Eileen Chang @102: New Perspectives on an Iconic Writer
3: “Worlds Within Worlds”: From Stella Benson to Eileen Chang
Friday, March 25, 2022
1:30pm – 3:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Nicole X. Huang
University of Hong Kong, United States
At a gathering of Shanghai women writers organized by a popular literary magazine in March 1944, when prompted to name her favorite foreign women authors, Eileen Chang mentioned only one name: Stella Benson. Who was Stella Benson? What kind of writer was she? In what ways can Benson and Chang be placed in the same context? Benson was a prolific writer who initially rose to fame as a young suffragist in London before she set sail for a distant continent in 1919. Benson went on to publish a series of critically acclaimed travelogues, fiction, essays, and poetry based on her extended travels in the Americas, Manchuria and Northeast Asia, India, Hong Kong, and French Indochina. In this paper, I provide an overview of Benson’s most important works and argue that Benson was at the center of a pre-war colonial reading culture in Hong Kong, that is, before Chang started her college years at the University of Hong Kong. As a college student, Chang worked through a large body of English-language material, well exceeding the canonical texts required by the Arts Faculty. Stella Benson and her works will help unpack a diverse system of literary references that shaped Chang in her formative years and continued to inform her in her post-war travels and decades of writing in diaspora.