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Happy International Women’s Day!

We’re a day late, but by a lovely coincidence I stumbled across some files relating to feminism yesterday in the Mitrinović Archive and it seems too good an opportunity to miss! In the 1940s some of the women in Mitrinović’s circles set up their own sub-group, Anthropo-Femina of the New Atlantis. They met for discussions and organised public lectures with a variety of invited speakers. They also seem to have joined in the celebrations for International Women’s Day, if the presence of this pamphlet in their files is anything to go by.

NAF 3-2-2-6-3 International Women's Day programme, 1946

I hadn’t realised that International Women’s Day had such a long history, nor that Mitrinović’s associates Winifred Gordon Fraser, Violet MacDermot, Louise Hughes and others not only considered themselves to be feminists in the 1940s, but established a group to study subjects and issues that they thought were of particular interest to women. I’m still cataloguing these records, but so far the records show that the group was interested in Psychology, Sociology, International Affairs, Philosophy and issues relating to the Second World War as these related to women. I have found statements of belief, letters, notes, bulletins, and meeting minutes relating to “Anthropo-Femina”, which seems to have been in existence from 1941 -1950s. I’m definitely looking forward to learning more about this intriguing group!

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Funding the Revolution: Money and the New Britain Movement

In 1932 Dimitrije Mitrinović decided that the moment had arrived to “build a New Britain”, and launched the New Britain Movement. The Movement was centred around support for Guild Socialism, monetary reform, and a political system combining principles of devolution and world federation. It adopted the idea of the Threefold State, developed by Rudolf Steiner, in which parliament would be divided into separate houses for culture, economics and politics. A successful publicity campaign kicked off the Movement, which evidently struck a chord with a swathe of the British public. Over 60 local branches were established across the country, and the Movement’s weekly magazine was at times selling up to 32 000 copies. Contributors included Bertrand Russell, Harold Macmillan, Frederick Soddy, Prof. J. Macmurray, Patrick Geddes and S.G. Hobson.

NAF 1-8-1-211 Letter from Bill Duff, p.1, excerpt

Some in Mitrinović’s network realised that to achieve its aims, the New Britain Movement would need a sound financial footing. Bill Duff was one such friend, although his money making schemes may strike some as walking an interesting line between the inspired and the ridiculous. Duff wrote to Mitrinović with a list of suggestions ranging from the prosaic, such as charging subscription fees and for admission to lectures, to the creation of a New Britain Theatrical Review! Duff also suggested creating New Britain ties – leading to possibly my favourite comment in the Collection, “…even Communists love uniforms at heart”!

NAF 1-8-1-211 Letter from Bill Duff, Excerpt re Uniforms

In the end it seems that the Movement was financed by sales of their magazines, The New Britain Quarterly and New Britain Weekly, perhaps subscriptions and membership fees, and donations from sympathetic friends and acquaintances. The situation was always rather precarious. Mitrinović’s biographer Andrew Rigby paints a vivid picture of D.R. Davies and others dashing across the country to solicit donations to keep the presses running and get the magazine produced.

The New Britain Movement collapsed amidst intense disagreement over its direction, and power struggles, in 1934. A remarkable letter from A.R. Hearn records his response to the financial difficulties he suffered when New Britain finally collapsed.  A loan he had given the organisation was left unpaid, causing an “avalanche” in his words that left him in debt. Despite what he termed his “gamble” spectacularly failing to pay off, Hearn remained committed to the cause.

NAF 1-10-18-24 Letter from Hearn, p.1, excerpt 'disaster'The New Britain Movement may not have lasted long, but those responsible for its brief existence certainly organised a flurry of activities in that time. The Archive has records relating to lectures, conferences, luncheons, and other events. There are manifestos, constitutions and statements of belief. New Britain produced various journals: New Albion, New Atlantic, The Eleventh Hour Bulletin, New Britain Quarterly  and New Britain Weekly magazines were published between 1933 – 1935. All of this is a testament to the determination, generosity and belief in the cause show by Mitrinović and those he inspired.

NAF 1-10-18-24 Letter from Hearn, p.2, excerpt New Britain's future

P.S. If anyone does ever find a New Britain tie (if they ever were produced), we’d love to know! After all, everyone loves a uniform…

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Death and Illness in the Archive

Recently I catalogued an interesting, rather sad, file that reminded me of the privilege we have of living in the age of antibiotics. Amongst Dimitrije Mitrinović’s more personal papers is a file of letters from friends and family, many of which relate to the deaths of his brothers Milivoje and Ljubivoje, as well as his niece Lilija, all within a few years of each other.

NAF 1-8-7 Ljubivoj Mitrinovic, Obit 1931

Announcement of the death of Ljubivoje Mitrinović.

Milivoje Mitrinović had followed his brother to Britain, and was studying Journalism at the University of London when he died, seemingly of tuberculosis. Letters from English correspondents show that he was well-liked in his new home and had clearly made an impression on Dimitrije Mitrinović’s friends.

