Hapgood, Isabel (1850–1928)

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Hapgood, Isabel (1850–1928)

American author and translator who offered the English-speaking world the first direct translations of Russian classics. Born Isabel Florence Hapgood on November 21, 1850, in Boston, Massachusetts; died on June 26, 1928, in New York City; daughter of Asa and Lydia (Crossley) Hapgood; attended the Oread Collegiate Institute, 1863–65, and Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut, 1865–68.

Isabel Florence Hapgood was born in Boston in 1850 into an old American family; her father traced his descent from Shadrach Hapgood, a New England settler of 1656. Isabel was one of a set of twins born to Asa and Lydia Crossley Hapgood ; a younger brother rounded out the family. The Hapgoods moved several times during Isabel's childhood, living in Boston and Jersey City, New Jersey, before finally settling in Worcester, Massachusetts. Isabel, who soon distinguished herself with a gift for learning languages, attended the Oread Collegiate Institute from 1863 to 1865 and Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut, from 1865 to 1868. Her early studies included Latin and French, but she eventually mastered virtually all of the Germanic and Romance languages as well as several Slavic languages, including Russian, Polish and Old Church Slavonic.

Isabel Hapgood began her career in 1886 when she published her translations of Leo Tolstoy's Childhood, Boyhood, Youth, Nikolai Gogol's Taras Bulba and Dead Souls, and a collection of The Epic Songs of Russia. She traveled through Russia from 1887 to 1889, meeting members of the literary world, including Tolstoy who invited her to his home at Yasnaya Polyana. Hapgood followed her initial Russian translations with Tolstoy's What to Do? (1887), Sevastopol (1888) and Life (1888). She also published Sophia Kovalevskaya 's Recollections of Childhood (1895), Petr Sergeenko's How Count L.N. Tolstoy Lives and Works (1899) and, in 1901, produced two translations of Maxim Gorky, Foma Gordyeeff and Orloff and His Wife. Hapgood's translations of Russian works were the first direct translations of Russian classics available to the English-speaking world; prior to this, English-speaking readers read Russian literature translated from the French.

Hapgood also wrote her own books on the people and culture of Russia, starting with Russian Rambles in 1895. In 1902, she published A Survey of Russian Literature for the Chautauqua

Literary and Scientific Circle, but her major work was produced in 1903–04, a 16-volume edition of The Novels and Stories of Ivan Turgenev. In 1906, she published Service Book of the Holy Orthodox Catholic Apostolic (Greco-Russian) Church which was used by Orthodox churches in America. Hapgood was also a correspondent, reviewer, and editorial writer for the New York Evening Post and the Nation for 22 years.

In 1917, Hapgood visited Russia for a second time, and only escaped being caught up in the Russian Revolution through the intervention of acquaintances. Her last translations appeared from 1916 to 1924 with Nikolai Leskov's The Steel Flea (1916) and The Cathedral Folk (1924), and Ivan Bunin's The Village (1923).

Isabel Hapgood's exceptional language skills were not limited to Russian. She produced English versions of the French classics Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (1887), Recollections and Letters by Ernest Renan (1892), The Revolution of France under the Third Republic by Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1897), and Méditations by Abbé Joseph Roux (1903). Her Spanish translations included Faith by Armando Palacio Valdés (1892) and, from the Italian, Coure by Edmondo de Amicis (1887).

In 1887, Hapgood moved from Boston to New York where she remained for the rest of her life. She died of cancer on June 26, 1928, in New York City and was buried in Worcester, Massachusetts.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland