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Women translators from the 16th to the 20th century

By Marie Lebert, 18 September 2017.

Here are the lives and works of 31 women translators from the 16th to the 20th century – with the invaluable help of Wikipedia. These women translators (list below) 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. These women translators are included in “A dictionary of famous translators through the ages“.


Anne Bacon (1527-1610)

Anne Bacon was an English scholar born in Essex, a Puritan (English Reformed Protestant) advocate, and a translator of religious works from Latin and Italian into English. Anne Bacon was the daughter of Anthony Cooke, the tutor to King Henry VIII’s only son Edward, who later became King Edward VI of England. Anthony Cooke made sure that all his children – four sons and five daughters – received a humanist education and studied both the classics and languages (Latin, Italian, French, Greek and may be Hebrew). Anne Bacon first translated the “Ochines Sermons” by Protestant evangelist Bernardino Ochino from Italian into English. She became well known for the translation of “Apologie of the Anglican Church”, originally written in Latin in 1564 by Bishop of Salisbury John Jewel 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 also wrote many letters conveying her passion for religion. Many of her later letters were addressed to her two sons, Anthony Bacon and famed philosopher Francis Bacon, with advice on their spiritual welfare and religious lives.

Margaret Tyler (1540?-1590?)

Margaret Tyler was a translator from English into Spanish, and the first English woman to translate and publish a Spanish romance. As the dedicatory letter at the beginning of 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 or 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”. Her translation followed the original closely, with only minor changes and with clarity preferred to the elegance and flow of the original. The publication of her translation in 1578 became a best-seller. It was also met with criticism because its masculine and secular topic was considered inappropriate for a woman. At that time, women translators only translated 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 the Spanish romance was later translated 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 into English. Born and raised in Wedderburn Castle, she was the daughter of historian and poet David Hume of Hogscroft, a major political figure in Jacobean Scotland. Anna Hulme translated her father’s Latin poems. She also translated 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 Evan Tyler, printer in Edinburgh. A book published by a woman belonging to a prominent family was still highly unusual at the time, but it was well received and her translation was praised as faithful and spirited. Anna Hulme also superintended 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 William Douglas, 11th Earl of Angus and first marquis of Douglas, was dissatisfied with Hume’s work.

Lucy Hutchinson (1620-1681)

Lucy Hutchinson was an English translator, poet and biographer. She was the first translator of Lucretius’ “De rerum natura” (“On the Nature of Things”) from Latin into English. In this didactic philosophical poem, the famed Roman poet and philosopher explores Epicurean philosophy to explain the natural world. Lucretius’ ideas seem at odds with Lucy Hutchinson’s Puritan faith, who emphasized their sinfulness in the translation dedication. Her verse translation was never published during her lifetime. Her heirs sold the manuscript of the translation to the British Library in 1853. The translation was published for the first time much later, in 1996, under the editorship of Hugh de Quehen. The manuscript of an anonymous prose translation of “De rerum natura”, likely of the same decade, is preserved at Oxford, raising doubts about Lucy Hutchinson being the first English translator of Lucretius’ work. Lucy Hutchinson’s works as a poet include “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’s works as a writer include “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 that also includes many characteristics of a good Puritan life. Intended for her family only, these memoirs were printed by a descendant in 1806, and cleared away a number of false impressions about the narrowness and austerity of educated Puritans.

Aphra Behn (1640-1689)

Aphra Behn was an English playwright, poet and novelist from the Restoration era, as well as a translator from French into English. She is thought to be the first woman to earn her living from writing. As such, she broke cultural barriers and served as a literary role model for later generations of women writers. After working as a spy in Antwerp for King Charles II and returning to London for a brief stay in a debtors’ prison, she began writing for the stage under the pastoral pseudonym Astrea. She belonged to a coterie of famous poets and libertines such as John Wilmot and Lord Rochester. She wrote and staged 19 plays, and contributed to many more. During the 1670s and 1680s, she was one of the most high-profile and productive playwrights in Britain, second only to Poet Laureate John Dryden (who was a friend of hers and a translator). She had widespread support from John Dryden, Thomas Otway, Nahum Tate, Jacob Tonson, Nathaniel Lee and Thomas Creech, who all regularly celebrated her work. After some legal trouble brought by an epilogue and prologue she wrote during the turbulent times of the Exclusion Crisis, she decided to devote most of her writing to prose genres and translations. One of her last translations was “A Discovery of New Worlds” (translation published in 1688), the translation from French into English of “Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes”, a popularization of astronomy by Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle. Beset by a failing health, poverty and debt, Aphra Behn died in April 1689. She was buried in the East Cloister of Westminster Abbey, near the steps of the church, instead of being buried in the Poets’ Corner like her famous male contemporaries. The inscription on her tombstone reads: “Here lies a proof that wit can never be defence enough against mortality.” Much later, she was famously remembered by Virginia Woolf in her book-length essay “A Room of One’s Own” published in 1929: “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.”

