Theses Doctoral

Envisioning Women Writers: Female Authorship and the Cultures of Publishing and Translation in Early 20th Century Japan

Yoshio, Hitomi

This dissertation examines the discourses surrounding women and writing in the rapidly commercialized publishing industry and media in early 20th-century Japan. While Japan has a rich history of women's writing from the 10th century onwards, it was in the 1910s that the journalistic category of "women's literature" (joryû bungaku) emerged within the dominant literary mode of Naturalism, as the field of literature itself achieved a respectable cultural status after the end of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5). Through a close textual analysis of fictional works, literary journals, and newspapers from the turn of the century to the 1930s, I explore how various women embraced, subverted, and negotiated the gendered identity of the "woman writer" (joryû sakka) while creating their own spheres of literary production through women's literary journals. Central to this investigation are issues of media, translation, canonization, and the creation of literary histories as Japanese literature became institutionalized within the new cosmopolitan notion of world literature. The first chapter explores how the image of the woman writer formed around the key figure of Tamura Toshiko (1884-1945) within the interrelated discourses of Naturalism, the New Woman, and decadence in the 1910s. As the New Woman became a social phenomenon alongside ongoing debates about women's issues, feminist women inaugurated the journal Seitô (Bluestocking, 1911-16) as a venue for women's literature. While this category renders their writings marginal to mainstream literature, it was a progressive, political position that marked their place within the literary world. I examine Toshiko's ambivalent position within this feminist project, and the instability of the media image of the New Woman that was always on the verge of slipping into the decadent figure of femme fatale. The second chapter examines the canonization of the late 19th-century prominent writer Higuchi Ichiyô (1872-96) at the turn of the century as a model woman writer and an embodiment of Japan's past tradition, which cast a threatening shadow on the women of Seitô. Tamura Toshiko's rejection of the New Woman identity and increasing association with aesthetic decadence also came to be at odds with their feminist mission. Seitô women's rejection of both Ichiyô and Toshiko was thus a necessary act in self-proclaiming the birth of the New Woman. As the number of women writers gradually increased in the late 1910s, various types of literary expression emerged beyond gendered expectations, paving the way for the mass expansion of women's writing in the 1920s. As the notion of world literature formed alongside various national literatures during the vast expansion of the publishing industry and translation culture in the 1920s, women began to envision their own alternative genealogy alongside dominant literary histories. The third chapter explores the envisioning of women's literary history by the Seitô writer Ikuta Hanayo (1888-1970) and the British modernist Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), whose feminist imaginations came together through the canonization of the English translation of The Tale of Genji, originally an 11th-century work written by a woman. As the growth of translations created a sense of global simultaneity, I further examine how the rhetoric of gender was central to Japanese literary modernism through the reception of two major British modernists, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, in Japan.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Suzuki, Tomi
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 17, 2012