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.

In this animation, 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 (1998), selected and back-translated by Eugenia Kelbert. (Full publication details of these translations are here.)

When you press play the text will scroll from left to right 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 Passages.)

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

The red-room is a generative scene: 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 animation 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 animation, 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 will appear in the book of Prismatic Jane Eyre, due in 2021; but in the meantime you can locate these translations temporally and geographically in our maps, and read biographies of the translators (where we have them) here.

Texts referred to

Text and animation by Matthew Reynolds, incorporating research by Eugenia Kelbert-Rudan, Ida Klitgård and Céline Sabiron.