Vive la France?


This scarce satirical etching, The Beaux Nurses, refers to the controversy and protest surrounding a French theatrical company, nicknamed the ‘French Strollers’, who applied for and were granted a licence to perform at the Haymarket in the winter of 1749.  Their arrival occasioned much discontent; as the Scots Magazine reported, they were ‘bitterly pelted in the news-papers’.  Asserting their right to perform, they persisted in a show on 14 November, but were met by an audience intent on sabotage.

An eyewitness account of the incident appeared in the Monthly Review some years later  (July 1761): ‘People went early to the Theatre, as a crouded House was certain …  I soon perceived that we were visited by two Westminster Justices, Deveil and Manning.  The Leaders, that had the conduct of the Opposition, were known to be there; one of whom called aloud for the song in praise of English roast beef, which was accordingly sung in the gallery, by a person prepared for that purpose; and the whole house besides joining in the chorus, saluted the close with three huzzas!  This, Justice Deveil was pleased to say, was a riot’.

Despite the Justice’s assertions that the play was licensed by the King’s command, the crowd had come prepared to produce disruption.  They were equipped with instruments which they played discordantly as an accompaniment to their jeers, catcalls, and Francophobic songs: ‘as an attempt at speaking was ridiculous, the Actors retired, and opened instead with a grand dance of twelve men and twelve women; but even that was prepared for, and they were directly saluted with a bushel or two of peas, which made their capering very unsafe’.

Unable even to dance, and following another abortive attempt by the magistrates to assert the King’s authority, the curtain fell for the final time.  The eyewitness evidently relished the outcome, venturing ‘that at no battle gained over the French, by the immortal Marlborough, the shoutings could be more joyous than on this occasion’.  The print embodies similar sentiments; the French strollers attack British theatrical establishment—represented by an affronted Britannia—who stands between them and British theatre-goers.  In the foreground stands a perplexed Othello, lamenting the loss of his occupation, and an injured man a man lies on the floor ‘Almost kill’d for not understanding French’.

For this, and other items of theatrical interest, please see my latest e-list, Shakespeare and the Stage.


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‘I never have any luck with my books’

Friedo Lampe.  Am Rande der Nacht.  For me, name and title evoked those lighted windows from which you cannot tear your gaze.  You are convinced that, behind them, somebody whom you have forgotten has been awaiting your return for years, or else that there is no longer anybody there.  Only a lamp, left burning in the empty room.  (Patrick Modiano, The Search Warrant)

On 2 May 1945, in Kleinmachnow, just outside Berlin, two Red Army soldiers stopped a passer-by, and demanded his papers.  The man—tall, thin, but broad-shouldered, in a dark blue coat, hat, and with a rucksack on his back—did as he was asked.  But something was not right.  The Russians began to question the man, who did not quite resemble the photograph before them.  Five minutes later, having not been able to make himself intelligible to the soldiers, the man was ordered onto a nearby patch of grass.  He raised his arm across his face, when two shots were fired, and he fell to the ground.

We might dismiss the incident, over seventy years later, as a tragic circumstance of war, a case of someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but for the fact that we know exactly who that man was.  His name was Friedo Lampe, he was 45 years old, and he was a writer.  As a gay man in Germany during the Third Reich his life could have ended much sooner, but he had survived.  Yet, gnawed with worry at the possibility of being found out, and fearing for friends who were called up to fight, he had lost a great deal of weight during the War, so much so that he no longer resembled the photograph on his identity card.  He had almost survived: the War itself ended only six days later, on 8 May.

