audrey_e (audrey_e) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

7: Madame Chrysanthème

Originally posted by audrey_e at 7: Madame Chrysanthéme
7 MADAME CHRYSANTHEME Pierre Loti (France, 1888)

The English translation retains the same title.


The narrator, a sailor, tells the story of his temporary and loveless marriage with a Japanese girl. These temporary marriage contracts between Japanese women and foreigners were very common at the time, as they were a great source of revenue for Japanese families.

If this plot sounds familiar, it's because Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly is partially based on it. However, there is nothing romantic about Loti's account. Both partners are unable to care for each other.
Let me warn you, this short novel is filled with prejudices regarding Japanese culture. Loti's account had greatly influenced the way Japan was depicted, idealized and/or despised in the western world. Loti's contempt may be offensive, his book has historical value nonetheless.
Beyond the historical interest the reader may have in it, there is a malaise at the heart of Madame Chrysanthème that makes it appealing on a literary level as well. It is one whose reason remains unclear, but comes from the jaded sailor's inherent unhappiness. Some critics have argued that Loti's homosexuality (/bisexuality) is the cause of the fascinating malaise present in his writings.

Tags: japan, race, travel fiction, travel writing

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