Sui Sin Far

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Sui Sin Far
Sui Sin Far.jpg
BornEdith Maude Eaton
(1865-03-15)March 15, 1865
Macclesfield, Cheshire, England
DiedApril 7, 1914(1914-04-07) (aged 49)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Pen nameSui Sin Far, E.E., Fire Fly
OccupationJournalist
NationalityBritish-American
GenreJournalism, short stories, travel literature
SubjectChinese-American life
Notable worksMrs. Spring Fragrance
"Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of a Eurasian"
RelativesOnoto Watanna

Sui Sin Far (Chinese: 水仙花; pinyin: Shuǐ Xiān Huā, born Edith Maude Eaton; 15 March 1865 – 7 April 1914) was an author known for her writing about Chinese people in North America and the Chinese American experience. "Sui Sin Far", the pen name under which most of her work was published, is the Cantonese name of the narcissus flower, popular amongst Chinese people.

Life account[edit]

Born in Macclesfield, Cheshire, England, Far was the daughter of Englishman Edward Eaton, a merchant who met her Chinese mother Achuen Grace Amoy while on a business trip to Shanghai, China.[1] Her mother had been a mui tsai (Chinese slave girl) purchased by Chinese acrobatics impresario Tuck Quy and his wife Wang Noo, and had toured the world as a tightrope dancer and the human target of a knife-throwing act until she was rescued from her abusive owner in London, England, by missionaries in 1855.[2]

Far was the oldest daughter and second child of fourteen children. In 1865, her family left England to live in Hudson, New York, United States, but stayed there only a short time before returning to England in 1868. The family returned to North America in 1872, relocating to Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Her father struggled to make a living as a clerk and the large family went through difficult times. In 1882, he left his job and attempted to earn a living through his art. By 1896, he was earning money smuggling Chinese into the US from Montreal. Because of their poverty, at a young age, Far left school to work in order to help support her family. Nonetheless, the children were educated at home and raised in an intellectually stimulating environment that saw both Far and her younger sister Winnifred Eaton, who wrote under the pen name Onoto Watanna, become successful writers.

By age 18, Eaton was setting type for the Montreal Star. She began writing as a young girl; her stories and poetry were accepted for publication in Montreal's Dominion Illustrated magazine, and, beginning in 1890, she published anonymous journalistic articles about the local Chinese community in Montreal's English-language newspapers, the Montreal Star and the Daily Witness. She also worked as a stenographer and legal secretary. She left Montreal first in 1891 to work as a stenographer and special correspondent in what is now Thunder Bay, Ontario. In 1896, she worked as a journalist for Gall's News Letter in Kingston, Jamaica, for about six months, and began to publish under her Chinese pen name.

Later, she moved to San Francisco, Los Angeles then in Seattle, before going to the east coast to work in Boston. While working as a legal secretary she continued to write. Although her appearance and manners would have allowed her to easily pass as an Englishwoman, she asserted her Chinese heritage after 1896 and wrote articles that told what life was like for a Chinese woman in white America. First published in 1896, her fictional stories about Chinese Americans were a reasoned appeal for her society's acceptance of working-class Chinese at a time when the United States Congress maintained the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned Chinese immigration to the United States.

Over the ensuing years, Far wrote a number of short stories and newspaper articles while working on her first collection of fiction. Published in June 1912, Mrs. Spring Fragrance was a collection of linked short stories marketed as a novel.

Far never married, and died in Montreal. She is interred in Mount Royal Cemetery.

A study of Far and her life, Sui Sin Far/Edith Maude Eaton: A Literary Biography by Annette White-Parks, was published in 1995.

Themes[edit]

As a child, Far witnessed the hatred of and prejudice against Chinese people.[3] This inclined her to write on the Chinese experience, with some of her works focusing on her own experiences as a Chinese person. In In the Land of the Free, Far writes about what it meant to be a Chinese woman in the white man's world.[4] Many of Sui Sin Far's unnamed works are about the daily lives of Chinese people in Canada and the United States. The topics of these pieces range from the food Chinese people eat to the things they do for fun.

Contemporary interests[edit]

Many academics cite Sui Sin Far as one of the first North American writers of Chinese ancestry.[5][6] For this reason, there has been recent interest in Sui Sin Far's works and their revival.

Mary Chapman, a professor in the Department of English at the University of British Columbia, has a current ongoing project of finding and compiling Sui Sin Far's uncollected fiction and journalism.[7][8] Chapman has published Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism, and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton, a collection of 70 of Far's early writings. Most of these pieces had not been republished since their first appearance in newspapers. Chapman has a few works in progress, one of which is "Gwine Back to Dixie”: Slave Girls and Underground Railways in Edith Eaton’s Life and Work. This work will "re-contextualize Eaton’s expanded oeuvre through an analysis of her use of tropes associated with the Black Atlantic to represent the emergent subject position of the Asian North American".[9] Chapman also has been working on A Mental Portfolio: The Uncollected Mature Writings of Edith Eaton/Sui Sin Far, which will "publish for the first time since original periodical publication Eaton’s mature fiction, autobiographical writings, and journalism, as well as provide a comprehensive bibliography of Eaton’s oeuvre, secondary bibliography, and biographical timeline".[10]

Ying Xu, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of English and the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at the University of New Mexico, has also been conducting scholarly work on Far. She contributed to the article "Edith Maude Eaton (Sui Sin Far)".[11] In 2017, she published "Sui Sin Far’s “The Land of the Free” in the era of Trump",[12] which makes connections between Far's writings and the current socio-political climate of the Trump era.

Published works[edit]

Unnamed works[edit]

Mary Chapman's Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism, and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton includes a working bibliography of Far's anonymous works:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "EATON, EDITH MAUD". Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Retrieved 2008-07-17.
  2. ^ Chapman, Mary (2016). Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism, and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. pp. xvi. ISBN 978-0-7735-4721-6.
  3. ^ http://faculty.georgetown.edu/bassr/heath/syllabuild/iguide/eaton.html
  4. ^ http://faculty.georgetown.edu/bassr/heath/syllabuild/iguide/eaton.html
  5. ^ http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199827251/obo-9780199827251-0148.xml
  6. ^ https://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/34rwn8pt9780252021138.html
  7. ^ http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/mchapman/bio.htm
  8. ^ http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/mchapman/works_in_progress.htm
  9. ^ http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/mchapman/works_in_progress.htm
  10. ^ http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/mchapman/works_in_progress.htm
  11. ^ "Edith Maude Eaton (Sui Sin Far)"
  12. ^ "Sui Sin Far’s “The Land of the Free” in the era of Trump"

External links[edit]