Tuesday, 2 February 2016

International copyright and Villette, or could Charlotte prevent a French translation?

“How much George Smith had to be initiated into the secret shrouding of the Brussels origin of the book can only be guessed from the fact that Charlotte pledged him to refuse and to prevent a French translation. He kept his word till after her death, but it was of little avail to check the pirates,”
Winifred Gérin wrote in her biography of Charlotte Brontë. In her biography of Mrs. Gaskell she writes that Charlotte “had made a special agreement with George Smith.”  It is a widely held belief that Charlotte did her best to prevent a French translation, but did she really? And just as important, what could George Smith have done? This article deals with the latter question.

Gérin gave no source but she was at least partly inspired by Clement Shorter, by what he wrote in his Charlotte Brontë and her Circle (London, 1896). She must certainly have seen this book.
"But,” Shorter wrote, “in justice to the creator of these scathing portraits [of Madame Heger in The Professor and Villette], it may be mentioned that Charlotte Brontë took every precaution to prevent Villette from obtaining currency in the city which inspired it. She told Miss Wheelwright, with whom naturally, on her visits to London, she often discussed the Brussels life, that she had received a promise that there should be no translation, and that the book would never appear in the French language. One cannot therefore fix upon Charlotte Brontë any responsibility that immediately after her death the novel appeared in the only tongue understood by Madame Heger."

An even earlier reference to this story can be found in an 1890 article from The World, republished in my first book, Promised land, by an anonymous author, who had visited the Pensionnat: “M. Heger regards the fact that she retarded as long as possible the translation of the offending volumes as evidence of the secret regret she felt at the pain their contents would cause in Brussels.” Clearly then there is an even older source, but this could not be found.

International copyright law
In the early 1840s English authors began to fight seriously against ‘pirate’ editions of their works, Charles Dickens perhaps foremost. On the day after Charlotte and Emily had first presented themselves at the Pensionnat, 16 February 1842, The Times published an article with as headline: ‘French and Belgian piracies of English Works.’ The text was quoted from the Publisher’s Circular. “The attention of the legislature and of the Government is loudly called to the subject of foreign invasion of British copyright, which is daily increasing to a most serious extent.”
The report mentions some works “which had to encounter a serious obstacle in the French and Belgian editions, in the English language, published at Brussels, and by Galignani at Paris.” Stories from for instance Blackwood’s Magazine were quickly reprinted and brought to Britain, “to an extent of many thousands of copies … sold for four or five shillings” only, in a “vastly inferior edition.”

At this stage some countries had some sort of internal copyright laws. But there was no international copyright law yet. There was very little international law whatsoever, totally unlike the world we live in now. It was also a problem for French and German authors of course, making it an international movement. The campaign to get more copyright protection was quite successful. Fifteen years later there were a number of bilateral treaties in Europe, but no progress in dealing with America. And there was still not much protection. But these treaties were a big step forward.

The first success was a treaty between the United Kingdom and  Prussia in 1846, the most important of the German states. By that time Germany was not a political union. But a good deal of the country had formed an economical union (the ‘Zollverein’) by 1853, when 12 other German states had acceded to the treaty. This included, in Saxony, the city of Leipzig, a centre of book publishing. In 1853 there was a treaty with Hamburg, which was not part of the Zollverein. It’s based on the model of the Anglo-French treaty of 1851.

Charlotte on international copyright
Charlotte only once wrote about the copyright debate, in a letter to George Smith of 8 July 1851 (in: M. Smith, The letters of Charlotte Brontë, vol. 2, p 662-3):
“The International Copyright Meeting seems to have had but a barren result – judging from the Report in the “Literary Gazette”. I cannot see that Sir E. Bulwer and the rest did anything – nor can I well see what is in their power to do. The argument brought forward about the damage accruing to American National Literature from the present piratical system is a good and sound argument – but I am afraid the Publishers – honest men – are not yet mentally prepared to give such reasoning due weight – I should think that which refers to the injury inflicted on themselves by an oppressive competition in piracy would influence them more – but I suppose all established methods – be the same good or evil – are difficult to change.”
Charlotte wrote this referring to an international meeting in London. It was indeed one of the valid arguments about the piracy system that it made it hard for, for instance, American authors to get published. The same goes for Belgium. The rise of Belgian literature coincides with the decline of the pirate system in that country.

