Saturday, November 07, 2009

1930, Sept 26: HMK to RH - Literary Analysis of "Daughter of the Samurai"

Friday Morning, September 26, 1930

My dear R.C.H.,

     Last night quite by the sheerest accident I picked up a copy of the Journal  in the house where I am staying and there I found your "Daughter of the Samurai."  Before I saw the title  I was appalled by the incredible illustrations and I knew instantly that Davgar,  whoever he or she may be, must have only the most  superficial knowledge of Japan else such ghastly pictures would never have been permitted to detract from the written descriptions as they do.  The story has flashes of real beauty but I am glad I did not write it and I am sure if you will take the time to read it slowly and in a quiet hour you will see how it could never have been mine.  It has been padded to interminable length and is full of inconsistencies and contradictions and by now you will be thinking that I am committing one of those sins of the mind of which I wrote you only yesterday.  It is not envy nor unkindness, it is only sadness that a thing that could have been quite perfect should not be so.
You must know that I could never have permitted a picture of so insipid a heroine, so Occidental a hero.  That I could not have so overworked the word "honorable" nor that I could ever have called this fragile tragic child anything so banal as Mistress Cherry Blossom nor could I have allowed her to say anything so Victorian as "I think I have a headache."  I could not have given my villain the name of a servant nor the nightwatchman the name of one of the oldest and most aristocratic families in Japan.  And the ten cents, which you thought wrong, is undoubtedly right for it equals the wage of a coolie even though it is not more than ten cents.  But to give a servant ten yen or five dollars would be unheard of I think, even in this day.  Nor would I have put in one paragraph the age old custom of blackening the teeth with "ohaguro" which has long since ceased to be a custom and in the next a Woolworth spotlight, telegraphs and trains.  I could not have had the mama-san come at night to do a lady's hair knowing what trouble that intricate style causes even to sleeping with the neck in a curved wooden block to preserve it  and that this part of the toilette is performed always in the morning?  I could not have left Ito and Yamato in an open field  as in the fifth part, drinking tea and looking at the floor.  I could not have put a secret wall safe in a Japanese house - not done.  What Davgar has done over and over with a kind of Midwestern insistence, and called one of those darkly mysterious and fascinating Japanese shops, a store.  I could not have compared the slightly curved graceful scabbard of the Samurai sword to snake prepared to strike.  I could not, in one place, have called Ito "an old man with many bags of gold" and in part six have made him as young as the hero when Ito remembers that Okada went away when he himself was but a youth.  I could not, in fact, have made these men who are Samurai do the many things that a true Samurai would have died rather than to perform.  And to mix the ancient Samurai into modern Japan, with its flashlights and express trains, which came long after the Samurai, as such, ceased to be, is only a sort of sacrilege to me.  No, I am afraid that Davgar has read much of Japan and loved it very little and I shall try and find out who this Davgar is.  There are passages in the story so  like the things that I might have written that it is uncanny and you will be surprised when you know that "Lilies of Jade," which I finished when I wrote you early in September and which has now been with my agent for two weeks, has to do with the sacred rite of Seppuku - which is Chinese and not Japanese originally.  I can see why you might have thought I wrote this story, which has an exquisite theme, and should have been exquisite, but which to me is not for there are things in it that I could not have done better if I had tried but as a whole  Read over "The Buddha" and "The Lotus" and if "Lilies of Jade" please the editors you will see again that "The Daughter of the Samurai" could never have been mine.     
I am sorry to have to ask you to tell Alma Edwards that I cannot accept her challenge and must deny this composition.  I am afraid that I have bored you but I know you will understand what I mean and that I am only sorry that what should have been a sparkling jewel should have disclosed to me so many flaws.

Oh yes, and Japanese fishermen do not wear kimonos.


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