Friedo Lampe, with his friend Peter Voß, in Berlin

Friedo Lampe, with his friend Peter Voß, in Berlin

Lampe was born on 4 December 1899, in the northern city of Bremen, a place which would exert a particular influence on his writing.  At the age of five, he was diagnosed with bone tuberculosis in his left ankle and was sent to a children’s clinic over 100 miles away, on the East Frisian island of Nordeney; he spent a total of three years there, away from his family, before being pronounced cured, but it left him disabled for the rest of his life.  As a teenager, Lampe was a voracious reader (E.T.A. Hoffmann, Kleist, Büchner, Rilke, Thomas Mann, Kafka, Boccaccio, Cervantes, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe) and an insatiable book buyer: ‘It really is an illness with me.  I just have to buy every book, even if I don’t have the money.’  After the First World War, during which he was given a desk job with the mess sergeant at a local barracks, Lampe studied literature, art history, and philosophy at Heidelberg (with Friedrich Gundolf and Karl Jaspers), Munich, and Freiburg (with Edmund Husserl), before returning to Bremen and work, first as a trainee at, but soon sub-, then associate editor of the family magazine, Schünemanns Monatshefte.  In 1931, the magazine ceased publication (a victim of the Great Depression), and Lampe retrained as a librarian; he soon found work with the public libraries in Hamburg, where he was responsible for acquisitions.

Friedo Lampe

Lampe in 1931

It was in Hamburg that he became acquainted with young writers such as Wilhelm Emanuel Süskind (father of Patrick) and Joachim Maass, who wrote for the avant-garde monthly arts magazine, Der Kreis.  The Nazis’ seizure of power in January 1933 soon put paid to the magazine, which was shut down months later.  Many of Lampe’s writer friends went into exile.

But Lampe himself was writing, and his first novel, Am Rande der Nacht (‘At the Edge of the Night’), was published by Rowohlt in Berlin at the end of October 1933.  The Oxford Companion to German Literature tells us that it ‘evokes the sensations and impressions of a September evening in Bremen with its charm and tenderness, its squalor and its lust, held together by the thread of the melodies of Bach …’.  But there is more to it than that.  The title-page of the novel is dated 1934, but by then the book was already unavailable: in December 1933 it was seized by the Nazis, withdrawn from sale, and later included on their official ‘list of damaging and undesirable writings’ due to homoerotic content and its depiction of an interracial liaison between a black man and a German woman.  Lampe wrote at the time that the book was born into a regime where it could not breathe, but hoped that one day it might rise again.

Cover to the first edition of 'Am Rande der Nacht', 1933

Cover to the first edition of ‘Am Rande der Nacht’, 1933

Am Rande der Nacht is not simply a rare example of a novel by a gay German writer in the Thirties.  It is also an early work of magic realism—‘The way spaces, periods of time, slide into each other, something which is sometimes called surrealism, is an artistic method Lampe liked to employ’, wrote the author Kurt Kusenberg.  ‘People live their lives as if a dream’—and exhibits a new narrative form which, in Germany at least, was largely without precedent.  It has no one main character, but rather weaves together the actions of various people from that one September evening.  Rowohlt’s chief editor at the time, Paul Meyer, wrote: ‘The novel is good, stylistically.  It is not always easy to read because, like the novels of Dos Passos, it doesn’t have a continuous plot, but a sequence of quick-changing, parallel scenes’.  The book’s dust-jacket, when Rowohlt published it, drew attention to this.  In large letters across the front cover, it stated: ‘A remarkable novel.  Novel?  A stream of images and scenes, with many characters: children, old people and young people, men and women, townsfolk, performers, students, and seamen.  Things happen as they happen, horrible things, touching things, exciting, gentle, all against the backdrop and in the atmosphere of a sultry summer night on the waterfront of a north German city.  A melancholy, beautiful book, akin to the timeless writing of Hofmannsthal, Eduard Keyserling and Herman Bang’.  (The dust-jacket advertised other Rowohlt publications which were duly banned by the Nazis: Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, and In einem andern Land, the 1930 translation of A Farewell to Arms.)

