Letters from America

This week I’m getting everything ready in preparation for the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, the weekend after Easter.  My books will go off on Thursday.  It’s always nice to take something new to a fair, so when the following came in recently I decided to keep it back for the booth in April:

Slavinsky

The title reads: Letters about America and Russian immigrants; this is the first edition in book form, published in St Petersburg in 1873.  Norman Saul picks up the story: ‘Concentrating on New York and the Russian exile community are the fascinating “letters” of Nikolai Slavinskii, serialized in Otechestvennyia Zapiski in 1872 and published as a separate book the next year.  A nobleman from south Russia, Slavinskii had come to America in 1869 to visit his sister, Mary Frey, who had accompanied her husband in a quest for free communal experimentation.  Colorful and detailed, his writings cover virtually all aspects of New York City life from the Bowery to Williamsburg to Thompson Square, where Russians congregated, and is one of the most intimate portrayals of the emerging metropolis.  He digressed at length on a number of subjects: the American press, with particular focus on the National Police Gazette and Harper’s Weekly; markets and food distribution, including a vivid description of Fulton Market; the new Chinatown; the medical profession and especially the role of women in it; police and crime; arson and the fire departments; cheap and efficient transportation systems; political rallies and parades (such as on St. Patrick’s Day); and minstrel halls, theaters, and concerts.  He deplored the general ignorance about Russia that he encountered but was surprised by a reasonably accurate portrayal of Peter the Great in a new play, The Tsarina, performed at a theater in Brooklyn.

‘Slavinskii seemed to be particularly interested in popular culture, visiting the San Francsico minstrel and other music halls, the Cooper Union lectures, the Beethoven Jubilee at the American Institute Coliseum with 3,000 singers and an audience of 13,000, and the skating rinks and beer gardens.  He noted that California wines were just entering the market, though whisky, ale, and beer were still dominant; described ice cream sodas (like ones in Odessa but better); and recorded that “Shoo-Fly, Don’t Bother Me” was the most popular song of 1870.  He was amazed by the number of female employees, the monopoly of domestic housework by African-Americans and Irish immigrants, the bustle and intensity of all work, insurance policies being sold on trains, the rapid ups and downs of personal fortunes, and the high level of crime and violence.

Slavinskii

Nikolai Slavinsky (1839-1918)

 

‘Like most Russians, Slavinskii was intrigued by American Indians and devoted two “letters” to the subject.  He considered that their individual treatment was better than he had expected to find but bemoaned their collective, violent exploitation.  Of special interest is his narrative of the visit that an Indian delegation led by Chief Red Cloud made to New York.  He attended a theater presentation for the party and thought that the emphasis on military power in the performance was purposely to overawe the Indians.  But at Red Cloud’s Cooper Union appearance, Slavinskii was impressed with the chief’s cool dignity and his quiet but dramatic feeling of the Fetterman massacre of 1866.

‘Slavinskii’s main contributions, especially for his Russian audience, were his stories of the Russian community in New York, which numbered thirty or more.  Centred around “Dr. M.” from south Russia who had served with Garibaldi, the “circle” was attempting to fill a void by serving as an immigrant aid society for the increasing number of visiting Russians.  Dues were collected from those who could pay to help Russians upon arrival or in dire need.  Although encouraged by the support of the consul general Osten-Saken and by the building of a new Russian Orthodox church under Father Bjerring in 1870, the members still quarreled among themselves, primarily because they represented a varied and contentious lot of unhappy political misfits, as Slavinskii illustrated.  The portraits reveal an interesting spectrum of both Russian and American life …

‘For example, … Lev Bel’skii, [previously] a postmaster at Kronstadt, opened a “private letter office” in New York that specialized in “erotic” mail–actually a lonely hearts club, with a newsletter distribution of 10,000 copies–but he got into trouble for opening mail and taking out money.  After being attacked and wounded by one of his customers, he recuperated in Bellevue, married a wealthy woman, took her money, and returned to Russia, where he posed as an American and lectured on the country …

‘Many became dejected and disappointed about life in the United States and returned home.  Slavinskii considered that the time spent in America had not been wasted but had been a “practical school.”  Not only could the community provide only limited help, but little sympathy could be expected from Americans who considered poverty a sign of laziness.  The generally higher-class Russian immigrants were frustrated by an inability to make use of their “intellectual talents” in the United States’  (Concord and Conflict: the United States and Russia, 1867–1914, pp. 211–3).

 

Posted in America, Cross-cultural material, Russia | Leave a comment

A tramp abroad

Something for St Patrick’s Day…

I’ll admit I’d never heard of Jim Phelan (1895–1966), the Irish tramp, writer, and Republican revolutionary, until I came across this book.

