Hear Plainly

Our next instance comes from later in chapter 12. Jane has taken the opportunity to get out of the house and carry a letter to the nearby village of Hay. Halfway there she pauses on a stile and looks at the landscape around:

‘On the hill-top above me sat the rising moon; pale yet as a cloud, but brightening momently: she looked over Hay, which, half lost in trees, sent up a blue smoke from its few chimneys; it was yet a mile distant, but in the absolute hush I could hear plainly its thin murmurs of life.’

This passage joins the interplay of sight and sound which we have observed earlier in the chapter, though with an opposite emphasis. There, ‘eccentric murmurs’ could not be explained by the ‘plain truth’ which presented itself to Jane’s eyes; but here ‘thin murmurs’ can be heard ‘plainly’, though their origin is distant and not wholly visible. And if, earlier, the ‘plain truth’ was in a flirtatious relationship with the desires of the ‘romantic reader’, appearing to deny excitements which nonetheless remained a possibility, here again a plain appearance seems connected to the energies of romance. For just as Jane’s ear is completing its audit of little, everyday sounds, something quite different breaks in: a ‘rude noise’ which – like the ‘third story’ and the thrilling laugh at Thornfield – sparks her imagination, this time summoning fairy tales and the folkloric figure of the Gytrash, and heralding (of course) the encounter with Mr Rochester.

The translations gathered here show how distinctive a feature of Brontë’s English it was that the same term could be used both in this quotation and in the earlier one, for the translators all have to reach for different words, generally shifting the quality of Jane’s hearing towards distinctness or clarity, though sometimes leaving it with no adverb at all. Several of them also reveal, by turning away from it, the insistence Brontë gives to Jane’s first-person: Jane always likes to be the subject of verbs, as she is here. Madli Kütt points out that Elvi Kippasto’s 1959 Estonian translation opts for an impersonal construction (part of a trend which she explores at length in an essay in the book of the project); and the same move is made by several other translators.

List of translations quoted.

Text and animation by Matthew Reynolds, incorporating research by Caterina Cappelli, Mary Frank, Jernej Habjan, Abhishek Jain, Eugenia Kelbert, Ida Klitgård, Madli Kütt, Céline Sabiron.