Miss Numè of Japan [Author Commentary]

May 1899
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Miss Numè of Japan [Author Commentary]


Miss Numè of Japan

I might give a score of reasons that suggest the writing of a book, and which would suit as a paragraph in the column in which you wish to use it, but I prefer to tell the truth, and the truth—-the reason why I wrote the book—-might not appeal to many people as a particularly worthy reason. Well, I wrote because I was hard up and wanted to make some money. I had been writing short story after short story—-some were accepted—-some not. Someone suggested my writing a novel, which they said would help me with the magazines. You doubtless know what it is to make a living solely by writing—-unless one has a big reputation and a big income, from a dozen books, say. Well, for some time I have been trying to make two ends meet solely by writing short stories, and when I tell you that there is not merely myself to be considered, you will understand somewhat of the struggle I had. When I started out with the book I did not even have a plot planned. I went ahead and the plot developed as I wrote. I took keen pleasure in writing it—-and as is my nature, suffered and rejoiced with my characters. But the book was written under pressure. I had to steal the time from my regular work of writing short stories—-which were my livelihood. I don’t know whether this story is good or bad—-I hope it is good. To me writing is something I enjoy, but which I am constantly questioning—-can I afford to do it, for art is a luxury, and one has to have something practical to live by in order to indulge one’s taste for writing. I have written ever since I could remember—-scribbled away at one thing and another—-fairy tales as a child—newspaper articles when I was on the little newspaper in the West Indies—I wrote under five different noms de plumes. Now I am writing almost entirely Japanese stories, and as of course I am in sympathy with my subject I dare say I will please the fickle public. My new book I am putting my whole heart into, and it will be good—-better than anything I had done yet.
I do not need to ask your pardon for being honest in this, but I am so sorry that I could not give you a nice reason for writing the book “Miss Numè of Japan.” You may, if you wish, use the real reason—-that I wrote it because I was hard up. You know it is a good thing that there is such a thing as want and poverty in the world. (Not that I have suffered that actually,) for there are so many people with the ability to do this or that and with talent—genius—dormant in them—-and yet who are too indolent—-yes actually too indolent to do anything towards developing it. Necessity brings it out—-they are crowded into a corner, and the world hears of them then. We have to thank grim old want, perhaps, for some of our masterpieces, both in literature and art. Don’t you think so?
Well, I will never grow indolent in my work—-no matter how independent I become, because I love it for itself. Maybe I don’t know myself, however—I am only a girl in age yet. Years—-a lifetime is before me—-and if indeed I have any talent, I shall make the most of it.
I am impulsive—-and write on impulse generally. A pathetic little incident or a thought appeals to me—-I scribble it out, and the little laughing things of life I grasp after also. The book “Miss Numè” does not pretend to be a great book—-it was written in a simple fashion—-all the world understands simplicity, though the wise pretend to despise it. I did not try to solve any problems in the book—-there is no psychological analysis. The good, great, old authors dished up so much of that to us that I thought I’d just go ahead and tell the story without pausing to ruminate or moralize. The book is pure—-as all my work shall be, even though they tell me to be successful in literature one must needs introduce harrowing or realistic plots and situations. Well then I will never be a success if that is so, for I cherish488the absurd idea that perhaps the world is just as interested in clean books as in clean people. I didn’t try to make any of my characters extraordinary or fine—-I tried to paint them as we are in life—-never wonderfully good, and let me believe it, seldom wonderfully bad. Just ordinary human beings. I write because I can’t help myself—-because I love to, and because I earn my living that way—-but I don’t think I have any particular mission in life—-save to play my part as the days go by—-and so, seldom write with an object. Life altogether to me is objectless—-I live from day to day in that day only, and make the most of it—-am glad I am alive. But your kind letter did not call for all this, and you must forgive me.
Chicago, Ill. March 24, 1899.


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People Mentioned

Ken Ip

Ken Ip is a graduate of the M.A. program in English at the University of British Columbia and was a research assistant for The Winnifred Eaton Archive. During this time, his research interests were focused towards digital humanities and Indigenous literatures. During his time with the project, he contributed mainly as a transcriber and encoder for several of Eaton’s works. He is currently working with the International Society of Cell and Gene Therapy as Coordinator, Training and Education.

Mary Chapman

Mary Chapman is the Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive, a Professor of English, and Academic Director of the Public Humanities Hub at University of British Columbia. She is the author of the award-winning monograph Making Noise, Making News: Suffrage Print Culture and US Modernism (Oxford UP) and of numerous articles about American literature and women writers. She has also edited Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton (McGill-Queen’s UP) and published essays on the Eaton sisters in American Quarterly, MELUS, Legacy, Canadian Literature, and American Periodicals. Her current research project is a microhistory of the Eaton family. For more information, see http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/mchapman/.

Joey Takeda

Joey Takeda is the Technical Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive and a Developer at Simon Fraser University’s Digital Humanities Innovation Lab (DHIL). He is a graduate of the M.A. program in English at the University of British Columbia where he specialized in Indigenous and diasporic literature, science and technology studies, and the digital humanities.

Winnifred Eaton

  • Born: August 21, 1875
  • Died: April 08, 1954
See the Biographical Timeline for biographical information on Winnifred Eaton.

Pseudonym used in this text

Organizations Mentioned

Book News

An illustrated magazine of literature and books published from 1882-1918. Published monthly with the intent to survey general literature; likely the first publication devoted to book reviews.
Written by Samantha Bowen