Making History Anew: Feminine Melodrama in Eileen Chang's Love in a Fallen City

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Consciousness, Literature and the Arts







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This essay will explore the narrative mode of feminine melodrama in Love in a Fallen City, a novella by the Shanghainese writer Eileen Chang (1920–1995). Chang has gained international fame for her depiction of Chinese women in the tumultuous transitional period prior to the modern era, especially traditional women figures that are in stark contrast with the New Woman ideal portrayed by her contemporary writers. Born in Shanghai, Chang was a descendant of an eminent late imperial official and received western education in Hong Kong under the influence of her open-minded mother. A literary sensation at the age of twenty-five, Chang was applauded by audiences for depicting characters with an illustrative psychological depth, especially elite women or women of low social origins who strive to carve out their precarious spaces via their ventures in the marriage market. Unlike the revolutionary women depicted in many novels of the time, Chang's traditional Chinese women characters cannot do away with cultural capital and even aesthetic capital. Instead, they rely on the alliance of beauty and culture to achieve a matrimonial bond and the social recognition that comes with the marriage contract. Chang’s heroine is often such an “old-fashioned” gentry woman, who, in the historical swirl of decorum, romance, and commodity fetishism, explores a feminine consciousness overlooked by those May Fourth authors whose works were baptized with revolutionist politics.

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