On 3 November 1851 France and the United Kingdom concluded a copyright treaty. The relevant clauses stipulate that an author “who may choose to reserve the right of translating” (to be mentioned on the title page), should, in Paris, register the book at the Bureau de la Librairie and deposit a copy at the Bibliothèque Nationale.
To get 5 years of protection, a translation, or at least a partial translation, should be registered within a year. So, in the case of Villette it means that in or before January 1854 Charlotte or her publisher had to present a translation of at least the first volume of the novel, or the translation copyright would expire. She would then have had two more years to finish the translation, or else, again, the copyright would expire. To make matters worse, there was practically no protection against ‘imitations,’ loosely rewritten versions of original works.

The title page of the Smith, Elder & Co Villette, with the added line: “The Author of this work reserves the right of translating it.” This line was needed to be able to obtain copyright.

Belgium was one of the worst offenders, and the main source of pirated editions of French works. As thousands of jobs depended on it, the government was reluctant to address the problem. The industry helped destroy itself though, in a race to publish cheaper and cheaper. But they were still a big problem in 1851, as is shown in an article in The Times of 21 August:  
 “The negotiations opened by the French Government with Prussia, Saxony and Hanover, have failed. … The Saxon Government, however, recommended the French negotiators to employ all their efforts, first of all to destroy piracy in Belgium, saying, that, as long as it existed there, it would not be of much to put it down in Germany, as the Belgians would be sure to inundate the country more than ever with their pirated editions.”
A year and a day later there was a Belgian–French treaty. It was the beginning of the end of Belgian piracy.

Negotiations between Britain and Belgium will have started soon afterwards. Sloppy procedures and lingering reluctance on the Belgian side meant that it took until 12 August 1854 before a treaty was signed by the two monarchs. It was ratified by the British Parliament on 24 January 1855, and was signed by Queen Victoria one week later (The Times, 7 February). On 22 February the  ‘Convention artistique et litteraire conclue entre la Belgique et la Grande Bretagne’ was ratified by the Belgian Parliament (reported In that day’s Le Moniteur belge). King Leopold signed it very soon after. At any rate the date of the treaty coming into effect is given as 23 February 1855. The text is pretty similar to the Anglo-French treaty.  It stipulates that only works published after that date can be registered for copyright.
Clearly then this came too late for Charlotte, and it does of course mean that there was nothing she or George Smith could do to prevent a Belgian French translation. Charlotte must certainly have known that there was no treaty with Belgium when she wrote and published Villette, with which she could prevent a translation.

Other countries
More treaties would be signed in the next few years, but one with America remained elusive. Even though it seems that at one point, in March 1853 they came fairly close. In its edition of that month Putnam’s Monthly, a New York literary magazine, reported that “We are happy to learn there is a probability that before the present number will reach the remote readers, the terms of a Convention between the United and States and Great Britain, relating to International Copyright, will be made known.” There were more international copyright meetings, like the 1858 ‘Brussels Conference on literary and artistic property.’  In these further talks the main point of difference was the question of the length of protection.

The United Kingdom also didn’t have a copyright treaty with The Netherlands. This means that Charlotte also could in no way prevent a Dutch translation, either in The Netherlands or Belgium. While by far most people in Brussels spoke Dutch. Eventually America and The Netherlands both signed up to new international copyright law which replaced the bilateral treaties, decades later.

The treaties didn’t wipe out piracy at once. And there was still a very long way to go, to our copyright laws of today, which give an author protection for a work from publication to 70 years after death. Unfortunately piracy is now rampant again, because of internet.

This research shows that Gérin’s opening words of this article, and Shorter’s, are nonsense. Charlotte undoubtedly must have known that she was in no way able to prevent a French translation of Villette. She was powerless in Belgium. At best she could prevent one in France for one year. But did she at least try that? In the next article I will deal with that question.

Eric Ruijssenaars

With thanks to the Primary sources on copyright (1450-1900) website: http://www.copyrighthistory.org/cam/index.php
and a number of books on international copyright law.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Broeder en zuster, or the story of Acton Currer Bell

Ten years ago, in an old library catalog I stumbled on a novel, translated in Dutch and published in 1853, by Acton Currer Bell, called Broeder en zuster. Acton Currer Bell? A Brontë novel called ‘Brother and sister’?

First page from the Leiden library catalog
(collection of Leiden Regional Archive)

Page from the catalog with the works of Currer Bell

The pictures are from a catalog of one of the 19th century ‘reading libraries’ (“leesbibliotheek”) in Leiden, my hometown. At some point then there were about a dozen or so at the same time, usually established by booksellers. People could borrow books, to read them at home. This 1850s catalog gives an idea of the popularity of the Brontës in The Netherlands. As the obviously fake Acton Currer Bell novel does especially. A novel under that name would sell. But it also shows the confusion in the early 1850s about the identity of Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell.

