Lady Charlotte Guest (19 May 1812 – 15 January 1895), in full Lady Charlotte Elizbeth Guest (née Bertie) was, among other things, a scholar of medieval Welsh. She is noted for her editing and translating of the collection of medieval Welsh tales which she called the Mabinogion
Charlotte Bertie was born into an aristocratic family, her father being the Earl of Lindsey who died where Charlotte was six years old. Charlotte’s mother remarried to the Rev. Mr. Fergus, a violent and often drunken man who provided Charlotte with an unhappy childhood. In her childhood, Charlotte turned to the study of languages, learning French and Italian on her own, and learning Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Persian with the help of her brothers’ tutor.
At the age of 21, Charlotte met John Guest (later Sir John) who was twice her age and within three months the two were married.
After Charlotte’s marriage and removal to Dowlais in Wales near to her husband’s iron foundry, she learned literary Welsh. Charlotte bore ten children to her husband before his death in 1852. She and her husband founded and financed six schools which Charlotte supervised. She was active with him in running his business.
Charlotte became friends with many well-known Welsh scholars and developed an interest in Welsh scholarship.
Interest in Publishing Fantastic Medieval Welsh Tales
This was the period when medieval Welsh documents were first being published. The tales were then felt to be comparatively unimportant and frivolous compared to more serious works such as the Welsh Triads and Genealogies which were then considered to be historical.
But the appearance of Macpherson’s Ossian forgeries in the 1760s and their tremendous success indicated that there might be a possible interest in medieval Welsh literary works.
The scholar William Owen Pughe, who believed that the term mabinogion meant ‘children’s tales’ worked on a translation of the tales for years and was actually partially prepared for press when Pughe died in 1835.
Lady Charlotte Guest’s Mabionogion
Three years later, in 1838, the first fascicle of Charlotte Guest’s Mabinogion was released. The completed work was published in three volumes in 1849 in a sumptuous 3-volume edition which included The Lady of the Fountain, Peredur, Gereint, Culhwch and Olwen, The Dream of Rhonabwy, the Mabinogi proper, Maxen Wledig, Lludd and Llefelys and the Hanes Taliesin along with an English translation of Chrétien de Troyes’ Yvain, summaries of Chrétien’s Erec et Enide and Chrétien's Perceval, and notes which covered every personal and place name taken from every morsel of data that had been published.
The translation was highly praised and was accurate for its day and the notation was incomparable. It only fails where Guest has been deceived by the misstatements and forgeries of Iolo Morganwg, but everyone was so deceived at the time. Guest also somewhat cleans up the translation by removing a few risqué moments from her tales, such as Pryderi spending the night (chastely) in bed with Arawn’s wife.
In 1859, ten years after the release of Guest’s Mabinogion, the very popular Poet Laureate Alfred Tennyson based his poem “Enid” on the Gereint of Guest’s Mabinogion. This poem was divided into two, “The Marriage of Geraint” and “Geraint and Enid”, when Tennyson included his Arthurian poems in the suite Idylls of the King in 1874. In part because of this, a popular edition of the Mabinogion was released in 1877, without the Welsh text, the translation of Chrétien’s Yvain and condensing of the notes on other versions of some of the tales.
In 1906 a version of Guest’s Mabinogion, lacking illustrations and notes, was included in J. M. Dent’s popular Everyman’s Library until 1949 when it was replaced by a new translation by Gwyen Jones and Thomas Jones.
- Bromwich, Rachel. (1996). The Mabinogion and Lady Charlotte Guest. In C. W, Sullivan III (Ed.), The Mabinogi: A book of essays. New York, London: Garland. ISBN 0-8153-1482-5
- Guest, Charlotte (Ed., Trans.) (1849). The Mabinogion: from the Llyfr coch o Hergest, and other ancient Welsh manuscripts, with an English translation and notes (3 vols.). London: Longmans.
- Vol 1: Retrievable from http://www.archive.org/details/mabinogionfroml03mabigoog, http://books.google.com/books?id=dVUAAAAAcAAJ&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Vol 2: Retrievable from http://www.archive.org/details/mabinogionfroml02mabigoog
- Vol 3: Retrievable from http://www.archive.org/details/mabinogionfroml01mabigoog, http://www.archive.org/details/mabinogionfroml00mabigoog
- Guest, Charlotte (Trans.) (1877). The Mabinogion: from the Welsh of the Llyfr Coch of Hergest (the Red Book of Hergest) in the library of Jesus College, Oxford: Tanslated with notes. (2nd, popular, edition). Longman
- Retrievable from http://www.archive.org/details/mabinogionfromw00unkngoog, http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=mabinogion%20AND%20mediatype%3Atexts, http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924026877799, http://www.archive.org/details/mabinogionfromwe00schruoft
- Modern reprint retrievable from http://books.google.com/books?id=XmjeMBwWjIkC&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Guest, Charlotte (Trans.) (1906). The Mabinogion. London, New York: Everyman’s
- Retrievable from http://www.archive.org/details/mabinogion00schrgoog, http://www.archive.org/details/mabinogion00schrrich
- Modern reprint retrievable from http://books.google.com/books?id=TUT2NH_SSAMC&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Guest, Charlotte (Trans.). The Mabinogion, volume 1 (read by Martin Geeson). LibriVox
- Retrievable from http://www.archive.org/details/mabinogion_1008_librivox