Quebec Studies

Ying Chen's Evolving Lettres chinoises: An Addendum

Quebec Studies (2004), 37, (1), 125–126.

Abstract

125 Research Note In addition to full-length articles, Québec Studies welcomes "Research Notes" that present significant findings in briefer format. In some cases, authors may supplement previously published articles with new or updated information when this will immediately benefit scholars and teachers in the field. Since Ying Chen's work is widely taught in classes devoted to Francophone literature, we are pleased to publish this note, which clarifies how the text of one of her novels has changed from edition to edition. - Editor Ying Chen's Evolving Lettres chinoises: An Addendum Emile J. Talbot University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana In an article in the previous issue of Québec Studies, I proposed that Ying Chen's 1998 revisions of Lettres chinoises, originally published in 1993, alter our reading experience of the text and represent a significant moment in the development of her aesthetic. The little-noticed 1998 version of Lettres chinoises, by expunging all references to Tante Louise and Yuan's friend Nicolas and especially by eliminating the letters exchanged between Yuan and his father, created a leaner and more focused text that highlights Sassa's complex dilemma while granting her additional discursive responsibility. As such, it also marked a stage in Chen's continued reduction of the num­ ber of characters in her novels, which, along with her subsequent gradual elimination of the cultural contexts in which they function, has produced narratives that increasingly probe existential issues that are universal in their reach. Since my writing of this article, however, Lettres chinoises has been reissued (2003) in a version that reinstates one of the letters from Yuan to his father. The letter in question is no. 37 in the 1993 edition, which now be­ comes letter no. 29 in the 2003 version. Originally, it was the fifth letter ad­ dressed to his father in response to the father's fourth in which the latter had related the story of their neighbors' son who, bitter at the discrimina­ tion he had endured as a student in Japan, had returned to China without completing his degree. The reference to this story in the first sentence of Yuan's response in the original version is now eliminated, so that the reader only supposes that the father has expressed some anxiety about discrimi­ nation, leading Yuan to universalize — and thereby downplay — this problem in his reply. The only diegetic advantage of this reinsertion seems to be that it eliminates the surprise that the reader of the 1998 version encounters when reading in letter no. 53 that Yuan has received a phone call from his father informing him that Sassa is in the hospital. Since the father has not been mentioned previously, this letter establishes that Yuan has good relations with his family and is still in contact with it. Yet, its reinsertion adds little Québec Studies, Volume 37, Spring/Summer 2004

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Talbot, Emile