Head of European Collections and Cataloguing at Cambridge University Library. Chair of WESLINE (West European Studies Library and Information Network).
The Liberation Collection is striking in its unexpected diversity, in the range of different sorts of publication which it embraces. Along with textual monographs of fiction and non-fiction, it includes many pictorial works, both of drawings and photographic material. There are books of cartoons, children’s books, song texts, ephemeral programmes of gala events, and books of postcards. Cataloguing such diverse material presents the librarian with a considerable number of challenges – and many rewards. Handling volumes of striking line drawings of Resistance fighters, military leaders and concentration camp victims, and of tremendously evocative photographs by celebrated photographers such as Pierre Jahan and Roger Schall, is a memorable part of each working week.
A significant percentage of the items in the collection do not appear to be held in any other library in the United Kingdom or the United States. Many of the titles are undoubtedly very scarce, and were printed in a limited number of copies; others are also very ephemeral, and the sort of material large libraries may hold and never have catalogued. Some of the gala programmes and books of postcards do not really have a distinctive title, so in cataloguing them we have to try to anticipate how a user might access the catalogue record and describe the item accordingly. The programme for the 1944 Gala de la nuit de la libération de Paris is lavishly illustrated but consists of only 32 unnumbered pages and necessitated an elaborate sequence of notes to describe its content. The cover of a pictorial pamphlet on the advance of the French 1st Army into Germany in March 1945 only has a photograph with wording on a signpost, ‘Ici l’Allemagne’ and the words ‘19 mars 1945’. Establishing a definitive title in such circumstances is impossible.
The variety of specialist papers used in printing this collection is another intriguing aspect of its diversity. I had expected in my ignorance that the majority of publications immediately after Liberation would be in small format on cheap paper, but this is often far from the case. The first substantial book published after the Liberation, À Paris, sous la botte des nazis, is an item of extraordinary quality, with an elaborate statement at the beginning about the work’s genesis, with the type in the shape of the Phrygian cap worn by Marianne, the national emblem of France, and an equally carefully designed woodcut colophon by Jean-Louis Babelay at the end. It appeared in November 1944, but work had started under the Occupation – ‘son montage définitif a débuté en mai 44’. The beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated Épreuves dans l’ombre, published by the Groupe parisien de l’imprimerie clandestine, is in a limited edition of ‘cinq cents exemplaires sur vélin pur chiffon filigranéBélier Lana 1590’.
Working intensively on books published over a three-year interval from 1944 to 1946, years which were such a key period in twentieth-century French history, gives a remarkable immediacy to the cataloguing activity. The words, photographs and art works of the actual publications are striking and poignant enough in their own right, of course, but that resonance is enhanced by features such as belly bands (the collection contains several) and loose slips of paper. The belly band accompanying Pierre Audiat’s Paris pendant la guerre states that ‘L’aigle allemand dut lâcher sa proie, sans avoir réussi àtuer ni son corps, ni son âme’. That surrounding Léon Leloir’s Je reviens de l’enfer asserts succinctly ‘Rescapéde Buchenwald, il a le droit de tout dire’. The 1944 edition of Alfred Fabre-Luce’s Écrit en prison contains a slip of paper informing the purchaser that ‘L’auteur, actuellement en prison, n’a pas pu matériellement signer cet exemplaire. Il le fera dès sa libération, chez le libraire auquel le volume aura été acheté, si l’acquéreur veut bien l’y déposer àcet effet.’
Deciphering and recording the remarkable range of manuscript inscriptions which many of these volumes contain was sometimes an affecting experience, as the reaction of the inscribers to the German occupation and the Liberation came across very forcefully, an emotional response which they were sharing with the cataloguer 70 years later. In an inscription to Georgette and René Magritte, Paul Éluard speaks of ‘une affection jeune comme le monde’. In presenting a volume of his father’s entitled Armistice à Bordeaux to the celebrated actor and theatre director Louis Jouvet, Jean Giraudoux’s son writes touchingly, ‘Pour Louis Jouvet, compagnon de mon père dans sa mort comme dans sa vie’. Two accounts of the liberation of Paris have inscriptions reflecting the immediacy of the moment. Suzanne Thauvin writes ‘en souvenir des heures si palpitantes vécues dans notre Paris, pendant la semaine héroïque’, while the policeman Ferdinand Dupuy mentions ‘cette page d’histoire parisienne que des milliers de gardiens de la paix écrivirent dans l’enthousiasme et signèrent de leur sang’. Some emphasise solidarity and unity: Millette Avril writes ‘sous le signe de la profonde sympathie qui doit unir désormais femmes anglaises et femmes françaises’ and Pierre Jean Jouve bears witness to ‘ce témoignage de la fidélitéfrançaise dans un sentiment fraternel’. Amongst the most telling is an anonymous inscription in an anthology of letters by people who were about to be shot, Lettres de fusillés, which reads ‘La tristesse et la peur leur étaient inconnues, la libertésublime emplissait leurs pensées. Plutôt mourir que vivre àgenoux.’
The arrival of this collection came at a particularly opportune moment in my library career. It gives me the opportunity to use to particular advantage the expertise I have accumulated in the course of 35 years, and it is a very rewarding swansong to be cataloguing items which had been signed by Albert Camus and presented to Raymond Queneau; inscribed by Paul Éluard and dedicated to René Magritte; and the copy of Robert Brasillach’s Poèmes de Fresnes printed specially for André Gide. The paper on which this last-named text is printed was used solely for this copy, ‘exemplaire sur vélin pur chiffon À la main’. By the time the poems were published Brasillach had been executed, and his friends printed this copy as a posthumous gift for Gide, an old adversary. Fourteen years earlier, at the age of 21, Brasillach had published a mock obituary of Gide, so this is an item with an extraordinary resonance. There is a particular thrill in handling such unique items, far removed from the librarian’s everyday routine.
