PERSUASIONS ON-LINE V.30, NO.2 (Spring 2010)

Elizabeth Bennet Turns Socialist: Nogami Yaeko’s Machiko

Hisamori Kazuko


Hisamori Kazuko (email: is Professor Emeritus of Ferris University, Japan.  She has written on Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Emily Brontë, and is currently interested in works of art by Henry Fuseli, Caspar David Friedrich, and Balthus in relation to English novels of the period.


Nogami Yaeko is known to have avidly read foreign novels in order to gain inspiration for her own creative imagination (Uda 388).  In December 1927, just before she started writing her serialized novel Machiko (1928-30),1 she became enamored of a French novel, Stendhal’s The Red and the Black.  “Julien Sorel is a fascinating character, and Stendhal’s style quite attractive and yet,” she noted in her journal, as if warning herself, “one should never emulate Stendhal, for what character would look more ridiculous than a Julien that falls short of the original?”  Nogami then re-read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, one of her old favorites,2 and declared:


Every time I read [Pride and Prejudice], I admire it more than before.  This is, indeed, a novel true to nature.  Life is presented without any ostentation, showing, as it were, its plain, unpainted face.  The Red and Black in comparison is merely the decorated mask of an actor. . . . I had hoped that the quality of my next novel would match at least that of Austen, but now I realize that this is too daring a dream.  If I reached such a level of accomplishment, I would surely congratulate myself.  (Nikki 199)


Nogami evidently admired Austen’s realism, her descriptive power which enabled her to present life as it is.


As scholars have noted, Nogami’s Machiko is indebted in various ways to Pride and Prejudice.3  Austen’s contributions to Machiko are first and foremost the dramatic story line and distinctly-featured characters.  We encounter in Machiko not only an Elizabeth Bennet-like heroine who makes the grave mistake of misjudging the character of her lover, but also a Mrs. Bennet-like mother who urges the heroine to marry (and who complains constantly of her headaches), a William Collins-like brother-in-law, a powerful caricature of a sycophant4 and a Lady Catherine de Bourgh-like relative, officious and formidable.


Machiko is an intelligent and beautiful girl who audits social science classes at a university.  She is shocked by the poverty of her country’s farmers and the laborers, and she is bored with and detests the gross materialism of the bourgeois class to which she belongs by birth.  But her widowed mother, in spite of her slender means, is anxious to keep up the appearance of upper-class respectability and urges Machiko to marry.  To oblige her, Machiko has to wear formal Japanese kimono and attend gossipy parties, where from time to time an officious relative, Mrs. Taguchi, introduces her to “prospective husbands.”


Machiko sees at one of these parties a handsome young man called Kawai, an heir to an old family and to the fortune of the Kawai Financial Group.  It is rumored that, having studied archeology at Cambridge University, he came back to Japan some months ago and is about to get married to the daughter of a baron.  Kawai talks graciously to everyone that surrounds him and Machiko despises him, judging him to be incapable of distinguishing even the obvious flatterers from the others.


Kawai, on the other hand, finds Machiko attractive, unique in her beauty and in her independent way of thinking.  After this they come across each other at various parties and once accidentally meet at a bookstore when Machiko is with her brother-in-law Yamase.  This puts Machiko in an embarrassing situation as Yamase, a teacher of a provincial high school, is at once proud and abject and, in a most obsequious manner, flatters Kawai.  Kawai is a bit taken aback by Yamase but invites both him and Machiko to come and see his archaeological research center which has just been built on his family estate.  To Machiko’s surprise, Kawai, having taken them on a tour of the center, discusses with great enthusiasm and liveliness the archaeological excavations going on in Egypt and Mongolia.  Machiko cannot help exclaiming:  “How can you be so enwrapped in the life of people buried for centuries ‘under ground’ when there is so much reform to be done for the life of the people ‘above ground’?”


Machiko has been visiting a poverty-stricken area and is getting familiar with revolutionary activities.  She was introduced to Seki, a dashing radical of peasant stock, who attracts her strongly both ideologically and physically.  He puts trust solely in the proletariat and declares that they will soon erase the inequality among men—if Machiko doubts this it signifies that she has no faith in humanity at all.  He often ignores Machiko when they meet and despises her as a member of the bourgeoisie.  Machiko starts to look for a means to throw off the restrictions of the class she so much detests.


It is then that Kawai makes a marriage proposal to Machiko and she rejects him on ideological grounds.  Machiko wishes to be loved by Seki, and finally confesses her love.  To her great delight she learns that Seki also loves her, and she decides to plunge into revolutionary activities by marrying him.  But on the very day they are to marry, she discovers that Seki had abandoned her close friend and his fellow activist, Yoneko, who was pregnant with his child.  Astounded, Machiko denounces him and leaves him.


The end of the novel hints that Machiko will achieve happiness by marrying Kawai, who proves himself worthy of her love—as the head of the Kawai Financial Group, he meets with the representatives of the workers on strike and is so impressed by them that when he finds the factory in a financial crisis, decides to give up nearly all his property to reopen the factory under the workers’ cooperative supervision.


In addition to story line and characters, Nogami further adopts the “companionate marriage” theme of Pride and Prejudice and its light comical tone.5  Unlike Austen, however, she makes her standpoint clear vis-à-vis some of the social, political and gender problems of the period.  To illustrate my point, let me discuss in some detail two episodes of the novel in which Machiko directly rejects two suitors:  first the Darcy-like Kawai, and next the Wickham-like Seki.  In the first case Machiko throws her family into turmoil while in the second one she herself has to go through a heart-rending experience.


Let us begin with the first episode, in which Nogami’s satirical tone is akin to Austen’s.  When Machiko refuses to marry Kawai, an heir to the fortune of the Kawai Financial Group, her family members are thrown into an uproar.  An officious relative, Mrs. Taguchi, asked by Kawai’s mother, rushes to Machiko’s home eager to act as a conciliator.  Both Machiko’s mother and sister-in-law Akiko try every means to persuade Machiko to retract her word.  Kawai is a very handsome and wealthy gentleman.  He is even a Cambridge-educated scholar and his mother a nobleman’s daughter.  What more could one want?  But Machiko refuses to listen to them.


Her sister-in-law happens to have invited some of the relatives to a cherry blossom viewing party the next day.  The guests duly arrive:


In fifteen minutes there was not one who did not know what had happened the day before.  Tucking into their sashes cherry-blossom-patterned towels distributed for the festivity, or tying them around their necks, they commiserated with Machiko’s mother one by one, as if they were giving words of condolence.  Mrs. Taguchi, having secluded Machiko in a room at the far end of the house, preached her philosophy of marriage to her for an hour and a half.  In the end she said ill of Machiko right to her face and declared that she had never heard of or met with such a girl.


Amidst all this, Machiko did not fail to notice a phenomenon, hidden yet prevalent among the guests.  All of them, especially the ladies, even the “go-between” Mrs. Taguchi, her sister-in-law Akiko and, to exaggerate a bit, even that good-natured Fumiko, Akiko’s sister, were contented, rather than discontented, to see Machiko failing to accept Kawai.  They were in fact relieved and hence were relaxed and enjoying whole-heartedly the festive dishes.  The only one truly lamenting and disappointed was her pallid-faced mother, half of whose face was covered with an ache-alleviating paste.  (285-86)


Neither the so-called “go-between” Mrs. Taguchi, nor Machiko’s sister-in-law, nor even friendly Fumiko in reality wishes Machiko to triumph over them by making a great match.  They pretend to be sorry yet are actually pleased with her loss.  They commiserate with her mother while they secretly enjoy witnessing a “family tragedy.”  We may recall a similar scene in Pride and Prejudice.  When Lydia has eloped, the neighbors visit Mrs. Bennet to offer assistance and words of condolence.  Elizabeth readily condemns them:  “Assistance is impossible; condolence, insufferable.  Let them triumph over us at a distance, and be satisfied.” (323)  Like Elizabeth, Machiko sees through the hypocrisy of her relatives.


As in Austen’s satire, Nogami makes use of details in producing comic effect.  The merry-making “cherry-blossom-patterned towels” that the guests “tuck into their sashes” or “tie around their necks” are ironically out of tune with their “words of condolence.”  The marriage theme furthermore exposes bourgeois egotism:  everyone strives to gain a higher social status and economic stability through marriage while hypocritically pretending to wish their neighbors good luck.  In this strife Machiko’s mother is at least honest:  comically described as she is with “half of [her] face . . . covered with an ache-alleviating paste,” she at any rate is truly disappointed with her daughter’s failure and possesses no art to hide it.


Is Nogami’s novel then simply an imitation of Pride and Prejudice?  The answer is “No.”  Her originality lies, as I mentioned above, in combining this theme of marriage with some of the social, political and gender issues of the period.  Machiko’s rejection of another suitor, Seki, which marks a turning point in her life, best exemplifies this.


It has long been remarked on by Austen’s readers, perhaps most famously by Winston Churchill, that, in writing Pride and Prejudice in the 1790s, Austen made no direct references to the French Revolution, which naturally had a great impact on English society.  Nogami, on the other hand, in writing Machiko in 1920s, reports almost contemporaneously the influence of the Russian Revolution.  The novel deals with the young Japanese intellectuals who were attracted to the ideals of communism.  Due to the world-wide economic depression, workers and peasants were suffering from great poverty.  There were a series of workers’ strikes while the police were trying their utmost to suppress the left-wing movement.  In 1928, in Japan 1,600 suspected communists and radicals were arrested; in 1929, there were 700 more arrests.  Nogami had intimate friends among the activists who had visited for themselves the glorious post-Revolutionary Russia.  She sympathized with these activists but considered herself to be first and foremost a writer and remained outside of the heat and the turmoil of the movement.


The heroine Machiko has been attracted ideologically as well as physically to the dashing radical Seki.  But when she discovers he had abandoned her friend and his fellow activist, Yoneko, who is pregnant with his child, she denounces him:


How meaningless is your movement if it does not remove from the surface of the world suffering like that of Yoneko, as well as the poverty of the masses?  Even if the future society were to be established with your fine system, if there remained a single Yoneko, it would be as imperfect as the society is at present without bread and clothes!  (326)


Machiko accuses Seki who, having taken sexual advantage of Yoneko and abandoned her, dares to say that it is Yoneko’s duty to sacrifice her personal happiness for the great cause.  Machiko cannot forgive his male egotism, and her denunciation of Seki is both poignant and definitive.


In 1927 Nogami, a woman writer re-reading Pride and Prejudice, a woman novelist’s work, must have recognized in the sexually lax Wickham a character to be developed for her new novel Machiko.  If Austen in Pride and Prejudice lets Wickham go unscathed (after all, when she meets him face to face, Elizabeth only chides her brother-in-law), Nogami has her heroine renounce Seki.  Wickham is condoned; Seki is condemned.  In discussing Machiko, Iwabuchi Hiroko, a feminist critic of Japanese literature, points out that as far as the question of gender was concerned the radical movement was self-contradictory at the time, for although it professed to liberate women, actually sexual exploitation was practiced by the male activists with impunity.  Nogami’s novel, she argues, should be valued highly, for it exposed this practice for the first time (183).  Nogami, having studied the narrative technique of Austen, acquired a means to express in a novel form, even if a bit too programmatically, her ideological standpoint.


Nogami Yaeko, grand dame of Japanese literature.

Machiko was Nogami’s first attempt at a full-length novel.  In her second novel Meiro (The Labyrinth, 1948-56), an ex-activist hero searches most conscientiously in the midst of the growing militarism for a means to atone for an act of betrayal he had committed in the past.  Nogami’s next work, Hideyoshi to Rikyu (Hideyoshi and Rikyu, 1964), which is acclaimed as her masterpiece, deals with a conflict between an artist, Rikyu, a celebrated tea master, and his tyrannical patron, Hideyoshi.  The author here inquires with pin-point fineness how far an artist can compromise with political power before he puts his integrity in danger.  Nogami thus continued to question the individual’s morally correct position vis-à-vis oppressive power, whether that power is male egotism, a patriarchal society, or the authority of the state.  In steadfastly maintaining her moral standpoint, we may note again the influence of Austen on Nogami.


In an essay written in 1964, “On First Reading Jane Austen,” Nogami wonders what kind of life Elizabeth Bennet would lead if she were alive in the 1960s:  “[Elizabeth] would be able to walk, with shoulders erect, in any street in present day London.  We might even find her joining the march protesting nuclear armament heading out of Aldermaston” (Zuihitsu 362-63).  Nogami, who in the early stage of her career aspired to the artistry of Pride and Prejudice, attempted throughout her life to update Jane Austen in works that tackled the social, political, or gender-related problems prevalent in the twentieth century.





1. From 1928 to 1930 Machiko was serialized in influential journals Kaizō (Reconstruction, from the first to the seventh installment) and Chuō Kōron (Central Forum, the last installment), and in 1931 published in a book form from Tettōshoin.


