This online organisation provides information about obscure works of 20th-century literature from Europe in hopes that, with a little publicity, translation and broader distribution will be taken up.
One of Schwob's promoted works.
Schwob is a website dedicated to outstanding, lesser-known works of European literature. The site's creators hope that these books will reach a better position to be translated and published. Their new platform has already had success with the Bolesław Prus novel, Lalka / The Doll.
The website concerns itself with finding and promoting books that are classics, having been written in the 20th century, and are considered cult hits. These works remain common reference points in their original languages and nations - but because they haven’t been widely translated, their potential for broader distribution is enormous.
Named after French writer Marcel Schwob, who was born in the Netherlands, the English version of the site was launched on the 19th of September 2013. Their first book was Lalka / The Doll, by Bolesław Prus, translated by into Dutch by Karol Lesman into Dutch and available in 2014.
Each of their recommended books comes with a short description, information on the author and resources for funding the purchase of translation rights. They also provide sample translations. At the moment, the website offers the opportunity to read about little-known books that are little known in Poland, such as Megszámláltattá / They Were Counted, written by the Hungarian author Miklós Bánffy in 1934, and I zoi in tafo / Life in the Tomb by the Greek writer Stratis Myrivilis, originally published in 1920. Other works, while known in Poland - such as the Czech tale Smrt krásných srnců / Death of the Beautiful Deer by Ota Pavel - have become well established in other nations thanks to translations.
A key role is played by the broad network of translators, publishers, literary festivals and literature institutions in making these intriguing works available. One partner in the project is Poland’s Book Institute. They write on their web page about what Schwob offers:
The proposed titles reveal the wide panorama of outstanding European literature from the 20th century. From Galicia to the Transylvanian mountains, from aristocratic palaces to the suburbs of cities and battlefields – the works posted on Schwob show the spectrum of human experience in the last century and allow you to become familiar with the best prose from the continent.
For now, the title recommended by Schwob that represents Polish literature is Wykład profesora Mmaa / Professor Mmaa's Lecture written in 1953 by Stefan Themerson. The book is about a lecture on the habits, mentality and culture of human beings - but from the perspective of termites. Even with a recommendation from Bertrand Russell, it has to date only been translated into English, German and Dutch. More can be read about the book here.
The Polish version of the Schwob site also includes articles on the new translations of Polish classics supported by the Polish Institute. It’s a wonder that listed amongst the titles are Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz’s Książka o Sycylii / Book about Sicily and Aleksander Wat’s Mój wiek / My Century, which were both translated into Italian, as well as Król Maciuś Pierwszy / King Matt the First by Janusz Korczak, available in Azerbaijani, and Romanian editions of the collected works of Bolesław Leśmian and a Macedonian version of the novel Kosmos / Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz.
Schwob’s site is available in English, Dutch and Polish; versions in Catalan, Finnish and Welsh are under construction. The site presents not only books associated with their promotional project, but other outstanding classics and rediscovered titles.
In addition to support from Poland’s Book Institute, Schwob also works with the Flemish Literature Fund, the Finnish Literature Exchange, the Dutch Foundation for Literature, the Wales Literature Exchange, the Ramon Llull Institute from Catalonia, and the European Society for Authors.
More information on their web page.
Sources: Book Institute, en.schwob-books.eu, author: mg 2/10/2013, translation: SMG 3/10/2013