Author: Pierre Loti
eNotator: Catherine Miskow
The eNotated Madam Plum's Third Youth
Pierre Loti (1850-1923) was a French naval officer turned writer best known for his stories set in exotic locales. Many of his stories are fictionalized accounts based on his experiences that evoke the essence of each country through vivid and poetic descriptions.
In the summer of 1885, while stationed in Nagasaki, Loti lived on shore with a paid consort known as “Okiku-san,” and later recounted his experiences in the novel Madame Chrysanthème, likely one of the inspirations for Puccini’s opera, Madame Butterfly. Loti would go on to write two additional texts set in Japan—Japoneries d’Automne (Japan in the Fall, 1889) and La Troisième Jeunesse de Madame Prune (1905) (Madame Plum’s Third Youth). All three of these texts contain detailed descriptions of Japan and Japanese culture at the turn of the century, evoked in the poetic and artistic manner characteristic of Loti’s writing.
Although Madame Plum is one of the rarest of Loti's novels, it is one of the richest in terms of its vivid images of Japan and its descriptions of Japanese culture. Its pages are filled with keen observations of Japanese cultural practices, the Japanese character and the numerous changes taking place in Japan at the turn of the century. Madame Plum offers a powerful portrait of a country struggling to move forward with modernity, while at the same time holding on to a tradition-laden culture dating back hundreds of years. Loti's works gave the West its first in-depth view of Japan, a land that continues to mystify and fascinate Westerners to this day. His books are, at once, travel guides, travelogues, historical documents and novels, written in an inimitable, trademark style that serves as a verbal snapshot of the lands he visited.
In addition to an up-to-date English translation of Loti’s text by Catherine Miskow, The eNotated Madam Plum's Third Youth contains more than 200 eNotations, an introduction, eight essays (Animals, History, Japan Trilogy, Japanese Culture, Nagasaki, Names, and the Russo-Japanese War), a Loti chronology, an extensive bibliography, and more than 40 illustrations.
Madame Plum provides a rich portrait of life in late 19th Century Japan, now long gone, and is rewarding for that reason alone, but it is also important as both a cause of and a paradigmatic expression of the West’s view of the mysterious East ubiquitous through the mid 20th Century. You will better understand and more thoroughly enjoy both Loti and the Japan he saw reading Madam Plum's Third Youth, a uniquely useful edition of this now rare but fascinating and important text.
About Pierre Loti
Pierre Loti (January 14, 1850-June 10, 1923), the youngest child of a modest city clerk and a homemaker, lived a double life as a distinguished officer in French navy and a best-selling author known for his tales of exotic romance set in far-off lands and often based on his own experiences. Well-known in his native France, celebrated as a hero in Turkey and immortalized in Nagasaki, Japan, he is virtually unknown in the United States. His 1887 best-seller Madame Chrysantheme is thought to be the inspiration for Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly.
The success of Madame Chrysanthème led Loti's editor to begin pressuring him to write a sequel, or, at the very least, another text set in Japan. Loti, however, would not return to the Far East for another fifteen years, making it difficult for him to write a novel set in Japan, as he tended to draw inspiration for his stories from his surroundings. To satisfy the public hunger for Japanese stories, he would periodically publish selected journal entries about his experiences in Japan, among them, a description of an Imperial Ball held on the occasion of Crown Prince Mutsuhito's birth, a travelogue detailing his visit to several heritage sites around Japan, and a retelling of the well known Japanese story "The 47 Loyal Samurai." These accounts and others were published collectively in book form by Calmann-Lévy under the title Japoneries d'Automne, (One Autumn in Japan) (1889), the middle installment in what would eventually become a trilogy of texts set in the land of the rising sun.
By the last decade of the nineteenth century, however, many geopolitical changes were taking place in the Far East, with Japan at the forefront. Japan was beginning to emerge as a dominant military power in the Far East, and by 1894, was competing with both Russia and China for control of Manchuria. Only Korea stood in the way of this territorial land-grab, and in the summer of 1894, when Korean rebels launched a failed coup-d'état against the King, Japan sided with the rebels, an act which China viewed as a direct challenge to its sovereignty and subsequently declared war on Japan. The Japanese were victorious in the ensuing war, taking from China not only the area seized during the war, but Korea, Formosa (Taiwan) and the Pescadores isles as well, making Japan the world's first modern East-Asian empire and the world's first non-Western colonial power.
