The Red-Room

This is the iconic episode in chapter 2, where the young Jane, having stood up to John Reed’s bullying, is locked in the ‘red-room’ as a  punishment. We pick up the scene after the look of the room has been sketched in: the bed with its massive pillars and red damask curtains, the red carpet, the chairs, the glaring white piled-up pillows and mattresses, the windows, and the ‘visionary hollow’ of the mirror; after we have learned that Jane’s kind uncle Mr Reed had died there; and after Jane has lamented the injustice of her situation.

Here we offer you two different kinds of animation. In both, you will see Brontë’s English flanked with Danish translations by Aslaug Mikkelsen (1957), Christina Rohde (2015) and Luise Hemmer Pihl (2016), selected and back-translated by Ida Klitgård; French translations by Marion Gilbert & Madeleine Duvivier (1919), R. Redon & J. Dulong (1946), Léon Brodovikoff & Claire Robert (1946), Charlotte Maurat (1964), Sylvère Monod (1966) and Dominique Jean (2008), selected and back-translated by Céline Sabiron (with a few additions by Matthew Reynolds); and Russian translations by Irinarkh Vvedenskii (1849), Anon (1849), Anon (1901), Vera Stanevich (1950) and Irina Gurova (1999), selected and back-translated by Eugenia Kelbert. (Full publication details of these translations are here.)

The first animation is a video that scrolls from left to right. When you press play the text will move at a consistent speed; but of course you can pause it or jump ahead using the controls at the foot of the animation window. At some points you will find stretches of English not ornamented with translations: this is partly because those sections did not produce translations that interested our researchers, but also to give your eyes a break before the next cluster of translations loom (for a general explanation of the ideas behind this mode of presentation, see Visualisation and Prismatic Scenes.)

[arch. – means ‘archaic’; angl. stands for ‘Anglicism’]

What I like in this video is the way the text moves inexorably of its own accord, because this is one aspect of how language exists in the world: it surrounds us, permeates us, and happens through us. This animation also lays out the historical relationship between the translations clearly. However it may seem a bit slow to sit through and hard to navigate, so, next, we offer the same text and translations in a different animation created by Paola Gaudio.

In this second animation, the English text appears in blocks, so you have time to read it – or not – as you wish. Click on the revolving globe in the bottom right-hand corner to start the translations appearing. You will see that colour is used in two ways: the colour of the text is keyed to the language of the translation, as shown on the Texts Quoted page. The colour of the frame around each translation shows you which English words it corresponds to. When all the translations have appeared around a given block of text, click on the revolving globe again to move forward, and click once more to make the next set of translations start to appear. You can also use the numbers in the left-hand margin to navigate; the triangles in the bottom left-hand corner shuffle you forwards or backwards through the screens. The background is dark so that the colours show up effectively: you may find you want to zoom in on your browser to make the text more legible.

There are two main differences between this animation and the video above. First, here you have more of a feeling of control as a reader: it is easier for you to move back and forth through the passage as you wish. Second, here the translations appear around the English text in a randomly ordered cloud. This is to show that, although historical sequence can explain some things in a translation (for instance, a later version can borrow from an earlier one) it is never the whole story. Translation involves individual choices, idiosyncrasy, and chance: that is what the arrangement of this animation is designed to suggest.

Together, the two animations help us visualise, and so to understand, the life of Jane Eyre as it morphs across languages, among people, and through time. It is not one book but a multitude of interconnected textualities.

The scene in the red-room is generative: elements of it recur throughout the novel, from the red and white colour-scheme of the drawing room at Thornfield Hall to Jane’s repeated fretting at her life’s restrictions; from the confinement imposed on Bertha Rochester to the possibility of supernatural intervention which, so feared in the red-room itself, is so welcomed near the end of the novel, when it takes the form of Rochester’s voice echoing magically across the moors (Jane’s heart beats ‘thick’ on both occasions).

And in the many plays, films and free re-writings which Jane Eyre has prompted, the scene has continued its recurrent metamorphoses. In Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer’s stage version (1853) it shrinks to an encounter with a portrait of Mr. Reed; in Robert Stevenson’s film of 1943 it morphs into a cluttered cupboard; while in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938) it blends with the windowless room occupied by Bertha Rochester and expands into the eerie west wing of Manderley, the domain of the dead first Mrs de Winter.  

In the translations represented in our animations there are, of course, no such free re-makings. Instead, we can watch the translators responding to the challenges of Brontë’s language. The first of these is a particular vocabulary of mental struggle which has its roots in nonconformist writers of Christian spirituality such as John Bunyan and William Blake, but which Brontë moulds to her own emotional purpose in phrases like ‘consternation of soul’, ‘heart in insurrection’, ‘mental battle’. In our animations, you can see some translators matching that phraseology while others reach for alternative terms.    

Further on, the renderings of words like ‘vassalage’ and ‘heterogeneous’ show translators responding in different ways to the markedly elaborate, adult vocabulary with which Jane, as narrator, recounts the trauma suffered by her younger self. A few changes here and there – like the introduction of a chiming clock, or the upgrading of the hall to a castle  – add touches that register and perhaps amplify the gothic tension. And at moments of inward feeling or imagination – ‘I was a discord’, ‘a haloed face’ – translators find their own ways of expressing Jane’s pain, and her hope which then fades and darkens into terror.

Some of these changes derive from the translators’ individual styles: Eugenia Kelbert points out that the anonymous 1901 Russian translator has a general ‘tendency to translate one word by two close synonyms’. Other choices bear the imprint of their historical and cultural moment – for instance Vera Stanevich’s phrase ‘phosphoric (‘фосфорическим’) brilliance’ in her translation from 1950, and her substitution of ‘mother (‘матерью’) for ‘parent’. More sustained analysis and contextual detail can be found in the book of Prismatic Jane Eyre (2023); you can also locate these translations temporally and geographically in our maps, and read biographies of the translators (where we have them) here.

Texts Quoted

Text by Matthew Reynolds, incorporating research by Eugenia Kelbert-Rudan, Ida Klitgård and Céline Sabiron. First animation by Matthew Reynolds; second animation by Paola Gaudio.