Charlotte Guest, 19th Century Renaissance Woman
While flipping through Bulfinch’s Mythology this week in search of an inspiring goddess, I instead came across a reference to an inspiring woman, Lady Charlotte Guest.
Bulfinch’s Mythology includes not just Greek and Roman myths, but also the Legends of Charlemagne, stories of King Arthur, and the Mabinogion, Welsh tales mostly unavailable in English translation until Lady Charlotte Guest came along.
Born in 1812, the daughter of an Earl, she puts me in mind of Lady Georgiana, the heroine of the novel Dangerous Works, by fellow Regency author Caroline Warfield. Like Caroline’s heroine, Lady Charlotte was a scholar. As a child, she was a serious student who learned several languages, supposedly teaching herself Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian.
She didn’t tackle her signature project until after her marriage to her Welsh industrialist husband, John Josiah Guest. To translate the Mabinogion, she first had to learn the Welsh language. Her translations were published between 1838 and 1845.
Like Caroline’s heroine, Lady Charlotte was fortunate to find a supportive husband. She and John Josiah Guest were both founding members of the Society of Welsh Scholars of Abergavenny.
Her translation of the Mabinogion remained the standard for almost a century, but there was so much more to her life and her accomplishments. She was a philanthropist, social and political activist, and school reformer. In addition to her husband’s support of her scholarly endeavors, she must certainly have had his respect. During his lifetime and upon his death, she participated in the running of the family iron works.
And she had ten children!
Though her first husband was over twice her age, and her second, her son’s tutor, was fourteen years her junior, it seems that both of her long marriages were built on mutual interests and respect.
In 2005, her great-granddaughter, Revel Guest, published Lady Charlotte’s biography, appropriately subtitled An Extraordinary Life.
Have you heard of Charlotte Guest or the Mabinogion?
Images: Wikimedia Commons, Amazon