All posts by Natasha Ryan

The Lidl Prizes: Discovering Germany

This post was written by Cecilia, who is studying German sole at Wadham College. Earlier this summer Cecilia was named one of the first recipients of our new Lidl Prizes: awards that have been generously donated by Lidl to promote and celebrate the study of German language and culture. In this post, Cecilia tells us how she used her prize to fund a trip to Gemany.

I was really grateful to win the Lidl prize for academic achievement in German sole this summer; it enabled me to experience Germany in a whole new way. With my prize money, I visited friends in Detmold, in the north of Germany, and Eisenach, a town in the former GDR. I then took a train to Munich, where I stayed with a friend I’d met at Oxford, and even visited Austria for the first time, venturing to Salzburg. I was fascinated by the way in which the language and culture differs across German speaking countries.

My first stop was Detmold, where I spent a few days staying with a teacher who had visited my school while I was doing my A-levels. I was really interested in the way in which my Gastfamilie did their bit for the environment. Just by accompanying them on their weekly shop, I got to see Detmold’s Bio-Supermarkt and a shop that used no plastic whatsoever! Whilst I am yet to come across such shops where I live in Hull, I am determined to follow Germany’s good influence and reduce my own plastic use.

I then took the train to Eisenach, where I stayed with a girl whom I know through a mutual friend. Far from the green smoothies and kale I had been eating in Detmold, I was able to try much more traditional food, with the Grandad even teaching me how to make Rinderroulade and Thüringer Klöße. I also enjoyed going to school with my Gastschwester, who is studying for her Abitur. I even learnt about Effi Briest, a text which I loved studying in first year, sharing ideas with students in German about this iconic read! But most interesting of all in my time in Eisenach was having the opportunity to hear about life in the GDR. Practically knowing Das Leben der Anderen off by heart from my A-level studies, I was keen to hear my Gastfamilie’s first-hand accounts of the system. I was particularly surprised by my Gastschwester’s remark that she sometimes wished the wall still stood today.

Different again was my time in Munich. I spent the week staying with my friend from university, who is doing a tech internship there. I really enjoyed being part of a flat share; it made me look forward to my year abroad where I’ll be living with German speakers who are my age! It was really interesting to chat with these students and young professionals about everything from relationships and their volunteering to European politics. The Bavarian countryside was really beautiful and completely different to anything I had seen before in Germany. Reading Schiller by Lake Starnberg was definitely a highlight of my trip. I even got the chance to make a fleeting visit to Salzburg, which made me realise I’d love to get to know Austria better.

Eduardo Lalo’s term as TORCH Global South Visiting Fellow

This blog post was written by Franklin, a second-year student studying Spanish and Portuguese. Here, Franklin tells us about Eduardo Lalo’s stay in Oxford and the way it shone a spotlight on the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

Every term, a number of academics from countries in the ‘Global South’ – a term that refers to countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean whose economies are small to medium-sized – arrive in Oxford as TORCH Global South Visiting Fellows. TORCH, short for The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, collaborates with an Oxford-based academic to sponsor and support the academic whilst they are here hosting events to do with their research interests and current projects.

One of the academics Oxford welcomed in ‘Trinity’ term (summer term) was Eduardo Lalo, Professor of Literature at the University of Puerto Rico and a multidisciplinary artist, whose work spans creative writing, drawing and photography. Eduardo’s academic host in Oxford was María del Pilar Blanco, Associate Professor of Spanish American Literature and Tutorial Fellow at Trinity College; together, they devised a range of events throughout the term for him to showcase his work and engage with the local and university communities.

The first of those events was a seminar series entitled ‘The Mis-invention of the Caribbean’. In the three seminars that comprised the series, which brought together students, researchers and members of the wider Oxford community, Eduardo examined the literature of the encounter between the Caribbean and its peoples and Europeans, with key texts including Christopher Columbus’s journal, dating from 1493, and the edition of it annotated by Bartolomé de las Casas, a Spanish cleric whose writings chart the first decades of the colonization of the Caribbean. The series reconsidered the historiography surrounding the ‘discovery’ of the Caribbean, revealing that, at the heart of Columbus’ journal, lie a number of problematics and points of contention, and that, as a text, it cannot always be taken at face value. Beyond Columbus, Eduardo explored works by English travellers in the nineteenth century – texts by such figures as James A. Froude and Spenser St. John – and how they relate in style and content to Columbus’s fifteenth-century diary. In particular, Eduardo analyzed the recurrence of the cannibal as a figure that European writers return to again and again to represent their cultural others.

Alongside his three-part seminar series, Eduardo led a separate creative writing workshop for a group of ten students. After a short question-and-answer session, Eduardo, through a range of exercises, invited seminar-goers to consider the importance of the notion of writing in space (the space of a page of a book, for instance). Those in attendance enjoyed the opportunity to think creatively about, and move through, approaches to creative writing.

San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo by Ramiro Collazo on Unsplash

Aside from his more academic seminars and creative writing workshop, members of the Oxford community were able to attend an exhibition of his photography, entitled ‘Deudos’, or ‘Death Debts’, held at St John’s College. Eduardo’s black-and-white images of life in Puerto Rico, taken between 2012 and 2018, bring to the fore in powerful detail the realities of day-to-day life in what has been termed the world’s ‘oldest colony’ (Puerto Rico remains a commonwealth of the United States). Held over the course of the fourth week of term, the exhibition was well attended and its venue appropriate, in the light of the recent announcement by St John’s College’s that it will launch a new research project, named ‘St John’s and the Colonial Past’, to examine the role the college played in creating and maintaining Britain’s overseas empire. Eduardo’s exhibition seemed apt at a time when the Oxford community is opening discussions about decolonial approaches to art and scholarly work.

Eduardo’s term as a TORCH Global South Visiting Fellow, then, shone a spotlight on the relative lack of research that is done in Oxford on the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, compared with that done on Spain and South America. His seminar series was a very useful follow-up to Professor Blanco’s lectures in ‘Hilary’ term (spring term) on ‘Literature of the Spanish Caribbean’, providing attendees with important historical context as far as the literary history of the Caribbean is concerned. Equally, it was enjoyable and insightful to explore new approaches to creative writing and to engage with photography, two aspects of the arts under-represented and under-explored in Oxford curricula:  approaches that challenge us to think of long-established canons from a decolonial perspective.

Mapping Jane Eyres across the world

This post was originally published on the Creative Multilingualism blog. Creative Multilingualism is a four-year AHRC-funded programme investigating the interconnection between linguistic diversity and creativity.  Regular readers of Adventures on the Bookshelf will remember Prof. Matthew Reynolds’s earlier post about translations of Jane Eyre. In this post, Prof. Reynolds talks about the process of mapping different translations of the novel.

In April, Prismatic Translation’s  Associated Researcher in Digital Humanities, Giovanni Pietro Vitali, stayed in Oxford to work with me on mapping the global diffusion of translations of Jane Eyre. Giovanni Pietro’s trajectory has taken him from Pisa to Perugia, Nancy and Leipzig (where he trained in Digital Humanities); he is now a Marie Curie Fellow attached to Cork, Reading, and NYU.

Mapping Jane Eyre’s translations is a challenge, on several fronts. First, where do you locate a translation on a map? It will have been done by a translator in a certain place, or places; but then it may have been published somewhere else; and it can be read wherever there is a reader who understands its language – which is, in many cases, pretty much anywhere.

Usually, we can find no information about where a translation has been written (often translations are anonymous). We don’t want to attach the translations to particular nation states, because languages don’t correspond to nation states: think of the many languages spoken in India (or indeed the UK), or the many states that have Spanish, French or Portuguese as official languages. So we have opted for the place of publication – not endeavouring to put boundaries around the territory inhabited by a translation, but showing the point from which it came out into the world.

Yet where exactly is a place of publication? For one set of maps, which allow readers to trace the development of the cover images in connection with the place and time of publication, we have used the publishers’ street addresses (this necessitated much careful work on the part of the project’s researchers – and caused some anguish!). Here we find a by-product of looking at the world of books through the lens of Jane Eyre: tracking the translations, we discover the bits of cities where publishers cluster, and find harmonies between the books’ designs and their locales. But for the general maps, which allow us to see and understand the spread of Janes across the world, street addresses seemed too specific. For these visualisations, the city seemed the right unit of location.

When I made this theoretical decision, I hadn’t quite understood the relationship between the computer-magic of Digital Humanities and the mind-numbing, slow, human labour that lies behind it. Once you know a translation’s place of publication, the computer can do quite a good job of assigning latitudes and longitudes to the given names. But not a perfect one: it can’t know if you mean Paris (France) or Paris (Texas), the Tripoli in Libya or one of the lesser-known Tripolis in Lebanon or Greece. And you can’t know when it is going to make a mistake – which means that every point needs checking by human eye and hand. In the case of Jane Eyre the number of points that have needed checking (so far) is 543.

But latitude and longitude still do not amount to a city. For that, you need to find the outline of each city and paste it onto your map. In our case, that meant 171 cities from Addis Ababa to Zutphen. You find the outline of a city in a long list called a ‘Shape File’; and there are separate Shape Files maintained by every State. So you go to the Shape File for India and find Ahmedabad; then you go to the Shape File for Syria and find Aleppo, and so on. And on. The process is not so very painful when you are dealing with Berlin or Rome; but when it is Dushanbe in Tajikistan, or Kaifeng in China (written in non-alphabetic characters) you feel your life draining away as you struggle to be sure you have pinpointed the right place.

Then, after days of labour, the moment of magic, when you are suddenly able to witness the spread of Jane Eyres across the world, like this:

Or zoom in for a more detailed view, like this:

Map of Jane Eyre translations zoomed in

And this is only the beginning. The maps that we are currently working on organise the translations according to region and language, allowing a more analytical understanding of the processes at work; and they also show the translations unfolding year by year. So now (or, soon) you will be able to see before your eyes the startling spread of Jane Eyre translations that had already happened by 1850: Berlin, Brussels, Paris, St Petersburg, Stuttgart, Grimma, Stockholm, Groningen and – Havana!


Our final post from the 2019 French Flash Fiction competition: here are some of the highly commended stories from our Year 12 and Year 13 entrants. As well as some excellent command of the French language, you’ll see some extraordinary creative imagination here, all expressed in a hundred words or fewer. Congratulations to all the writers featured here, and we hope you enjoy their stories.

La Pianiste

Là, dans la presque noirceur, je me sens vivante. La pianiste caresse le clavier et les notes tombent- un filet de bulles en verre qui semblent flotter dans l’air avant de se fracasser en éclats scintillants qui transpercent mon coeur. Deux mains, dix doigts; des centaines de notes qui m’entourent. Les mélodies se mélangent; les ruisseaux qui deviennent les fleuves qui deviennent les vagues- déferlant sur ma tête et me laissant trempée avec des larmes et de l’extase.
Les doigts du pianiste s’immobilisent. Elle a perdu ses eaux, et je suis renée.

— Jemima, Year 12, The Henrietta Barnett School

Photo by Kai Dahms on Unsplash

Connaissez-vous les nuits glacées? Ces nuits qui font mourir les feux et font danser les fantômes au-dessus des lacs glacés? Les nuits qui peuvent faire frissonner le diable, les nuits tellement silencieuses qu’on peut entendre les morts soupirer?
C’était dans une telle nuit que j’ai rencontré mon amante. Elle s’est tenue au milieu d’un champ enneigé, avec un visage gelé et des cheveux stalactites.
Elle m’a tendu sa main bleue et noire et elle a soufflé: Ne sais-tu pas qu’il fait trop froid pour les vivants? Viens. Danse avec moi.

— Hannah, Year 12, Bryanston School


Être Libre

D’ici, le monde en dessous semble petit. J’observe les humains et j’essaie de les comprendre. Mais ce n’est pas facile. Avec mes vastes ailes de plumes noires, qui reflètent la brillance du soleil et me font glisser dans l’air, je surveille la ville chaotique. Je n’aime pas trop m’approcher. Il y a des oiseaux qui s’installent sur les lampadaires, et même des moineaux qui flottent entre la jungle de pieds, pour qu’ils puissent trouver à manger. Mais moi je suis libre et sauvage, entre les nuages. Les enfants me montrent du doigt, mais ils ne me toucheront jamais.

— Juliette, Year 12, St Helen’s School


Il s’est rendu compte de la chaleur cette journée-là, comme dans une ruche agitée. Tous portaient des grandes lunettes de soleil, pour cacher leurs yeux bulbeux.
En regardant autours de lui, il a entrevu des milliers de corps errants, des milliers de cages thoraciques, piégeantes les torses comme des exosquelettes.  
Il a essayé d’ignorer tout, mais le fredonnement du lot s’est transformé en bourdonnement violent à telle enseigne qu’il ne pouvait plus le bloquer.
Sur son bras, une abeille mourante était assise, sa piqûre enfoncée dans la chair. L’abeille le suivait avec ses yeux d’insecte, ses grandes lunettes de soleil.

— Camille, Year 12, The Latymer School


Sous le ciel nocturne de juillet, le chaos se déroule. Le rouge, le blanc et le bleu du drapeau de notre nation sont partout ; ce sentiment d’espoir est tangible. La Bastille autrefois si puissante- se mit à genoux face à la foule qui marque l’histoire. Coups de feu ! Fumée ! Des soldats à perte de vue ! Personne ne comprend la signification de cette journée. Personne ne se rend compte que cette attaque sur la Bastille marquera le reste de la Révolution Français –
Un coup de fusil !
Ma vie prend fin… la révolution commence.

— Katie, Year 12, Skipton Girls’ High School


“Prends-le, ça ne vous fera pas de mal”, murmura-t-il dans mon oreille de sa voix douce. Je plaçai la substance bienheureuse sur ma langue et fermai les yeux. La terre tournait dix fois plus vite sous mes pas; j’ai ressenti de la chaleur, mais je tremblais de froid en même temps. Il y avait des teintes magnifiques dans tout ce que je voyais et la ténèbre était absente de le bonheur dans mon esprit. C’est tout ce dont je pourrais me souvenir avant mon réveil: les lumières crues de l’hôpital m’éblouissant de leur regard.

— Vikita, Year 12, St Olave’s and St Saviour’s Grammar School


Assis sous un cerisier, on voit la vie en rose. L’ébène de l’arbre est derrière soi – on est incapable de broyer du noir. Tout est bleui, bleuâtre, mais on n’est ni triste ni solitaire. Les nuages veloutés d’azur s’enroulent comme des feuilles couvertes de givre. Le ciel bleu lavande, presque violet, se consomme. On n’a nulle part où être mais ici. On respire et le paysage soupire aussi. Les pétales rougissants, crémeux, caressent le visage, comme pour dire, « Tout va bien. Tout ira bien. On n’a pas besoin de s’inquiéter. » Et on ne s’inquiète pas.

— Ella, Year 13, South Hampstead High School

Career Profile: publishing and graphic design

This week on Adventures on the Bookshelf we bring you a career profile with a difference. Samantha Miller, who studied French and Italian from scratch at Somerville College and graduated in 2011, began her career in the publishing world before changing course and becoming a graphic designer. Here she tells us about her career route and how a languages degree from Oxford prepared her for the working world…

I studied French and Italian at Somerville, graduating in 2011. On my year abroad I got a job at a literary agency in Paris, which I had enjoyed, so after graduating I was keen to work in the publishing industry. After doing an internship at another literary agency in London, I landed a job at a large independent children’s book publisher working in the Foreign Rights department. Rights isn’t an area that many people outside of publishing have heard of, but it’s a really excellent choice for languages students. Basically, you are selling the translation rights to books to foreign publishers around the world. It gives you a broad insight into lots of areas of the business, and usually has good opportunities for foreign travel to international book fairs and to visit other publishing houses around the world.

After staying in the role for over five years, I decided I wanted a job with more creativity and flexibility. I did a three-month intensive graphic design course which taught me how to use design software, and more importantly how to generate ideas and solve design problems in a structured way. I got a job as a junior designer shortly after finishing the course. I now work at a small design and brand consultancy working on projects for large international corporate organisations in sectors such as law, insurance and property. The work is varied and challenging, although the hours are not as forgiving as in the publishing world!

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Although I have rarely used any knowledge from my degree directly at work, the skills you gain from presenting your ideas in tutorials, navigating a year abroad, and processing large amounts of information quickly are invaluable. Clear communication and an international outlook are vital components of so many roles, and a languages degree gives you these. Most importantly, Oxford teaches you how to learn. Although it took me a long time to work up to courage to leave my job in publishing and retrain completely, I have found that much of my previous experience is transferable and employers do take this into account when considering candidates who have had career changes.

Spanish Flash Fiction: the sixth formers

Last month we showcased the runners up in the Years 7-11 category of the Spanish Flash Fiction competition. Now we are delighted to feature the runners up in the older category, Years 12-13. Congratulations to Salome, Year 12, The College of Richard Collyer, and Alexandra, Year 13, Bradfield College.
Huge thanks to everyone who entered the competition this year and made the task of judging both enjoyable and difficult. We hope the winning stories have given you some inspiration and that you will consider entering the contest again in 2020. ¡ Muchas gracias!

La gente vivía enredada entre la destrucción, casi todos aceptando su destino injusto. El caos dejó almas perdidas y los escombros sofocaron la cuidad. Todo consecuencia de la guerra.
Había un hombre con un niño a cada lado, ambos agarrando la mano de su padre. Mire al edificio al que iban: ‘El colegio de Al-Amin’. De repente, los rebeldes, pioneros de la destrucción dispararon, primero a un niño y luego al otro recordándonos donde estábamos. Cayeron como hojas y el padre poco después, reconociendo la poda de su árbol de familia. Al padre lo perdonaron, no porque se sentían culpables, sino porque querían cosechar su perdida.

— Salome, Year 12, The College of Richard Collyer

Su pecadillo letal

Con una golondrina, se libera de sus inhibiciones; se escapa a un mundo de euforia temporal. La sustancia se desliza por su garganta y desencadena una serie de reacciones químicas internas, invisibles a simple vista, que hacen que la realidad parezca absurda. Pero era una serie de reacciones químicas que su cuerpo no podía comprender ni aguantar. Con una sola golondrina, cayó en las garras fatales de una sustancia desconocida. Su estado de euforia se disipó rápidamente, pero gastó todo su dinero en una fantasía, era demasiado tarde para comprar un billete de vuelta a la realidad.

— Alexandra, Year 13, Bradfield College


Last month we featured some of the highly commended entries in our French Flash Fiction contest. Here are some more of the highly commended entries from the Year 7-11 category, chosen from among the nearly six hundred entries we received. Congratulations to all the writers featured here, and we hope you enjoy reading their work, and perhaps get a little inspiration for next year’s contest.

 Quelle dommage, pour le fromage!

J’ai rejoint la foule excitée au centre du village. Comme tous les autres, je portais une baguette. C’était la Fête du Fromage Annuelle. Le maire a commencé à parler en grande pompe, “Maintenant, je prononce …”, mais il a terminé avec désespoir, “…il n’y a pas de fromage!” Le souffle collectif a été noyé par le vacarme d’un vaisseau extraterrestre descendant. De sa trappe ouverte vola un déluge de fromages. Puis, une voix a tonné, “Nous n’avons pas encore assez évolué pour apprécier le Camembert, le Comte ou le Cantal. Nous reviendrons dans 5 millions d’années. Continuez faire le fromage!”

— Neelkantha, Year 7, The Perse School


Mont Blanc était une chatte. Une grande chatte. Une grande, grosse chatte. Une grande, grosse chatte affamée. Ses propriétaires bien intentionnés l’avaient soumise à un régime alimentaire strict, mais Mont Blanc avait d’autres idées. Aux grands maux, les grands remèdes; une vie de crime l’appelait! Après avoir mangé sa portion maigre de nourriture hypocalorique, elle est partie pour trouver un vrai repas.
Dans la maison voisine habitait la vieille Mme Dupont avec son chat paresseux et pitoyable. Pas de problème pour une chatte débrouillarde…
Mont Blanc était une grande, grosse chatte. Une grande, grosse chatte heureuse.

— Mairéad, Year 8, Swavesey Village College

Image by Quinn Kampschroer from Pixabay

Le papillon s’est perché sur une feuille. Il vient ici tous les jours, avec ses ailes et son festival de couleurs empêchant son rythme de se reposer. On dirait que ça me regarde, comme si elle contemplait quelque chose de lointain, c’est peut-être passé. Être pris au piège dans un cocon ne doit pas être gentil. “Aller. Envolez-vous”, je le dis. “Sois libre!”
Bien que je n’ai pas parlé en langage papillon, il a semblé comprendre alors que ses yeux se concentraient sur moi, juste pendant une seconde, avant de reprendre son rythme et de s’envoler.
Je n’ai jamais revu ce papillon.

— Anoushka, Year 8,  The Queens School, Chester


Au Secours ! Les murs se referment ! Je crie « Au secours !» Personne ne m’entend. Mon corps commence à se replier. Tout est ténèbres ! Mes genoux se pressent contre mes côtes. J’entends les gens qui passent mais ils ne font rien d’autre que ; risent et fixent, fixent et risent.
Un tintement !
Un euro tombe dans mon béret. « Merci monsieur ! »
Il dit « Pas de problème monsieur, J’adore les mimes comme vous! »

— Sulemaan, Year 11, St Albans School

Mamadou titubait nu-pieds à travers la savane. La chaleur du soleil de midi était insupportable. Les taons rongeaient chaque centimètre de peau exposé, et la sangle en cuir rêche que portait son fusil d’assaut frottait contre son épaule. Il jeta un coup d’œil au soldat à sa gauche. Non. Ce n’était pas un soldat. C’était un enfant, pas plus de quatorze ans. Mamadou regarda le visage de ce garçon, innocent, terrifié et épuisé, et il s’est mis à pleurer silencieusement. Ils continuèrent de marcher.

— Joshua, Year 11, City of London Freemen’s School


Il était une fois, il y a habité une sorcière. Cette sorcière peut prédire le futur et elle savait comment le monde a commencé. Elle savait pourquoi la mer a pleuré avec des larmes salées et elle a composé la chanson des oiseaux.
Un jour, un petit enfant a demandé elle,
“Madame, savez-vous absolument tout?”
Elle a répondu, “Non, je n’ai compris jamais pourquoi les gens du monde ne sont pas amicaux, pourquoi ils semblent détester des gens différents quand nous partageons tous le même cœur. Si tu peux apprendre ça, mon fils, tu seras plus sage que moi”.

— Isabel, Year 11, Wycombe Abbey School


Elle se jeta en avant, les orteils pointus, le corps parfaitement aligné. Ses yeux se croisèrent, concentrés sur le fond de la piscine. Encore trois mètres à laisser tomber. Toute erreur, lui coûtera la médaille dont son pays a besoin. Un mot simple, avec une grande signification – ‘focus’; continuait à rejouer dans son esprit. Un mètre à faire, mais du coin de l’oeil, elle aperçoit une silhouette, une silhouette qui devait disparaître il y a cinq ans … son père. La focalisation est perdue, la forme estropiée, la médaille n’est plus une possibilité.

— Giulia, Year 11, Channing School


L’obsession peut nous pousser à aller très loin, même si cela signifie que nous nous soumettons au couteau, ou nous nous enterrons sous terre. Et l’amour? C’est la pire obsession de toutes. Mireille l’a appris trop tard. Harcelée au collège, négligée à la maison, toujours seule, elle est tombée amoureuse de la Mort. Elle espérait qu’elle punirait les brutes: leur ferait payer ce qu’ils avaient fait. Alors, avec un couteau en main, elle est allée pour le rencontrer. Maintenant Mireille est allongée, froide, sous la terre, dans les bras de la Mort. Et le monde continue sans elle.

— Jenna Mae, Year 11, Skipton Girls’ High School

Stay tuned to see the runners up in the older category later this month!

68 ways to say ‘plain’: translating Jane Eyre

This post was originally published on the Creative Multilingualism blog. Creative Multilingualism is a four-year AHRC-funded programme investigating the interconnection between linguistic diversity and creativity.  The programme is split into seven research strands, one of which is ‘Prismatic Translation’. In this post, Prof. Matthew Reynolds, Co-Investigator on the strand, explains how they have been looking at translations of Jane Eyre through a multilingual prism…

I spent March mainly in Pisa, working on fifteen Italian translations [of Jane Eyre] with a group of graduate students and early career researchers co-ordinated by our collaborator in the project there, Professor Alessandro Grilli.

It was an exhilarating experience, eight or ten of us grouped around a table in an airy room high up in an eighteenth-century palazzo overlooking the oldest botanical garden in Europe (even older than Oxford’s!) sharing our findings with the help of a projector pointed at the uneven wall.

Various discoveries emerged which will make their way into the webpages that are being created and book that is being written. The earliest Italian translation, done anonymously and published in Milan in 1904, mainly follows the 1854 French translation by Noémi Lesbazeilles (née Souvestre): for instance, Bertha Mason’s ‘red eyes’ become ‘yeux injectés’ and, in turn, ‘occhi iniettati’ (injected/blood-shot eyes’). Here we can see translation, not jumping from one language to another as though they were separate boxes, but moving through the continuum of language difference, following pathways in which Italian and French are joined.

Just occasionally, however, when the French was puzzling, the anonymous Italian translator turned to the English for help. When Jane hears Rochester’s voice telepathically calling across the moors, Charlotte Bronte wrote: ‘’O God! what is it?’ I gasped.’ Lesbazeilles-Souvestres takes this in a surprising direction: ‘J’aspirai l’air avec force’ (‘I breathed in forcefully / took a deep breath’). This must have struck the Italian translator as peculiar; the English must have been checked; and a simpler equivalent was found: ‘mormorai’ (‘I murmured’ – ‘gasped’, in its sense here, is a tricky word to match). Usually in translation – or at least in people’s ideas of translation – the translator works from the original and occasionally looks at other versions for help. But here we have the opposite: the French becomes the source text and the English serves as a guide to its interpretation.

One of the researchers, Caterina Cappelli, is someone I first met when she translated my novel The World Was All Before Them for her Masters thesis some years ago. Now, she has done an extraordinary piece of research, tracking the word ‘plain’ (also ‘plainly’ and ‘plainness’) through all its 49 appearances in the novel, in 13 different translations. That is, 637 occurrences of the word. As its frequency suggests, ‘plain’ is a crucial term for Brontë. Jane is plain (not beautiful), she speaks plainly (frankly), and she likes plain (simple) things; in the story, things are heard plainly (clearly) and become plain (are understood); and the novel itself is described as ‘a plain tale’ (a realist novel, that shows the world as it is).

One of Brontë’s ambitions in her writing was to re-assess this word, creating a woman character who can be admired for her mind and principles rather than her looks, and writing a story that can be valued for its truth-telling as much or more than for its excitements. For Brontë, ‘plain’ is what the literary critic William Empson called a ‘complex word’: a bundle of culturally-charged different meanings that need a whole play or novel to open up their synergies and contradictions.

In the Italian translations, the explosion of meanings hidden in the word becomes, well, plain. This one English word is translated in – wait for it – sixty-eight quite different ways, in terms that correspond to: simple, ugly, clear, insignificant, sincere, well, open, modest, frank, easy, distinct, dull, common, smooth, white, and so on, and on. Here is a table constructed by Caterina:

And here is a visualisation:

For more on Prismatic Translation, see their pages here.

Spanish Flash Fiction – the runners up

Two weeks ago we announced the hotly anticipated results of our Spanish Flash Fiction Competition. Congratulations to both winners and the four runners up, and well done to everyone who entered what turned out to be a fiercely competitive contest.

We featured the winning entry from the older category on our blog earlier this month. Now, it’s our pleasure to showcase the two runners up from the younger category, Years 7-11: Kasia and Fakyha. You will find their stories below – we hope you enjoy them.

¡ Felicidades, Kasia y Fakyha!

más allá
Nunca olvidaré junio de 1988, la forma en que me observaron cuando mi mandíbula cayó al suelo. Sus ojos tan negros como la noche oscura, se veían rectos, no a mis ojos no del todo, sin a ellos. Era una forma de vida terriblemente, totalmente extraña… pero tenían intelligencia… la cosa y sus compañeros. Vi mi reflejo en ellos, una cara sorprendida con la piel tan pálida como la nieve. Mi mente se puso en blanco: todo lo que sabíam todo lo que sé, todo lo que sabré, ha explotado. Nunca olvidaré junio de 1988.

— Kasia, Year 7, Westcliff High School For Girls

Photo by Robert Wiedemann on Unsplash

“Abuelito, no puedo dormir,” dijo el niño.
“Ay muchacho, deja te cuenta una historia. Una vez, un fragmento de la luna se cayó a la tierra. Ese día el cielo estaba encendido en fuscia y oro. El fragmento aterrizó en un campo de rosas. ¿Qué pasó depués? Bueno, una palabra: avaricia. Mucha gente trataron de robar el fragmento pero fallaron. ¿Por qué? El fragmento conocía sus intenciones; desapareció de los captores y cada vez volvió al campo.
“¿Abuelito, dondé está el fragmento ahora?”
Le mostro un collar y allí está el fragmento. “Vino a mí.” yo dije.
“¡Qué chulo, abuelito!”

— Fakyha, Year 10, Nonsuch High School for Girls


Here are some of our highly commended entries from the Year 7-11 category of the French Flash Fiction contest (other highly commended entries will be posted in the next few weeks.) As you’ll see, they have a huge variety of styles, moods and subjects, showing how much thought and imagination has gone into their creation. There has also clearly been a lot of care and effort from the writers in expressing themselves in good, clear French. The French is not always perfect – although it is always of an impressive standard for the level of study the writer has reached! – but in every case you can see the enthusiasm for language as the writer tries to tell an ambitious story in a foreign language. Congratulations to all the writers featured here, and we hope you enjoy the stories.

Image by Anke Sundermeier from Pixabay

Monsieur Mystère est le meilleur détective français, toutes les énigmes qu’ on lui donne il sait les résoudre en un éclair. Alerte ! Le trophé de la coupe du monde de football a disparu; Didier Deschamps le capitaine est inconsolable… Trois joueurs sont suspectés de l’avoir volé pour son or: Mbappé, Pogba et Griezman. Monsieur Mystère les interviewe, il remarque Mbappe a une nouvelle Lamborghini ayant des roues en or, Pogba a des nouvelles dents en or et Griezman a un nouveau ballon d’or. Lequel suspectes- tu…?

Aucun ! C’est Gareth Southgate qui la subtilisé pour 2022 !

Sean, Year 7, Trinity Catholic High School


Un jour, un chat, une souris et un chien vivent dans une maison. Le chat a très faim. La souris a mangé du fromage. Le chat a mangé la souris. Le chien a poursuivi le chat. Le chat est très gros car il a mangé la souris. De plus, le chat est très lent. Il était très facile pour le chien de manger le chat. Et ensuite? Ensuite, la maison a mangé le chien et tout ce qui se trouvait à l’intérieur.

Ansh, Year 8, Hill House School


Amabel s’est réveillée pendant la nuit. Après être descendue les escaliers, elle est sortie de la maison. Elle ne voulait pas partir longtemps, et elle savait certainement qu’elle reviendrait avant que ses frères ne se lèvent.

Elle a commencé à suivre un vieux sentier. Amabel a marché jusqu’à la rivière. Comme elle venait de se réveiller, elle était encore fatiguée et s’est assise près de l’eau. La fille regardait le ciel, qui passait d’un noir à un rose orange.

À son avis, le lever de soleil était la plus belle chose de sa vie.

Jeong, Year 8, Milbourne Lodge School



Ils viennent. Comme ils sont venus des centaines de fois. Sculptés en mes heures de veille, me hantant en mes heures de sommeil. Je tourne un coin et sprinte loin de les soucis que me consomment: mes devoirs, mes examens, la pression et mes relations; dans le monde vrai. Je vérifie ma montre. 3:00 du matin. Mes problèmes intérieurs me sont réveillé encore. Je sais que je devrait dire à quelqu’un, mes parents peut-être. Mais je dois le regarder en face seul. Ma tête tourne et je m’endors encore, dans mon monde imaginaire, où mes diables attendent pour moi.

Jack, Year 9, The Judd School


Le rêve
Je me suis assise sur mon lit. Je pense et pense, encore et encore. Ce jour-là, qui marque l’histoire avec un sourire malicieux. Les cicatrices qui restent peintes sur mon corps. Je me souviens de son visage, pâle mais doux. Comme une rose blanche pure émergeant du sol pour la première fois dans le temps. La pensée qui me hante et se moque de ma douleur. Les mains tremblantes, je prends mon visage et je pleure, les larmes de l’océan. J’imagine un monde vide, sans tristesse et sans haine, mais je sais dans mon cœur que je rêve.

Jasmine, Year 9, Cheltenham Ladies College


La lumière passait à travers les stores de mes fenêtres; un lever du soleil jaune terne éclairait les murs lavandes.  Je me suis faite tremper dans la chaleur de mon lit avant de marcher vers ma salle de bain.  Alors que mon pied a touché le sol frais, des sensations glaciales ont été envoyées en haut de mes jambes et je me suis regardée dans le miroir.  Les poches sous les yeux étaient intensifiées, ressemblant aux contusions plutôt qu’à un manque de sommeil.  C’étais confuse. Je ne pourrais que me souvenir d’une chose; combien mon coeur me fait mal.

Tilly, Year 10, Colston’s Girls’ School


C’était le jour où les étoiles ont commencé de tomber. Ils sont tombés tranquillement. Brûlants, brillants, comme les larmes coulant d’un visage seul. Je les ai regardés avec un émerveillement féroce, bouche bée. Le sol soi-même sous mes pieds, qui avait été fiable jusqu’à maintenant, était en train de vibrer, même de trembler. Je ne pouvais ni souffler ni sentir l’air frais, mais plûtot, il y avait une odeur trenchante et tordue, le sang brulé. Ca m’a fait piqué, ça m’a attaqué. Alors, tout est devenu un noir affreux, pendant que le monde tel que je le connais était terminé.

Jessica, Year 11, Wycombe Abbey


La Chose
La nuit est tombée ; le couloir est plongé dans l’obscurité. J’éclaire la pancarte à l’aide de ma torche, mais l’écriture est effacée, et ma main tremble trop. J’entre, la porte se plaignant bruyamment. Une odeur âcre me frappe aussitôt. En face de l’entrée se tient une armoire ancestrale ornée d’un miroir. Un vieux lit longe le côté droit de la pièce et – un grincement résonne soudainement. Je me fige. Puis un autre. Les escaliers, je réalise. Mais personne n’habite ici depuis des siècles. Un souffle caresse mon cou. Je regarde mon reflet dans le miroir, et j’hurle.

Lucas, Year 11, The Judd School


Le vieux sorcier habitait dans une maison qui n’existait pas, à Londres, qui existait. Chaque matin à sept heures, il montait au quatre-vingt-dix-neuvième étage et il s’asseyait sur son fauteuil à bascule, en fumant une pipe et lisant un livre. Quand il finissait une page de son livre, il la déchirait et il la pliait pour en faire un oiseau, qui s’envolait. De temps en temps, l’un de ses oiseaux revenait, et il lui demandait où il avait été et où il allait aller ensuite. Un de ces jours, il se disait, il allait les rejoindre.

Nicole, Year 11, The Latymer School