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Literacy, Sosŏl, and Women in Book Culture in Late Chosŏn Korea

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AbstractIn an effort to better understand the rise of discourse on women vis-à-vis the impact of the modern, this paper discusses issues of gender in the context of pre-twentieth-century reading practices in Korea. The usual trajectory of scholarship on pre-twentieth-century book culture first associates women with indigenous script (han’gŭl), then links them with the literary genre of the novel, and thus defines women as the main reader group for novels written in han’gŭl. However, low literacy rates and socio-cultural factors surrounding Chosŏn women challenge rather than support this association. Existing scholarship also does not provide a convincing picture of the changes in reading practices and the roles of women as readers and writers in the transition from pre-modern to modern Korea. In examining how reading materials circulated and re-assessing claims that novels in han’gŭl constituted a women’s genre, this article calls for a more sensitive, critical and nuanced understanding of gender categories as they are deployed in literary scholarship. Indeed, it sees the juncture of ‘women’, mun / munhak, and the role of women in Korean literature as a site for re-evaluating the intricate mechanics of gender relations in Korea.

Affiliations: 1: lee.j@wustl.edu

10.1163/22106286-12341255
/content/journals/10.1163/22106286-12341255
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2014-02-06
2018-09-24

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