Prismatic Passages

In these pages we offer you animations of three key sections of the novel, in English with a selection of translations and back-translations. There is the ‘red-room’ episode from chapter 2, with translations into French, Danish and Russian; and (coming soon) the scene from chapter 25 where Bertha Rochester appears in Jane’s bedroom and tears her wedding veil, with Arabic, Polish and Greek; and the scene from chapter 35 where Jane hears Rochester’s voice calling over the hills, with Persian, Estonian and German.

Our aim in creating these visualisations is twofold: to make them interesting, and to make them readable. We could have decided to put all of each translation alongside the English of these scenes, but that would have created a text that was impossible for you to read, and pointless. There would simply be too much information to be take in; and even if it could be taken in we wouldn’t be distinguishing between the interesting and less interesting moments: we wouldn’t be guiding you to see what seems to us important about the phenomenon we are exploring.

So, for each scene, you will see the English text running along the middle of the page, with clusters of translations and back-translations appearing at interesting moments. The whole creation will scroll from left to right so as to offer (we hope) a dynamic reading experience. The aim is that when the translations appear they will be succinct enough to be graspable, and select enough to be interesting. We hope to offer you a taste of the sort of thing that changes as the text morphs between languages, a sample of the novel’s translingual life.

How, though, have we selected the moments to offer in translation and back-translation? What counts for us as ‘interesting’?

Here, the first thing to see is that the participants in the project have been free to choose both which translations to look at and which words and phrases to contribute to the visualisations. These choices have been shared with the research group, and each one of us has learned from all the others, finding new things to be interested in that wouldn’t have struck us before. Over time, and through our collaboration, we have developed a loose-knit community of interpretation. So one thing we mean by ‘interesting’ is ‘what has caught our individual and shared attention in our readings and discussions’.

Both the freedom and the collaboration are important because it is – of course – by capturing the interest of individual readers, and multiplying them into communities, over and over again, that Jane Eyre has come to be the global phenomenon that it is. Since reading and translating are human things, there can be no objective criterion for what it will be interesting for us to study; and since reading and translating are always new (new people doing them, in new places and times), we can’t know what is going to be interesting in advance.  We have to look and see, discuss, and look again.  

From this process, certain trends emerge. The translation-moments we have selected tend to be ones  where distinctive shifts take place in the translations – shifts which reveal some significant ambiguity in Brontë’s writing, some substantial difference between the expressive resources of source and target languages, some important disparity between the ideological or stylistic commitments of author and translator; or all those things together. They are often, also, moments of psychological inwardness, where we can see the translators imagining themselves into Jane’s feelings and re-expressing them in their own words. For more, see the discussions on each prismatic passage page.

Text by Matthew Reynolds