Phelan

Published in 1941, it’s the first edition in Russian, translated by the excellent Vera Toper, of The Green Volcano (1938), a novel set in revolutionary Ireland, 1916–22.  As one might expect from such a wartime publication, it is extremely rare.

The preface, by the literary critic Abel Startsev (1909–2005), was removed from this copy when Startsev became persona non grata.  In 1949, during Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaign of 1948–53, Startsev was arrested on charges of anti-Soviet propaganda (he had previously written a number of works on America and American writers) and sentenced to 10 years in the Gulag.

 

 

Posted in Cross-cultural material, Russia | Leave a comment

Mrs Jarley’s Waxworks

I am currently reading my way chronologically through Dickens’ novels.  I started this reading project last year, but as I’m not reading them back to back (and I’m actually quite a slow reader), I’m only as far as The Old Curiosity Shop.  With the tale of Little Nell still fresh in my mind, I was interested to come across this:

Dickens Mrs Jarley

The book (apparently here in its first collected edition) describes how to put on various tableaux vivants of famous characters, both real and fictitious, in which the performers are presented in the guise of waxworks.  Mrs Jarley is but a minor character in Dickens’ novel, but the entertainments she peddles to Nell are here made flesh, and her travelling spectacle revived and expanded.  The scenes—dozens are here collected—see the ‘statues’ arranged on stage.  Following introductions from Mrs Jarley, who narrates throughout, each is seen to come briefly to life adding humour or a grotesque aspect to the vignettes.  Characters include Little Nell, Lord Byron, Childe Harold, Old King Cole, Little Red Riding Hood, Christopher Columbus, Robinson Crusoe, Lady Macbeth, King Lear, Juliet, and (in parts III and IV, drawn up by the English newspaper editor, William Gurney Benham) Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom, Shakespeare, Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, William Tell, Guy Fawkes, Cinderella, Buffalo Bill, and Lewis Carroll’s Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Mrs J 1

Mrs J 2

The original author, George Bradford Barlett (1832–1896), was a New Englander who wrote the popular Concord: History, Literary and Picturesque (which ran to more than fifteen editions in his lifetime), as well as poetic encomia to Massachusetts.  He evidently saw success with this theatrical effort, for there are many recorded examples of Mrs. Jarley’s Waxworks being performed in the church halls and temperance houses of New England.  Interestingly, the phenomenon enjoys literary echoes in the work of that other Concord native, Louisa M. Alcott (in Jo’s Boys, the titular siblings enjoy entertainments presented by Professor Owlsdark, whose ‘marbles’ have strong echoes within the present work), and Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose intrepid Ohio homesteaders visit a performance of ‘Jarley’s Waxworks’ in Little House on the Prairie.

 

Posted in America, Cross-cultural material | Leave a comment

A Scot in Russia

Later this week I shall be in Edinburgh, for the Edinburgh book fair.  In fact, as last year, I shall be travelling up there on World Book Day, a day which is all about getting children reading.  So, what better for this week’s post than a collection of fourteen children’s books, by the Russian son of a notable Scot:

Carrick

These charming little books (each one 127 × 193 mm, and 16 pages long), published in 1918, are the work of the illustrator Valery Carrick (1869–1943), the son of the famous Scottish–Russian photographer, William Carrick.  ‘He was left of centre and a number of his fairly outspoken political lampoons appeared in liberal journals in the early 1900s …  He and his wife Olga finally left Russia in 1918, but got marooned in Norway, as Olga is alleged to have had a superstitious fear of crossing water.  She died there in the mid twenties, he in 1943 during the Nazi occupation, but not at their hands’ (Felicity Ashbee, ‘The Carricks of St Petersburg’, The Caledonian Phalanx: Scots in Russia, National Library of Scotland exhibition catalogue, 1987, p. 103).

Many of Carrick’s illustrated fables—Greek, Norwegian, Lezgian, Ukrainian, as well as Russian—appeared in English as Picture Tales, translated by Nevill Forbes (Carrick’s cousin) and published by Basil Blackwell.

If you’re going to be in Edinburgh at the end of this week, please come along and take a look at these, and other books, at Stand 1.

 

Posted in Cross-cultural material, Russia | Leave a comment

American sympathy for the Bolsheviks

Sinclair JH 1

‘Upton Sinclair seems to have been made to order for Russian readers in the early years of the Soviet regime.  Always topical and sharply provocative, he labored to expose the seamy side of American life, constantly hammering away at moral, social, economic, and political evil.  Ever sympathetic toward the underprivileged, and perpetually shocked by social injustice, he made his writing a fervent protest against America’s inadequacies’ (Deming Brown, Soviet Attitudes toward American Writing, p. 202).

