"I give my right hand to the Occidentals and my left to the Orientals."
March 16, 2013 4:14 PM   Subscribe

Edith Maude Eaton (1865-1914), better known by her nom de plume Sui Sin Far ("lotus blossom" in Cantonese), was a North American journalist, author, essayist and travel writer who has been dubbed the "'mother' of Asian North American literature." Born of an English businessman father and a Chinese mother adopted by British missionaries, Eaton lived and worked in New York, Montreal, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston. Her short stories, known principally through her only published collection, Mrs. Spring Fragrance (1912), offer sympathetic depictions of Chinese and Eurasian immigrants while prejudice against Asian peoples in North America was rampant.

Her younger sister, Winnifred (1875-1954), was also a successful writer and chose to elude the ubiquitous racism against Chinese immigrants by adopting a (slightly) safer Japanese identity, calling herself Onoto Watanna and writing about Japanese culture and people from a traditional perspective (despite her lack of Japanese heritage). In contrast, Edith refused the narrow categories of identity offered by racial discourse in North America. Her writing is notable for its foregrounding of hybridity, intersectionality and fluidity in class, race and gender: "I give my right hand to the Occidentals and my left to the Orientals, hoping that between them they will not utterly destroy the insignificant connecting link.”

Because of Eaton's nomadic past and the marginalized position from which she wrote, less than a hundred works of hers were known to contemporary readers and critics. Recently, however, a discovery of 89 articles and stories effectively doubles the size of her body of work. Until the new works are published next year interested readers can find a taste of Eaton's inimitable style in the collection edited by Hsuan Hsu (Broadview, 2011).
posted by Catchfire (4 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this. I'm always on the lookout for fascinating literature that's free for download, but it almost never hits the sweet spots of historical intersectionality like this.

(I also enjoy the work of Pearl S. Buck. I am probably wrong for this on many levels. I will be silent and accept all criticism.)
posted by Countess Elena at 4:18 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks, this looks fascinating! I'm looking forward to having a proper read.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:16 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm always on the lookout for fascinating literature that's free for download

I'm always on the lookout for fascinating literature that's fraudulently copyrighted.

I don't know any legal basis for claiming copyright 99 years past the death of the author. Works published before 1923 are in the public domain. You can't claim copyright by putting them in a book with your copyrighted 4 page introduction.

Until the new works are published next year..

You mean, until the new works are re-published next year. From the Globe and Mail article:

Some of the uncovered works – including short stories, essays, newspaper articles and poetry – were attributed to Sui Sin Far. Others were anonymous, and some were written under different names for publications including the Montreal Star, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Boston Globe and Ladies’ Home Journal.

There is no reference to unpublished manuscripts, and even if they were never published before, they'd still be out of copyright.

Dammit I hate copyfraud taking works out of the public domain for profit.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:44 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dammit I hate copyfraud taking works out of the public domain for profit.

charlie don't surf, generally I agree with you, but of course I also linked to a free copy of the original text which you can download in many formats. And Broadview's MSF is a lot more than a four-page introduction (14 actually); it anthologizes several journalism pieces and other short stories as well as historical documents and reviews for context. If you'd like to do the research, you can find many of these documents for free. If you don't want to or don't have the skills or know-how, you can purchase this text for a reasonable price out of convenience. So too with Chapman's forthcoming anthology (disclaimer: I know Dr. Chapman personally). I find it strange that you are appealing to copyright laws when no one even knew about these additional texts before Chapman's research. Anyone can put these stories up online or distribute them free if you'd like to do the research, editing and transcribing.

Obviously, ideally this research would be funded by public money with the directive to make everything available to the public for free, but that's not the world we live in (another discussion for another time). All copyright law is bunk anyway.
posted by Catchfire at 6:09 PM on March 16, 2013

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