Anthea Bell

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Anthea Bell gives a speech on receiving the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2015

Anthea Bell OBE (born 1936) is an English translator of numerous literary works, especially children's literature, from French, German and Danish. These include Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald, and the French Asterix comics along with co-translator Derek Hockridge.


Anthea Bell with son Oliver Kamm in 2015

Bell was born in Suffolk. According to her own accounts, she picked up lateral thinking abilities essential in a translator from her father Adrian Bell, Suffolk author and the first Times cryptic crossword setter. Her brother, Martin Bell, is a former BBC correspondent who was an independent Member of Parliament for one parliamentary term.

After attending a boarding school in Bournemouth, she read English at Somerville College, Oxford.[1] She was married to the publisher and writer Antony Kamm from 1957 to 73. One of her two sons is journalist Oliver Kamm, a leader writer for The Times. After her sons left home, she lived and worked in Cambridge.[1]


Anthea Bell has translated numerous Franco-Belgian comics of the bande dessinée genre into English, including Asterix – for which her new puns have been critically acclaimed for keeping the original French spirit intact.[1] Peter Hunt, now Professor Emeritus in Children's Literature at Cardiff University, has written of her "ingenious translations" of the French originals which "in a way display the art of the translator at its best".[2] Other comic books she has translated include Le Petit Nicolas, Lieutenant Blueberry, and Iznogoud.

She specialises in translating children's literature, and has re-translated Hans Christian Andersen's fairytales from Danish for the publishing house of G. P. Putnam's Sons. She also translated the Inkworld trilogy by Cornelia Funke and the Ruby Red Trilogy by Kerstin Gier. Other work includes The Princess and the Captain (2006), translated from La Princetta et le Capitaine by Anne-Laure Bondoux. A book aimed at the youth but serious enough to be read by adults, The Satanic Mill by Otfried Preußler was translated by her from the German original Krabat.

Bell has also translated into English many adult novels, as well as some books on art history, and musicology. Her translations of W. G. Sebald's Austerlitz (plus other works by Sebald), a large selection of Stefan Zweig's novellas and stories, Władysław Szpilman's memoir The Pianist (translated, at the author's request, from the German version[3]), and E. T. A. Hoffmann's The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr have been well received. In addition, Penguin Classics published Bell's new translation of Sigmund Freud's The Psychopathology of Everyday Life in 2003.

She contributed an essay titled "Translation: Walking the Tightrope of Illusion" to a 2006 book, The Translator as Writer, in which she explained her preference for 'invisible' translation whereby she creates the illusion that readers are not reading a translation "but the real thing".[4]

Bell was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2010 New Year Honours for services to literature and literary translations.[5]


In a December 2017 newspaper column, Bell's son Oliver Kamm revealed his mother had entered a nursing home due to illness a year earlier, and "her great mind has now departed".[6] As a result of her forced retirement, the 37th book in the Asterix series, Asterix and the Chariot Race (published in October 2017), was translated by Adriana Hunter. The end of the book has a message of thanks from the publishers to Bell for "her wonderful translation work on Asterix over the years".[7]

Notable awards[edit]

Mildred L. Batchelder Award[edit]

The Mildred L. Batchelder Award is unusual in that it is given to a publisher yet it explicitly references a given work, its translator and its author. Its intent is to encourage the translation of children's works into English in order "to eliminate barriers to understanding between people of different cultures, races, nations, and languages."

Anthea Bell, translating from German, French and Danish, has been mentioned for more works than any other individual or organisation (including publishers) in the history of the award:

Year Publisher Title Author Translator Original Language Citation
1976 Henry Z. Walck The Cat and Mouse Who Shared a House Ruth Hürlimann Anthea Bell German Winner[9]
1979 Franklin Watts, Inc Konrad Christine Nöstlinger Anthea Bell German Winner[9]
1990 E.P. Dutton Buster's World Bjarne Reuter Anthea Bell Danish Winner[9]
1995 E.P. Dutton The Boys from St.Petri Bjarne Reuter Anthea Bell Danish Winner[9]
2006 Phaidon Press Limited Nicholas René Goscinny Anthea Bell French Honor[9]
2008 Phaidon Press Nicholas and the Gang René Goscinny Anthea Bell French Honor[9]
2009 Amulet Books Tiger Moon Antonia Michaelis Anthea Bell German Honor[10]



  1. ^ a b c Armistead, Claire (16 November 2013). "Anthea Bell: 'It's all about finding the tone of voice in the original. You have to be quite free'". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 December 2017. 
  2. ^ France, Peter, ed. (2000). The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 111. 
  3. ^ "Making Asterix funny in English". The Connexion. 22 April 2010. Retrieved 9 June 2017. 
  4. ^ Susan Bassnett; Peter Bush (15 November 2007). The Translator as Writer. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 58–. ISBN 978-1-4411-2149-3. 
  5. ^ "No. 59282". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2009. p. 9. 
  6. ^ Kamm, Oliver (23 December 2017). "Asterix is the magic potion that made me a linguist". The Times. Retrieved 4 January 2018.  (subscription required)
  7. ^ Jean-Yves Ferri (2 November 2017). Asterix: Asterix and the Chariot Race: Album 37. Hachette Children's Group. pp. 47–. ISBN 978-1-5101-0402-0. 
  8. ^ "Eric Carle Museum 2017 Honorees". Eric Carle Museum. Retrieved 6 January 2018. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f "Batchelder Award Winners". American Library Association. 2008. Archived from the original on 13 February 2009. Retrieved 17 February 2009. 
  10. ^ "Batchelder Award". American Library Association. 2008. Archived from the original on 9 February 2009. Retrieved 24 February 2009. 

External links[edit]