If Lady Macbeth or Ophelia were brought to life, it would be difficult to imagine the kind of life they would live. However, if Elizabeth were brought to life, it would be easy to picture her stepping lively down the streets of today’s London.
As is clear from this special edition of Persuasions On-Line, the works of Jane Austen have been translated into many languages around the globe and have captured the attention of audiences outside of the English-speaking world. Knowledge about Austen and her work trickled slowly into Japan as well at the turn of the twentieth century, after her work received the positive attention of Meiji Japan’s premiere English literary scholar, Natsume Sōseki (夏目 漱石; 1867-1916). As interest in Austen and her works grew, translations and at least one adaptation of her novels began appearing in Japanese in the 1920s and 1930s.1 Within a period of 30 years in Japanese history, we can witness the progression in the importation and adaptation of Jane Austen from comments about her style, to actual translation into Japanese, to the imitation of her style, then to the adaptation of her plots to changed circumstances, and finally to the point where Austen helps an important Japanese author find her voice.
Oddly enough, due to the timing of this importation, Austen’s reception in Japan was mediated by the simultaneous arrival of nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century British and European authors. Austen became synchronous with authors like Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855), Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), and George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950). By comparing Natsume Sōseki’s importation and treatment of Austen with the somewhat later but passionate engagement of Nogami Yaeko, we can see that in both cases the authors use Austen to help them navigate the transitions associated with rapid modernization. In the hands of Sōseki,2 Austen serves as a useful example in Japan’s political disputes surrounding the connection between narration and nation: the search for improving narrative techniques was tied to issues of national identity and even national security. At the same time, Sōseki’s writings and supposed remarks about Austen suggest that his admiration of her modern narration was counterbalanced—or even based on—very traditional, conflicted views of womanhood and complete ignorance of Austen’s personal history.
Whereas Sōseki the male author imports Austen and gives her credence in her new context, Nogami the female author further disseminates and acculturates Austen’s work and ties it to debates surrounding femininity. Nogami’s interpretation of Austen is highly influenced by the discourse surrounding the “New Woman,” or atarashii onna, a progressive ideal inspired by Ibsen and Shaw and imported to Japan during the 1920s. In both cases, we see that the importation and influence of Austen is closely tied to broader concerns—whether cultural, political, or societal. Strange as it may seem to many Western readers today (who despite recent trends in Austen scholarship may still view Austen as apolitical), Austen was chosen as a model author to help guide Japan through its modernization and Westernization during the first three decades of the twentieth century.
Novels in Meiji Japan: Narrating Nation
The Meiji Period in Japan (1868-1912) is largely known for its unprecedented rapid changes in technology and Westernization, particularly for its advancements in technology, politics, democratization, and the conveniences of daily life. Within the first decades of Meiji, intellectuals demonstrated an almost ravenous appetite for things Western, manifested partly in the cultural movement called Bummei kaika (or “civilization and enlightenment”) that had Japanese nobility and high officials suddenly sporting Western suits and gowns, waltzing to the sound of pianos and violins, and eating with forks and knives, as many of the contemporary woodblock prints commemorated.3 While there was also a cultural backlash of increased xenophobia in some quarters, after almost two centuries of closed borders and minimal contact with other cultures, many Japanese eagerly sought new patterns and ideals by imitating such material features of the Western world. According to some scholars, the desire to adopt things Western somewhat paradoxically stemmed from the desire to surpass or defeat the West and reclaim Japan for the Japanese (e.g., Irokawa 51).
During this fascinatingly turbulent period, Japanese authors struggled with determining an appropriate balance between the new fetish for the global (now understood as represented by Europe and the United States) and the preservation of the local (ancient Japanese traditions). The West represented things modern, especially individualism and advances in technology and science; Japan stood for ancient traditions, stable community structure, and understanding of things spiritual or poetic. This dichotomy was reflected in the popular Meiji saying: “Tōyō no dōtoku, Seiyō no geijitsu” (Eastern soul, Western technology). Meiji leaders debated whether it could be possible to overcome this dichotomy through education in the divergent cultural strengths—that is, to learn from the rational, scientific West, without sacrificing the soulful, spiritual East. Debates over the shape of the novel in this same Meiji culture were therefore also a thinly veiled political debate over national identity as well as over Japan’s place in relation to its expanding world, particularly in relation to the “West.”4
Bummei kaika, “the civilization and enlightenment” movement, made its presence felt as Meiji authors tried to redefine Japanese literature, particularly Japanese narrative fiction, according to what were perceived as more modern (and Western) standards. From a contemporary Western perspective, this impulse to redefinition may seem particularly unusual given Japan’s foundational role in the world history of the novel—Japan’s Murasaki Shikibu is commonly credited with writing the world’s first novel in the early eleventh century. The writings of one of the most influential revolutionary Meiji literary critics, Tsubouchi Shōyō (1859-1935), forcefully promoted the “Westernization” of Japanese literature by encouraging a shift from the lyricism and episodic quality of traditional Japanese writing to the linearity characteristic of mainstream Western poetics. Japanese authors, he argued, should imitate and eventually surpass Western novels by altering the Japanese narrative style to create more “tightly constructed plots with logical development” (Ryan 38). In addition, specific Western authors and movements were chosen as particularly suitable for the new Japan.
Meiji literary critics, in their radical attempts to reform Japanese literature to coincide more with British and European models, suggested that there might even be a more fundamental problem with the Japanese language itself. Some hypothesized that the difficult Chinese characters (kanji) used in Japanese writing were themselves inhibiting to artistic expression. Concern over the adequacy of the Japanese language, however, extended far beyond literary critics. Shockingly, figures as prominent as the Minister of Education and the Japanese chargé d’affaires in Washington both seriously proposed the abolition of the Japanese language in favor of English during this period (see Miyoshi 5; Ryan 64-66). The debates that raged over the language of the novel therefore figure within a larger debate over the relationship between language and civilization (modernization) and suggest a crisis regarding national identity.
Prominent Meiji authors, such as Futabatei Shimei, author of Japan’s first “modern” novel, Ukigumo, represent the self-conscious formation of narrative strategies and the mingling of two contrasting aesthetic systems to accord with a changing national identity. Just as Meiji reform leaders attempted to inculcate European scientific method and rationalism through education reform, authors such as Shimazaki Tōson adopted Naturalism and the “scientific novel” from France as a mode suitable to the new level of scientific development in Japan. As a result, Naturalism dominated Japanese literary culture for the first decade of the twentieth century. Only a few Japanese authors, most notably Mori Ōgai and Sōseki, resisted this movement. In fact, Sōseki’s dislike of Naturalism is one of the reasons he is drawn to Jane Austen and prefers earlier forms of eighteenth-century realism. For example, in “The Philosophical Foundations of Literature” (1907), he invokes examples from Zola and Maupassant, as well as Ibsen, to suggest the aesthetic poverty of a naturalistic depiction of sordid human conditions without the transforming power of beauty, virtue, heroic determination, or even attention to “technique.” In his essay “My Individualism” (1914), he examines the underlying Japanese “anxiety” behind the need to imitate the West that indirectly led to the excessive admiration for Naturalism.
Debates over literature in this same Meiji culture were thus thinly veiled discussions of national identity, particularly of Japan’s place in relation to its expanding world and the “West.” Translating Western works of literature and philosophy into Japanese therefore also became, as Jan Bardsley writes, “a matter of national defense as well as of intellectual excitement” (10). According to Etō Jun, “No matter how radically they differed from one another in their literary or political opinions, Meiji writers shared in the dominant national mission of their time: the creation of a new civilization that would bring together the best features of East and West, while remaining Japanese at its core” (603).
“Like a shaggy dog in a pack of wolves”: Literary Embassy to England
Natsume Sōseki, Meiji scholar and novelist, was also among Japan’s first modern comparatists of British and Japanese literature with any direct experience of England. Both in his criticism and in his novels, he sheds light on Japan’s view of its own literary culture in relation to British and European literary culture in the interesting period following Japan’s almost two-century-long isolation. Only one year after the influential publication of Futabatei’s Ukigumo, Sōseki became the first official student sponsored by the Japanese emperor Meiji to study English literature abroad. These years, however, were far from pleasant for Sōseki. In 1907, he reports that “[t]he two years I spent in London were the most unpleasant two years of my life. Among English gentlemen, I lived like a shaggy dog in a pack of wolves” (Natsume Sōseki, Bungakuron 14). Although he was able to attend one university class and found a tutor in W. J. Craig, future editor of the Arden Shakespeare, Sōseki was disappointed with his life in London and spent most of those years secluded in his rooms reading. The essay “My Individualism,” written 12 years after his return, allows us to see how Sōseki’s thought about literature shifted profoundly during his stay in London. He recounts his irritation and sense of helplessness when Englishmen gave their opinions on literature, with which he disagreed. He suffered at not having his own sense of Japanese literature to lend support to his perceptions: “I had no hope of finding salvation if I did not formulate my own basic concept of what literature was” (36). It is in this context that Sōseki encountered and read Austen for the first time, early in his stay in London.
Figure 1—Portrait of Natsume Sōseki on a 1000-yen bill.
During his just over two formative years in London (1900-1903), Sōseki conducted his own comparative aesthetics, studying the history of British literature, reading countless volumes of works written in English, but avoiding direct contact with Englishmen as much as possible (Hirakawa 170). Clearly this sojourn in England influenced Sōseki as a writer, for his writings after this period are packed with erudite allusions to many European authors, and even the form of his novels suggests the strong influence of his studies upon his own art. After his return, when Sōseki received his university position and became a preeminent literary figure of the Meiji period, he, like his predecessors Tsubouchi and Futabatei, helped define the new direction and “Westernization” of the Japanese novel, profoundly affected by Jane Austen and the culture of sensibility that Austen absorbed as a teenage author. Despite his dislike of England and the English, his years of solitary reading proved to be a great help to him as a scholar and as one who would become one of Japan’s most well known novelists. His trip to London would also be the catalyst for the introduction of Jane Austen into Japan. From Sōseki’s perspective, Jane Austen was a source for information that would help him define the key differences between Japanese and English literature. Because Sōseki also read his own position in London as representative of the Japan’s international status, turning to Austen was also linked with his desire to achieve international parity for the Japanese contemporary novel—to assist the “shaggy dog” among the “wolves.”5
Sensibility among the Potatoes: Sōseki’s Austen
We do not know why Sōseki chose to start reading Austen’s works in particular while in London. He may have been familiar with her from his days in graduate school. We do know he owned and read Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma in the MacMillan and Company editions published in London in 1898 and 1899, with Hugh Thomson’s illustrations (McClain, “Sōseki’s Views” 87; see Figure 2). He recorded his thoughts both within the pages of the text and inside the front cover of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma. These four Austen novels are located in his library currently held at Tohoku University (McClain, “Sōseki’s Views” 82, 87). The collection itself is incomplete, and we know that Sōseki also borrowed books from libraries, friends, and even his students throughout his lifetime.
While there have been interesting studies on the influence of authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Joseph Conrad, J. W. von Goethe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and William James upon various aspects of Sōseki’s writing, it seems clear that the literature that most influenced him was eighteenth-century British literature. Sōseki was the first ever to publish on Jane Austen in Japan. His first references to Austen appear in the collected published lectures that would become one of the most influential Japanese works on English literature: A Discourse on Literature (Bungakuron), published in 1907. Then, in 1909, in his work entitled Literary Criticism (Bungaku Hyōron), Sōseki again focused on eighteenth-century British literature. Even after he retired from his teaching position at Tokyo Imperial University, Sōseki persistently, almost instinctively, returned to his favorite British authors—particularly Sterne, Swift, and Austen—in his ongoing conversations with students about European literature (McClain, “Sōseki’s Views” 95).
and Nogami would have seen “Reading Jane’s Letters,” one of
Thomson’s illustrations to Pride and Prejudice.
Its Edwardian style included
Sōseki’s initial impressions of Austen, just months after arriving in London, seem to have been quite mixed, especially in comparison with the more self-assertive writing of George Eliot, or (implicitly) the more passionate Brontës. His notations in the text of Sense and Sensibility indicate that he finished reading the novel on January 18, 1901. Inside the front cover he writes in English:
Very tame, insipid, no excitement, but very natural, every character well delineated with nice distinction, no moralizing as [with] Eliot, yet healthy in tone. Drawing room novel, fit for girls’ reading. Style natural, not terse, vigorous, a lady’s style, no fire, no passion. (McClain, “Soseki’s Views” 88)
Today’s readers might well wonder if his notations are praise, criticism, or both. Indeed “insipid” is not a positive adjective; in fact, this language might recall Charlotte Brontë’s similar comments on Austen’s limitations in her correspondence: “the Passions are perfectly unknown to her”; George Sand “is sagacious and profound; Miss Austen is only shrewd and observant” (Barker 277-78).6
While it seems that Austen was not a great favorite of Sōseki’s as a first or second time reader, he nevertheless found aspects praiseworthy: his comments on the work’s being “very natural,” along with praise for her characterization are clearly positive. Later, after beginning to write fiction himself, he would become an ardent admirer of Austen’s natural style. Sōseki would come to laud Austen’s realism and descriptive abilities at great length.7 At the same time, Sōseki’s comments, when taken in the context of his other writings, relay greater praise than might at first be apparent. Sōseki’s opinions on Pride and Prejudice were also written in English in the book itself in 1901:
Humorous, easy. Calm, serene, never excited. No page either describing nature or passion which may be called “prose poetry.” Dramatic but neither poetic nor romantic. No arrant knave except Wickham, no perfect man, both sides of human nature are never lost sight of. Little idiom, much less slang, for there are no characters who use it. The style is so monotonous that it always goes at an even pace regardless of the particular phase of mind or certain phenomenon of nature, which is the object of the author to describe adequately. (McClain, “Soseki’s Views” 88)
Sōseki’s comments reflect his pleasure in her avoidance of what he saw as the contemporary pitfalls of English narration: Austen is neither Romantic (Austen’s prose is “never excited”; there is no “prose poetry”; there are no “arrant knaves” in Sense and Sensibility), nor is she a naturalist (Pride and Prejudice is “fit for girls’ reading,” exhibits “a lady’s style”). So while, for example, “monotonous” is not a positive adjective to a native English speaker, Sōseki most likely means that her tone remains even. A level heart and hand struck Sōseki as qualities that allowed an author to produce good writing. These sentiments, especially the phrases “humorous, easy” and “[c]alm, serene, never excited,” indicate Sōseki’s positive regard for Austen.
Four years after these comments, Sōseki began his own career as a novelist with the serialization of I am a Cat (Wagahai wa neko de aru) in the literary journal The Cuckoo (Hototogisu) from 1905 through 1907. While he was at work on his first in what would become a long line of novels, he was also lecturing on English literature and publishing the literary lectures mentioned above. Thus, at this time, Sōseki was actively putting his accumulated literary knowledge into practice. The seventh chapter of the lengthy Bungakuron, or A Discourse of Literature is entitled “Methods of Realism” and contains Sōseki’s detailed thoughts on Austen’s style, which are now quoted in almost all Japanese works devoted to Austen.8 The section begins:
Jane Austen is an authority on realism. Her images are plain, yet her vibrant descriptions show great skill. She certainly surpasses the famous male writers. Those who are incapable of appreciating Austen do not comprehend the allure of realism. (365)
After this brief introduction to Austen, Sōseki then quotes the entire first chapter of Pride and Prejudice in English. He follows this with more high praise for Austen’s ability to capture natural conversation that allows the readers to develop a keen insight into Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Sōseki states, “This first passage is significant because it condenses their whole life together into a single, short scene” (370-71). According to his subsequent discussion, the fact that readers can extrapolate their personalities from the initial scene clearly illustrates Austen’s talent.
