Editing Ichiyō: Defining Identity through Literary Anthologies

Paper presented at the Japan Studies Association of Canada 2007 International Conference, 2007

In the study of Japanese literature, authoritative literary anthologies are both ubiquitous and influential. One form of anthology, the complete works of an individual author, or kojin zenshū, first emerged as a common form of book in the late Meiji period. These anthologies offer a site for examining the relationship between posthumous editing and the construction of an author’s identity. As self-contained representations of the legitimate work of certain authors, kojin zenshū resemble a kind of authoritative archive. Collected within their covers are fragments that, as a whole, are given the authority to define the limit, content, and context of an author. The construction of an author’s identity and an authoritative version of his or her career in an anthology of complete works have an effect on the ways in which he or she will – or can – be remembered, studied, and interpreted in the future. However, the function of an anthology in the immediate aftermath of an author’s death can also be one of commemoration and the solidifying of group identity. In this paper, I will focus on the kojin zenshū as a powerful and influential editorial space, and also on what they mean as objects and as a form of book in the specific social, historical, and literary context of the late Meiji period.

The ways in which an authoritative literary anthology contributes to the construction and positioning the identity of an author are clearly demonstrated in the case of Higuchi Ichiyō 樋口一葉 (1872 – 1896). Ichiyō had just begun her rise to fame and popularity when she died at the age of 24, with her most well-known works initially published in 1895 and 1896. Due both to her connections in the literary establishment and to her growing popularity, just over a month after her death, Ichiyō zenshū 一葉全集 – a single-volume anthology of her complete works – was released by her most recent publisher, Hakubunkan 博文館. This volume was followed by a second edition only five months later, and a revised anthology, again published by Hakubunkan, in 1912. After Ichiyō’s death, her body of work would theoretically remain static. However, we can see in these anthologies the changing representation of Ichiyō as an historical person, of the content of her career, and of the relevance of her work in relation to a changing literary field and social context. Moreover, I will argue that the social function of Ichiyō zenshū itself changes over time between 1897 and 1912. In this paper, I will analyze the prefaces and contents of the first three Ichiyō zenshū, in order to investigate their changing construction of Ichiyō’s identity, and their relationship to commemorating her in the wake of her death.

In the January 1897 edition of her complete works, published less than two months after her death, it is Ichiyō’s social existence in the literary world of the 1890s that defines her. We can see this emphasis in the sheer amount of space that the editor, Ōhashi Otowa 大橋乙羽, dedicates to acknowledging the various people involved in the construction of the anthology, from the famous literary figures he has enlisted to read it over to the publishing-house representatives who granted permission to reprint her work. The first half of the preface is dedicated to describing the process of compiling and editing the volume, dropping the names of literary figures as well-regarded as Saitō Ryoku’u 斉藤緑雨, Mori Ōgai 森鷗外, and Kōda Rohan 幸田露伴 in Otowa’s list of those whose help he sought. In emphasizing the crucial role of these writers in compiling the anthology, Otowa associates both Ichiyō herself and this specific project with their authority.

In this preface, we can also see the intensely social environment in which writing and publishing took place in the Meiji period. Otowa mentions several figures on whom Ichiyō depended in order to have her work published in the first place, such as Nakarai Tōsui 半井桃水, in whose magazine Musashino 武蔵野 Ichiyō’s work first appeared. He also recounts at length his personal and professional relationship to Ichiyo, including his study of poetry with her, and his opportunity to announce her death. It is also clear from this preface that Otowa himself is dependent on a large number of figures in the literary and publishing worlds in order to successfully compile and edit Ichiyō zenshū. This is interesting in light of his position at Hakubunkan, and, as Kenneth Henshall describes him, “arguably the single most important figure in the publishing world” in the late Meiji period.

His focus in this preface is not only on Ichiyō and her work, but also on the essential tasks he undertook in compiling the anthology on short notice, which were undoubtedly facilitated by his connections to other influential figures – getting publishers’ permission, assembling work, and deciding whether and how to edit the works themselves. He reveals without hesitation to the reader that the anthology’s compilation was far from a simple and transparent process. Moreover, it is clear that editing was collaborative rather than solitary, with the hands of many different people contributing to achieve the finished product. Here, writing and editing are not seen as simple, solitary acts, but rather complex social negotiations on which writers must depend in order to have their work read, circulated, and discussed – in other words, to become legitimate.

There is a marked contrast between the way in which Otowa presents Ichiyō and her work in January of 1897 compared with the other two Meiji editions of Ichiyō zenshū. Despite the fact that it was reprinted only five months later in June of 1897, the preface is utterly transformed in this later printing. Otowa’s profuse thanks and personal descriptions are missing entirely, replaced by a half-page biographical sketch of the most basic sort with no authorial attribution. It references no one in the Meiji literary scene, or bundan, who enabled or encouraged the original publication of her work, nor does it mention the famous colleagues who had praised her. Moreover, unlike in Otowa’s earlier preface, here there is no indication that anyone was involved in the process of compilation or editing of the anthology itself. It is striking to compare the intensely social Ichiyō, and the social process of compiling this anthology, presented to us in January of 1897 with their portrayals even five months later.

