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A Study of Stories on Exemplary Subjects: Focusing on Yi Ok’s “Tale of Such’ik”

YOUME KIM 1

1Univ. of California, Los Angeles

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This study examines Yi Ok’s(1760–1815) biographies of exemplary people, focusing on the “Tale of Such’ik” in comparison with the biography works written by Sŏng Haeŭng(1760–1839) and Yi Kŏnch’ang(1852–1898). Yi highlighted Such’ik’s life sufferings caused by upholding female chastity rather than depicting her as an epitaph of female virtues who willingly sacrificed her private pleasure. Yi created and re-organized anecdotes that represent Such’ik’s loneliness and expressed his dissatisfaction with the belated rewards bestowed upon Such’ik. Yi also depicted the geographic location in which Such’ik lived, believed to be his own creation, to represent her as an extraordinary being rather than enumerating a chronological series of events, as in traditional biographical works. Yi adopted literary devices that enabled Yi to run counter to traditional conventions of biography. Traditionally, biographies of exemplary women largely aim to reveal the historical significance of a person as a sound component of a Neo-Confucian society and also reaffirm the effectiveness of Neo-Confucianism, a state ideology, to cultivate people and enlighten the Chosŏn society. However, Yi Ok’s story leads readers to doubt the seemingly satisfying lives of exemplary women and recognize that appropriate rewards and public recognition are essential to make people’s lives worthy. By weakening didactic themes of the biography, Yi was able to reveal the inner-self of the woman subject who lived a bitter life.

Citation status

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