Helen Zimmern

(1846—1934) translator and author

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Helen Zimmern was born in Hamburg on 25 March 1846 and died in Italy on 11 January 1934. She came to Britain while she was still very young and moved to Italy after several years, remaining there until her death. Besides being a versatile writer, Zimmern was above all a talented translator and biographer, and translated into English works by Lessing and Nietzsche. During her long stay in Italy, she collaborated with important journals, taking an interest in the social and political situation of the young Kingdom of Italy, which did much to raise awareness in Britain and the United States. From a philosophical point of view, Zimmern's most important work was the volume Arthur Schopenhauer, his Life and his Philosophy. Published in 1876, not long after Schopenhauer's death, it was the first monograph in English dedicated to the personality and the thought of the German philosopher. It is a document which testifies to the sympathy which the late nineteenth-century female public felt for Schopenhauer's philosophy. Zimmern concentrates on the biographical facts, attempting in this way to understand the genesis of some of the aspects of Schopenhauer's philosophy. Relying in particular on A. Gwinner's earlier contribution (1862), the basis for all biographies of Schopenhauer, Zimmern succeeds in painting a positive and effective portrait of the great philosopher, who emerges as a figure at times friendly and smiling, certainly sincere, but in no way rough and brutal as his first detractors had tried to represent him. In her presentation of Schopenhauer's thought, Zimmern does not follow a systematic order and makes ethics precede the philosophy of art, an approach which earned her some criticism, but which had the effect of inducing interpreters and readers to view the fundamental meaning of Schopenhauer's philosophy as essentially aesthetic. This was in perfect harmony with certain aspects of fin de siècle culture and did much to bring Schopenhauer's philosophy closer to the non-specialist or literary public.


From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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