Clara Bell

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Clara Bell, née Poynter (1835–1927), was an English translator fluent in French, German, Danish, Dutch, Italian, Norwegian, Russian, and Spanish,[1][2] noted for her translations of works by Henrik Ibsen, Balzac, Georg Ebers, Huysmans, Maupassant, and others. She was educated in France, where she became fluent in French and German; she did not acquire her knowledge of the other languages until after her fortieth birthday.[1] She spent most of her life in London.

Bell was born in Westminster to architect Ambrose Poynter and Emma Forster;[3] her brother was Sir Edward Poynter, a director of the National Gallery.[4] She was a distant relation of Edward Burne-Jones and Rudyard Kipling.[4] She was married to banker Robert Courtenay Bell (1816–1896) with whom she had six children,[3] one of whom was Charles Francis Bell, who oversaw the Fine Art Department of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.[4]

Under the direction of George Saintsbury, Bell, Ellen Marriage, and Rachel Scott were responsible for translating the vast majority of Balzac's Human Comedy into English,[5] superseding earlier translations that had generally been regarded as stilted.[5] The low pay that translators received at that time[2] required Bell and her colleagues to complete work quickly,[5] but her translations have nonetheless been noted for their close adherence to the source texts, and their high degree of readability.[5][6]

Louis Couperus[edit]

Bell also translated the novel Noodlot of the Dutch writer Louis Couperus (1863–1923), published under the title Footsteps of Fate. Edmund Gosse published this in the series Heinemann's International Library of which he was the editor. It had been Maarten Maartens (1858–1915) who had pointed out this book to Gosse. It was Frederik van Eeden (1860–1932) who gave Gosse information about this novel and Couperus, for which Gosse wrote an introduction.

Oscar Wilde read Footsteps of Fate and was touched by it. Wilde contacted Couperus and sent him his book The Picture of Dorian Gray.[7] The exchange of letters between Wilde and Louis Couperus and his wife Elisabeth Couperus-Baud resulted in the first translation of Wilde's novel, published in 1893, in Dutch by mevrouw Louis Couperus (Mrs. Louis Couperus).

Most of the other translations of the work of Louis Couperus were of Alexander Teixeira de Mattos (1855–1921) who married later the widow of Wilde's brother Willie Wilde.


  1. ^ a b The Illustrated American: 22 November 1890, p.500
  2. ^ a b The Author: A Monthly Magazine for Literary Workers: Vol.2: 15 November 1890, p. 170
  3. ^ a b Clara Poynter (1835-1927) on [1]
  4. ^ a b c Charles Francis Bell on The Dictionary of Art Historians
  5. ^ a b c d The Encyclopedia of Literary Translation into English, Vol. 1: p.101
  6. ^ The Yale Literary Magazine, Vol. 53, No.6: March 1888, p.280
  7. ^ Caspar Wintermans, Dear Sir. Brieven van het echtpaar Couperus aan Osar Wilde. Woubrugge, 2003

External links[edit]