As evidence of her ability to convey character economically, Sōseki tends to return to Austen’s use of dialogue. This praise also takes on additional meaning within the context of the gembun ichi movement, which strove to unify written and spoken language as part of the attempt to modernize the Japanese language. Gembun ichi led critics (including Sōseki) to find a Japanese way of emulating the enviable unity of written and spoken languages in the “West,” as exemplified in styles such as Austen’s. This movement to unify spoken and written speech introduced more natural, colloquial language into the novel.9
Sōseki, in particular, was also interested in literary realism without the scientific extremes of Naturalism. Throughout the chapter, Sōseki praises Austen’s ability to write of ordinary people and every day events, calling her descriptions “exquisite” (371) and suggesting that Austen was able to combine sensibility with realism. Commenting on Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, he states: “One must know Austen’s depth. One must know the depth that is hiding within Austen’s ordinary realism” (371). This “depth” most closely coincides with a notion of “sensibility” called mono no aware. According to Sōseki (in another context), “the public at large . . . have their intellect more developed than their sensibility” (qtd. in Sakuko 233). Anyone can analyze, he suggests (in what from a Western perspective seems an interesting inversion of classical Greek notions), but few can feel. Japanologist Thomas Rimer defines this capacity to feel or mono no aware as the “ability to grasp the movements, the possibilities, the limitations of life in the context of a single incident” (Walker 685). Sōseki ends his sixteen-page section on Austen stating, “Pride and Prejudice will reign as an authority on realism for over one hundred years” (381). By 1907, Natsume Sōseki had become a devoted fan of Jane Austen’s work.
From writings of and interviews with Sōseki’s students who attended his weekly salons, we also learn of some additional information about the tenor of Sōseki’s remarks about Austen. It was his student disciples attending his famous “Thursday Night Meetings” who would ultimately bring attention to Austen for many literate Japanese men and women through translation and adaptation. Morita Sōhei, a regular member of the meetings, writes that Sōseki encouraged him on several occasions to read Austen’s works because they exhibited “the most exquisite realism” (Morita 413). Sōhei quotes Sōseki as saying that Pride and Prejudice “is a novel by a wife who was able to write in her spare time between tending children and peeling potatoes. This being the case, it is quite distinguished to have created such a masterpiece” (Morita 413). Despite by his own account having read all of Austen’s works, Morita Sōhei (and by extension Natsume Sōseki) show an ignorance of key biographical facts about Austen. Sōhei also bases the importance of Austen’s achievement on presumptions regarding her position as a female writer at a time when marital and domestic duties were paramount.
A “spiritual awakening”: Nogami’s Austen
Nogami Yaeko (野上 弥生子) was born Kotegawa Yae (1885-1985) in a small town on the island of Kyūshū, the oldest daughter in a sake brewing family. Her family’s wealth and interest in (or tolerance of) education gained her many opportunities not available to most Meiji women: “Learning was not encouraged at my house, but I was never told I had to stop the things I wanted to do. Because of her own experience, my mother probably thought I should go to school because I liked it, even though I was a girl” (“Tsuma to haha” 122). In the year 1900, at the age of fifteen, she was sent to Tokyo to the newly established missionary school for women Meiji Jogakkō—at a time when unmarried women were not generally allowed to travel from home (Hogan, “When Art” 383; Nogami, “Tsuma to haha” 122). The central purpose of the Meiji Jogakkō was “to cultivate intellect as well as independence of thought in the women of the new age” (McClain, “Nogami” 156). The school’s headmaster, an intellectual leader of the time, wanted to compensate for the fact that missionaries often paid insufficient attention to “traditional feminine virtues”; he expressed his school’s goal thus: “to improve women’s condition by combining the Western ideals of the emancipated woman with the native ideas of feminine grace—thereby ‘creating a perfect woman’” (Copeland 13; Hogan, “Nogami” 294).
One can see an echo of the broader cultural Meiji importation of “Western learning” described above. What concerned the Meiji government for political reasons, concerned Sōseki and Nogami for cultural and literary reasons. The West represented things modern, especially individualism, while Japan stood for ancient traditions including female virtue. Whereas Sōseki struggled with the balance of “Tōyō no dōtoku, Seiyō no geijitsu” (Eastern soul, Western technology) as applied to conventions within literary and narrative structure, Nogami struggled with the same issue in relation to female virtue and particularly the concept of companionate marriage. As Rebecca Copeland writes, “The Japanese woman, while upheld as a symbol of all that was backward in Japan, was also expected to stand for all that was elegant and pure in Japanese tradition. She was to become both a modern subject and a ‘repository of the past’” (6). Nogami finds Austen useful in her response to the pressure to fuse old and new. Both Sōseki and Nogami found in Jane Austen a middle ground—a kindred spirit with the “prestige” of Western importance combined with a respect for issues of virtue and humor without overt didacticism—an author that they could use to navigate the seas of change and modernization.
Sōseki was the key link that facilitated Nogami’s connection with Austen. Nogami’s early career benefited through her association with Sōseki, who helped her publish at a time when women had few venues for publication. Nogami Yaeko heard reports from her husband, Nogami Toyoichirō, an author and a frequenter of Sōseki’s salons, about what occurred at each Thursday Night meeting. In late 1906 Sōseki became a mentor to her, reading her works and giving her literary advice. He even lent her his copy of Pride and Prejudice in 1907.10 Due to his tutelage by Sōseki, Nogami’s husband decided to translate the first part of Pride and Prejudice for the Japanese World Masterpiece Collection in 1926. This translation project allowed Nogami Yaeko a more intimate involvement with Austen’s work, as she helped transcribe his translation.
