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The Study of a dilettante character in the late Chosun dynasty -Focus on a Male Character in Yangkisonjeon

  • The Research of the Korean Classic
  • 2012, (25), pp.399-427
  • Publisher : The Research Of The Korean Classic
  • Research Area : Humanities > Korean Language and Literature > Korean Literature > Korean classic prose

Hae Ran Cho 1

1이화여자대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Yangkisonjeon, remaining anonymous, is a novel which is estimated to have been distributed in the late 19th century or the early 20th century. Researchers have found five different kinds of its manuscripts. The past research have focused on a special feature of Yangkisonjeon related to the conflict between wife and concubine, regarding it as a "family novel(家庭小說)". In a typical family novel, the main conflict arises out of the tension between wife and concubine, or stepmother and her stepson/stepdaughter. However, in Yangkisonjeon, such conflicts do not exist anywhere even though those characters all appear in this novel. Thus, the previous studies have concentrated on this strange feature; 'conflictlessness'. Certainly, if the novel is missing a distinctive feature and the feature seems to be very probable in the genre, one needs to consider the reason of its omission. However, expecting conflicts simply according to the appearance of wife and concubine represents the current researcher's interests or attitudes. Rather, it is suspected that the author of Yangkisonjeon is not interested in any kinds of conflicts at the outset. As a result of scrutinizing Yangkisonjeon, it is proved that the work's main concern is the embodiment of the main character, Yang-Kison. Defined as a "dissolute" person at the very first part of the novel, Yang-Kison has left his wife and children in extreme poverty giving himself up to indulgence in concubine. Characterization of Yang-Kison in this novel reminds of representative dilettante(閑良) male characters of late Chosun dynasty novel, such as characters from Kewoosa(戒友詞) or Leechunpungjeon(李春風傳). Both born rich, Kewoosa's Musuk and Leechunpungjeon's Lee-Chunpung have squandered all of family's property on the house of Gisaeng(妓房), putting aside of their wife and children. They also show similiarities that they both clean up their prodigal life with a great support of wife or concubine. Here, we can find the proper methodology of analyzing Yangkisonjeon: not simply classifying it as a family novel, but as a novel whose main character is a dilettante. Therefore, comparing Yangkisonjeon with other novels dealing with dilettante male characters can explain the reason of 'conflictlessness' in this novel. Novels dealing with dilettante male characters tend to be without conflict caused by wife and concubine. Also, in this kinds of novels, main characters show no mercies or interests to their wives and children. In this context, Yangkisonjeon can be understood more deeply. Moreover, focusing on its own variation of such novels will expand and deepen the meaning of Yangkisonjeon. The late Chosun entertainment culture has been developed rapidly with Seoul or Pyongyang as the center. It is monumental in the cultural history that the main agent of late Chosun entertainment culture is not a high class(兩班), but a middle class people(中人). This is also related to whether a new possibility of changing culture could arise during the late 19c Chosun dynasty, which was declining, suggesting an alternative: diversion from high class driven cultures to the middle class driven cultures. Late Chosun novels pay attention to the dilettante male character, because a dilettante is the very person who has experienced the alternative culture. Destiny of the dilettante male character is closely related to that of late Chosun culture. The dilettante shows negative aspects, but he is at least energetic at some point because he squanders all his money and life only for his sensual pleasure. His energy, if converted, can be functioned positively, providing a new vitality. For example, Kewoosa's Musuk and Leechunpungjeon's Lee-Chunpung were in the middle of consumptive culture, the house of Gisaeng(妓房), but they finally get to the self-reflection which drives them to the total conversion in a good way. Yang-Kison succeeds Musuk and Lee-Chunpung as a dilettante character, so his final decision attracts attention, as well as how entertainment culture works in his life and the novel. However, Yang-Kison's decision is rather disappointing. Entertainment culture does not have any influence on his life. The story ends up with his return to home, only depending on the patriarchal prestige. Different from Musuk and Lee-Chunpung, his entertainment narrative has never allowed him a chance to reflect himself. Always has been full of his own desire, he remains irresponsible and selfish after all. Yangkisonjeon loses its narrative tension as the image of the dilettante character results in self-deception. The potential power of the new character in the late Chosun, a dilettante character, has been blocked in Yangkisonjeon's era, and it is relevant to the fact that this novel is written and distributed in the declining era of the classic novel.

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