Monday, 6 March 2017

Villette and The Professor in Japan

There have been six editions of Villette and The Professor in Japanese, three of each. They were all published in a ‘complete works of the Brontës’ series. The first Villette was published in 1952, by David-sha which also published the first The Professor in 1954. Both were translations done by Jiro Sagara. In 1951 he also did Shirley. The Villette consisted of three volumes, of 232, 278 and 208 pages. Its Japanese subtitle, apart from a Villette transcription, was ‘A Note of a Solitary Soul.’ The Professor had 199 pages.


The second ‘complete works’ series was published in 1993, by Bunsendo-Shuppan. The Jiro Sagara translations were used again. The amounts of pages remained the same. Of these works only the cover of the 1954 The Professor could be found (so far). It is the first and only translated edition of either of the Brussels novels that was published that year. It means that, since 1942, only the years 1981 and 1988 do not have a translated edition.

Cover of the 1954 Japanese The Professor

The 1993 Villette was previously unknown to me. The 1954 The Professor was forgotten in my list of translated editions, as the year of publication wasn’t entirely clear. It raises the total amount from 394 to 396. Because three new Italian editions have been found recently (about which later), the new total is 399.

The third series was published in 1995-1997 by Misuzu-shobo (12 volumes). The Villette (vols. 5 and 6; 418 and 405 pp.) was translated by Seiko Aoyama (1931-). An interview with her was published in Brontë Society Transactions of October 2000. She wrote two articles about Charlotte Brontë and Brussels, published in 1966 and 1989.

In the interview she was asked about doing the Villette translation. It’s the first account we have of what it is like to translate this work.
“You have translated Villette into Japanese; what translation issues were especially problematic for you? What was most pleasurable? How was your translation received by the Japanese scholarly community, and by the reading public?
SA: … As I had argued previously in my graduation thesis, Villette is, I believe, among Charlotte Brontë’s literary output, an exceptionally wonderful work; therefore I chose, even over Jane Eyre, to take charge of the translation of that particular book. That summer, when I worked on this project, was an anxious one because of an extremely painful shoulder, which made it difficult for me to even grasp my pen! I recall the time when I performed this work, drenched in perspiration, as a gruelling one. I felt an intimate connection with Charlotte Brontë’s memories of her time in Brussels – recollections of her personal agony and sadness are acutely reflected in specific portions of the book (as when Lucy wanders about the town, enters a church, confesses, then becomes low in spirits etc.); thus, I felt, does her literary style burst with revealing insight, in a pattern of apparent opacity that is, however, rich with illumination. I felt this way about Villette more so than about Jane Eyre. Anyway, after a total of about a year and a half of whole-hearted absorption in this work, I finally finished the translation. While, in Japan, Villette has not been as popular a work as Jane Eyre, my translation was very favourably received critically and has been valued by many readers.”


Cover of the first volume of
the 1995 Japanese Villette

The translation of The Professor was done by Hiroshi Ebine. It was also published in 1995, and was volume 1 of the series (439 pp.). This book also has translations of Emma and Willie Ellin.

Cover of the first volume of
the 1995 Japanese The Professor

The other Brontë novels
The oldest Japanese Jane Eyre appears to date from 1928. A copy of it is in, remarkably, the Danish Royal Library, and not in the National Diet Library of Japan. The first Japanese Wuthering Heights was published in 1936. Shirley followed in 1951, while Anne (despite the ‘complete works’ titles of the early 1950s and 1993 series) had to wait until 1995 before her Agnes Grey was translated and published, and 1996 before The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was published.

A Villette connection
Akiko Higuchi, the renowned Japanese scholar and translator, has the following story about the namesake of a Villette personage:

“Monsieur Christoph de Basssompièrre and his family stayed in Japan as Minister-Counsellor at the Embassy of the Kingdom of Belgium from 2013 to July 2016. I met him four times at the Belgian Embassy, and he had given me very nice letters about Leonie de Bassompièrre, his great-great-grand aunt connected with the Brontë sisters at the Pensionnat Heger. The favourable name of “Louise de Bassompièrre” in Villette must have come from the friendship with a Bassompièrre link. Besides, his great grandfather, Albert de Bassompièrre, was the first ambassador to Japan for 19 years; his son was very familiar with Japan, staying with his parents in Japan. M. Christophe de Bassompièrre is the fourth generation as a diplomat. He left Japan in July 2016 and hopefully now he stays in Brussels. I contributed an essay, “A Bassompièrre link restored” in the Gazette of the Bronte Society, Issue 64, September 2014. I also contributed about him in the Bronte Newsletter of Japan, No. 90, 1 April, 2015.”

Akiko Higuchi wrote The Brontës and Music, in 2 volumes (Yushodo Press, 2008), which has a lot about Brussels. Earlier her article about the ‘Concert at the Fête in Villette’ was published in the Transactions of 1992. Among the works she translated are Mr Charlotte Brontë: The Life of Arthur Bell Nicholls (Tokyo 2015) and Jolien Janzing’s De Meester (to be published as an e-book).

Eric Ruijssenaars
(With thanks too to Miwa Uhara, Secretary of the Brontë Society of Japan)


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