Some famous women translators of the past

By Marie Lebert, 24 June 2019.

Here are the lives and works of 30 women translators (list below) from the 16th to the 20th century — with the help of Wikipedia. Some of them didn’t confine themselves to literary work. They also fought for gender equality, women’s education, women’s suffrage, abolitionism, and women’s social rights. All of them are included in the dictionary of famous translators through the ages.


Anne Bacon (1527-1610)

Anne Bacon was an English scholar, a Puritan (Reformed Protestant) advocate, and a translator from Latin and Italian to English. Born in Essex, in southeastern England, she was the daughter of Anthony Cooke, the tutor of King Henry VIII’s only son Edward (who later became King Edward VI of England). Cooke made sure that all his children — four sons and five daughters — received a humanist education and learned several languages (Latin, Italian, French, Greek, and may be Hebrew). Anne Bacon first translated “Ochines Sermons”, a series of sermons by Italian evangelist Bernardino, who became a Protestant reformer. She translated “Apologie of the Anglican Church”, originally written in Latin in 1564 by John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury, to clarify the differences between Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. Her translation was a significant step in the intellectual justification of Protestantism in England, and helped support the religious policies implemented by Queen Elizabeth I of England. A deeply religious woman, Anne Bacon wrote many letters conveying her passion for religion. Many of her later letters were addressed to her two sons, Anthony Bacon and Francis Bacon (the philosopher), with advice on their spiritual welfare and religious lives.


Margaret Tyler (1540?-1590?)

Margaret Tyler was a translator from Spanish to English, and the first English woman to translate a Spanish romance. The dedicatory letter introducing her translation was addressed to Lord Thomas Howard. She was probably a servant to the Howard family, a Catholic aristocratic family. The source of her knowledge of Spanish is unknown. In the 16th century, Spanish was valued by English merchants because of their economic ties with Spain, and some merchants’ daughters and servants may have learned the language. Margaret Tyler translated Diego Ortúñez de Calahorra’s Spanish romance “Espejo de principe y cavalleros” under the title “The Mirrour of Princely Deedes and Knighthood” (1578). Her translation closely followed the original text, with only minor changes and with clarity preferred to the flowing elegance of the original. Her translation became a best-seller, despite some criticisms because its masculine and secular topic was considered inappropriate for a woman. Women translators were supposed to translate religious literature, in line with the fact that female education should promote piety. In her “Letter to the reader”, Margaret Tyler protested against these restrictions, insisted on the seriousness and importance of literary work by women, and proposed that both women and men should be treated as equal rational beings. The second volume of Ortúñez de Calahorra’s Spanish romance was translated later on by Welsh poet Robert Parry, probably because Margaret Tyler was reaching the end of her life.


Anna Hume (1600?-1650?)

Anna Hume was a Scottish writer and poet, and a translator from Latin to English. Born and raised in Wedderburn Castle, she was the daughter of historian and poet David Hume of Hogscroft, a major political figure in Scotland. Anna Hulme translated her father’s Latin poems, and Italian poet Petrarch’s “Trionfi” under the title “The Triumphs of Love, Chastitie, Death: Translated Out of Petrarch by Mrs. Anna Hulme”. Petrarch’s poems “tell of love’s triumph over the poet (Petrarch falls in love with Laura), superseded by the triumph of chastity over lust (in that Laura does not yield to Petrarch’s love), which is followed by the triumph of death over Laura (as Laura dies and reminds both author and reader of death’s power)” (Wikipedia). Anna Hulme’s translation was published in 1644 by printer Evan Tyler in Edinburgh. A book published by a woman belonging to a prominent family was very unusual at that time, but it was well received and her translation was praised as faithful and spirited. Anna Hulme later supervised the posthumous publication of her father’s last book “History of the Houses of Douglas and Angus”, published in 1644 by Evan Tyler as a 440-page quarto volume. Controversy surrounded its publication as Scottish nobleman William Douglas was dissatisfied with her work.


Lucy Hutchinson (1620-1681)

Lucy Hutchinson was an English poet and biographer, and a translator from Latin to English. She translated Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius’ “On the Nature of Things” (“De rerum natura”), a didactic philosophical poem exploring Epicurean philosophy to explain the natural world. Lucretius’ ideas were at odds with her Puritan faith, and she emphasized their sinfulness in the dedication introducing her translation. Her translation was never published during her lifetime. Her heirs sold the manuscript to the British Library in 1853. Her translation was only published in 1996 under the editorship of Hugh de Quehen. Lucy Hutchinson’s own works as a poet included “Elegies”, a set of poems that stayed unpublished, and “Order and Disorder”, a verse rendition of the “Book of Genesis”, and possibly the first epic poem written by an English woman, with only five cantos published during her lifetime. Both works were discovered much later by English critic David Norbrook, and published respectively in 1997 and 2001. Lucy Hutchinson wrote “On the Principles of the Christian Religion”, a comprehensive personal statement of the Puritan theology of her time, and “Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson”, a biography of her husband with insights on a good Puritan life. Intended for her family only, these memoirs were printed by a descendant in 1806, and cleared away false impressions about the narrowness and austerity of educated Puritans.