In his introduction on Austen, Nogami Toyoichirō focuses on her biography, correcting the earlier mistakes by Sōseki and some of his students. The items he selects in this introduction primarily attempt to place Austen as a woman and as an “authoress”—defining her in the context of male literary authority and commenting on her lack of a husband. While he corrects some aspects of Austen’s biography, listing briefly Austen’s brothers and sisters and mentioning the titles of her six major novels, he also introduces other errors: for example, he mistakenly attributes a much shorter time for composition of Pride and Prejudice.11 In a characteristic nod to European authority, he establishes Austen’s importance by locating her (somewhat ahistorically) within European literary circles. In particular, he cites George Bernard Shaw’s (1856-1950) approval of Austen.
Bernard Shaw did not forget to mention Jane Austen when he listed the names of the predecessors who had influenced him, and whom he considered to be geniuses. All of the names that Shaw mentioned were people who had changed society with their great minds. (6)
He also relates her to other “realists,” a list that includes Sir Walter Scott, Dickens, and Thackeray. In his preface to the translation, Nogami Toyoichirō praises Austen’s style in terms very reminiscent of Sōseki’s words in A Discourse on Literature: Austen “leads the age in walking the great road of realism and even today we cannot help but feel she left behind deep footprints” (Nogami Toyoichirō 1).12
The most interesting aspects of Nogami Toyoichirō’s commentary on Austen are perhaps his comments on Austen’s relationship to her character Elizabeth Bennet. He also notes that Jane Austen herself thought of her character Elizabeth as great favorite (2). In fact, he says that Austen thought of Elizabeth as “her daughter.” This attribution of motherly love to Austen is doubly interesting. First of all, he treats Elizabeth as though she were a historical figure: “All of the names that Shaw mentioned were people who had changed society with their great minds. . . . Pride and Prejudice’s heroine Elizabeth . . . is not the least bit inferior, but is both intellectual and enterprising . . .” (6). We will return to this tendency to emphasize Austen’s “relationship” with Elizabeth—particularly interesting given Nogami Yaeko’s feminist leanings.
Despite her indebtedness to Sōseki and to her own husband, Nogami Yaeko was a “New Woman” according to her own ideals, according to her choices in publication, and according to public opinion. Although she escaped some of the controversies of the main cohort of “Bluestockings” in Japan, she nevertheless published in the opening volume of their manifesto—the journal Seitō—in 1911. From 1911 to 1916, this journal openly discussed issues affecting the Japanese woman, such as abortion, prostitution, birth control, marriage laws, and chastity. The authors of the journal essays, “New Women” or atarashii onna, formed themselves in opposition to the Confucian “Good wife-wise mother” ideal (ryōsai kenbo); they were “well read, intellectual, urban, and free-thinking” (Bardsley 207). Ibsen’s characters Nora and Hedda were icons of this movement, and a few of the Bluestockings took their beliefs to nearly the same lengths, giving the movement more notoriety than some, including Nogami, desired. As appropriate for a New Woman, the range of works read and translated by Nogami was eclectic, yet among these authors Austen seems to have had the greatest impact upon her writing. Nogami Yaeko translated Thomas Bullfinch’s The Age of Fable in 1913, Johanna Spyri’s Heidi in 1920, Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlöf’s Gosta Berlings Saga in 1921, and completed Anne Charlotte Leffler’s Sonya Kovalevsky: Her Recollections of Childhood (the biography of a Russian mathematician) in 1924. She also wrote adaptations of Tolstoy and Homer, as well as Austen.
Nogami’s reactions to Austen are influenced by her Meiji surroundings and her own idealistic but conflicted sense of what women, especially female authors, should be like. While Nogami has extensive diaries from February 1923, we have no written record of her reaction to Austen dating from her first reading. Yet, in her introduction to the first Japanese translation of Austen’s Emma (by Abe Tomoji in 1965), entitled “On First Reading Jane Austen” (“Hajimete Austen o yonda hanashi”), she expounds on her great love of Austen and reminisces about her first reading of Pride and Prejudice, facilitated by Sōseki (“Natsume Sensei”):
When I first started training to be a writer and Natsume Sensei read my stories, I was obsessed with trying to study the work of women writers outside Japan. . . . Natsume Sensei let me borrow Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and one of George Eliot’s books. . . . I first read Jane Eyre and then Pride and Prejudice. I still remember the impression the second book left on me. It was both a kind of spiritual awakening for me as well as a disappointment. Austen was twenty-three when she wrote Pride and Prejudice and at that time I was about the same age. My stories were quite poor in comparison. I felt the wonderful quality of her work, but I lost my own self-confidence. Pride and Prejudice became my favorite book. (361-62)
Nogami reads Pride and Prejudice as a fellow, and competing, author. One can imagine that her sense of inferiority is at least partly due to the Meiji tendency for Japanese authors to question themselves and wish to compete with English and European authors.
When she proceeds to Austen’s literary value, we see that Austen’s value is related to her avoidance of what Nogami feels are characteristic hazards in women’s writing:
The literary value of Pride and Prejudice simply goes without saying. Austen avoided the highly emotional writing of women writers. Indeed, her characters are drawn vividly and simply and they are full of humor. Austen creates high drama in her novel, which is constructed with both solid structure and good transitions between scenes. She should be compared with Shakespeare. (361-62)13
Nogami had, as we see, other concerns than Sōseki’s about the qualities to be avoided in narrative prose. Nogami is concerned about the lure of highly emotional writing on the one hand, and the danger of losing the reader’s ability to connect with characters through sympathetic imagination on the other. And for Nogami, these issues were particularly true for women’s writing.
