Famous female translator: Émilie du Châtelet

Mar 8, 2018 | First Edition Translations, Language, Language of the Month, Musings, Translation, World events

Today is International Women’s Day and as French is the Language of the Month here at First Edition, we thought we’d bring you the famous female French translator, Émilie du Châtelet as a way of celebrating both!Émilie Du Châtelet

Émilie was born in 1706, in an age when women met countless challenges, especially if they wanted to explore their academic and scientific interests. She, however, received a good education, and as her intelligence and curiosity for mathematics and philosophy were discovered early on, she was allowed to study these from a private tutor in addition to other academic subjects. She became well-versed in several languages, as well, including Latin, English and Italian. Apparently, “[s]he made less progress in Spanish, because she was told that there is only one famous book in that language and that this book is frivolous”[1]. At her childhood home, her parents entertained distinguished mathematicians and philosophers like Fontenelle, and she also met Voltaire at one of these get-togethers when she was still a young girl. Later Émilie and Voltaire became lovers and for some time, they also lived together. She devoted the years she spent with Voltaire to studying mathematics and philosophy.

Although she met many obstacles in the world of science as a woman, she just didn’t give up and published several works of her own, as well as various translations, including Newton’s Principia, for which she also provided a commentary. She also translated (or rather freely adapted) The Fable of the Bees, a social satire by Mandeville. In her introduction to this piece, she argued for women’s secondary education and similar academic opportunities young men had.

Émilie – the great thinker, mathematician and translator – died early during childbirth, when she was only 42 years old. But her story is still inspiring young women today.


[1] L Morland (ed.), Voltaire, Oeuvres complètes (1879). via http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/history/Biographies/Chatelet.html