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Negotiating Wifely Virtues

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Guilt, Memory and Grieving Husbands in Seventeenth-Century China

image of NAN NÜ

This article attempts to examine how three seventeenth-century literati husbands mourned and wrote about their late wives. It argues that when the biographer of a deceased woman and her grieving husband coincided in the same person, the biographical narrative could be complicated considerably with Confucian biographical conventions of the “exemplary” becoming more likely to be challenged in moments of intensely private grief and, especially,deep personal guilt. The overlap between the biographical (private memories of a man’s deceased spouse) and the autobiographical (his own self-redemption agenda) adds to a husband’s need to re/negotiate and redefine wifely virtues in order to accommodate the personal feeling of his roles as husband/biographer, who, in the moment of mourning, may be more interested in the unique than the typical as memory tends to be retained better if a deceased person is remembered as an individual distinctly different from others.

Affiliations: 1: University of California, Irvine


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