Passions Rage Furiously

This passage comes near the end of the strange scene in which Rochester is disguised as a gypsy and pretends to tell Jane’s fortune. He has probed her feelings for him, and betrayed something of his feelings for her; now he ventriloquizes the traits that he sees in her face:

The forehead declares, ‘Reason sits firm and holds the reins, and she will not let the feelings burst away and hurry her to wild chasms.  The passions may rage furiously, like true heathens, as they are; and the desires may imagine all sorts of vain things: but judgment shall still have the last word in every argument, and the casting vote in every decision.’

Rochester must feel these words as a challenge to his own behaviour and intentions, for a few moments after uttering them he cannot keep up the gipsy disguise, and throws it off.

Here we have ‘passions’ in the plural rather than the singular ‘passion’ that we have been exploring so far. These ‘passions’ seem to have a narrower range than the singular word, and the way they appear in Rochester’s discourse defines them quite precisely: they are a subset of ‘feelings’, and are distinguished from ‘desires’. We can infer that feelings such as rage and resentment would be ‘passions’, while love and attraction would be ‘desires’.

‘Heathens’ – to whom Rochester likens the passions – have appeared once before in the novel, near the start of the chapters at Lowood school, in a scene that echoes here. The angry young Jane protested to the saintly Helen Burns: ‘I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly’; and Helen replied: ‘Heathens and savage tribes hold that doctrine, but Christians and civilised nations disown it.’ No doubt Helen would approve of the discipline of the psyche that Rochester attributes to Jane’s forehead, but the whole course of the novel (together with the range of uses of ‘passion’) suggests a more complex definition of virtue, one more open to resistance and rage.

In the translations, ‘passions’ is occasionally translated with a different word than the earlier appearances of ‘passion’, for instance Al-Baalbaki’s 1985 Arabic translation: ‘الأهواء {al ahwaa}, whims’. But much more often the same word is used – for instance, Italian ‘passioni’, Russian ‘страсти’ or Slovenian ‘strasti’. In Emilia Dobrzańska’s 1880 Polish translation, a gendered dynamic emerges, as Kasia Szymanska explains: ‘rozum’ (reason) – here singular, is masculine, while ‘namiętność’ (passion) is feminine, and the word for ‘heathen’, ‘poganka’ is also given in the feminine form. Rochester ‘is personifying passion by comparing it to a female heathen (individual)’, in contrast to ‘the masculine reason’. Reason and passion continue, of course, to be gendered in the later Polish translations, though the contrast becomes less stark when passions and heathens are pluralised.

Here, as in our previous example from Chapter 15, the prismatic potential of the scene can sometimes emerge more from the words connected to ‘passion’ than from ‘passion’ itself. In Portuguese, as Ana Teresa Marques dos Santos points out, there is fascinating variation in the translation of the word ‘heathens’: by ‘Mècia’ (Por1943) as ‘bacantes’ (Bacchantes), suggesting wild revelry; by Cabral do Nascimento (Por1975) as ‘bárbaros’ (barbarians), suggesting rejection by society; by Goettems (Por2010) as ‘selvagens’ (wild things / animals); and by Rocha (Por2011) as ‘idolaters’, connecting Jane’s love for Rochester to idolatry.

The scene’s emotional extremity also leaves its mark on the translations in another way: by being cut, from several of them – as you will see in the animation. The anonymous Russian translation of 1901, the 1921 Polish translation by Zofia Sawicka and the 1957 Danish translation by Aslaug Mikkelsen were all abridged (and the first two were aimed squarely at younger readers), so they omit other parts of the novel as well. But it is striking that this passage is one that they all exclude. The translators register the vehemence of the writing by hiding it from their readers.

And finally: a solemn passion.

List of translations quoted.

Text and animation by Matthew Reynolds, incorporating research by Eugenia Kelbert, Ana Teresa Marques dos Santos, Kasia Szymanska, Matthew Reynolds, Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, Jernej Habjan, Kayvan Tahmasebian, Ida Klitgård,