Ethel Lilian Boole Voynich (11 May 1864 – 27 July 1960) was a novelist and musician, and a supporter of several revolutionary causes.
Ethel was the author of the novel The Gadfly. This became a bestseller in the Soviet Union with more than 2.5 million copies sold.
Despite the fact that Mary Everest was seventeen years younger than George Boole, they had a good and happy marriage. Over the next nine years, Mary and George had five daughters called Mary, Margaret, Alice, Lucy Everest Boole and Ethel. However, this happiness would soon fade. In 1864, when she was just seven months old, Ethel’s father George Boole contracted pneumonia and died, leaving Mary Everest Boole with five daughters and very little money. Nonetheless, Mary educated their daughters well in mathematics and geometry, logic and thinking for themselves. Ethel was also taught by Sergyei “Stepniak” Kravchinsky, as was her sister, the future chemist Lucy, and both women regarded Stepniak as their guardian.
Ethel 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.
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, The Gadfly Suite. The Romance, a segment from this composition, along with some other excerpts, has since become very popular. Dmitri Shostakovich‘s Gadfly theme was also used in the eighties, in the BBC TV series about Sidney Reilly‘s life.
Ethel Voynich was a significant figure not only on the late Victorian literary scene but also in Russian émigré circles. Robin Bruce Lockhart, who was also a British Secret Service agent, claims that Sidney Reilly and Ethel Voynich had a sexual liaison and voyaged to Italy together. During this scenic dalliance, Sidney 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 critically acclaimed novel, The Gadfly, the central character of which, Arthur Burton, was allegedly based on Sidney Reilly‘s own early life.
However, Andrew Cook, a noted biographer of Sidney Reilly, disputes Robin Bruce Lockhart‘s version and counters instead that Sidney Reilly was perhaps informing on Ethel Voynich’s radical, pro-émigré activities to William Melville of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch.
Michał Habdank-Wojnicz was born in Telshi, a town in then Kovno Governorate, which was part of the Russian Empire, now it is Telšiai, a town in Lithuania, into a Polish-Lithuanian noble family, the son of a titular counsellor.
In 1885, in Warsaw, Wojnicz joined Ludwik Waryński’s revolutionary organization, Proletarjat. In 1886, after a failed attempt to free from the Warsaw Citadel fellow-conspirators who had been sentenced to death, he was arrested by Tsarist police and, in 1887, sent to penal servitude at Tunka.
After the 1895 death of their associate, Stepniak, the Voyniches (as they had anglicized their surname) ceased revolutionary activity.
In 1898 Voynich opened an antiquarian bookshop in London, followed by another in 1914 in New York City. Voynich died in New York in 1930 of lung cancer.
Ethel Lilian Voynich died in New York on 27 July 1960 at the age of 96.
- Nihilism as it is: Being Stepniak’s Pamphlets with Sergyei “Stepniak” Kravchinsky (1894)
- The Humour of Russia [with Paul Frenzeny] (1895)
- The Gadfly (1897)
- Jack Raymond (1901)
- Olive Latham (1904)
- An Interrupted Friendship (1910)
- Six Lyrics from the Ruthenian of Tarás Shevchénko [as translator] (1911)
- Chopin’s Letters [with Henryk Opieński] (1931)
- Put Off Thy Shoes (1945)
- Păvan: Roman (1952)
- Der Stachel (1957)
- Sobranie Sochineni? v Trekh Tomakh (1975)
Ethel Lilian Boole Voynich had four sisters:
- Mary Ellen (7 June 1856 – 28 May 1908), who married the mathematician and author Charles Howard Hinton (1853 – 1907). They had three children, Howard, William and Joan.
- Margaret (1858 – 16 August 1935), whose son Geoffrey Ingram Taylor became a mathematician and a Fellow of the Royal Society
- Alicia (8 June 1860 – 17 December 1940), also a mathematician, who made important contributions to four-dimensional geometry
- Lucy Everest Boole, a chemist who, in 1888, was only the second woman to pass the London School of Pharmacy‘s major examination, and was the first woman to formally conduct research in pharmaceutical chemistry.
Film adaptions of Ethel Voynich’s The Gadfly:
- 1928. Georgian film (Krazana) directed by Kote Mardjanishvili.
- 1955. The Soviet director Aleksandr Fajntsimmer adapted the book into the film, Ovod. Dmitri Shostakovich composed the score, known as The Gadfly Suite. The Romance section of this score has since become popular, and was used as the theme music for the series Reilly, Ace of Spies about master spy Sidney Reilly.
- 1980. Film of Nikolai Mashchenko with Andrei Kharitonov, Sergei Bondarchuk and Anastasiya Vertinskaya.
- 1987. Rivares. Soviet Georgian film by Bidzina Chkheidze
- 2004. Gadfly, Ukrainian TV series, directed by Tian-Ming Wu.