Friday, May 18, 2012

Constance Garnett and Newnham Translators

Newnham Translators display
Newnham College boasts several alumnae who went on to become notable translators. In conjunction with an MML networking lunch hosted at the college in April, and with the help of the college archives we have displayed examples of their works in the Fawcett area display cabinets. The Newnham translators featured include Elaine Feinstein (NC 1949) Alix Strachey, (NC 1911) Jane Harrison (NC 1874), Hope Mirrlees (NC 1910), Jean Pace (NC 1921), Angela Livingstone (NC 1953) and Margaret Mauldon (NC 1945).

Perhaps of particular interest is Constance Garnett (née Black, 1861-1946), a prolific translator of Russian literature. She studied Latin and Greek at Newnham from 1879-81, and ‘qualified’ (unable, at the time, to officially ‘gain’) with a first class in her BA. After finishing her studies, Garnett worked briefly as a lecturer at Newnham in Classical studies, before later going on to work as a librarian at the People’s Palace in the East End of London.

A selection of Garnett's works
With her husband Edward William Garnett, an editor and book reviewer, Constance Garnett lived at Henhurst Cross in Surrey. Here she became exposed to visitors such as W.B. Yeats, but most significantly the Russian exile F. V. Volkhovsky. It was from him that she first learned Russian and achieved her first translation exercise of Goncharov's Obyknovennaya istoriya (A Common Story). Garnett then tried her hand at Tolstoy's Tsarstvo bozhiye vnutri vas, translated as The Kingdom of God is within you.

Her interest now piqued, at the end of 1893 Garnett travelled to Russia where she met Tolstoy. His encouragement and this overall boost in her understanding of the Russian language and culture inspired Garnett to continue her translating efforts.
Garnett is most known for providing the first English translations of numerous highly significant Russian works. These include the complete works of Ivan Turgenev, the novels of Leo Tolstoy in six volumes and the major works of Chekhov.

Garnett’s legacy is huge, allowing an entirely new audience to access Russian literature: "millions of readers were indebted to her for their first knowledge of a vast new realm of fiction and drama.” [1] Heilbrun, Carolyn. The Garnett Family. London: Allen and Unwin, 1961: 166)

The library holds numerous examples of Garnett’s works including Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (classmark796.35T.TOL) Turgenev’s On the Eve (796.34T.TUR) and works on Garnett herself such as Constance Garnett : a heroic life by Richard Garnett (475.812.GAR). Some items are kept in our special collection . Please ask library staff or email if you would especially like to see any of these works.

Newnham student group, 1880. Constance stands 4th from the right, back row.

Polly Harper, Graduate Library Trainee

Bibliography  [Accessed 1st May 2012]
Heilbrun, Carolyn, 1961, The Garnett Family. London: Allen and Unwin

[1] Heilbrun, Carolyn, 1961, The Garnett Family. London: Allen and Unwin, p.166


  1. Wow! What history! My grandmother was a document translator. And my sister is following in her steps. I am going to be sure to share this article with them! Thanks so much for sharing this!

  2. We're delighted you enjoyed the post! Hopefully your grandmother and sister will too!