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  • Literature, Ideology and Women's Happiness:The Autobiographical Novels of Miyamoto Yuriko
  • Mizuta Noriko

Although the liberation of women was one of the basic concerns of the Meiji intellectuals who struggled with the question of modernizing the self―and thus the women's liberation movement has a long history in modern Japan―women's concerns were generally left to women intellectuals and treated separately rather than as a part of broad social movements. Similarly women writers were classified separately (as "female-school writers") and their literature considered a special category related only tangentially to the central activities of modern Japanese writers.

Heirs to a long tradition of women's literature in Japan, modern Japanese women writers tended to focus on emotions and psychology, while women's status in a modernizing society was excluded from the principal literary currents. Japanese proletarian literature, which reached its peak at the beginning of the Showa period (1926-present), was no exception in this regard. Such major writers as Kobayashi Takiji paid only scant and superficial attention to the questions of women, and in general the theoreticians who were concerned with the questions of laborers, peasants and intellectuals in revolution ignored women.1

Miyamoto Yuriko, a leading proletarian writer of the first half of the Showa period, stands out in this context as an exceptional figure, as a writer who placed women's concerns at the center of her literature and integrated them with the socialist movement of her time. She began her writing career as an idealistic humanist who was disturbed by the alienation of elite intellectuals from the masses, yet in her attempt to grow into a real intellectual, liberated from the conditioning forces of her bourgeois background, she came to realize that being a woman imposed an obstacle as great as any other she confronted. She came to believe that overcoming the class nature of her philosophic and aesthetic ideas and becoming a truly liberated woman were both crucial to living a rich and meaningful life. She saw the family and marriage system, feudal institutions [End Page 91] preserved in the interest of modern capitalism, as the primary forces oppressing women. At the same time, she noted the failure of women intellectuals to grasp the class nature of their ideas, and their cynical and reactionary retreat into false femininity. For Yuriko, being a humanist meant being a feminist and communist revolutionary, and the humanist, feminist and revolutionary struggles were necessary truly to liberate human beings.

Miyamoto Yuriko was born into an upper-middle class, intellectual family in 1899 and died a committed and major communist writer in 1951. She accepted historical incidents as personally significant events and grew from a bourgeois humanist into a humanistic communist, from an intellectual observer into a committed fighter, from a bright, overprotected daughter of an elite family into a liberated woman, and, above all, she grew into a fine fiction writer who combined history and individual experience in literature. Her art is a mirror reflecting the complex history of Japan and the inner life of the Japanese artist who lived through it.

She dealt with three major concerns throughout her life, concerns which she considered central problems or conflicts to be solved. They are the questions of consciousness and practice, women's happiness and creativity, and politics and literature. Focusing on her ideas on women, I would like to examine how these central problems and her consciousness of them shaped her creative works and are reflected in them.

A precocious writer, Miyamoto Yuriko published her first novel, Mazushiki Hitobito no Mure (A Flock of Poor Folk), in Chūō Kōron in 1917, when she was only eighteen years old.2 It appeared with a strong endorsement by Tsubouchi Shōyo, who observed that she was endowed with keen perception and an ability to think originally, qualities that are clearly shown in this first novel. The novel is about an ojōsan (an honorable daughter) from Tokyo who visits the remote agricultural village owned by her grandfather. The protagonist, observing the details of the poor peasants' life, becomes appalled by the injustice of the system of land ownership as well as by the distortions which absolute poverty...


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pp. 91-104
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