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Reviews 583 Yenna Wu. The Chinese Virago: A Literary Theme. Harvard-Yenching Institute Monograph Series, 40. Cambridge: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1995. ix, 312 pp. Hardcover $39.00, isbn 0-674-12572-x. Yenna Wu's exhaustive study of the Chinese virago as a recurrent theme in traditional Chinese literature provides the reader with a wealtii of stories about jealous wives and concubines and their fearful yet lustful husbands, from a variety of genres. Though her emphasis is on fiction and drama from the Ming and Qing periods, particularly the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when the theme reached the height ofits popularity, she also examines earlier literature in other genres such as historical records and anecdotal sources to provide a background for later developments ofthis theme. The introduction gives an overview ofthe organization of the work and major sources for the study. Wu also clarifies her analytical approach. Rather than discussing the works in a chronological manner or by author, she approaches them by "categories based on authorial intention and tone" (p. 10). Thus, chapters 3 to 5 discuss the works in three categories with respect to the treatment of the virago figure that serve as the respective chapter headings: "Condemnation," "Caution and Reform," and "Comedy." Before the literary recounting and analyses of these three chapters that form the core of the study, in chapter 2, "Sociopsychological Foundations," Wu first examines the patriarchal social and family structures of traditional Chinese society with their subordination ofwomen and the system of concubinage and male extramarital sexual freedom to explain the prevalence of female frustration and jealousy and the common resulting figures of the shrewish wife and henpecked husband as social and literary phenomena. Male dominance conversely results in dominating females who subvert the gender hierarchy and the ideal offamily harmony. Wu goes on to interpret their representations in literature. Unfortunately, in this reader's opinion, the approach through "authorial intention and tone" is problematic, for the idea of die author has been put into question in recent theoretical discourse.1 Is it the historical person who produced the work or is it the name that functions to define the authority ofthe text? What meaning and relation to the text can be said about the anonymity and pseudonymity ofmany works of fiction and drama explored in this study? How does the "author" function in relation to the narrator and characters within the text?© 1997 by University How might these functions vary from text to text? For a study that claims to place ofHawai'i Pressauthorial intention as the central perspective from which the works are viewed, these questions need to be posed and some theoretical framework formulated for vigorous analysis. Why, for instance, in the many stories by Pu Songling used as 584 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 2, Fall 1997 illustrations in this study do they vary so radically in "intention" and "tone"? As Wu herself notes in trying to break the potential rigid divisions of the categories she has set up, "an author may adopt contrasting modulations of tone from one story to the next," and a story may "vary in tone from one section to another" (p. 11). The consequence of Wu's method is that she fragments the stories and plays into minuscule quotations and summaries, which she then slots into different sections of her study according to her interpretative convenience. It is left to the reader to try to imagine or reconstruct the originals in their entirety. This might work for a reader knowledgeable about the sources, but leaves the uninitiated rather disoriented and frustrated. Even putting aside the New Critical caveat of intentional fallacy and the problem ofpsychologizing the motives and intentions of fictional characters, the very fact that Wu provides little information on the authors of these works or the specific social-historical contexts of the texts themselves makes conjectures on authorial intentions within the literary structure and representation of the works highly speculative and almost entirely a function and product of the readercritic 's perception and analysis. One can probably justify this approach in the poststructuralist critical pluralism mat we live in nowadays, but it does require a clear articulation of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 583-585
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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