Anthea Bell, the translator who brought classics from Asterix to WG Sebald to an English readership, has died at the age of 82.
Bell, who worked from both French and German, translated texts by authors including Sebald, Stefan Zweig, Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud. She first began translating Asterix in 1969, coming up with some of its best jokes and puns. In her version, Obelix’s small dog Idéfix became Dogmatix, and the druid Panoramix became Getafix. The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation describes her work on Asterix as ingenious and superbly recreated, displaying “the art of the translator at its best”.
Bell translated hundreds of books, from bestsellers such as Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series to ETA Hoffmann’s 19th-century novel The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr. The first book she ever worked on came to her by chance, when her then-husband, Antony Kamm, a publisher, was asked if he knew anyone who could translate the German writer Otfried Preussler’s children’s book The Little Water-Sprite. “It was my first translation and I did it with my first baby in a carrycot at my side,” she told the Guardian in 2013.
The winner of a host of literary awards, Bell was also given Germany’s Verdienstkreuz (Cross of Merit) in 2015, and was appointed OBE in 2010. She believed that translations should “read as if they were not only written but also thought in English”, telling a conference in 2004: “All my professional life, I have felt that translators are in the business of spinning an illusion – the illusion is that the reader is reading not a translation but the real thing.”