The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong Reviewed | Definitely Worth the Read

The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea translated by JaHyun Kim Haboush

  • Published September 14th, 2013 by University of California Press
  • Tags: 18th Century, Family, History, Korean Culture/History, Memoir, Monarch/Royals, Nonfiction, PoC, Political, Reading Women Challenge 2019
  • Pages: 400

| Synopsis from the Publisher |

Lady Hyegyong’s memoirs, which recount the chilling murder of her husband by his father, form one of the best known and most popular classics of Korean literature. From 1795 until 1805 Lady Hyegyong composed this masterpiece, depicting a court life Shakespearean in its pathos, drama, and grandeur. Presented in its social, cultural, and historical contexts, this first complete English translation opens a door into a world teeming with conflicting passions, political intrigue, and the daily preoccupations of a deeply intelligent and articulate woman.

JaHyun Kim Haboush’s accurate, fluid translation captures the intimate and expressive voice of this consummate storyteller. Reissued nearly twenty years after its initial publication with a new foreword by Dorothy Ko, The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong is a unique exploration of Korean selfhood and an extraordinary example of autobiography in the premodern era.

| Book Review |

– Content –

A fascinating look at history -> I don’t know about you, but my knowledge of Korean history is not much. I have a strong interest in the country and its people and so I wanted to use this opportunity to read a book that is quite historically significant. This book taught me so much about the Joseon era, especially how their dynasty is run and the ceremonies, rituals, and expectations of the people within that dynasty. I loved getting all of this first-hand knowledge from one of history’s most fascinating historical figures.

Intense culture-shock -> So many times reading this book, I was shocked by the expectations within this culture. Many times throughout the book, Lady Hyegyong talks about her wish to die or wish to have committed suicide in order to save face for even things that a family member (like her husband) has done. It was quick shocking in general, but the sheer number of times she expressed this wish was definitely difficult to come to terms with. I definitely had to get used to the idea of how Lady Hyegyong and the others living in this time period handled misfortunes, wrong moves, and even death. Family ties were so inter-connected that even parents were involved in the wish to die to save face for sins committed by children.

The strong female historical figure you didn’t know you needed to know about -> Lady Hyegyong continually blew me away with how strong she was as a person. Her life was filled with one misfortune after another, but she managed to stay afloat and continue to look after her children and her grandchildren. She wrote these memoirs in order to defend her family and her husband, and the strength she possessed came through in every page. I was definitely a little in awe of her and I’m so glad I got this opportunity to get to know her better through her own words.

A little dense, but worth the struggle -> I’d be lying if I didn’t say this book was difficult to get through. This one book contains four different memoirs, and they don’t have divided sections or chapters, so I had to pick the places I wanted to stop. The writing, also, is a bit difficult to get through, since it’s a more elevated narration, and the customary way people were introduced and the way the years were said definitely took some getting used to. I still think it’s work the read, though, because I felt like the information I was receiving was worth it. I felt really connected to the time-period and to Lady Hyegyong, herself.

– Literary Value –

A stand-out for its time and genre -> I’m glad I read the introduction to this book, because I also learned a great deal from that portion as well. I learned that these memoirs that Lady Hyegyong wrote are actually unique for the style of memoir and definitely for the time period they were written in. Most women who wrote were noble, at least, but they did not usually write personal accounts, certainly not history. With her memoirs, Lady Hyegyong did something special, that is, she wrote about her own life, which women didn’t do, and not even many men did at the time in her country. It’s one of the premier texts of Korean history, since so much that Lady Hyegyong discusses creates a window to that time and what was going on. It’s a very important work, and so it’s literary value is definitely significant.

I can’t really express much about the writing style or the formatting, because this book was written at a time when books in general were not the norm, so Lady Hyegyong was making precedent with this work. She wrote in the format of what was expected of memoirs in her time. Additionally, I read a translated copy, not the original (since I can’t read Korean!), so I can only trust that Haboush’s translation is the most accurate representation of Lady Hyegyong’s voice.

– Entertainment Factor –

If you’re a history buff, you won’t want to put this down -> I can respect that history books, memoirs, and their like are not for everyone. This book certainly wouldn’t be considered entertaining by everyone, for sure. But for me, I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this book.

Yes, it was difficult to get through and I had to pace myself so that I didn’t take too long to read it and miss my reading goal. But overall, I learned so much from this book, I felt like I was experiencing things up-close and personal, and I also felt like I was getting to know Lady Hyegyong as a person. That was really special and it’s not something that ever book makes me experience.I’m so glad that I decided to read this book because the experience of reading it and of getting to know Lady Hyegyong was definitely worth it.

– Cover Art –

For a historical document such as this, I am actually pretty impressed by this cover. I think it could have gone the completely opposite way and been just a solid color with no imagery at all and just the title text. I think this cover makes it book much more appealing. I like the warm colors and I think it has an overall very elegant look. I’m pleasantly surprised by it and I do appreciate the publishers for attempting to wrap this story in an attractive cover.

| My Rating |

Definitely Worth the Read

What I love most about this book is just how much history it encapsulates. I learned so much from this book, from what Lady Hyegyong was able to impart in these memoirs. She wrote with such feeling and such expression that I felt like I got to know her as I was reading this book. I definitely got some culture-shock from reading it, but I as I read, I grew more accustomed to it and I felt like by the time I had finished reading it, I was used to it.

Would I recommend this book?

Yes, because -> I can definitely say that I enjoyed reading this book and I learned a lot. I would recommend it to those who are interested more specifically in Korean culture, but also to fellow history-buffs. It’s a dense read, but if you enjoy slice-of-life history books, this one is a winner.

Thoughts & Thanks

Thank you so much for reading this post. I would love to hear your thoughts on this book if you have read it or even if you haven’t! If you’re considering reading it, let me know what you think, once you do!

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