Monday, 21 May 2018

Demon of movement, demon of time, spectra of places

Six years ago, Grabiński admirers from Poland declared 2012 "The Year of Grabiński." Up to that point, Polish readers had to consult out-of-print (frequently hard-to-find) editions in order to appreciate many lesser known works by the Polish master of psycho-fantasy.

Below, some older editions of Grabińskis novels:
Salamandra (Salamander) (Lviv 1924)
Klasztor i morze (Cloister and Sea) (Warsaw 1928)
As for critical works about the author and his literary output, one could rely only on the invaluable monograph Twórczość literacka Stefana Grabińskiego (1887-1936) (Stefan Grabiński's Literary Oeuvre) by Artur Hutnikiewicz. During his life, Hutnikiewicz was the main authority on Grabiński.

Twórczość literacka Stefana Grabińskiego (1887-1936) by Artur Hutnikiewicz, (Toruń 1959)
Thanks to the efforts of those enthusiasts who, over the years and most significantly in 2012, have made Grabiński rightfully recognizable again, numerous publishers have been drawn to his works and new Polish editions of long-time unavailable, rare Grabinskiana have been reprinted in various affordable publications, making a major part of his works finally available to his aficionados. As of now, the readers can peruse Grabiński's collections of short fiction, novels and theater plays.

Theater plays (Norbertinum, Lublin 2016)
Apart from these publications, since 2012 a couple of new monographs on Grabiński have appeared. I find this successful effort in popularizing the works of one of the greatest writers in the genre an impressive achievement.

I just got hold of the following gorgeous new monograph of 350 pages that focuses on Grabiński's life and works: Joanna Majewska, Demon of movement, demon of time, spectra of places. Fantastic Grabiński and his world. (Ossolineum Publishing House, Wrocław 2018). This is the first such richly illustrated critical study about the author to be published in any language.

From the publisher:
"Joanna Majewska attempts to recreate his world, with its centre in Lviv. She brings back people, places, and events shaping Grabiński's imagination and talent. Majewska cross-references her hypotheses with Grabiński’s writings. She presents his work as an original phenomenon, shaped by personal experience and provincial microcosm, but at the same time being part - consciously or unconsciously - of transformations undergoing in the macrocosm of the European literature and culture."
This publication deserves to be translated into English. I am adding it to my Translingual Divinations page.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy's Russian Classics of Supernatural Fiction?

Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, the nineteenth-century Russian writer known to weird fiction readers for introducing the vampire into Russian literature, should of course not be confused with Leo Tolstoy the author of War and Peace, to whom Aleksey is a second cousin (it is worth noting here that the Tolstoy family has counted so far at least six writers, all of whom are listed here: The Tolstoys in Russian literature). Aleksey has produced four often anthologized tales of the supernatural:

  • The Vampire (rus. Упырь)
  • Amena 
  • The Family of a Vourdalak (fr. La Famille Du Vourdalak, rus. Семья вурдалака)
  • Three Hundred Years On (fr. Le Rendez-Vous Dans Trois Cents Ans, rus. Встреча через триста лет)
All of these stories, collected in Vampire Stories of the Supernatural, tr. Fedor Nikanov, ed. Linda Kuehl (Hawthorn, 1969), are considered classics of Russian Gothic literature, and yet very few readers realize that the last three works were originally not produced in Russian, but in French. Let us consult S. T. Joshi's entry on this author to Supernatural Literature of the World: An Encyclopedia (ed. S. T. Joshi and Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, 2005, Greenwood):
"Oupyr" is a confused and ill-proportioned tale, in which Rybarenko's long narrative occupies a disproportionate amount of space and the supernatural events are never adequately reconciled. Its poor reception apparently dissuaded Tolstoy from publishing his three other, shorter supernatural tales, written in French, only one of which — "Amena" (1846) — appeared in his lifetime. "La Famille du vourdalak" (first published in a Russian translation in 1884) is perhaps the most successful of the stories, postulating the existence of vourdalaks, or vampires who prefer to suck only the blood of close relatives and friends.
Wikipedia Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy entry provides more information on the matter (the article however incorrectly assumes that Three Hundred Years On was first written in German). 
In January 1837 Tolstoy became attached to the Russian Embassy in Frankfurt where he spent the next two years. The assignment was rather formal; it did not demand Tolstoy's presence in Germany and he spent most of his time in Saint Petersburg, leading a merry life, spending up to three thousand rubles per month, often traveling to Italy and France. It was during one of these visits that he wrote his first two "gothic" novellas – The Family of the Vourdalak and Three Hundred Years On (originally in German, later translated into Russian by Boleslav Markevich). Tolstoy showed great interest in all things macabre, influenced, again, by his late uncle who "was obsessed with mysticism in every possible form" and who, in turn, was influenced by E. T. A. Hoffmann whom he was personally acquainted with.
In late 1840 Tolstoy was transferred back to Russia to a position in the Tsar's Imperial State Chancellery 2nd Department where he continued to work for many years, slowly rising in the hierarchy. As time went by, though, he showed less and less enthusiasm, for the demands of his position had come to feel like a major hindrance to his literary aspirations. In May 1841 Tolstoy debuted with The Vampire (a novella published under the pen name of "Krasnorogsky", a reference to Krasny Rog, his residence). Complicated in structure, multi-layered and rich in counterpoints, featuring both the element of "horror" and political satire, it instantly caught the attention of Vissarion Belinsky who praised its "obviously still very young, but undoubtedly gifted author," totally unaware of the latter's real identity. Tolstoy himself saw the story as insignificant and made no attempt to include it in any of the subsequent compilations; it was only in 1900 that The Vampire was re-issued.