In cataloguing the Liberation Collection I give a level of detail which was not considered necessary at the start of my career – information on publisher and printer, on pagination and illustrative matter. Nowadays librarians and users alike are also increasingly interested in what is unique and distinctive about the Library’s resources, and what makes individual copies of a book distinctive. The Liberation Collection offers wonderful opportunities to investigate the provenance of the material, to draw out what is unique about particular items and record this as an integral part of the catalogue description. Previous generations of librarians would usually have had neither the time nor the range of resources to do this sort of research, but with the advent of the internet a great deal can now be accomplished in a very short time. The portfolio of watercolour portraits of leaders of the Allied Forces, Soldats et généraux des campagnes d’Europe occidentale, 1944–1945, is inscribed by the writer of the preface ‘Pour ma chère filleule Florence Delay très affectueusement, Pasteur Vallery-Radot’. Celebrated actress and novelist Florence Delay, member of the Académie française, was born in 1941, but would the content of such a volume make it a suitable gift for a four-year-old girl? That did not seem very likely. Two or three minutes’ more investigation, however, revealed that the inscriber had also been a member of the Académie française, as was Delay’s father, so the attribution seems proven, and the portfolio seems to make an interesting statement about how all-consuming thoughts of the military victory had been.
Superficially even more unlikely is the identification of the photographer called Pierre Amalric who in 1945 took pictures of the 14ème Division d’Infanterie in 14ème division d’infanterie : au service de la victoire with the distinguished postwar ophthalmologist of the same name. But the latter’s obituary in Archives of ophthalmology revealed war service and an interest in photography, and the same Google search revealed that the library established in Albi in 2001 is known as the Mediathèque Pierre-Amalric. Thus, an initially insignificant item suddenly accrues a wealth of association, and past merges with present.
Another remarkable volume in the collection is a book of line drawings of concentration camp inmates by Jean Billon, entitled Visages de prisonniers, which had been the subject of a whole exhibition mounted by the Centre d’histoire de la Résistance et de la déportation in Lyon in 2008. There was, moreover, an excellent two-and-a-half minute presentation on video by the exhibition curator, discussing some of the images, but giving no further detail about the artist. In trying to establish whether this Jean Billon was the same as the man identified in the Bibliothèque nationale de France as born in 1923, I sent an email to the Centre d’histoire de la Résistance et de la déportation, which yielded a prompt response and a copy of a contemporary article in the local La vie lyonnaise, together with a photograph of the painter at the opening of the original exhibition. The internet has completely transformed the research possibilities available to the cataloguer, often with a minimum expenditure of effort.
The receipt of the collection coincided with the introduction of a new international cataloguing code called RDA (Resource Description and Access). Again the timing was fortunate, for cataloguing the material to RDA standard allowed for the possibility of more elaborate catalogue entries to bring out the richness of the collection. Under RDA the title page tends to be described in more detail and with little abbreviation, so far more information about the author’s identity is now included, as in ‘rapport présenté par Maurice Thorez, secrétaire général du Parti communiste français, députéde la Seine, membre de l’Assemblée consultative’, ‘Albert Kammerer, ambassadeur de France’ and ‘Léon Leloir, des Pères blancs, aumônier divisionnaire du maquis des Ardennes françaises et belges’. A new field for ‘content type’ allows for all items with significant pictorial content to be unambiguously identified by the phrase ‘still image’. Differing publication and printing detail is significant in some cases, so the opportunity offered by RDA clearly to separate out data about publication and manufacture is useful. The relationship of any individual to the publication is also defined under RDA, and it is now possible to isolate those titles in the collection where a photographer or an artist makes a significant contribution. At the time of writing 18 volumes are attributed to a particular artist, and a further 12 to a named photographer.
Detailed RDA cataloguing occasionally throws up different printings of an item which might otherwise have gone undetected. Mémoires d’un agent secret de la France libre was printed at least twice, once with a single named publisher and once with two, and there are several slight variations between the printings. A quick inspection suggested that the Chadwyck-Healey copy of P. Aubry’s L’agonie de Saint-Malo was an exact duplicate of the copy already held by the Library. Closer examination revealed that although content was identical, they had two different publishers and consequently variant covers.
Paul Éluard’s Poésie et vérité 1942 originally appeared clandestinely under the Occupation, and is outside the scope of this collection. It was republished in Monaco in 1944 as Dignes de vivre, and then in a larger format edition, with 16 illustrations, in Brussels in 1945. His poem ‘En plein mois d’août’ was first published in the programme for a gala organised by the Communist Party in 1944. It was then included in his Au rendez-vous allemand in 1945. The Chadwyck-Healey copy of this book is printed on blue paper, with a list of recent publications on the back cover. The Library already had a copy of this title, also with a 1945 imprint, but printed on white paper, and utilising the cover of the 1952 printing with a list of publications from that year.
The Liberation Collection is still growing. Whilst the general condition of the books is surprisingly good for publications of this period, a better physical copy will occasionally be substituted for the one first acquired. At the time of writing, over 200 titles still await detailed bibliographic descriptions in the Library’s online catalogue. In cataloguing one item, possible additions to the collection not infrequently suggest themselves. Most French antiquarian booksellers nowadays offer their stock online. In consequence, copies of some French imprints from the mid-1940s are relatively easy to acquire. Many others, of course, are very elusive, and our list of desiderata is substantial. The Liberation Collection remains a work in progress, with new additions regularly enhancing opportunities for research to the readers of Cambridge University Library.