Legacy 21.2 (2004) 229-234
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Newly Recovered Works by Onoto Watanna (Winnifred Eaton):
A Prospectus and Checklist
Jean Lee Cole
The half-Chinese, half-English, Canadian-born Winnifred Eaton (1875-1954), writing under the pseudonym of Onoto Watanna, was the first person of Asian descent to publish a novel in the United States (Miss Numè of Japan, 1898). Perhaps more significant, she was the first Asian American to reach a national mainstream reading audience.1 Between 1898 and 1925 , she published over a dozen novels, most of them with Harper and Brothers, and dozens of short stories and non-fiction pieces, which appeared in mass-market periodicals such as Ladies' Home Journal, Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, Century Magazine, and Harper's Monthly. However, only a small amount of her total output has been recovered to date. According to the testimony of surviving family members and Winnifred Eaton herself, her periodical publications may have neared or surpassed a hundred works. Until now scholars have located only twenty short stories and about a dozen non-fiction pieces; a number of these have been anthologized in "A Half-Caste" and Other Writings (2003), edited by Linda Trinh Moser and Elizabeth Rooney.
In recent months, a surprising number of previously unknown or undiscovered works have come to light. Their sheer number effectively renders obsolete the bibliographies in recently published works such as Moser and Rooney's "A Half-Caste," Diana Birchall's Onoto Watanna: The Story of Winnifred Eaton (2001), Dominika Ferens's Edith and Winnifred Eaton: Chinatown Missions and Japanese Romances (2002), and my book The Literary Voices of Winnifred Eaton (2002) and entry for Eaton in Asian American Short Story Writers: An A-to-Z Guide (2003). The existence of some of these works has been known for years or even decades. The Old Jinrikisha (1900), for example, had been mentioned by Eaton in interviews and letters as late as 1922 (Birchall 44), but eluded discovery simply because a viewable copy of the journal in which it appeared, the short-lived Conkey's Home Journal, could not be located.2
The time-honored method of periodical page-turning has now unearthed many other stories. Once I knew that Eaton had published in a given magazine, I searched the whole run, or at least the portion of it in which Eaton plausibly could have published. At times it seemed that Eaton was publishing everywhere at once. [End Page 229] In 1902 , for example, she published stories in Smart Set (three in the first five months of the year), Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, the Metropolitan Magazine, and Harper's Monthly; she also published an article on Japanese drama in the Critic and her third novel, The Wooing of Wistaria.3 Of the works listed in this checklist, only the novel, the article, and two of the stories ("Eyes that Saw Not" and "A Contract") were known previously. These new works thus confirm Eaton's widespread popularity and productivity during the early years of the twentieth century. Indeed, "the name of Onoto Watanna" must have been "known everywhere," as one reporter declared in 1903.
The early works also provide a clearer picture of how Eaton developed the formula she used with great success in her "Japanese romances"—novels such as A Japanese Nightingale (1901), The Heart of Hyacinth (1903), and Tama (1910) that were set in Japan and depicted interracial relationships between (for the most part) Japanese women and Anglo-American men.4 In her early fiction, Eaton experimented with dialect, point of view, and narrative structure; these stories depict "half-caste" and full-blooded Japanese heroines, Japanese heroes, and American, English, and Japanese lovers; dialogue is written both in dialect and in standard English. "The Diary of Dewdrop" is one of the few Japanese stories to employ a first-person perspective, while The Old Jinrikisha is not only written in first person, but also from the perspective of a rickshaw (jinrikisha) whose "sex was set"—she is as "soft and pliable to the touch as...