Russian translation by Boleslav Markovich of "La Famille du vourdalak", The Russian Messenger, 1884

It is worth noting that this first Russian translation of "La Famille du vourdalak" by Boleslav Markovich was published posthumously in 1884 in the magazine The Russian Messenger and it was not published in French until 1950, when it appeared in a French journal of Slavic studies. Both the 1969 English translation by Fedor Nikanov and Polish translation by René Śliwowski seem to be from Russian, not the original French. It can be assumed that most of the translations of these stories were, alas, done based on the Russian texts. 

From the perspective of linguistic purism, such attempts at indirect translation do remind one of the brilliant ending scene from the last segment of Mario Bava's 1963 horror film I Tre volti della paura (also known as Black Sabbath), which is based on the novella "The Family of a Vourdalak". In this scene you see a close-up of Boris Karloff riding a horse through a dark forest. The camera starts zooming out and you get to see the actual "horse". You scratch your head smiling when the end credits roll.

The Family of a Vourdalak by nzumel

La Famille du Vourdalak (French) at Wikisource
Le Rendez-vous dans trois cents ans (French) at Wikisource
The Family of the Vourdalak (English) at American Literature

You can also listen to the original French versions of two of the stories narrated on the great site
La Famille Du Vourdalak read by René Depasse or alternately here read by Lostania0


Learning a new language does not come without a sacrifice, so it was inevitable that with the new goal of teaching myself to read Russian literature the frequency of updates on Confusio Linguarum would diminish. Only three months ago, when looking at a page full of Cyrillic letters just like the one displayed below, all I'd be able to see would amount to a wall of undecipherable words. Now, I am happy to report to have finished my first 500-page book in Russian. The book I chose for this painstaking exercise is an untranslated monograph, which I've eagerly wanted to read for the last fourteen (sic!) years and which will provide me with some key material for my other blog The Little Ministry of Fine Arts.

The book in question, which I have recently managed to obtain thanks to a local Russian bookstore, is the biographical chronicle of a collateral ancestor of mine: Poor Joseph, The Life and Death of Iosif WielhorskiExperiences in writing the biography of a man of the 1830's (Е. Э. Лямина, Н. В. Самовер, «Бедный Жозеф». Жизнь и смерть Иосифа Виельгорского. Опыт биографии человека 1830-х гг., Москва 1999). I wouldn't be able to break through the aforementioned wall, if it weren't for the fact that this is an exceptionally well-composed study connected to some writers of interest for Confusio Linguarum, which sheds light on some little-known details from the lives of  Nikolai Gogol, Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy and others.

My notes are now full of literary curiosities related to the House of Wielhorski, until recently I had little knowledge of and which I will divulge through The Little Ministry. For now I have added a new short article about this intriguing title:

Poor Joseph is also a real bibliophile's treasure, not only due to it being a sturdy sewn hardcover with inserted illustration pages, but also for its main protagonist who is an avid book collector. Bibliophily is an important trait running through this family branch that Iosif has inherited from his father who possessed over 12,000 titles related to mysticism and Kabbalah and who'd earlier own the biggest collection of books dedicated to music in the whole of the Russian Empire. At one point in the chronicle, the protagonist Iosif, is a witness to the destruction of his life's book collection during the Fire in the Winter Palace. Overall, this is a tragic and intimate account of a young bibliophile  who'd die at 23, unknowingly approaching his final days and drifting away from his dreams and ambitions due to his deteriorating health.
Fire in the Winter Palace, 1837, Watercolour by B. Green, 1838
I think the findings explain my sheer excitement and eagerness to burrow through hundreds and hundreds of pages covered with Cyrillic alphabet, while still being a beginning reader in Russian.
Poor Joseph has also helped me identify the second family reference in yet another story from Russian 19th-century Gothic Tales (pol. Straszna Wróżba) - Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy's novella "The Vampire" (now scheduled as a separate article for The Little Ministry). A. Tolstoy is definitely a writer who needs to be covered on CL, due to his translingual skills in penning some fine Gothic tales.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

