written by John Luther Long
, and first published in the January 1898
issue of Century
Magazine. Long based his tale on a (supposedly) true story told to him by his sister, Sarah Jane Correll, who lived in Nagasaki
with her missionary husband, although it was partly influenced by Pierre Loti
story Madame Chrysanthème
Long later claimed a man named Thomas Glover living in Nagasaki was the grown son of the real Mme. Butterfly and had told his sister the story; however, the truth of this is still debated in literary circles. Historic records are incomplete, although there were American Naval vessels in Nagasaki thoughout that time. Tragically, Mr. Glover committed suicide after the bombing of Nagasaki at the end of World War II.
David Belasco wrote a one-act play based on Madame Butterfly which premiered March 5, 1900 at the Herald Square Theater in New York. Later that year the play was put on in London, and it was there that Puccini was introduced to the story, which he would adapt for his opera, Madama Butterfly.
Long's knowledge of Japanese culture and tradition was fairly extensive, despite his never visiting the country. Details such as girls who engaged in "temporary" marriages with visiting sailors and merchants, renting a house for 999 years, and the description of the ritual suicide are very accurate. Although the story remains popular in the West, when the Puccini's opera premiered in the country it depicts, the Japanese were, unsuprisingly, Not Impressed. Additionally, Long was criticized by American officials for depicting a US Naval Officer in an unfavorable light.
A young officer in the US Navy, Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, unhappy being stuck in port in Nagasaki, Japan, consults a marriage broker to rent a house and servant, and to wed a young Japanese girl. He is paired with Cho-Cho-San, nicknamed Madame Butterfly for her beauty. When he leaves port he untruthfully promises to return the next spring. Cho, having fallen in love, waits faithfully for his return, and bears his child, to whom she gives the name Trouble (meaning Joy).
Pinkerton has no intention of returning to his Japanese wife, but when he returns again to Nagasaki with his new wife, Adelaide, she seeks out Butterfly and Trouble with the intention of claiming the child as her own. When Madame Butterfly finds out that Pinkerton has abandoned her, she attempts suicide, but fails. When Adelaide comes to the rented house to claim the boy, Butterfly has fled with her son.
Japonisme: East-West renaissance in the late 19th century. Yoko Chiba. Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature. Volume 31, Issue 2. Winnipeg, June 1998. pp1-20.
Agent Butterfly. Mari Yoshihara. American Quarterly. Volume 55, Number 1. University of Hawai'i, 2003. pp131-139.
Madame Butterfly: Japonisme, Puccini, and the Search for the Real Cho-Cho-San. Jan van Rij. Berkeley, California. Stone Bridge Press, 2001.
Madame Butterfly. John Luther Long. CENTURY. Volume 55, Issue 33. January, 1898. pp274-292.
About the Noded Text
Madame Butterfly, first published in 1898, has long since fallen into the public domain. It is currently available as a free e-text from several different sites. I took this text from the University of Virginia's Hypertext Project, at http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/LONG/abstract.html. The site also includes scans of C. Yarnall Abbott's illustrations from the 1903 Grosset and Dunlap "Japanese Edition", URLs to which I have included at the appropriate places in the text.
At 15 short chapters it is well worth reading, additionally, I put considerable effort into linking other nodes which will help the reader understand the story and Japanese culture. Long uses some archaic Anglicizations of various Japanese terms, so wherever possible I pipelinked those words to the current accepted spellings. Cho-Cho-San speaks in a very cutesy pidgin Engrish which occasionally becomes hard to follow, so whenever her contractions became unclear I pipelinked those to the English words she is attempting to pronounce.
The preface below was also added for the 1903 Grosset and Dunlap edition.
