Prismatic Title

In English, the novel is titled Jane Eyre: An Autobiography.

In translation, it has been called:

[Jane Eyre, or the Memoirs of a Governess]: Jane Eyre ou Mémoires d’une gouvernante, tr. ‘Old Nick’ (Paul Émile Daurand Forgues), 1849; Jane Eyre, eller en Gouvernantes Memoirer, translator unknown, 1850; Dzhenni Ėĭr, ili zapiski guvernantki tr. S. I. Koshlakova, 1857 … and many more, in many more languages.

[Jane Eyre, or the Orphan of Lowood]: Jane Eyre oder die Waise von Lowood, tr. A. Heinrich, 1853-8; Jane Eyre, of, De wees van Lowood : een verhaal, translator unknown, 1885; Dzhenni Ėĭr, Lovudskaia sirota, 1893 … and many more …

[An Ideal Lady]: Riso Kaijin, tr. Futo Mizutani, 1896.

[Seeing Light Again]:  重光记 Chong guang ji, tr. Xiaomei Xu (许小美), 1925.

[The Passion of Jane Eyre]: A Paixão de Jane Eyre, tr. ‘Mécia’ (João Gaspar Simões), 1941.

[Jane Eyre: A Sublime Woman]: Jane Eyre (A Mulher Sublime), tr. Virgínia Silva Lefevre, 1945.

[Orphan: Jane Eyre] Yatim یتیم ; subtitled ژن ئر, tr. Masʻud Barzin, 1950.

[Jane Eyre / Simple Love] 简爱 Jianai, tr. Fang Li (李方), 1954 … and almost every later Chinese translation.

[The Closed Door: Jane Eyre]: La porta chiusa (Iane Eyre), translator unknown, 1958.

[True Love]: Kiè̂u giang, translator unknown, 1963.

[When Everything Fails: A Novel of Jane Eyre]: Kapag bigo na ang lahat: hango sa Jane Eyre, translator unknown, 1985.

[Jane Eyre: Love Story]: ความรักของเจน แอร์ Khwāmrak khǭng Jane Eyre, tr. Sotsai Khatiwǭraphong, 2007.

[Jane Eyre: Happiness Coming After Many Years]: Jane Eyre: Yıllar Sonra Gelen Mutluluk,  tr. Ceren Taştan, 2010.

[The Human Life of the Girl Jane Eyre]: Bumo Dreng Ar gyi mitse (Bu mo sgreng ar gyi mi tshe), tr. Sonam Lhundrub, 2011.

A visualisation of all the titles could show the lines that connect them, like a genealogical tree; and an ideal, full reading would detail the varied contextual factors that bear in on them. But even this bare array enables us to start thinking about what the prismatically varied titles show us.   

The translated titles are all different from the source; but obviously they are not mistakes. Their divergences show that language is always embedded in contexts and communities: to translate is to remake, not only in a new language with its different nuances and ways of putting words together, but in a new culture where readers are likely to be attracted by different themes: orphanhood, governesses, passion, simple love.

The multiple titles also open up a basic ambiguity about what kind of text Jane Eyre is, and what sort of story it tells. This ambiguity was already hinted at in the English title. When it was first published in English, in 1847, the book was called Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. Edited by Currer Bell (Charlotte Brontë’s name did not appear). The second edition, a year later, introduced a small but startling change: Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. By Currer Bell.

This makes the title utterly self-contradictory. If it is ‘by Currer Bell’ then it cannot be Jane Eyre’s autobiography; if it is Jane Eyre’s autobiography then it cannot be by Currer Bell. The paradox points to related questions of identity which run throughout the novel:  whom should we think of as writing it? How far is it autobiographical? Is it realism or romance? How much is it about orphanhood and being a governess, and how much a timeless story of love? Does it open doors, or shut them? Is it a book in which things come together, or things fall apart?

These uncertainties are brought into the open and crystallized by translated titles, in their prismatic array. Something similar happens to every word in the book, as we will see.

Text by Matthew Reynolds; research by Rachel Dryden, Chelsea Haith, Céline Sabiron, Vincent Thierry, Léa Koves, Ida Klitgård, Eugenia Kelbert, Mary Frank, Jernej Habjan, Ana Teresa Marques dos Santos, Claudia Pazos Alonso, Kayvan Tahmasebian, Yunte Huang, Alessandro Grilli, Yorimitsu Hashimoto, Emrah Serdan, Ulrich Timme Kragh, Livia Demetriou-Erdal.