Reading “Vietnamese Classical Authors of the 19th Century”

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Vietnam Classical Literature is mostly known to the outside world as sino-vietnamese (Han-nôm) literature, due to the Chinese influence on the Vietnamese scholarship over centuries.

For the younger Vietnamese generations, the study of Vietnamese classical authors seems to fade away, leaving the place to contemporary authors on topics on modern existentialism, pre-war or post-colonial literature which I will share in my next post on Vietnamese Literature.

In my attempt to “come back to the source”, I have shared my online readings on Vietnam on my blog “yourvietbooks.com” and other socio-media platforms on themes pertaining to the “Vietnamese Language and Culture, Philosophy, Art and Literature, or Books on Contemporary Vietnam”.

With regards to classical literature, I discovered some authors during the Nguyen era that have retained the most attention among Vietnamese scholars.

Indeed, the 19th Century was a flourishing century for the literature and the arts in Vietnam. Three outstanding talents, Nguyen Du, Mdm Ho Xuan Huong, and Nguyen Dinh Chieu contributed to the Vietnamese Classical Literature with the greatest masterpieces that are part of the curriculum of all students at all times: The Tale of Kieu, and Luc Van Tien, are the two epics and selected works for Ho Xuan Huong.

Nguyen Du (1766-1820): Nguyen Du’s main work is Kim Vân Kiều, (English title: The Tale of Kieu). The Tale of Kieu was written under a pen-name as the story was quite critical of the basic tenets of Confucian morality. It is a tragic tale of two lovers forced apart by the girl’s loyalty to her family honor. It is necessary to keep in mind his historical and social background in order to understand both the author and his main work, The Tale of Kieu (Vietnamese title: Truyện Kiều), which was based on an earlier Chinese work known as Kim Vân Kiều and was originally titled Đoạn Trường Tân Thanh (English: New Accents of a Heart-rending Song). In his work, Nguyễn Du added his own pain and guilt over the self-betrayal of his own code of honor (towards the Lê Dynasty), and the result is what made the Tale of Kiều being considered a masterpiece with the refined, subtle, and yet, simple way the author arranged his verses in a popular and genuinely Vietnamese cadence of six upon eight syllables that renders the recitation harmoniously rhythmic and the excerpts easily committed to memory.

Ho Xuan Huong (1772–1822) Mdm Hồ Xuân Hương must have lived under three different dynasties, –the Lê, Tây Sơn, and Nguyễn– and must have owed her fame to her poems composed almost exclusively in nôm. In between husbands, Hồ Xuân Hương managed a kind of salon frequented by writers and poets, where her talent shone in polished, elegant, but also daring, and sexually evocative poems and retorts. Online selected readings in Vietnamese by Mdm Ho Xuan Huong are available on maxreading.com, my favorite source of references on Vietnamese authors click here. Another source on her works may also be found on my other favorite reading blog: vnthuquan.net

Nguyen Dinh Chieu (1822-1888): Known for his nationalist and anti-colonial writings against the French colonization of Cochinchina (European name given to the southern part of Vietnam), he was the best-known opponent of collaboration who continued to defy the Treaty of Saigon which ceded southern Vietnam to France, in disobedience to the royal orders of Emperor Tự Đức. While Nguyễn Du’s style was elegant, sophisticated, Nguyễn Đình Chiểu’s words were easily understood by the common people. His main work is Lục Vân Tiên, perhaps one of the two most recognizable and influential epic poems in Vietnamese history. The poem praises the power of true love, applauds bravery, and fair justice. While Nguyễn Du discoursed about the dichotomy between talent and fate, about the sufferings every human being had to endure, Nguyễn Đình Chiểu warns his readers to scrutinize the past so as not to make mistakes in the future. Young men should put loyalty and filial piety on top of all values, whereas young women should make chastity and faithfulness their ideals. Again, my favorite source of reference is maxreading.com online Vietnamese version: Click here. And my favorite reading blog on Nguyễn Đình Chiểu is on vnthuquan.net.

Apart from these classical authors, we can add Bà Huyện Thanh Quan (1805-1848), Nguyễn Khuyến (1835-1909), and Tran Te Xuong (1870-1907), Ðoàn Thị Ðiểm (1705-1748), Ðặng Trần Côn (1715-1745), Nguyen Gia Thieu (1741-1798), whose works can be found under the sources indicated hereafter: wikipedia, maxreading.com, conmotsach.com, sachhay.com, daophatngaynay.com, vanchuongviet.org, vietnamhoc.net.

With the multimedia aiding, some classical works can be viewed on Youtube channels, such as Chinh phụ ngâm khúc (in English: The Complaint of the Warrior’s Wife), view You Tube; or used a taught literature, such as Cung oán ngâm khúc (in English: The Complaints of an Odalisk), view article under buddhist view by Ven. Thích Pháp Như.

(Compiled by Anh Tho Andres, 2007-2017)

Published by Anita H.

Expert in Intercultural Communication, navigating between 4 cultures and 5 languages which I use daily for work and leisure. Author of blogs on wordpress and blogspot on SBI Training Solutions Projects: vietnamhoc, yourvietnamexpert, yourvietbooks, sbi-training.com.

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