Table of Contents
Click on a chapter to read it
- SAYRE'S PRESCRIPTION
- MR. B. F. PINKERTON -- AND HIS WAY
- A MOON-GODDESS TRULY
- TROUBLE -- MEANING JOY
- A SONG OF SORROW -- AND DEATH -- AND HEAVEN
- DIVINE FOOLERY
- HOW HE DIDN'T UNDERSTAND HER WHICHEVER
- THE BRIGHT RED SPOT IN CHO'S CHEEKS
- "'BOUT BIRDS"
- GENTLE LYING
- "THE MOS' BES' NIZE MAN"
- LIKE A PICTURE OF BUNCHOSAI
- THE GOOD CONSUL'S COMPASSIONATE LYING
- THE BLONDE WOMAN
- WHEN THE ROBINS NEST AGAIN
View the frontspiece at http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/LONG/Front.html
SINCE Cho-Cho-San is to have a reincarnation on the way to the literary Nirvana, my publishers, who, in this rebirth, represent the Great First Cause, beg me for a "prelude." I had hoped to have the happiness of never writing a preface (for which the "prelude" is the publisher's cunning disguise), but one disobeys one's publishers at a certain distinct peril.
Being thus constrained, I had sent them a prelude, indeed. It was, and still is, a poem of the most obscure and exalted nature, concealed in prose dithyrambics. But they have detected and scorned it, and it is now returned with the reproach that eight pages are thus left by my default to be filled or something will happen to the book and to the public--and to me.
"Now be sensible," they say, or words to that flattering effect, "and tell the plain people plainly how the story was born; how it went out into world and touched the great universal heart, as ready to be touched as some rare instrument and as difficult; how it became a play--grand opera (the very first American story any European composer has set to music, according to those who are wise in such matters--though I don't believe it); what the people have said about it,--et cetera."
Well, here it is! Since they will not have the insidious poem, they shall tell it themselves--and have both the blame and the praise. They printed it. The people read it, and said and wrote things about it--some good, some bad. But, happily, they who liked Cho-Cho-San were more than they who did not; and so she laughed and wept her way into some pretty hard hearts, and lived--not entirely in vain.
And then she went upon the stage and made Miss Bates and herself so famous that we had to write a bigger play for them. And they beckoned for her across the sea, where, in London, Signore Puccini saw her, and when she comes back she will be a song! Sad, sad indeed, but yet a song!
What the people have said to me about her has been almost entirely by way of question. And the most frequent of these has been whether I, too, wasn't sorry for Cho. To this I answer, with confusion, Yes. When she wept I wanted to--if I didn't; and when she smiled I think I did; but when she laughed I know I did.
For you will remember that at first she laughed oftener than she wept, and at last she wept oftener than she laughed--so one couldn't help it.
And where has she gone? I do not know. I lost sight of her, as you did, that dark night she fled with Trouble and Suzuki from the little, empty, happy house on Higashi Hill, where she was to have had a honeymoon of nine hundred and ninety-nine years!
And is she a fancy, or does she live? Both.
And where is Pinkerton? At least not in the United States navy--if the savage letters I receive from his fellows are true.
Concerning the genesis of the story I know nothing. I think no one ever does. What process of the mind produces such things? What tumult of the emotions sets them going? I do not know. Perhaps it is the sum of one's fancies of life--not altogether sad, not altogether gay, a thing to be borne, often for others whom its leaving would mar. Perhaps the sleepless gods who keep the doors of life did not close them quite upon some other incarnation? For gods who never sleep may sometimes nod.
Finally, what matter? Here in this book is Cho-Cho-San, born again with all her little sins anew upon her head. And some of these the scribbler who here writes knows as well as they who, long since void of sentiment, sit in their chairs where words are made, and con them, and set them forth, forgetting that there may be something better had for good will and good searching. But there are sins one loves. So I love those of Cho. And I would have this Cho-Cho-San no more perfect than the world has cared to have her.
And this is she. Here is no "revised" edition. It has all the human, all the literary faults it had at first--and, may I hope, still its little charm?
So, Messueurs, Mesdames, I beg here, in your presence, that all the Gods of Luck will smile on this reincarnation!
Gomen nasai. Oitoma itashimasho.
J. L. L.
John Luther Long's Madame Butterfly (1898).
Next Chapter: Sayre's Prescription