Aphra Behn (1640-1689)

Aphra Behn was an English playwright, poet and novelist, and a translator from French to English, and from English to French. She was the first woman to earn her living from writing. As such, she broke cultural barriers, and became a literary role model for later generations of women writers. After working as a spy in Antwerp (now in Belgium) for King Charles II, she returned to London for a brief stay in a debtors’ prison. She began writing for the stage under the pseudonym Astrea, and was part of a coterie of poets and libertines with John Wilmot and Lord Rochester. She wrote and staged 19 plays, and contributed to many more. She became a major playwright in England, second only to Poet Laureate John Dryden, who was a friend of hers. After writing a prologue and an epilogue that brought her some legal trouble during the Exclusion Crisis, she decided to devote herself to prose genres and to translations. Her last translations were the translation (from French to English) of French astronomer Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle’s “A Discovery of New Worlds” (“Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes”) in 1688, and the translation (from English to French) of English poet Abraham Cowley’s “Six Books of Plants” in 1689. Plagued by a failing health, poverty and debt, Aphra Behn died in April 1689. She was buried in the east cloister of Westminster Abbey instead of being buried in the Poets’ Corner inside the church like John Dryden. The inscription on her tombstone reads: “Here lies a proof that wit can never be defence enough against mortality.” Much later, English writer and feminist Virginia Woolf wrote that “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds” (in “A Room of One’s Own”, 1929).


Anne Dacier (1654-1720)

Anne Dacier was a French translator and editor of classics from Greek to French. Born in Saumur, in central France, she was taught Latin and Greek by her father Tanneguy Le Fèvre. After her father’s death in 1672, she moved to Paris and worked with Pierre Daniel Huet, a friend of her father who was in charge of the Delphin Classics, a comprehensive edition of Latin classics. Anne Dacier produced editions of poets Publius Annius Florus, Anacreon and Sappho, playwrights Terence, Plautus and Aristophanes, and historians Dictys Cretensis, Sextus Aurelius Victor and Eutropius. After moving with her husband to Castres, in southern France, in 1685, Anne Dacier produced prose translations of Greek epic poet Homer’s “Iliad” (1699) and “Odyssey” (1708), and her translations introduced Homer to the French literary world. Her translations were praised by her contemporaries, including English poet Alexander Pope, who translated Homer’s epic poems into English (1713 and 1726). Anne Dacier published an essay on Pope’s translation of the “Odyssey”, that gained her some fame in England as well. Another French translation of the “Odyssey” was Antoine Houdar de la Motte’s verse edition (1714) founded on Anne Dacier’s prose edition. The two translators began a long literary controversy, with the participation of French scholars Jean Terrasson and Claude Buffier. Anne Dacier and Houdar de la Motte later agreed about Homer being one of the greatest literary geniuses in the world, met at supper and drank to the health of Homer.


Giuseppa Barbapiccola (1702-1740?)

Giuseppa Barbapiccola was an Italian natural philosopher and poet, and a translator from Latin and French to Italian. Her uncle was Tommaso Maria Alfani, a Dominican preacher in Naples, and a correspondent and friend of Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico. Giuseppa Barbapiccola was an advocate for the education of women. Her main translation was the translation of French philosopher René Descartes’ “Principles of Philosophy” (1722). Her goal for translating “Principles of Philosophy” was not only to convey Descartes’ philosophy to an Italian audience, but also to inspire women to educate and empower themselves. She demonstrated that Descartes created a philosophy that praised the female intellect, and her translation gave her the opportunity to express her own ideas. In the preface, she wrote that “women should not be excluded from the study of the sciences, since their spirits are more elevated and they are not inferior to men in terms of the greatest virtues.” She defended the right for women’s learning, and was eager to persuade women to educate themselves. She asserted that women’s inherent nature, being the weaker sex, was not the cause of women’s ignorance. The cause for women’s ignorance was no education or bad education. Her claim was that women always had the ability and capacity to learn. Her translation also included a history of women’s learning and a history of philosophy.


Barbara Sanguszko (1718-1791)

Barbara Sanguszko was a Polish poet and moralist, and a translator from French to Polish. She was a noblewoman known for her piety and philanthropy. She restored many Catholic churches and convents, and laid the foundations of new religious houses. She also hosted a salon modeled after French 18th-century salons. Among her guests were Stanisław August Poniatowski, the future King of Poland, and Polish poet Ignacy Krasicki, often called Poland’s La Fontaine. Barbara Sanguszko translated into Polish two religious tracts by Louise de La Vallière, a former French royal mistress turned Carmelite nun. She also translated Italian cardinal Giovanni Bona’s series of reflections on religious and moral themes, her personal physician Francis Curtius’ manual of medicine, and Philippe-Louis Gérard’s anti-Voltaire novel “The Count of Valmont, or the Loss of Reason” (“Le Comte de Valmont, ou les égaremens de la raison”). She wrote a guide for mothers whose daughter was about to be married, based on her own experience, with a first edition published in 1756 in Warsaw and several revised editions then. She also wrote poems on a variety of themes, published with an introduction by Ignacy Krasicki.


