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Paek Sin-ae (1908 – 1939) was a socialist activist turned woman writer whose career was cut short by early death. She lived in the era of New Women, typically identified as educated women in public or protestant missionary schools who sought women’s rights in domestic life and in society. But Paek was homeschooled and spent most of her life away from the social network of writers and intellectuals of her time. What made her a modern woman was substantial exposure to European and Russian literature, and her travels to Japan, Russia, and China provided opportunities for youthful fantasy and blind attraction to the exotic to mature into a woman of the colony and world citizen. Unlike conventional images of woman writers in the West whose independence is symbolized in a room of one’s own, the early generation of modern Korean woman writers were more typically on the road, carrying their sense of leadership as a badge of honor for her fellow women and men of Korea. In this way, leaving home and travelling became a hallmark of modern women in Korea. By focusing on Paek Sin-ae and her travel writings, this presentation suggests a more comprehensive and fair consideration of works by Korean women writers in the early 20th century, and reconsiders social and literary categories (including supremacy of fiction and poetry) that were upheld by the hegemonic powers and institutionalized literary networks of the time.
As a scholar of Korean literature with a comparative background, Ji-Eun Lee's research interest covers from the nineteenth century to contemporary times, with topics including women and gender, print culture and book history, memory and postmemory, and travel and domesticity. She is the author of Women Pre-scripted: Forging Modern Roles through Korean Print (University of Hawai’i Press, 2015) which examined how “woman,” as an ambivalent symbol of both progress and backwardness, was constructed and remolded according to changing ideals and challenges of modernity during one of the most turbulent times in Korean history. She is currently pursuing two main writing projects: a book-length study on domesticity and travels by Colonial Korean woman writers; and another on memory and space in post-Cold War Korean literature. The latter uses theories of memory and postmemory as lenses for studying the disappearance of the master narrative and reappearance of history as embodied memory in contemporary South Korean literature, exampled in works such as Human Acts by Han Kang. Dedicated also to translation of literary works, Lee has been involved in several translation projects including short stories, poetry, and most recently an award-winning Korean novel I Met Loh Kiwan by Haejin Cho (University of Hawai’I Press, 2019). Ji-Eun Lee is an associate professor of Korean Language and Literature and Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis.