Voynich, E. L. (Ethel Lillian), 1864-1960

Alternative names
Birth 1864-05-11
Death 1960-07-27

Biographical notes:

Ethel Lillian Voynich (b. May 11, 1864 in County Cork, Ireland; d. July 27, 1960 in New York City) was a social activist, novelist, translator, and composer.

From the description of Ethel L. Voynich papers, 1928-1948 (bulk 1935-1948). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 651155333

Biographical Note

Ethel Lillian Voynich (1864-1960) was a social activist, novelist, translator, and composer. Born May 11, 1864, in County Cork, Ireland, Ethel Lilian Boole was the youngest of the five daughters of George Boole (1815-1864) and Mary Everest Boole (1832-1916). George Boole was an eminent mathematician whose theories (Boolean Logic) were instrumental to the development of modern technologies, including digital recording and the Internet. Mary Boole was an eccentric mathematician, teacher, and writer whose books on teaching mathematics to children became milestones in education. Despite their strong intellectual background, George and Mary lived in acute poverty and sent Ethel to live with her uncle, Charles Boole, in Lancashire. The years of physical abuse from Charles that followed eventually became the basis for her 1901 novel, Jack Raymond .

At the age of eighteen, Ethel traveled to Berlin and enrolled in the Hochschule der Musik in an effort to pursue her childhood love of music. Her studies of piano and composition from 1882-1885, however, were overshadowed by her newfound interest in revolutionary literature and political activism. Inspired by the plight of Russian prisoners under Tzarist rule, Ethel moved to St. Petersburg in 1887, where she made ends meet teaching English and music, dedicating any remaining time to helping suffering prisoners and peasants. After two years of committed charitable, revolutionary activity, Ethel returned to London, where she made the acquaintance of Polish patriot, antiquarian, and bibliophile Wilfred Michael Voynich, then a Russian fugitive. The two lived together and worked on various revolutionary endeavors for many years, eventually marrying in 1902.

During this period, Ethel established herself as both a writer and a translator of Russian literature into English. Her first published translation, Stories from Garshin, was released in 1893, followed by The humor of Russia (1985), and Nihilism as it is (1895). Her most famous novel, The Gadfly (1897), was later made into a film in the Soviet Union with a score by Dmitiri Shostakovich. Ethel remained musically active as well, becoming a member of the Society of Woman Musicians, an organization founded by composer Marion Scott in 1911. Through Scott, she established a close relationship with composer and war poet Ivor Gurney, an inspirational force behind her literary and musical compositions. Following her immigration to New York City around 1920, Ethel began intensive studies in composition and orchestration. These contributed to her creation of a variety of sacred vocal and instrumental works in the 1920s, including Babylon, Jerusalem, and Epitaph in Ballad Form .

In March 1930, husband Wilfred Voynich, by now an established New York bookseller, passed away from respiratory illness. Ethel moved in with his secretary and shop manager Anne M. Nill shortly thereafter, and the pair lived together for nearly thirteen years in Manhattan. Ethel continued to write, translate, and compose. Her last work, Put Off Thy Shoes, was published in 1945. The remainder of her life was spent reaping the rewards of her signature best-seller, The Gadfly, a work that had, unbeknownst to her at the time, single-handedly established Ethel's reputation as an American literary hero in the Soviet Union. Royalties from the novel and its derivative films enabled her to live a robust intellectual life until her death in 1960 at age ninety-six.

From the guide to the Ethel L. Voynich Papers, 1828-1948, (bulk 1935-1948), (Music Division Library of Congress)


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