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Kerensky

alexander_kerenskybWe all remember Kerensky from school, don’t we? He was the sandwich filler between Russia’s ancient Tsarist monarchy – overthrown early in 1917 – and the victory of the Bolsheviks in the so-called October Revolution (which occurred in early November). Alexander Kerensky (1881 – 1970), a lawyer by trade, was no less a revolutionary than Lenin et al but he differed – cruically – in his commitment to continued hostilities against Germany.

But when Russian soldiers deserted in their millions, the Kerensky regime collapsed and he went into exile early in 1918.

Remarkably, Kerensky outlived all his contemporaries by many decades, eventually dying in 1970. He had spent the intervening years mostly in France and the USA, where he was popular on the lecture circuit.

But even more bizarre than his longevity is that he came to be interred in Putney Vale Cemetery. For various reasons, the Russian Orthodox and Serbian Orthodox churches in New York refused to give Kerensky a funeral, so his remains wound up in Putney Vale – a non-denominational cemetery in south-west London.

Marking the centenary of the Russian revolution, a few of us visited Kerensky yesterday. His final resting place is modest.

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A guest post by Dr Wolfram Latsch.

The next time you find yourself on Leadenhall Street heading towards Aldgate, walk past Billiter Street and stay on the right side of the road. At No. 50 you will notice a narrow passageway. This is Fenchurch Buildings, and it connects Leadenhall and Fenchurch Streets. On Roque’s 1746 map of London this part of the passageway is called Sugarloaf Court. In the first half of the eighteenth century, you would have a view, on your right, of African House, the headquarters of the Royal African Company of England (RAC), which traded slaves across the Atlantic between 1660 and 1752.

In 1703, a sixteen year-old boy named James Phipps was signed up at African House to become a writer — an entry-level position — in the service of the RAC. He came from a prominent family of clothiers in Wiltshire. Phipps lived on the Gold Coast for twenty years, a remarkable longevity for a European living in Africa before the age of tropical medicine. He died at Cape Coast Castle, the African headquarters of the RAC, in 1723. He had risen to the position of governor and captain-general, becoming the highest-ranking RAC official in Africa, before being removed from his post among accusations of embezzlement and abuse of power.

James Phipps left his estate to his wife Catherine and their four children. Catherine Phipps was the daughter of an African woman and a Dutch soldier from Elmina, a fort not far from Cape Coast. James and Catherine’s children — Bridget, Susan, Henrietta and Thomas — were all of mixed race – they were ‘mulattos’ in the parlance of the time. In his will, James Phipps wanted Catherine to move to England to be with their children. This was an unusual request, since most white men did not think of their African partners as legal wives. James would provide generously for Catherine if she agreed to move: his estate was worth at least 1.7 million pounds in today’s money. But she refused to leave Africa and died in 1738, a prominent and independent businesswoman (and slave-owner) known at Cape Coast simply as ‘Mrs. Phipps’.

Had Catherine Phipps agreed to leave her home, she would probably have moved to London, and anyone with an interest in black British history would today know her name. Black women were a rarity in England in the early eighteenth century and independently wealthy black women were entirely unknown. As it is, Catherine Phipps is one of a very small number of eighteenth-century African women known to us by name.

James and Catherine’s daughters Bridget and Susan had left Africa around 1715 when they were maybe ten years old, to be educated in England, initially at the boarding school of a Mrs. Smith in Battersea. In May 1730, Bridget married Chauncy Townsend of Austin Friars, a London merchant and mining adventurer (and later an MP) in the Fleet Prison, a preferred location for clandestine marriages. Chauncy and Bridget Townsend had twelve children, including James, who was born in London and baptized at St Christopher-le-Stocks in February 1737.

James Townsend was first elected to parliament in 1767. In 1769 he was elected alderman of the City of London for Bishopsgate ward and sheriff of London, becoming one of the leaders of the Whig party in London. Townsend played a key role in the intrigue surrounding the electoral campaigns of the radical journalist John Wilkes in Middlesex and the City, turning from a supporter of Wilkes to one of his fiercest opponents. Townsend was elected Lord Mayor in 1772 in spite of Wilkes’s coming first in the polls, an event that created political turmoil in the City. A mob incensed by Townsend’s coup attacked Guildhall during the ball on Lord Mayor’s Day, and Townsend’s arms were erased from the church of St. Helen’s Bishopsgate.