On Writing in German

My copy of Arcana 25 is now on my bookshelves. It is time to explain why I consider this first German-language publication of my Angerhuber article appearing in this issue so important to me. I started learning German as my fifth language at the age of nineteen. At this point, my knowledge of the language was very meager, but I remember having high hopes of learning it up to the point where I could easily read some of the more difficult classics. The same year I joined the Thomas Ligotti Online message board where I got acquainted with many friendly and intelligent members. One such member was Eddie M. Angerhuber herself, who I recall was an extremely kind soul. I remember mentioning to her my attempts at learning German. She was the one who encouraged me to read her and her partner's articles that she and Thomas Wagner were posting on their AngWa Factory website. In fact reading the language  at this stage was still quite a challenge. And here I am, twelve years later, writing (with the encouraged and help from Robert N. Bloch) an essay on Angerhuber's mesmerizing works in German! A really memorable moment.

Some time ago I've mentioned on CL that my goal is to learn to read in nine languages by the time I get forty. Time will tell if I will still be able to perform such a translingual feat in another language as the one with Angerhuber and the Arcana article in German.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Die seltsamen Visionen einer Einzelgängerin – Eddie M. Angerhuber und ihre Experimente mit der Phantastik

My next publication is already available for order. It is one that holds a special place for me, for it consists of an essay I wrote directly in German. I feel this is a real milestone in my translingual journeys, which I will be documenting in my next entry on CL.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Russian 19th-century Gothic Tales & Lermontov's Stuss

Earlier this month I shared a photograph of Straszna Wróżba. This is the Polish translation from 1988 of the Russian anthology фантастический Мир русской повести (Raduga), which has also been been made available in English as Russian 19th-century Gothic Tales (1984) and in German as Russische Geistereschichten (1990). All of these editions were printed by the Russian publisher Raduga in Moscow, USSR (in Poland in cooperation the publishing house "Czytelnik").

Monday, 15 January 2018

Arcana - Magazin für klassische und moderne phantastik

And here is some more from Robert N. Bloch: Arcana (Verlag Lindenstruth) - a magazine of modern German fantastic literature. I first mentioned this journal in my post Why Germans Can Say Things No One Else Can (2) - Notebook of the Night. If you read German and would like to stay up-to-date with German-language genre publications, this is the right place to start.

Bibliographie der Utopie und Phantastik 1650 - 1950 (2)

I am returning to Bibliographie der Utopie und Phantastik 1650 - 1950 mentioned last year so that I can finally do this opus magnum some justice. This magnificent compendium of German-language  fantastic and utopian literature was compiled by the connoisseur of the genre who has spent over 30 years researching the subject in question. In Germany he is known under the nom de plume of Robert N. Bloch.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Little Ministry of Fine Arts

‘Countries, deities,’ said my father from a deep well of depression. ‘Obstacles to pure conception.’
‘Yeah, but what was the third principle? You never said anything about that.’
But my father had faded out and was now gazing disconsolately at the floor. My mother, however, was smiling. No doubt she had heard all of my father’s talk many times over.
‘The third principle?’ she said, blowing a cloud of cigarette smoke in my direction. ‘Why, it’s families, sweetheart.’
-- Purity by Thomas Ligotti

Continued from:

My other translingual blog is up.  I tentatively called it The Little Ministry of Fine Arts, a term taken from The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz. With the hope of not sounding too pretentious or bombastic, I'd like to dedicate it to the Wielhorski family and the contributions of some of the family members to literature, music, painting and architecture. 

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Russian Weird Writers and Some Genealogical Curiosities

Major Polish anthologies of Russian weird fiction

Some of the Russian writers I would like to read later this year are listed on the following pages:

Under the first link you will find an online compendium of the men and women, writers and artists, who contributed to Weird Tales and other weird fiction magazines of the pulp era whilst the latter provides and a short, but comprehensive historical outline of how the weird and fantastic literature evolved over the last two centuries (starting from 1825 which by some is considered the beginning of Russian fantastical literature). I notice that the first link also provides a short text on one of my favourite Russian writers, Leonid Andreyev.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

New Year's Resolutions

It seems ages have passed since my last post on Confusio Linguarum, so many things have happened over the last two months and still no time for new posts. I thought that regardless of this, I will quickly share my New Year's resolutions: