Integrating Politics and Love: The Novel Karyū shunwa and Japanese Political Fiction in the Decade of the 1880s
(University of Hong Kong)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines the thematic integration of love and politics in the novel Karyū shunwa (1878-79) through a narrative that emphasized the control of emotions and desire. This new type of narrative decisively impacted the Japanese political novel and Tsubouchi Shōyō's project of literary reform.
Paper long abstract:
This presentation seeks to offer a new critical perspective on the political novel (seiji shōsetsu), one of the dominant forms in 1880s Japanese fiction, through the lens of a narrative theme that has been largely overlooked in discussions of the genre: male-female love and sexuality. I primarily focus on the translation Karyū shunwa (Spring Tale of Flowers and Willows, 1878-79)—a translation of E. Bulwer-Lytton's (1803-73) Ernest Maltravers and its sequel Alice (1837-38)— which was probably the first Japanese novel to reflect the political agenda of the People's Rights Movement (jiyū minken undō). I first examine how Karyū shunwa synthesized seemingly incongruous discourses and concerns: new enlightenment discourses on gender, sexuality as well as "passion" and romantic love (the latter for the first time introduced in this novel), but also concepts of social advancement (risshin shusse) and democratic politics. I then argue that this synthesis of "politics" and "love" relied on a renegotiation of late Edo-period narrative formats, in particular the heroic and moral yomihon ("books for reading") and the romantic ninjōbon ("books of human emotion") genres. This renegotiation not only allowed for the representation of titillating erotic scenes, like in a ninjōbon, but also for a new kind of narrative that emphasized the control of desire and emotions—the precondition for the integration of the love theme within a plot centering on the representation of male political activity and moral exemplarity. At the end of my presentation, I outline the relevance of my analysis for a reevaluation of the literary context of the 1880s decade, a moment of radical literary-historical transformation. Karyū shunwa not only considerably impacted subsequent political fiction—in particular so-called parliamentarian novels like Jōkai haran (Stormy Waves in a Sea of Passion, 1880) or Suehiro Tetchō's (1849-96) Setchūbai (Plum Blossoms in the Snow, 1886)—but also Tsubouchi Shōyō's (1859-35) project of literary reform. Through his famous treatise Shōsetsu shinzui (The Essence of the Novel, 1885-86) and his own novel writing, Shōyō critically negotiated politics and the novel's civilized need to represent, but also to control, amorous "passion" and desire.
Politics of Translation