Ljubivoje (known as Ljubo) died in Belgrade in 1931, nursed by his sister, Vera Mitrinović. By this time Dimitrije Mitrinović’s friend, the travel writer and novelist Stephen Graham, was living in Yugoslavia and had fallen in love with Vera. A moving letter written in the difficult time before Ljubo’s death documents their relationship. In the letter, dated January 1930, Graham appeals to Dimitrije Mitrinović to help Vera. Graham feared that her studies were suffering under the burden of caring for Ljubo. He worried about her finding herself in a situation where she would have to deal with Ljubo’s body by herself, as he looked likely to die in the one room flat they shared. Most serious of all, Graham feared for Vera’s health. How could she avoid catching tuberculosis, living so closely with her infected brother? Efforts to give Ljubo money to pay rent on a second room had gone awry and Graham asks Dimitrije Mitrinović to advise his siblings.

NAF 1-8-7-31 Letter from Stephen Graham 26-01-1930, p.3 Excerpt 3    NAF 1-8-7-31 Letter from Stephen Graham 26-01-1930 Excerpt 2

After Ljubivoje Mitrinović’s death, Vera still seems to have borne the brunt of the burden on the family. According to another letter from Graham, she paid for the funeral expenses herself. However, I don’t think Dimitrije Mitrinović should be seen as a cruel or miserly brother in all this. The archive also contains evidence of him sending money to Vera and trying to get back to Yugoslavia to visit. Graham’s pleas didn’t fall on deaf ears!

It is certainly easy to get drawn into the personal tragedies and dramas of these letters, but it also struck me that there might be some interest in letters of condolence as a “genre”. They are a way of exploring how we mark death, and the type of language or ideas we use to try to comfort the living or express grief. Those in the Mitrinović Archive might be particularly interesting, as so many of those writing them had studied psychology, religion and philosophy, which might have shaped their responses to illness and death.

NAF 1-8-7-31 Letter from Stephen Graham 26-01-1930, envelope

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Mens Sana in Corpore Sano: Mind & Body in the Mitrinović Collection

This week I wanted to explore the place that physical activity has in the Mitrinović collection. It is hard, looking at photos of Dimitrije Mitrinović and knowing that he frequently suffered from ill health, to imagine him actually doing any exercise but he does seem to have had an interest in it. His close collaborator Valerie Cooper ran a dance and movement studio, and some members of Mitrinović’s circle seem to have taken instruction in dance and exercise from her.

NAF 1-7-2-2-2 Cooper-Gaffran School of Movement, Director bios

The Mitrinović Archive holds a copy of a booklet advertising the Cooper-Gaffran School of Movement, in which the Directors outline their philosophy. They state their belief that “Owing to the physical and mental strain imposed upon them by the conditions of modern civilisation, most human beings have lost the feeling for rhythmic and harmonious movement […].” The aim of the School was to “prevent and cure postural defects and the many diseases arising from them, and give the ability to carry the body with ease and grace […].” “Correct movement” would stop the waste of “nervous energy”, help preserve “youthful vigour” and flexibility.

Cooper also promoted her philosophy beyond the school, publishing a series of articles in the New Britain magazine in the 1930s in which she coached readers. A series of marvelous photos were taken to illustrate the series, which ran under the title ‘The New Exercise’, in keeping with the spirit of change that was core to the New Britain Movement.

 

NAF 5-4-9 Woman Exercising, New Britain 1933, Kneeling pose

NAF 5-4-9 Woman Exercising, New Britain 1933, diving pose

However much New Britain promoted and sought change, its founder Dimtrije Mitrinović was also always looking backwards as well as forwards, seeking out the wisdom of the past and of traditional practices from around the world. In keeping with his interest in Eastern philosophies, religions and spiritual practices, Mitrinović studied yoga – at least in an academic sense. This pamphlet, which turned up unexpectedly in the archive, was printed in 1930 to advertise a new journal focusing on the philosophy and practice of yoga.

NAF 1-7-2-9-1 Yoga Journal, pamphlet 1930

We think of yoga as reaching the West only really in the 1960s, but Mitrinović’s Archive and Library show that certainly by the 1920s these Eastern practices and beliefs were being studied in London, Germany and even Belgrade.

The idea of healthy mind, healthy body has ancient roots, as our Latin quote suggests. In principle at least, it appealed to Mitrinović – although other evidence in the archive shows he certainly wasn’t willing to give up whisky and soda or smoking his pipe to get there!

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How is Your Serbo-Croat? Special Collections Needs Volunteers!

Dimitrije Mitrinović was born in what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina, into a Serbian speaking family. He learned to speak and write in multiple languages as a young man and today his Archive reflects his “multi-lingualism”. This is particularly true of the letters in the collection. So far I have catalogued material in German, French, Russian, Italian and, of course, Serbo-Croat.

Unfortunately I don’t have Mitrinović’s knowledge of languages, which is where you come in! Special Collections is looking for volunteers to help us to catalogue correspondence from his Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian friends, colleagues and family to the same standard as we’ve established for letters in English.

