- Camellias and Vampires:Reading the Spermatic Economy in Natsume Sōseki's And Then (2008)
Miyazaki Kasumi is a professor of English literature and intellectual history at Wakō University in Tokyo. This 2008 essay of hers reframes Sōseki's work in the context of nineteenth and twentieth century European literature and social history. Showcasing both a rigorous feminist perspective and a background in the same British literature that informed Sōseki's own scholarly work, the essay explores how fears and anxieties regarding female autonomy and sexuality manifested in literary images of blood-sucking, vampiric temptresses. Through stunning close readings of Sōseki's And Then (Sore kara, 1909), as well as other novels of his such as Kusamakura (1906) and Sanshirō (1908), Miyazaki engages discourses of sexology and bourgeois domestic politics to reconfigure the space of Sōseki's novels within both a new literary context and in light of Japan's burgeoning empire.
The presence that rose thus so strangely beside the waters, is expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years men had come to desire. […] She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants….1Walter Pater, The Renaissance (1873)
Introduction: Pater's Vampires
In his Theory of Literature (Bungakuron, 1907), Natsume Sōseki quotes this passage on the Mona Lisa from Walter Pater's The Renaissance (1873). He praises Pater's descriptive technique extravagantly, saying the passage "has few rivals in its ability to draw upon diverse materials to convey a consistent emotional tone to the reader."2 But it is not only [End Page 230] Pater's prose style that fascinates Sōseki. The image Pater describes here of the Mona Lisa as a vampiric siren, lurking in the depths and beckoning men to the bottom of the sea and gaining eternal life through the siphoning of their lifeblood, exercised a powerful attraction on Sōseki, as it did on other aesthetes at the turn of the century. This "eternal woman" who transcends an individual lifetime and comes and goes between the worlds of the living and the dead, consuming men's lifeblood and depleting their energy, can be identified with the prevalent archetype of the femme fatale at the turn of the century. In a short story in Sōseki's Spring Miscellany (Eijitsu shōhin, 1910) titled "Mona Lisa," a comment recorded on the reverse side of the reproduction states that "Mona Lisa's mouth conceals the eternal essence of the feminine heart. Leonardo da Vinci is the only artist since civilization began to have succeeded in painting this enigma. To this day nobody has succeeded in penetrating the secret."3 The preeminent scholar of Sōseki in Korea, Yoon Sang-in, has shown in his book Fin de siècle and Sōseki (Seikimatsu to Sōseki, 1994) how the image of Mona Lisa is superimposed upon the character Nami in Sōseki's novel Kusamakura (1906). Indeed, Kusamakura, in which Nami plays the role of the femme fatale, is replete with water imagery, and Mona Lisa-like images of vampires lurking in the depths can be found everywhere in the text.4 Yoon bases his argument on the notion of the Mona Lisa as a woman lurking in the depths and connected to water. In the present essay, I consider the Mona Lisa as a vampire.
In Kusamakura, there is a passage that resonates with the above-quoted passage from Pater: "Long, delicate stems of waterweed lie sunk there, in a deathly trance. […] This sunken waterweed, immobile for a century and more. … [I]n all this time it has never moved. Thus it lives on, unable still to die."5 If we interpret the waterweed that "lives on, unable still to die," over "lifetimes" as the vampire that is neither alive nor dead, we arrive back at Pater's Mona Lisa. From there, we can connect the fact that...