The Prismatic Jane Eyre Project
Like many other books, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre does not exist only in English. It has been translated hundreds of times, by hundreds of translators, into more than sixty languages. Each time, things change: there is loss, no doubt, but also gain and transformation. New languages create new forms of expression; translators see the novel in different lights; latent imaginative and political energies can emerge in each fresh context; the book can strike its varied millions of readers in a myriad of ways.
How can we understand this dizzying textual and linguistic proliferation? What can we learn from studying it? How can we even grasp it, so that it can begin to be understood?
This is what the Prismatic Jane Eyre research project (2016-23) set out to discover.
The project was led by Matthew Reynolds, but it also involved many other people: you can meet them on our People page.
It was funded 2016-20 by the AHRC as part of the Prismatic Translation strand within the Open World Research Initiative programme in Creative Multilingualism, based at the University of Oxford; and it is hosted by the Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation Research Centre (OCCT), which is in turn supported by St Anne’s College and the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH). During 2021-23 it received follow-on funding from the AHRC to support the Schools programme.
The project was grounded in a series of theoretical positions which had been developed through the larger Prismatic Translation Project. Translation is creative, not mechanical; it is a matter of growth as much as, or more than, of loss. Translators are writers. Languages are not separate boxes but are rather intermingled areas on the ever-shifting continuum of language variation. These ideas have been expounded in a book, Prismatic Translation (2019): you can read the Introduction; watch a discussion of the book; or even buy it; and you can see how the theory underpins the Jane Eyre project in our Ideas pages.
The first thing we did – Phase One – was try to track down every translation of Jane Eyre, in any language, and make a list. We used this information to create a series of interactive maps which allow you to witness the novel’s global proliferation, and give you ways of understanding it. You can explore them on our Maps pages. We found 618 translations and 681 ‘acts of translation’ (see the Maps pages for the definition of this phrase), into 68 languages. But no doubt we missed some: if you spot any omissions please let us know via the ‘Contribute’ button in the sidebar.
In Phase Two, we explored how key words morph as they move across languages. You can find out more about this approach in our Close Reading pages, and discover what becomes of the words, ‘walk’ and ‘wander’, ‘passion’ and ‘plain’ as they are remade and reconfigured in various tongues. You can also explore the red-room and shape in Jane’s bedroom scenes in a plurality of translations.
Phase Three is the publication of the open-access book of the project, which includes interactive digtial material, and which provides a full analysis and theorization of the material presented here, together with essays by all the researchers. The book is now freely available on open access from Open Book Publishers: please take a look.
Phase Four would involve the continuing exploration of how digital analysis can help us understand larger-scale transformations of the text across languages. You can see the first analyses in our Distant Reading pages and read a detailed account of the approach in this article. This phase is currently paused, but it may come back to life at some future date (if you are interested in contributing to this line of enquiry, do get in touch).
All the software written by our Digital Humanities researcher Giovanni Pietro Vitali is open source and is freely available through our Downloads page, on GitHub and on Oxford University’s Sustainable Digital Scholarship Platform.
We hope you enjoy exploring this site!
Text by Matthew Reynolds
The header image shows the covers of the following editions: Tzeēn Eur, tr. Dora Kominē-Dialetē (Athens: ASTĒR-Papadēmētriou, 1981); Jane Eyre, tr. E. Reguera (Barcelona: Rodegar, 1970); A Paixão de Jane Eyre, tr. Mécia (pseud.) / Simões, João Gaspar (Lisbon: Editorial Inquérito, Lda., 1941); Yatim (The Orphan), tr. Masʻud Barzin (Tehran, Maʻrefat , 1950); Jane Eyre : alma rebelde, tr. M. E. Antonini (Buenos Aires: Acme Agency [Amadeo Bois], 1948); જેન એયર, tr. Hansa C. Patel (Ahmedabad: Navbharat Prakashan Mandir, 1993); Jane Eyre, tr. Tomoji Abe (Kodansha, 1955); Jane Eyre, tr. Göksu Birol (Istanbul: Yason Yayınları, 2015); Sirota iz Lowooda, tr. Božena Legiša-Velikonja (Murska Sobota; Pomurska založba, 1970); Juana Eyre, tr. unknown (Madrid: Revista Literaria Novelas y Cuentos, 1945); جین ایر, tr. Hanieh Chupani (Tehran, Fararuy, 2013); Ja Dziwne losy Jane Eyre, tr. Teresa Świderska (Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy 1971) . You can find out more about these and other covers by exploring the Covers Map in our Maps pages. We believe that our representation of these book covers falls under the provision for fair use for the purposes of scholarship and education: if you are a copyright holder and would like to discuss this please contact us.