Japonisme and the Female Gothic

  • Michael J. Blouin


The first quarter of the twentieth century saw tremendous changes in American concepts of gender as well as in the international position of the nation. Shifts in cultural perception were not mutually exclusive; in particular, writers regularly constituted Japan as an imaginary space through gendered terms. This constructed locale, furnished with consumer products ranging from home décor to popular fiction, served as a canvas for multiple female artists, including Sidney McCall (investigated in the previous chapter). The fad reveals a set of widely known tropes with which they could articulate social anxieties. As Mari Yoshihara demonstrates, female authors made use of Japonisme in ways frequently innovative and unsettling. The authors considered in this chapter explore the borderlands of gender identity, probing the limits of what constitutes femininity from the mystical excesses of what constitutes Japan.1


Male Character Emphasis Mine Female Author Modern Thought White Face 
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  1. 1.
    See once more Mari Yoshihara’s Embracing the East: White Women and American Orientalism (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    See also Michelle A. Masse’s In the Name of Love: Women, Masochism, and the Gothic (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    It is worth noting that there was also an emerging Anglophilia during this time period, in which British culture offered its own sense of exoticism and “culture” for American consumers. See Katharine Jones’s Accent on Privilege: English Identities and Anglophilia in the U.S. (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2001)Google Scholar
  4. T. J. Jackson Lears’s No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880–1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Critic Huining Ouyang notes that Eaton’s fiction is “more than a charming piece of japonica”; it “destabilizes orientalist binary constructions of race” [Ouyang, Huining. “Ambivalent Passages: Racial and Cultural Crossings in Onoto Watanna’s ‘The Heart of Hyacinth.’” MELUS 34, 1 (Spring 2009), pp. 211–229].CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 10.
    Eugenia C. DeLamotte comments: “In a world in which language itself defines women as the fearful Other, the most revealing stories they tell about themselves are mysteries” [DeLamotte, Eugenia C. Perils of the Night: A Feminist Study of Nineteenth-Century Gothic (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 291].Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Yuko Matsukawa, a scholar who has written extensively on Eaton’s life, describes her as a “trickster” who enjoys “challenging our preconceptions of gender and race” [Matsukawa, Yuko. “Onoto Watanna’s Japanese Collaborators and Commentators.” The Japanese Journal of American Studies, 16 (2005), pp. 31–53].Google Scholar

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© Michael J. Blouin 2013

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  • Michael J. Blouin

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