Why Sonoe Rebuffed Baron Tokiwa: How a Mary Braddon Penny Dreadful Reached the Kabuki Stage

By Ian McArthur.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Between October 1894 and July 1895, Kuroiwa Ruikô serialised his translation of English author Mary Braddon’s mystery novel Diavola as Sute obune [abandoned
small boat] in his newspaper Yorozu chôhô. The original had appeared in the London Journal between October 1866 and July 1867. The popularity of the Kuroiwa version led to its commissioning as a kabuki play by Kawatake Shinshichi III at the prestigious Kabukiza Theatre in Tokyo in 1898. Eight years later, in 1906, the story was again adapted as a play at the Hongôza Theatre. In its original form, the story tells of a destitute singer Honoria, who marries a baronet only to be abandoned by him due to the machinations of his scheming nephew. After the baronet is poisoned by the nephew’s accomplice, Honoria must bring the criminals to justice and gain retribution for herself. In going from European penny dreadful to stage play, the story experienced considerable intertextual transmutation in plot, character, and scene.
Where Braddon sets a crucial scene in a ruined tower, the Kabukiza version uses a temple in Kyoto, while the Hongôza version uses a boar hunter’s hide. Where Braddon has her heroine, Honoria, widowed within the first few chapters, Japanese versions have the heroine, Sonoe, resisting, throughout most of the tale, her husband’s entreaties to rejoin him after initial banishment from his household. By focusing on key transmutations, this paper examines the impact of translation and kabuki as tools for cross-cultural mediation in the Meiji-era reform debate.

Keywords: Kabuki, Mary Braddon, Mystery Novel, Meiji Era, Kawatake Shinshichi III

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp.1-14. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 626.027KB).

Dr. Ian McArthur

Lecturer, Department of the Humanities, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Dr McArthur is a lecturer in the Department of Asian Languages at Macquarie University, where he teaches Japanese language, culture and mass-media. His research interests are the role of various media, including professional storytellers, dramatic arts, and adaptive translations, in the adaptation of European models of modernity in Meiji-period Japan. He is also interested in using intertextuality to research the role of the contemporary media in mediating the dissemination of ideas to and from Japan. He obtained his PhD in Asian Studies at the University of Sydney in 2002. (Dissertation title: Mediating modernity: Henry Black and narrated hybridity in Meiji Japan.) He is a former Tokyo correspondent for the Melbourne-based Herald and Weekly Times group of newspapers.

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