In Dream of the Red Chamber, Phoenix makes her husband’s concubine’s life so miserable that the poor girl decides to kill herself, by swallowing a piece of gold. She’s found the next morning, lying peacefully deceased in her bed, and everyone knows exactly how she killed herself. So how much gold would an average person need to swallow to die? And what are the symptoms? Does it have to be coated in arsenic to be effective? Or is this just a mildly poetic method of suicide, preferable in the literary context to jumping off bridges or using a knife?
Archive for the ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ Category
My first attempt at Dream of the Red Chamber was via the 1996 abridged translation by Hsien-yi Yang and Gladys Yang. I believe their approach is one in which they left out chunks of the actual text, but translated the rest very accurately. This resulted in my being really drawn in by dramatic events, like the way Hsi-feng deals with that over-lusty Chia Jui, or the big fight over Chia Lien’s adultery with Pao-erh’s wife. But sometimes starting new chapters would leave me feeling as if I’d just stepped off a cliff, since years seemed to have passed since the previous chapters’ events. And I was much more interested in Hsi-feng than in either Pao-yu or Tai-yu, who seemed tediously willful and relentlessly morose, respectively. The details of action were wonderful, in other words, but I missed the point overall.
But I know that this is the most popular book in Chinese history, and figure that 1.6 billion people can’t be wrong. So I’m determined to find out what’s so great about it. (more…)