Isabel Quigly was an outstanding translator, especially from Italian but also from Spanish and French, over 100 books.
She translated that of Bassani The Finzi-Contini garden and that of Morante Arturo Island as well as works by Cassola, Ginzburg, Fellini, Pope John Paul I and Simenon.
A prolific correspondent, with many cherished friends since childhood, Isabel will be remembered as a person of boundless affection and for her sense of fun, as well as for her humility and strong religious belief.
She was born on September 17, 1926 in Ontaneda, a small village in Spain south of Santander, where her father, an engineer of Irish origin, was in charge of building a railway.
The local priest insisted on baptizing her Isabel, arguing that her real name, Elizabeth, did not exist. She and her older sister, Cita, were educated at Godolphin School, Salisbury, and Assumption Convent, Kensington Square, where the headmistress was the beloved Mother Superior, Margaret Mary McFarlin, later confidante of Siegfrid Sassoon.
Another pupil and friend was the future Duchess of Alba; another pupil was Rosemary, daughter of US Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, who, upon the declaration of war with Germany, invited Cita and Isabel to America as family guests.
The Quigly parents gave up on the latter, due to the danger of U-boats. The convent school was evacuated to the Actons’ family headquarters, Aldenham Park in Shropshire, where Bishop Ronald Knox had retired to work on his translation of the Bible. Its haven of peace is shattered by the arrival of about fifty young girls and their luggage, accompanied by nuns and lay mistresses.
There was a lot of good humor in Aldenham, Mother Margaret Mary even danced the Charleston with skirts turned up. In one game, Isabel was “taken prisoner” on an upper floor and escaped on tied sheets, unfortunately passing through a nun’s window.
From 1944 to 1947, Isabel was at Newnham College, Cambridge, winning five scholarships and a first class distinction, relieving her parents’ financial worries.
From 1948 to 1951, she worked as an editorial assistant at Penguin, where she befriended Alan Glover, an extraordinary man whom she would describe as the main influence in her literary life.
Attractive, dark-haired and Irish-looking, she got engaged to a South African and left with her wedding dress packed – first to Florence, in order to stay with Cita.
There she met a handsome and successful sculptor, about 10 years her senior, Raffaelo Salimbeni, from a Sienese aristocratic family. They fell passionately in love, and the sequence of events became a subject of wonder among friends, in large part due to her semi-autobiographical (but oddly prophetic) bestselling novel, The eye of the sky, published in 1955 by Collins; and like The exchange of joy by Harcourt Brace in America.
The book has been highly regarded by novelists Elizabeth Bowen and Leonard Strong, among others, for its honesty in descriptions of total love and its lively Italian atmosphere. But all of his characters were recognizablely based on living people, so publication in Italy became impossible.
The book was written in six weeks while she was in a trilingual position for the Red Cross in Switzerland. She and Raffaelo married and had a son, but went their separate ways, possibly partly for financial reasons, but as she admitted much later due to differences in temperament, which are clear when one re-read The eye of the sky.
Nevertheless, they continued to correspond frequently, and a “trunk” of letters contained one of Raffaelo’s 80 pages. He passed away in 1991, and although it seems they only met once and briefly, Isabel was terribly upset. A letter from him arrived after his death.
From 1956 to 1966, Isabel was a film critic on The spectator. In 1956, she selected and presented the book Penguin Shelley: chosen poetry, still in press. She also did many reviews and in 1968 published a book on Charlie Chaplin’s early comedies, as well as a booklet on Pamela Hansford Johnson for the Arts Council.
She became a member of the Council of the Society of Authors and served on the Arts Council Committee for Literature. She was later elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and served on its board, as well as the English PEN committee. In 1982, Chatto & Windus published it Tom Brown’s heirs, a brilliant, insightful and entertaining book on the stories of boys’ schools from the 1840s to 1914, with chapters on the cult of games, love affairs, and the boarding school as a training ground for empire. With Susan Hill, she selected and edited a Penguin book of short stories.
From 1958 she lived in a cottage full of character in Fletching, Sussex. Her son, Crispin, was a charming and lively child who was remembered to resemble an elf. They were inseparable. In Cambridge he studied law but became interested in real estate, first performing all manual repairs himself. Isabel is remembered melting lead for him in a saucepan and arriving at her publisher Chatto with her hands stained red because, she says, she was doing masonry.
From 1986 to 1997, she was literary advisor then literary editor on The tablet, which she greatly appreciated. Her colleagues there were amused by her frugality, searching in the wastepaper baskets for unpaid stamps and postcards that would be useful for homemade Christmas cards, also for the way she moved around without shoes, without getting around. worry about the holes in her stockings.
She has volunteered for organizations primarily in Sussex dealing with children, the disabled, retirees and prisoners. A children’s hospital was founded following an article she wrote in The spectator. She campaigned fiercely for the release of Haile Selassie’s daughters she had known in Cambridge (in 1974 they were jailed when their father was dismissed).
She has been a judge for many literary awards such as the Heinemann Prize and the Somerset Maugham Prize. In 1982, an argument was reported in Private detective between her and Bernice Rubens, a fellow Judge Booker, due to Isabel’s last-minute decision that tipped the scales in favor of Kingsley Amis Old devils vs. Robertson Davies What is high in the bone, the choice of Bérénice.
From 1995 to 1997, she was an archivist at the Royal Society of Literature, which resulted in her book on her history, The Royal Literary Society: a portrait, in 2000. Her failing health forced her to leave Fletching, much to her regret, but it allowed her to see more of her talented grandsons Hugh, Guy and George.
Elizabeth (Isabel) Madeleine Quigly, literary critic and author, born in Ontaneda, Spain, September 17, 1926, literary critic, died at Haywards Heath on September 14, 2018
Raleigh Trevelyan died in 2014