Miss Sophia's Diary

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Miss Sophia's Diary
Simplified Chinese 莎菲女士的日记
Traditional Chinese 莎菲女士的日記

Miss Sophia's Diary, or The Diary of Miss Sophie, is a short story by the Chinese author Ding Ling, in which a young woman describes, through diary entries, her thoughts and emotions, particularly about relationships, sexuality, and identity.

History[edit]

"Miss Sophia's Diary" was written in 1927 and first published in the influential Early Republic of China "Fiction Monthly" (小说月报).

A major influence on the story was Ding Ling's personal experiences at that time, including depression, exhaustion, and impoverishment. Dr. Tani E. Barlow describes Ding Ling in 1927 as "miserable, drinking heavily, dispirited by the national tragedy of political counterrevolution, and exhausted by her impoverished, often squalid life in boarding-house rooms . . . . " [1][1]:25

More generally, Ding Ling was passing from the milieu of a girls' schools to the male-dominated literary scene and involvement with some of China's most sophisticated male writers.[1]:25

Major themes[edit]

The major subject matter of Miss Sophia's Diary is a person's thoughts and feelings. The "interior" nature of the story is reinforced by its setting in a tuberculosis sanatorium.

Much of the diary concerns Miss Sophia's romantic attraction and sexual desire, and even reveals her bisexuality. More generally, the diary displays rapid swings of mood and outlook, and captures complex ambivalence of the subject about virtually everything in her life, what one scholar called "the chaos of personality."[2]

Miss Sophia's Diary provides an unorthodox perspective on basic aspects of life. It expresses frank, unflattering views of the male gender: "glib, phony, cautious" [1]:55 . . . "make my skin crawl"[1]:56 . . . "bastard".[1]:58 It also shows an unflattering side of women: cruel, tough, selfish ("the lovely news that someone got sick over me")[1]:53 . . . "savage"[1]:54 It turns traditional morality on its head: the chasteness of her friends Yunglin and Yufang is "just one of those strange, unexplained things in life."[1]:59

The story shows a person in all her complexity and contradictions. For instance, it shows how Miss Sophia is simultaneously able to exercise power over others, and yet is powerless. A recurring motif is that she has the power to command the attention of others, but not to make them understand her.[1]:53, 74 She is attracted to a man named Ling Jishi for his physical beauty, but is stimulated by the jealousy of her friend Weidi.[1]:66 Moreover, Ling Jishi has "the beautiful form I adore" but a "cheap, ordinary soul."[1]:68

Furthermore, Miss Sophia has varying degrees of awareness of her own complexity and contradictions. The author even speaks to her "readers" and admits that the diary is just one (crafted) version of her experience, and just another exercise in controlling the attention of others.[1]:74

The emotional complexity of the character can be sensed from the fact that, in the closing sentences of the story, her mood ranges from "profound anguish . . . a mere trifle . . . agony . . . excitement . . . laugh wildly, I feel so sorry for myself . . . pathetic . . ."[1]:81

Ding Ling uses this story to criticize Chinese society for not accommodating an independent woman like Sophia.[3]

Historical significance[edit]

Miss Sophia's Diary is a landmark in the evolving role of women in China during the era marked by the New Culture Movement and May Fourth Movement.[4]

A subtext of Miss Sophia's Diary, left unspoken until late in the story, is that there is an irreconcilable contradiction between the instinct to be attracted to someone like Ling Jishi and the fact that he is so irredeemably unenlightened.[1]:72

Of equal historical significance is the interior nature of the narrative in Miss Sophia's Diary. In contrast to other first person narratives, even those using the "diary" format, such as the landmark A Madman's Diary by Lu Xun, Miss Sophia's Diary is unusual in the frankness with which it reveals a real person's emotions.

Comparative perspective[edit]

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert was a major influence on Ding Ling in writing "Miss Sophia's Diary".[1]:27, 29

English translations[edit]

  • Tani E. Barlow, translator, "Miss Sophia's Diary," in I Myself Am A Woman: Selected Writings of Ding Ling, Tani E. Barlow, ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989).
  • Joseph S.M. Lau, translator, "Diary of Miss Sophia," Tamkang Review 5, No. 1 (1974).
  • W.F. Jenner, translator, Miss Sophia's Diary (Beijing: Panda Books, 1985).

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Barlow, Tani E. (1989). I Myself Am A Woman: Selected Writings of Ding Ling. Boston: Beason Press. 
  2. ^ Goldman, Merle (1977). Modern Chinese Literature in the May Fourth Era. Cambridge: Harvard. p. 290, in the article "The Changing Relationship Between Literature and Life: Aspects of the Writer's Role in Ding Ling" by Yi-tsi M. Feuerwerker. 
  3. ^ Kuhlman, p. 362.
  4. ^ See full discussion in the editor's introduction to I Myself Am A Woman: Selected Writings of Ding Ling, Tani E. Barlow, ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989).