Anne Dacier (1654-1720)

Anne Dacier was a French scholar and translator of the classics, who is best known for her translation of Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” from Greek into French. Born in Saumur, a town 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 the Latin classics. After producing editions of Publius Annius Florus, Dictys Cretensis, Sextus Aurelius Victor and Eutropius, she produced prose versions of Anacreon, Sappho, Terence, Plautus and Aristophanes. She and her husband moved to Castres, a town in southern France, in 1685. Her prose translation of Homer’s “Iliad” was first published in 1699, and introduced the great Greek epic poem to the French literary world. Her prose translation of Homer’s “Odyssey” followed a few years later, in 1708. Her translations were praised by her contemporaries, including English poet and translator Alexander Pope, who translated Homer into English. Anne Dacier published in 1724 an essay on Pope’s translation of the “Odyssey”, which gained her some fame in England as well. French writer Antoine Houdar de la Motte, who was a champion of the moderns in the revived controversy of the ancients and moderns but who knew no Greek, produced in 1714 a verse translation of the “Odyssey” founded on Anne Dacier’s work. After a long literary controversy that also involved French scholars Jean Terrasson and Claude Buffier, both translators 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 into Italian. She was best known for her translation of French philosopher René Descartes’ “Principles of Philosophy” in 1722. Her uncle was Tommaso Maria Alfani, a noted Dominican preacher in Naples, and a correspondent and friend of prominent Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico. Giuseppa Barbapiccola was a proponent and advocate for women’s education. Her goal for translating “Principles of Philosophy” was not merely to convey Descartes’ philosophy to an Italian audience, but also to inspire women to educate and empower themselves. In the preface to her translation, 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 included a history of women’s learning and a history of philosophy in her translation, while defending the right for women’s learning and persuading women to educate themselves. She demonstrated that Descartes created a philosophy that praised the female intellect. She asserted that women’s inherent nature, being the weaker sex, was not the cause of women’s ignorance. The cause of women’s ignorance was that they received either no education or bad education. Her claim was that women always had the ability and capacity to learn. Her translation work gave her the necessary tools to affirm her own ideas.

Barbara Sanguszko (1718-1791)

Barbara Sanguszko was a Polish poet and moralist, and a translator from French into Polish. A noblewoman, she was 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 where the gathering of intellectuals, artists and politicians was modeled after French 18th-century salons. Among her guests were Stanisław August Poniatowski, the future King of Poland, and famed 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, the manual of medicine written by her personal physician Francis Curtius, and the anti-Voltaire novel “Le Comte de Valmont, ou les égaremens de la raison” (“The Count of Valmont, or the Loss of Reason”) by Philippe-Louis Gérard, a participant in the French counter-Enlightenment movement. An an author, Barbara Sanguszko wrote guides 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 published from 1760 to 1983. She also wrote and published poems on a variety of themes, 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 into Swedish. She translated both poetry and novels, for example German poet Christoph Martin Wieland’s “Die Prüfung Abrahams” (“The Trial of Abraham’s Faith”) and Dumanoir’s English novel “The Distressed Wife, or the History of Eliza Wyndham”. Her first poem, written in French, was dedicated to Queen of Sweden Louisa Ulrika of Prussia for her birthday. Catharina Ahlgren was also a journalist for “Then Swänska Argus” (“Den Svenska Argus” in modern Swedish), a Swedish periodical that published articles on important issues in society, and for “Samtal emellan Argi Skugga och en obekant Fruentimbers Skugga”, another Swedish periodical run by managing editor Margareta Momma with essays on the role of women in society and gender equality. Likely through her second marriage, Catharina Ahlgren acquired a printing press which she managed for some time. She published works by her close friend Hedvig Charlotta Nordenflycht, who was also a Swedish poet and feminist, and with whom she had extensive correspondence. Catharina Ahlgren emigrated to Finland in 1782. She also played a pioneer role there, and published the first Finnish paper in the country under the title “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 scientific translator from various languages into French. Born in Dijon, France, she lost her first husband in 1796 and remarried in 1798 with famed scientist Louis-Bernard Guyton de Morveau. As the only woman in the Dijon Academy and the only scientist who knew five languages (Swedish, English, German, Italian and Latin), she became well known for her extensive translations into French of scientific literature produced by leading foreign scientists. The demand was high for timely full translations of foreign scientific texts, particularly in the fields of chemistry and mineralogy. Claudine Picardet translated three books and hundreds 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 that was led by French chemist Antoine Lavoisier, often called the father of modern chemistry. Claudine Picardet also hosted renowned scientific and literary salons in Dijon, helping to establish Dijon as a scientific center, and in Paris, where she moved later on. As a scientist, she was an active participant in the collection of meteorological data.

