East Asian Languages and Culture: Chinese Language and Comparative Literature
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Chair and Committee
Robert E Hegel
A literary work such as Feng Menglong’s late Ming dynasty collection of huaben (short vernacular fiction) known as Gujin xiaoshuo (Stories Old and New,
published ca. 1621 C.E.) may be thought of as the combination of its primary text (that is, the text of the story entries themselves) and its paratexts (in this case, its front matter, illustrations, commentary, and adaptation history). Unfortunately, modern reprints of Gujin xiaoshuo and other late Ming works of literature tend to reproduce paratextual elements incompletely or not at all. This dissertation considers how the paratexts of Gujin xiaoshuo contribute to the meaning making of the collection as originally printed.
Chapter 1 focuses on Gujin xiaoshuo front matter: its title page, preface, and table of contents. Gujin xiaoshuo’s title (properly speaking, Quanxiang Gujin xiaoshuo or Fully Illustrated Stories Old and New) locates the collection within three traditions: illustrated literature, historical surveys, and xiaoshuo (fiction). The preface provides historical context and promotes the idea that huaben has a powerful suasive moral force. The table of contents encourages the reader to think of the story entries as consisting of thematic or structural pairs.
Chapter 2 focuses on Gujin xiaoshuo eighty full-page illustrations, with two for each of the forty story entries in the collection. Most of the Gujin illustrations consist of image alongside text, usually in the form of a story title or quotation. Thus, Gujin’s illustrations may be thought of in terms of three elements (image, text, and story) and their three inferable relationships (that is, image and text, image and story, and text and story).
Chapter 3 focuses on Gujin xiaoshuo’s meipi (“eyebrow” commentary), that is,
commentary printed on the upper margins of the page. Broadly speaking, Gujin's commentary may be divided into two divisions: commentary suggestive of authority and commentary suggestive of persona, with many further subdivisions possible. Taken together, the commentary of Gujin xiaoshuo enables the reader to infer the persona of a relatable and reliable commentator. The reader may develop a fictive relationship with this constructed commentator in place of the collection's multiple contributors (many of whom were anonymous).
Chapter 4 focuses on Gujin xiaoshuo’s relationships with the classical language texts that were adapted into the longer vernacular language works that make up the collection. There are generally not major changes in plot in the course of the move from classical to vernacular, however subtle shifts in characterization tend to bring the stories more in line with the literary complexity and nuance typically associated with the huaben genre.
This study concludes by considering the relationship between paratexts and, more generally, reading practice. It finds that Gujin xiaoshuo's primary text is generally associated with a linear reading path and an implied popular or vernacular audience while the collection's paratexts are generally associated with non-linear reading paths and an implied elite audience. This framework accounts for certain ironies and incongruencies that tend to recur throughout the collection.
Wille, Alexander, "Reading Stories Old and New: The Poetics of Paratext in Gujin xiaoshuo" (2014). All Theses and Dissertations (ETDs). 1365.