Nagasaki Madams

On July 8, 1885, the French ironclad La Triomphante docked in Nagasaki for an overhaul at the Mitsubishi Shipyards. On board was 35-year-old lieutenant Julien Viaud, who had gained fame under the pen name Pierre Loti for his travelogues of Middle East and Asia, combining his descriptions of these exotic locales with his (possibly fictional) exploits, usually romantic. Viaud stayed in Japan for several months before returning to France, and in 1887 published a novel based on his stay, Madame Chrysanthème:

Slowly, as the shades of night closed around us, mingling all things in the bluish darkness, Japan became once more, little by little, a fairy-like and enchanted country. The great mountains, now black, were mirrored and doubled in the still water at their feet, reflecting therein their sharply reversed outlines, and presenting the mirage of fearful precipices, over which we seemed to hang. The stars also were reversed in their order, making, in the depths of the imaginary abyss, a sprinkling of tiny phosphorescent lights.

Then all Nagasaki became profusely illuminated, sparkling with multitudes of lanterns: the smallest suburb, the smallest village was lighted up; the tiniest but perched up among the trees, which in the daytime was invisible, threw out its little glowworm glimmer. Soon there were innumerable lights all over the country on all the shores of the bay, from top to bottom of the mountains; myriads of glowing fires shone out in the darkness, conveying the impression of a vast capital rising around us in one bewildering amphitheatre. Beneath, in the silent waters, another town, also illuminated, seemed to descend into the depths of the abyss. The night was balmy, pure, delicious; the atmosphere laden with the perfume of flowers came wafted to us from the mountains. From the tea-houses and other nocturnal resorts, the sound of guitars reached our ears, seeming in the distance the sweetest of music. And the whirr of the cicalas—which, in Japan, is one of the continuous noises of life, and which in a few days we shall no longer even be aware of, so completely is it the background and foundation of all other terrestrial sounds—was sonorous, incessant, softly monotonous, like the murmur of a waterfall.

Julien Viaud (left), Pierre Le Cor and Okane. Le Cor appears in "Madame Chrysanthème" as "Yves," and he is also the model for the main character in Loti's book "My Brother Yves." Okane is allegedly the temporary wife Viaud took while in Nagasaki and the model for the character Madame Chrysanthème. This photo, taken by Nagasaki photographer Ueno Hikoma, appears in the first edition of the book with a note from Loti to Alice Heine, the Dutchess of Richlieu: "Do you recall a certain photograph - rather absurd, I must admit - representing that great fellow Yves, a Japanese girl, and myself, grouped as we were posed by a Nagasaki artist? You smiled when I assured you that the carefully attired little damsel placed between us had been one of our neighbors. Kindly receive my book with the same indulgent smile, without seeking therein a meaning either good or bad, in the same spirit in which you would receive some quaint bit of poetry, some grotesquely carved ivory idol, or some fantastic trifle brought to you from this singular fatherland of all fantasy."

Julien Viaud (left), Pierre Le Cor and Okane. Le Cor appears in “Madame Chrysanthème” as “Yves,” and he is also the model for the main character in Loti’s book “My Brother Yves.” Okane is allegedly the temporary wife Viaud took while in Nagasaki and the model for the character Madame Chrysanthème. This photo, taken by Nagasaki photographer Ueno Hikoma, appears in the first edition of the book with a note from Loti to Alice Heine, the Dutchess of Richlieu: “Do you recall a certain photograph – rather absurd, I must admit – representing that great fellow Yves, a Japanese girl, and myself, grouped as we were posed by a Nagasaki artist? You smiled when I assured you that the carefully attired little damsel placed between us had been one of our neighbors. Kindly receive my book with the same indulgent smile, without seeking therein a meaning either good or bad, in the same spirit in which you would receive some quaint bit of poetry, some grotesquely carved ivory idol, or some fantastic trifle brought to you from this singular fatherland of all fantasy.”

In the novel, Loti takes a temporary wife in Nagasaki, and leaves her behind when he departs for France. This practice had been going on since at least the 16th century. Francesco Carletti, who claimed to have visited Nagasaki in 1597-98 described how local pimps would allow sailors to have a female companion for their length of stay.

Jeannie Correll and her husband went to Nagasaki in 1892 as Methodist missionaries and drew attention to this practice. Correll’s brother, John Luther Long, was an American lawyer who wrote fiction on the side. He adapted the stories his sister told him into the short story “Madame Butterfly,” which ran in the Century magazine in 1898.

Playright David Belasco and Long adapted the story into a one-act play of the same name, which premiered in New York in the spring of 1900. That summer it went to London and played to a packed house.

One of the attendees was Giacomo Puccini, who was in London for the Royal Opera premiere of his opera “Tosca.” He understood no English, but was so moved by the play he got permission from Belasco to adapt it into an opera, also called “Madame Butterfly” (Madame Chrysanthème was adapted into an opera in 1890 by André Messager, with a libretto by Georges Hartmann. In 1918-1920 Japanese soprano Tamaki Miura performed both Cio-Cio-San in “Madame Butterfly” and as Chrysanthème in “Madame Chrysanthème” in productions in New York and Chicago).

Tamaki Miura, 1916

Puccini finished the opera in 1904, but the debut at La Scala was a disaster. Puccini reworked the opera five times over the next few years and the fifth version has become a staple of opera companies around the world.

In 1903, Grosset & Dunlap published Long’s “Madame Butterfly” short story as a book, with photogravure by C. Yarnall Abbott.

 

 

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