Julia Evelina Smith (1792-1886)

Julia Evelina Smith was an American feminist, and the first English woman to translate the Bible from its original languages (Latin, Greek and Hebrew) into English. She was born into a large family of women, the Smiths of Glastonbury, who resided in Connecticut and were active in championing women’s education, women’s suffrage and abolitionism. The family as a whole was inducted in 1994 into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, that recognizes women natives or residents of the State of Connecticut for their significant achievements or statewide contributions. Julia Evelina Smith was well educated, with a working knowledge of Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Having read the Bible in its original languages, she decided to undertake her own translation into English, with an emphasis on literalism. She completed the translation in 1855, after eight years of work, but it was only printed two decades later, in 1876. Her translation stayed the only contemporary English translation of the Bible from the original languages until the publication in 1881-94 of the “English Revised Version” of the King James Version, regarded as the official authorized and recognized version of the King James Bible in Britain. American scholars were invited to cooperate by correspondence with over 50 British scholars for the publication of the “New Testament” (1881), the “Old Testament” (1885) and “Apocrypha” (1894).

Sarah Austin (1793-1867)

Sarah Austin was an English writer, and a translator of German and French works into English. As a child, she became conversant in Latin, French, German and Italian. In 1819, she married John Austin, an influential legal philosopher. In 1827, the couple moved from central London to Bonn, Germany – living largely on Sarah Austin’s earnings as a translator and writer. Her translations from German into English include “Characteristics of Goethe from the German of Falk, von Müller, etc., with notes, original and translated, illustrative of German literature” (translation published in 1833), “The Story without an End” by German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Carové (translation published in 1834), and “History of the Popes” by German historian Leopold van Ranke (translation published in 1840). Her translations from French into English include the famous “Report on the State of Public Instruction in Prussia” (translation published in 1834), addressed by French philosopher Victor Cousin to the Count de Montalivet, then French Minister of Public Instruction. Sarah Austin pleaded personally for the cause of national education in the translation preface. She also argued for the need to establish a national system of education in England in a pamphlet she wrote in 1839 in the “Foreign Quartely Review”. Sarah Austin also translated works by German prince Hermann and by French historian François Guizot, among others. She always stood for her intellectual rights as a translator. “It has been my invariable practice”, she said, “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.” As an author, she published in 1854 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”. As an editor, she produced new editions of John Austin’s works after her husband’s death, and she edited her daughter Lucy Duff-Gordon’s “Letters from Egypt” (published in 1865) and “Last Letters from Egypt” (published in 1875). Her daughter was also a writer and a translator from German and French into English. Sarah Austin left a literary reputation due as much as her translations as her conversation and extensive correspondence with the famous men of letters of her time.

Louise Swanton Belloc (1796-1881)

Louise Swanton Belloc was a French writer and a literary translator from English into French. Born in La Rochelle, a seaport in western France, she received an excellent education as a child, with a focus on English language and literature. She is best known for introducing major works of English literature to a French audience. She also advocated for the education of women and contributed to the creation of the first circulating libraries. Her first translation was the translation of “Patriarchal Times; Or, the Land of Canaan” by English poet and novelist Adelaide O’Keeffe (translation published in 1818). Louise Swanton Belloc wrote for the “Revue encyclopédique” under the supervision of its founder and editor Marc-Antoine Jullien. She authored several books in French, for example a life of Lord Byron and a series of early reading books for children. She befriended many prominent literary figures, including Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Emile Souvestre, Alphonse de Lamartine, Maria Edgeworth, Harriet Beecher Stowe and others. One of her most famous translations was the translation into French of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, a book depicting the harsh conditions of enslaved African Americans. She also translated into French Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Cranford”, Oliver Goldsmith’s “The Vicar of Wakefield”, Thomas Moore’s “Irish Melodies”, the memoirs of Lord Byron, and works by Charles Dickens, Walter Scott and Maria Edgeworth.

Therese Robinson (1797-1870)

Therese Robinson (also known as Therese Albertine Luise Robinson) was a German-American writer and linguist, and a translator from English and Serbian into German. Born in Germany, she first translated Scottish novelist Walter Scott’s “Old Mortality” and “The Black Dwarf” (translations published in 1822) under the pseudonym Ernst Berthold, and submitted a series of literary criticisms without signing them. She was also reluctant to publish her poetry and short stories in her own name, so she invented the pen name Talvj, an anagram formed from the initials of her maiden name (Therese Albertine Louise von Jacob), that she used to sign her collection of short stories “Psyche” (1825) and her other works then. Therese Robinson learned Serbian after reading German philologist Jakob Grimm’s translations and comments on Serbian folk songs. She started translating Serbian folk songs herself with support and encouragement from famed German contemporary Goethe. Her translation “Volkslieder der Serben” (“Folk Songs of the Serbs”) appeared in 1826, and was praised by Goethe and the German literary world. Therese Robinson married American theologian Edward Robinson in 1828, and moved to Massachusetts with him in 1830. As a bridge between German and American culture, she assisted her husband’s work in introducing German theology in Biblical Repository, a press created by her husband in 1831. She began to study the languages of Native American Indians and produced a translated handbook. She translated into German John Pickering’s seminal article on Indian languages of North America in “Encyclopedia Americana” (1830-31), under the title “Über die Indianischen Sprachen Amerikas” (1834). Pickering proposed a standard orthography for phonetically transcribing Native American words, in order to remedy inconsistent schemes adopted by scholars from different nationalities. Therese Robinson also wrote a history of Slavic languages with her husband, published in 1834 with an expanded edition in 1850. Her translated poems, first published anonymously in 1836 in an essay on popular poetry in the German nations, were later included in “The Poets and Poetry of Europe” (1847), an anthology edited by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Her essay was later published in German as a book in 1840.

Mary Howitt (1799-1888)

Mary Howitt was an English poet who wrote the famous poem “The Spider and the Fly” (1829), and a translator from Swedish, Danish and German into English. She was born in a Quaker family in Gloucesterhire, a county in southwestern England, and started writing verses at an early age. She married in 1821 William Howitt, a Quaker and prolific writer, and began a lifelong career of joint authorship and travels with him. She was separated from him only during the period of 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” in 1821, followed by “The Desolation of Eyam and Other Poems” in 1827 and many other publications, for example “Abbeys and Castles of Great Britain”. They befriended English literary figures such as writer and social critic Charles Dickens, novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and poets William and Dorothy Wordsworth. When residing in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1840, Mary Howitt got acquainted with Scandinavian literature, and learned Swedish and Danish on top of German. She translated Swedish writer Fredrika Bremer’s novels in 1842-63. The 18-volume translation introduced Fredrika Bremer’s works and ideas as a feminist reformer to an English audience. Mary Howitt also translated Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, for example “Only a Fiddler” in 1845, “The Improvisators” in 1845 and 1847, “Wonderful Stories for Children” in 1846 and “The True Story of Every Life” in 1847. She translated German physician Joseph Ennemoser’s “History of Magic” in 1854, for his ideas to reach English readers. She later 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 into German. She is best known for translating Shakespeare’s works into German alongside her father Ludwig Tieck, himself a writer and translator. She worked with her father and his Romantic literary circle, including August Schlegel and Wolf Heinrich Graf von Baudissin. The German edition of Shakespeare’s works was first translated by August Schlegel and edited by Ludwig Tieck before being completed by Dorothea Tieck and Wolf Heinrich Graf von Baudissin. Dorothea Tieck and her father also translated Spanish novelist Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” into German. Her noted translation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” was republished several times. Here is her translation of one of Macbeth’s famous 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.]”

