Saturday, 19 December 2020

Hong lou meng: chapters 71-72, appearances, Xifeng’s illness, Suncloud and Sunset

 1/ In chapter 71, the Giả (Jia) family celebrate the 80th birthday of Giả Mẫu (Jia Mu), the matriarch. This means that unless there’s some confusion or mistake in the book about time (which isn’t impossible), the amount of time that passes between chapter 39 and chapter 71 should be more than 5 years.  

2/ I notice how nobody says much when Uyên Ương (Yuanyang/ Faithful) mentions the incident with Hình phu nhân (lady Xing) and talks about all the pressure on Vương Hy Phượng (Wang Xifeng). Thám Xuân (Tanchun) slightly changes the subject and they all talk about other stuff. 

I believe the action in this chapter is about 7-8 months after the Vưu Nhị Thư (You Erjie) thing. 

In this chapter we also see Bình Nhi’s (Patience) feelings. One of the kindest, most considerate characters in the novel is loyal to the cruellest, most malicious woman—I suppose that is her main flaw. 

3/ It’s said from the beginning but it was in chapter 53 that I started seeing that the Giả (Jia) family struggle financially and aren’t as rich as they appear. Since then there have been Lunar New Year celebrations, birthday celebrations, funerals, parties, all kinds of extravagant and wasteful things, then in chapter 71, the matriarch’s birthday celebrations span 9 days! Fucking hell. 

In chapter 72, Cao Xueqin sets up a scene of Giả Liễn (Jia Lian) asking for help from Uyên Ương (Faithful), followed by a scene of him discussing money matters with his wife Vương Hy Phượng (Wang Xifeng), showing how they struggle, how they try to grab money here and there to spend on festivities and celebrations and other extravagances in order to keep up appearances. Then in the middle of the conversation, a character comes in, saying that a eunuch wants to borrow some money. How does she react? 

“‘Daddy Xia […] sent me to ask you if you happen to have one or two hundred taels on you you could let him have just for the time being. He will pay you back in a day or two.’

‘Why talk of paying back?’ said Xi-feng genially. ‘We’ve got plenty of money, just help yourselves. Why don’t we just say that if we are ever short of money, we’ll come and borrow some from you.’

‘Oh, Daddy Xia also told me to tell you that he still hasn’t paid back the twelve hundred taels he owes you from the last two times, but he says he will definitely pay it all back to you by the New Year.’

Xi-feng laughed.

‘Your Daddy Xia is an old fuss-pot, tell him. He really shouldn’t worry his head over such trifles...’” (Ch.72) 

Then she tells her servant to go pawn some gold necklaces to get money to lend the eunuch. I mean, what? 

Everything’s about keeping up appearances, everything’s about saving face. I don’t understand this mentality. 

4/ Chapter 72 has another allusion to Vương Hy Phượng’s (Wang Xifeng) heavy periods. Would this be the end of her? I have no idea. But if we look back, she has indirectly caused the deaths of 5 people: 

- A death relating to sex. 

- Suicides by a couple, which result from a forced marriage. 

- A foetus. 

- The concubine driven to death by her.

It’s all about love, sex, or reproduction. Wouldn’t it be poetic justice, in a way, if a menstruation-related disease were to be the end of her? 

Bảo Ngọc (Baoyu) is meant to be the central character in Hong lou meng but the characters who appear the most seem to be Vương Hy Phượng (Wang Xifeng) and Đại Ngọc (Daiyu). 

5/ Cao Xueqin has depicted Giả Liễn (Jia Lian) to be an arsehole, but in one way he’s better than his wife. Vợ Lai Vượng (Brightie’s wife) asks for Thái Hà to be her daughter-in-law, he agrees to intervene but stops when he learns from someone else that the son is a drunkard and a gambler, whereas Vương Hy Phượng (Wang Xifeng) doesn’t give a shit and goes ahead anyway. 

He’s an arsehole in many ways, but still has something redeemable—he’s not as cold as his wife.  