Catharina Ahlgren (1734-1800?)

Catharina Ahlgren was a Swedish feminist writer and poet, and a translator from English, French and German to Swedish. She translated German poet Christoph Martin Wieland’s “The Trial of Abraham’s Faith” (“Die Prüfung Abrahams”). She dedicated her first poem (written in French) to Ulrika of Prussia, Queen of Sweden, for her birthday. She wrote essays on the role of women in society and on gender equality for two Swedish periodicals, “Then Swänska Argus” (“Den Svenska Argus” in modern Swedish) and “Samtal emellan Argi Skugga och en obekant Fruentimbers Skugga”. Likely through her second marriage, Catharina Ahlgren acquired a printing press, and published works by Swedish poet and feminist Hedvig Charlotta Nordenflycht, who was a close friend and correspondent. Catharina Ahlgren emigrated to Finland in 1782, and also played a pioneer role there by launching the first Finnish periodical “Om att rätt behaga” (Of the Art to Please Properly).


Claudine Picardet (1735-1820)

Claudine Picardet was a French chemist, mineralogist and meteorologist, and a translator from several languages (Swedish, English, German, Italian and Latin) into French. Born in Dijon, in eastern France, she lost her first husband in 1796, and remarried in 1798 with French scientist Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau. As the only woman in the Dijon Academy, and the only scientist who was proficient in five foreign languages, she undertook translations into French of the scientific literature produced by leading foreign scientists. The demand was high, especially in the fields of chemistry and mineralogy. Claudine Picardet translated three books and dozens of scientific papers originally written in Swedish (works by Carl Wilhelm Scheele and Torbern Bergman), English (works by John Hill, Richard Kirwan and William Fordyce), German (works by Johann Christian Wiegleb, Johann Friedrich Westrumb, Johann Carl Friedrich Meyer, and Martin Heinrich Klaproth), and Italian (works by Marsilio Landriani). Her translations contributed to the spread of scientific knowledge during the Chemical Revolution, a movement led by French chemist Antoine Lavoisier, often called the Father of modern chemistry. Claudine Picardet also hosted renowned scientific and literary salons in Dijon and Paris, where she moved later on, and actively participated in the collection of meteorological data.


Julia Evelina Smith (1792-1886)

Julia Evelina Smith was an American feminist, and a translator from Latin, Greek and Hebrew to English. Her family, the Smiths of Glastonbury, lived in Connecticut, and all the women in her family were active in championing women’s education, women’s suffrage and abolitionism. Julia Evelina Smith was well educated, with a working knowledge of Latin, Greek and Hebrew. After reading the Bible in its original languages, she decided to undertake her own translation of the Bible into English, with an emphasis on literalism. She completed her translation in 1855, after eight years of work. Her translation was published in 1876, before the publication of the “English Revised Version of the King James Bible” (1881-94), regarded as the official authorized version of the Bible in England. Julia Evelina Smith’s family (as a whole) was inducted in 1994 into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.


Sarah Austin (1793-1867)

Sarah Austin was an English writer, and a translator of German and French to English. As a child, she studied Latin, French, German and Italian. She married legal philosopher John Austin in 1819. The couple moved from London to Bonn, Germany, in 1827, largely living on Sarah Austin’s earnings as a translator and writer. Her translations from German to English included “Characteristics of Goethe from the German of Falk, von Müller, etc., with notes, original and translated, illustrative of German literature” (1833), German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Carové’s “The Story without an End” (1834), and German historian Leopold von Ranke’s “History of the Popes” (1840). One of her translations from French to English was the “Report on the State of Public Instruction in Prussia” (1834), written by French philosopher Victor Cousin for the Count de Montalivet, then French Minister of Public Instruction. In the preface to the translation, Sarah Austin personally pleaded for the cause of national education. She also argued for the need to create a national system of education in England in a pamphlet published in 1839 in the “Foreign Quarterly Review”. Her other translations included books by German prince Hermann and French historian François Guizot. Sarah Austin always stood for her intellectual rights as a translator, writing that “It has been my invariable practice, as soon as I have engaged to translate a work, to write to the author to it, announcing my intention, and adding that if he has any correction, omission, or addition to make, he might depend on my paying attention to his suggestions.” She corresponded extensively with authors and thinkers of her time. She published her own survey of German institutions and manners under the title “Germany from 1760 to 1814, or Sketches of German Life, from the Decay of the Empire to the Expulsion of the French” (1854). She produced new editions of her husband John Austin’s works after his death, and she edited her daughter Lucy Gordon’s “Letters from Egypt” (1865) and “Last Letters from Egypt” (1875). Her daughter was also a writer, and a translator from German and French to English.