Charlotte Guest (1812-1895)

Charlotte Guest was an English scholar and liberal educator who was the first translator of the “Mabinogion”, that she translated from Middle Welsh into English. The “Mabinogion”, known as the earliest prose literature in Britain, is a series of medieval stories compiled from earlier oral traditions in the 12th and 13th centuries. Born in an aristocratic family, Charlotte Guest showed a great aptitude for languages and literature, and 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 with his wife’s help. 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 leading literary scholars such as Welsh historian Thomas Price and Welsh 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 Ioan Tegid had made when he was a young scholar at Oxford. Her seven-volume translation was published in 1838-45, with the first volumes dedicated to her favorite King Arthur’s romances. It was republished in three volumes in 1849 by the Tonn Press in Wales and by Longmans in London. Both editions were bilingual, with Tegid’s transcribed Welsh text and Guest’s English translation. They included many scholarly footnotes and were lavishly produced, with full illustrations and gold-tooled leather covers. A new edition was published in 1877 as one volume with the English translation only, and became the standard edition by then.

Elizabeth Ashurst (1813-1850)

Elizabeth Ashurst was an English radical activist, and the first translator of French novelist George Sand’s works into English with her friend Matilda Hays. Elizabeth Ashurt belonged to an English family of radical activists, who supported causes ranging from women’s suffrage to Risorgimento (Italian unification). She was a dear friend of Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, and exchanged correspondence with him from 1844 until her death. She also attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840 in London with her sister Matilda Ashurst and their father, but would not have been permitted to speak as women were not regarded as full delegates. Elisabeth Ashurt admired George Sand’s free-love and independent lifestyle, both assets that were highly unusual in the 19th century, as well as the political and social messages addressed in her books. She and her friend Matilda Hays translated George Sand’s “Spiridon”, “Letter of a Traveler” (“Lettres d’un voyageur”), “The Master Mosaic-Workers” (“Les maîtres mosaïstes”) and “André”. Elizabeth Ashurst met French artist Jean Bardonneau in Paris in 1847-48 and married him, but died in childbirth in 1850.

Anna Swanwick (1813-1899)

Anna Swanwick was an English feminist author, and a translator from German and Greek into English. Born in Liverpool, she went in 1839 to Berlin, Germany, where she studied German and Greek, and gained knowledge of Hebrew. When she returned to England in 1843, she began translating famed German dramatists Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller. Her first publication “Selections from the Dramas of Goethe and Schiller” (1843) included Goethe’s “Torquato Tasso” and “Iphigenia in Tauris”, and Schiller’s “Maid of Orleans”. She released a volume of blank-verse translations from Goethe in 1850 and a second volume including more translations in 1878. Her translation of Goethe’s “Faust” passed through many editions, and is regarded as one of the best in existence. She also published a blank-verse translation of Greek tragedian Aeschylus’ “Trilogy” in 1865, followed by a translation of all his plays in 1873. Anna Swanwick was also interested in many social issues of her day, especially women’s education and the working classes’ education. She assisted in 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 the first translator of French novelist George Sand’s works into English with her friend Elizabeth Ashurst. She was also one of the first openly gay women. Her love interests included American actress Charlotte Cushman and English poet Adelaide Anne Procter. Matilda Hays admired George Sand’s free-love and independent lifestyle, both assets that were highly unusual in the 19th century, as well as the political and social messages addressed in her books. Mathilda Hays and her friend Elizabeth Ashurst translated George Sand’s “Spiridon”, “Letter of a Traveler” (“Lettres d’un voyageur”), “The Master Mosaic-Workers” (“Les maîtres mosaïstes”) and “André”. Mathida Hays translated “La Dernière Aldini” alone before working with Elisabeth Ashurst, and also 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” that women would not have secure financial and social futures until they “teach their daughters to respect themselves (…) to work for their daily bread, rather than prostitute their persons and hearts” in marriages. She also co-founded the “English Woman’s Journal”, a monthly periodical published in 1858-64.

