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PSYCH 1902

One of the most exciting recent developments in the field of late-imperial Chinese literature is the increased access to texts written by women. These texts hold out the promise that modern readers might be able to travel back in time to eavesdrop on the voices in the inner chambers and gain some understanding of how elite women felt about the system of gender regulations that both constrained and gave their lives meaning. Most of the extant corpus of works by women is lyric poetry; the high register and aesthetic and thematic conventions of the lyric tradition limited the topics could be explored. Narrative genres offered writers much more freedom to explore topics that were inappropriate to poetry. In her presentation, Prof. Epstein will discuss how the female authors of tanci 彈詞 and xiaoshuo 小說 novels depicted their desires and frustrations, as well as their attitudes toward the patriarchal structures, including cloistering, arranged marriage, the chastity cult, and polygyny, that shaped their lives and their experiences of family. One of the most important themes that appears in narrative and dramatic texts authored by women is the desire of the female protagonists to actualize themselves through the pursuit of their autonomous will (zhi 志), an ideal cultural value associated with male ambitions and desires for fame. In contrast to shrews, a type of willful women frequently depicted in male-authored fiction, the willful female protagonists of female-authored narratives devise a number of strategies to achieve autonomy that expand the normative understandings of female virtue.