Melodrama of The modern Girl: The Novel Jeaesang by Yi Gwangsu (1924-25)
Michael Shin - Assistant Professor, Korean History & Literature, Cornell University
Yi Gwangsu’s Jaesaeng (Rebirth) was one of the most popular novels in colonial Korea during the 1920s. One reason for its popularity was that it was a romance novel set against the backdrop of the March First Movement Jaesaeng was also one of the first full-length novels to feature the “new woman” and her more commodified and eroticized counterpart, the “modern girl.” The “modern girl” was an embodiment of the excesses of modernity; in particular, the crass materialism and the craze for romance that overwhelmed Korean society after 1919. By depicting the fall of a “new woman” into a “modern girl,” the novel made a critique of modern life in Joseon. Because of its melodramatic aspects, Jaesaeng has been relatively ignored by literary critics. This talk will discuss how the novel was not simply escapist entertainment and contains insights both into shifts in capitalism at the time and into the narration of the nation.