Louise Swanton Belloc (1796-1881)

Louise Swanton Belloc was a French writer, and a translator from English to French. Born in La Rochelle, a seaport in western France, she received an education with a focus on English language and culture. She advocated for women’s education, and contributed to the creation of the first circulating libraries. Her writings and translations introduced English literary works to a French audience. Her first translation was the translation of Irish poet and novelist Adelaide O’Keeffe’s “Patriarchal Times; or, the Land of Canaan: a Figurate History” (1818), a retelling of the first five books of the Bible. Louise Swanton Belloc wrote articles for the French “Revue encyclopédique” under the supervision of its founder and editor Marc-Antoine Jullien. She wrote several books in French, for example a life of Lord Byron and a series of books for children. She befriended many literary figures, including French writers Victor Hugo, Emile Souvestre and Alphonse de Lamartine, English writer Charles Dickens, Anglo-Irish writer Maria Edgeworth, and American writer Harriet Beecher Stowe. She translated Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, a book depicting the harsh living conditions of enslaved African-Americans. She also translated Scottish writer Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel “Cranford”, Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith’s novel “The Vicar of Wakefield”, Irish poet Thomas Moore’s “Irish Melodies”, Lord Byron’s memoirs, and works by Charles Dickens, Maria Edgeworth and Scottish writer Walter Scott.


Therese Albertine Louise Robinson (1797-1870)

Therese Albertine Louise Robinson was a German-American writer and linguist, and a translator from English and Serbian to German. Born in Germany, she translated Scottish writer Walter Scott’s novels “Old Mortality” and “The Black Dwarf” (1822) under the pseudonym Ernst Berthold. She published a series of literary criticisms without signing them. She was reluctant to use her own name to publish her poetry and short stories, so she invented the pen name Talvj, formed with the initials of her birth name (Therese Albertine Louise von Jacob), to sign her collection of short stories “Psyche” (1825) and other works. She learned Serbian after reading German philologist Jacob Grimm’s translations and comments on Serbian folk songs. She translated Serbian folk songs herself with Goethe’s support and encouragement. Her translation “Volkslieder der Serben” (Folk Songs of the Serbs) appeared in 1826, and was praised by Goethe and the German literary world. Therese Albertine Louise Robinson married American theologian Edward Robinson in 1828, and moved with him to Massachusetts, United States, in 1830. She assisted her husband in introducing and publishing German theology in America. She studied Native American languages, and wrote a handbook. She translated American linguist John Pickering’s seminal article “On Indian languages of North America” published in “Encyclopedia Americana” (1830-31), under the title “Über die Indianischen Sprachen Amerikas” (1834). In his article, Pickering advocated for a phonetic transcription of Native American words, in order to remedy inconsistent schemes adopted by scholars from different nationalities. Therese Albertine Louise Robinson wrote a history of Slavic languages with her husband (1834, 2nd edition in 1850). The poems she translated into German were first published anonymously in an essay on popular poetry in the German nations (1836), and later published as a book (1840). Her poems were also included in “The Poets and Poetry of Europe” (1847), an anthology of translated poems edited by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.


Mary Howitt (1799-1888)

Mary Howitt was an English poet and writer, and a translator from German, Swedish and Danish to English. Born in a Quaker family living in Gloucesterhire, a county in southwestern England, she started writing verses at an early age, long before writing her famous poem “The Spider and The Fly” (1828). She married fellow Quaker writer William Howitt in 1821, and began a lifelong career of joint authorship and travels with him, except during his Australian journey in 1851-54 when he tried to make a fortune there. The first of their joint productions was “The Forest Minstrels and Other Poems” (1821), followed by “The Desolation of Eyam and Other Poems” (1827) and other publications, for example “Abbeys and Castles of Great Britain” (1862). They befriended English literary figures such as novelists Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell, and poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Wordsworth and Dorothy Wordsworth. When living in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1840, Mary Howitt got acquainted with Scandinavian literature, and learned Swedish and Danish. She translated Swedish writer Fredrika Bremer’s novels in 1842-63. Her 18-volume translation helped introduce Fredrika Bremer to English readers, including her ideas as a feminist reformer. Mary Howitt also translated Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, for example “Only a Fiddler” (1845), “The Improvisators” (1845), “Wonderful Stories for Children” (1846) and “The True Story of Every Life” (1847). She translated German physician Joseph Ennemoser’s “History of Magic” (1854), for his ideas to reach an English audience. She received a Silver Medal from the Literary Academy of Stockholm for conveying Scandinavian literature through translation.


Dorothea Tieck (1799-1841)

Dorothea Tieck was a German translator from English and Spanish to German. She helped her father Ludwig Tieck edit German poet August Schlegel’s translation of Shakespeare’s plays (1797-1810), a highly praised translation that turned them into classics, and translated the later parts with Wolf Heinrich Graf von Baudissin. Her noted translation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” was republished several times. Here is her translation of one of Macbeth’s soliloquies: “Morgen, und morgen, und dann wieder morgen, [Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,] Kriecht so mit kleinem Schritt von Tag zu Tag, [Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,] Zur letzten Silb auf unserm Lebensblatt; [To the last syllable of recorded time;] Und alle unsere Gestern führten Narren [And all our yesterdays have lighted fools] Den Pfad zum staubigen Tod. Aus, kleines Licht! [The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!] Leben ist nur ein wandelnd Schattenbild, ein armer Komödiant [Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player] Der spreizt und knirscht sein Stündchen auf der Bühn und dann nicht mehr [That struts and frets his hour upon the stage] Vernommen wird; ein Märchen ists, erzählt [And then is heard no more. It is a tale] Von einem Blödling, voller Klang und Wut, [Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury] Das nichts bedeutet. [Signifying nothing.]” Dorothea Tieck and her father also translated Spanish novelist Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” into German.


