UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Personal appearance as teachable virtue : reading Yŏyongguk chŏn 女容國傳 as kyubang sosŏl 閨房小說 Lee, Azalea


This present study aims to determine the reason why Yŏyongguk chŏn (lit.: The Tale of Female Face-land) was written. Yŏyongguk chŏn is an 18th century fictional narrative with anthropomorphized cosmetic item protagonists that fight against various unsightly maladies such as lice, dirt, plaque, and unruly hairs; thus, this text implies that it is catastrophic for a woman to be unkempt. This research argues that although Yŏyongguk chŏn is conventionally known simply as a work of allegorical fiction that scholar-officials read in their spare time, it should also be regarded as a didactic text; a genre read in women’s inner boudoirs, known in modern-day scholarship as kyubang sosŏl. More precisely, Yŏyongguk chŏn was introduced to women’s boudoirs in order to teach them the virtue of wifely appearance, puyong 婦容. In order to support this claim, conduct manuals are examined to show that the upkeep of personal appearance was indeed an important facet of the Chosŏn conceptualization of virtue. Then, an overview of Chosŏn cosmetic culture is provided, and key observations are made regarding Yŏyongguk chŏn and the insights the text provides concerning Chosŏn cosmetics. Finally, Yŏyongguk chŏn is analysed with regard to the parameters that Im Hyŏngt’aek (1988) proposes in his seminal paper on the topic of kyubang sosŏl to demonstrate that Yŏyongguk chŏn does in fact adhere to a number of his parameters and should therefore be deemed a kyubang sosŏl. This study hopes to provide more context regarding the everyday lives of Chosŏn elite women, and also to expand current scholarly discussions on Chosŏn-era literary genres.  

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International