The image at the head of this post comes from this book, a large-format (262 × 173 mm) illustrated edition of Sinclair’s Jimmie Higgins, published in Moscow in 1922:

Sinclair Jimmie

The translation was originally published the previous year in Petrograd by Gosizdat.  The translator, Mikhail Diakonov (1885–1938), a member of the Soviet trade delegation to Norway in the 1920s, also translated Thackeray, and was the author of a number of popular travel books on the Arctic.  In 1938, he was arrested for espionage and shot, to be rehabilitated in 1956.

But what makes this edition special is the illustrations Mikhail Cheremnykh (1890–1962), which appear here for the first time: energetic line drawings in the text itself …

Sinclair JH 2

… and, more importantly, the striking full-page colour plates:

Sinclair-JH-3

Sinclair JH 4

Sinclair JH 5

Jimmie Higgins (1919) ‘was published in no less than nineteen Soviet editions [and] was the first [novel] by an American to express sympathy for the Bolsheviks.  It was so popular that it was made into a Russian film, and as late as 1939 one critic warmly recalled that “in the days when fourteen capitalist powers fell upon the young Soviet republic, Upton Sinclair created the figure of Jimmie Higgins, brave little Jimmie, who died for the cause of the international working class”’ (Brown, p. 204).

 

Posted in America, Cross-cultural material, Russia | Leave a comment

Scottish Gothic

With the California book fair now behind me, my thoughts turn to Edinburgh, where I shall be exhibiting 6–7 March.  As ever with fairs, what to take?  Here’s a candidate:

Rambach

I’ve written before about Ossian, and the effect it had in Germany (not least, on Goethe), but I’d never heard of this book before: Die eiserne Maske.  Eine schottische Geschichte [The Iron Mask.  A Scottish Story] von Ottokar Sturm, from 1792.

‘Ottokar Sturm’ is a pseudonym for Friedrich Eberhard Rambach (1767–1826), a prolific writer of medieval adventures and horror stories.  He was a Berlin schoolmaster, and one of his pupils was the 18-year-old Ludwig Tieck, whom Rambach got to help in writing his own books.  To Die eiserne Maske Tieck contributed at least two Ossianic poems—his first published poems, no less, effectively his first literary translations from English—and a chapter and a half at the end.

The novel takes the theme of Schiller’s Die Räuber (1781) but transplants the action to the Scottish Highlands.  ‘This atmosphere was achieved by borrowing such names as Dunkan, Malwina, Carno, Toskar, Linuf and Dunchomar, all found in Ossian, as well as by introducing devices such as knocking on one’s shield as a challenge to fight, the cairn of four stones marking the hero’s grave, the emphasis on bleak and chilling imagery and the barren landscapes …  Two hostile brothers, Carno and Ryno, the sons of Tondal, are in love with Malwina, the daughter of Toskar, who has promised that she will be given to the one who proves himself the braver.  By nature the brothers differ greatly, Carno being the noble, valiant hero beloved by all, while Ryno is the spiteful and sinister one, everywhere despised and feared.  Tieck’s contribution to the novel was part of the seventh chapter and the whole of the following final one, in which his task was to depict Ryno’s mounting self-reproach for his cruelty towards his brother, and the ensuing destruction he brings upon himself …  The inevitable horror of the situation, inherent in the story as he had received it from Rambach, was coloured and intensified by his own experience …  This is a vital factor in the estimation of the role played by Rambach, for we see that Tieck’s interest in the horrific and demonic, recurring as it did throughout his entire literary production … sprang jointly from his own psychopathic disposition, conditioned by such stimuli as he found in his indiscriminate reading’ (James Trainer, ‘Tieck, Rambach and the corruption of genius’, German Life and Letters, 16/1, Oct. 1962, p. 30–1).

Although Die eiserne Maske has been reprinted in German in modern times, it has never appeared in English.

 

Posted in Cross-cultural material, Germany | Leave a comment

For German children in Russia

Ever since my university days, when I studied German and Russian, I’ve been interested in connections between the German- and Russian-speaking worlds.  So it was a particularly nice surprise when I came across this book recently:

Joujou 1

You can just make out in the picture that a new engraved title-page has been pasted over an earlier letterpress one, which reads ABC-Buch zum Gebrauch für kleine Kinder (St Petersburg, Karl Kray, 1828).  Just the kind of bibliographical puzzle I like.