Lucy Duff-Gordon (1821-1869)

Lucy Duff-Gordon was an English writer (under the name Lucy Gordon), and a translator of German and French works into English, like her mother Sarah Austin. Her father was John Austin, an influential legal philosopher. She grew up in London surrounded by the leading intellectual and literary figures of her time – who became her own friends when she reached adulthood. She traveled to Paris and Germany with her parents for extended periods of time, and learned French and German along the way. She married Alexander Duff-Gordon, a public servant who held senior-level government positions. Lucie Duff-Gordon started her own literary life as a translator before becoming a writer. Her earliest translation was “Studies of Ancient Grecian Mythology” by German historian Barthold Niebuhr (translation published in 1839). She then translated “Mary Schweidler, the Amber Witch” by German priest Wilhelm Meinhold (translation published in 1844), a book meant to discredit rationalist methods of Biblical criticism. The translations that followed were “The French in Algiers” by French author Clemens Lamping (translation published in 1845), and “Narrative of Remarkable Criminal Trials” by German legal scholar Paul Johann Anselm von Feuerbach (translation published in 1846). With her husband, she also translated “Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg” by German historian Leopold von Ranke (translation published in 1847). After contracting tuberculosis, Lucy Duff-Gordon left the humid climate of 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. These letters were published as “Letters from Egypt, 1863-1865” (1865) and “Last Letters from Egypt” (1875) after being edited by her mother, and the two books became best-sellers. Egyptians gave her the name of “Sitt el Kebeer” (Great Lady) for her unvarying kindness, charm and sympathy. One of her daughters, Janet Ross, also settled in Egypt after marrying Henry Ross, a partner of an English bank based in Cairo. She became a historian and bibliographer, and recorded the family history in “Three Generations of English Women” (published in 1893).

Clémence Royer (1830-1902)

Clémence Royer was a self-taught French scholar in social science, and a translator from English into French. She was best known for her controversial French translation of English naturalist Charles Darwin’s famous book “On the Origin of Species”. Darwin’s book on evolutionary biology was written for non-specialist readers, and attracted widespread interest upon its publication in 1859. Darwin’s concept of evolutionary adaptation through natural selection became central to modern evolutionary theory, and the unifying concept of life sciences. Darwin was anxious to have his book published into French. The first edition of the French translation by Clémence Royer was published in 1862, with a second edition in 1866 and a third edition in 1873. In the first edition, Clémence Royer went beyond her role as a translator, with a long 60-page preface expressing her own views and with 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 he was unhappy with her preface and her footnotes. Darwin suggested some changes and corrected some errors in the second edition of the French translation (1866). Clémence Royer worked on a third edition of the translation without contacting Darwin. She added a second preface that he despised, and she failed to update her translation with the changes that Darwin had incorporated in the 4th and 5th English editions. Darwin withdrew his authorization for Royer’s new translation. When it finally appeared in 1873, it included an appendix describing the additions to the 6th English edition which had been published the previous year. However her controversial translation brought fame to Clémence Royer, who extensively lectured on philosophy, feminism, economics and science, including on Darwinism.

Katherine Wormeley (1830-1908)

Katherine Wormeley (also known as Katherine Prescott Wormeley) was an American nurse in the Civil War and a writer, and a translator of French literary works into English. Born in England as the daughter of a naval officer, she emigrated to the United States at a young age. Her first book was “The U.S. Sanitary Commission” (1863). She was a nurse in this commission, set up as a civilian volunteer agency affiliated to the Union Army to coordinate the work of men and women who wanted to contribute to the war effort. She published a volume of her letters written in 1882 from the headquarters of the Commission under the title “Letters from Headquarters during the Peninsular Campaign. The Other Side of War” (1888). She was also known as one of the best translators of her time. She translated the complete works of French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac, and her 40-volume translation work was published in 1883-97. She translated Molière’s plays as a 6-volume translation work published in 1892. She also translated works by Alphonse Daudet, Alexandre Dumas, Saint-Simon and others. She wrote a “Life of Balzac” that was published in 1892.

