June 30, 2011
If you looked closely at the images in yesterday’s post, you will have realised that the book with the clover isn’t a prayer book but a dictionary. More precisely, it’s this…
… pocket-size German-Czech dictionary, published in 1923. Even though this was five years after the end of the Habsburg Empire, Austria still had close cultural and economic ties with Bohemia at that time, so it’s no surprise that someone in my home area should have added this handy dictionary to his/her personal library – even if that library consisted mainly of prayer books.
But indeed, not all of my ancestors’ books were of a religious nature. A few of them were of a more practical kind, like that dictionary or this…
… a two-hundred pages strong manual on Horseshoeing. On the title page, there’s a note of ownership from one Franz Lakatos who calls himself a Smiedgehülf [blacksmith’s aid]. At an unknown later date, the volume must have passed in the possession of my great-grandfather who was a smith, too, and left his name on the rear endpaper of the book.
From what you’ve seen and read so far, you’d believe that my ancestors living in the late 19th and early 20th century were nothing but a bunch of hard working, god-fearing squares. But among all their books of work and prayer, one also finds books of quite a different category, namely novels and novellas. And not just any novels. No, most of them are of the kind which is usually described as Servant girls’ literature, i.e. overly romantic love stories ranging from the humurous to the frivolous, sometimes even downright bawdy, or – to quote one of my own, earlier posts – telenovelas before the invention of the TV.
The best example for this is, perhaps, a collection of stories entitled Wenn sie küssen [When they’re kissing] by the Freiherr von Schlicht:
In the German speaking world, the author known as Freiherr von Schlicht (his real name was Wolf Ernst Hugo Emil Graf von Baudissin) was one of the most popular writers of light fiction at the beginning of the 20th century and it’s only natural that one of his works should have found its way into my ancestors’ collection of books. There’s a handful of other books of this kind, too, all of them by mostly obscure German writers. The most unexpected find among them is, perhaps, a 1928 edition of Colette’s Phil und Vinca [the French original is called Le Blé en herbe; in English, it has been published as Ripening Seed but also as Green Wheat].
So it seems that for my ancestor there was a world outside of church and private prayer, after all, though we cant’t be quite sure whether it was even half as sensual as the world found in the writings of Colette.
(To be continued)
June 29, 2011
I finished yesterday’s post with two images of souvenir cards from Austrian pilgrimage sites, found in my ancestors’ prayer books. But there’s not only mementos from local sites of worship to be found among them, there’s also one from far-off Jerusalem:
It’s inscribed Flowers from the Holy Land (in five different languages) and has five different kinds of blossoms (one for each language?) glued onto it. I suppose this must have been a gift from someone outside the family because it’s from the belongings of my great-grandmother who died in 1986, and, for all I know, nobody in my family had been to Israel before that.
Pretty as these Flowers from the Holy Land may be, for me they can’t compete with this simple poppy blossom…
… that, many many moons ago, one of my ancestors put between the pages of a religious songbook to press and dry.
I wonder if this was the same person who stored an entire collection of four-leaf clovers in another one of the books:
In the old days, of course, clover was widely grown in our region because it provided cheap fodder for farm animals, so even the four-leaved variety wouldn’t have been that hard to come by. But look, there’s even a five-leaf clover in that book:
Ok, maybe that’s not so cool after all: Wikipedia tells me that even 56-leaf clover has been documented… And, on a more general level, I have to admit that [m] once found some age-old dried and pressed flowers between the pages of a 15th-century (!) manuscript*, and my ancestors’ humble books with their plain country plants certainly can’t keep up with that, either. So, yes, I realise that my ancestors’ books really aren’t that special. But still, while they may not be Booktryst-material and wouldn’t make more than a few euros at a book sale, they’re precious and priceless to me. You know what that means? Right, you’ll hear more about them tomorrow…
* That was in a library, of course. We do not own any 15th century manuscripts ourselves. Wish we would, though…