A Scottish female novelist in English translation

We have just purchased a the rare German-language translation of Elizabeth Helme’s novel St. Clair of the Isles; or, The outlaws of Barra (AB.1.215.69-70). The only other surviving copy of the German edition is recorded in the USA! This adventure story was first published in English in 1803, and the German version appeared in 1811.

Little is known of the Elizabeth Helme’s life. She was born in the North East of England, but we don’t actually know when. Later she moved to the London area where she married and raised a family and also worked as a schoolmistress at a school at Brentford. To supplement her income, she started writing novels, and she also translated works from French and German. With her background as a schoolteacher, she even published didactic works for the young.

St. Clair of the Isles is set in medieval Scotland. It concerns the young outlaw St. Clair Monteith, a Robin Hood-like figure who lives on a fortress on the isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. The novel was turned into a play in 1838 by the equally obscure dramatist Elizabeth Polack.

Elizabeth Helme’s first novel, Louise, or The cottage on the moor, was published in 1787. Another eleven were to follow, but her last novel, Modern times, was published after her death. She probably died in 1814.