Ethel Voynich’s story (1864 – 1960) is quite fascinating: while the young Ethel (‘Lily’) Boole was studying music in Berlin, she became inspired by Stepniak’s revolutionary writings. As a result, she became closely involved with Russian dissidents living in London, and in 1893 married the very charming Wilfrid Voynich. Voynich himself often travelled around as part of the League of Book Carriers, smuggling revolutionary books into Tsarist Russia (because of course Marx, Lenin, etc were all in London at the time), and doubtless Ethel did much the same for the cause.

Music and revolutionary fervour aside, Ethel’s third major passion was writing: somewhat amazingly, her novel “The Gadfly” (“Ovod“) ended up selling 2,500,000 copies in Russia without her really knowing of its success (it was even filmed twice, in 1928 and 1955). Oddly, it had long been believed in Russia that she was dead: so when it was discovered that she was alive and living in New York, some star-struck artists from the Bolshoi (Susanna Zvyagina and Yaraslav Sekh) called by her apartment in 1959 to give her flowers etc.

Splendidly, some British Pathe film footage was taken of this meeting, which has now been placed online: though less than a minute’s worth, here it is in all its silent glory. (Incidentally, if you pause the film about 25 seconds in, I suspect that the woman on the right may well be Anne Nill.) Enjoy!

Ethel Lilian Voynich is 95!

2 thoughts on “Ethel Voynich at 95!

  1. Pam Blevins on December 17, 2011 at 9:06 pm said:

    You are correct the woman to the right is indeed Anne Nill, Ethel’s partner for some 30 years. ELV was also featured in a Look magazine article after she was “discovered” alive and well and living in NYC by a member of the Russian delegation to the UN. She eventually did receive a royalty check for $15,000 from Russia, a considerable sum in the mid-1950s.

  2. Pam: thanks for dropping by & confirming this, much appreciated! Incidentally, I often direct people towards your excellent article on Ethel Voynich, a very nicely balanced piece. 🙂

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