This library also had copies of most of their novels in English. In the first edition they also have Mrs Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë. The first additional catalogue probably dates from 1859 and has Edward Crimsworth (The Professor), and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in English. The additions go on to about 1872. They didn’t acquire a copy of Wuthering Heights in these years.

The Currer Bell list contains a book named De gouden ladder der fortuin. But this book, published in 1852, clearly said that it was written by Robert Bell. It was originally published as The ladder of gold in London in 1850. The title page of that book gives him as the “Author of “Wayside pictures through France, Belgium and Holland,” &c. &c.”

The library of the University of Amsterdam does have a copy of Broeder en zuster, of de zucht naar wereldsche grootheid (The longing for worldly greatness). They have got an important collection of early Dutch Brontë works, like the 1853 Villette translation.  Curiously, both are the Leiden library copies, as stamps in the books show, of the ‘Gebroeders van der Hoek’ library.

Cover of Broeder en zuster, originally published in English as Ernest Vane
 (collection of the Library of the University of Amsterdam )

A database of nearly 400 years of Dutch newspapers gives 3 (identical) advertisements for Broeder en zuster, which show that this novel was published in 1853. The first ad was published on 19 October 1853, in the Algemeen Handelsblad. They also had an ad on 14 November, while the Opregte Haarlemse Courant had one on 22 October, stating (in awkward Dutch): ‘The name of the writer recommends itself to all. No reading society which doesn’t take this work.’

Advertisement for Broeder en zuster

Acton Currer Bell had three novels published in Germany too, and a later one in Spain. The German works can be found in the collection of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Bavarian State Library) which has a great collection of early German translations. Several of them have been digitized and are thus easily available. One of these books is Acton Currer’s Die Geschwister (The sisters), published in 1851. It has the same opening line as Broeder en zuster.

When googling these first lines one very quickly finds the original novel. It’s Ernest Vane. Written by a Scotsman with perhaps the longest name in world literature, Alexander Dundas Ross Wishart Cochrane-Baillie Lamington, Baron (1816-1890). The shorter version is Alexander Baillie Cochrane. The book was published in London in 1849. It’s an almost totally forgotten novel, but it must have been quite good, in that it could make people believe it was a Brontë novel.

The good old Brontë historian Phyllis Bentley of (more than) half a century ago wrote an article in Brontë Society Transactions about another Acton Currer Bell work. This article, ‘A German Brontë forgery,’ was published in 1951.”A flutter of excitement was caused in the Brontë Society Council early this year by an appeal from two firms of London publishers and a London editor to pronounce on the authenticity of an alleged hitherto unknown Brontë novel, which an American translator believed he had discovered in Spain.”

The title of this work was, originally Rockingham oder Der Jüngere Bruder, published in 1851 in Germany (Leipzig). It is available online too through the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. It had apparently two editions, one in 1 volume, one in 3 volumes. A Spanish translation, Adversidad, was published in 1946. The original writer was a man with also a very long name. Philippe Ferdinand August de Rohan-Chabot, Count de Jarnac. His work, simply named Rockingham, was anonymously published in London in 1849.

Both the catalog of the Bavarian Library and Bentley’s article mention another German Acton Currer Bell (“author of Jane Eyre, Shirley, Agnes Grey” it says on the title page)  work, Wildfell Hall. It was published in Leipzig in 1850. Here the name Currer will have been added because Charlotte was selling best. There are later editions of Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, published under the name of just Currer Bell in Holland and Germany.

It is remarkable that both this Wildfell Hall and Die Geschwister are still ascribed to Charlotte, at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and elsewhere.

Bentley quotes from a letter of Adelgard Lezius, research assistant of the German Library in Leipzig. She gave three Acton Currer Bell works. Apart from Wildfell Hall and Rockingham there is also a work named, in translation only in the article, The Brothers and Sisters, published in 1871. This is quite a mystery. There is no trace of a work named Die Brüder und Schwestern. It is not in the catalog of the Deutsche National Bibliothek in Leipzig and Frankfurt, or in any other catalog we have seen. The year, 1871, is also suspicious. It’s quite possible that is a mistake for 1851. It would also seem likely that this is a German version of Broeder en zuster.

This research reveals the interesting history of the popularity of the Brontës in the early 1850s on the Continent, and something too about the morals of book publishers of that time. These were the years when for the first time rather decent bilateral copyright treaties were concluded, in the fight against ‘pirates.’ In my next articles I will delve further into this matter, and especially what it meant for translations of Villette.

