japonisme: wondering about morality

17 October 2008

wondering about morality

ella wheeler wilcox was a spiritualist and popular poet.

i just don't know what i think of this. is it completely projection? does it make valid points? or is it merely condescension? is she a feminist ahead of her time, or is it xenophobic?

is it even possible at a century's distance to tell?

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Blogger willow said...

Really intriguing coming from over a century ago. It is hard to tell and I don't know much about her, but I would venture to say she was ahead of her time.

17 October, 2008 16:39  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

i'm not sure that it matters, to me anyway, to know more about her. she's an american going to a newly-opened foreign country.

is she projecting her cultural standards on a society of which she knows too little?

some salient facts i wiki'd about her were that she made a deal with her husband that whomever of them died first would come back to communicate with the survivor. he died first and she heard nothing, which intensified her grieving tremendously.

and that her poetry was called "popular rather than literary," and that she claimed to include as a line in one of her poems, this" "laugh and the world laughs with you; weep and you weep alone." another poet used the line too, several years later and she spend much of the rest of her life fighting for the recognition she claimed was hers alone.

more about yoshiwara on this blog is here.

17 October, 2008 19:04  
Blogger Mantelli said...

Well, she was right that lots of girls were sold into the sex trade and that women weren't particularly able to earn their living in other ways at the period. Her phraseology is sensationalistic, but that's Ella all over. This stuff is actually pretty restrained for her.

17 October, 2008 20:42  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

thanks for your comment and welcome, mantelli.

it's good to hear from someone who knows her work.

yes, it's true, but was this always a mournful thing? and was it any different from the fates that met many western women in that time?

17 October, 2008 20:49  
Blogger Mantelli said...

Certainly, if Ella had looked closer to home, in say, Storyville, she would have found prostitutes, even child prostitutes, a-plenty about whom she could have moralized to her heart's content. However, they didn't quite have the exoticism of the mysterious East.

It's also true that few Western prostitutes had the opportunities sometimes available to prostitutes and courtesans in Japan. Education, marriage, and advancement in life seemed to have happened more routinely for these women than they did for British sex workers, for instance.

However, I've read some books on geisha that don't paint a really rosy picture of growing up in the mileau.

One could argue either way--that it's a laudable thing for someone to want to rescue these women, or that decrying their lifestyle is the act of an outsider who simply doesn't understand.

17 October, 2008 21:04  
Blogger Clavdia said...

Hi there -- I wanted to share a link with you, I'm not sure you know this blog, but I think you'll like it:


And as always, your posts are a delight for the mind and the eye!

18 October, 2008 11:54  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

thank you so much, Clavdia. and also for the introduction to the intriguing blog.

18 October, 2008 15:08  
Blogger Princess Haiku said...

What in this captured your interest, Lotus?

18 October, 2008 21:40  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

because my reaction was so ambivilent, i guess. i could totally get her point, and yet her tone made me angry.

these "hopelessly weeping" women are the denizens of pretty much all art we love from the edo era in japan. the courtesans and the kabuki actors--both residents of the yoshiwara. in fact one place i read said that all of the landscapes came from one of the periods when featuring these was illegal.

and "sin"? and worshiping "the dead"? by whose religion is she judging?

19 October, 2008 08:41  
Blogger Roxana said...

'to greet the great material Present', this is so touchingly naive and so typical for the Zeitgeist... but I don't think she knew much about japanese religion(s), otherwise she wouldn't be talking like this. maybe she was just shocked by the habit of keeping an altar with the urn of the deceased inside the house, I don't know how she could come to this conclusion that the japanese don't leave their dead in peace. her tone is very arrogant, actually.

21 October, 2008 14:46  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

it's very validating to hear you say that, roxy -- that's the tone i heard as well.

21 October, 2008 16:57  

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