Jujutsu for the Swiss

Working on a donated collection of books can sometimes be a repetitive task – as collectors usually focus on one theme in particular, donations may consist of hundreds of books studying the same subject from slightly different angles. Occasionally though, we come across something entirely unexpected and sometimes amusing. I had such a moment a few days ago when I discovered, among the collection of art books donated by Professor Jean-Michel Massing, a 1906 illustrated Swiss manual of jujutsu. The Japanese martial art is here shown performed by two portly, mustachioed, middle-aged European men who have somehow decided that a three-piece suit with bow tie was the best outfit for this kind of activity. It makes for some amazing pictures :

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Christmas greetings: the story of Christmas cards

The sending of physical Christmas cards has been reported to be in decline in recent years, due to an increase in postage prices, concern for the environment and changing social habits with email and social media being favoured. Many people, however, still like to send and receive cards at Christmas, thus continuing a tradition first started in the 1840s.

The very first Christmas card appeared in 1843, designed by John Callcott Horsley for Henry Cole, an important figure who later played a key role in the 1851 Great Exhibition and in the establishment of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Cole had assisted Rowland Hill in the setting up of the Penny Post in 1840. Hill’s post office reform was a significant factor in the growth of the Christmas card industry as it made it cheaper than before to send post that was now paid for in advance (previously the burden of paying had been imposed on the recipient). Christmas cards really took off with the development of colour printing by George Baxter, and the makers of St Valentine’s Day cards, which were already commercialised, saw the potential of extending their range to Christmas cards. Continue reading

75 years of Premio Nadal

The Premio Nadal is the oldest literary prize in Spain, awarded by Ediciones Destino (since 1988 part of Planeta group) to the best unpublished novel. We can find many important 20th century Spanish writers among their list of awardees. Four of them have won the Cervantes prize as well (see our post on Premio Cervantes).

IMG_20191121_112541The prize is awarded every year on January 6. It was originally the idea of the journalist Ignacio Agustí, editor of the magazine Destino (belonging to the same publishing house) and best known for Mariona Rebull (743:01.d.17.285). The prize was created in order to discover new talent and provide a stimulus for literary creation in the post-war years. It was named after Eugenio Nadal, former editor of Destino, to honour the literature teacher who had then recently passed away at a young age.

The prize was first given in 1944 to Nada (744:35.d.95.359), an existentialist novel by the young Carmen Laforet. Three years later, it was awarded to Miguel Delibes for La sombra del ciprés es alargada (744:35.d.95.300); he is a major figure in Spanish literature of the 20th century, who won the Cervantes prize in 1993. Continue reading

Gareth Jones and the Holodomor : the November 2019 Slavonic items of the month

Yesterday evening, Cambridge Ukrainian Studies hosted a showing of the film ‘Mr Jones’.  Directed by award-winner Agnieszka Holland, the film tells the story of Gareth Jones, the journalist who reported on the Holodomor, the appalling famine which killed millions in Ukraine.  A pop-up exhibition of books from the UL and MMLL libraries was provided after the film, and the exhibits and captions are shown below.  Each title is linked to the item’s iDiscover record.  Please click on each image to enlarge it. Continue reading

Responding to the death of Kleist, then and now

1801 portrait of Kleist by Peter Friedel via Wikimedia Commons

On 21 November 1811 the celebrated German writer Heinrich von Kleist killed himself and his close friend Henriette Vogel in a double suicide pact. Not eligible for church burial, they were buried at or close to the place where they died, by the Kleiner Wannsee lake between Berlin and Potsdam. I stayed near here in the summer, and as my daily walk to the S-Bahn station took me past a sign to the grave I was moved to visit it.

By autumn 1811 Kleist had reached a crisis point of desperation, feeling mentally exhausted with financial worries and aggrieved that his work was not appreciated by his contemporaries. Since autumn 1810 he had been editing a short daily (except Sundays) newspaper, the Berliner Abendblätter (facsimile edition can be viewed at archive.org). Readers had particularly lapped up the police reports published in it which Kleist received from his friend Justus von Gruner, police chief of Berlin. But when von Gruner was dismissed, this source dried up and Kleist was forced to fill his paper with news stories reprinted from other papers. Interest soon dwindled and this, combined with a tightening of censorship regulations, led to the publication being discontinued in spring 1811. Kleist’s crisis was intensified by his friendship with Henriette Vogel. The pair had met two years earlier and she had subsequently fallen into a depressed state and craved death after being given a cancer diagnosis.
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