For more than 50 years, beginning in the mid-19th century, one of the most well-known romances in Germany centered on an orphaned young governess and a gruff older man – characters first imagined in a different language and hundreds of miles away. What did it take for Jane Eyre to remain popular with German readers for this period?
Lynne Tatlock, the Hortense and Tobias Lewin Distinguished Professor in the Humanities, says the translation and adaptation history of Jane Eyre in Germany tells a story about how literature moves across national borders in a moment when more and more people were reading, a good many of them women. In a new book, Jane Eyre in German Lands: The Import of Romance, 1848-1918 (Bloomsbury), Tatlock maps the novel’s journey across translations and into a new brand of romance fiction.
Charlotte Brontë’s novel appeared in German in three main forms: more or less faithful translations, adaptations that could differ wildly from the original text, and imitations that reproduced the dynamics of Jane Eyre in new and inventive ways. Translations sometimes shortened the story, and adaptations modified the novel for the theater or for young girls.
“I’m interested in the multiple creative acts that were involved in that circulation,” Tatlock said. “So often, people think of the transfer of culture in terms of new products, and what I was really interested in is what people did with old products.”