Lampe loved Ancient Greek literature; his later heroes were Kleist, Otto Ludwig, and Cervantes.  But it was his keen interest in the cinema which influenced his first book most.  Lampe conceived the novel as filmartig (‘film-like’, ‘cinematic’) when he was writing it, intending ‘everything [to be] light and flowing, only loosely connected, graphic, lyrical, strongly atmospheric’.  The result is a narrative style which moves from long streams of comma-separated clauses of reported action, almost like stage directions, to passages of fluid, sensuous lyricism.  There are frequent changes of voice, and regionalisms mix with more poetic language.  Writing in 1959, Heinz Piontek called Lampe ‘one of the first German writers to transfer the technology of film onto prose.  His eye has something of a camera about it, dissecting the action into “sequences”’; the editors of Rowohlt’s 1986 collected edition drew attention to Lampe’s ‘soft cross-fades, clean cuts or deftly executed pan shots’.  As Lampe wrote in Laterna magica, a short story published only after his death: ‘The most important thing is the cut.’

Cover to the first edition of ‘Septembergewitter’, 1937, designed by Peter Voß

Nazi censorship policies also made things difficult for Lampe as a book-buying librarian, and in 1937 he moved to Berlin, where he accepted a job as an editor with Rowohlt.  Lampe’s second novel, Septembergewitter (‘September Storm’), came out in December that year.  Despite positive reception from critics, sales were poor, in part due to bad timing: it was too close to Christmas, and by the January the new book was old news.

Lampe carried on at Rowohlt until the end of September 1939—the press was shut down by the Nazis, and Ernst Rowohlt himself left Germany—when he worked as an editor first for Goverts, at the time one of the leading literary publishers in the country, then for the recently-founded Karl Heinz Henssel Verlag (July 1940 onwards).  In 1943–4, he edited a series of works by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German authors for Diederichs in Jena.  During the War, Lampe produced very little of his own work, only a dozen short stories.  He was gripped by fear: fear that friends, or he himself (though his disability apparently saved him from this), would be called up for military service, fear of not having enough to eat, fear of losing his friends, job, and home, fear of being arrested for his homosexuality, fear that a long-desired volume of his own collected works would never appear.  And his fears proved true: nearly all his friends were called up; then, in the night of 22–23 November 1943, his flat was completely destroyed in an air raid on Berlin.  Lampe was beside himself, and reports in letters that only a couple of pieces of furniture could be saved.  His greatest loss was his books: ‘That’s the worst thing.  I’ve spent my whole life building up that library.  It was in its way unique: a comprehensive collection of German literature from its beginnings to the present.  And the best translations of foreign literature, all systematically collected and arranged, some in valuable editions’.

Lampe Von TurA new edition of Septembergewitter (printed in a collection of short stories entitled Von Tür zu Tür, ‘From Door to Door’, in which any English names in the novel were replaced with Danish ones) was planned for 1944, but it was beset with problems: the threat of closure for Goverts Verlag, a lack of paper for printing.  Finally, paper was secured, and the type set, only for most of the edition to go up in flames during an air raid on Leipzig.  ‘I never have any luck with my books,’ Lampe commented.

After the destruction of his flat, Lampe had moved to Kleinmachnow, between Berlin and Potsdam, where he was given refuge by the writer, Ilse Molzahn, whom he had got to know when working at Rowohlt.  She had left the city for the relative safety of Silesia, and was only too pleased to know someone would be living in her house.  Lampe found living there an ‘idyll’ after the horrors of Berlin.

By the end of 1944, Lampe had been drafted into working for a branch of the Nazi Foreign Office, editing reports from intercepted enemy news broadcasts.  As the months went by, Lampe understood all too clearly the course the War was taking, the regime’s impending defeat, and the nature of its crimes.  Lampe called the work ‘gruelling, a real grind.  Six hours of tense, eye-straining correction work a day, lots of night shifts, constant tiredness …  But I am lucky with how things are.  I was examined again recently and marked down as “out of commission”’.