6/ In Appendix II of volume 3, David Hawkes notes some confusion over 2 senior maids: 

- Thái Vân (Caiyun/ literally “Colourful Cloud”), called Suncloud by Hawkes. 

- Thái Hà (Caixia/ literally “Colourful Redcloud”), called Sunset. 

Hawkes believes that the 2 servants are meant to be the same girl and writes down the way he thinks the relationship between Giả Hoàn (Jia Huan) and Thái Hà (Sunset) or Thái Vân (Suncloud) develops throughout the chapters. Thái Hà (Sunset) disappears from the novel after chapter 72. 

“It seems to me self-evident that this is the story of a single maid, Sunset, who became Lady Wang’s principal maid after Golden’s suicide (Silver taking the place of Number Two). ‘Suncloud’ is simply an earlier version of the name, probably altered to avoid confusion with the ‘sunny clouds’ of the verses in chapter 5, which are there meant to symbolize another maid, Skybright (‘Fairweather Cirrus’).” (Appendix II) 

Golden is Kim Xuyến, Silver is Ngọc Xuyến, Skybright is Tình Văn. 

Confusingly, Thái Vân (Suncloud) is the principal maid of Vương phu nhân (lady Wang) in the last 2 dozen chapters. Hawkes argues:

“She survives there, I think, because she belongs an earlier version of the novel in which her character had not been developed—no love affair with Jia Huan, no quarrels, no sickness, no tragedy: her only role was to be Lady Wang’s maid, and she continued to fulfil it (since there was no reason why she should stop doing so) until the novel’s end.” (ibid.) 

But how does he know that they’re not meant to be 2 different maids? How does he know that Thái Hà (Sunset) is not the earlier name and Thái Vân (Suncloud) the later version? 

“The answer is that paired names like ‘Golden’ and ‘Silver’ represent sisters. In the Chinese such pairs of names have a common element. Thus Golden in Chinese is ‘Jin-chuan’, which means ‘Golden Bracelet’, and Silver is ‘Yu-chuan’, which means ‘Jade Bracelet’. If Lady Wang had had, besides Golden and Silver, a pair of maids called ‘Cai-yun’ and ‘Cai-xia’ (Suncloud and Sunset), they too would have been sisters. But Sunset’s younger sister Moonrise, who makes a brief appearance in chapter 72, has the Chinese name ‘Xiao-xia’ (‘Little Redcloud’). The common element in their names is not ‘cai’ but ‘xia.’ The name ‘Sunset’ therefore belongs to the ‘developed’ character and so represents the later version.” (ibid.) 

Golden is Kim Xuyến, Silver is Ngọc Xuyến, sharing Xuyến. Xiaoxia is Tiểu Hà, sharing Hà with Thái Hà (Sunset).

He makes a good case for the relationship with Giả Hoàn (Jia Huan), but I don’t really buy his argument about paired names. Bảo Thoa (Baochai) and Bảo Cầm (Baoqin) are cousins, not sisters. Nguyên Xuân (Yuanchun) and Thám Xuân (Tanchun) are half-sisters but the other 2 Xuân (Chun) girls are not sisters. Đại Ngọc (Daiyu) shares Ngọc (Yu) with Bảo Ngọc (Baoyu), Diệu Ngọc (Miaoyu/ Adamantina), and Hồng Ngọc (Hongyu), a servant who has to change her name to Tiểu Hồng (Xiaohong/ Crimson). 

Still, he might be right. In chapters 30, 61, and 62, Hawkes changes Thái Vân (Suncloud) into Sunset (Thái Hà). The Vietnamese text treats them as different girls, so Thái Vân is the one stealing stuff for Giả Hoàn (Jia Huan) and arguing with him but Thái Hà is the one being forced to marry some arsehole. 

Interestingly, I note that David Hawkes says the 2 girls are never together in the same scene or even the same chapter, whereas in the Vietnamese text, there are a few times Thái Vân and Thái Hà appear together. I suppose the Vietnamese translators decide to reinforce that they are 2 different girls. 

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