Pierre Loti’s novel Madame Chrysanthème (1888) enjoyed great popularity during the author’s lifetime, served as a source of Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly, and remains in print to this day as a classic in Western literature. Loti’s story describes the affair between a French naval officer and Chrysanthème, a temporary “bride” purchased in Nagasaki. More broadly, Loti’s novel helped define the terms in which Occidentals perceived Japan as delicate, feminine, and, to use one of Loti’s favorite words, “preposterous”—in short, ripe for exploitation.
Written by Félix Régamey, a talented illustrator with firsthand knowledge of Japan, The Pink Notebook of Madame Chrysanthème (1893) retells Loti’s story but this time as the diary of Chrysanthème. The book, presented here in English for the first time and together with the original French text and illustrations by Régamey and others, is certainly surprising in its late nineteenth-century context. Its retelling of a classic tale from the position of a character marginalized by her sex and race provocatively anticipates certain aspects of postmodern literature. Translator Christopher Reed’s emphasis on competing Western ideas about Japan challenges conventional scholarly generalizations concerning Japanism in this era. (Publisher’s description)
Christopher Reed is associate professor of English and visual culture at the Pennsylvania State University.