A note on compiling the Jane Eyre translation list

Dr Eleni Philippou (Prismatic Translation’s Postdoctoral Researcher) discusses her experience of putting together a list of Jane Eyre’s many translations from across the world.

I first studied Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre in a sun-filled classroom at WITS University in South Africa with a rather grumpy English Professor. If I remember correctly it was part of a drearily-entitled course called ‘The Novel’ in which Jane Eyre stood side by side with D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers and Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. Of course, the material was far from dull: Jane Eyre was surprisingly contemporary and full of fire. A few years later, at the same university, I had the opportunity to rethink Jane Eyre in terms of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), a postcolonial and radical rewriting of Bronte’s novel. And now, many years later, I am once again studying Jane Eyre – not as an English or canonical novel, or even in terms of its relationship to postcolonial politics, but as a global novel. ‘A global novel?’, you ask skeptically. Yes – exactly that! As you can see from this website, Jane Eyre has been translated hundreds of times over. And I know that better than anyone because I was responsible for putting together the list of all the 594 translations on which the maps on this website are based.

This translation list aims to chronicle all the languages into which Jane Eyre has been translated and by whom. It also includes when and where these translations were published, and how the title has been translated. It records the number of times specific translations have been reprinted. This may all sound relatively straightforward, but actually putting together such a list is more complicated than one might think. The project’s researchers contributed many entries, but it was my responsibility, building on work done by my predecessor Rachel Dryden, to consolidate the list and fill in languages not covered by the other researchers – including languages I don’t speak! A graduate student, Chelsea Haith, also contributed to the process, working through the untranslated titles and organizing the list by geographical coordinates. In this blog post, I’ll outline some of the process of collating such a list.

Worldcat and Index Translationum were the most obvious way of sourcing and verifying translations from different languages. For languages across the Balkans, COBISS proved useful, and in many instances national catalogues were quite reliable. However, even when using such catalogues, it was still difficult to secure information such as date or place of publication. Particularly for pre-twentieth century translations, information about the translator would often be missing.

Using English catalogues for languages with a non-Latin script proved to be a problem: even when we knew a specific translation existed, it sometimes didn’t show up on the catalogue owing to issues attached to transliteration or spelling. For some non-Latin scripts there was a discrepancy between the way that words from the same language were generated on two different catalogues. Consider, for example, Džen Ejr vs Dz︠h︡eĭn Eĭr for the Ukrainian translation of Jane Eyre. For Modern Greek, Jane Eyre on Worldcat alone is variously transliterated as Tzeēn Eyr; Tzeïn Eïr; Jein Eur; Tzaiēn Eyr, or Tzein Eir. Admittedly, this may be partly linked to the fact that in Greek itself Jane Eyre is translated either as Τζέην Ἔϋρ or Τζέιν Έιρ (sometimes with or without the diacritics or accents).

Reprintings were quite challenging to document. There are instances where the same translation has been reprinted by multiple different publishers over a series of years. This is fairly common across languages, although especially true of smaller languages. Although it is easy to track the initial reprinting of the same translation with a different publishing house, it is more difficult to track reprintings within individual publishing houses. This is contingent on the language and country, and I found this problem to be especially pronounced when dealing with the Greek material. It was often easier to appeal directly to Greek publishing houses about reprintings of particular translations than use online catalogues. For the most part, Greek publishing houses (or at least the ones that haven’t closed down during the financial crisis) were more than willing to offer details about reprintings.

It is perhaps interesting to note that compiling such a list was further frustrated by the fact that the book is not always called Jane Eyre in different languages! Czech translates the title as The Lowood Orphan and Finnish The Novel of a Governess. This phenomenon is explored in detail on the Prismatic Title page.

The full translation list will feature in the Prismatic Jane Eyre volume that will be published with Open Books in 2020.

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