description of an enjoyable day’s foxhunting. He boasted of having been one of the best horsemen in the field, and was excited to have been in at the kill. It might come as a surprise that the writer and recipient were the ‘fathers of communism’, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, but it points to some of the contradictions in the life of Engels, whose 200th birthday we mark today. (The letter can be found vol. 40 of the complete works of Marx and Engels, pp. 233-6)

Engels family background was almost a pattern of early 19th-century German ‘Biedermeier’ rectitude: his parents were devout pietists, and his father’s cotton mill in Barmen (now part of the city of Wuppertal) was part of Germany’s early industrial development. The young Engels soon rejected his parents’ religion, but would be associated with the family business, Ermen & Engels, for significant portions of his life.

It was while studying commerce as an apprentice in Bremen that Engels began to move in radical circles and to write about the harsh life of factory workers that he observed. Although he used a pseudonym to avoid embarrassing his family, they were concerned enough at his political views to send him to England to take up a clerical post in Ermen & Engels mill in Salford in the hope of turning him away from radical ideas. The plan backfired as Engels became more rather than less concerned with the plight of the workers and the need for them to combine against their oppressors. He closely studied the lives of the working people in and around Manchester, not merely researching statistics and studies, but visiting some of the poorest and most wretched districts of the city and meeting the people there.

Lage der arbeitenden Klasse
Title-page of the first edition of
Zur Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England  (Leipzig, 1845) 1141.d.25

The resulting book, Zur Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England (The Condition of the Working Class in England), published in 1845 after he had left England, remains one of Engels’ best-known works. Although no English translation appeared until 1886, this first German edition has a long dedication in English ‘to the working classes of Great Britain’, ending with an exhortation to them to continue progressing towards a better future. Its ending – ‘be firm, be undaunted – your success is certain and no step you will have to take … will be lost to our common cause, the cause of humanity!’ seem to foreshadow the famous final words of the Communist Manifesto, which Engels wrote with Karl Marx four years later: ‘Workers of all countries, unite!’

Green paper cover of 'Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei'
Cover of the first edition of the Communist Manifesto (London, 1849) C.194.b.289

Engels and Marx had first met briefly in 1842, but the encounter was not a success. However, during his time in Salford, Engels had published various articles in German radical papers that had interested Marx, and when they met again in Paris in 1844, they found that their thinking had become very similar, and quickly agreed to work together. It was the start of a life-long friendship and collaboration, but one where Engels, by his own willing admission, would play second fiddle to Marx, whose mind and work he considered the more important.

In practice, this meant giving up much of his own revolutionary work to provide both moral and practical support to Marx. After the failure of the revolutions of 1848-9, both men lived as exiles in Britain. While Marx studied and wrote, Engels returned to his clerical job with Ermen & Engels, gradually rising to become a partner in the firm. During the 20 years that he worked there, Engels lived a double life: a middle-class businessman who enjoyed bourgeois pursuits and was a member of prestigious social institutions, yet was dedicated to ending the grip of middle-class businessmen on trade and industry, and a champion of the working classes who was part of the system that exploited them, and who worked in a trade dependent for most of his career on cotton produced by enslaved people in the Americas. This double life took literal form in the two households he maintained, one where he could entertain ‘respectable’ colleagues and friends and one where he could live with Mary Burns, an Irish worker who was his partner from 1842 until her death in 1863 (he later lived with her sister Lizzy, and eventually married her on her deathbed in 1878).


Half-length photograph of Engels
Friedrich Engels during his time in Manchester (Picture from Wikimedia Commons)

As well as juggling these different lives, Engels was sometimes pushed almost too hard by Marx. After Mary’s death, Marx’s letter of condolence also contained an appeal for money couched in joking terms that the grieving Engels found hard to forgive. And when Marx fathered an illegitimate son with the family’s servant, Helene Demuth, it was Engels who claimed paternity of the boy and gave him his name to save Marx’s wife Jenny from discovering the truth. Nonetheless, the bond between the two men remained strong. Their almost daily letters overflow with private jokes and nicknames and scurrilous gossip alongside – sometimes part and parcel of – intense social, political and theoretical debate. Engels was also much loved by Marx’s family and considered by his daughters as a ‘second father’.

In 1869 Engels was at last able to give up his day job, move to London to be near Marx, and return seriously to writing. After Marx’s death, he worked with Marx’s daughter Eleanor to complete the second volume of Das Kapital – as well as understanding his thought better than almost anyone else, Engels was one of the few people who could easily read Marx’s handwriting. 

Hand-written inscription in a copy of 'Kapital'
Inscription in volume 2 of the Russian translation of Das Kapital presented to the British Museum Library by Engels and Eleanor Marx (St Petersburg, 1885). C.185.b.12.

