Bloody satire

I was looking for something election-related for today’s blogpost.  I wrote about a couple of very nice items connected to the Russian 1906 (parliamentary) election a few years ago, but I don’t think I’ve shared this before:

It’s a merciless (and rather bloodthirsty) satire of the Radical-Socialist Édouard Herriot and the Cartel des gauches during the 1928 election by the great caricaturist Sennep (i.e. Jean-Jacques Pennès, 1894–1982), strikingly printed in red and black on ‘butcher’s paper’.


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Bor’ba in Boston

A bookseller’s year is marked by the book fairs.  Summer is a quiet time, but in autumn everything starts up again.  There was York, then the ILAB Congress in Budapest, and now there’s Grasmere (a first for the ABA), Seattle, Frankfurt, INK in London (another new fair), Boston, and Chelsea.  Obviously, I can’t attend all these, so have decided this year on Boston, where I shall be exhibiting for the first time.  As I have written elsewhere, the show is my shop, a chance for collectors to see what I sell.

One of my interests is the theatre.  Another is cross-cultural material, books which document the reception of, often, Anglo-American culture in Continental Europe.  Here’s one book I intend to have on my stand in Boston, something which I cannot locate another copy of in the West:


It’s the first edition in Russian of Nobel Laureate John Galsworthy‘s third play, Strife (1909), published in Moscow in 1918, just a year after the Revolution.  While rarely staged now, the play, which features a strike in a Welsh factory and the battle between the directors and the workers, was highly successful at the time—it was voted as one of the National Theatre’s 100 most influential plays of the twentieth century—and would have proved perfect material for the early Bolshevik theatre.

John Galsworthy (1867-1933)

‘At the white-heat core of [Galsworthy’s] play are the eternal human conflicts between idealism and pragmatism, justice and mercy, the needs and rights of individuals and communities.  Two men are simultaneously its hero and antihero: the board’s chairman and the strike’s leader.  Each is honourably committed to his beliefs; each is disastrously prepared to sacrifice himself and others for the sake of his vision’ (The Guardian, 21 August 2016, on Chichester Festival Theatre’s recent production).

The striking cover and the stage designs illustrated in the book are by Vasily Denisov (1862–1921), a Symbolist artist who worked a lot in the theatre.


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A bomb of a book


As it’s Banned Books Week (and as this year the focus is ‘Celebrating Diversity’), I thought I’d post this: The Empire of the Czar; or, Observations on the social, political, and religious State of Prospects of Russia, made during a Journey through that Empire, the first edition in English of La Russie en 1839 (Paris, 1843) by the Marquis de Custine (1790–1857).  Published the same year as the French original, it has been called ‘one of the most fascinating and most instructive volumes of Russian impressions by a foreigner’ (Simon Sebag Montefiore).

‘Custine’s 1839 trip to Russia was spurred by the triumph of Tocqueville’s De la démocratie en Amérique [1835–40], where democracy is represented as the ineluctable political evolution of advance societies.  Custine may have hoped that Russia was the proof that enlightened despotism was an equally viable system …  What Custine discovered, or believed he had discovered in Russia, turned out to be of a totally different nature from what he had expected to find: a country dominated by fear of a tyrannical power served by an implacable bureaucracy, in other words a police state.  Reluctant at first to publish his impressions, he did so after four years of discreet work.  The success of the book was considerable.  The 3000 copies of the first printing sold out.  Four pirate editions came out in Brussels before the second edition appeared in Paris.  The first English edition, entitled The Empire of the Czar, was issued in the same year, as was the first German edition; both were reprinted the following year.  In Russia, Custine’s book was banned at once …’ (Vincent Giroud, St Petersburg: a Portrait of a Great City (Beinecke Library, 2003), p. 108).

It may have been banned at the time, but Custine’s book is still in print over 170 years later.  When it was selected for inclusion in the Bibliothèque nationale’s 1990 exhibition En Français dans le texte (item 262), it was described as having ‘l’effet d’une bombe’.


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This is a copy of the first edition of The art of stage make-up.  A visual aid for members of drama groups, drama schools and professional actors by Nikolai Novliansky, with illustrations by Vadim Ryndin, a large book (252 × 362 mm) which details make-up designs for the stage from 1930.


Member of the intelligentsita/bourgeoisie; Worker/Komsomolets; Country girl.

Novliansky worked at Aleksandr Tairov’s Kamerny (‘Chamber’) Theatre, a small Moscow theatre which ran from 1914–49.  Make-up had played an important part from the Theatre’s very beginning, a production of Kalidasa’s Shakuntala, ‘notable for Tairov’s use of the painted “revealed body” of the actor as a basic costuming principle …  [and in] the Kamerny’s 1916 production of Innokenty Annensky’s Famira Kifared … the actors, many of whom played satyrs and maenads, wore false breasts with painted nipples, and costumes which further counterfeited nudity by outlining muscles’ (Spencer Golub, ‘The Silver Age, 1905–1917’, A History of Russian Theatre, CUP, pp. 296–7).