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James Townsend (center) as alderman of the City of London (1769)
Source: National Portrait Gallery, NPG D19402

Today Townsend is known, if at all, for the part he played in the drama of Wilkes’s bid for the mayoralty. Local historians and visitors may also know Townsend as an owner of the estate that is now Bruce Castle Museum in Haringey. He died there in 1787 and was buried nearby at Old Church Tottenham in the mausoleum of his wife’s family, the Coleraines. Her inheritance had made him a wealthy man.

James Townsend was the descendant of a black woman from the Gold Coast, the grandson of a ‘mulatto’ and one-eighth African, the first black MP and the first black Lord Mayor of London. This part of his family’s history was either unknown, or it went unnoticed, or it was ignored. His story may prompt an interest in the unacknowledged and often forgotten black ancestry of many London families and their complicated connections to the Atlantic slave trade.


Dr. Wolfram Latsch teaches economics and international studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. A version of this article was published in Notes & Queries, December 2016, as ‘A Black Lord Mayor of London in the Eighteenth Century?’

This is an update from a post from June last year, but I think deserves a new one, such is the outrage of this case. Observe this lovely riverside image in Brentford, directly opposite Kew Gardens.

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It is the developer’s own picture of its redevelopment of the St George’s Chapel site, until relatively recently the home of the Musical Museum. Looks lovely, I’m sure you’ll agree. Look at the small white building with the red roof to the left. Let’s zoom in a bit.

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That building is – or was – the historic Sarah Trimmer’s School, dating from 1806. It is – or was – significant as the first and only remaining example of an industrial training school in this country, mainly for young women. Historically highly significant.

Here is all that is left of it as of Sunday.

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Only the west and south facing walls remain. They almost certainly will not survive. The developers – IDM Properties – have sneakily, deliberately and steadily destroyed the building while they got on with the chapel development next door.  Why? Because they can maximise their take by building three teensy bungalow apartments against all advice of local historians and council denial of their planning application for same. Hounslow Council gave them a bit of a slap on the wrist last year, but now seemingly have given up the candle.

The developers are greedy scumbags (show me one that isn’t). The Council are cowardly and lazy collaborators. If they could wash their hands of the hassle of protecting our heritage, they would. I live in this borough. I am ashamed of them.

I say again, delinquent developers must do jail time. I bet that’s in nobody’s manifesto!

 

by Dr Helen Szamuely

This article was first published in London Historians Members’ Newsletter of April 2015.

The cavalier way in which TfL seems to have treated the Paolozzi mosaics in Tottenham Court Road station until someone noticed and called them to account is indicative of the low esteem that art form is held by many in this country. The spectacular mosaic floors in the National Gallery’s main entrance that combine traditional skill with modern themes are rarely glanced at by the many thousands of visitors who walk on them. On two of the mosaics, Cricket in The Pleasures of Life sequence in the East Vestibule and Exploring in The Labours of Life opposite it, the National Gallery has placed a large urn each, thus making it impossible to see them and drawing attention away from the work.

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Passing unnoticed. Anrep underfoot at the National Gallery, London.

In 2004 the National Gallery did publish a booklet by Lois Oliver, entitled Boris Anrep – The National Gallery Mosaics but that is now hard to find. Yet the spectacular work that should be seen by every visitor who happens to go in the main entrance is little known and its creator, the Russian artist Boris Anrep (1883 – 1969) even less so, though he is responsible for a number of other mosaics in London.

There is the Blake room in the Tate Gallery, the entrance to the Bank of England, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in Westminster Cathedral and a number of works in the Greek Orthodox Saint Sophia Cathedral in Moscow Road, Bayswater. There is also a mosaic in the Notre Dame de France church in Leicester Place but that, curiously enough, was covered up by a screen decorated by Jean Cocteau four years after its creation.

