Editing Modernism in Canada


March 30, 2013

Mary Chapman and Edith Eaton

Associate Professor of English at the University of British Columbia and EMiC co-applicant Mary Chapman has her hands full with the work of Edith Eaton, who has been called “the mother of Asian-American literature.” Eaton, who wrote under the pseudonym Sui Sin Far, is a remarkably complex individual: she had two racial identities and three national identities, wrote under multiple pseudonyms and in multiple genres, and published in multiple venues. All of this complexity makes Eaton an intriguing figure, but also a difficult author to edit.

While researching for her anthology of American suffrage literature, Treacherous Texts: US Suffrage Literature 1846-1946 (Rutgers UP 2011), Chapman came across several stories in which Eaton provides somewhat critical views of middle-class white American suffragists. Chapman then discovered a racy story published by Eaton in a 1909 issue of New York’s Bohemian Magazine which led her to suspect that more of Eaton’s works were buried in non-indexed periodicals and newspapers.

Since joining EMiC as a co-applicant in 2010, Chapman has worked tirelessly with her graduate research assistant and EMiC stipend-holder Reilly Yeo, as well as other graduate research assistants, to collect these previously uncollected works. So far, Chapman and her team have located almost 90 unknown works by Eaton, which were published in over 50 magazines in both Canada and the United States between 1883 and 1929 — fifteen years after Eaton’s death. Amongst the Canadian finds are a follow-up to Eaton’s well-known September 1896 letter to the editor, “Plea for the Chinaman,” published a week later in the Montreal Star, as well as a reprinting of Eaton’s signature story “Mrs. Spring Fragrance” in a Toronto illustrated magazine. Chapman has also uncovered some anonymous reportage filed from Fort William, Ontario in the 1890s that she thinks were written by Eaton.

Over 100 years ago, Eaton took full advantage of a mediamorphosis to forge her career writing for mass-circulating magazines. Now, approaching the centenary of Eaton’s death (2014), Chapman thinks it fitting that she publish Eaton’s works at another moment of mediamorphosis — that is, when digitization projects offer scholars a new way to present new findings to larger groups of readers.

Chapman has encountered a bit of difficulty in her digital project because some previously digitized magazines are incomplete or misrepresent their degree of completeness. Also, Eaton’s pseudonym, Sui Sin Far, is not easily recognized as a name in the English searches of some of the digitized magazines, making Chapman’s work more labour intensive. Nevertheless, at this point in the project, Chapman and her team have scanned and proofread all of the found texts.

In addition to writing the introduction for her collection this summer, Chapman will be attending the Digital Humanities Summer Institute TEI workshop at the University of Victoria. She is looking forward to learning more about the digital humanities opportunities for sharing more of Eaton’s work. Chapman has also found many American-published texts that she wants to make available to the public, and she will begin to interest American presses after her EMiC project is complete.

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