Charlotte Guest (1812-1895)

Charlotte Guest was an English scholar and liberal educator, and a translator from Middle Welsh to English. Born in an aristocratic family, she studied Latin, Greek, French and Italian with her brother’s tutor, and Arabic, Hebrew and Persian by herself. Her first husband was Welsh engineer and entrepreneur John Josiah Guest, who built pioneering schools for his workers’ children. On his death, his company, the Dowlais Iron Company, was the largest producer of iron in the world. Her second husband was classical scholar Charles Schreiber. After learning Welsh and meeting Welsh literary scholars such as historian Thomas Price and writer Ioan Tegid, she translated several medieval songs and poems with their support and encouragement. She began translating the “Mabinogion” in 1837 from the manuscript transcription made by Tegid when he was a young scholar at Oxford University. The “Mabinogion” was a series of medieval stories compiled from 12th- and 13th-century oral traditions, and the earliest prose stories in Britain. Charlotte Guest’s 7-volume translation was published in 1838-45. A new 3-volume edition was published in 1849 by the Tonn Press in Wales and by Longmans in London. Both editions were bilingual, with the Welsh transcription and the English translation. These editions included many scholarly footnotes and were lavishly produced, with full illustrations and gold-tooled leather covers. A one-volume edition was published in 1877 with the English translation only, and became the standard edition.


Elizabeth Ashurst (1813-1850)

Elizabeth Ashurst was an English radical activist, and a translator from French to English. She belonged to a family of radical activists, who supported causes ranging from women’s suffrage to Risorgimento (Italian unification). She befriended Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, and exchanged correspondence with him from 1844 until her death. She attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840 with her father and her sister Matilda Ashurst, but was not permitted to speak at the conference because women were not regarded as full delegates. Elizabeth Ashurst liked French novelist George Sand’s free-love and independent lifestyle, still unusual in the 19th century, and the political and social issues tackled in her books. She and her friend Matilda Hays became the first translators of George Sand’s works into English, and translated “Spiridon”, “Letters of a Traveller” (“Lettres d’un voyageur”), “The Master Mosaic-Workers” (“Les maîtres mosaïstes”), and “André”. Elizabeth Ashurst married French artist Jean Bardonneau after meeting him in Paris in 1847, and died in childbirth in 1850.


Anna Swanwick (1813-1899)

Anna Swanwick was an English feminist author, and a translator from German and Greek to English. Born in Liverpool, England, she moved in 1839 to Berlin, Germany, to study German, Greek and Hebrew. When she returned to England in 1843, she translated some works by German poets Goethe and Schiller, and published them as “Selections from the Dramas of Goethe and Schiller” (1843), with Goethe’s “Torquato Tasso” and “Iphigenia in Tauris”, and Schiller’s “Maid of Orleans”. She produced blank-verse translations of other works by Goethe (1850, 2nd edition in 1878). Her translation of Goethe’s “Faust” was highly praised, and republished several times. She also produced a blank-verse translation of Greek tragedian Aeschylus’ “Trilogy” (1865), followed by a translation of all his plays (1873). She was interested in many social issues of her day, especially the education of women and the working classes. She helped extending the King’s College lectures to women. She advocated the study of English literature in universities, and gave private lectures to young working men and women.


Matilda Hays (1820-1897)

Matilda Hays was an English journalist and novelist, and a translator from French to English. She was also one of the first openly gay women and, with her friend Elizabeth Ashurst, the first translator of French novelist George Sand’s works. She liked George Sand’s free-love and independent lifestyle, still unusual in the 19th century, and the political and social issues tackled in her books. Matilda Hays and Elizabeth Ashurst translated George Sand’s “Spiridon”, “Letters of a Traveller” (“Lettres d’un voyageur”), “The Master Mosaic-Workers” (“Les maîtres mosaïstes”) and “André”. Matilda Hays translated “La Dernière Aldini” alone, before working with Elisabeth Ashurst, and translated “Fadette” alone after Elizabeth Ashurst’s death. Like George Sand, Matilda Hays was determined to use her writing to improve the condition of women. She wrote in her own novel “Helen Stanley” (1846) that women couldn’t secure their financial and social future until they “teach their daughters to respect themselves to work for their daily bread, rather than prostitute their persons and hearts” in marriages. She co-founded the “English Woman’s Journal”, a monthly journal published in 1858-64.