Given her association with the Bluestockings and Seitō, one might assume that Nogami’s interest in Jane Austen and in the character of Elizabeth Bennet stems from a sense of kindred spirits: the emancipated ideals of educated women who write and feel free to define their lives in ways other than by marriage and motherhood. If we recall, one of the central Confucian tenets regarding women was that their lives should be dominated by the “Three Obediences”: duty to fathers, duty to husbands, and finally duty to sons. Yet one of the most striking aspects of Nogami’s reminiscences about her first encounters with Jane Austen is her continual reference to Austen as a mother to her characters. Thus Nogami, like her husband, while not actually attributing a husband and children to Austen in the way that Sōseki purportedly did, nonetheless feels the need to use the mother-child paradigm to explain Austen’s literary success. Take, for example, the following passages from Nogami’s reminiscences about her first encounter with Austen:
But most of all, Jane Austen called Pride and Prejudice “her child,” and she loved her clever, intelligent and beautiful heroine, Elizabeth, as if she were her own daughter. Certainly, this beloved daughter must be the most charming girl in modern English dramas and novels. If Lady Macbeth or Ophelia were brought to life, it would be difficult to imagine the kind of life they would live. However, if Elizabeth were brought to life, it would be easy to picture her stepping lively down the streets of today’s London. (“On First Reading” 362)14
Figure 3—First pages of Niji no hana, as it was serialized in Fujin kōron,
beginning in 1935,
As early as 1906, when she had most likely heard of Austen through her husband, but not yet received the loan of Pride and Prejudice from Sōseki, Nogami shows in her short story “Meian” an interest in similar themes and plot structures. In “Meian,” the protagonist Sachiko receives two proposals from the same man: the first time, she rejects him with self-righteous vehemence for his pride; the second time, she just remains silent. By the time of the second proposal near the end of the story, one has the sense that Sachiko would actually like to be able to marry him. There is no happy ending for Sachiko; she feels too strongly about her career as an artist to be able to marry.15
Nogami Yaeko’s diary entries during the time she was proofreading her husband’s translation of Pride and Prejudice in the summer of 1926 also indicate her approval of Austen’s “vividly characterized” people and overall writing style (Nogami Yaeko zenshū II, 1.411-12). A little more than a year later, on December 14, 1927, Nogami refers to Austen as a “genius” (Nogami Yaeko zenshū II, 2.199). At the time she was at work on her first full-length novel, entitled Machiko (1928-1930), but ruminates sadly that her novel is not as good as Austen’s. “If it were to be as good as her work,” she writes, “I would have achieved my goal” (Nogami Yaeko zenshū II, 2.199).16
A year after this last entry, chapters of Machiko were serialized in two literary journals until the final installation in 1930. Several scholars have noted the strong plot parallels between Machiko and Pride and Prejudice.17 Indeed, these plot parallels are very striking despite the differences in culture and setting. Machiko, unlike her more traditional two sisters, has “independent thoughts.” Like Elizabeth Bennet, she belongs to the leisured class, but her family has seen a decline in fortune. Her mother exerts pressure upon her to marry, but Machiko finds the Japanese custom of arranged marriages stifling. She receives marriage proposals from three characters: the first is a wealthy, British-educated scholar (Kawai Teruhiko), heir to the fortune of the Kawai Financial Group; the second is a dashing and idealistic revolutionary youth (Seki), and the third is a pragmatic and eligible suitor who meets her once and wants her to marry him within two weeks to fit his business schedule (Takeo). The striking parallels with Elizabeth’s three suitors Darcy, Wickham, and Collins, are quite clear. Machiko initially rejects the rich Kawai in favor of Seki, but when she discovers that Seki has fathered an illegitimate child and discarded the woman, Machiko drops him. Near end of the novel, Kawai reappears and humbly proposes again in a letter. She discovers that he has given up much of his wealth for the workers of his family-owned company, and she changes her mind about him.
Both Regency England and Taisho Japan (1912-1926) were undergoing transitions where increasing social mobility and individualism were conducive to the increasing dominance of a model of companionate marriage. And in both of these novels, the authors demonstrate the clash of this individualism against older expectations that marriage benefit families financially or socially. From the opening paragraph, which itself could be seen as a twist on Pride and Prejudice’s famous opening sentence, the reader knows that marriage is the central problem for Machiko:
Machiko could not overlook the fact that these days her mother would suddenly raise the issue of her marriage. After the death of her father and the marriages of her two sisters, Machiko’s mother had retired to the family home in Koishikawa. Yet for the sake of arranging Machiko’s marriage, she would make up pretexts to take her into society and would cheerfully call on acquaintances. To a beautiful daughter with independent thoughts and talent, who had just graduated from junior college and was auditing university classes, her mother’s actions were a humiliation that could not be endured. (7)18
The pressure to marry takes on an additional meaning in Nogami’s context of arranged marriages. Takeo/Collins’s claim is particularly problematic not only because he represents a match “of the most favorable conditions,” but also because her family approves of the match. And Kawai/Darcy’s proposal to Machiko is doubly striking in its ardent nature because he is breaking what people have assumed is an arranged match in order to do so. One of the ways that Nogami sets up a parallel, kindred, and equal relationship between Machiko and Kawai is thus through the fact that each of them rejects arranged and eligible matches before ultimately choosing each other.
