Kairit Kaur (University of Tartu / Tallinn University Library): Totentanz and graveyard poetry: how to grasp the Baltic German reception of English Literature and Culture

Writing my theses “Dichtende Frauen in Est-, Liv- und Kurland, 1654–1800. Von den ersten Gelegenheitsgedichten bis zu den ersten Gedichtbänden” (Poetry writing women in Estonia, Livonia and Courland, 1654–1800. From the first occasional poems to the first poetry collections), Tartu 2013, I encountered the interesting phenomenon of a Baltic German occasional poem published in Tallinn in 1759 that might have been inspired by the English graveyard poetry that was popular at the time in Western Europe and in Russia. There was, however, no research into the reception of English literature in 18th-century Estonia. When I started work as a specialist in old books at the Tallinn University Academic Library in 2013, I got the chance to catalogue subclass XII (poetry and drama) of the library of the Estonian Literary Society, a Baltic German learned society founded in 1842. In addition to Baltic German poetic and dramatic works it contains many works of mostly Western European literature, primarily German, but also French and English, and – to a lesser extent – Italian, Spanish and Scandinavian. As a researcher, my aim is to investigate how world literature came to Tallinn and Estonia, combining history of books and literary history. When and in what ways did English literature come to Estonia? What was read in original languages and what reached the Baltic German reader via German translation? Who possessed English literature and how did it shape the local literature? Which part of it reached later Estonian national literature and which did not, and why? In my presentation I would like to describe and discuss my first findings, taking subclass XII as the starting point.


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