Women Poets Respond to the Novel

In this section, we will discuss responses to the novel by women in the nineteenth century, chiefly articulated in their poetry. As will become evident, this section is deeply indebted to the work of Ellen Widmer. I have incorporated a number of her translations into this section, as well as the work of other scholars. In addition, I offer provisional translations of other poems.

If you do not have the patience to read dozens of poems by nineteenth-century women on the novel,  I particularly recommend Zhou Qi’s “Pretty Patience, Beaten, Keeps her Feelings in Check” 周綺  “俏平被打含情” (in a very provisional translation done by me and my students) and Wu Zao’s “Reading the Dream of the Red Chamber” 吴藻, “讀紅樓夢(乳燕飛)” ( in Anthony Yu’s elegant translation).

The novel has been provoking commentary and controversy since it first began circulating in 1754. Let’s begin looking at some of those responses, in the voices of young women in the early nineteenth century.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Ellen Widmer’s, Beauty and the Book is an essential reference for anyone who is interested in women, reading, or fiction in late imperial China.

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Dream of the Red Chamber by Ann Waltner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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