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Poison Woman

Poison Woman: Figuring Female Transgression in Modern Japanese Culture

Christine L. Marran
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Poison Woman
    Book Description:

    Based on the lives and crimes of no less than twenty real women, dokufu (poison women) narratives emerged as a powerful presence in Japan during the 1870s. In Poison Woman, Christine L. Marran investigates this powerful icon, its shifting meanings, and its influence on defining women's sexuality and place in Japan.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5418-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Author’s Note
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxvi)

    This book addresses stories of women in Japan who were joined in history by the unflattering appellationdokufu‚ or “poison woman.” Most of these women committed murder or robbery and often both. Most carried out their adult lives during the tumultuous decline of Shogunate rule and the rise of a new oligarchic government in the nineteenth century. The term “poison woman” blossomed during this period of dramatic social, cultural, and political change and remained a familiar cultural icon throughout the twentieth century. Originally penned as sensational temptress in Japan’s first serialized novels in the 1870s, she traveled to the kabuki...

  6. 1. Anatomy of a Poison Woman
    (pp. 1-35)

    When I began considering the ubiquitous icon of the poison woman, I first considered her primarily as a literary fantasy that lured because she broke rules. She aroused anxieties and promised delights for her badness much like the blue-stockinged modern girl of the 1920s who succeeded her. But what sort of anxieties did the poison woman arouse and what delights did she promise? What sorts of rules did she break? Clearly more was at stake than simply a literary fantasy. My research convinces me that the poison woman created in early Meiji literary history was a persuasive body for articulating...

  7. 2. Newspaper Reading as Poison and Cure
    (pp. 36-64)

    In a provocative discussion of the amorphous relationship between drugs, writing, and literary consumption, Avital Ronell examines why Gustave Flaubert’sMadame Bovarywas denounced in court as “poison.” The novel, more than almost any other, “brought out evidence of the pharmaco-dependency with which literature has always been secretly associated—as sedative, as cure, as escape conduit or euphorizing substance, as mimetic poisoning.”¹ Madame Bovary’s immorality and adultery are a natural outcome ofreading novels.Her serial reading encouraged an immodest lifestyle, and the reading of her deplorable lifestyle, the courts argued, would similarly promote such immoral behavior and social decay....

  8. 3. Recollection and Remorse
    (pp. 65-102)

    “Rehabilitation.” I wonder if you know what the word means.The Unabridged Webster’s International Dictionarysays “to invest again with dignity.” You consider that part of your job, Harvey? To give a man back the dignity he once had? Your only interest is in how he behaves. You told me that once a long time ago and I’ll never forget it. “You’ll conform to our ideas of how you should behave.” And you haven’t retreated from that stand one inch in thirty-five years. You want your prisoners to dance out the gates like puppets on a string with rubber-stamped values...

  9. 4. How to Be a Woman and Not Kill in the Attempt
    (pp. 103-135)

    Into the twentieth century, memoirs by female criminals grew bolder. Those by Kanno Suga and Kaneko Fumiko are decidedly unapologetic political critiques of the nation. Kanno was a journalist and anarchist hanged in 1911 for plotting the assassination of the Meiji emperor in what came to be known as the Great Treason incident. When Kanno explained her goals in interrogation, she said, “I had to show that the emperor too was a human being whom blood could flow from just like the rest of us.”¹ Kanno brushed aside any sense of shame and passivity. The prison essays she wrote while...

  10. 5. How to Be a Masochist and Not Get Castrated in the Attempt
    (pp. 136-170)

    Most pre–World War II texts about Abe Sada describe the generic female criminal as uncivilized, antithetical to social progress, and an example of the disaster that uncontrolled female desire can wreak. However, nearly all texts about Abe Sada in thepost–World War II era treat her implicitly as a heroine. She is an eroticized icon of emancipation, ideal for having achieved sincerity of the flesh and for being unencumbered by ideological pressures. In this newly emerging depiction of Abe Sada in the postwar period, female self-assertion and especially sexual assertion still remained dangerous to the public good. That...

  11. Epilogue: By Way of Antidote
    (pp. 171-178)

    The poison woman was brought into being through the new discourses of enlightenment thought. Stories about her promoted normalizing visions of sexuality and gender that conformed to the promises of modernity, though the stories implicitly articulated the failure of those promises to include women. Poison woman stories, as popular serials, needed obstacles and conflict, and enlightenment discourse provided a convoluted backdrop for the contest of meaning over women’s role during this time when absolutist modes of control were ostensibly being replaced by a society of “equals.” Crimes, especially by women, contributed to the discursive struggle for meaning with regard to...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 179-206)
  13. Index
    (pp. 207-220)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 221-221)