NAF 1-8-3-1 Postcard, front                 NAF 1-8-3-1 Postcard, back

Dimitrije Mitrinović created, edited and wrote for influential journals and magazines in Serbia, Croatia and subsequently, Yugoslavia. He knew some of the region’s most learned, famous (and infamous) and artistic citizens including Gavrilo Princip and Ivan Meštrović. If you have a knowledge of the Serbian or Croatian language and an interest in history, this could be just the project for you! And you don’t have to live near Bradford, as we’ll supply you with copies to work from and training.

Please email e.l.burgham@bradford.ac.uk to find out more and register your interest.

NAF 1-8-3-7 Letter, front [pink]

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Mitrinović, Art Collector

Last week we treated Bradford University students and staff to a lunchtime introduction to the Mitrinović Collection – and mince pies! I thought I would share one of the documents that sparked some interest amongst the group here on the Eleventh Hour.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that Dimitrije Mitrinović had friends in the art world, including Wassily Kandinsky and the German Expressionist painter Gabriella Münter. His interest in art began early on in life, and he studied art history at university as well as writing about contemporary art in various publications as a young man. Mitrinović also collected works of art, and a few weeks ago I came across a wonderful letter from E.L.T. Mesens, then one of the co-directors of The London Gallery, that sheds some light on his collection.

NAF 1-8-2-13 Letterhead, The London Gallery

Mesens lists paintings Mitrinović had bought from the gallery, and the prices he had paid. He also lists works he had sent Mitrinović on approval, giving us an insight into one of the ways in which Mitrinović acquired paintings.

Letter from The London Gallery [crop - list of paintings bought]

It is quite astonishing to come across such distinguished names in an ordinary file of correspondence, reminding us that in 1939 individual collectors could still afford to buy works by such artists as René Magritte and Paul Klee whose works would now go to major institutions. The art market has certainly changed! Even so, many of those who attended our session last week were curious about where Mitrinović found the money to support his art habit. It’s an interesting question, and one I haven’t entirely resolved, beyond knowing that he had some income from the Yugoslavian government and was notorious for being able to winkle money out of his supporters! It must also be said that Mitrinović could be very generous, and letters in the archive show him giving artworks to friends and championing ventures like the Richmond Art Club (now Richmond Art Society).

Beyond shedding light on Mitrinović’s own tastes for Surrealism and Cubism, this letter might be of interest to curators, art historians or others interested in the provenance of particular works and how they were received.

NAF 1-8-2-13 Letter from The London Gallery, Messen's signature [crop]

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End of a Friendship? Letter from James Young

In my last post I started to look at Mitrinović’s character, but there’s much more to learn about such a compelling, complex man. Perhaps the most revealing document I’ve come across so far when it comes to Mitrinović’s personality and personal relationships is a letter from James Young written in April 1925. Young was a psychoanalyst, who had studied under Jung, and written for The New Age alongside Mitrinović.

NAF 1-8-2 James Young Letter, 1925, p.1

The letter seems like an insightful and perhaps brutally honest analysis of Mitrinović’s character. It is also quite revealing of group dynamics in his circle, as Young complains that two group members were policing access to Mitrinović. He voices his worry that Mitrinović would burn out, recalling an incident where he had finally persuaded his friend to take a holiday, only for Mitrinović to use it as an opportunity to teach a young woman philosophy. Young felt she was already reeling under the weight of new ideas, further adding to the inappropriateness of the situation. He saw this incident as an example of Mitrinović’s unhealthy compulsion to teach.

NAF 1-8-2 James Young Letter, 1925, p.2 excerpt re compulsive

Young was also concerned about, and irritated by, Mitrinović’s habit of forming and dissolving groups focusing on achieving different aims in his project to change the world. In his view, Mitrinović was spreading himself too thin. He would achieve more by concentrating his energies.

NAF 1-8-2 James Young, 1925, p.6, excerpt

Some in his circle interpreted this behaviour as stemming from Mitrinović’s desire to retain his leadership role. By constantly moving the goal-posts, none of the students could surpass the master by becoming more expert than their guru. Others were more sympathetic, believing that Mitrinović kept the group moving on to new things so that they wouldn’t become fixated on one area at the expense of his holistic philosophy. Each new group worked to bring its members new insights, focusing on different subject matter. Others in his circle felt that Mitrinović was continually searching for the right ‘formula’ – a venture that would take off and wouldn’t need input from him, freeing him up for other work.

According to his biographer, Andrew Rigby, Mitrinović felt different audiences needed different messages, and the use of different channels for communicating that message. The constant stream of new ventures and campaigns may also have been part of Mitrinović’s attempt to shake the British public awake, getting them to see that urgent action was needed to avert disaster as the world dealt with the Great Depression, the rise of Hitler and Communist dictatorships.

NAF 1-8-2 James Young Letter, p.4, excerpt misunderstanding

Clearly Mitrinović’s way of working could frustrate and confuse even his closest friends. Being in his circle could be an intense, emotional experience and feelings could run high. We are fortunate to have this letter and others in the archive that record this atmosphere. They give us a vivid picture of what it was like to be caught up in the world of a charismatic guru in the eventful interwar period.

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