Noémi Lesbazeilles, née Souvestre (1834-1887)

Language: French

Jane Eyre translation: 1854

On top of being a good musician, like most women of her background at the time she learnt how to speak both English and German. In 1852 she married Eugene Lesbazeilles, her father’s secretary. E. Lesbazeilles was of reformed religion, and so were many of their friends. According to a friend of the family, Pierre-Paul Guieysse (a French Socialist politician of a Protestant family), Noémi converted to Protestantism at the end of her life, but he said the same thing for M. Souvestre, while this information has never been confirmed by his other friends.

Very little is known about Noémi: she is only remembered for her translation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre published in 1854. It has been praised for its excellent quality and thereby republished many times since its first publication. Contrary to her protestations of complete fidelity in the preface to the translation, critic Rachel Williams argued that ‘In the translation itself, however, and in contradiction to her stated goal, she actively attempted to construct Jane Eyre as a text that is proper both for a female writer to have produced and for female readers to consume by consistently negating the so-called ‘masculine’ elements she found in the novel. The character of Jane Eyre is significantly altered in the translation in ways that bring her more in line with conventional feminine values’ (Rachel Williams, ‘The reconstruction of feminine values in Mme Lesbazeille-Souvestre’s 1854 translation of Jane Eyre’. Translation and Interpreting Studies 7.1 (2012) 19-33).

Text by Céline Sabiron, Léa Koves & Vincent Thiery