CEESOK (Central and East European Society of Koreanology) 2015. The 14th International Conference. Moscow, October, 29-30, 2015: Proceedings
In the West and Russia the notion of women’s literature existence itself influences interpretation of books written by women. Besides, very popular is so-called women’s fiction focusing on women’s life experience and marketed to female readers. Such fictions often resemble fairytales in terms of plot and discredit more high-quality women’s literature. It looks like women writers in the Republic of Korea do not need to dissociate themselves from anything vulgar, and this lets them diminish the self-determination pathos of the texts. Moreover, pathos of this kind is especially noticeable in languages, where verbs have grammatical gender, and Korean is not among them.
In Europe as well as in Asia, including Korea, during the Classical period the top of the literary hierarchy was occupied by genres presupposed solid education available only to noble men, and the bottom was the sphere of anonymity tightly connected with folklore. In Korea men paid more attention to Chinese-character literature, while women made creative efforts in Korean language. From a historical point of view, women just went their way without Chinese, but men had to get used to writing Korean after establishing it as the official national language at the end of 19th century.
Another issue under discussion is the connection between women’s literature and feminism. In Korea the struggle for equal opportunities for women took place hand in hand with the defining and defending social rights for the whole nation under the pressure of Confucian traditionalism at first, then colonial rule, then dictatorship regimes. Confucianism offered strict behavior patterns not only for women but also for men. Thus it was men (Kim Man-jung, Lee Kwang-soo, Park Chong-hwa) who, aiming to free compatriots from prejudices, started to reconsider the image of woman in literature.
It’s noteworthy that in the Republic of Korea women writers got really active when postmodernism became the prevailing paradigm in world culture. Postmodernism denies explanations which claim to be valid for all groups of people and instead focuses on the relative truths of each person. In this paradigm concrete experience of either man or woman is more important than abstract principles. As a result, only one feature of prose by women writers in modern Korea turns out to be indisputable. It is «writing the body», particular attention to psychological and physiological sensations of women characters which could not be described by men anyway. The other distinctive features of the texts mostly should be regarded as peculiarities of style of one or another writer.
I would try to illustrate these points with examples from texts by the most famous Korean women writers Park Wan-suh, Eun Hee-kyung, Shin Kyung-sook, Oh Jung-hee, etc.