Cover image for The red queen : a transcultural tragicomedy
Title:
The red queen : a transcultural tragicomedy
ISBN:
9780151011063
Edition:
1st U.S. ed.
Publication Information:
Orlando : Harcourt, c2004.
Physical Description:
xii, 334 p. ; 24 cm.
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Summary

Summary

Barbara Halliwell, on a grant at Oxford, receives an unexpected package-a memoir by a Korean crown princess, written more than two hundred years ago. A highly appropriate gift for her impending trip to Seoul. But from whom?

The story she avidly reads on the plane turns out to be one of great intrigue as well as tragedy. The Crown Princess Hyegyong recounts in extraordinary detail the ways of the Korean court and confesses the family dramas that left her childless and her husband dead by his own hand. Perhaps it is the loss of a child that resonates so deeply with Barbara . . . but she has little time to think of such things, she has just arrived in Korea.

She meets a certain Dr. Oo, and to her surprise and delight he offers to guide her to some of the haunts of the crown princess. As she explores the inner sanctums and the royal courts, Barbara begins to feel a strong affinity for everything related to the princess and her mysterious life.

After a brief, intense, and ill-fated love affair, she returns to London. Is she ensnared by the events of the past week, of the past two hundred years, or will she pick up her life where she left it? A beautifully told and ingeniously constructed novel, this is Margaret Drabble at her best.


Author Notes

Margaret Drabble was born on June 5, 1939 in Sheffield, England. She attended The Mount School in York and Newnham College, Cambridge University. After graduation, she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford during which time she understudied for Vanessa Redgrave.

She is a novelist, critic, and the editor of the fifth edition of The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Her works include A Summer Bird Cage; The Millstone, which won the John Llewelyn Rhys Prize in 1966; Jerusalem the Golden, which won James Tait Black Prize in 1967; and The Witch of Exmoor. She also received the E. M. Forster award and was awarded a Society of Authors Travelling Fellowship in the 1960s and the Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1980.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

In her 16th novel, Drabble exhibits her characteristic ironic detachment in an elegantly constructed meditation on memory, mortality, risk and reward. Dr. Babs Halliwell, a 40-ish academic on sabbatical at Oxford, receives an anonymous gift on the eve of her departure for a conference in Seoul: a copy of the 18th-century Korean Crown Princess Hyegyong's memoir. In the crown princess's tumultuous time, women of the court could exercise power only through men. But the sly, coquettish and charmingly unreliable princess not only outlived her mad husband but also survived her brothers, her sons and innumerable palace plots. Her story and her spirit all but possess Dr. Halliwell, whose tragic personal losses and highly ritualized professional life cleverly and subtly mirror those of the crown princess. Upon her arrival in Seoul, Dr. Halliwell begins to come a bit unhinged as pieces of her long-submerged past threaten to catch up with her at last. "These things," she observes, "have long, long fuses." She innocently takes up with a generous Korean doctor, who becomes her tour guide in the jarringly foreign city. Soon, she's also flattered into embarking on a brief but intense affair with a famous and charismatic Dutch anthropologist who's busy grappling with ghosts of his own. Nimbly jumping across time and around the globe, Drabble artfully stitches together the disparate strands of both women's lives with "a scarlet thread... of blood and joy." The voices of the dead reach out to the living, where the ancient and the modern "pass through one another, like clouds of bees, like distant galaxies... like the curving spirals of a double helix." Agent, Peter Matson at Sterling Lord Literistic. (Oct. 4) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Booklist Review

Drabble read JaHyun Kim Haboush's translation of The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea 0 (1995) and became possessed. Enthralled by the tough-minded memoirist and the crucial phase of Korean history she illuminates, Drabble doesn't simply fictionalize the crown princess' dramatic story, she transforms the royal author into a ghostly, insistent presence who has studied the world closely since her death and who has decided to retell her story in light of all that has transpired in the interim. And so the crown princess--proud, frank, intelligent, discursive, and still wounded by the cruelty of her father-in-law, King Yongjo, and the terrible crimes and suffering of her mad and murderous husband, Prince Sado--recounts her harrowing experiences, matching Anchee Min's historically based Empress Orchid0 BKL N 15 03 with her vivid depiction of the claustrophobia and dysfunction of an Asian court, and also offering delectably caustic commentary on the modern world. But there's more. Drabble, a master at constructing two-track, two-epoch tales ( The Seven Sisters0 2002 brings Virgil into our time), abruptly switches to the present, where the intrepid Dr. Barbara Halliwell, a fetching English academic, reads the crown princess' memoirs on the way to a conference in Seoul, thus inadvertently instigating hilarious, sexy, and suspenseful adventures that reveal curious parallels between her life and that of the Korean princess. Drabble is sleight-of-hand adept at slipping profoundly insightful musings on human nature, history, and social mores into scintillating and all-consuming novels. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2004 Booklist


