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: to pin each translation to the place where it was published. 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 led to more questions. 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 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. We can’t say 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.

This first map – our ‘Basic’ map – is a simple rendition of the global phenomenon of the translation of Jane Eyre. NB, as we explain on the Home page, this first draft of the map contains errors and omissions which will be corrected in the final version:

Each point represents a translation: you can zoom in and click for more information about each one, and use your cursor to move the map around (there is no full-screen mode, so if you wish to make the map-window bigger please use the ‘zoom’ function on your browser). Straight away, you can see where there have been lots of translations, and where there have been none. But it is hard to get a more nuanced understanding – where there have been several, and where a few. For that, you need our World map; and the Time map will show you how the phenomenon of Jane Eyre translation developed over the years.  

Text by Matthew Reynolds; map constructed by Giovanni Pietro Vitali