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From the violent to the comic through the power of the text: Nogami Yaeko reading Jane Austen in Japan

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posted on 2023-05-26, 11:02 authored by Barbara HartleyBarbara Hartley
Nogami Yaeko (1885-1985) was one of modern Japan's most revered woman novelists. She was also a great admirer of the writing of Jane Austen. Nogami Yaeko first read Jane Austen as a young woman. However, in 1926, at the age of forty-one, her understanding of the English writer's work became much more profound when she was asked to proof-read her husband's translation into Japanese of Jane Austen's 1813 novel, Pride and Prejudice (or at least the section of that novel up to when Darcy first proposes to Elizabeth Bennet). This close reading of Pride and Prejudice gave Nogami Yaeko, hereafter referred to by her given name, Yaeko, a great deal of textual pleasure. Scholars such as Eleanor Hogan and Tamura Michio have also suggested that the reading left an indelible mark on aspects of Yaeko's future text production, including narrative structure and themes relating to marriage. In this article I will argue that Austen's playful sense of humour and love of the comic, deployed so skilfully in Pride and Prejudice against the self-important and overbearing male, made an equally strong impact on the aspiring woman writer making a careful reading of the narrative in Japan. However, I want to suggest that, rather than being expressed in subsequent textual production, Austen's comic methodology armed Yaeko to develop effective personal and professional strategies to deal with the highly masculinised environs of the pre-war Japanese literary community.


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