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The Beautiful and the Doomed: Essays on Literary Value


Miroslawa Buchholtz

The book addresses the problem of literary value in North American literature, children’s literature, film and poetry. Chapter One: The Ennob(e)led focuses on institutions which are instrumental in attributing value to literature: literary critics (e.g. D.H. Lawrence) and award givers (e.g. the Swedish Academy). It explores W.B. Yeats’s, T.S. Eliot’s, Czesław Miłosz’s and William Golding’s lives with the Nobel Prize. In Chapter Two: The Forgotten homage is paid to four authors who lost popularity, or never enjoyed it: Lorenza Stevens Berbineau, Frank Stockton, Charles Chesnutt and Conrad Aiken. Chapter Three: From Margin to Mainstream compares various Chinese, Japanese, First Nations’ and other ethnic voices in Canadian children’s literature. Chapter Four: From Mainstream to Margin juxtaposes scholarly pursuits with cinematic praxis, and cinematic praxis with political activity.


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Chapter Three: From Margin to Mainstream


3.1. Chinese Voices: Paul Yee and Sui Sin Far Children’s literature of any country has an important educational and socializing function; at its best, it promotes moral values and artistic standards that are deemed crucial within a given society. In multicultural societies, children’s literature has the additional function of preserving ethnic identity. The question of language is in this context pivotal. It is no wonder then that authors representing ethnic minorities frequently in a self-referential manner thematize such activities as speaking and writing. The focus of attention in this essay is on Chinese (often female) voices heard in selected texts by Sui Sin Far (1865–1914) and Paul Yee (born in 1956), two Chinese Canadians living a century apart. All of these texts were written in English, and not Chinese, which may be viewed as an act of despair (as if the au- thors were saying that there is no way to recreate the old identity), or else an asser- tion of power (there is room for variety within the dominant English language). I seek to show how weakness (physical and verbal) is often transformed into strength in their narratives. I begin with an analysis of Paul Yee’s book, and then compare his literary endeavor with that of his predecessor. In 2002 Paul Yee published a collection of tales entitled Dead Man’s Gold and Other Stories. In his “Note to the Reader,” Yee explains that his book is part of a larger project. On one level of continuity, the book...

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