This lack of reference to Ichiyō’s social relationship to the Meiji bundan, and her portrayal as a solitary, isolated authorial figure, continues in Kōda Rohan’s preface to a revised edition of Ichiyō zenshū published in 1912 and edited by her friend Baba Kochō 馬場孤蝶. Rohan’s focus is almost exclusively on her identity as an author in the very specific context of the history of Japanese women’s writing. He laments that “for countless hundreds of years there was nothing resembling the kind of work [produced by great women authors of the past].” However, he argues, “into this age [of the Meiji period] came Ichiyō of the Higuchi family.” Not only is she portrayed here in a more isolated, less socially-connected and dependent way than before, but the very background against which she is positioned has shifted as well, from the 1896 bundan to a group of women who lived in the Heian and Kamakura periods. The only salient aspects of Ichiyō’s existence in the Meiji period here are those that are most ahistorical: her filial piety and, more importantly, the tragedy of her life and death.

These characteristics are mentioned by Otowa in his preface as well, but for Rohan, tragedy plays a dominant role in the construction of Ichiyō’s identity, although surprisingly, he does not mention any specific details of tragedy other than referencing her early death. In this preface, he establishes a solitary and semi-mythical figure whose life and writing are both defined by abstract ideas of misfortune and pity. Throughout this preface, Rohan explicitly links Ichiyō’s tragic life and its ability to “arouse pity and sympathy” with her two most famous works, Takekurabe and Nigori’e, and even claims that “as a woman, Ichiyō resembled she who we encounter in the middle of Nigori’e.” “I’m doing a disservice to her writing by saying so,” he remarks, “but her succumbing to illness – even this was an aspect of Ichiyō’s distinction.” Here, Rohan is both essentializing Ichiyō and conflating her with the characters in her own stories. Her identity is made simultaneously more vivid and yet less human, as though she were nothing more than a tragic character in a novel or a shadowy figure from hundreds of years in the past. This tragic, essentialized Ichiyō is able to be placed – a lone Meiji figure – among a series of long-dead, idealized women writers, the “worthy women, brave women, beautiful women, some with talent, and some with learning” that Rohan refers to in his preface.

However, Rohan’s framing of Ichiyō is not the only significant change made to her identity in the 1912 Ichiyō zenshū. This anthology also includes her diary, which had not been present in the previous editions. In fact, Robert Danly asserts that the 1912 Ichiyō zenshū was “the first true zenshū” because of its “inclusion of Ichiyō’s diaries.” This disagreement between the 1897 and 1912 Ichiyō zenshū about what constitutes her “complete works” highlights the difficulty of determining what, exactly, that phrase refers to at all. Moreover, it raises the question of what brought on the inclusion of the diary in the 1912 anthology. Although we could explain its absence as simply the consequence of compiling the 1897 Ichiyō zenshū in only one month, both its inclusion and Rohan’s repositioning of Ichiyō in 1912 also reflect changing ideas about the narrative of Japanese literary history at that time.

The discourse of Japanese literary history in the early 20th century, according to Tomi Suzuki, was one simultaneously ambivalent about and celebratory of women’s kana writing, particularly from the Heian period, as an essential part of Japanese national literature and, significantly, as a precursor to the modern novel. This discursive field made it possible, and perhaps even necessary, for Rohan to maintain Ichiyō’s relevance by linking her to Heian kana literature. Moreover, we can potentially see a complex relationship here between this discourse, Ichiyō’s identity as an author, and her diary. Into this field, her diary could emerge as a legitimate piece of writing – something worth including in her “complete works” – and perhaps also as a way to maintain her relevance as an author. Ichiyō’s diary could be leveraged to assert her relevance in a literary field in which Heian kana nikki were being lauded as a key part of the tradition of Japanese national literature. Indeed, her comparison to Heian women writers would not have been as meaningful in an era in which kana prose, such as that which Ichiyō herself used, was not being praised and even declared as crucially important. Interestingly, however, the choice to include Ichiyō’s diary – a lengthy and detailed account of her daily life in the Meiji period – contrasts with Rohan’s decision to include so little concrete information about Ichiyō’s historically-located existence in his preface to her work.

Significantly, although Ōhashi Otowa also compared her work to “the fine pieces of writing from long ago” rather than to her contemporaries’ works, he also neglected to specify exactly what those “fine pieces of writing” were. Despite the disparity in subject matter between Ichiyō and the writers of the Heian and Kamakura periods, Rohan goes to great lengths to associate her with them rather than thematically-similar writers like Ihara Saikaku or with those who had been her Meiji contemporaries. This is a change from the comparisons of Ichiyō to Saikaku, for example, during in her lifetime by her bundan colleagues. Moreover, the inclusion of Ichiyō’s diary in the anthology helps to solidify the literary association between Ichiyō and other female kana nikki authors, regardless of the gap in time and in subject matter between them. It is for this reason that I see both of these editorial decisions as intimately related: the reconstruction of Ichiyō as an isolated, tragic figure comparable to Heian women writers, and the inclusion of her diary at a time when kana nikki were beginning to be praised.

