Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Tale of Two Women

This month will end a lot better than it started. Eclipse Chronicles Part 2 is on hold, again.


I have finished plotting a new novel in a new genre I've never tried before. I intend to start working on the first draft no later than February 1.

Dang, it feels good to be back at work.

School's back in session. One of my classes is about running a museum. There are no textbooks or research papers. The whole semester will be dedicated to helping a local museum by creating new exhibits before they re-open in the spring.

While there, I noticed that they had a TON of used books for sale. 50¢ each! Naturally, I couldn't resist. I got several first editions of books I've never heard of, and some that just looked like a good read.

But there was one little gem in particular caught my attention.

Tama by Onoto Watanna

They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. But let's face it, this is one of the most beautiful printed books I've seen in a very long time. Those of you who've read by blog know I'm a sucker for vintage covers, and this is as vintage as they come!

As you can probably guess, the story is somehow related to Japanese culture (as if the sakura blossoms weren't enough of a dead giveaway). Wikipedia had no information on the novel itself, but some interesting tidbits on the author.

Winnifred Eaton, aka, "Onoto Watanna." 1875-1954
Turns out that Watanna is really a pseudonym for a woman named Winnifred Eaton, who was of mixed Chinese and British heritage. The Wikipedia article is flagged for lacing proper citation, but even at face value it tells a rather interesting story.

Eaton began life as a Canadian. At age 14, one of her stories was published in a popular Montreal magazine. She married at 17 and moved to Chicago where she got a day job as a typist. During this time she continued working on short fiction. Some of her works were accepted in widely-read publications, like the Saturday Evening Post.

At some point, she decided to make the switch to novels. Eaton must've had a very good sense of her own status as a woman of mixed race. It proved to be the definitive characteristic of many of her stories. Most of them involved love affairs between Japanese and American people.

Again, the Wikipedia article isn't to be trusted word for word, but it does raise a couple of thoughts.

1. Eaton's fiction was supposedly well-recieved by Americans, despite the fact that Asians were considered inferior to white people. 1910 was the 43rd year in the reign of Emperor Meiji. Having caught a glimpse of the Western world, he enacted a series of radical polices that destroyed the old feudal order and catapulted Japan on a road to industrialization. The samurai and their katanas were replaced by imperial soldiers with modern firearms. Even after Meiji's death in 1912, Japan wouldn't stop flexing its muscle until the end of World War II.

2. Eaton was in a particularly tight spot. Being a woman in 1910, even in Canada or the United States, wasn't a walk in the park. Sure, men were (ideally) brought up to be respectful. Hold the door. Use polite language. Make her life easier. It still wasn't enough to change the fact that, by law, women couldn't participate in most arenas of public life. To make matters worse, she was half Japanese, which didn't make life any easier.

I haven't read the book yet. It's easy to get caught up in the decorations.

The text is arranged in block form with huge margins all the way around. The illustrations in the background have a rough texture, which indicates they might have been embossed. These pictures alternate on every page!

An example of one of the watercolor paintings. The publisher must've known this book would sell, or else they wouldn't have spent the extra money!
I've seen few books lavished with so much detail. There's something pretty to look at on every single page. It reminds me of the old copies of the Bible. A glance at the images above reveal that Eaton made sure to use the proper Japanese formalities when connected to a character's name (Toji-san).

Ebay has a few modern copies of the book. Finding a copy of Tama as old as mine was difficult.

Here's the only website I could find with pictures, but the item had already sold.

Even if I could determine the value of the book, mine's not in great shape.

The binding's in bad shape, but the signature of the previous owner adds a nice bit of character.
If you look at my pictures and then check out the link, you'll notice that mine has one illustration missing. As I was photographing the book for this post, another one fell out. For a book that's over 100 years old, I should be happy that it's still readable.

Internet research has yet to reveal just how popular Ms. Eaton was during her heyday, but from the presentation of Tama alone, it's clear that somebody thought her stories were special.

Hope somebody thinks the same of mine someday.

*fingers crossed*

Power to the pen!

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