Eric Ruijssenaars

Saturday, 16 January 2016

2016 – Charlotte Brontë and David Bowie

David Bowie is dead! For all his many fans in the music world, across several generations, the news this week has come as a great shock. We thought he would be around forever, like an undying god, but no – he is gone. The passing of Bowie, the beloved Thin White Duke, is a huge happening in this early new year 2016.

2016 of course, is also Charlotte Brontë's big year, the bicentenary of her birth, and events are already taking place around the world to celebrate her life and legacy. Thus, while sadly we bid farewell to one huge figure in the world of popular music, we are also remembering one of the great icons of literary culture.

Out of homage to these two great artists, David Bowie and Charlotte Brontë, I would like to approach here some common themes and parallels found in their lives and works. I would like to show how they were kindred artistic spirits in many ways – however strange the idea might at first seem!

Solitude and despair

One the major themes Bowie and Charlotte share, one informing constantly their artistic projects, is that of solitude. Both artists are obsessed and haunted by black ideas of solitude, by despair and social isolation. From an early age, they both felt different, unwanted and alone. Reading Charlotte's letters collection, it's clear how she so often feels to be an alien, an outsider adrift in a hostile world. In 1836, at the age of twenty, she wrote to Ellen Nussey: "Ellen, I have some qualities that make me very miserable, some feelings that you can have no participation in – that very few people in the world can at all understand –".

It's in her novels too, and in all her heroines – the loneliness of Jane Eyre, Lucy Snowe, Frances Henri, and Shirley's Caroline Helstone. Charlotte’s writing deals much with the solitude of young orphaned women, women floating uncomfortably on the margins of society – loveless, homeless and desperate women, who are looking for a place to live, a little friendship, and some crumbs of love. In Shirley and Villette, the two novels she wrote (or finished) after the deaths of her siblings, the atmosphere of gloomy solitude and despair is oppressive. In Villette, Chapter 15, Lucy Snowe experiences a sort of nervous breakdown, having been left alone in her school during the long summer holidays. It is difficult to ignore the searing pain in her words:

"Even to look forward was not to hope: the dumb future spoke no comfort, offered no promise, gave no inducement to bear present evil in reliance on future good. A sorrowful indifference to existence often pressed on me – a despairing resignation to reach betimes the end of all things earthly."

Now this bereft, solitary territory was the very space that David Bowie knew all too well, a landscape he travelled through and inhabited for much of his life. He outlines it in his interviews and in his song lyrics, where he tells how he felt like a space oddity, or, as he puts it in another song, a cracked actor. He was a man who was so often afraid, who did not like himself, and who, beneath all his façades and smiles, felt lonely, cut-off from common human living, so mentally unwell.  Bowie's interviews, easily found on the internet, offer many quotes on the themes of emotional pain and solitude, such as: "what I do is I write mainly about very personal and lonely feelings, and I explore them in a different way each time". Bowie endured many painful psychologic extremes, just like his Major Tom in Ashes to Ashes, who was "strung out in heaven's high, hitting an all time low".
 Bowie and Charlotte never tired of writing about their stark emotional suffering; perhaps it was the only way they found to exorcise the dark demons tormenting them.

Identity crisis

For much of their lives, both artists were also very troubled by problems of Identity. They were never really sure of themselves as persons – who or what they should be, or what role they should play, or how they should fit into the various identities their respective epochs offered them –identities of self, society, class, gender. In their art, they deal extensively with identity questions – so much more so than many of their fellow artists.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Brussels Brontë Christmas Lunch and Entertainment 2015

The Annual Brontë Christmas lunch took place on Saturday 6 December. As usual Jones Hayden acted as Master of Ceremonies. This year 35 people enjoyed the festive meal, in which the courses alternated with the various items of entertainment.

Jones, Master of Ceremonies

Paul Gretton
After the initial welcome speeches by Helen and Jones, Paul Gretton entertained us with a reading of Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘The Oxen’. This was followed by Graham Andrews’ choice samples from ‘One Hundred Great Books in Haikus’.

Graham Andres
This year the skit was not just performed but also partly composed by some of our talented members. Tracie Ryan was the guide and Brian Holland, Kate Healy and Robynn Colwell the family being shown round the Parsonage in an adaptation of Victoria Wood’s monologue ‘The Haworth Parsonage Tour Guide’, with additions by Jones Hayden and the performers. A highly entertaining piece which generated a lot of laughs and was very well performed.

The talented actors!

Myriam Campinaire gave a hilarious reading of a biography of the Brontës that deviated in almost every point from Claire Harman’s, written by Derek Roberts, a humorist who has now moved from Brussels but was formerly well known in expat circles here. He also composed the lyrics for ‘Belgian Commune Blues’ (listen to it on youtube!).