2. In an essay written in 1964, “Hajimete Ōsutin o yonda hanashi” (On First Reading Jane Austen), Nogami talks about her first reading of Pride and Prejudice and her subsequent involvement:


[In 1907] Natsume Sōseki [who wanted to teach me how to write a novel properly] lent me his copies of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and of a work by George Eliot. . . . I first read Jane Eyre and then Pride and Prejudice.  I will never forget how deeply impressed I was with Pride and Prejudice.  It was a kind of revelation as well as a moment of great disappointment.  For, Austen wrote it at the age of twenty-three and I happened to be about the same age.  Compared with the juvenile works I had so far produced, it clearly showed mastery, and I could not help feeling diffident.  Pride and Prejudice, however, has been one of my favorites ever since then.  It was indeed in honor of this memory that I later volunteered [in 1926] to transcribe my husband’s Japanese translation of [Pride and Prejudice].  (Zuihitsu 361-62)


All quotations from Japanese texts have been translated by the author.


3. See Watanabe 158-70, Kubota, Enomoto, Tamura, Hogan and Brodey, and Hartley.


4. Fascinated by Austen’s characterization of William Collins, who is at once proud and obsequious, Nogami in her diary slyly wrote ill of one of her acquaintances, calling him “Mr. Collins” (Nikki 3).  She also published a short story, “Tensei” (Re-birth), a central character of which is again nicknamed Mr. Collins.


5. The theme was an appropriate and timely one for Nogami.  As Hogan and Brodey put it, “Both the Regency England and Taisho Japan (1912-26) were undergoing transitions where increasing social mobility and individualism were conductive to the increasing dominance of a model of companionate marriage.”



Works Cited


Austen, Jane.  The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen.  Gen. ed. Janet Todd.  Cambridge: CUP, 2005-08.

Enomoto, Yoshiko.  “Machiko and Pride and Prejudice.”  Comparative Literature Studies 28 (1991): 245-58.

Iwabuchi, Hiroko.  “Shōwa shonen jidai kara haisen made no josei bungaku” [Women’s literature from the early Showa period to the end of the War].  Nihon josei bungakushi [History of Women’s Literature in Japan].  Ed. Iwabuchi Hiroko and Kitada Yukie.  Kyoto: Mineruva Shobo, 2005.  175-241.

Hartley, Barbara.  “From the Violent to the Comic through the Power of the Text: Nogami Yaeko Reading Jane Austen in Japan.”  Hecate 34.2 (2008): 32-48.

Hogan, Eleanor J., and Inger Sigrun Brodey.  “Jane Austen in Japan: ‘Good Mother’ or ‘New Woman.’”  Persuasions On-Line 28.2 (2008).

Kubota, Noriko.  “Ōsutin no mō hitori no musume, Yaeko: Kōman to henken to Machiko” [Another Daughter of Jane Austen, Yaeko: Pride and Prejudice and Machiko].  Daitō Bunka Daigaku Kiyō 27 (1989): 113-26.

Nogami, Yaeko.  MachikoNogami Yaeko Zen Shōsetsu [Collected Fiction].  Vol. 7. Tokyo: Iwanami, 1997.

_____.  Meiro [The Labyrinth].  Collected Fiction.  Vols. 9-11. Tokyo: Iwanami, 1998.

_____.  Hideyoshi to Rikyū [Hideyoshi and Rikyu].  Collected Fiction.  Vol. 13.  Tokyo: Iwanami, 1998.

_____.  Nikki [Journals].  Nogami Yaeko Zenshū [The Complete Works of Nogami Yaeko].  Pt. 2, Vol. 2.  Tokyo: Iwanami, 1986.

_____.  Zuihitsu [Essays].  Complete Works.  Pt. 2, Vol. 22.  Tokyo: Iwanami, 1982.

Tamura, Michio.  “Nogami Yaeko to Sekai meisaku daikan-5: Kōman to henken, jōkan” [Nogami Yaeko and The World Masterpiece Collection Number Five: Pride and Prejudice, Part One].  Kagawa Daigaku Kyōiku Gakubu Kenkyū Sōsho 7 (1998): 106-23.

Uda, Ken.  “Kaidai” [Bibliographical Notes].  Machiko.  By Nogami Yaeko.  385-99.

Watanabe, Sumiko.  Nogami Yaeko no bungaku [The Literary World of Nogami Yaeko].  Tokyo: Ōfūsha, 1984.


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