The Lisbon earthquake of 1755


Title page of Carta em que se mostra a falsa profecia (7000.d.1953(11)) Click on image to enlarge.

The University Library has acquired a first edition of Carta em que se mostra a falsa profecia do terremoto do primeiro de Novembro de 1755 (1756). This is a rare pamphlet by the Portuguese historian and writer Pedro Norberto de Aucourt e Padilha (1704-1759) published the year after the great Lisbon earthquake. Writing under the pseudonym of ‘Epicureo Alexandrino,’ the author dismisses the prophecies that, in the aftermath of the event,  claimed that the natural disaster was God’s work.

The Lisbon earthquake struck in the morning of All Saints Day 1755. With a magnitude estimated at eight points in the Richter scale, it opened cracks on the ground of up to five metres wide and destroyed eighty five percent of the city. It was followed by three tidal waves that engulfed the port and the city centre. There were also multiple fires, many of them started by the candles lit in churches to pray for the dead. The fires lasted for five days. Continue reading

Fidel Castro, 1926-2016



On Friday November 25th, exactly 60 years since he set forth from Mexico on the yacht Granma, one of the most influential, divisive and long-standing public figures of the last century passed away. This year also marked 10 years since Fidel Castro began to step down from his position as president of Cuba, a country he had led for well over half a century. However, his influence and image still loomed large over his country – and world politics in general – in the intervening years and will continue to do so for years to come.

The University Library has always strongly collected material from and about Cuba, especially since the Revolution – in fact, the earliest book that we hold concerning Fidel Castro dates from 1959, the very year that Castro and his rebels finally ousted Fulgencio Batista from power: Fidel Castro: rebel–liberator or dictator? by Jules Dubois (672:45.c.95.2). Continue reading

Bulgarian collections : the November 2016 Slavonic item(s) of the month


Part of the Library of Congress’ Great Hall

Earlier in November, I had the great pleasure of visiting the Library of Congress for the first time.  Angela Cannon, the library’s South Slavic specialist, had invited delegates at the huge Slavonic Studies conference taking place in DC to come and look at Bulgarian material and be given a tour – an offer too tempting to refuse.  The material Angela put on for us gave a fascinating flavour of the richness of the Library of Congress’ Bulgarian collection.  From an 1850 accounting manual to a 1990 political propaganda poster, the exhibits were much to be coveted.  The visit prompted me to have a look at the University Library’s own Bulgarian collection on my return.

The UL’s Slavonic collections are richest in the West and East Slavic languages, with Polish and Czech showing most strongly in the former and Russian and Ukrainian leading the latter.  The third branch, South Slavic, has never been particularly focused on but Bulgarian has traditionally led a small but solid field, followed closely by Serbian and Croatian.

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Part shoemaker, part actor

In December 2015 we posted a piece about translator Ralph Manheim, written by his widow Julia Allen-Manheim. At the same time Mrs Allen-Manheim presented the Library with several of Ralph Manheim’s unpublished literary translations of texts by authors such as Arthur Schnitzler, Ödön von Horváth and Christoph Hein. (Enquire in Manuscripts Reading Room for MS Add. 10108.) The donation also includes the typescript of an unpublished lecture Ralph Manheim gave at Indiana University on November 4 1981, which gives a fascinating description of his life as a literary translator, and includes references to Michel Tournier, Rainer Maria Rilke, Adolf Hitler, Thomas Mann, Karl Jaspers, Ernst Cassirer, Bertolt Brecht, Louis Ferdinand Céline and Peter Handke. The following extracts give a flavour of the whole …

— Unpublished literary translations of texts

“I say I drifted into it [i.e. the trade of literary translator]. If that sounds disparaging, I’d like to correct that impression. One can drift into good things as well as bad. I think very highly of the trade. As I see it, a literary translator is part shoemaker and part actor. Shoemaker because he works alone and much of his effort goes into craftsmanship, into motions that he masters by repetition and testing; actor because if he takes his work seriously he has to impersonate his author…

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Dario Fo, the 20th century jester (1926-2016)


From the cover of Dario Fo a Milano: lazzi, sberleffi e dipinti (S950.c.201.296)

Writing this blogpost about Dario Fo, I am filled with emotion. Back in August, nearly two months before his death (and when he already knew his illness was terminal), the 90 year-old Italian actor, playwright, theatre director, stage designer, songwriter, painter and political activist performed on stage for two hours and finished the show singing. I was lucky enough to see him perform when he was “only” in his late 70s, and I still remember his incredible vitality and wit, his eyes shining with youthful enthusiasm, his humanity, irony and cutting words causing simultaneous laughter and deep reflection. Continue reading