Good Dogs explores the intersection of didacticism, Chinese vernacular scholarship, social criticism, and commercial storytelling in late Tokugawa Japan through an examination of a masterpiece of 19th century popular fiction: the novel Nanso- Satomi hakkenden (The Lives of the Eight Dogs of the Satomi of Southern Kazusa; for short, Hakkenden), serialized from 1814 to 1842 by Kyokutei Bakin (1767-1848). The author argues that in Bakin's hands, popular fiction functioned to mobilize and hybridize high culture and low, official and heterodox ideologies, and the demands of both the moralist and the marketplace. Good Dogs begin with detailed examinations of Hakkenden as, in turn, a work of gesaku (popular fiction); an adaptation and critique of the Chinese vernacular novel Shuihu zhuan (J. Suikoden, The Water Margin); and an exercise in kanzen choaku, "encouraging virtue and chastising vice." Then it explores how the novel's blend of didacticism and playfulness destabilizes the putatively moral categories of gender, species, and social class, while foregrounding an image of moral agency that prefigures modern individualism.
Good Dogs combines close readings of Hakkenden with a consideration of the novel's place in 19th-century Japan (including its Meiji reception), as well as its place in East Asian vernacular fiction.
Glynne Walley is Assistant Professor of Japanese Literature at the University of Oregon. His research interests involve popular literature and how it negotiates the requirements of industry and genre, the demands of mass audience, and the aspirational pull of ""serious"" literature.