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A phoenix in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Westminster Cathedral.

Boris Anrep, who came from a Swedish-Lithuanian-Russian family, was born in 1883 in St Petersburg. His father was an eminent professor of forensic medicine and, later, a deputy in the Third Duma. His two sons were called after the first Russian saints, Boris and Gleb with the latter becoming a well known physiologist, a professor at Cambridge and in Cairo. Boris attended a school in Kharkov (now Kharkiv in Ukraine) and spent a year in Great Missenden in 1899 to learn English. He was intended for the law and became a student at the prestigious School of Jurisprudence at St Petersburg but around 1908 decided that the life of the poet and artist was preferable. By this stage he had become acquainted with a number of artists in Russia and decided to study in the West in Paris, at the Académie Julian, where he made friends with Henry Lamb and Augustus John, who introduced him to the rest of Bloomsbury Group. This connection became very important in Anrep’s social and artistic life. In 1910 – 11 Anrep and his wife Yuniya lived in Edinburgh where he continued to study art and began to complicate his life maritally and sexually.

In 1911 Helen Maitland, a close friend of Dorelia John and an ex-girlfriend of Henry Lamb became his mistress and the three of them lived mostly in Paris. Helen was to be the mother Anrep’s children, Anastasia and Igor, but did not marry Boris till 1918 when he finally divorced Yuniya. By this time he had acquired another mistress, Maroussia Volkova, his sister-in-law’s sister, and the domestic triangle repeated itself, this time in England. Astonishingly, it was not in Bloomsbury but in Hampstead that the Anrep menage settled but in 1926 Helen left Boris for Roger Fry and the former, after displaying rather strong signs of jealousy, departed for Paris with Maroussia and acquired another mistress, the artist Jeanne Beynal.

Anrep was responsible for the Russian section in the 1912 Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition but had, by then, decided that his interest lay in mosaics, particularly in bringing together the more traditional ideas and forms with more modern contents. In 1914 he created mosaics for the Crypt in Westminster Cathedral but his work was interrupted by the First World War during which he served with the Russian Imperial Guard in Galicia and had an affair with the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova.

He returned to England in 1917 to be Military Secretary to the Russian Government Committee, went back once more in the autumn and left Russia for good as the Bolsheviks came to power.

In the next few years he created mosaics for private homes, mostly those of his friends and a few other clients. He started his habit of including portraits of people he knew into those mosaics, merging traditional patterns with ideas of the jazz age. In 1923 he was commissioned (his friend Maynard Keynes was helpful in getting him work) to create the floor of the Blake Room in the Tate Gallery and he used it to illustrate The Proverbs of Hell from The Marriage of Heaven of Hell. Although he now lived and worked in Paris, his major works were for England (and Scotland though, as a Russian, he might not have considered the difference important).

In 1927 he began the mosaics for the Bank of England, a huge labour that was interrupted by the Second World War and was not completed fully till 1946. In 1928 he created mosaics for the Greek Orthodox Church in Bayswater and the first of the floors for the National Gallery, The Labours of Life in the West Vestibule. Though the idea is a traditional one, the images are idiosyncratic and of the period. It is a pity Exploring, in which a zebra is being filmed, is now obscured by that urn. Science is once again relevant as it depicts a student looking at the diplodocus carnegii at the Natural History Museum.

The following year Anrep decorated the East Vestibule with The Pleasures of Life, an imaginative and non-judgemental view of various jolly events. Critics noted the presence of girls in short skirts and with bobbed hair.

The third floor, on the Half-Way Landing (all three were paid for almost entirely by Samuel Courtauld) was finished in 1933 and consists of a The Awakening of the Muses, with Apollo, Bacchus and eight of the Nine Muses represented by recognisable people, mostly from among Anrep’s friends in the Bloomsbury Group. He also added Greta Garbo as Melpomene (Muse of Tragedy) and an imaginary woman as Calliope (Muse of Heroic Poetry).

