Pierre Loti (pseudonym of Louis Marie-Julien Vaud) 1850-1923.
Madame Chrysanthème [Japan] (1888)
Translated from the French by Laura Esnor, 1916.
This novel was immensely popular when first published. It was (indirectly) one of the inspirations for Puccini’s opera, ‘Madame Butterfly.’ However, far from being a tragic love-story, one might see it as a story of child sex trafficking.
Pierre Loti was a French naval officer, whose ship was berthed in Japan for six months in 1885. So Loti went to a marriage-broker and bought a temporary Japanese wife. So did several of the other sailors. The girls were between twelve and fifteen years old. This novel is a semi-fictionalised account of Loti’s temporary marriage and his impressions of Japan. He doesn’t like either very much. The girl is described as being like an insect, or a monkey. And it is not until quite late in the book that he gradually begins reluctantly to acknowledge that there may be something in Japanese aesthetic standards. However, Japan is always seen as ‘other’, ‘little’ and ‘feminine.’
Today, the book is often seen as exemplifying the sort of Orientalist discourse criticised by Edward Said.
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