A new exhibition of 1870-71 caricatures at Cambridge Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics library 

A few weeks ago, we opened a new exhibition in the Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics library, relating to a collection of 1870-71 caricatures held in the University Library. This project was highly collaborative, involving librarians, academic staff and students. It followed an exhibition held at the UL last year and started with translations of the text and legends of French caricatures into English.

Poster for the MMLL caricatures exhibition

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“Sous la botte” (2): the German boot in the illustrated book covers of the Liberation collection (1944-46)

In 2019, I started working on a project aimed at providing access through Cambridge University Library catalogue (iDiscover) to digitised images of book covers of the Chadwyck-Healey collection (about 3000 books in French about the Second World War, the Occupation and the Liberation, published between 1944 and 1946), with photographer Fanny Bara. We were struck by the number of titles and cover illustrations featuring the German boot (see my previous blog post on the use of the expression “sous la botte” in the literature of the Liberation). More than half of the Liberation collection books whose title refers to the German boot feature illustrated covers including an actual depiction of a boot (five covers) or German soldiers in uniform (six covers, three of which are photographic). Only the comic book Biroulet sous la botte by Raymond Sempé, (Liberation.a.37) features a strictly black and white cover illustration: while a stern looking German soldier goose steps, Biroulet, depicted as a mischievous peasant child, wearing clogs and beret, and holding a simple wooden stick, cocks a snook at him.

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Frederick Justen and L’Eclipse: the early 20th c. donation of 1870-71 Franco-Prussian caricatures and satirical magazines to Cambridge UL

Six large volumes of around 1100 caricatures of 1870-71 (KF.3.9-14), digitised by Cambridge Digital Content Unit, with funding by Cambridge Digital Humanities, have just been made available on our Digital Library. This digitisation was enabled through a research project coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the Franco-Prussian war and focusing on collections of French and German caricatures produced at the time which were brought to the UK shortly afterwards. While beginning to investigate the 1870-71 caricatures collection, I wondered about the role and evidence for the contribution of the bookseller Frederick Justen (1832-1906), who we know played a key role in assembling and bringing to the UK several collections of 1870-71 caricatures (see the articles by Daniels, 2005 and Müller, 2011-12).

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Rich and ravenous: caricatures of the siege of Paris by the Prussians (September 1870 – January 1871)

In a previous blog post, we talked about series of caricatures held in Cambridge University Library and other collections (such as Heidelberg University Library) depicting food shortages during the 1870-1871 siege of Paris. The Parisian diet was considerably and disturbingly altered and extended during this time, as people resorted to eating rats, cats, dogs, and horses. The current lockdown, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, with obvious economic consequences, is predicted to increase social inequalities, despite government measures such as the furlough scheme or the extension of free school meals vouchers over the summer holidays. Did the siege of Paris level or increase social differences, and how were they perceived by contemporary caricaturists? Satirical prints specifically targeted the way privileged classes coped with the situation of penury and food shortages. The relative suffering of the wealthy, bourgeois or aristocrats, is treated humourously in many of the caricatures produced at the time. They stress the fact that, though they also experienced rationing, hardship and privations, certain categories of the population did manage to avoid starvation and, as restaurants were open, were still able to enjoy behaviours of their previous life.

Heidelberg UL, vol. 2 p. 121 and 175 ; Cambridge UL, KF.3.10

In the Album du siège, Cham depicts a manservant informing his lady, reclining languidly in a chair, that her horses are ready – on the dinner table. A print of Paris assiégé shows a helpful manservant jovially reassuring his mistress, a marchioness surrounded by her domestic ménagerie (dogs, cats, fish and birds) that with such an entourage, she need not fear hunger…

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