During the 1920s, Tairov’s theatre was still cutting-edge, openly mocking the government.  By the end of the decade, however, Socialist Realism was beginning to take hold, and the Theatre mended its ways.  Novliansky’s books documents this change, offering both a fascinating insight into contemporary stage practice, and the evolving Soviet iconography of certain types (the intelligentsia, the worker, the Komsomolets; the activist, the prostitute, the peasant; the priest, the kulak, the Englishman).

Member of the intelligentsia

The member of the intelligentsia


The Komsomolets

An Armenian

The Armenian

An Englishman

The Englishman



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Congreve, a wanted man

There’s one in every catalogue: one book that everyone wants.  In my recent list on Shakespeare and the Stage, it was this:

Congreve 2

A 1735 edition of Congreve’s Love for Love, his most successful Restoration comedy, heavily marked up as a prompt book for performances at Norwich’s Theatre Royal.

Love for Love opened at Lincoln’s Inn Theatre in April 1695, and was in almost constant production throughout the eighteenth century.  It concerns the farcical misadventures of Valentine, an impecunious eldest son whose only way out of financial straits is to sign over his right of inheritance to his younger brother.  Valentine accepts the deal but, fearing the loss of his beloved Angelica, takes drastic action to retain his birthright.

Congreve 1

Congreve was popular in Norwich, the city’s new theatre opening in January 1758 with The Way of the World.  It operated as the New Theatre until March 1768, when it received the Royal Assent and was subsequently renamed.  The prompt book I had appears to have been in use before then, however, as a date of 1767 had been written on the first page of dialogue.  The book had been well used, the amendments, cuts, and emphases offering insight into production and staging, including cast members.

After I had apologised to at least a dozen people that the book had already been snapped up by another customer, one said: ‘You’ll have to up the price next time.’  Not necessarily.  If, as a bookseller, you receive a dozen orders from other members of the trade, then you know you’ve missed something.  But if, as on this occasion, the orders all come from private collectors and libraries, you know that you’re achieving what you set out to do: finding books that people want to buy.  And that’s immensely gratifying.


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Isaak Vladimirovich Shklovsky (1864–1935)

‘Dioneo’ was the nom de plume of Isaak Vladimirovich Shklovsky, a Russian journalist who lived in London from 1896 onwards and from where he became well known for his sketches of British life published in various Russian journals at the time.  A number of these sketches were then subsequently published as books, such as this one, Sketches of Contemporary England, from 1903:


The sketches collected here focus on contemporary political life in Britain (the House of Commons, House of Lords, Queen Victoria, elections); the life and living conditions of the poor; and—a long section—literature and the press: the Reviews (Monthly, Quarterly, etc.); the newspapers; the Canadian writer Grant Allen (1848–1899); and, written in 1898, ‘Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman’ (pp. 392–423), which offers some of the earliest Russian commentary on either writer.

As Anna Vaninskaya wrote recently, Shklovsky’s sketches ‘contain what is effectively an encyclopedic view of late Victorian and Edwardian life’; she further notes that ‘the periodical contributions and book-length compilations of correspondents such as Shklovsky, taken together with their letters, diaries and personal papers, thus constitute a vast and almost wholly untapped resource, a unique window onto late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British culture’ (‘Under Russian eyes: foreign correspondents in Edwardian Britain’, TLS, 28 November 2014, pp. 17–8).


Shklovsky was seen as the leading authority on Britain in the Russian press at the time.  After the Revolution, which he commented upon—negatively—in Russia under the Bolsheviks (in English, London, 1919), he decided to remain here, working for the Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia, and acting as the London correspondent for the Russian-language Paris newspaper, Poslednie novosti.  He died in London in 1935.



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Liturgy and litigation

It’s been a few years since I blogged about Tchaikovsky, but as I sang a movement from the following piece last night, it seems apt to write something today.


This is a copy of the first edition of Tchaikovsky’s Liturgy of St John Chrysostom which, like his first suite for orchestra, was written in 1879.  And, like his coronation cantata Moskva, it has an attractive chromolithographed title-page.

The first edition is rare.  ‘When the Liturgy appeared in print early in 1879 its appearance on sale in Moscow and St Petersburg caused protests from the offices of the Director of the Imperial Chapel Choir, Nikolay Bakhmetyev, who began legal proceedings against Jurgenson, accusing him of publishing the Liturgy without the approval of the director of the chapel, and of violating a number of government and synodal decrees.  Jurgenson had 143 of his plates of the Liturgy confiscated, and Bakhmetyev prosecuted him for allegedly breaking the law.

‘Although in June 1879 the Chief Administration for Printed Matter in Moscow authorized Jurgenson to publish the Liturgy, subject to the approval of the city’s church censor, Nikolay Bakhmetyev continued to protest.  Then Pyotr Jurgenson took legal action against Bakhmetyev.  Nevertheless, the continued circulation of the composition hindered Bakhmetyev and his supporters among the clergy.  The judgement of the Interior Minister was finally made in December 1879, and this was also in favour of Jurgenson.  Eventually the confiscated plates were released in November and December 1880 on the orders of the Synod, who enacted a decree allowing the Moscow church censor to approve the publication of church music without reference to the Director of the Imperial Chapel Choir’ (Tchaikovsky Research).


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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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