The War had taken its toll on the man.  Lampe had always been known for his healthy appetite, but by 1942 had already lost a lot of weight.  Three years later and he was, by all accounts, a shadow of his former physical self.  In the spring of 1945, Molzahn returned with her family to Kleinmachnow.  With Soviet forces moving into neighbouring Wannsee, she wanted to press on to Nauen which, it was rumoured, had been taken by American troops.  She urged Lampe to go with them, but he instead returned to Kleinmachnow and that fateful Soviet patrol.

Lampe’s body was taken to a local Catholic priest, and later interred in a nearby cemetery.  His grave is marked by a simple wooden cross, carved with the words ‘Du bist nicht einsam’: ‘You are not alone’.

Hermann Hesse later wrote: ‘His novel Am Rande der Nacht appeared in 1933.  I read it at the time with great interest, as German prose writers of such quality were rare even then … And what struck us at the time … as so beautiful and powerful has not paled, it has withstood; it proves itself with the best, and captivates and delights just as then.’

Friedo Lampe, c.1940

Friedo Lampe, c.1940

Von Tür zur Tür was republished in 1946; a new version of Am Rande der Nacht, with the ‘offensive’ passages removed, appeared in 1949 as Ratten und Schwäne (‘Rats and Swans’).  A volume of collected works was published in 1955 (in which, likewise, Am Rande der Nacht appeared in an expurgated version); an enlarged, second edition came out in 1986.  A new edition of Am Rande der Nacht, following the text of the first edition, was published in 1999, to mark the centenary of the author’s birth.  Lampe’s work has been translated into French, Dutch, and Italian.  According to Wikipedia, translations into Serbian and Spanish are to follow, but none of his work has ever appeared in English.

This article was first published in The Book Collector, Summer 2016.


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Mowgli in Moscow

I’m currently cataloguing material for a list on the theatre, to be issued later in the summer (do let me know if you’d like to receive it) and thought I’d share this, as a follow-up to my post last year on Kipling in Russia.


This is a copy of the first (and only) edition of Mowgli.  A play for children’s theatre … after Kipling, published in Moscow and Leningrad in 1923, by Vladimir Volkenstein (1883–1975), a playwright with the Moscow Art Theatre.  His popular dramatisation of The Jungle Book was first staged at Moscow’s State Children’s Theatre in 1920 by Henrietta Pascar; by March 1923 it had been performed around 160 times.

The printed play is notable for its illustrations, which feature some wonderful set and costume designs.







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The Russian taste for Edgar Allan Poe


‘”Edgar Poe—the underground stream in Russia.”  So the Russian Symbolist poet Aleksandr Blok noted in his journal for November 6, 1911, a topic for a future critical study.  The article was never written, but the prospect has remained an enticing one.  For Poe’s fame, however clouded by conflicting interpretation, is of long standing in Russia’ (Joan Delaney Grossman, Edgar Allan Poe in Russia: a study in legend and literary influence, p. 7).

In fact, Russian interest in the works of Poe (1809–1849) actually began while the great American author was still alive.  His first appearance in the language was in 1847, when a translation of his prize-winning story The Gold-Bug (1843) was published in Moscow, alongside an article on the moon and another about a journey to the Harz Mountains, in the first number of Pyotr Redkin’s short-lived Novaia biblioteka dlia vospitaniia (‘The New Library for Education’), a journal for young people and their teachers:


The translation was done, as was the case with many Russian translations of the period, via French (from Alphonse Borghers’ Le Scarabée d’or of 1845).  ‘Where the Russian differs markedly from the French as well as the English, the changes seem to have been dictated by the youth of the audience for whom it was prepared.  Despite its short life [it only ran for two years], the New Library was of decidedly high caliber, apparently aimed at systematically exposing its young readers to varied cultural experiences’ (Grossman, p. 25).

Further translations in various literary journals followed throughout the second half of the nineteenth century.  Then, in 1895, the poet Konstantin Balmont published two important translations: Ballady i fantazii (‘Ballads and fantasies’) and Tainstvennye rasskazy (‘Tales of Mystery’).

