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162 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1997 Martin W. Huang, Literati and Self-Re/presentation: Autobiographical Sensibility in the Eighteenth-Century Chinese Novel. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995. xii, 237 pp. Hardcover $35.00, isbn 0-8047-2462-8. Martin W. Huang's new book stands out as an ingenious and thought-provoking study that sheds newlight on three eighteenth-century "full-length novels": The Scholars (Rulin waishi), The Dream ofthe Red Chamber (Honglou meng), and The Humble Wordsfrom an Old Rustic ( Yesou puyan). In this study, he attempts to accomplish one major task: to examine how each offhe three literati novelists applies various strategies to present his "autobiographical self through the manipulation and appropriation of fictional "others"—or, to put it simply, he shows how self-presentation (the author's autobiographical agenda) is embedded in "self-re/ presentation" (the collective biographies offictional characters). In his Introduction , Huang brings out fhe essential issues: the "migration of autobiographical sensibility," the literati identity crisis, and fhe inevitable result ofcreating "others" in self-writing. Chapter 1 is an attempt to lay out the theoretical underpinnings. While presenting a comprehensive survey on the "migration ofautobiographical sensitivity" from seventeenth-century formal autobiographical writing to eighteenth -century fictional autobiographical writing and explaining fhe literati identity crisis from political, social, and economic perspectives, Huang establishes his theory that the two factors are the cause of fhe emergence ofliterati fictional writing as autobiographical self-re/presentation. The next three chapters are individual studies ofthe three novels. In each chapter, Huang first identifies the main protagonist as the "fictional alter ego" of the novelist—Du Shaoqing for Wu Jingzi, Jia Baoyu for Cao Xueqin, and Wen Suchen for Xia Jingqu. He then analyzes each novelist's strategy for reconstructing his "self into the fictional character's biographical account. Each chapter focuses on one representational feature—the masqueraded selfin Scholars, the displaced selfin Dream, and the reinvented selfin Humble Words. A concluding chapter at the end summarizes the previous discourse and explicates the "mask" (or the function ofmasking) in the three novels by relating it to the "mask confession " in a recent study of the Victorian novel. Throughout the book, Huang demonstrates his solid scholarship and familiarity with recent studies in the field. He has done a careful, painstaking textual and contextual reading to elaborate the subde and sophisticated ways in which© 1997 by University the three novelists accomplish their self-re/presentation. Huang's major contribuofHawai 'iPresstion lies in his resourceful and insightful analysis, intelligent discourse, and indepth exploration of Chinese literati culture and the development offictional autobiographical writing. Reviews 163 With all this said, however, there are two notable drawbacks in this study that might attract scholarly attention. The first is the lack ofclear and explicit definitions for such critical terms as "autobiography," "autobiographical novel," "biography," and "collective biography." It is evident that Huang relies heavily on Pei-yi Wu's ideas in The Confucian's Progress: Autobiographical Writings in Traditional China, particularly in chapter 1, where Huang establishes his theory. In Peiyi Wu's book as well, there are no clear definitions given for autobiography or autobiographical writing, except a few brief criteria sporadically seen in his discourse .1 Huang seems to accept Wu's theory uncritically and without discrimination . The lack ofclear definition is particularly problematic in Huang's study because, unlike Wu, he has to deal not only with literati personal lives in autobiographical writing, which is already complex enough, but also with self-representation vis-à-vis the characters' stories in fictional form. This results in conceptual fuzziness, which in turn often generates vagueness in Huang's discourse. For instance, he claims in the Conclusion that he has been "hesitant to classify any of these three works as an 'autobiographical novel' (a loaded generic term)" (p. 148). Yet in his discussion, consciously or unconsciously, he refers to diem as "these autobiographical novels" (p. 11). In other places he claims that Humble Words is "like most autobiographical novels in the West" and "is structured around the life-story ofa single character, Wen Suchen" (p. 115), and that "The Scholars is more than an autobiographical novel" (p. 147). Because ofhis reluctance to offer his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 162-165
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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