Mary Louise Booth (1831-1889)

Mary Louise Booth was an American editor and writer, and a prolific translator from French into 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 the age of 18, she wrote many pieces for newspapers and magazines and translated around 40 books before becoming the first editor-in-chief of “Harper’s Bazaar” from 1867 until her death. Her first translation was “The Marble-Worker’s Manual” (translation published in 1856), followed by “The Clock and Watch Maker’s Manual”. She then translated several works by French literary figures Joseph Méry, Edmond François Valentin About and Victor Cousin. She assisted American translator Orlando Williams Wight in producing a series of translations of the French classics. She wrote a history of New York that was published in 1859 and became a best-seller. In 1861, at the beginning of the American Civil War, she translated French statesman Agénor de Gasparin’s “Uprising of a Great People” into English 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 and was highly influential for advancing the cause of Northerners. She then translated other books of eminent French writers in favor of the cause of the Union, including Agénor de Gasparin’s “America before Europe” (translation published in 1861), Augustin Cochin’s “Results of Emancipation” and “Results of Slavery” (translations published in 1862), and Édouard René de Laboulaye’s “Paris in America” (translation published in 1865). She received praise and encouragement from President Abraham Lincoln, Senator Charles Sumner and other statesmen. Charles Sumner wrote her that her translation work had been of more value to the cause “than the Numidian cavalry to Hannibal”. Mary Louise Booth also translated the religious works of Agénor de Gasparin and his wife, Henri Martin’s abridged “History of France” (translation published in 1880), Édouard René de Laboulaye’s “Fairy Book”, Jean Macé’s “Fairy Tales” and Blaise Pascal’s “Provincial Letters”. She was offered the editorship of the American fashion magazine “Harper’s Bazaar” in 1867, and stayed the editor-in-chief of the weekly magazine until her death. Under her leadership, the magazine became very popular and steadily increased its influence and circulation. She received a larger salary than any woman in America at the time, after being on a budget for decades as a writer and translator.

Francesca Alexander (1837-1917)

Francesca Alexander was an American writer and illustrator, and a translator from Italian into English. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, she moved to Florence, Italy, at age 16 with her family. She started collecting folk songs, tales and customs in Tuscany, the region around Florence. Her first batch of translations of Tuscan songs and stories was drawn from famed Italian poet Beatrice di Pian degli Ontani, and was later published as “Roadside Songs of Tuscany” with her drawings. In 1882, she met English art critic John Ruskin, who became a close friend and a correspondent until his death. Ruskin purchased her “Roadside Songs” and published it in 1884-85 along with her second collection (published as “The Story of Ida” in 1883) and her third collection (published as “Christ’s Folk in the Apennines” in 1887-89). After Ruskin’s death, Francesca Alexander published herself “Tuscan Songs” in 1897 and “The Hidden Servants and Other Very Old Stories Told Over” in 1900. She was blind and in poor health in her final years. Her papers are collected in 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, and a translator from Greek into English. She was an associate (trustee) of Radcliffe College, a women’s liberal arts college near Harvard University, and befriended American novelist Sarah Orne Jewett. Ellen Francis Mason’s annotated translations of Greek philosophers Plato and Socrates were published anonymously by American publisher Scribner’s in 1879. Although her name did not appear on any title pages, her identity as the translator was known to librarians by the following year. American novelist Jo Walton wrote in an author’s note of her novel “The Just City” (Tor Books, 2015) that Mason’s life “is like a type-example of how difficult it was for women to lead a life of the mind” in her day.

Eleanor Marx (1855-1898)