Poe Ballady

‘The appearance of the two Balmont volumes was probably the most significant single event in the whole course of Poe’s fame in Russia.  It was also an event for the budding Russian Symbolist movement.  Over the next decade or more Balmont came close to duplicating in Russian Baudelaire’s services towards Poe …  The new translations were both symptom and cause of increased interest in Poe.  Balmont’s two volumes offered a wider selections than any yet known in Russia.  Their quality, in comparison to what had been known before, was of the highest …’ (Grossman, pp. 72–3).

In the Ballady, Balmont translated a number of the poems for the first time, among them ‘The Bells’.  It was this version which Rachmaninov used as the basis for his great choral symphony in 1913.


Posted in America, Cross-cultural material, Russia | 2 Comments

More coloured paper

Last week, I wrote about a book printed on coloured paper which I shall be exhibiting at the forthcoming London International Antiquarian Book Fair.  Here are two more:

Frere 1   Frere 2

These charming little books are two popular local guides for French and English passengers travelling along the Seine from Paris to the sea.  Both were published in Rouen in 1837 and both were written by booksellers.  The French one, by Edouard Frère (who was the publisher in both cases), went through at least three editions, 1837–42, and the English one, by Joseph Morlent, even more: six in French, 1826–36, and four in English, 1837–43.  These are both first editions, and special copies (the books are usually found on ordinary paper), printed on coloured paper: the Frère on green, Morlent on yellow.  I have been unable to locate any other copies of either book so described.

‘Nobody can behold with indifference the banks of the Seine.  Whoever the traveller may be that surveys them, he meets objects worthy of his attention.  If he be a landscape painter, they offer him admirable scenery; if a poet, he finds inspiration; an historian, illustrious reminiscences; an observer, pictures of morals which might borrow from an elegant pen an inexpressible charm …’ (Morlent, Introdution).

One writer who drew inspiration from the river was Flaubert.  The opening of L’Éducation sentimentale (set in 1840, just a few years after the present books were published), when Frédéric Moreau meets Mme Arnoux for the first time, takes place on a steam packet on the Seine heading for Normandy.


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‘In the most fashionable colours’

At the London International Antiquarian Book Fair next week, I shall be featuring a number of books printed on coloured paper on my stand.  Here’s a sneak preview of one:

Busby 1

The Semiquaver was a charming privately-printed magazine, produced in 1869–70, in which each issue was lithographed on a different shade of vibrantly coloured paper.


The writer/editor was a man called Frederick Busby, and his aim was to cover various aspects of musical interest—including concerts and events in London and provincial towns—in a humorous and informative manner.  It sets this tone in the ‘preludial piece’, which explains that the journal was almost called The Breve, but the present title was chosen ‘lest some of our readers say “if it is only a semiquaver, it must be soon over”’.  The work continues in this amusing vein, but with a sincere aim to bring a dash of élan—‘we shall appear on the first of each month in the most fashionable colours’—and genuinely interesting musical content ‘from a staff of amateur musicians and others interested in music’.

Busby 2

Busby 3

Busby 4

Each issue includes coverage of concerts lately held and forthcoming, educational segments regarding tricky or unusual musical notation, and a ‘Conundrum’: ‘When is a fiddler like a yankee?  When he draws the long bow’, though these become rather more laboured as the run progresses.

The magazine was distributed according to an annual subscription, but although new issues were listed in the literary notices of Lloyds’ Weekly Newspaper, its critical reception was rather scant.  A review in The Era for December 1869 fails to see the appeal in its unusual presentation: ‘The Semiquaver has not yet reached the dignity of type, but is simply lithographed’.  The reviewer is also rather snide about the November issue’s illustrations of Norwich and Worcester cathedrals, finding them ‘humorous’ in a way not intended by the artist:

Busby 5

Despite this, various addresses to its readership give thanks for continued support, and many of the notices are responses to an actively corresponding readership.


