This paper searches King Yeongjo’s Seungjeongwonilgi (承政院日記, Journal of the Royal Secretariat) for novel-related articles to shed light on King Yeongjo (英祖, 1694~1776) as a novel mania and to explore its meaning in the history of Korean novels. The findings of this study are described below.
King Yeongjo, in addition to the volumes revealed in previous studies, read Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三國志演義), Journey to the West (西遊記), Romance of the Eastern Han (東漢演義), Romance of the Western Han (西漢演義), Pingyaozhuan (平妖傳) etc. In particular, King Yeongjo enjoyed reading Joseon's three queer books, Journey to the West, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Water Margin (水滸傳), of which Romance of the Three Kingdoms was read with particular care. In short, King Yeongjo read Guunmong (九雲夢) and other Korean novels, as well as romances (演義小說), literary novels (文言小說), supernatural novels (神魔小說), renqing novels (人情小說), and other Chinese novels in diverse genres.
King Yeongjo acknowledged the value and utility of novels. Such a positive perception about novels seems to have been formed from the Prince Yeoningun (延礽君) period, and during his 50 year reign as a king, King Yeongjo continued to enjoy reading novels. When sick or unable to sleep far into the night, King Yeongjo read novels to calm his mind. Also, he associated the contents of novels with political agenda, and regarded them as reference for running the state. As such, King Yeongjo enjoyed reading novels not only for private tastes, but also for official purposes, making this point important. Based on such facts, King Yeongjo’s love for novels presumably had considerable ripple effects on the upper-class culture of the time. In relation to this, it should be noted that the novels read by King Yeongjo have much in common with the novels listed in Prince Sado’s (思悼世子) Chinese Novel’s Hoemobon (中國小說繪模本) and the novels listed in Yun Deok-hui’s (尹德熙) Soseol gyeongnamja (List of novels).
Putting together the above, it can be argued that we should pay new attention to the fact that one of the major reasons for the popularity of novels in Joseon in the 18th century was because King Yeongjo, as a novel mania, had a tremendous cultural effect on Joseon society.