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Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory 63.1 (2007) 49-80

"Typical Tokio Smile":
Bad American Books and Bewitching Japanese Girls
Cathryn Halverson
Kobe City University

'I Wonder Vaguely about You, Times'

Since moving to Kobe seven years ago, I have met only one other American Americanist resident of Japan, Edward Marx. During our first conversation, Ed mentioned his biography of the Japanese poet Yone Noguchi; I, my work on Noguchi's contemporary, the sensational Butte "confession" writer Mary MacLane. When Ed said he knew of MacLane, my first thought was that he was confusing her with someone else, since even those who work on women's autobiography often do not recognize her name. Yet not only did he prove me wrong, he actually had copies of a collection of letters, unknown to her biographers, that MacLane had written to Noguchi in 1903 and 1904.

At the time, MacLane and Noguchi had both recently relocated to the East: MacLane from Butte to Boston, and Noguchi from San Francisco to New York City. They were now enjoying the career opportunities and cosmopolitan lifestyles these urban centers offered. For each, the move followed precocious success. Noguchi's early poems had led to the gratifying epithet "The Latest Thing in Poets,"1 while The Story of Mary MacLane (1902) was a succès de scandale that briefly made MacLane "the most talked-of young author in the country" (Atherton 491). An energetic networker, Noguchi introduced himself to the renowned diarist by mail, naming Zona Gale as a mutual acquaintance. MacLane responded warmly to the overture: [End Page 49]

Perhaps by now you have forgotten Miss Gale's card and your own message to me—but I hope not. I have been away from Boston all summer, and I find them here on my coming back. I am again about to go away for a few weeks, but I trust that I may yet see you. I have heard fair things of you and your work.

(Atsumi 243)

Noguchi wrote back, and the two continued to correspond for at least the next nine months. We do not have Noguchi's side of the correspondence, but MacLane's suggests that the pair exchanged some mildly flirtatious banter—two clever, newly famous young authors enjoying their role as such:

I have your letter here—It came to me while I was out in Denver. You say in it that you will send me a book. I trust that generous promise is not outlawed by this time. If it isn't, and if you will send me one of your books I will send you one of mine, with a neat inscription writ in it, and your name and mine! Now what do you say?

(Atsumi 255)

MacLane and Noguchi continued on in this vein, each intrigued, it seems, by the other's "otherness," their difference from more familiar acquaintances:

I find both your photograph and your book baffling and inscrutable. . . I wish you would tell me what they both mean. . . . How many and divers are all the things of men and the world! (Atsumi 332)

So you thought I was rude, did you? Well, then I am rude. Rudeness is one of my points. . . So you had best steer clear of me.

(Atsumi 275)

The letters focus on mutual friends, the exchange of photographs, and the pair's most recent books: The American Diary of a Japanese Girl, in which Noguchi pretends to be a beautiful, coquettish upper-class Japanese girl touring the United States, and My Friend Annabel Lee, in which MacLane pretends to speak with the porcelain Japanese doll—also beautiful, coquettish, and upper-class—with whom she shares her home. American Diary and Annabel Lee were published in 1902 and [End Page 50] 1903 by the same publisher, Frederick A. Stokes. Stokes specialized in popular, "middlebrow" books, often with ornate covers and illustrations, and its list included an array of bestsellers.

Despite the flow of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 49-80
Launched on MUSE
2007-03-27
Open Access
No
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