Meanwhile, other European powers sought to take advantage of the weak Chinese government, establishing legations and spheres of influence throughout China, but primarily in the capital city of Peking. In June of 1900, a group of Chinese rebels calling themselves "The Righteous Harmony Society" revolted against the foreign presence, forcing most of the Westerners to hole-up in their legations in Peking. In August of that year, Loti was deployed to the Far East as part of a convoy supporting the French legations in their fight against the rebels in Peking. He arrived aboard the Redoutable in September, just as the uprising was coming to an end, and although he did not see combat action, he bore witness to the devastation of the Chinese capital by both the Boxer rebels and the foreign armies.
In late October, an early cold-snap forced the Redoutable to seek shelter in a warm water port; the crew headed south to Japan, anchoring in Nagasaki Bay where they would remain until April of the following year. During the four month stay in Nagasaki, Loti revisited his old haunts, including his former residence in the neighborhood of Jyu-zenji where he had lived with Kane fifteen years earlier. As before, he meticulously chronicled every detail of his tour of duty in his private journal, including a brief trip to Korea in the spring of 1901 and a detour to the Inland Sea island of Miyajima.
This time, however, Loti did not intend to turn his journal entries into a novel; rather, he compiled them into a yearbook that he presented to his shipmates at the conclusion of their tour of duty in 1902. The yearbook, titled Escales au Japon (Stopovers in Japan) recounted the crew's stay in Japan and their various stops, as well as the trip to Korea and a sendoff ceremony for a platoon of Zouave soldiers returning to France. In January of 1905, Loti published the essays in La Revue des Deux Mondes. The essays caught the attention of Loti's editors at Calmann-Lévy, who encouraged him to turn them into a full-length book. Loti reluctantly agreed, but acknowledged that there was not enough material in the essays to constitute a full-length novel, and certainly not enough intrigue to hold the interest of the general public. To remedy this problem, Loti supplemented his own material, adding additional characters to the story and even inventing additional adventures for himself. In an attempt to bolster sales, Loti's editors marketed it as "the long-awaited sequel to Madame Chrysanthème," a ploy that did not sit well with Loti. In order to deliver the product that his editors expected, and to make the link between the two novels more evident, he reluctantly changed the title from Stopovers in Japan to Madame Plum's Third Youth, thereby elevating his former landlady from minor background character to the protagonist of an eponymous novel.
Although this text is one of the rarest of all of Loti's novels, it is one of the richest in terms of its vivid images of Japan and its descriptions of Japanese culture. The pages of Madame Plum are filled with a myriad of keen observations of Japanese cultural practices, the Japanese character and the numerous changes taking place in Japan at the turn of the century. It offers a powerful portrait of a country struggling to move forward with modernity, while at the same time, holding on to a tradition-laden culture dating back hundreds of years. In the twenty-first century, travel abroad is so commonplace that it is easy to forget that it was once a luxury reserved for either the very rich or those in the military. Loti's works gave many nineteenth century readers their first glance of exotic lands, and also gave the West its first in-depth glance at Japan, a land that continues to mystify and fascinate Westerners to this day. Loti's books are, at once, travel guides, travelogues, historical documents and novels, written in that inimitable, trademark style that capture a verbal snapshot of the lands he visited.
About eNotator Catherine Miskow
Catherine Miskow is a native of the San Francisco Bay area and has spent time in both France and Japan. She spent a year studying at Université de Paris IV (La Sorbonne) and was certified with the Diplôme des Etudes en Langue Française by the Alliance Française in 1996. She received an M.A. in French from Stanford in 1999, then a second M.A. in Japanese studies from San Francisco State University in 2001. She received her Ph.D. degree in French and Second Language Acquisition studies from the University of California, Davis in 2011 and has worked as an instructor of French at several colleges and universities in the Bay Area.
Her work focuses on French representations of Japan and the Japanese, especially in the works of Pierre Loti. Research interests include Asiatic alterity in 19th and 20th century French literature, Japonisme, cultural translation and the intersection between writing and history. Her teaching interests include French and Japanese language and culture, and nineteenth century French literature and the intersection between literature and opera. She recently recently published an article which traces the Madame Butterfly story back to Pierre Loti's Madame Chrysanthème and is working on the manuscript for a book about Pierre Loti's relationship with Japan.