Author: Various Writers
10-vol. set | 224*153mm
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About This Book
Rediscovering Korean literary classics
Munhakdongne, one of the nation’s largest publishers, has brought out 10 volumes of the Korean Classic Literature Series after five years of collaboration with prominent scholars as part of a long-term project.
"Jeonuchi," an ancient Korean tale, had remained little known to the public until it was made into the local superhero film "Woochi" directed by Choi Dong-hoon. Reborn with its modern twist and reinterpretation, the tale has come under spotlight from the dark and dusty shelves of the olden days.
Other less-known ancient classics are also waiting for a new touch from modern society.
Munhakdongne, one of the nation’s largest publishers, has released 10 volumes of the Korean Classic Literature Series after five years of collaboration with prominent scholars as part of a long-term project. The publisher will continue to translate some 100 volumes of ancient classics ? some written in Chinese characters and others in old Korean script ? in modern Korean.
Sim Kyung-ho, a professor and scholar of ancient Korean literature, said that the aim of the project was a "re-creation" of the classics.
"I think the classics can be defined differently in accordance with the needs of the time. We should discover hidden works and find new meaning. Also, the concept of the classics should be extended to wider genres to reflect the current need and discourse, as they are a source of unlimited imagination and creation," he said at a press conference in Seoul.
For the project, Sim translated "Seopo-manpil," a critical essay by Kim Man-jung on the 17th century of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910). "‘Seopo-manpil’ is a difficult philosophical work. We have long put more emphasis on only fictional work. I think other genres such as philosophy and prose should be actively rediscovered," he said.
"Seopo-manpil" deals with the extraordinary spirit of cynicism and reflection, which were hard to find in the 17th century, in an effort to understand the human psyche. The book criticizes the blind faith in Confucianism and relentless opposition to Buddhism, and rejects fixed ideas while analyzing various social issues of the time through ideology and literature. Kim Man-jung, the author, believed that self-reflection and self-cynicism were the only way to seek truth.
Not only "Seopo-manpil" but also another series ? "Hanjungnok" (The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong), "Sukhyangjeon/Sukyeongnangjajeon," "Honggildongjeon/Jeonuchijeon" and "Heungbojeon/Heungboga/Onggojipjeon," "A Collection of Humor about Sexual Tales in the Late Joseon Kingdom," and "Changseon-Gamuirok" (A Story on Goodness and Justice) ? have been translated into modern Korean, along with ample footnotes.
"It was such a big thing for the local publishing history. We scholars have long wished such a task could be done, but couldn’t even start because it required a lot of time and effort. So no one tried before. But Munhakdongne has begun and I hope the project will go on for a long time," Jung Byung-sul, the translator of "Hanjungnok," said.
"Hanjungnok" written by Lady Hyegyeong recounts her life as the wife of the ill-fated Crown Prince Sado, who was put to death by his own father King Yeongjo, and also the mother of King Jeongjo. The memoir carries myriad information on the reign of King Yeongjo and other episodes in the royal court in the eyes of women.
The book has historical and literary value that captures her internal struggle and reconstitutes the history of the time in her own words.
The new version includes multiple footnotes that help readers better understand the cultural and historical background of the past, such as the price of wild ginseng King Yeongjo ate to cure his illnesses and other trivial matters in the daily lives of court ladies.
In ancient times, similar attempts to compile the literary classics ? such as "Doinginjimun" (Anthology of Poems by Notable Korean Poets), a series of books compiled by Choe Hae (1288-1340) and "Dongmunseon" (Selected Writings of the Eastern Kingdom) by Seo Geo-jeong and other scholars ? show the cream of the crop of the then historical classics.
"Except for the two major collections, there has been no such comprehensive work encompassing the vast array of classics so far. Our project will be a landmark work," said Jung.
Yi Ji-young, translator of "Changseon-Gamuirok," said that the working process was a pleasant job for her, as it was a re-creation and reinterpretation of classic stories about morals and ethics for modern tastes.
"Many people think ‘Changseon-Gamuirok’ is a kind of ethical textbook for ancient times. But it is a fictional novel that thoroughly elaborates the agonies of the intelligentsia at that time. So I tried to reveal the hidden values through a correct translation and footnotes," said Yi.
"Changseon-Gamuirok" written by unknown author covers filial piety and brotherhood, and also the power struggles and internal conflicts between family members under the patriarchal and polygamy family system. The book also deals with love between men and women that was hardly used as a theme in the Joseon era.
She also said that the book should be widely read as a novel of interest, as it deals with intriguing incidents and various viewpoints using a dynamic writing style.
"The Collection of Humor about Sexual Tales in the Late Joseon Kingdom" is an unusual inclusion in the classics as the topic was rarely spoken of in the Confucian state. It consists of 234 short stories of provocative subjects that can provide a peep into the erotic culture of the past.
"Extending classic literary works to wider genres is our ultimate goal, hoping that it can pave the way for a new academic achievement," said Sim.
The publisher will hold a lecture series to help readers understand the ancient classics at Jeongdok Library in central Seoul.
The lectures on "Hanjungnok" will take place on Oct. 5, with "The Collection of Humor about Sexual Tales in the Late Joseon Kingdom" on Oct. 12, "Changseon-Gamuirok" on Oct. 19 and "Honggildongjeon/Jeonuchi" on Oct. 26.
To attend the lectures, apply on the homepage of the library, or at Yes24, the online bookstore, from Sept. 1 to 30.
By Chung Ah-young
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