‘Wander’ in Hebrew and Estonian

As we have seen, ‘wander’ takes on a complex range of connotations in Bronte’s English. In Hebrew, as Adriana Jacobs notes, there are many overlapping terms by which ‘wander’ might be translated and, since wandering features crucially in the Hebrew Bible, the choice made can carry a particular charge.  In Chapter 3, after the incident in the red room, Jane seeks consolation in Gulliver’s Travels, a book she usually loves. Only now it has lost its former charm:

… all was eerie and dreary; … Gulliver a most desolate wanderer in most dread and dangerous regions.

Jacobs points out that Sharon Preminger, in 2007, translates ‘wanderer’ as < נווד> (navad), a Modern Hebrew word ‘closely associated with wandering as migration, as exile. In Genesis 4, Cain flees to the city of “Nod,” which is etymologically related to “navad.” ’ And the suggestion of exile continues:  just a few lines later, when Bessie starts singing a song, ‘in the days when we went gypsying’,  Preminger draws on the same verbal field:  <בימי נדודינו> ({be-yamei nedudeinu} in the days of our wanderings).[1]

Six decades earlier, another Hebrew translator, Hana Ben Dov, gave similarly focused imaginative attention to wandering, translating the description of Gulliver as <נודד בודד בארץ אויבת> ({noded boded be-erets oyevet} a solitary wanderer in an enemy land).[2] Jacobs comments that the phrase ‘“erets oyevet” is striking, and one wonders whether Ben Dov’s language is shaped by her historical context, namely, the Second World War and the conditions of Jewish life in the final years of the British Mandate.’ In these translations, we can see the influence of a Biblical understanding of wandering, which Brontë would have partly shared, passing through the text of Jane Eyre and emerging with distinctive force in new historical moments and imaginative communities. 

In Elvi Kippasto’s 1959 Estonian translation, studied by Madli Kütt, we can discover the range of significance that Brontë spans with  the word ‘wander’. In this animated selection of instances, Kippasto reaches for a different Estonian word each time (click at the bottom left of the frame to start the video playing):

As Kütt points out, more is going on in each of these examples than the isolated choice of a word. The instance from chapter 9, where the mists simply ‘liikusid’ (‘were moving’) rather than ‘wandered’, is part of a general lightening of the metaphorical weight of that passage: in Kippasto’s Estonian, the mists are just mists, no longer ‘chill as death’. In chapter 17, the suggestions that Jane might leave Thornfield seem to be just starting, rather than continuing (‘kept wandering’). In Chapter 6, where Helen’s thoughts never seem to wander, Kippasto keeps the verb for ‘wander’ that she used at the start of the novel, ’uitama’, for Jane’s own thoughts which, a bit further on in the English sentence, ‘continually rove away’.  So ‘wander’ wanders in this translation: we can observe, not only the variety of meanings that become explicit in Kippasto’s Estonian, but also, by contrast, the insistence with which Brontë re-uses the English word in different, variously literal and metaphorical contexts, charging it with meaning.

Next: explore a different reconfiguration of Jane Eyre‘s wanderings, in Persian

Text and animation by Matthew Reynolds


[1] Preminger (2007), p. 29.

[2] Ben Dov (1946), p. 18.