Sunday 19 June 2016

A top six of Villette translations covers

Villette has been translated into at least 29 languages. A good many of these have more than one translation of the novel, and quite often these translations have had more than one edition. It has resulted in many different cover pages. In the old days they were rather dull, as they did not have an illustration. But from 1949 onwards they mostly did.

There can be some discussion about the number of languages, as it is debatable whether, for instance, Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese are two different languages. The same goes for Czech and Slovak. But here we count them as different languages, and thus get to 29 (so far). The list is as follows: Arab, Brazilian Portuguese, Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Rumanian, Russian, Slovenian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish.

Western European languages usually fully adopt Villette as the title of the translations. In many other cases the title is a variation on how Villette sounds. In other cases it is translated as ‘little city,’ the literal meaning of it. The Russian translations for instance usually have the latter version. Some have an alternative title, like the Chinese translation presented in a recent blog article, which translates as ‘Miss Luo Snow’s study tour in the mind.’ Italy has two translations with the titles Collegio femminile and L’Angelo della tempesta.

Almost all versions, with their covers, can be found on the internet. I asked Sue Lonoff and Brian Bracken for their favourites, sending them a shortlist of 18 covers. Together we came to the following top six of finest Villette covers.

Number 6

The Hebrew Villette, published in 2010 by Carmel, from Jerusalem (491 pp.), has ended up at number six. It was translated by Sigal Adler. The title transcribes as ‘Vilt.’ The cover painting, Caspar David Friedrich’s Woman at the window, from 1822, reflects the Empire style of the early 19th century. It’s the only translation of Villette in the Hebrew language.

Number 5

The Spanish Villette, at nr. five, was published in 2014 by Alba, from Barcelona (648 pp.). This translation was done by Marta Salis Canosa, a translator and a journalist. Among the other works she translated are Dickens’ David Copperfield and Austen’s Pride and prejudice. The cover  has an 1840 engraving of Brussels, by an unknown artist. It is the only cover illustration without any people on it. It prominently features the Hôtel de Ville.

Number 4

The Italian Villette from 2013 that got to nr. 4 was published by Fazi, from Rome (634 pp.). It is a translation done by Simone Caltabellota, with an introduction by Antonella Anedda. The cover shows a fine self-portrait by Ann Mary Newton (née Severn, 1832-1866). She was born in Rome, a daughter of the British consul. In 1841 they moved (back) to England. The painting is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, and probably dates from the early 1860s. It may be the cover painting that comes closest to the year of publishing, 1853, of Villette, and which reflects the style of dress then most closely. She studied under George Richmond, who of course drew the famous portrait of Charlotte. This makes it a great cover painting, especially for an Italian Villette. (For more about this work see the Italy Villette article). The painting has also been used for one of the 1996 Penguin Classics editions of Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Number 3

The Swiss Villette of 1950, at nr. 3, is as far as we know the second oldest translation with an illustrated cover page (the first, Dutch, one, was discovered too late to join this competition). It was published by Marguerat, from Lausanne, and is an ‘adaptation,’ or an abridged version, with 357 pages only, by Roger Villemin, who did a few more translations of English works. The charming cover drawing was made by the Swiss artist Roger Montaudon (1918-2005). It’s one of several covers that feature ships, as does for instance the Hebrew Villette. This illustration obviously refers to the last chapter of the novel (as does for instance an Iranian translation which has a painting of ships in stormy weather).

Joint Number 1

The number one place is shared by translations from Iraq and Latvia.

The Latvian Villette was published in 2011 by Daugava, from Riga. in two volumes (with 279 and 380 pages respectively). The winning cover is the one of the first volume. It was translated by Dagnija Dreika (1951-), writer of children’s books, poet and translator. She has translated very many books from a number of languages, while her poetry has been translated into a number of languages. Apart from Jane Eyre she translated all the Brontë novels, as well as Charlotte’s The Green Dwarf. She also did all the novels of Jane Austen. She wrote a book about the sisters - Māsas Brontē – trīs zvaigznes angļu literatūras debesīs (2000) as well. Pilsētiņa, the title of the translation, means little city. The cover has Louis Marie de Schryver's painting of 'A flower seller on the Champs-Elysees' (probably from the 1890s).

The Arab Villette was published in 1984 by Renaissance Library, from Baghdad (550 pp.). The title, فيليت, transcribes as ‘fylyt.’ The cover shows the only attempt ever to portray Lucy Snowe on a Villette cover. The translation was done by George Yousef Al-Shamsi and Mahmoud Fadel al-Khafaji. The cover was drawn by Safwa Farid.

"Would Charlotte Brontë have approved though?” Sue Lonoff asks. “Her Lucy Snowe is plain, perhaps ugly; her conviction of her own unattractiveness lies at the core of her character. More tellingly, no self-respecting woman at the time of this novel would have worn make-up. This cover figure sports thick blue eye shadow, eye-liner on her upper lids, and bright red lipstick.”

In time you will be able to chose your own top list of nicest covers. There are more than 100 covers of translations for the two Brussels novels, so it will take time. To begin with you can see the Italian (in two articles, about Villette and The Professorand Dutch translations (part one and part two), and covers. Both languages have produced quite a lot of them. Maddalene de Leo has been so kind to cover Italy. For a long time she has been doing very much for the Brontës in her country. One of her more recent works is a translation of Jolien Janzing’s De Meester, but unfortunately no publisher has been found yet.

Eric Ruijssenaars

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