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"From Verse Narrative to Novel: The Development of Prose Fiction in Vietnam"

The novel genre had already emerged in southern Vietnam (see John C. Schafer and The Uyen’s “The Novel Emerges in Cochinchina”) when Hoang Ngoc Phach published his novel To Tam in Hanoi in 1925. Nevertheless this work created a sensation. It affected readers profoundly, the authors argue, because it differed more than did southern novels from verse narratives, an extremely popular genre in nineteenth and early twentieth century Vietnam. Because these verse narratives share many features with the Western romance, the authors use Lennard Davis’ analysis of how the European novel broke with the romance to explain how To Tam departed radically from a verse narrative such as Nguyen Dinh Chieu’s Luc Van Tien (ca. 1860). The authors point out, for example, that To Tam is set in the time and locale of the author whereas Luc Van Tien, like most romances, is set in a distant, idealized past; and that while To Tam emphasizes forbidden passions, Luc Van Tien, like most romances, focuses on the preservation of virtue and chastity. Using Davis’ scheme the authors reveal other sharp differences between To Tam and Luc Van Tien. They discuss also how Hoang Ngoc Phach in writing his ground breaking work was influenced by Alexandre Dumas fils’s La dame aux camelias and by other sentimental love novels written by European writers.

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