Boris and Maroussia escaped from Paris in 1940 and for the rest of the war they lived in Hampstead (with Boris, inevitably, starting another liaison with Maud Russell who was to pay for the last floor in the National Gallery) and he, apart from working on his mosaics, also transcribed Russian broadcasts. After the war he went back to Paris where he lived till 1965 with Maroussia dying in 1956. His last years were spent in Hyde Park Gardens with Maud Russell.

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Modern Virtues, featuring Churchill. National Gallery, London.

Anrep continued to work until almost his death and, unlike many other mosaicists, he created his own work, choosing the materials, making the designs, laying down the mosaics. In 1952 he finished the last of the National Gallery floors in the North Vestibule, The Modern Virtues, which includes people he knew in England and in Russia as well as public figures. Here we can find Margot Fonteyn, Loretta Young, Anna Akhmatova, Winston Churchill, Bertrand Russell, T. S. Eliot and others representing slightly unexpected virtues as well as a picture of a Christmas Pudding and of the artist’s last resting place.

There were private commissions but the last great work, completed when Anrep was nearly eighty, was the very fine Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in Westminster Cathedral which went back in style to the pre-Byzantine Roman mosaics, with little gold and far from the expected monumental sightless figures. They are full of colour, light and rhythm – another union between traditional and modern in subject and pattern.

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Snapshot of Boris Anrep, 1920, by Bloomsbury hostess Lady Ottoline Morrell. © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Boris Anrep died in 1969. He had been a huge, in every sense of the word, figure on the English artistic scene, a man loved and admired by various friends and pupils. A keen tennis player who competed in the men’s doubles at Wimbledon in 1920, an excellent cook, a generous host and guest, one who could stand up to Augustus John in fisticuffs and who, quite astonishingly, excited the love of Lytton Strachey (One wonders what Boris made of that). He also left a mark in the history of public art of this country, which makes it rather sad that so little attention is paid to him. The only biography is by Annabel Farjeon (another writing Farjeon) who had married his son Igor. The manuscript is in the possession of the Anrep descendants but has never been published in English. It was translated into Russian and published in St Petersburg in 2003. Perhaps, it is time for a British publisher to have a look at it.

 


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A selection of Boris Anrep mosaics in our Flickr gallery. 

by Dr Helen Szamuely

Alexander_Konstantinovich_Benckendorff225Ten men are buried in the Crypt of Westminster Cathedral, which can be visited by special permission: nine cardinals and one “civilian” the last Imperial Russian Ambassador, Count Alexander Konstantinovich Benckendorff (1849 – 1917), who had taken up his ambassadorial position in 1902 and held it to his death. As it happens he was the great nephew of the Countess, later Princess Lieven, wife of the nineteenth century Russian ambassador, whose own diplomatic activity is generally better known than her husband’s. Count Alexander was, unusually for a Russian official even of Baltic background, a Roman Catholic, having been brought up by his German mother Princess Louise de Croy. Through his own and his wife’s eminent Russian family the Shuvalovs, he was related to most of the Russian and a good part of European aristocracy. On the one hand this made life and career relatively smooth, on the other hand, it became a tragedy as public opinion hardened just before the First World War and during it. To take one example, the German ambassador to London in the summer of 1914, Prince Lichnowsky, the son of Countess Marie de Croy, was Benckendorff’s first cousin. The drive towards the war and Lichnowsky’s enforced departure (as a matter of fact, he opposed German policy) was a personal tragedy for these two men.

Benckendorff remains a divisive figure in Russian historiography, just as he was a divisive figure in his lifetime. He has been accused on not knowing any Russian, which is not true, and of being more anxious to promote the British point of view in Russia than the Russian in Britain, which has some basis in truth. His first languages were French and German but he did speak Russian and wrote to his children in that language. Diplomatic correspondence across the Russian corps was, in any case, conducted in French.