The book itself provides the basics for German-speaking children to learn three alphabets: Fraktur, in both printed and handwritten versions, and Roman letters.  Example texts are provided in all three forms, before a section of fables for more practice.  This is followed by a charming series of 24 coloured engravings, one for each letter of the alphabet (with the exception of X and Y, as these are so rarely used at the beginning of German words).  Each image shows various objects or activities which begin with that letter, for example the first engraving, ‘A’, depicts Aal, Affe, Anker, angeln (eel, monkey, anchor, fishing) etc.

Joujou 2

To return to the puzzle: is this the first edition of the book (something we booksellers are always keen to discover)?  The answer, put simply, is I just don’t know.  The book, in either form (letterpress or engraved title-page) is extremely rare: it is not listed in Gisela Teistler’s exhaustive Fibel-Findbuch (2003), the standard bibliography for German ABC books, and it is not listed in any of the usual online library databases.  Whatever its publishing history, it has survived.  And it is rather lovely.

 

Posted in Cross-cultural material, Germany, Russia | Leave a comment

San Francisco on the Soviet stage

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have a particular interest in cultural relations between the English-speaking world and Europe, especially Germany and Russia.  I’ve written before about the popularity of Jack London in Russia, ‘until the 1950’s … by far the most popular American author’ there, and illustrated a few of the many translations produced to fulfil the demand of Russian readers.  But here’s something slightly different:

London

This is the first (and only) edition of a rare Proletkult play, On the Other Side of the Slot, by Aleksandr Afinogenov (1904–1941), a young Soviet playwright, which is based on London’s story ‘South of the Slot’ (1909).  The text comes from a performance staged by the Proletkult’s 1st Workers’ Theatre, in Moscow.  The title of both the story and the play, which are set in early twentieth-century San Francisco, refers to the cable cars which used to run along Market Street.

Next week, I shall be heading to San Francisco myself, for the 48th California International Antiquarian Book Fair.  This year, for the first time, it’s taking place in Oakland, where Jack London grew up.  If you’d like to see what else I shall be exhibiting there, here is a link to my fair list.

 

Posted in America, Cross-cultural material, Russia | Leave a comment

This is the man

In two weeks’ time I shall be exhibiting at the 48th California International Antiquarian Book Fair in Oakland.  As ever, what to take?  Whatever else will go in the trunks, this is certainly on the list:

Disraeli 1

It’s a large (605 × 558 mm) visual puzzle commemorating the Congress of Berlin in 1878, following the Russo-Turkish War, and is printed on cotton to help solve the puzzle.  Represented in profile are the heads of the four leading statesmen at the Congress: Prince Aleksandr Gorchakov, chancellor of the Russian Empire (and school-fellow of Pushkin); Count Gyula Andrássy, Foreign Minister of Austria-Hungary; Alexandros Karatheodoris Pasha, head commissioner of the Porte at the Congress; and German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck.  When folded correctly the puzzle is solved:

Disraeli 2

That’s right, the four heads transform into that of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli!

My fair list for Oakland should be ready sometime next week.  If you’d like to receive a copy, please let me know.

 

Posted in Cross-cultural material, Germany, Russia | Leave a comment

A novel dissected

Last month, over at The New Antiquarian, I wrote about uncut books: I love them, but not collating them.  But here’s something I had recently which made ‘collating’ (i.e. checking to see if it’s all there) rather more fun:

UTC-puzzle

Published c.1860 by John Betts in London, it’s ‘a sheet of 22 coloured illustrations, dissected as a puzzle, adapted to the use of children’.  The website Uncle Tom’s Cabin & American Culture features a number of American jigsaw puzzles among its collection of ‘Tomitudes’.  This is an attractive British example, unknown to Hannas, who lists a different puzzle with ten, rather than 22, scenes (The English Jigsaw Puzzle 1760 to 1890, p. 130).

Stowe-puzzle-lr

 

Louise L. Stevenson writes: ‘For European and American manufacturers of commercial items purchased with discretionary income, the appearance of a literary bestseller such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin offered a bonanza.  Because existing law did not deem that the characters, objects, and images associated with a text belonged to the author or copyright holder, anyone or any business might appropriate such a popular object and reproduce it for profit …  Of pre-twentieth-century bestsellers, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was unique for two reasons. It was an American book, and it generated more tie-ins than any other pre-twentieth-century book. Almost all these goods were produced for the expanding transatlantic market of middle- to upper-class consumers …  In the United States and Britain, commercial manufacturers of printed goods had responded immediately to the potential for Uncle Tom-themed items and in the post-Civil War years.  They continued to produce a plethora of paper products to support domestic decoration and play—mainly paper dolls, board games, puzzles, and Author card games, throughout the nineteenth century …’ (‘Virtue Displayed: the Tie-Ins of Uncle Tom’s Cabin).

 

Posted in America, Cross-cultural material | Leave a comment