A Study of “Maeuitaeja” Written by Lee Gwangsu-With a Focus on Divergent Paths of Revenge and Resignation in History and National Consciousness
This study investigates the narratives of revenge and resignation, and national consciousness as portrayed in a history novel “Maeuitaeja” written by Lee Gwangsu. The novel first appeared as a series in a daily newspaper, Donga Ilbo, and told stories of a nation and its heroes in the late period of Shilla Dynasty, starring historical figures including Gungye, Maeuitaeja, Gyeonhwon, and King Gyeongsun. The novel embodied the author’s interest in the history of Shilla Dynasty, which was also expressed in his other works including ‘Gasil’, “Death of Lee Chadon”, and “Priest Wonhyo”.
However, the novel was severely criticized by Kim Dongin both for its plot and theme, and has not been properly investigated. Another reason for the lack of interest in the novel was that it was deemed as incomplete based on Georg Lukacs’s theory on history novel. However, integrity of historical facts is not the sole standard that decides quality of history novel. The simplicity of a plot－the novel is divided into two parts: a chapter on Gungye and a chapter on Maeuitaeja－does not eliminate the need to academically examine the novel. “Maeuitaeja” mixed historical facts with fiction, revolving around lives of the characters. The author expressed the theme through the characters’ personality and concerns, and notwithstanding the simple plot, subtly communicated his political consciousness by intertwining it with personal lives of the heroic characters in the novel. Instead of a black-and-white view on ‘cooperation’ and ‘resistance’, readers can perceive the author’s thoughts swinging between idealism and agony faced in the reality.
Gungye was an extraordinary figure from the birth, had heroic aspects, and went so far as founding a new nation. However, his fate was doomed as he grew obsessed with personal grudges and revenge. In comparison, Kim Chung or Maeuitaeja was not heroic, but became a righteous figure who got enraged and then resigned from a fallen society. As a nation is ruined, these two contrasting figures faced divergent paths of fate. The author’s national consciousness is implicitly shown in the rise and fall of the two figures against the background of the Shilla Dynasty.