Monday 23 May 2016

A bit more about Villette translations and revenge

Recently a series of articles centering around the early translations of Villette was published on this blog. But much more can be written about translations of this novel after 1860, in many other languages, and about translations of Charlotte Brontë’s other Brussels novel, The Professor. So far I have found 27 languages into which Villette was translated. There will be some more.

Here for instance is a Chinese Villette. Only recently I found this in the collection of Leiden University Library, with this fascinating catalog card description:
Title: Luoxue xiao jie you xue ji
Author/Creator: Brontë, Charlotte 1816-1855
伍光建; Wu, Guangjian
Description: Note: Translation of: Villette.
Related Titles: Series: 人人文庫 Renren wenku
Edition: 臺1版.; Tai 1 ban..
Publisher: Taibei : Taiwan shang wu yin shu guan; 臺北 : 臺灣商務印書館
Date: [Minguo 60 [1971]
Form: 2 volumes in 1 (2,4,1,300 pages) ; 18 cm.
Language: Chinese
 I rushed to the Library and found this book:

Cover page of the 1971 Taiwanese Villette 

Back page of the 1971 Taiwanese Villette

(Jane Eyre in this series was published six years later, in 1977 (Minguo 66), as:
ï  孤女飄零記
ï  Title: Gu nü piao ling ji.)

A measure of greatness is the number of languages a novel  has been translated into. But it seems no research has been done for Brontë translations. Wikipedia has a list of the most translated works. It goes down to books with a minimum of 28 languages, but it does not have a single Brontë work. Yet, Jane Eyre has at least 32 languages, and probably quite a few more. Wuthering Heights surely also has more than 30, and Villette will surely have at least 28.  This aspect of their novels makes it also interesting for bibliographical reasons, and for book collectors of course.

About half of the known translation languages editions of Villette were only published in the last 25 years. It is noteworthy that this coincides with the renewed interest in the history of the Brontës and Brussels. Nowadays it is difficult to imagine, but only thirty years ago there was no interest at all in Villette, let alone Brussels. Well, this was not the case everywhere. The novel seems to have been really popular in Yugoslavia in the 1970s especially, with two translations, each with a number of editions.

Finding translations is in itself quite easy. A look at the catalogs of the National (or Royal) Libraries, and one or two university libraries per country suffices. Apart from that it can be interesting to know more about the translator. Quite often a picture of the cover page can be found on the internet. That in itself is a nice collection.

Research is made easier by Google translate. I could do Europe quite well, but it gets difficult beyond that, in Asia and Africa. So I hope that there are volunteers to help with this quest. We have a lot of nationalities and native languages in the Brussels Brontë Group. Members may also have  a copy of a translation. In some cases it should be possible to get in contact with the translator. It would be interesting to hear how they came to it. A quite large number of them have translated more than one Brontë novel. I have already gathered quite a lot of information, but much more research is needed, to cover all languages.  It seems there are only two published articles about translations, related to Russia and China (apart from my recent blog series).

There are languages that appear to have no Villette translation: Welsh, Icelandic, Estonian, Albanese, Armenian, Georgian, Indonesian and Esperanto. Five of these eight languages do have a Jane Eyre. I suppose The Professor may get to 20 languages, but I’ve hardly touched on that novel in a systematic way. Anne Brontë’s novels will about equal Villette, I presume, in the number of languages.

It is also interesting to learn about some countries without a language of their own, like Switzerland. Its ‘native’ language Reto-Roman hasn’t  produced a translation, but nevertheless a quite nice story can be told, as I hope to show later. But first there will be an article about Villette and The Professor in Dutch.


Not many people yet have voted in the poll about the revenge question. I would like to thank all who did. One other option came up. It is possible that Charlotte thought or spoke the words – “Je me vengerai” – when parting from Madame Heger, and that Villette was not a revenge novel. This theory was put forward by a good friend of mine who, inspired by my series of articles, read Villette and The Professor, and said he found few traces of a revenge theme.

So far the thought theory is in the lead, with about 40% of the votes. It’s the option in which Charlotte thought the revenge words. So far there are large majorities for her either thinking or saying the words, and for Villette being (partly) a revenge novel. More votes are welcome and needed though.

Eric Ruijssenaars

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