100 years without Rubén Darío

Covers illustrated by Enrique Ochoa.

Covers illustrated by Enrique Ochoa.

Several Hispanic literary anniversaries will be celebrated in 2016 and these will give us a chance to talk about some very important writers and how they feature in our collections. The first in this series is Rubén Darío, the Nicaraguan writer, who died on February 6th 1916 aged 49 years old, after much pain due to illness related to his alcohol addiction. He was greatly honoured right after his death, his funeral lasting several days and he even had his brain removed to investigate the mystery of his artistic genius and to be kept as some kind of object of veneration.

The University Library has a few first editions of Rubén Darío’s work. La caravana pasa (744:75.d.90.64) is the earliest among them. The book was published in 1902 in Paris by Garnier Hermanos and is one of his least known works. It contains articles about Paris and his travels around Europe which he wrote for the Argentine newspaper La Nación, arranged thematically rather than chronologically with dates and titles removed. It gives valuable and interesting views on the Parisian Belle Epoque. The author also visited London, of which he says: “¡Capital fuerte y misteriosa! Cuantas veces la visitéis, siempre os dominará bajo el influjo de su severa fuerza.” (Strong and mysterious capital! Every time you visit it, it will always dominate you with the influx of its severe strength). Continue reading

Cinq prières dans la cathédrale de Chartres par Charles Péguy

For several years the University Library has been the beneficiary of generous gifts from the library of the Institut français du Royaume-Uni. A lovely little volume of Péguy’s poetry which arrived as part of the most recent donation from the Institut is worth highlighting, primarily due to the striking images by Nathalie Parain.

bloggif2Of Russian origin, and wife of the philosopher Brice Parain, Parain began to illustrate books in the early 1930s, soon after their arrival in France from the Soviet Union. As well as this volume, she also illustrated at least three other volumes of Charles Péguy’s poetry—only one of which is available on COPAC (Sainte Geneviève : dix poèmes de Charles Péguy et trente-six images de Nathalie Parain, Gallimard, 1951, at The London Library). Further examples of her illustrations of children’s books are available at the website of one of her publishers, Éditions MeMo.

IMG_2736This joins our collection of books illustrated by Nathalie Parain, almost all of which are in the Waddleton Collection in the Rare Books department, which has a focus on colour-printed illustrations.

By chance the original publisher’s advertisement still survives, inserted into our copy of the book, including the publisher’s description and price (220 Francs).

Josh Hutchinson

Love is all around


A page from L’art d’aimer de la séduction à la volupté (S950.a.201.1093)

Saint Valentine’s Day, or the feast of Valentine, has its origins in the celebration of the life of Saint Valentine (Valentinius), a third century Roman saint. The feast day (February 14) is now, of course, related to the tradition of courtly love which has its origins in the middle ages. The history of Saint Valentine is uncertain, among the UL’s earliest works including a history of Saint Valentine is: Opus eruditissimum diui Irenaei episcopi lugdunensis in quinque libros digestum, in quibus mire retegit & confutat ueterum haereseon impias ac portentosas opiniones, ex uetustissimorum codicum collatione quantum licuit emendatum opera Des. Erasmi Roterodami, ac nunc eiusdem opera denuo recognitum, correctis ijs quae prius suffugerant (3.10.29).

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The illustrated Lermontov : the October 2014 Slavonic item of the month

The 200th anniversary of the great Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov’s birth falls this month, as marked by library and literary blogs the world over.  In this post, we look at books produced a hundred years ago to mark the first centenary of his birth, focusing in particular on a illustrated set of his complete works.

Illustration for Lermontov's Aul Bastundzhi by Martiros San'ian (S756.b.91.6)

Illustration for Lermontov’s Aul Bastundzhi by Martiros San’ian (S756.b.91.6)

The earliest book by Lermontov held by the University Library was published in 1842; this is the first half of a two-volume set of his poems (8757.d.7-8).  The poet had already died the year before, killed outright in a duel in the Caucasus at the age of 26.  Only one collection of his poetry was published in his lifetime, in 1840; his poems had otherwise been printed in larger, shared publications.  A great deal of Lermontov’s work came out only after his untimely death, although Geroi nashego vremeni (Hero of our time), the prose novel for which he is possibly best known to Anglophone readers, had already appeared in 1840.

One hundred years ago, the centenary of Lermontov’s death was celebrated in print by a number of special issues of and about his work.  Among them was the set which is our Slavonic item of the month.  Illiustrirovannoe polnoe sobranie sochinenii M.Iu. Lermontova (The illustrated complete works of M.Iu. Lermontov; S756.b.91.1-6).  Five of the six volumes which make up this lovely set contain works by Lermontov himself.  The last contains recollections of the poet by his acquaintances and a section of critical articles on his work.  All six are liberally illustrated with pictures by a large number of various artists, including the poet himself.  Minor illustrations are printed directly on to the page, with more significant ones printed on to individual plates.

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Slavonic item of the month : May 2014

This month, we look at a 2011 set of poetry by Lev Rubinshtein printed on hundreds of index cards, replicating Rubinshtein’s own kartoteka (card catalogue) approach to the physical recording of his poetry.  The piece starts off with a reflection on this year’s Victory Day and Rubinshtein’s role as a dissident figure in modern Russia. 

Cards from Lev Rubinshtein's Chetyre teksta iz Bol’shoi kartoteki (2014.6.85-88)

Cards from Lev Rubinshtein’s Chetyre teksta iz Bol’shoi kartoteki (2014.6.85-88)

This month saw Victory Day on May the 9th, originally the Soviet annual celebration of the end of World War II and still celebrated by many post-Soviet states, Russia primary among them.  Given the appalling military and civilian losses caused by the Eastern Front and its attendant atrocities, this day of celebration is always painfully underscored by the unparalleled cost of victory.  For many in Eastern Europe, memory of the war has the awful added dimension of a particularly complex relationship with the Soviets and Nazis.  The continued turmoil in Ukraine has shown both how little the ghosts of the 20th century seem to have been put to rest and also how quickly people jump to exploit them, using sweeping generalisations and heightened emotional language to cause further division and mutual resentment.

The 2014 Victory Day was therefore a source of concern and nervousness for many, with the emphasis on WWII history having been a major factor in the stirring up of public opinion over the Ukrainian upheaval and the incorporation of Crimea into Russia.  On the day, news agencies focused on the prolonged Red Square military parade and Putin’s visit to Crimea.  With headline-grabbing political posturing and extreme public opinions on offer, there was little appetite in the press to focus on the more thoughtful and sober marking of an emotional and difficult day of remembrance by ordinary people.  And this is where Lev Rubinshtein comes in.

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