[KS] KSR 1998-14:_The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong_, by

Stephen Epstein Stephen.Epstein at vuw.ac.nz
Mon Dec 7 17:22:24 EST 1998

The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown
Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea. By Hyegyônggung Hong Ssi. Trans. JaHyun
Kim Haboush. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. xii + 372 pp.
Cloth $50.00; Paper $17.95.

Reviewed by Hyangsoon Yi
University of Georgia

	The tragic execution of Prince Sado by his father, King Yongjo,
once again commands our attention in the wake of JaHyun Kim Haboush's new
translation of _Hanjungnok_ by Hyegyônggung Hong Ssi (Lady Hyegyong
hereafter). The sensational filicide cast a long shadow over the reign of
King Yongjo and his successor King Chongjo, leaving an indelible mark in
the history of the Yi royal house.  Lady Hyegyong's memoirs are a unique
record of this extraordinary incident and the ensuing political turmoil as
they were seen through the eyes of an ill-fated crown princess.

	The manifold importance of Lady Hyegyong's memoirs has been amply
proven by the bulk of studies conducted on them by scholars in various
Given the paucity of surviving works by female writers from pre-modern Korea,
these autobiographical writings of superb artistic merit by a crown
princess deserve a salient place among the research of literary critics.
For historians, Lady Hyegyong's work serves as an indispensable source of
information on
eighteenth-century Korean court society. Two recent books attest to the
inestimable historical value of Lady Hyegyong's work: Lee Tok-il's _The
Confession of Prince Sado_, which contains a renewed attack on the crown
princess' "real motive" for writing, in light of the intricate web of
factionalism in which her natal family was deeply implicated; and Han
Young-woo's _King Chongjo's Visit to Hwasong: Those Eight Days_, which concerns
the celebrated visit by King Chongjo and Lady Hyegyong to Prince Sado's tomb
in the city of Hwasong (today's Suwon) in 1795.(1)

	Lady Hyegyong's memoirs consist of four separate pieces written in
1801, 1802, and 1805 for different purposes and audiences, and according to
Haboush, in such distinct genres as family injunction, memorial, biography,
and historiography, respectively. The four narratives flow smoothly
together, however, as their subject and tone gradually develop from "the
personal to the public" (11). A major syntactic alteration is evident in
the translation when long and involved Korean sentences are broken into
shorter and more readable units in English. Overall, Haboush's eloquent
style effectively captures the well-measured yet passionate voice of the
crown princess who was, on the one hand, caught in the conundrum of human
drama at a deeply private level and, on the other, enmeshed in the vortex
of court intrigues as a public figure.

	While Haboush's is not the first English translation of Lady Hyegyong's
memoirs, it is certainly a most welcome addition to the steadily growing yet
still quite slim library of Korean classics available to English
readers.(2) The
translator's widely recognized scholarship on Chosun Korea is clearly
discernible through her introduction, annotations, and notes. What especially
distinguishes Haboush's translation from the previous efforts is her choice of
the source material: the "abridged" manuscript in the Asami collection for the
memoir of 1795 and the Asami complete manuscript for the subsequent
narratives. The former is believed to be the only original writing by the
princess that has survived, accompanied by a memorial by her brother Hong
Nagyun. Dated roughly to 1880, the so-called "Asami complete manuscript" is
viewed as "the earliest and the least corrupt" among all extant versions of
the memoirs composed in the 1800's (33). Since the narrative of 1795 is
based on a separate manuscript and is noticeably personal in subject, the
translator makes an appropriate stylistic change--mostly in
diction--between the first and the following three narratives.

	Haboush's introduction to the historical backgrounds of the memoirs
and her brief thematic survey of each narrative offer a relatively easy
entry into the book for the general reader. At the same time, a perceptive
student of
literature or cultural studies will find that Haboush's placement of Lady
Hyegyong's writings in women's autobiographical traditions opens up several
critical questions regarding the complex relations among gender, class,
language, and self-representation, specifically in Korean contexts.
translation and its accompanying materials help to reveal that Lady Hyegyong's
work resists facile categorization; it resonates with several strands of
native and Chinese literary traditions, and yet it does not fit a pre-set
model. Herein lie the challenging aspects of the memoirs and the brilliance of
the creative mind behind them.

	Lady Hyegyong's autobiographical narratives have enjoyed immense
popularity for nearly two centuries. This appeal is to a large extent
attributable to one's reader's palpable sense of being presented with
"slice of life" in the memoirs. Underneath her admirable rhetorical
subtlety, the author unveils a lively portrait of a royal family just as
flawed, and thus as human, as any other family. Haboush's translation will
make a significant contribution to widening the circle of readers beyond
the barrier of language, a barrier which is in some sense taller than the
palace walls that early readers of the memoirs had to overcome.

Hyangsoon Yi
University of Georgia

	(1) Sado Seja ûi kobaek (Seoul: P'urûn yôksa, 1998); Chôngjo ûi Hwasông
haengch'a kû 8 il (Seoul: Hyohyông ch'ulpansa, 1998).
	(2) There are at least two English translations of Hanjungnok that
precede Haboush's: Bruce K. Grant and Kim Chin-man's Han Joong Nok:
Reminiscences in Retirement (New York: Larchwood Publications, 1980); and
Yang-hi Choe-Wall's Memoirs of a Korean Queen (London: KPI, 1985).

Yi, Hyangsoon 1998
Review of Hyegyônggung Hong Ssi, The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong: The
Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea,
transl. by JaHyun Kim Haboush (1996)
Korean Studies Review 1998, no. 14
Electronic file:


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