Having grown up in Europe, he was anxious to become a Russian landowner and acquired an estate in Sosnovka, spending every summer there with his family until 1914. His sons were sent to Russia to finish their education. The younger, Petr, joined the army fought in the Russo-Japanese war, re-enlisted in 1914 and was killed in 1915. The older, Constantine, went into the navy and survived not only the First World War but the Revolution, civil war and a stint in the Red Navy. In 1922 he married the harpist Maria Korchinska and in 1923 they came to England. As he said in his memoirs, Half a Life, they could not have known that they would never see their homeland again. Their sister, married Jasper Nicholas Ridley. Both marriages produced fairly eminent offspring.

Count Benckendorff was obsessed with the need for an Anglo-Russian Agreement and pursued this policy (backed by the French ambassador to London, Paul Cambon, often beyond his instructions from the Imperisal government. His friendship with the Empress Maria Fyodorovna gave him a special entrée to the British court and allowed him to communicate directly with King Edward VII, something that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs found frustrating as they felt that Benckendorff was ready to accept any British policy whether it was directly good for Russia or not.

The need for that agreement, in his view, was based on three main reasons: he feared Russia falling under German domination, he thought that only an Anglo-Russian agreement would stabilize the situation and keep peace between the two countries in Asia and Europe and, he hoped that it would promote liberal, Western ideas in Russia. One can argue whether the Anglo-Russian Accord of 1907, Count Benckendorff’s cherished plan for which he worked so hard contributed to the move towards the First World War or not but that is where Europe ended up much to his discontent. Not only were his hopes dashed but, to a great extent, the war was a personal tragedy for him, his family, his entire circle.

By the end of 1916 the news coming out of Russia disturbed Count Benckendorff even more. The war was becoming vrey unpopular, there were disturbances, revolutionary activity, shortages. Would Russia be able to continue fighting? Would she collapse under pressure? These questions clouded his last weeks. An early victim of the Spanish influenza that was to devastate Europe and the world, Count Alexander Benckendorff died in early 1917 and caused a diplomatic furore after his death. He had worshipped in Westminster Cathedral and had requested that he should be buried there. His reuqest was reinforced by the Tsar, Nicholas II, but rejected by the Cathedral, who pointed out that only cardinals are buried in the Cathedral’s crypt. The Count’s Requiem in the Cathedral was attended by member of both Royal families but the question of the burial was finally solved by Kind Edward Vii intervening with Cardinal Bourne. He pointed out that Russia, Britain’s staunch ally was having many difficulties and needed support. An agreement to bury Count Benckendorff in the Cathedral crypt would be such support; permission was granted.

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Final resting place: the crypt beneath Westminster Cathedral.

Nathalie Ridley, the Count’s daughter, commissioned Eric Gill to carve a memorial slab,which was installed in 1939 and can still be seen. In simple elegant writing it says in English and Latin, the latter provided by Mgr Ronald Knox:

 

Count Alexander Philip Constantine Ludovic Benckendorff,
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotenitary
from the Emperor of Russia to the Court of St James.
August 1 1849 – January 11 1917.
May he rest in peace.

The new Russian government has an ambivalent attitude to the country’s history, both Imperial and Soviet. Nevertheless, the Russian Embassy now holds a Diplomats’ Day on February 10 and wreaths are laid on the graves of all ambassadors and chargés d’affaires who happen to be buried in Britain. A ceremony in Westminster Cathedral crypt ends with red, white and blue flowers decorating the gravestone of Count Alexander Konstantinovich Benckendorff, last Imperial Russian Amanssador and the only non-cardinal buried in the crypt of Westminster Cathedral.


This article was published in London Historians Members’ newsletter April 2017, less than two days before the author passed away in Charing Cross Hospital on 5 April. We shall publish other articles by Dr Szamuely about London-based Russians during the coming weeks. 

Helen Szamuely

hs240We were extremely saddened earlier this week to lose a Founder Member and great supporter of London Historians, Helen Szamuely.  Following a year or so of a serious medical condition which she kept mostly to herself, Helen died peacefully early on Wednesday morning, aged 66, which is no age at all.

We had less that two days previously just published an excellent article by Helen in our Members’ newsletter for April. It was about Count Alexander Benckendorff, a Russian diplomat, who a hundred years ago became the first and only layman to be buried in the crypt of Westminster Cathedral.