While the numerous parallels between Pride and Prejudice and Machiko have been elaborated elsewhere, we will just mention one additional passage. A conversation between Machiko and her more conservative, elder sister is interesting for the sartorial terms in which they discuss marriage, but also in that the conversation echoes Elizabeth Bennet’s conversation with Charlotte Lucas. Tatsuko wants to convince Machiko to accept Takeo/Collins’s proposal, and they debate the importance of marriage in terms of the necessity of wearing clothing. In this context, Takeo is a very eligible match “of the most favorable conditions,” yet according to Machiko, he tries to get a wife as though he were buying “a suitcase or a lap robe” (33).19
[Tatsuko:] “Well Machiko, are you always going to be uninterested in marriage?”
[Machiko:] “Could you really marry someone that you had only met once and for whom you had no particular feelings? Could you marry someone whom you were engaged to for less than two weeks?”
[Tatsuko:] “If you have nothing to wear when the right season comes but a kimono you don’t really like, wouldn’t you still wear it?”
[Machiko:] “But what if it didn’t fit? It would be more clever never to have put it on, than to have to take it off later.” . . .
[Tatsuko:] “Everyone is naked. If there is a suitable kimono, it is best to endure. Taking off a kimono is more of a disadvantage than putting one on.”
[Machiko:] “Is that your philosophy?”
[Tatsuko:] “Well, Machiko, what is yours?”
[Machiko:] “I’ll work naked!” (40-42)
As in Austen’s novel, a discourse of economic necessity and the real possibility of poverty undergird the conversations regarding marriage, especially the danger of rejecting proposals. Wealthy women, according to Tatsuko, are freer to “remove their kimonos” (divorce their husbands), and those with little money have few options outside of marriage. Machiko cannot deny the truth in Tatsuko’s statement that “[i]n today’s world it is very difficult for a woman to support herself” (42), any more than Elizabeth can deny her Aunt Gardiner’s advice about the folly of falling in love where there is no competence. In her arch comments, her defiant wit, her verbal banter, and her declarations against marriage for any reasons other than love, Machiko resembles Elizabeth Bennet. In the end, however, the message of Machiko is politically moderate: while rejecting the hypocrisy of upper class, Machiko also comes to reject the hypocrisy of self-denying revolutionists. Through this character, Nogami achieves a middle ground of left-leaning consciousness but also common sense. All in all, Machiko, like Pride and Prejudice, is a “skillful testimony to the foibles of human nature” (McClain, “Nogami” 161).
Whereas Machiko was inspired by Austen’s Pride and Prejudice but written in a contemporary Taisho context with no reference made to Austen, ten years later Nogami published a work that she directly (and publicly) attributes to Austen. Nogami’s decision to accept the job of writing this loose “translation” of Pride and Prejudice was crucial for Austen’s becoming known by the general public.20 Thus, in serialized form from January 1935 through April 1936, Jane Austen’s Elizabeth (“Erizabesu”) and Darcy (“Daashi”) of Pride and Prejudice were introduced to readers of Women’s Forum (Fujin kōron) as characters in Flowers of the Rainbow (Niji no hana). After a quick tribute to Jane Austen (see Figure 3), the much shortened novel Niji no hana begins thus:
Even a dull-witted lazy mother gets nervous if she has a daughter who is becoming of marriageable age, and since there were five daughters who were coming to womanhood in the Bennet’s, Mrs. Bennet thought of nothing else now. Moreover, they lived in the country town of Longbourn, a little back from London, and there were only a few families of the same rank with which they daily associated, so she was more anxious about their daughters’ marriage, and just a small tea party or a dance party was, as it were, an important hunting ground for her as any place is for such a mother. (Niji no hana 305)21
The passage is interesting for its small changes to the original facts of Pride and Prejudice. Nogami condenses much of the information of Chapter I into these two sentences. Rather than trying to maintain the narrative indeterminacy and irony of Austen’s first sentence, Nogami attributes the “truth universally acknowledged” to one mother’s wishes in particular; the implicit hunting metaphor is then attributed directly to mothers again, rather than to their daughters. Nogami establishes more openly the issues of class (“families of the same rank”) and situates Longbourn in the proximity of the only English city commonly known in Japan: London. While much of the specific irony is lost, Nogami maintains the humor and the social criticism implicit in the narrator’s tone.
Figure 4—Cover of Fujin kōron from 1935, featuring a portrait of a Japanese
Interestingly, Austen’s name only appeared on the first installment and did not appear on subsequent title pages. Since the journal was a popular women’s magazine, its contents were aimed at a female readership. There were drawings of scenes from the novel as well as articles about working outside the home and advertisements for products of interest to women (see Figures 3 and 4). Flowers of the Rainbow appeared in full in a paperback version in December 1937. In its preface, Nogami Yaeko wrote of her love of the character Elizabeth with her “rich and sparking wit” (Niji no hana 303).22 Perhaps Nogami, too, then is a mother—or a daughter—of Elizabeth.
