Arsène Lupin versus Sherlock Holmes

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Cover of Lupin’s complete adventures (C201.d.5905-5907).

Who doesn’t like Sherlock Holmes? The whole world has embraced Sherlock Holmes, from the United States to Soviet Russia; he is the most portrayed character in the history of cinema, and every year brings its share of new adaptations including the latest on BBC1 starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Who could possibly hate Sherlock Holmes?

The answer is, of course: a Frenchman.

In 1905, the French writer Maurice Leblanc wrote the first adventure of Arsène Lupin, a dashing gentleman-thief for whom burglary is one of the fine arts. Several short stories and novels would follow and in 1908, Leblanc introduced two new characters in Arsène Lupin contre Herlock Sholmes: an English detective and his sidekick Dr Wilson. A barely disguised pastiche of Sherlock Holmes, Sholmes was also intended as a caricature of the typical Englishman as seen by the French at the time: red in the face, impassive to the point of apathy and slow of understanding. Lupin of course, was his exact opposite, having every quality of a not-so-respectable Frenchman: chivalrous, terribly charming, and just a little bit cocky. Continue reading

Gregory Rabassa, 1922-2016

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Gregory Rabassa in 2007 (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

Many of the Latin American Boom’s greatest writers owe much of their international acclaim to one man: Gregory Rabassa, who passed away last month.

Rabassa’s English translations of Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch (9743.c.74), Mario Vargas Llosa’s The green house (9743.c.108) and, in particular, Gabriel García Márquez’s One hundred years of solitude (9743.c.116) sold millions of copies and brought these authors to a much wider audience. He enjoyed a particularly close and mutually appreciative relationship with Cortázar and also translated the great Brazilian authors, Clarice Lispector, Jorge Amado and Machado de Assis, amongst many others. Continue reading

Umberto Eco, 1932-2016

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Picture by Università Reggio Calabria (GFDL), via Wikimedia Commons.

In the book Vertigine della Lista (S950.c.200.947 and S950.c.200.802 for the English version) published on the occasion of the exhibition he curated in 2009 at the Louvre in Paris, Umberto Eco (5 January 1932 – 19 February 2016) discusses the value and meaning of lists throughout history. The Italian author and philosopher argued in an interview with Der Spiegel that “through lists, through catalogues, through collections in museums and through encyclopaedias and dictionaries” human beings attempt to make infinity comprehensible. People describe the sky and try to list stars; poets and lovers endlessly search for words to describe their feelings, often making a list of things they love as a way of starting their pursuit. Continue reading

Slavonic item of the month : June 2014

The subject for June 2014 is Iurii Andropov, the Soviet head of state in the wake of Brezhnev’s death, who was born 100 years ago in June 1914.  When Andropov died nearly 70 years later, in February 1984, he had been in power for only 15 months. We look at two fictional works about him.

Cover of Iurii Teshkin's /Andropov i drugie/(Andropov and others; 9003.d.1849 )

Cover of Iurii Teshkin’s Andropov i drugie (Andropov and others; 9003.d.1849

Although Iurii Vladimirovich Andropov led the Soviet Union for only a short time, his was already a well-known name when he took power in late 1982.  He had been linked to the repression of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 (Andropov was the Soviet ambassador to Hungary from 1953 to 1956) and to other international military interventions such as the putting down of the Prague Spring in February 1968.  By 1968, Andropov had become the head of the KGB, a position he was to hold for 15 years.

On the basis of Andropov’s pre-leadership career, then, he was seen as a Soviet hawk – and one with a KGB background to boot.  Stories from his leadership, though, suggest a possibly more liberal side.  A search for Andropov Gorbachev on our LibrarySearch+ catalogue of electronic resources, for example, comes up with a hit for a Guardian article from 1991 which reports a revelation by a government aide that Andropov saw the progressive Gorbachev as his successor and not the conservative Chernenko.

The uncertainty of what Andropov might have achieved had he not died so quickly after coming to power might, then, explain why two of the University Library’s holdings about Andropov are works of fiction.

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RIP Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez passed away on April 17th 2014 at the age of 87. He was unquestionably Colombia’s greatest writer – his country’s president even described him after his death as “the greatest Colombian who ever lived” – and one of the most important of all Spanish language (and indeed world) authors. His influence and importance on the Latin American and world stage cannot be overstated, nor the full scope of his work easily summarised. Continue reading