Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Papadiamantis Fireplace

The fireplace is a central component in Greek vernacular architecture. The Deserted Greek Village project surveyed many fireplaces constructed in stone (left, from Aigition, Phokis) or plaster (Penteskouphi). Hearths are typically found on the second floor of a house, dedicated to human residence as distinguished from mixed usage (storage, livestock) on the first floor. This internal distinction of upper and lower floors corresponds to the increasing specialization of domestic space throughout Europe and the U.S. in the 18th century. In contrast, the medieval Greek house would have had unitary spaces of mixed usage without fireplaces. 

The centrality of the fireplace in the social imagination of rural Greece is evident in how it is discussed in literature, particularly in the short stories of the late-19th-century school of Folk Realism. At another level, the village fireplace takes on a higher topical significance representing literature. This is a common topos in European literature, since most people actually read books in front of their fireplace (up until the advent of forced air heating in 1885). The Greek fireplace began to represent the location of oral culture. Kostas Ouranis, for example, describes his childhood memories of sitting by the fireplace and listening to his grandmother's tales.

I have begun a more systematic survey of 19th-century literature for its architectural references. The survey begins with the stories of Alexandros Papadiamantis. The edition of Papadiamantis that I have access to is the 1970 edition of Seferli (thank you University of Pennsylvania libraries for not [yet] taking Papadiamantis to off-site storage). Right at the opening of the first volume, we have a woodcut of Papadiamantis's own fireplace drawn by Nikolas Paulopoulos (1909-1990).

Alexandros Papadiamantis (1851-1911) spent most of his life in his native island of Skiathos. He lived in a house built in 1860 that has been transformed into a popular house museum. For the many literati (like Stratis Myrivilis) who would have visited Papadiamantis, the fireplace would have remained as an iconic image. I don't know when Nikolas would have made his woodcut, but I would guess in the 1950s or 1960s. The print of the woodcut illustrating the Papadiamantis edition belonged to Myrivilis. Nikolas' woodcut follows the Expressionist tradition charging the space with high contrast psychological tension. The provenance of the image connects the contemporary reader to Papadiamantis via Myrivilis and a chain of tradition. The Seferli edition becomes itself a visual document, as each of the stories is illustrated by a woodcut commissioned by the press. Nikolas's woodcut makes a nice introduction to the literary spaces of Greece's deserted villages.

It will be difficult to escape the sentimentalism surrounding the Greek fireplace. I hope it is still possible to excavate beyond the nostalgia and assess its materiality. Can we do a history of the Greek countryside in the footsteps of Raymond Williams?  Peter Mackridge has paved the way for such a study in "The Textualization of Place in Greek Fiction, 1883-1903," Journal of Mediterranean Studies 2 (1992), pp. 146-168. And I suspect that Ecocriticism will eventually have an impact on modern Greek literary studies.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States