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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Crossing the boundaries : rewriting the female self in Tamura Toshiko’s “Ikichi” (Lifeblood, 1911) Nakao, Atsumi


Women writers in early 20th century Japan were expected to write exclusively on topics considered “womanly” by the men who controlled the bundan, the literary and publishing world. The early fictional works of Tamura Toshiko (1984-1945), an award-winning female writer, caused ambivalent reactions among the critics of her time and in the decades since. Her provocative, sensual expressions and focus on female sexuality were considered properly “womanly,” but therefore weak, by some critics, including feminists of the time, but disturbing by others. In the 1980s Tamura’s work was rediscovered and celebrated by feminist literary scholars and has been the subject of multiple studies since then. This thesis examines Tamura’s groundbreaking short story “Ikichi” (Lifeblood, 1911), published in the inaugural issue of the feminist journal Seitō (Bluestockings, 1911-1916), which relates the reaction of its unmarried protagonist, Yūko, to the loss of her virginity. Previous feminist scholarship has focused on Yūko’s sense of victimhood and shame, but this thesis demonstrates how Tamura uses particular literary techniques to present a much more complex vision of a woman’s resistance toward the social and discursive pressures around female sexuality in the late Meiji period (1868-1912). First, I introduce theories of affect and abjection and show how they aid in revealing the complexity of Tamura’s agenda. Building on Teresa Brennan’s work on affect, I identify the depiction of “raw affect”—that is, feelings and impulses that cannot be captured by language or filtered through intelligibility—as a means by which Tamura shows her protagonist resisting both internalized and external social pressures as she tries to make sense of her first sexual experience. Next, I discuss the sequential process of abjection, as Yūko feels herself to be abjected and then in turn abjects others, to reveal the ways that “Ikichi” explores not only female sexuality and social morals, but also issues of class privilege. The analysis reveals Tamura’s use of literary techniques to expose the powers that restrict women as well as the ways women resist those powers through conscious and unconscious behaviors in their attempt to reclaim a bodily language of their own.

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