To begin to understand the global diffusion of Jane Eyre through translation, we need to map it. You can gather all the relevant information in a list, but it is hard to grasp unless you can see where the book has been translated, and where not; where it was translated first, and where later; where it has been translated over and over again, and where only once or twice.

Yet as soon as you set out to make a map, you encounter a problem. What point, or area, on the globe shall we attach a translation to? Where shall we say that it belongs?

You might think, well, it’s obvious: ‘the French translations belong to France.’ But of course French is widely spoken in other countries too: Benin, Canada, Senegal, Niger, Luxembourg, Ivory Coast, and many more. It’s the same with many other languages: Hausa, Malay, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Swahili – and so on, and on. The reverse is also true: within a country – probably within every country – many languages are spoken. One of the aims of the Prismatic project is to get away from the habit of thinking of translation as happening only between standardised languages belonging to nation-states. So we need to reflect the real complexity and variety of language-use in our maps.

Yet it is impossible to picture the real messiness of the spread of languages. What about the varieties of a language such as Arabic: is it really one language, or several? So we decided to take a different tack, and adopt the traditional practice of attaching a book to its place of publication, usually a city or town. After all, a book published in Havana – as translations of Jane Eyre were in 1850 and again in 1999 – is more likely to be read in that city, and elsewhere in Cuba,  than in more distant regions of the Spanish-speaking world.

Yet this decision threw up another question. Computer mapping software likes to locate objects with a very high degree of precision: not just in a city, but at a street address. For some of our maps – the Covers Maps – we have attempted to supply the addresses of each publisher: exploring these maps you can see, not only the relation between cover design, historical moment and geographical location, but which are the publishing districts of Tehran, Cairo or Bucharest.

But for our main maps we have chosen the city or town (or occasional village) as the unit of location. To a translation, it does not usually matter which street a publisher is based on; but it is significant whether a translation is published in Barcelona or Madrid, Delhi or Ahmedabad. So, in the ‘General Map’ below, each act of translation is represented by a circle attached to a randomised location in the city where it was published. We can’t represent the distribution of a language, and we can’t know for sure how far a given translation might circulate (in the end, any translation might be read anywhere). But we can show you where it came out into the world.

In the map below – our General Map – each act of translation is represented by a little circle, which is coloured differently according to the year in which it took place. By an ‘act of translation’, we mean either the publication of a new translation, or the re-publication of an existing translation in a new location (the reasons behind this definition are explained here). So far as we have been able to discover, there have been (by 2021) 618 translations of Jane Eyre, and 681 act of translation, in 68 languages: this is the data that is represented in the maps. The real numbers are no doubt a bit higher than that, because the available databases and library catalogues have gaps. And of course the real numbers will grow: new translations will keep on being published as time passes.

As you look at this General Map, you get a good sense of the distribution of Jane Eyre translations across the world, and an impression of the historical depth through which it has taken place. You can move the map around with your cursor, and zoom in to look more closely at a given region or city (there is no full-screen mode, so if you wish to make the map-window bigger please use the ‘zoom’ function on your browser). Click on each little circle to reveal details of the act of translation that it represents.

The General Map is a great way of forming a general impression of the spread of Jane Eyre translations through space and time. But there are some shortcomings in the way it represents detail: for instance, later translations conceal earlier ones, so you can’t be sure how much translation has happened in a particular town without zooming right in. So, in our other maps, we have separated out space and time, prioritising first one, then the other, to enable a more precise exploration of each. To investigate the geography of Jane Eyre translation in more detail go to our World Map; and go to our Time Map to discover how the phenomenon of Jane Eyre translation developed over the years.  

Text by Matthew Reynolds; map constructed by Giovanni Pietro Vitali