However, Ichiyō’s authorial identity is not the only issue which is raised by the Meiji Ichiyō zenshū. In particular, I will turn now to the January 1897 anthology, a volume inextricably linked with both Ichiyō’s death and the intense mourning that emerged in its wake. Just as its editors worked to construct an identity for Ichiyō, the anthology could also play a role in the group identity of the Meiji bundan itself. In January of 1897, Ichiyō zenshū was not published in a vacuum; rather, it seems to have been in response both to her rising fame and very public death, as well as to the grief of her friends and colleagues in the bundan. By 1896, Ichiyō’s fame had reached the point at which it was seen as appropriate to publish her medical diagnosis in the Yomiuri shinbun on August 19, and so it is likely that her friends and readers alike waited in tense anticipation until her death on November 23. The time after Ichiyō’s death was one filled with other authors’ published reminiscences of both her and her work. In Shōgakkan’s Zenshū Higuchi Ichiyō, a later anthology of her work, editor Noguchi Seki includes an entire supplementary volume (526 pages) of these remembrances that were written and published both in the wake of her death and for some time thereafter. Ichiyō zenshū was hastily compiled and published in the space of just over a month, by the very same literary figures who published their thoughts and memories of her in other venues at that time and later in their lives. In fact, Otowa’s 1897 preface to Ichiyō zenshū is included in Noguchi’s supplementary volume, and perhaps we could see it as marking the beginning of this long-lived commemorative drive.

In her Theories of Social Remembering, Barbara Misztal summarizes Hobsbawm and Ragner’s state-centric view of commemoration, one which focuses on questions “about the power of ... commemorations to draw upon war sacrifices and loss as a means of re-establishing social cohesion and the legitimacy of authority.” Although the contexts may seem unrelated, this connection is a useful starting point in looking at Ichiyō zenshū as part of the relationship between commemoration and community in the Meiji literary world. In the first 1897 preface’s painting of Ichiyō as a socially-connected author, and its emphasis on the collaborative nature of the anthology’s compilation, we can see Otowa engaging in a kind of establishment of “social cohesion” by identifying and reinforcing the bundan’s composition. At the same time, he alludes to the authority of those involved in the editing process as those qualified and entitled to speak about other members of the bundan. In the 1897 Ichiyō zenshū, we see illustrated quite literally Pierre Nora’s claim that “specific places of memory do not simply arise out of lived experience but instead have to be created.” Here, Ichiyō’s death is not simply experienced by individuals rereading her work in magazines. In compiling all of her legitimate work into one book produced and endorsed by her colleagues, they create a specific, authorized “site” of remembrance.

Looking at this commemorative environment in which Ichiyō’s first anthology was compiled reveals the link that can be made between memory and identity. As Misztal argues, “memory ... becomes the main source of a group or personal identity” and “memory and identity depend upon each other since ... what is remembered is defined by the assumed identity [of the object of remembrance].” This process of remembering is two-way: Ichiyō is defined as an essential member of the bundan as she is simultaneously included in its ranks, and in this act, the members of the bundan shape their own identities. Through collective remembering of Ichiyō, the members of the 1896 Tokyo bundan – and those who would have liked to be included in it – reiterate their allegiance to a group that is privileged to collectively remember her in a personal and professional way. This act of remembrance is a complex series of associations that simultaneously defines Ichiyō and her colleagues, the legitimate literary world and the place of its members.

It is essential, however, to examine these anthologies not only in their immediate literary and social contexts, but also to consider them from a wider historical perspective. Regardless of editors’ and publishers’ intentions, readers are not beholden to take an anthology seriously, to reference it, and to lend it the legitimacy it needs to have an effect on the collective memory of an author. Editing cannot necessarily dictate how, or even whether, the anthology will eventually be consumed by readers. Moreover, it is crucial to consider anthologies from a legal perspective, as ideas about literature and authorship were not limited to the bundan and other literary critics at the time. The Meiji period was a time of major change in terms of copyright, authorship, and literary ownership. These anthologies of authors’ complete works are tied up in these changing concepts, and indeed stand at the intersection of legal and literary notions of authorship. Looking to this wider context of anthologies’ production and consumption is outside the scope of this paper. However, future research in these areas will contribute to a better understanding of the ways in which they functioned in a larger historical context. Using the case of Ichiyō as a starting point, I plan to explore further the context, construction, and meaning of individual authors’ complete works anthologies in the early 20th century through this framework of editing, identity, and memory.