Monday, May 29, 2017

Estrid Bannister

Muse, lover, diplomat and translator, Estrid Bannister (born Estrid Jelstrup Holm, 1904) lived life on her own terms. She was the inspiration for the bestselling novel by Jørgen-Frantz Jacobsen, Barbara.

My interest in Estrid was re-kindled when I recently obtained a well-thumbed copy of the original Penguin Barbara (#631, One shilling and sixpence), featuring her translation. The current edition with a translation by George Johnston (Norvik Press, 1993) is serviceable and more thorough, if somewhat pedantic. Reading Estrid's version was a revelation. Aside from the strange sensation of reading a book where the translator, in real life, was the basis for the main character, I found that the POV was decidedly more sympathetic to Barbara’s story and less favorable towards the miserable Parson Poul, who, knowing full well what kind of woman Barbara was, falls for her anyway and tortures himself for the rest of the book.

There is more to Estrid’s story. After Jacobsen died from tuberculosis in 1938, Estrid made her way to England where she was an attache to the Danish Embassy during World War II. In the prime of her life, attractive and cultured, she did not want for company and ultimately ended up as the lover of one William Emrys Williams, an influential educator, writer (he was knighted) and one of the founders of Penguin Books. From a humble start in the 1930s, the Penguin imprimatur became known world-wide as a mark of high-quality publications, which continues to this day. In 1946 they introduced the now classic cover scheme:

Penguin Books

Estrid was on the Penguin payroll as a translator, where she had many titles to her credit. Her affair with Williams eventually cooled and when he died (in 1965) his memoirs, which would have undoubtedly contained details of his affair with Estrid, were burned by his secretary, who then committed suicide!

Estrid spent the final years of her life in Ireland. Her name became, with delicious irony, Estrid Bannister Good when she married Ernest Good, an Irish fisherman. Before she died in 2000, she had been interviewed by a television reporter, had a biography written about her and had the letters between her and Jacobsen published. Alas, all these resources are in Danish only, but the reviews I've read of them suggest that she was indeed very much like Barbara, loving but unsentimental, and never letting conventional mores hinder her quest for a fulfilling life.

By Professor Batty


Blogger Jono said...

Quite a life she had.

Blogger Professor Batty said...

I must be the world's biggest Faroese-in-translation nerd!

Blogger Dualta Currie said...

I met this woman in her latter years when I was a teenager and was fortunate enough to be in her company for weeks at a time. Charming and a force to be reckoned with no doubt. Only wish I was old enough to have engaged with her and hear her tales.

Blogger Professor Batty said...

Dualta ~ That is fascinating! If you get the chance to read her translation of Barbara I would think you could hear her voice through the pages.

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