Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Hong lou meng: chapters 79-80, Xia Jingui, Sun Shaozu, Cao Xueqin chapters

1/ Chapter 79 has 2 characters getting married. Giả Nghênh Xuân (Jia Yingchun) is the first one to leave the garden, marrying Tôn Thiệu Tổ (Sun Shaozu). 

2/ Tiết Bàn (Xue Pan) gets married to a young woman named Hạ Kim Quế (Xia Jingui). Cao Xueqin, I can’t help thinking, introduces her in a way I didn’t quite see him introduce other characters before in Hong lou meng—instead of slowly developing her and conveying her personality through action and dialogue, he sums up her family, upbringing, and personality in a way that makes me think of Jane Austen. This is an observation, not a complaint. 

3/ There is a significant scene at the beginning of chapter 80 that would be lost on readers of the Hawkes’s translation. 

The chamber wife of Tiết Bàn (Xue Pan), at the Tiết (Xue) family, gets the name 香菱 (Hương Lăng/ Xiangling), meaning “fragrant water caltrop”. In Hawkes’s translation she is called Caltrop.

In Hawkes’s translation, Hạ Kim Quế (Xia Jingui) changes her name to Lily, which is incorrect and makes the act lose its meaning. 

She changes her name to 秋菱 (Thu Lăng/ Qiuling), which means “autumn water caltrop”. 秋 (thu/ qiu) is a homophone of 丘 (khiêu or khâu/ qiu), meaning “mound” or “grave”. 菱 (lăng/ ling) is a homophone of 陵 (lăng/ ling), meaning “tomb”. 

This took some work—I had to compare 2 sources and also had to look at a Hán Nôm dictionary because the Vietnamese source made a mistake and the sources didn’t include all information, so give me a medal. 

Sources: (theo từ điển Hán Nôm của thivien, chữ đó phải là “khiêu” hay khâu”, không phải “khưu”).  

4/ In an earlier blog post I wrote about the jealousy of Vương Hy Phượng (Wang Xifeng) and compared her to Hoạn Thư in Truyện Kiều, the archetype of a jealous woman in Vietnamese culture. 

In the final 2 of the Cao Xueqin chapters, there’s another jealous woman: Hạ Kim Quế (Xia Jingui). Both of them use another woman to get rid of the one they hate: Vương Hy Phượng (Wang Xifeng) uses the new chamber-wife Thu Đồng (Autumn) to torment Vưu Nhị Thư (You Erjie), Hạ Kim Quế (Xia Jingui) uses her own servant that Tiết Bàn (Xue Pan) fancies, Bảo Thiềm (Moonbeam), to cause trouble for Thu Lăng (Qiuling). 

However, Hạ Kim Quế (Xia Jingui) has a very different personality and Cao Xueqin successfully creates another kind of jealous woman: a violent-tempered, overbearing, and quarrelsome woman who can push around a violent man like Tiết Bàn (Xue Pan), and even argues with her mother-in-law. 

5/ In the same chapter is another miserable marriage: Tôn Thiệu Tổ (Sun Shaozu) turns out to be a gambler, drunkard, and libertine. Other people, including Giả Chính (Jia Zheng), are against the marriage but Giả Xá (Jia She) goes ahead with it anyway, and now Nghênh Xuân (Yingchun) comes back in tears, but what can be done? 

Her real mother is dead, and Hình phu nhân (lady Xing) doesn’t care.  

Thus chapter 80 ends, hinting at worse things ahead. Nghênh Xuân (Yingchun) would perhaps be abandoned by her family, but the story of Hạ Kim Quế (Xia Jingui) is broken off here when she has the potential to become a great character. 


That’s the end of the Cao Xueqin chapters. I finished reading chapter 80 on 22/12, which means that it’s been 7 weeks since I started reading Hong lou meng. But I put it aside and read Naomi by Tanizaki for about 5 days, so the first 80 chapters took me about 6 weeks. 


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