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Willa Muir

Scottish novelist, essayist and translator

Willa Muir
Willa Muir in 1967
Born(1890-03-13)13 March 1890
Montrose, Angus, Scotland
Died22 May 1970(1970-05-22) (aged 80)
Dunoon, Scotland
OccupationNovelist, essayist, translator
Alma materUniversity of St Andrews
GenreFiction, novel, short story, essay
Literary movementModernism
Notable worksImagined Corners, Mrs Ritchie, Women: An Inquiry, The Trial (translator)
Notable awardsJohann-Heinrich-Voß-Preis für Übersetzung award

Willa Muir aka Agnes Neill Scott born Willa Anderson (13 March 1890 – 22 May 1970) was a Scottish novelist, essayist and translator.[1] She was the major part of a translation partnership with her husband, Edwin Muir. She and her husband translated the works of many notable German-speaking authors including Franz Kafka. They were given an award in 1958 in their joint names; however, Willa recorded in her journal that her husband "only helped".

Willa Muir Intro articles: 2


Willa Muir was born Wilhelmina Johnston Anderson in 1890 in Montrose, where she spent her childhood. Her parents were originally from Unst in the Shetland Islands, and the Shetland dialect of the Scots language was spoken at home.[2] She was one of the first Scottish women to attend university, and she studied classics at the University of St Andrews, graduating in 1910 with a first class degree.[3] In 1919 she married the poet Edwin Muir[1] and gave up her job in London as assistant principal of Gipsy Hill teacher training college.[3][4]

In the 1920s the couple lived in continental Europe for two periods, living in Montrose at other times.[5] During their first period, she supported them by teaching at the Internationalschule in Hellerau, which was run by her friend A. S. Neill.[6]

Willa and her husband worked together on many translations, most notable the major works of Franz Kafka. They had translated The Castle within six years of Kafka's death. In her memoir of Edwin Muir, Belonging, Willa describes the method of translation that she and her husband adopted in their Kafka translations:[7]

"We divided the book in two, Edwin translated one half and I the other, then we went over each other's translations as with a fine-tooth comb."

Willa was the more able linguist and she was the major contributor. She recorded in her journal that her husband "only helped". Between 1924 and the start of the Second World War her (their) translation financed their life together.[8] In addition she also translated on her own account under the name of Agnes Neill Scott.[9] The couple spent considerable time touring in Europe and she expressed some regret that she had lost a home.[3]

A satirical portrait of Willa and Edwin appears in Wyndham Lewis's The Apes of God (1930).[10] When Willa and her husband met Lewis in the mid-1920s, she recorded her sense that he was "one of those Englishmen who do not have the habit of talking to women."[11]

Her book Women: An Inquiry is a book-length feminist essay.[1] Her 1936 book Mrs Grundy in Scotland is an investigation of the anxieties and pressure to conform to respectability norms in Scottish life.[12]

In 1949 she was painted by Nigel McIsaac, and the painting is in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.[8]

In 1958, Willa and Edwin Muir were granted the first Johann-Heinrich-Voss Translation Award.[13] Her husband died in 1959 and she wrote a memoir Belonging (1968) about their life together. She died at Dunoon in 1970.[14]

Willa Muir Life articles: 14



  • Imagined Corners (1931)
  • Mrs Ritchie (1933)

Translations as Agnes Neill Scott

  • Boyhood and Youth by Hans Carossa (1931)
  • A Roumanian Diary by Hans Carossa (1929)
  • Doctor Gion, etc. by Hans Carossa (1933)
  • Life Begins by Christa Winsloe (1935)
  • The Child Manuela by Christa Winsloe (1934)