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Off the rails: the first murder on a British train


Something else for the London International Antiquarian Book Fair?  A scarce slipsong ballad, jauntily memorialising Franz Müller’s trial for the murder of City banker Thomas Briggs on a London train.

Late in the evening of 9 July 1864, Briggs was attacked in his first class compartment whilst travelling home on the train from Fenchurch Street to Chalk Farm.  His assailant struck him, stole his gold watch and spectacles, and threw his body from the compartment.  Spotted by the driver of a train travelling in the opposite direction, Briggs was found alive, but died of his wounds shortly after being carried to the Mitford Castle pub on Cadogan Terrace.

The investigation and trial proved sensational.  After an appeal for information, and the offer of a large reward for information by Briggs’s bank, a Cheapside jeweller confirmed that a German man had pawned belongings later identified as Briggs’s.  The jeweller’s logo was recognised by a cabman from a jewellery box belonging to his daughter, who had been engaged to German tailor Franz Müller until his unexplained disappearance.  Müller had fled to New York, but he was extradited to Britain to face trail, where he appeared before the Old Bailey in October 1864.  The present work gleefully covers the trial to date, referencing Müller’s return from New York, and citing the Cabman’s evidence:

‘Muller’s got the watch, you see, so it proves that he is guilty … / For if it should be him, on the gallows let him swing, / For the murder on the railway train.’

The author proved prophetic: Müller was found guilty, and was executed by hanging one month later.

Opponents of the railways had long painted a gloomy picture of the lone passenger’s safety; the lack of connecting corridors in the earliest trains meant that robberies and assaults were sufficiently common to provide the press with a steady stream of material.  Briggs’s murder further inflamed the public, and the ensuing outcry contributed to the Regulation of Railways Act (1868), which resulted in the establishment of communication cords, as well as the creation of railway carriages with corridors.  In some cases old rolling stock was modified to include circular peepholes in the partitions; these became known—somewhat macabrely—as ‘Muller’s Lights’.


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Books in the balance


This large coloured lithograph, published in 1827, satirises Sir Walter Scott and how the Irish poet Thomas Moore pipped him to the post.  BM Satires explains:

‘A pair of scales hands unevenly.  In the upper scale sits Scott … supporting on his knees the nine volumes of his “Napoleon”.  He looks down, absorbed and melancholy …  In the other scale sits Thomas Moore, small, dapper, and jaunty … [and holding up] a small volume to Scott which outweighs his rival’s bulky compilation’.  Scott’s Life of Napoleon Buonaparte and Moore’s Epicurean, a prose tale based on the unpublished poem Alciphron, were to be published the same day.  ‘Moore said: “I found my little cock boat (the ‘Epicurean’) would be run down by the launch of the great warship (Napoleon)”.  He managed to get his book published the day before Scott’s (whose work he disparaged) …

‘Described by Lady Holland, “The likenesses are very strong & good; the joyous air of Moore is very well represented.”’

I plan to exhibit the lithograph later this month at the London International Antiquarian Book Fair, for which you can register for free tickets here.


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The first bibliography of 18th-century English literature


I’m sure that if you asked anyone “what was the first bibliography of eighteenth-century English literature?”, they probably wouldn’t guess that it was published in Berlin:

Reuss 1  Reuss 2

The book was the brainchild of the great Enlightenment publisher (and Anglophile), Friedrich Nicolai.  In 1789, he wrote a letter to Jeremias David Reuß (1750–1837), under-librarian at the University of Göttingen, one of the best libraries in Germany, and rich in English books.  Along with the letter, Nicolai sent Reuß a copy of Marshall’s recently-published—and rather boastful—Catalogue of Five Hundred Celebrated Authors (London, 1788; ‘so new in its design, that, if, like certain authors, we were to indulge in the whispers of vanity, we might consider ourselves as the inventors of a new science …’).  Earlier works of bio-bibliography had not focused on contemporary authors, and had not focused on literature, two elements which interested Nicolai, who had been publishing German translations of English literature since the 1760s.  Marshall’s book, however, was not without its deficiencies, and it was certainly not much of a bibliography.  Nicolai’s plan was for Reuß to work through the standard English journals of the day and compile a new, comprehensive list of contemporary English literature which could be of use to both German and English readers (hence title-pages in both languages).  In terms of form, the model was to be Hamberger and Meusel’s well-known bibliography Das gelehrte Teutschland (1767 and later editions), itself based upon La France littéraire (1752), as nothing comparable had appeared in English before.

Reuß's model: Hamberger and Meusel’s "Das gelehrte Teutschland" (here the entry for Goethe from the fourth edition, 1783).

Reuß’s model: Hamberger and Meusel’s “Das gelehrte Teutschland” (here the entry for Goethe from the fourth edition, 1783).


Reuß was nothing if not thorough.  In his search for details of books, he spent months scouring 81 volumes of the Monthly Review, 38 volumes of the Critical, plus past numbers of the Philosophical Transactions, Archaeologia, the Transactions of the American Society at Philadelphia, the Memoirs of the American Society at Boston, various medical journals, Asiatick Researches, and shelf after shelf of German periodicals.

In a letter from Reuß, a print-run of 800 copies was suggested, and the book certainly seems scarce today.


A sample page from Reuß's book, showing entries for Boswell, and the American James Bowdoin.

A sample page from Reuß’s book, showing entries for Boswell, and the American James Bowdoin.


For a full account of the book’s history, see Bernhard Fabian, ‘Die erste Bibliographie der englischen Literatur des achtzehten Jahrhunderts: Jeremias David Reuß’ Gelehrtes England’, Selecta Anglicana (Wiesbaden, 1994), pp. 239–265.


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George Eliot, the first translation

As regular readers here will know, I am always on the lookout for cross-cultural material.  So I was interested in reading two articles on Anglo-German cultural exchange published this week, in The Observer (on Neil MacGregor) and The New Statesman.  In the latter, mention is made of George Eliot and her connection with Germany.  As the article says, she visited a lot, spoke German well, and even commented, in 1879, that “Germans are excellent readers of my books”.  Eliot’s first published book had even been a translation from German: The Life of Jesus, critically examined (1846), a translation of David Friedrich Strauss’s Das Leben Jesu, kritisch bearbeitet (1835–6), PMM 300.

By complete chance, I was recently doing some work on translations of Eliot’s own books.  One would have thought that the first foreign language in which her work appeared might have been German, but no: it was Russian.

Eliot Adam Bede

This is a copy of the first edition in Russian of Eliot’s first novel, Adam Bede, rivalled only by a Danish translation of the novel published in Copenhagen in two volumes, 1859–60.  The anonymous Russian translation appeared in three forms, all as supplements to literary journals: Russkii vestnik, Biblioteka dlia chteniia, and Otechestvennye zapiski.

Quite why the novel should have been picked up by a Russian translator, and so quickly, I have been unable to ascertain, but the book certainly proved popular.  ‘The first time that Eliot’s name was mentioned in Russia was in 1859 [the same year Adam Bede was published in London] in the literary journals which played so great a part in shaping Russian intellectual life.  This followed the publication of Adam Bede, the most widely read of her works in pre-revolutionary Russia.  For more than half a century the very name of Eliot was associated in common readers’ minds with this novel (titled as Adam Bid or as Detoubiitsa (Infanticide)), which was published in pre-1917 Russian translations eight times (in 1859, 1865, 1899, 1900 twice, 1902, 1903 and 1909) – more than any other novel by Eliot’ (Boris M. Proskurnin, ‘The reception of George Eliot in Russia: the start that determined the paradigm’, The Reception of George Eliot in Europe (Bloomsbury, 2016), p. 262).



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