Myriam Campinaire reading a
humorous piece
Members acquitted themselves well in Jones’s annual Brontë Quiz, which was as full of tricky questions as usual. The raffle prizes this year included some of the year’s best-selling books about the Brontës: Claire Harman’s biography of Charlotte Brontë, Deborah Lutz’s ‘The Brontë Cabinet’, and Sheila Kohler’s ‘Becoming Jane Eyre’.

One of the lucky winners in the lottery!

We ended with ‘The Sans Day Carol’ led by Paul Gretton.

It was another enjoyable end-of-year lunch with Brontë enthusiasts. I think most of us are already looking forward to next year’s.

Next year will see some extra activities due to the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth. Keep tuned in to our web-site, blog and Facebook page for coming events.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Two launches of Brontë books by Helen MacEwan

‘Les Soeurs Brontë à Bruxelles’

On 3 December ‘Les Soeurs Brontë à Bruxelles’, the French edition of Helen MacEwan’s ‘The Brontës in Brussels’, was launched at Librairie Quartiers Latins in Place des Martyrs.

It was translated by long-standing Brussels Brontë Group members Myriam Campinaire and Daniel Mangano and published by CFC-Éditions, who run the Quartiers Latins bookshop.

‘Les Sœurs Brontë à Bruxelles’

This publisher’s catalogue contains lovingly-produced, richly-illustrated books about Brussels. ‘Les Soeurs Brontë à Bruxelles’, an illustrated guide to Charlotte and Emily’s time in the city, forms part of the collection ‘La Ville Écrite’; in the same collection is ‘Les Écrivains dans la Ville’, a guide to the literary plaques and statues in the city.

Helen MacEwan introduced the book in conversation with Frédérique Bianchi, who specialises in nineteenth-century literature and organises literary walks in Brussels, and Claire Billen, a retired ULB lecturer specialising in the history of Brussels.

Helen MacEwan (centre) introduces the book with
Claire Billen (left) and Frédérique Bianchi (right)

The Brontës in Brussels’ is the first book dedicated exclusively to Charlotte and Emily Brontë’s time in Brussels. The French translation introduces readers to a little-known literary connection of Brussels and also to a historical period in the city (the 1840s, shortly after the Belgian Revolution) less thoroughly chronicled than the later 19th century, which saw its expansion and transformation under Leopold II. Numerous additional images have been included in this lavishly-illustrated French edition.

It is always a pleasure to spend time in Quartiers Latins, a marvellous place a little off the beaten track and located in one of the most beautiful squares of Brussels. The genuine love of books that motivates the publishers and booksellers who work in this tranquil spot is almost palpable in the air.

‘Winifred Gérin: Biographer of the Brontës’

On 29 November 2015, Waterstones Brussels hosted the launch of a book about a Brontë biographer with Belgian links.

Winifred Gérin, who moved to Haworth in the 1950s to research her biographies of the four Brontë siblings, was the best-known Brontë biographer after Mrs Gaskell and before the historian Juliet Barker became the definitive chronicler of the family in the 1990s. Helen MacEwan’s life of Gérin draws on her unpublished memoir and on hundreds of letters to the family of her first husband, a Belgian cellist called Eugène Gérin. Helen met members of the family when researching the book, one of whom (a great-nephew of Eugène Gérin) attended the launch.

Winifred Gérin’s colourful life took her to Paris, where she lived with her musician husband in the 1930s; to Brussels, where the couple were living at the time of the German invasion in May 1940; and to southern France where they found themselves trapped for the first two years of the War and became involved in helping Jews to escape arrest under the Vichy government. Having escaped back to England themselves, they worked for Political Intelligence near Bletchley Park.

Eugène Gérin died in 1945. Ten years after his death, Winifred’s life changed direction after a first visit to Haworth on which she met her second husband, a Brontë enthusiast. Once her Brontë biographies were completed she went on to write lives of other nineteenth-century women writers including Elizabeth Gaskell and Anne Thackeray Ritchie.

Around 30 members of the Brussels Brontë Group attended the launch and heard the story of the research for the book that uncovered the story of Gérin’s hitherto unknown life.

Previously, on 21 November, a launch was organised at Waterstones Piccadilly, London. It was attended by the publisher of the book, members of the Brontë and Gaskell Societies and people who helped with research.

Helen MacEwan with members of the Brussels Brontë Group
at the launch at Waterstones Brussels
Winifred Gérin: Biographer of the Brontës’ is available in Waterstones Brussels. Read about the book here: