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MFS Modern Fiction Studies 49.2 (2003) 341-347



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The Literature of Allegorical Occupations

Jan B. Gordon


Rebecca L. Copeland. Lost Leaves: Women Writers in Meiji Japan. Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 2000. xiv +285 pp.
Michael S. Molansky. The American Occupation of Japan and Okinawa: Literature and Memory. London: Routledge, 1999. xii + 244 pp.

The junior member of a literature department today often bears an uncanny resemblance to Shakespeare's Prospero. Exiled from the crowded commerce of his traditional power base—the analysis and dissemination of an Arnoldian "best that has been thought and said"—he must survive by eking out a precarious existence in less familiar and less hospitable margins of literary production. Critical and career hopes depend either upon drawing us to "his" island by revealing its heretofore unmapped magical properties to enchant or, alternatively, by suggesting that this relatively neglected arena of activity is an integral part of the ideological shipping lanes—or should be. Both volumes under review qualify as "archaeological criticism," the attempt to uncover undiscovered or neglected literary "remains" from ideologically, historically, or geographically isolated pockets of cultural production and to advance a case for their centrality. In order to achieve this, however, the literature must adhere to a centripetal bias: it must be made to belong to a set of values that would deny its [End Page 341] apparent marginality. And therein lies the rub, for the process of sedimentation often holds a more enduring interest than the shards which are uncovered.

"Lost leaves" of whatever culture thereby become vulnerable to the critic's raking, which may be efficient without holding any lasting aesthetic effect. The raking of fallen leaves should accentuate the beauty of the leaf-body, as it does each autumn in Zen temples and gardens in Japan, not the arbitrary convenience of the gardener. In Lost Leaves: Women Writers in Meiji Japan, Rebecca L. Copeland seeks to restore three relatively forgotten female writers of Meiji Japan to a canon that has presumably excluded them: Miyake Kaho (1868-1944), one of the few women writers of early modern Japan; Wakamatsu Shizuko (1864-1896), a translator of light Victorian literature; and Shimizu Shikin (1868-1933), a writer of short stories that explore the lower reaches of Japanese society, including the near-untouchable caste of burakumin.

Miyake Kaho's claim to fame is Warbler in the Grove, a sentimental, formulaic tale of about fifty pages. The plot navigates the pending marriage of a couple trapped between the demands of a superficial, but progressive westernization and so-called traditional Japanese values. At the tale's conclusion, Hideko's natural modesty, a modesty with which she was born, triumphs over Hamako's préciosité, acquired as a result of her transformation, via finishing school, into a fickle WOG (westernized oriental girl). Ready to adopt any guise to achieve her ends, the superficially westernized Hamako dons a kimono for an assignation with a married man, revealing herself as a chameleon. By contrast, her rival wins a nobleman by remaining faithful to her domestically centered education, which emphasizes sewing, flower arranging, and the maintenance of a dutiful heart and solid warmth hearth. Mechanically enough, resistance wins her a boring husband. Warbler in the Grove, despite Copeland's plea for its literary merit, is a reactionary allegory in which a resistance to the slavish imitation of western customs—the copycat, plagiarizing mentality that has long plagued representations of Japan in the western mind—pays dividends. The unselective adaptation of western ideas leads to Hamako's fall, from which she is redeemed only, paradoxically, by becoming an orthodox Christian.

Warbler in the Grove shares a heightened concern of Japanese educators and politicians of the time that Anglo-American liberalism and egalitarianism were potentially dangerous to traditional Japanese culture and values. Exposed for the first time to Jogaku Zasshi (literally, women's magazines), which included fiction by women and an "internationalized" format that included comparative anatomy charts of western and Japanese women, a largely female audience [End Page 342] began to learn of the possibility of intellectual, spiritual, and physical "uplift...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 341-347
Launched on MUSE
2003-06-24
Open Access
No
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