Although Engels was by this time something of a grand old man of revolutionary socialism, he remained and still remains somewhat in Marx’s shadow. He has no massive monument like Marx’s famous grave in Highgate Cemetery (Engels’ ashes were scattered in the sea near Beachey Head), and the commemorations of his bicentenary have been modest in comparison with those for Marx in 2018, and not just because of the Covid pandemic. Perhaps the anniversary will nonetheless offer an opportunity to look again at his work and legacy.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Studies

26 November 2020

Celebrating the centenary of Sovremennye zapiski

This year marks the centenary of Sovremennye zapiski (‘Contemporary Notes’), the most successful Russian-language thick journal published by émigrés during the interwar period.

Appearing in Paris in November 1920, the first issue of Sovremennye zapiski was published by a group of five Russian émigrés in Paris. This ‘thick’ journal was an important literary and socio-political publication for the roughly 50,000 Russian immigrants in Paris during the interwar period. It would continue to appear irregularly until April 1940.

Cover of the first issue of Sovremennye zapiski

The first issue of Sovremennye zapiski, November 1920, P.P.4853.ak.

The post-October 1917 Russian emigration was composed of a diverse, fractured and confused population, drawn from every level of pre-revolutionary Russian society. There was a sense of outrage and helplessness among the émigré population as they attempted to establish new lives in indifferent foreign countries, receiving delayed and unverifiable news of events in Russia filtered through a chaotic telegraph system and the foreign press. From its first issue, Sovremennye zapiski both addressed the condition of exile for many Russian writers and offered analyses of events within the RSFSR.

Sovremennye zapiski provided Russian émigré writers with an important publishing forum, offering a livelihood as well as the prestige of contributing to a continuation of the illustrious Russian thick journal tradition. A ‘thick’ journal could publish work that writers would find difficult to place elsewhere, as émigré newspapers offered too little space and book contracts were hard to come by. While Sovremennye zapiski is known for publishing the early prose of Vladimir Nabokov, the journal would also publish the prose of other well-known Russian writers such as Nobel prize-winner, Ivan Bunin, the popular prose of Teffi (pseudonym of Nadezhda Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya), and the complex work of celebrated Silver Age poet, Marina Tsvetaeva. Sovremennye zapiski also offered their émigré audience the work of the new Russian writers who were developing their own voices beyond their homeland, such as Gaito Gazdanov. Divided into the traditional categories of Russian thick journals, Sovremennye zapiski offered an illustrious belles-lettres section, informed and thoughtful political and social commentary, literary criticism and poetry, as well as reviews of cultural trends and recent Russian-language works.

The shadow of revolution and the flight of émigrés from civil war looms large over this first issue of Sovremennye zapiski, five years on from the Bolshevik coup of October 1917. This first issue of the journal included the first instalment of Count Aleksei Tolstoy’s trilogy, The Road to Calvary, in which he traces the fate of the Russian intelligentsia on the eve of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Another notable contribution is In the Homeland by one of the journal’s editors, Mark Vishniak, a feature that would become a regular column commenting on Russian affairs and offering émigrés information and insight into their homeland.

The programmatic statement with which the first issue of Sovremennye zapiski opens, states that the new journal is uniquely placed to preserve a Russian culture for which there is no longer a place within Russia; ‘Sovremennye zapiski is devoted, first and foremost, to Russian culture. Our journal has been published at a particularly difficult moment for Russian culture.’ This editorial statement proclaims that only Sovremennye zapiski itself, can be considered the legitimate heir to this tradition, as it will publish the best work produced by Russian émigré writers, regardless of their political affiliation:

Sovremennye zapiski is dedicated, above all, to the interests of Russian culture. Our journal is fated to appear in particularly difficult conditions for Russian society; there is no place for free and independent speech in Russia itself, but here, abroad, such great cultural strength is concentrated, violently torn from its nation, and from true service to it. (‘Ot Redaktsii’, Sovremennye zapiski, 1920, Vol. 1, p3)

The networks of periodicals published by émigré communities around the world attest to the continued vitality of a society of émigrés abroad, despite their difficult circumstances, committed to serving the nation even beyond its national borders. These journals and newspapers also provide evidence of the formation and development of an émigré community in a foreign cultural sphere through political and literary activities.

Photographs of the five editors of Sovremennye zapiski

Caricatures of the journal's editors

Photographs of the five editors of Sovremennye zapiski (above) and caricatures of these editors by Navi (below), in Sovremennye zapiski (1920-1940): Iz arkhiva redaktsii, volume 1, ZF.9.a.9100, British Library.

The significance of Sovremennye zapiski is evident in the memoirs of its contributors. In The Italics are Mine, the writer Nina Berberova, a keen observer of émigré life, notes that Sovremennye zapiski was ‘a literary monument’ in which ‘in the course of almost a quarter of a century significant things, the old and the new, could appear’. The popularity of the journal gave rise to a mythology surrounding its editors, each of whom had held important political posts in the Constituent Assembly following the Revolution of March 1917. The legends surrounding the editors of Sovremennye zapiski contributed to the authority of the journal, making it the most prestigious interwar émigré journal in which to be included. All 70 issues of this important periodical are held by the British Library, including the collected correspondence between its editors and contributors.

