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Queer Compulsions

Race, Nation, and Sexuality in the Affairs of Yone Noguchi

Amy Sueyoshi

Publication Year: 2012

In September 1897 Yone Noguchi (1875–1947) contemplated crafting a poem to his new love, western writer Charles Warren Stoddard. Recently arrived in California, Noguchi was in awe of the established writer and the two had struck up a passionate correspondence. Still, he viewed their relationship as doomed—not by the scandal of their same-sex affections, but their introverted dispositions and differences in background. In a poem dedicated to his “dearest Charlie,” Noguchi wrote: “Thou and I, O Charles, sit alone like two shy stars, east and west!” While confessing his love to Stoddard, Noguchi had a child (future sculptor Isamu Noguchi) with his editor, Léonie Gilmour; became engaged to Washington Post reporter Ethel Armes; and upon his return to Japan married Matsu Takeda—all within a span of seven years. According to author Amy Sueyoshi, Noguchi was not a dedicated polyamorist: He deliberately deceived the three women, to whom he either pretended or promised marriage while already married. She argues further that Noguchi’s intimacies point to little-known realities of race and sexuality in turn-of-the-century America and illuminate how Asian immigrants negotiated America’s literary and arts community. As Noguchi maneuvered through cultural and linguistic differences, his affairs additionally assert how Japanese in America could forge romantic fulfillment during a period historians describe as one of extreme sexual deprivation and discrimination for Asians, particularly in California. Moreover, Noguchi’s relationships reveal how individuals who engaged in seemingly defiant behavior could exist peaceably within prevailing moral mandates. His unexpected intimacies in fact relied upon existing social hierarchies of race, sexuality, gender, and nation that dictated appropriate and inappropriate behavior. In fact, Noguchi, Stoddard, Gilmour, and Armes at various points contributed to the ideological forces that compelled their intimate lives. Through the romantic life of Yone Noguchi, Queer Compulsions narrates how even the queerest of intimacies can more provocatively serve as a reflection of rather than a revolt from existing social inequality. In unveiling Noguchi’s interracial and same-sex affairs, it attests to the complex interaction between lived sexualities and socio-legal mores as it traces how one man negotiated affection across cultural, linguistic, and moral divides to find fulfillment in unconventional yet acceptable ways. Queer Compulsions will be a welcome contribution to Asian American, gender, and sexuality studies and the literature on male and female romantic friendships. It will also forge a provocative link between these disciplines and Asian studies.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

In 1992 I fell in love with Asian American history in the dimly lit stacks of the Barnard College library. I was just beginning research on my senior thesis project, and I followed the call numbers to the small collection of Asian American studies books where the grandfathers of the field lined ...

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pp. 1-13

At the end of the nineteenth century in Oakland, California, love coursed through Yone Noguchi as he climbed up a hillside bursting with spring flowers. Noguchi had just begun corresponding with western writer Charles Warren Stoddard, and he felt intoxicated with affection....

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Chapter 1 An Ocean Apart, 1875–1897

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pp. 14-32

In a small town called Tsushima ten miles west of Nagoya City in Japan, Okuwa Noguchi gave birth to her fourth son, Yonejiro, on December 8, 1875. Okuwa’s husband Denbei worked as a merchant selling paper, umbrellas, and ...

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Chapter 2 Two Shy Stars, 1897–1900

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pp. 33-55

In September of 1897 as Yone Noguchi slept, he dreamt of his new “love” Charles Warren Stoddard. He had long been pondering a poem for his “dearest Charlie,” and in the stillness of the night, verses came to him as if a gift from God. “It is our fate that we drift away from each ...

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Chapter 3 To the Bungalow and Beyond, 1900–1904

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pp. 56-77

In May of 1900, Yone Noguchi’s long-awaited visit to Charles Warren Stoddard finally materialized. As he prepared for his departure, he exclaimed, “At last! At last! The time has arrived! . . . I suppose you will welcome me with your heartfelt words of delight and love. At last the time ...

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Chapter 4 Queer Intimacies, 1899–1904

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pp. 78-99

By December 1903 Yone Noguchi appeared to be married to Léonie Gilmour, even as he reinforced his engagement to Ethel Armes and wrote letters of affection to Charles Warren Stoddard. Yone and Ethel’s relationship proved particularly tortured as the two waded through countless ...

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Chapter 5 Double Crossings, 1904–1909

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pp. 100-124

When Yone Noguchi arrived home in Japan in September 1904 after thirteen years abroad, he faced an overwhelming welcome. Dinners and receptions in his honor took place every day. While he wrote to Charles Warren Stoddard of the “nuisance” of all the events that left him ...

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pp. 125-148

The memory of Yone Noguchi faded significantly in the decades that followed his return to Japan. Almost a century after Noguchi left the United States, literary critic Edward Marx pressed for his recognition, a neglected pioneer of Asian American ...


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pp. 149-212


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pp. 213-224


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pp. 225-233

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861179
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824834975

Publication Year: 2012