Eleanor was a politician and socialist activist born in England, and a translator from German, French and Norwegian into English. Known to her family as Tussy, she was the English-born youngest daughter of famed revolutionary socialist Karl Marx. As a child, Eleanor often played in Karl Marx’s study when he was writing his major work “Capital” (“Das Kapital”). According to Rachel Holmes, Eleanor Marx’s biographer: “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). At age 16, Eleanor Marx became her father’s secretary and accompanied him around the world to socialist conferences. As an adult, Eleanor Marx edited and translated some parts of “Capital” from German into English. She also edited Marx’s lectures “Value, Price and Profit” (“Lohn, Preiz und Profit”) and “Wage Labour and Capital” (“Lohnarbeit und Kapital”) into books. Before his death, her father have her the task of publishing his unfinished manuscripts and the English version of “Capital”. In London, Eleanor Marx met with French journalist Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray. A revolutionary socialist and a participant of the Paris Commune, Lissagaray had fled to England after the Commune’s suppression. She translated his “History of the Paris Commune of 1871” (“L’histoire de la Commune de 1871”) from French into English in 1876. She also translated various literary works from French into English, for example French novelist Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary”. She expressly learned Norwegian in order to translate famed Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s works into English. She translated his play “An Enemy of the People” (“En folkefiende”) in 1888, and his play “The Lady from the Sea” (“Fruen fra havet”) in 1890. She committed suicide by poison at age 43 after discovering that her partner Edward Aveling, a prominent British Marxist, 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 works of famed Polish-British novelist Joseph Conrad, who was her uncle. Conrad was already regarded as one of the greatest novelists to write in the English language. At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, he returned to his native Poland for the first time since departing it in 1874. He and his family took refuge in Zakopane, a mountain resort town in southern Poland. They lived in a pension operated by Aniela Zagórska’s mother, who introduced Conrad to Polish writers and artists who had also taken refuge in Zakopane. Conrad roused interest among them as a famous writer and a compatriot from abroad. Aniela Zagórska kept him company and provided him with books. 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 who wrote extensively about African women writers, and who translated their work into English for it to reach a wider audience. Born in Urbana, Illinois, she received her Bachelor of Art from the University of Illinois in 1938, and her Master of Art from Colombia University in 1939. She joined the Iowa State College as a professor of French, for more than three decades of teaching and research (1954-87). She dedicated her career to writing about and publishing translations of literature by African women, becoming a pioneer in both African studies and world literature at a time when American universities taught mainly European classics. In the early 1970s, Charlotte Bruner and her husband David Kincaid Bruner spent a year in Africa interviewing African writers, and on their return they aired their interviews as a series of radio programs named “Talking Sticks”. Both co-hosted a weekly series of radio programs named “First Person Feminine” (1980-86), in which she read and discussed international women’s literature. Charlotte Bruner edited two volumes of short stories by African women: “The Heinemann Book of African Women’s Writings” (1993) and “Unwinding Threads” (1994). She was one of the editors of “The Feminist Companion to Literature in English” (1990). She served as vice-president of the African Literature Association. 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 into Italian. In 1941, she received a bachelor’s degree with a thesis on American novelist Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”, which also earned her a prize from the Center for American Studies in Rome. Her first translation was a contribution to the translation of “Spoon River Anthology”, a collection of short free verse poems by American poet Edgar Lee Masters translated by Cesare Pavese. Fernanda Pivano 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, who was her mentor, gave her both texts of “Spoon River” (in Italian and English) at her request to understand the difference between original and translated texts. Fernanda Pivano met Ernest Hemingway in 1948, resulting in an intense collaboration and friendship. She translated his novel “A Farewell to Arms”, and the Italian edition was published by Mondadori in 1949. She made her first trip to the United States in 1956. Her translations introduced great American writers to an Italian audience, from the great icons of the Roaring Twenties (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, William Faulkner) through the writers of the 1960s (Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti) to a new generation of young writers (Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis, David Foster Wallace, Chuck Palahniuk, Jonathan Safran Foer). She also conveyed African-American culture by translating Richard Wright’s novels into Italian.

Simin Daneshvar (1921-2012)

Simin Daneshvar was a noted Iranian novelist born in Shiraz, Persia, and a translator from Persian and Russian into English. Her most famous works as the first major Iranian woman novelist were her collection of Persian short stories “Quenched Fire” (1948), her best-selling novel “Savushun” (1969) and her collection of stories “Daneshvar’s Playhouse” (1989). She attended an English bilingual school when she was a child, wrote both in Persian and English for various media outlets to support herself after her father’s death, and earned a doctorate from the University of Tehran in 1949 with her dissertation “Beauty as Treated in Persian Literature”. She traveled to the United States in 1952 as a Fulbright Fellow at Stanford University, and again in 1963 to participate in the Harvard University International Summer Session. She became the chairwoman of the Iranian Writers Union in 1968. She married prominent Iranian philosopher Jalal Al-e-Ahmad in 1950, lived with him until his death in 1969, and published his biography in 1981. Her stories reflect the lives and social issues of Iranian women, with topics 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” (excerpt of the afterword of “Daneshvar’s Playhouse”). Simin Daneshvar was also a noted translator. Her translations helped support her household on top of her salary as a teacher. She translated from Russian into Persian Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” and Maxim Gorki’s “Enemies”. She translated from English into Persian the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne (“The Scarlet Letter”), Arthur Schnitzler (“Beatrice”), William Saroyan (“The Human Comedy”), Alan Paton (“Cry, the Beloved Country”) and others.


List of famous women translators

* 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 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 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 Marie Lebert
License CC BY-NC-SA version 4.0

Written by marielebert

2017/09/18 at 21:15

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