Gender and Translation Practice in Myeong-sun Kim's Lonely People and When You Look Back

When and Where

Friday, October 20, 2023 1:30 pm to 3:00 pm
Room 208N, North House,
Trinity College
1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, ON, M5S 3K7


Sun Kyoung Yoon, Camille (Jieun) Sung


This talk examines the works of the “New Woman” Myeong-sun Kim (1896-1951), focusing on her two Korean translations of Gerhart Hauptman’s Lonely People (1891), namely Lonely People (1924) and When You Look Back (1925). While Kim’s translations are often regarded as early Korean novels due to their departure from a literal translation of the German play, I argue that they should be seen as feminist adaptations of the original work, with a distinct emphasis on narrative and characterization. Unlike Hauptman’s German play, which centers on a male protagonist struggling against traditional ideologies such as family and religion, Kim’s Korean novels foreground women’s suffering, free love, and independence. In doing so, they critique the practices of early marriage, concubinage, and patriarchy in Joseon during the Japanese colonial period. The transformation of the male narrative into a female narrative in Kim’s works highlights the importance of the translator’s characterization, with feminism playing a crucial role. Male characters are portrayed as feminists who understand and respect female characters, in contrast to the patriarchal German protagonist of the source text. Meanwhile, female characters are depicted as more independent and active owners of their own lives in the target texts. Kim resists the oppressive and suffocating patriarchal society, rewriting the German play into two feminist novels of Joseon.


Sun Kyoung Yoon is Associate Professor of literary translation at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Her research interests include English translations of Korean literature, decolonising translation, and translation and gender. She has published many articles on literary translation in international journals such as The Translator, Target, Perspectives, Journal of Gender Studies and Acta Koreana. Recently, her article ‘Fidelity or Infidelity? The Mistranslation Controversy over The Vegetarian’ that deals with translation and gender has been published in Target.

Chair: Camille (Ji Eun) Sung is an Arts & Science Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto. Her primary research interest lies in artistic practices that actively employed non-conventional media, with a focus on their conversation with and operation within the socio-political conditions in Korea, and more broadly, in East Asia. Her research interests also include queer and feminist art practice, activism, and theory and the relationship between critical theory and praxis. She is working on her book project that examines how art and cultural practitioners responded to, participated in, or abstained from the modernization process in post-colonial Korea in the 1960s and the 1970s. Her work has been published in the Journal of History of Contemporary Art and will be included in the Routledge Companion to Art History and Feminisms.  

Contact Information


Centre for the Study of Korea, Asian Institute, Department of East Asian Studies


1 Devonshire Place, Toronto, ON, M5S 3K7