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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

9. Social

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Activities: Author Activities

Sui Sin Far (Edith Maud Eaton) - Teaching Tips

Back Back to Sui Sin Far (Edith Maud Eaton) Activities
  • The original 1912 edition of Mrs. Spring Fragrance was published with an elaborate scarlet cover and "oriental" motifs inscribed on each page. Ask your students to consider the effects of this physical presentation, and why Sui Sin Far's book was bound this way. Why might the elaborate, ostentatiously Chinese-looking design have appealed to the white audience to whom the book was marketed? Ask your students to discuss how the experience of reading "Mrs. Spring Fragrance" might change if they read it in the original edition rather than in The Norton Anthology of American Literature.

  • Although Japan had been open to the West since 1853, "the Orient" remained a place of great mystery, reverence, and intrigue for modern Americans. Readers revelled in the exotic paraphernalia of Japanese daily life in works such as Matthew Calbraith Perry's The Americans in Japan: An Abridgement of the Government Narrative of the U.S. Expedition to Japan, and fascination with the Orient spilled over into U.S. architecture and literature, particularly in the poetry of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams (see the Core Context on "Orientalism" in Unit 10). Postcolonial theorist Edward Said has argued that for Westerners the Orient was "almost a European invention": the Orient becomes an "other" against which the West defines itself, rather than a place with its own reality. Have your students test whether Sui Sin Far's fiction breaks down or reinforces this "otherness" by having them diagram what constitutes Western and Chinese culture and identity in Sui Sin Far's work.

  • At one point in the story, Mrs. Spring Fragrance recites lines from "a beautiful American poem" by a "noble American named Tennyson." Of course, Tennyson, the poet laureate of Great Britain, was not an American. Ask your students to think about the function of this mention of Tennyson in the story (Mr. Spring Fragrance crucially misunderstands the meaning of the lines and becomes suspicious of his wife's affection and fidelity). Is the joke here on Mrs. Spring Fragrance for mistaking a British poem for an American one? Or is this a commentary on the state of American poetry and American literature generally? How does Mrs. Spring Fragrance's conflation of British and American culture compare to many Americans' inability to distinguish among various Asian cultures?

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