Helen was born in Moscow to Hungarian and Russian parents during the Soviet period. She spent some of her early years in Hungary where her parents’ flat in Budapest was something of a magnet for intellectual dissidents. They witnessed directly the brutal suppression of the 1956 uprising. Arriving in England aged 14, she spent the rest of her life in Britain standing up for liberty, self-determination and related causes.

Helen achieved a First in History and Russian at University of Leeds, going on to obtain her DPhil at Oxford.

Dr Samuely was a writer for many magazines, blogs, newsletters, mainly on topics of history, politics and literature. Among the lucky publications of her output are included the New Statesman, History Today and, of course, ourselves – London Historians.

Helen was brave, funny, clever, argumentative, incisive, wonderful company and a true friend. Fiercely independent, she possessed a razor-sharp intellect which some found daunting while others – like me – found exhilarating. When you engaged with her – particularly in matters of politics and history – it was best to bring your A game.

Helen enjoyed cooking, loved cats and for some reason represented herself on social media as a machine-gun toting squirrel which somehow seemed wholly appropriate. She was a keen consumer of detective fiction. Unsurprisingly, Helen was an avid scholar of Russian literature, particularly poetry, much of which she translated into English. She was an active supporter of Pushkin House in London.

I recommend you look up Helen on Facebook and read the entries from the past five days more fully to appreciate the great esteem in which she was held.

Helen supported London Historians frequently with her presence at our events, unannounced if not unexpected. She wrote some wonderful articles for our Members’ newsletter, mainly about Russians in London – exiles, diplomats, artists and Tsars. We shall republish these in the coming weeks for a wider audience to enjoy.

Helen is a great loss to not only to us at London Historians, but all her friends in many, many walks of life. Most of all, though, to daughter Katharine to whom we extend our deepest condolences.

Dr Helen Szamuely. Born 25.06.1950, Moscow. Died 05.04.2017, London.

Death Diary

Review: Death Diary: A Year of London Murder, Execution, Terrorism and Treason, by Gary Powell.

death diaryThis less-than-cheerful and macabre title actually belies the light reading which exists between its covers. I say this, because there are 365 stories of between half to a page each. So the reading is easy and can be done in any order without losing any narrative thread. You may be on the train, bus stop, about to switch off the bedside lamp. Whatever: light reading. I love books like this.

The content, as described in the title, comprises one death-related story (mostly murders) for every single day of the year going way back in London’s history.

There are the high profile cases, as you would expect. The execution of Charles I at the Banqueting House; the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher at the Libyan Embassy; the murder by a down-on-his-luck rival of actor William Terriss outside the Adelphi Theatre; the Krays.

But for me it’s the more mundane, everyday tragedies which resonate. The landlady strangled and stabbed by her lodger; the heartbreaking story of a man who killed his own toddlers because he literally could not afford to feed his family – in a book where hangings abound, at least this tortured soul went to an asylum.

A great deal of these accounts fall between the mid 19th and mid 20th centuries. It is noticeable that the motive is so often tied to money – or the lack of it. Grinding poverty, money worries – they existed on a level that we would find difficult to comprehend today. The ultimate state sanction was not sufficient deterrent, clearly. The gallows at Wandsworth, Pentonville and elsewhere were kept rather busy, even to relatively recent times.

There are many stories of a man killing his wife or lover in a domestic, or very occasionally the other way around. As I say, on the face of it, mundane. So the danger is these accounts becoming a bit samey. In Death Diary, author Gary Powell – a retired Met officer of decades standing – skillfully avoids this with matter-of-fact narratives which are never boring and yet neither are they ever sensationalised. It’s a difficult one to explain, perhaps the policeman’s knack of succinctly delivering detail.

An excellent third London book from this author. It includes a short bibliography and “index of offenders” at the end and there’s a generous section of illustrations and photos in the middle. Recommended.


Death Diary: A Year of London Murder, Execution, Terrorism and Treason (288pp) by Gary Powell is published in paperback by Amberley with a cover price of £14.99. An author-signed copy was featured as London Historians monthly book prize for February 2017.