Hannah Connell, Collaborative Doctoral Student, King’s College London and the British Library

References/further reading

Charlotte Alston, ‘British Journalism and the Campaign for Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1918-1920’, Revolutionary Russia, Vol 20, No 1, June 2007, pp35-49.

Aleksei Tolstoy, ‘Khozdenie po mukam’, Sovremennye zapiski, No.1, November 1920, pp1-33

Nina Berberova, The Italics are Mine, translated by Philippe Radley (London, 1991), m01/33290.

17 November 2020

Feminism in Early Modern Venice: Lucrezia Marinella

In the light of the current exhibition Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights, I want to show a new acquisition, an Italian poem printed in Venice in 1618.

This religious, heroic and allegorical poem has an extraordinary feminist subtext and its title is Amore innamorato, et impazzato poema di Lucretia Marinella; con gli argomenti, & allegorie a ciascun canto. Alla serenissima [...] Caterina Medici, Gonzaga, duchessa di Mantova [...] – “Poem on enamoured and mad love by Lucretia Marinella, with topics and allegories before each canto. Dedicated to Catherine de’ Medici Gonzaga, Duchess of Mantua”.

References to the author’s intentions are already clear in the choice of the dedicatee, a female patron, Caterina Gonzaga, whom she actively encourage to read the poem.

Title-page of Amore innamorato, et impazzato

Title-page of Amore innamorato, et impazzato (Venice, 1618) awaiting shelfmark

The poem tells the story of Cupid’s conversion to Christianity. The literary form is inspired by Ariosto, Boiardo, Tasso and the epic poems of the Counter-Reformation. The author’s aim is indeed to promote the values of the Church, through the allegory of Cupid’s religious journey and conversion. The poem at a first glance follows the religious constraints of its time, but its main female character, Ersilia, is an independent woman fully in charge of her destiny. She will reject Cupid’s love and the passive role of the ethereal donna angelicata provided by the Italian literary canon of Dante and Petrarch.

Ersilia is stronger than Cupid, and her resistance to his advances asserts her religious values, but is also imbued with feminism. Religion had to be used to validate work and ideas and to get published.

The author, Lucrezia Marinelli (1571-1653), was the daughter of the writer and physician Giovanni Marinelli, who encouraged her to study poetry, music and philosophy. She became the most versatile, prolific, and learned woman writer of her generation. She was close to the Accademia Veneziana, but led a reclusive life of private study. She married a physician and had two children.

Engraving of Lucrezia Marinella

Lucrezia Marinella by Giacomo Piccini, 1652

Lucrezia Marinella’s fame as one of the very first feminist writers ever is mostly due to the treatise Le Nobilità et Eccellenze delle Donne, et i Diffetti, e Mancamenti de gli huomini.. (Venice, 1600; 1080.k.7.(2.)) ‘The nobility and excellence of women’, recognised as a landmark in the history of women’s contribution to the querelle des femmes

Engraving of Moderata Fonte

Moderata Fonte, anonymous 16th-century engraving

Marinella’s work will sit alongside that of another Venetian author of the same period: Modesta Pozzo or Moderata Fonte (1555-1592). Although little known to modern criticism before around 1980, Fonte is recognised as one of the most accessible and appealing of 16th-century Italian women writers. Her best-known work is the posthumously-published dialogue Il merito delle donne ‘The Worth of Women’ (Venice, 1600; 721.f.17.), which is one of the most original contributions to early modern debate on sex roles, as well as one of the earliest to have been authored by a woman. Other women writers who preceded and inspired Marinella are Gaspara Stampa and Vittoria Colonna.

Amore innamorato, et impazzato has been purchased with the generous help of the British Library Collection Trust.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections

References/Further Reading:

P. Malpezzi Price, Lucrezia Marinella and the "querelle des femmes" in seventeenth-century Italy ( Madison, c2008.) YC.2009.a.11706

S. Kolsky, ‘The literary career of Lucrezia Marinella (1571-1653)’, in: F.W. Kent & Ch. Zika, eds. Rituals, images, and words: varieties of cultural expression in late medieval and early modern Europe (Turnhout, 2005) pp. 325-342. YC.2006.a.12963

A. Cagnolati, A portrait of a Renaissance feminist : Lucrezia Marinella's life and works ( Rome, 2013.) YD.2013.a.3057

Stephen Kolsky, ‘Moderata Fonte, Lucrezia Marinella, Giuseppe Passi: an early seventeenth-century feminist controversy’, The Modern Language Review, Vol. 96, No. 4 (Oct., 2001), pp. 973-989. P.P.4970.ca.

Paola Malpezzi Price, ‘A Woman's Discourse in the Italian Renaissance: Moderata Fonte’s “Il merito delle donne”’ Annali d’Italianistica, Vol. 7 (1989), pp. 165-181. 1014.600000

Prudence Allen and Filippo Salvatore, ‘Lucrezia Marinelli and Woman’s Identity in Late Italian Renaissance’ Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance et Réforme, New Series / Nouvelle Série, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Fall / Automne 1992), pp. 5-39. 7356.865100