Judgment and Passion

Chapter 15, which begins with Rochester’s confession about Céline, and continues with a description of Jane’s growing attachment to him, culminates with his bed being set on fire, Jane dousing the flames, and his suggestively tender goodnight to her. After which, she cannot sleep:

Till morning dawned  I was tossed on a buoyant but unquiet sea, where billows of trouble rolled under surges of joy. I thought sometimes I saw beyond its wild waters a shore, sweet as the hills of Beulah; and now and then a freshening gale, wakened by hope, bore my spirit triumphantly towards the bourne: but I could not reach it, even in fancy, — a counteracting breeze blew off land, and continually drove me back. Sense would resist delirium: judgment would warn passion. Too feverish to rest, I rose as soon as day dawned.

This was the end of Volume 1 in the first edition.

How does ‘passion’ here relate to Rochester’s ‘passion’ for Céline? One clue is that Jane’s watery waking dream echoes comments made earlier by Rochester, when he said that one day she too would feel love as he did for Céline:

… you will come some day to a craggy pass of the channel, where the whole of life’s stream will be broken up into whirl and tumult, foam and noise: either you will be dashed to atoms on crag-points, or lifted up and borne on by some master wave into a calmer current—as I am now.

(That enigmatic last clause – ‘as I am now’ – is not remarked on by the narrative.) So, at the end of the chapter, Jane is experiencing a mixture of Rochester’s ‘tumult’ and ‘calmer current’, something that might perhaps be defined as a combination of passion and love. On this reading, ‘billows of trouble’ would be on the side of ‘passion’, while the ‘freshening gale, wakened by hope’ that bears Jane towards a shore ‘sweet as the hills of Beulah’ would be on the more virtuous side of ‘love’ (Beulah is associated with matrimony in the Biblical book of Isaiah and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.) 

However, when we try to connect Jane’s allegory of her feelings to the explanation she gives of them, the picture becomes more complicated. On the most plausible interpretation of the grammar, it is the virtuous-seeming gale that strikes her as ‘delirium’, and as ‘passion’, while ‘sense’ and ‘judgement’ are figured as the ‘counteracting breeze’ that keeps her from the happy shore. Here we can see the entangled nature of Jane’s situation, even before it is revealed that Rochester is married, and the corresponding emotional and ideological complexity of the novel, in which the longing for a happy marriage can figure as a dangerous temptation.

These contradictions play out variously in the translations. Some (eg Danish and Korean) use the same word for passion here as for Rochester’s ‘grande passion’; others use a different one (eg Al-Baalbaki’s Arabic, A1985, and Ben Dov’s Hebrew, H1946). In Preminger’s 2007 Hebrew translation, as Adriana X. Jacobs comments, ‘what is interesting is actually the translation for “warn”—<מרסן>, “merasen,” to bridle, to restrain. This suggests that Preminger reads this primarily as a physical, sexual passion. Also, this language connects to the image of “reason [holding] the reins” in the next example (Chapter 19)’. In other translations too, what judgment does to passion varies as the relationship between the two terms is re-imagined by different minds in different languages: as you watch the carousel of translations you will see verbs that can be back-translated as ‘cool’, ‘stand up to’, ‘push back’ and ‘resist’.   

For the anonymous 1904 Italian translator, on the other hand, the significance of the contrasting winds switches round: here, it is delirium that conquers judgment, and passion that conquers wisdom, both of them pushing Jane back from the sweet, safe shore. It’s possible that this translator felt the pressure of a famous Petrarch sonnet about a storm of desire, ‘Passa la nave mia colma d’oblio’, in which both ‘arte’ (skill) and ragione (‘reason’) die beneath the waves. As Charlotte Brontë may well have known the almost equally famous English version of the Petrarch by Thomas Wyatt, perhaps what we are seeing here are a writer and a translator responding differently to a shared Anglo-Italian cultural inheritance.

Next: passions rage furiously.

List of translations quoted.

Text and animation by Matthew Reynolds, incorporating research by Eugenia Kelbert, Adriana X. Jacobs, Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, Jernej Habjan, Ida Klitgård, Ulrich Timme Kragh, Matthew Reynolds, Kayvan Tahmasebian, Sowon Park.