From “Peeling Potatoes” to “Work[ing] Naked”: Austen in a Changing Japan
Nogami and Sōseki both struggle to find a way of using their knowledge of things Western to modernize certain Japanese customs and literary styles without severing connections with what they each value in their own traditions. It is interesting that, at a time when Japan is undergoing such rapid modernization, they would both find inspiration in Jane Austen’s life (however incompletely it was known) and in her writings. Those who are familiar with Austen’s own historical setting may find additional interest in the fact that Austen, too, was dealing with a changing world where companionate marriage was becoming the norm, the aristocracy was becoming insolvent, the middle classes were gaining literacy and prominence, entailment and marriage laws compromised women, and a new globalism made local customs seem more arbitrary. Given these common themes and similar historical contexts, it is tempting to wonder whether Sōseki or Nogami read Persuasion.
Sōseki and Nogami seem to represent two different Austens in their essays and fiction. Sōseki’s Austen is characterized by her elegant domesticity and intelligent rendering of local detail and eccentric personalities. Nogami’s Austen is a rebellious proto-feminist, evoking universal concerns and engaged in social commentary. While Sōseki seems to have perpetuated the myth of Austen’s having married and had children, Nogami promulgates the idea of Austen’s being a “mother” to her novels and, in particular, a doting mother of Elizabeth Bennet. It may well be that this idea in fact originates in a letter that Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra, which appeared in the Austen-Leigh collection of her letters in 1870: “I want to tell you that I have got my own darling child from London,” Jane writes, presumably referring to a copy of Pride and Prejudice in print. In the same letter she continues: “I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least I do not know” (January 29, 1813; Austen-Leigh 104). Such words as “my own darling child” might well justify some of Nogami’s claims regarding Austen’s maternal affection for her literary creations. And yet, perhaps the maternal image of Austen expresses a deeper need among these particular intellectuals: it may be that this domesticating image of motherhood was essential for Meiji and Taisho audiences to be able to accept Austen as a female writer of spirit and importance. One could imagine that Austen’s ideas and writings were rendered “safe” through the constant references to motherhood. In a sense, the proto-feminist “new woman” and the Confucian “good mother” merge in the “new mother”: the literary woman whose offspring are intellectual but fictional and therefore less threatening to the traditions they challenge.
1. See Hogan’s “A New Kind of Woman,” especially Chapter Three.
2. For Japanese authors who have taken pen names, the tradition is to use the pen name to refer to the author. Thus, here we refer to Natsume Sōseki as Sōseki. Likewise later on we refer to Morita Sōhei as Sōhei. For the remaining Japanese names in the text, we use the Japanese style of family name followed by the given name. In the Works Cited list, names are also alphabetized in this order (family name followed by given name); Sōseki and Sōhei are thus found under their family names (Natsume and Morita).
3. For an excellent collection of such prints, see Meech-Pekarik. Some of the following background discussion is taken from Brodey’s “Literary Linearity.”
4. This material is treated at greater length in Brodey’s Introduction to “My Individualism” (9-16).
5. See Brodey’s Introduction to Rediscovering Natsume Sōseki (1-10).
6. The first passage is taken from Charlotte Brontë’s letter to William Smith Williams on 12 April 1850; the second is from a letter to George Henry Lewes on 18 January 1848. In the latter, she mocks Lewes’s demand that she must “learn to acknowledge [Austen] as one of the greatest artists, of the greatest painters of human character, and one of the writers with the nicest sense of means to an end that ever lived” (Barker 277-78, 181)
7. McClain comments that we must remember that here Sōseki is writing as a reader and not as a writer, for he had yet to become a novelist (McClain, “Sōseki’s Views” 88).
8. See Abe, Endō, Tamura, and Hogan, “A New Kind of Woman.”
9. See Ryan (80 ff.).
10. For a detailed account of the relationship between Sōseki and Austen, see Hogan’s “Beyond Influence” and “A New Kind of Woman.”
11. “Pride and Prejudice was written by Jane Austen (1775-1817) during a ten-month period from 1797 through 1798, when she was still just twenty-three years old” (Nogami Toyoichirō 1).
12. See Tamura (81-82).
13. These are selections from a longer passage from “On First Reading Austen” translated by Eleanor Hogan and first published in U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal, No. 29 (2005). See Hogan’s “Beyond Influence” (83).
14. This original translation by Eleanor Hogan also first appeared in U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal (Hogan, “Beyond Influence” 83).
15. Sōseki criticized “Meian” for “lack of naturalness in several characters she had created, and abruptness of the sequence of events” (McClain, “Nogami” 157). “Meian” was first published posthumously, in 1988. See Hogan’s “A New Kind of Woman” (68-82).
16. For complete translations of the diary entries on Austen see Hogan’s “Beyond Influence” (80-81).
17. See Hogan’s “A New Kind of Woman” and Enomoto.
18. Translation by Eleanor Hogan.
19. This and the next two passages from Nogami’s Machiko are translated at greater length in Hogan’s “A New Kind of Woman” (141-44).
20. Nogami writes of this “translation” in her diary entry of October 31, 1934 (Nogami Yaeko zenshū II, 4.428-29). While Nogami used the term “translation,” it was not what we would refer to as a translation today but instead a loose adaptation: during the Meiji and Taisho periods (1868-1926) and beyond, Western stories were often retold in Japanese by well known Japanese writers. They were not trying to keep to the original but had a free hand to give their own rendering of the story, with the same plot and characters. In this fashion and in an age before plagiarism was an issue, and in a culture where homage was frequently expressed through apprenticeship and imitation, this kind of adaptation was the way Western stories, and particularly those in the English language, became known to the Japanese public.
21. Translation from Enomoto (248).
22. See Hogan’s “Beyond Influence” (82) for the full translation.
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