Love-letters are a rare example of a truly universal phenomenon. They can be found among all literate civilisations, although literacy is not a prerequisite for sending or receiving them. They are among our most treasured possessions, although the materials are often commonplace and pass through others’ hands. While we may wish to hide ours from others’ eyes, we read others’ letters with shameless pleasure. The real or imagined love-letter has exerted an enduring fascination across the ages, but our understanding has lagged behind our practice; for all their moment in our intimate lives, love-letters have seldom been analysed or theorised in any systematic way. Even their history is obscure: we have no way of telling when the first love-letters were written. Chinese and European love-letters both have long indigenous traditions; yet when we compare their writers and readers, frequency and duration, topics and themes, media and materials, and functions and values in both traditions, we find infinite combinations of writing and desire occupying a common space.
About the Speaker:
Bonnie S. McDougall is Research Professor in Translation and Acting Director of the Research Centre for Translation at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Professor Emeritus of Chinese at The University of Edinburgh. Her recent work on this topic includes Love-Letters and Privacy in Modern China: The Intimate Lives of Lu Xun and Xu Guangping (Oxford University Press, 2002) and the translation of the published correspondence between Lu Xun and Xu Guangping, Letters Between Two (Foreign Languages Press, 2000). Other translations from modern Chinese literature include poetry by Bei Dao and He Qifang, fiction by Ah Cheng and Wang Anyi, and films by Chen Kaige. More recently she has translated works by Hong Kong writers such as Xi Xi, Dung Kai-cheung and Ye Si.