Guardian Review

Margaret Drabble's last novel was about an abandoned Home Counties housewife who tries to make a new life that captures the splendour of Virgil's Aeneid . She fails, of course. It's all very sad, because she deserves better. But it's hard to see how her author could have done more for her without breaking with the grim middle-way realism that is her hallmark. The heroines of her new novel are luckier. They inhabit an unbounded, transcultural world where the dead wander among the living, endowing even the grimmest and most middle-class corners of north London with an epic grandeur. "This book was inspired by a volume of court memoirs written in Korea more than two centuries ago," Drabble informs us in her preface. Without stopping to say who the author was, other than that she was a crown princess, she confesses to being obsessed by her: "Once I had met her, I could not get her out of my mind. . . . She seemed to be making demands on me, but it has not been easy to work out what they might or could be." In the end, she decided to turn her story into a "novel, of a kind. This is because I am a novelist, and, for better and for worse, writing novels is what I do." But she's worried that we might take this one the wrong way, "for attempting to write across cultures is dangerous and liable to misinterpretation". So we are to bear in mind that this is not a historical novel and that she does not believe in ghosts. With that, she hands over to the crown princess, who will be our guide for the next 166 pages. She is as imperious as Drabble and just as odd. Although her account of court intrigues is utterly gripping, she refuses to confine herself to the language of her time. She'll describe how King Yongjo took her aside as a young girl to tell her "to keep her linen white" because "men do not like the red smear". The young crown princess is confused, so the older, wiser memoirist feels compelled to put things in perspective. "I now think, with the benefit of maturity and an afterlife, and in the light of my readings of 19th- and 20th-century anthropological and psychoanalytical literature, that he was speaking of men's fear of menstrual blood." As we soon discover, even eru dite ghosts in coy postmodern sagas have their limits: for while the crown princess can influence the present and use its libraries to study the past, she cannot converse with the living or force them to follow her preferred course of action. But she's desperate to make sense of her life and play out her destiny: to this end, she chooses an "emissary", who becomes the heroine of the second half of the book. Dr Babs Halliwell is a svelte, brilliant, Orpington-born academic en route to Seoul to give a paper at a very important conference. During the first half of her journey, she amuses herself with a book entitled Multiculturalism: Is It Bad for Women? . During the second half, she reads a mysterious book sent to her via Amazon from parties unknown: a thick academic tome from a small press entitled A Message From the Crown Princess of Korea, in the Form of a Court Memoir of the Eighteenth Century , translated, edited and annotated by Thea O Landry. It entrances her - of course. And so the game begins. Perhaps I should put that into the plural, for in the second half of the novel, the author has just as much fun with her readers as the crown princess has with poor Babs. Deliberately hectoring ("She will arrive too early at the airport. She always arrives early at airports. It is foredoomed that she will arrive early at Heathrow") and intensely annoying, she still insists on being heard. Long after she has given you a headache, you read on and on, faster and faster, if only to find out what the hell she's up to. Well, that's not quite fair. Behind the literary games is an implausible but gorgeously trashy romance. I lapped that up, too - without anyone being the wiser. Rarely has feminist escapism been so stylishly disguised. Maureen Freely's books include The Parent Trap (Virago). To order The Red Queen for pounds 14.99 plus p&p call Guardian book service on 0870 836 0875. Caption: article-freely.1 With that, she hands over to the crown princess, who will be our guide for the next 166 pages. She is as imperious as [Margaret Drabble] and just as odd. Although her account of court intrigues is utterly gripping, she refuses to confine herself to the language of her time. She'll describe how King Yongjo took her aside as a young girl to tell her "to keep her linen white" because "men do not like the red smear". The young crown princess is confused, so the older, wiser memoirist feels compelled to put things in perspective. "I now think, with the benefit of maturity and an afterlife, and in the light of my readings of 19th- and 20th-century anthropological and psychoanalytical literature, that he was speaking of men's fear of menstrual blood." It entrances her - of course. And so the game begins. Perhaps I should put that into the plural, for in the second half of the novel, the author has just as much fun with her readers as the crown princess has with poor Babs. Deliberately hectoring ("She will arrive too early at the airport. She always arrives early at airports. It is foredoomed that she will arrive early at Heathrow") and intensely annoying, she still insists on being heard. Long after she has given you a headache, you read on and on, faster and faster, if only to find out what the hell she's up to. - Maureen Freely.


Kirkus Review

With her usual deftness and clarity, Drabble (The Seven Sisters, 2002, etc.) crosses cultures and centuries, linking the story of an 18th-century Korean Crown Princess with that of a British scholar attending a conference in Seoul. "Ancient Times" presents the Yi period memoir of the Crown Princess: she's married at ten; consummates the marriage at 15; loses her first-born in infancy; has a second son, who will become king, and two daughters; watches her husband succumb to madness, slaughter his concubine, and be killed by his own father; and somehow survives into her 70s before dying, to watch over future centuries with curiosity and a wish to have her story revived. "Modern Times" follows the trail of British scholar Babs Halliwell, 42, who travels to a conference in Seoul, carrying an anonymously sent copy of the Crown Princess's memoirs. Reading the memoir on the flight, Dr. Halliwell finds herself entranced, supernaturally enchanted. "The princess is taking her over, bodily and mentally . . . . The princess has entered her, like an alien creature in a science-fiction movie, and she is gestating and growing within her." Dr. Halliwell, like the Crown Princess, has a mad husband and lost her firstborn to a genetic illness. She craves a red silk blouse, scarlet stockings--as the Crown Princess once craved a red silk skirt. A Korean doctor takes her to visit the Crown Princess's gardens and other key sites. She tells the story of the Crown Princess to the conference star, Jan van Joost, which leads to a three-day romantic liaison. Jan asks her advice about adopting a Chinese baby girl with his much younger and eccentric Spanish-Swedish third wife, then dies of a heart attack. The third part, "Postmodern Times," is a mysterious and mostly effective melding of all the story's strands. Engrossing and provocative: a scarlet narrative thread reminds us how magical the novel can be in telling stories and lives. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

In her 16th novel, Drabble (The Seven Sisters) presents two parallel stories that of an 18th-century Korean crown princess and memoirist and that of Dr. Babs Halliwell, a fortyish British academic en route to Korea for a medical conference. While preparing to leave, Babs receives an anonymous gift, an English translation of the memoirs of an 18th-century Korean crown princess. The novel's first half recounts those memoirs, but from the perspective of a scholarly ghost that has been reading Eastern and Western literatures and philosophies for two centuries. As Babs's story unfolds, it reveals uncanny parallels to that of the crown princess. Like Drabble's other novels, this superb story shows signs of her fascination with connections genetic, historical, and chance-met. For Babs, the chance-met connections emerge from a three-day conference fling with an eminent European scholar, the results of which are surprising though perhaps not completely unexpected to longtime Drabble readers. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/04.] Mary Margaret Benson, Linfield Coll. Lib., McMinnville, OR (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

WHEN I WAS A LITTLE CHILD, I pined for a red silk skirt. I do not remember all the emotions of my childhood, but I remember this childish longing well. One of my many cousins came to visit us when I was five years old, and she had a skirt of red silk with patterned edgings, lined with a plain red silk of a slightly darker shade. It was very fashionable, and very beautiful. The gauzy texture was at once soft and stiff, and the colour was bold. Woven into it was a design of little summer flowers and butterflies, all in red. I loved it and I fingered it. That skirt spoke to my girlish heart. I wanted one like it, but I knew that my family was not as wealthy as my mother's sister's family, so I checked my desire, although I can see now that my mother and my aunt could read the longing in my eyes. My aunt and my cousins were delicate in their tastes, and like most women of that era, like most women of any era, they liked fine clothes. They came to envy me my destiny, and all its lavish trimmings- well, for a time I believe they envied me. But I was brought up in a hard school, and, as a small child, I had no red silk skirt, and I concealed my longing as best I could. This hard school served me well in my hard life. My mother, too, endured hardship in her early years. I used to wonder, childishly, whether it was my longing for red silk that brought all these disasters upon me and my house. For my desire was fulfilled, but no good came of it, and it brought me no happiness.I was still a child when I received a red silk skirt of my own. It was brought to me from the palace, with other precious garments made for me at the queen's command. I was presented with a long formal dress jacket of an opaque leaf-green brocade, and a blouse in buttercup-yellow silk with a grape pattern, and another blouse of a rich pale foxglove silk. I had been measured for these robes by the matron of the court, and they were lifted out and displayed to me by a court official, with much ambiguous and bewildering deference. I think my response to these rich and splendid artefacts was lacking in spontaneous delight and gratitude, though I did do my best to conceal my fear.The red silk skirt was not a gift from the palace, although it was included in the fine royal display of gifts. I was to learn later that it had been made for me by my mother, as a reward and as a compensation for my elevation. She had made it secretly, at night, hanging curtains over her windows to hide the lights in her chamber as she worked. This is how she performed many of her household tasks - discreetly, quietly, modestly. My mother liked to hide her thrift and industry, and she avoided compliments on her domestic labours. At this time, I knew nothing of this special undertaking on my behalf. I stared at the red silk skirt in ungracious silence.My mother reminded me that I had once expressed a wish for such things, and she watched my face for smiles of gratitude. I did not remember having expressed th Excerpted from The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.


