Anthea Bell

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Anthea Bell
Anthea Bell gives a speech on receiving Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
Bell in January 2015
Born(1936-05-10)10 May 1936
Suffolk, England
Died18 October 2018(2018-10-18) (aged 82)
Cambridge, England
Education Somerville College, University of Oxford
Known forAsterix stories translation
Spouse(s)Antony Kamm (mar. 1957; div. 1973)
RelativesMartin Bell (brother)[1]

Anthea Bell OBE (10 May 1936 – 18 October 2018) was an English translator of literary works, including children's literature, from French, German and Danish. These include The Castle by Franz Kafka[2] Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald,[3] the Inkworld trilogy by Cornelia Funke and the French Asterix comics along with co-translator Derek Hockridge.[4]


Anthea Bell with son Oliver Kamm in 2015

Bell was born in Suffolk on 10 May 1936.[5] 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 mother, Marjorie Bell (née Gibson), was a home maker.[6] The couple's son, Bell's brother, Martin, is a former BBC correspondent who was an independent Member of Parliament for one parliamentary term.[7]

After attending a boarding school in Bournemouth, she read English at Somerville College, Oxford.[7] She was married to the publisher and writer Antony Kamm from 1957 to 1973; the couple had two sons, Richard and Oliver.[6] Oliver Kamm is a leader writer for The Times. After her sons left home, she lived and worked in Cambridge.[7] She died on 18 October 2018, aged 82.[8]


Anthea Bell's career as a translator began at the end of the 1950s when the German publisher Klaus Flugge asked Antony Kamm if he knew anyone able to translate Der Kleine Wassermann, a book for children by Otfried Preussler. Kamm recommended his wife; Bell's English version entitled The Little Water Sprite was published in 1960. Eventually, she translated Preussler's entire works.[1]

Over the decades, she translated numerous Franco-Belgian comics of the bande dessinée genre into English, including Asterix – for which her new puns were praised for keeping the original French spirit intact.[7] 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".[9] Other comic books she has translated include Le Petit Nicolas, Lieutenant Blueberry, and Iznogoud.

She specialised in translating children's literature, and 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.

Bell also translated into English many adult novels, as well as some books on art history, and musicology. She has translated W. G. Sebald's Austerlitz (plus other works by Sebald), and Władysław Szpilman's memoir The Pianist (translated, at the author's request, from the German version).[10] Her translations of works by Stefan Zweig have been said to have helped restore his reputation among anglophone readers, and that of E. T. A. Hoffmann's The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr (originally Lebensansichten des Katers Murr) has had a positive effect on Hoffman's profile as well.[1] 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".[11]

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.[12] Bell received the German Federal Republic's Cross of Merit in 2015.[13]

Illness and death[edit]

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".[14] 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".[15]

Bell died on 18 October 2018 at the age of 82.[8][16][17]

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[19]
1979 Franklin Watts, Inc Konrad Christine Nöstlinger Anthea Bell German Winner[19]
1990 E.P. Dutton Buster's World Bjarne Reuter Anthea Bell Danish Winner[19]
1995 E.P. Dutton The Boys from St.Petri Bjarne Reuter Anthea Bell Danish Winner[19]
2006 Phaidon Press Limited Nicholas René Goscinny Anthea Bell French Honor[19]
2008 Phaidon Press Nicholas and the Gang René Goscinny Anthea Bell French Honor[19]
2009 Amulet Books Tiger Moon Antonia Michaelis Anthea Bell German Honor[20]


  1. ^ a b c Barber, Tony (27 October 2018). "Anthea Bell, translator, 1936-2018". Financial Times. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  2. ^ OUP, 2009
  3. ^ Five Dials Magazine (Hamish Hamilton)
  4. ^ New Books in German
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ a b Marshall, Alex (19 October 2019). "Anthea Bell, Translator of Freud, Kafka and Comics, Dies at 82". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d 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. Archived from the original on 6 September 2015. Retrieved 23 December 2017.
  8. ^ a b Anthea Bell, 'magnificent' translator of Asterix and Kafka, dies aged 82
  9. ^ France, Peter, ed. (2000). The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 111.
  10. ^ "Making Asterix funny in English". The Connexion. 22 April 2010. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 9 June 2017.
  11. ^ Susan Bassnett; Peter Bush (15 November 2007). The Translator as Writer. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 58–. ISBN 978-1-4411-2149-3.
  12. ^ "No. 59282". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2009. p. 9.
  13. ^ Somerville College, Oxford
  14. ^ Kamm, Oliver (23 December 2017). "Asterix is the magic potion that made me a linguist". The Times. Retrieved 4 January 2018. (subscription required)
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "Anthea Bell, celebrated translator of Asterix and W.G. Sebald, is dead at age 82". The New Republic. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  17. ^ "Oliver Kamm on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  18. ^ "Eric Carle Museum 2017 Honorees". Eric Carle Museum. Archived from the original on 30 September 2017. Retrieved 6 January 2018.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ "Batchelder Award". American Library Association. 2008. Archived from the original on 9 February 2009. Retrieved 24 February 2009.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]