The Sick Rose

20th Century Korean Literature

Book 42
Literature Translation Institute of Korea

“The Sick Rose,” published in Samcheonli munhak (Three Thousand Li of Literature) in 1938, is the first of two short stories that Lee Hyoseok names using the title of a poem in English. This one, of course, is named after a poem by William Blake. The other is “Leaves of Grass” titled after Walt Whitman’s seminal collection. Both short stories borrow themes from the poems they are named after. In the case of “The Sick Rose” the theme is prostitution and the venereal disease that can accompany the practice. Typical of Lee’s later literature, this story uses the theme of sex as a means to critique what he saw as a hypocritical sense of morality in Korean society.
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About the author

Lee Hyoseok (1907 – 1942) is counted among Korea’s best short story writers along with the likes of Hyun Jin-geon, Yi Taejun, and Park Taewon. His most widely read story, “When the Buckwheat Blooms,” is the tale of an itinerant peddler, going from market to market in the vicinity of Bongpyeong, Lee’s birthplace. The story unfolds against the lyrically depicted moonlight and blooming buckwheat flowers. Gasan (Lee’s pen name) was born in Gangwon Province and graduated from Gyeongseong First High School before going on to major in English Literature at Gyeongseong Imperial University.

Together with his contemporary Yu Jinoh, he was classified as a “fellow traveler” writer. Such an epithet was used to describe writers who, while not officially joining KAPF, sympathized with its ideology and aims and reflected these sympathies in their writing. However, with the decline of proletariat literature in the early 1930s, Lee became a member of the modernist coterie Group of Nine. The Group of Nine, that was begun by Yi Jongmyeong and Gim Yuyeong, included in the original nine Lee Hyoseok, Lee Mu-young, Yoo Chijin, Yi Taejun, Jo Yongman, Gim Girin, and Jeong Jiyong. After joining the Group of Nine, Lee discarded his socialist leanings in favor of a powerful eroticism based on a lyrical style of storytelling. Characteristic of this style are the works “Pig,” “Bunnyeo,” “Mountains,” and “Fields.”

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10 total

Additional Information

Literature Translation Institute of Korea
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Published on
Nov 30, 2014
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Literary Collections / Asian / General
Literary Collections / General
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