Table of Contents

When I was a little child, I pined for a red silk skirt. I do not remember all the emotions of my childhood, but I remember this childish longing well. One of my many cousins came to visit us when I was five years old, and she had a skirt of red silk with patterned edgings, lined with a plain red silk of a slightly darker shade. It was very fashionable, and very beautiful. The gauzy texture was at once soft and stiff, and the colour was bold. Woven into it was a design of little summer flowers and butterflies, all in red. I loved it and I fingered it. That skirt spoke to my girlish heart. I wanted one like it, but I knew that my family was not as wealthy as my mother's sister's family, so I checked my desire, although I can see now that my mother and my aunt could read the longing in my eyes. My aunt and my cousins were delicate in their tastes, and like most women of that era, like most women of any era, they liked fine clothes. They came to envy me my destiny, and all its lavish trimmings-well, for a time I believe they envied me. But I was brought up in a hard school, and, as a small child, I had no red silk skirt, and I concealed my longing as best I could. This hard school served me well in my hard life. My mother, too, endured hardship in her early years. I used to wonder, childishly, whether it was my longing for red silk that brought all these disasters upon me and my house. For my desire was fulfilled, but no good came of it, and it brought me no happiness.
I was still a child when I received a red silk skirt of my own. It was brought to me from the palace,with other precious garments made for me at the queen's command. I was presented with a long formal dress jacket of an opaque leaf-green brocade, and a blouse in buttercup-yellow silk with a grape pattern, and another blouse of a rich pale foxglove silk. I had been measured for these robes by the matron of the court, and they were lifted out and displayed to me by a court official, with much ambiguous and bewildering deference. I think my response to these rich and splendid artefacts was lacking in spontaneous delight and gratitude, though I did do my best to conceal my fear.
The red silk skirt was not a gift from the palace, although it was included in the fine royal display of gifts. I was to learn later that it had been made for me by my mother, as a reward and as a compensation for my elevation. She had made it secretly, at night, hanging curtains over her windows to hide the lights in her chamber as she worked. This is how she performed many of her household tasks-discreetly, quietly, modestly. My mother liked to hide her thrift and industry, and she avoided compliments on her domestic labours.At this time, I knew nothing of this special undertaking on my behalf. I stared at the red silk skirt in ungracious silence.
My mother reminded me that I had once expressed a wish for such things, and she watched my face for smiles of gratitude. I did not remember having expressed this wish, but I confess that she was right to have divined it in me. But now I was too sad and too oppressed to raise my eyes to look at my new finery. My illustrious future hung heavily upon me. I was nine years old, and I was afraid.
I have been dead now for 200 years, but I have not been idle. I have been rethinking my story, and my history....
Many thought I was fortunate to die in my bed, an old woman of eighty years. Indeed, it is remarkable that I managed to live so long, in such turbulent times. But how could I have allowed myself to die earlier? Many times I wished to die, and sometimes I thought it my duty to die. But in universal terms, in human terms, it was my duty to live. My life was needed. My son and my grandson needed me. I could not abandon them. I survived for them. (I could even argue that my kingdom needed me, but that would be a grandiose claim, a masculine and dynastic claim, and I do not make it.) And now, 200 years later,with the knowledge of two centuries added to my own limited knowledge on earth, I intend to retell my story. I hope to purchase a further lease of attention, and a new and different readership. I have selected a young and vigorous envoy, who will prolong my afterlife and collaborate with me in my undying search for the meaning of my sufferings and my survival.
From the Hardcover edition.