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Ethel Lilian Voynich

Born Ethel Lilian Boole
11 May 1864(1864-05-11)
County Cork, Ireland
Died 27 July 1960 (aged 96)
New York City, United States
Occupation Novelist, Musician
Notable work(s) The Gadfly

Ethel Lilian Voynich, née Boole (May 11, 1864–July 27, 1960) was an English novelist and musician, and a supporter of several revolutionary causes. Her father was the famous mathematician George Boole. Her mother was feminist philosopher[1] Mary Everest,[2] niece of George Everest and an author for the early-20th-century periodical Crank.[3] In 1893 she married Wilfrid Michael Voynich, revolutionary, antiquarian and bibliophile, the eponym of the Voynich manuscript.



She is most famous for her novel The Gadfly, first published in 1897 in the United States (June) and Britain (September), about the struggles of an international revolutionary in Italy. This novel was very popular in the Soviet Union and was the top best seller and compulsory reading there, and was seen as ideologically useful; for similar reasons, the novel has been popular in the People's Republic of China as well. By the time of Voynich's death The Gadfly had sold an estimated 2,500,000 copies in the Soviet Union and was made into a movie in 1928 (Krazana) and 1955.[4]

In 1955, the Soviet director Aleksandr Fajntsimmer adapted the novel into a film of the same title (Russian: Ovod). Composer Dmitri Shostakovich wrote the score (see The Gadfly Suite). The Romance, a segment from this composition, along with some other excerpts, has since become very popular. Shostakovich's Gadfly theme was also used in the eighties, in the BBC TV series Reilly, Ace of Spies. In 1980 the novel was adapted again as a TV miniseries The Gadfly, featuring Sergei Bondarchuk as Father Montanelli.

According to historian Robin Bruce Lockhart, Sidney Reilly — a Russian-born adventurer and secret agent employed by the British Secret Intelligence Service — met Ethel Voynich in London in 1895. Ethel Voynich was a significant figure not only on the late Victorian literary scene but also in Russian émigré circles. Lockhart, who was also a British Secret Service agent, claims that Reilly and Voynich had a sexual liaison and voyaged to Italy together. During this scenic tarriance, Reilly apparently "bared his soul to his mistress," and revealed to her the story of his strange youth in Russia. After their brief affair had concluded, Voynich published in 1897 her novel The Gadfly, the central character of which, Arthur Burton, was allegedly based on Sidney Reilly's own early life.[5] However, Andrew Cook, a noted biographer of Reilly, disputes Lockhart's version and counters instead that Reilly was perhaps informing on Voynich's radical, pro-émigré activities to William Melville of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch.[6]


A minor planet 2032 Ethel discovered in 1970 by Soviet astronomer Tamara Mikhailovna Smirnova is named after her.[7]


  • Stories from Garshin (1893)
  • The Gadfly (1897)
  • Jack Raymond (1901)
  • Olive Latham (1904)
  • An Interrupted Friendship (Russian Ovod v Izgnanii (meaning "The Gadfly in exile") (1910)
  • Put Off Thy Shoes (1945)


  1. ^ Showalter 1977, p. 63.
  2. ^ Sometimes given as Everett. Showalter 1977, p. 63.
  3. ^ Showalter 1977, pp.251–252.
  4. ^ Cork City Libraries provides a downloadable PDF of Evgeniya Taratuta's 1957 biographical pamphlet Our Friend Ethel Lilian Boole/Voynich, translated from the Russian by Séamus Ó Coigligh. The pamphlet gives some idea of the Soviet attitude toward Voynich.
  5. ^ Robin Bruce Lockhart, Reilly: Ace of Spies; 1986, Hippocrene Books, ISBN 0-88029-072-2.
  6. ^ Andrew Cook, Ace of Spies: The True Story of Sidney Reilly, 2004, Tempus Publishing, ISBN 0-7524-2959-0. Page 39.
  7. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (5th ed.). New York: Springer Verlag. p. 165. ISBN 3540002383. 


  • Showalter, Elaine. A literature of their own: from Charlotte Brontë to Doris Lessing. Princeton University Press, 1977, ISBN 978-0-8606-8285-1.
  • An article in the Princeton University Library Chronicle, Vol XXVIII Autumn 1966 [1]

External links



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