Translations by Willa and Edwin Muir

  • Power by Lion Feuchtwanger, New York, Viking Press, 1926.
  • The Ugly Duchess: A Historical Romance by Lion Feuchtwanger, London, Martin Secker, 1927.
  • Two Anglo-Saxon Plays: The Oil Islands and Warren Hastings, by Lion Feuchtwanger, London, Martin Secker, 1929.
  • Success: A Novel by Lion Feuchtwanger, New York, Viking Press, 1930.
  • The Castle by Franz Kafka, London, Martin Secker, 1930.
  • The Sleepwalkers: A Trilogy by Hermann Broch, Boston, MA, Little, Brown & Company, 1932.
  • Josephus by Lion Feuchtwanger, New York, Viking Press, 1932.
  • Salvation by Sholem Asch, New York, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1934.
  • The Hill of Lies by Heinrich Mann, London, Jarrolds, 1934.
  • Mottke, the Thief by Sholem Asch, New York, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1935.
  • The Unknown Quantity by Hermann Broch, New York, Viking Press, 1935.
  • The Jew of Rome: A Historical Romance by Lion Feuchtwanger, London, Hutchinson, 1935.
  • The Loom of Justice by Ernst Lothar, New York, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1935.
  • Night over the East by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, London, Sheed & Ward, 1936.
  • Amerika by Franz Kafka, New York, Doubleday/New Directions, 1946
  • The Trial by Franz Kafka, London, Martin Secker, 1937, reissued New York, The Modern Library, 1957.
  • Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1961.


  • Women: An Inquiry (Hogarth Press, 1925)[5]
  • Mrs Grundy in Scotland ("The Voice of Scotland" series, Routledge, 1936)[5]
  • Women in Scotland (Left Review, 1936)[5]
  • Living with Ballads (Oxford University Press, 1965)[15]
  • Belonging: a memoir (1968)
  • "Elizabeth" and "A Portrait of Emily Stobo", Chapman 71 (1992–93)
  • "Clock-a-doodle-do", M. Burgess ed., The Other Voice, (1987)
  • "Mrs Muttoe and the Top Storey", Aileen Christianson, Moving in Circles: Willa Muir's Writings, Edinburgh, Word Power Books, 2007.


  1. ^ a b c Beth Dickson, British women writers : a critical reference guide edited by Janet Todd. New York : Continuum, 1989. ISBN 0804433348; (p. 487-9).
  2. ^ Palmer McCulloch, Margery (30 October 2016). "Willa Muir". Scottish PEN: Dangerous Women project. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  3. ^ a b c "Writing Scotland - Willa Muir - BBC Two". BBC. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  4. ^ Fergusson, Maggie (20 October 2009). "A Soft-Centred Woman". Scottish Review of Books. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d McCulloch, Margery Palmer. "Willa Muir". Scottish PEN. Retrieved 7 October 2018.
  6. ^ Neill, A. S. (1973). Neill! Neill! Orange Peel!. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 119. ISBN 029776554X.
  7. ^ Muir, Willa (1968). Belonging. London: Hogarth Press. p. 150.
  8. ^ a b "Willa Anderson, Mrs Edwin Muir, 1890-1970. Writer and translator". www.nationalgalleries.org. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  9. ^ Lyall, Scott (May 2019). "Minor Modernisms: The Scottish Renaissance and the Translation of German-language Modernism". Modernist Cultures. 14 (2): 219. doi:10.3366/mod.2019.0251.
  10. ^ Christianson, Aileen (2007). Moving in Circles: Willa Muir's Writings. Edinburgh: Word Power Books. pp. 27–8.
  11. ^ Christianson, Aileen (2007). Moving in Circles: Willa Muir's Writings. Edinburgh: Word Power Books. p. 28.
  12. ^ Stirling, Kirsten (2008). Bella Caledonia: Woman, Nation, Text. Scottish Cultural Review of Language and Literature. pp. 55–7. ISBN 9789042025103.
  13. ^ Homepage of the Johann Heinrich Voss Prize with List of Award-Winners (in German)
  14. ^ "Willa Muir © Orlando Project". orlando.cambridge.org. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  15. ^ Winkelman, Donald M (1968). "Living with Ballads by Willa Muir". The Journal of American Folklore. 81 (319): 77–78. doi:10.2307/537445. JSTOR 537445.

Further reading

  • Michelle Woods, Kafka Translated: How Translators Have Shaped Our Reading of Kafka, New York: Bloomsbury, 2014.
  • Aileen Christianson, Moving in Circles: Willa Muir's Writings, Edinburgh, Word Power Books, 2007.
  • Patricia R. Mudge, Catriona Soukup, and Lumir Soukup, essays in Chapman 71 (1992–93)
  • P.H. Butler, Willa Muir: Writer, Edwin Muir: Centenary Assessments ed. by C.J.M. MacLachlan and D.S. Robb (1990) pp. 58–74.
  • Margaret Elphinstone, Willa Muir: Crossing the Genres, A History of Scottish Women’s Writing, ed. Gifford and McMillan, Dorothy (1997) pp. 400–15.
  • Willa Muir, Belonging: A Memoir, London: Hogarth Press, 1968.