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[personal profile] missabnormal
The first chapter of Long's story.

Before I start, I just remembered something. Pierre Loti's Madame Chrysanthème isn't the first of his novels to be adapted into an opera. In fact, seven years before the mentioned novel, Loti had written and published a novel called Le Mariage de Loti, also known as Rarahu or Tahiti. That was his second novel and the first one to win him fame and a large following. This novel tells the story of his romantic affair with a Tahitian girl named Rarahu.

The novel was successful because it reflected many prevailing attitudes towards the colonies, such as seeing the natives as innocent and wild children of the forest being exposed to the old and paternal European culture. This novel helped sustain the idea of cultural superiority among Europeans, also helped by the fact that this was a period when European imperialism was at its peak and the 'romantic exoticism' genre had become popular.

What makes this significant is that it was the inspiration and basis for another Madame Butterfly-esque Orientalist opera: a French opera called Lakmé by Léo Delibes, which premiered in 1883 at the Opéra-Comique. This opera changed the setting from Tahiti to India, specifically the British Raj. This opera tells the story of Lakmé (French form of Lakshmi), a Hindu priestess who falls in love with a British officer named Gérald after he trespasses on temple grounds. Like Puccini's Butterfly, Lakmé becomes so devoted to Gérald within mere minutes and falls deeply in love with him. However, when Gérald is reminded of his duties and abandons her, Lakmé commits suicide by ingesting a poisonous leaf. I will discuss more of this at the end of the sporking.

It should be noted that there was an introduction to this short story, but I really didn't think I could do it, so I'm just getting to the story. 

We open up with an American naval officer, Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, arriving in the port city of Nagasaki to take up his duties on a ship docked there. But before that, he meets up with his friend, a man by the name of Sayre, who had asked to wait till they arrived before speaking. Apparently, Pinkerton does not like going to Nagasaki at all, "for he had repined ceaselessly at what he called their banishment to the Asiatic station".

Also, just on a side note: the character of Sayre does not appear in Puccini's opera.

Anyways, Pinkerton is already quite unlikeable in this scene. He's disregarding Japan and already has formed a negative opinion on the country as a whole. When Sayre suggests that he get married, Pinkerton brushes him off, telling him, "'You are usually merely frivolous, Sayre; but to-day you are silly"

But Sayre continues and starts telling him about his previous trip to Japan in 1890, when Pinkerton interrupts him as he knows what Sayre is about to talk about: "'The story of the Pink Geisha'". When Sayre confirms, Pinkerton decides to go below the decks, since he'd heard the story many times before. Again, he's being quite rude. Not only disregarding Japan, but his friend.

Nevertheless, Sayre laughs before asking Pinkerton if he knew who the man was. Pinkerton had been under the belief that the man was Sayre himself, but as it turns out, it was Sayre's late brother. Pinkerton expresses his condolences before Sayre explains how he "went back; couldn't find her". Based on this, I can assume that Sayre's brother had married a Japanese woman, and had been so in love with her that he died of grief when he was unable to find her. At least, that's my assumption.

Pinkerton asks if Sayre is advising him "to become a subject of remorse", but Sayre tells him that there's no danger of Pinkerton falling head-over-heels in love for anyone. Instead, "the danger would probably be entirely with-- the other person". Pinkerton laughs and remarks how it's comforting, and Sayre quips back how he's hard to comfort and calls him "impervious". And yes, I guess that it's a pretty accurate characterization for Pinkerton in this short story.

So Pinkerton says how he doesn't "'see much danger to [himself] in [Sayre's] prescription'", before saying you have to put the idea in a better light. He claims that it was probably not a bad idea if Sayre's brother used it, saying that they used to call him Agamemnon before. Sayre then responds with, "'it is not my prescription'" before leaving the deck.

And with that, chapter one is finished.

Continuing on my discussion about Lakmé, the similarities between both stories are clear. Both Lakmé and Madama Butterfly portray their titular characters as being childlike and 'exotic', essentially as the sexual fantasies of white men in those colonies and abroad. Both are portrayed as sensual, exotic, and very subservient to the white man. The only difference is that Puccini portrays Pinkerton's actions as wrong and makes sure the audience sympathizes with Butterfly. Lakmé, on the other hand, romanticizes this interaction, essentially justifying the need to colonize these countries.

This was a very common theme in a lot of Orientalist works: to portray the East as the 'other'. However, I will discuss that later in future chapters. I hope you enjoyed this, and I'll see you in chapter two.

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