Lucy Duff-Gordon (1821-1869)

Lucy Duff-Gordon was an English writer (under the name Lucy Gordon), and a translator from German and French to English. Her father was legal philosopher John Austin, and her mother was writer and translator Sarah Austin. Lucy Duff-Gordon grew up in London surrounded by the literary figures of her time, who were her parents’ friends and became her own friends when she reached adulthood. She traveled to Paris and Germany with her parents for extended periods, and learned French and German along the way. She married English civil servant Alexander Duff-Gordon. She was a translator before becoming a writer. She translated German historian Barthold Niebuhr’s “Studies of Ancient Grecian Mythology” (1839), German priest Wilhelm Meinhold’s “Mary Schweidler, the Amber Witch” (1844), French writer Clemens Lamping’s “The French in Algiers” (1845), German legal scholar Paul Johann Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach’s “Narrative of Remarkable Criminal Trials” (1846), and (with her husband) German historian Leopold von Ranke’s “Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg” (1847). After contracting tuberculosis, Lucy Duff-Gordon left England in 1862 to settle permanently in Egypt. In her letters to her husband, her mother and other family members, she gave vivid descriptions of domestic manners and customs, with many observations on Egyptian culture and religion. Her letters were edited by her mother Sarah Austin, and published as “Letters from Egypt, 1863-1865” (1865) and “Last Letters from Egypt” (1875), that became best-sellers. One of her daughters, Janet Ross, also settled in Egypt after marrying English banker Henry Ross, and became a historian and bibliographer, including for her own family in “Three Generations of English Women” (1893).


Clémence Royer (1830-1902)

Clémence Royer was a self-taught French scholar, and a translator from English to French. She translated English naturalist Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” (1859). His concept of evolutionary adaptation through natural selection attracted widespread interest, and Darwin was anxious to have his book published into French. In the translation’s first edition (1862), Clémence Royer went beyond her role as a translator, with a 60-page preface expressing her own views and detailed explanatory footnotes. Her preface promoted her own concept of progressive evolution, which had more in common with French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s ideas than with Darwin’s ideas. After reading her translation, Darwin criticized her lack of knowledge in natural history, and was unhappy with her preface and footnotes. He requested changes in the translation’s second edition (1866) to correct some errors and inaccuracies. The translation’s third edition (1873) was produced without Darwin’s consent, with a second preface that also made Darwin unhappy, and with no mention of the additions to the fourth and fifth English editions. The translation only included an appendix stating the additions to the sixth English edition (1872). However her controversial translation brought fame to Clémence Royer, who extensively lectured on philosophy, feminism, economics and science, including on Darwinism.


Katherine Prescott Wormeley (1830-1908)

Katherine Prescott Wormeley was an American nurse, a writer, and a translator from French to English. Born in England as the daughter of a naval officer, she emigrated to the United States at a young age. She became a nurse in the U.S. Sanitary Commission during the American Civil War, and wrote about it in “The U.S. Sanitary Commission” (1863). She later published the letters she wrote from the Commission’s headquarters in “Letters from Headquarters during the Peninsular Campaign. The Other Side of War” (1888). She was also a translator of French literary classics. She translated all Honoré de Balzac’s novels (40 volumes, 1883-97), Molière’s plays (6 volumes, 1892), Henri de Saint-Simon’s memoirs, and novels by Alexandre Dumas and Alphonse Daudet. She wrote a “Life of Balzac” in 1892.


Mary Louise Booth (1831-1889)

Mary Louise Booth was an American writer and editor, and a translator from French to English. Born in Millville (now Yaphank) in the State of New York, she was of French descent on her mother’s side. After moving to New York City at age 18, she wrote many pieces for newspapers and magazines, and translated around 40 books. Her first translation was “The Marble-Worker’s Manual” (1856), followed by “The Clock and Watch Maker’s Manual”. She translated works by French writers Joseph Méry and Edmond François Valentin About, and by French philosopher Victor Cousin. She assisted American translator Orlando Williams Wight in producing a series of translations of French classics. She wrote a history of New York (1859) that became a best-seller. When the American Civil War started in 1861, she translated French anti-slavery advocate Agénor de Gasparin’s “Uprising of a Great People” in a very short time by working twenty hours a day for one week. The English edition was published in a fortnight by American publisher Scribner’s. Mary Louise Booth translated other books by anti-slavery advocates, including Agénor de Gasparin’s “America before Europe” (1861), Pierre-Suzanne-Augustin Cochin’s “Results of Emancipation” and “Results of Slavery” (1862), and Édouard René de Laboulaye’s “Paris in America” (1865). She received praise and encouragement from president Abraham Lincoln, senator Charles Sumner, and other statesmen. Sumner wrote her a letter stating that her translations had been of more value to the cause “than the Numidian cavalry to Hannibal”. Mary Louise Booth translated other French books, including Gasparin’s religious works (written with his wife), Laboulaye’s “Fairy Book”, educator Jean Macé’s “Fairy Tales”, historian Henri Martin’s “History of France”, and philosopher and theologian Blaise Pascal’s “Provincial Letters”. She became the editor-in-chief of the American weekly magazine “Harper’s Bazaar”, from 1867 until her death. Under her leadership, the magazine steadily increased its circulation and influence, and became very popular. After struggling financially for decades as a writer and translator, she earned a larger salary than any woman in America.


Francesca Alexander (1837-1917)

Francesca Alexander was an American writer and illustrator, and a translator from Italian to English. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, United States, she moved to Florence, Tuscany, Italy, at age 16 with her family. She started collecting folk songs, tales and customs in Tuscany. She translated Tuscan songs and stories, and added her own drawings. In 1882, she met English art critic John Ruskin, who became a close friend and correspondent until his death. Ruskin purchased her two manuscripts, and published “The Story of Ida” (1883) and “Roadside Songs of Tuscany” (1884-85), before publishing her third manuscript “Christ’s Folk in the Apennines” (1887-89). After Ruskin’s death, Francesca Alexander published “Tuscan Songs” (1897) and “The Hidden Servants and Other Very Old Stories Told Over” (1900). She was blind and in poor health in her final years. Her archives now belong to the Boston Athenæum, one of the oldest independent libraries in the United States.


Ellen Francis Mason (1846-1930)

Ellen Francis Mason was an American civic leader and philanthropist living in Boston, Massachusetts, United States, and a translator from Greek to English. She was a trustee of Radcliffe College, a women’s liberal arts college near Harvard University, and she befriended American novelist Sarah Orne Jewett. Ellen Francis Mason translated some works by Greek philosophers Plato and Socrates, and her annotated translations were published anonymously by American publisher Scribner’s in 1879. Although her name didn’t appear on the title pages of her translations, her identity as the translator was known to librarians by the following year. American novelist Jo Walton wrote that Ellen Francis Mason’s life “is like a type-example of how difficult it was for women to lead a life of the mind” (note in her novel “The Just City”, Tor Books, 2015).


Eleanor Marx (1855-1898)

Eleanor Marx was a socialist activist, and a translator from German, French and Norwegian to English. Known to her family as Tussy, she was the English-born youngest daughter of German revolutionary socialist Karl Marx. As a child, Eleanor Marx often played in Karl Marx’s study while he was writing “Capital” (“Das Kapital”), the foundational text of Marxism. According to her biographer Rachel Holmes, “Tussy’s childhood intimacy with Marx whilst he wrote the first volume of ‘Capital’ provided her with a thorough grounding in British economic, political and social history. Tussy and ‘Capital’ grew together” (in “Eleanor Marx: A Life”, Bloomsbury, 2014). Eleanor Marx became her father’s secretary at age 16, and accompanied him to socialist conferences around the world. She translated some parts of “Capital” from German to English. She edited the translations of Marx’s lectures “Value, Price and Profit” (“Lohn, Preiz und Profit”) and “Wage Labour and Capital” (“Lohnarbeit und Kapital”) for them to be published into books. After Karl Marx’s death, she published his unfinished manuscripts and the English edition of “Capital”. In London, she met with French revolutionary socialist Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray, who had fled to England after participating in the Paris Commune, a revolutionary socialist government that briefly ruled Paris in 1871. She translated Lissagaray’s “History of the Paris Commune of 1871” (“L’histoire de la Commune de 1871”) in 1876. She also translated various literary works, for example French novelist Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary”. She expressly learned Norwegian to translate Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s works. She translated “An Enemy of the People” (“En folkefiende”) in 1888, and “The Lady from the Sea” (“Fruen fra havet”) in 1890. She took her own life at age 43 after discovering that her partner, English Marxist Edward Aveling, had secretly married a young actress the previous year.


Aniela Zagórska (1881-1943)

Aniela Zagórska was a Polish translator who, from 1923 to 1939, translated from English into Polish nearly all the novels by her uncle Joseph Conrad, a Polish-English writer who wrote in English. At the beginning of the First World War in 1914, Conrad returned to his native Poland for the first time since leaving it in 1874. He and his family took refuge in Zakopane, a mountain resort town in southern Poland. They lived in a pension run by Aniela Zagórska’s mother, who introduced Conrad to fellow Polish writers and artists who had also taken refuge in Zakopane. Aniela Zagórska kept him company, provided him with books, and became his translator. In Conrad’s view, translation, like other arts, involved choice, and choice implied interpretation. When Aniela Zagórska started translating his books, Conrad would advise her: “Don’t trouble to be too scrupulous. I may tell you that in my opinion it is better to interpret than to translate. It is, then, a question of finding the equivalent expressions. And there, my dear, I beg you to let yourself be guided more by your temperament than by a strict conscience” (cited in Zdzisław Najder, “Joseph Conrad: A Life”, 2007). [In French: “Il vaut mieux interpréter que traduire. Il s’agit donc de trouver les équivalents. Et là, ma chère, je vous prie, laissez vous guider plutôt par votre tempérament que par une conscience sévère.”]


Charlotte Bruner (1917-1999)

Charlotte Bruner was an American scholar, and a translator from French to English. She wrote extensively about African women writers, and translated their works for them to reach a wider audience. Born in Urbana, Illinois, she received a Bachelor of Art from the University of Illinois in 1938, and a Master of Art from Colombia University in 1939. She was a professor of French at Iowa State College for three decades (1954-87). She became a pioneer in both African studies and world literature, at a time when American universities mainly taught European classics. In the early 1970s, Charlotte Bruner and her husband David Kincaid Bruner spent one year in Africa interviewing African writers, and on their return they aired their interviews in the series “Talking Sticks”. Charlotte Bruner then co-hosted “First Person Feminine” (1980-86), a weekly series in which she read and discussed international women’s literature. She was one of the editors of “The Feminist Companion to Literature in English” (1990). She edited two volumes of short stories by African women, “The Heinemann Book of African Women’s Writings” (1993) and “Unwinding Threads” (1994). She was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1997.


Fernanda Pivano (1917-2009)

Fernanda Pivano was an Italian writer, journalist and critic, and a translator from English to Italian. Her thesis on American novelist Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” (1941) earned her a prize from the Center for American Studies in Rome. She contributed to the translation of American poet Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology” (1943), a collection of free verse poems translated by Italian writer and translator Cesare Pavese, who was her mentor. Se was quoted as saying: “I was just a kid when I read ‘Spoon River’ for the first time: Cesare Pavese brought it to me one morning.” Pavese offered her both editions (English and Italian) for her to better understand the difference between an original work and a translated work. Fernanda Pivano met Ernest Hemingway in 1948, resulting in an intense collaboration and friendship. Her translation of his novel “A Farewell to Arms” was published by Mondadori in 1949. She went to the United States for the first time in 1956. Her translations introduced American writers to an Italian audience, from the great icons of the Roaring Twenties (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, and William Faulkner) through the writers of the 1960s (Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti) to a new generation of young writers (Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis, David Foster Wallace, Chuck Palahniuk, and Jonathan Safran Foer). She conveyed African-American culture by translating works by African-American novelist Richard Wright into Italian.


Simin Daneshvar (1921-2012)

Simin Daneshvar was an Iranian novelist, and a translator from English and Russian to Persian. Born in Shiraz, Iran, she attended a bilingual school when she was a child, and wrote both in Persian and English for various media outlets to support herself after her father’s death. She earned a doctorate in 1949 from the University of Tehran with her dissertation “Beauty as Treated in Persian Literature”. She married Iranian philosopher Jalal Al-e-Ahmad in 1950, and lived with him until his death in 1969. (She published his biography in 1981.) She traveled to the United States in 1952 as a Fulbright Fellow at Stanford University. When she returned to Iran, she joined the University of Teheran, but was never named professor despite being an excellent teacher. She took up translation work into Persian to support her family on top of her salary as a teacher. She translated works by Russian writers Anton Chekhov (“The Cherry Orchard”) and Maxim Gorki (“Enemies”), by American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (“The Scarlet Letter”), by Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler (“Beatrice”), by Armenian-American writer William Saroyan (“The Human Comedy”), and by South African writer Alan Paton (“Cry, the Beloved Country”). She wrote two collections of short stories, “Quenched Fire” (1948) and “Daneshvar’s Playhouse” (1989). Her short stories reflected the lives of Iranian women, with social issues like child theft, adultery, marriage, childbirth, sickness, death, treason, profiteering, illiteracy, ignorance, poverty and loneliness. She drew her inspiration from the people around her. In her own words, “Simple people have much to offer. They must be able to give freely and with peace of mind. We, too, in return, must give to them to the best of our abilities. We must, with all our heart, try to help them acquire what they truly deserve” (in the afterword of “Daneshvar’s Playhouse”). She became the chairwoman of the Iranian Writers Union in 1968. Her novel “Savushun” (1969) was the first novel in Persian written by a female author, and became a best-seller.


Chronological list

* Anne Bacon (1527-1610)
* Margaret Tyler (1540?-1590?)
* Anna Hume (1600?-1650?)
* Lucy Hutchinson (1620-1681)
* Aphra Behn (1640-1689)
* Anne Dacier (1654-1720)
* Giuseppa Barbapiccola (1702-1740?)
* Barbara Sanguszko (1718-1791)
* Catharina Ahlgren (1734-1800?)
* Claudine Picardet (1735-1820)
* Julia Evelina Smith (1792-1886)
* Sarah Austin (1793-1867)
* Louise Swanton Belloc (1796-1881)
* Therese Albertine Louise Robinson (1797-1870)
* Mary Howitt (1799-1888)
* Dorothea Tieck (1799-1841)
* Charlotte Guest (1812-1895)
* Elizabeth Ashurst (1813-1850)
* Anna Swanwick (1813-1899)
* Matilda Hays (1820-1897)
* Lucy Duff-Gordon (1821-1869)
* Clémence Royer (1830-1902)
* Katherine Prescott Wormeley (1830-1908)
* Mary Louise Booth (1831-1889)
* Francesca Alexander (1837-1917)
* Ellen Francis Mason (1846-1930)
* Eleanor Marx (1855-1898)
* Aniela Zagórska (1881-1943)
* Charlotte Bruner (1917-1999)
* Fernanda Pivano (1917-2009)
* Simin Daneshvar (1921-2012)


Copyright © 2017-19 Marie Lebert
License CC BY-NC-SA version 4.0

Written by marielebert

2017-09-18 at 21:15

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