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Santa Clara University lecturer publishes eNotated edition of Pierre Loti’s The Third Youth of Madame Plum and shatters the myth of the tragic ending of Puccini's Madama Butterfly
November 12, 2012 – Catherine Miskow, born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area and now a lecturer at Santa Clara University, was working on two separate papers for two different graduate seminars when she decided to combine both of them into a single paper. “I wanted to study the literary link between France and Japan since I was majoring in both French and Japanese. One day I came across the name Pierre Loti. I had never heard of him, but discovered that he is as well-known in France as Balzac and Flaubert,” said Miskow. She didn’t think about it again until she saw a production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at the San Francisco Opera. In the playbill, there was a single line stating that Madama Butterfly likely originated with a French writer named Pierre Loti who had written a story entitled Madame Chrysantheme back in 1887. “I promptly picked up a copy of the book and began to do a little research. From there, I then found out that he had written two additional books set in Japan. The second was rare, the third, The Third Youth of Madame Plum was even more obscure. “I found a crumbling copy of the latter title in a rare book room at UC Davis and realized that this was the topic that I was looking for,” she said. “Unfortunately, since the book is so rare, there were very few sources that I could go to for research,” she said. Miskow approached her dissertation advisor who recommended that, given the historic time period of the text, it would be helpful to explain, through extensive annotation, all the references that the average reader would gloss over.
“This book is one of the richest in terms of its vivid images of Japan and its descriptions of Japanese civilization at the dawn of the Twentieth Century,” she said. Its pages are filled with insightful observations of Japanese cultural practices, the Japanese character and the numerous changes taking place in Japan at the turn of the century. Loti’s works gave the West its first in-depth view of Japan. “What is perhaps the most interesting aspect, however, is the relationship between this book and Puccini’s opera. As I got deeper into my research on Madame Plum, I came across a short passage that essentially shatters the Madame Butterfly myth as it is popularly known. It turns out that she did not commit suicide, as the opera would lead us to believe. She was very much alive, she went on to marry someone else and have a family. If you only know Madame Chrysantheme and Madama Butterfly then you don’t know the whole story. Had copyright law, as we know it, been around at the turn of the century Pierre Loti could have sued John Luther Long for plagiarism,”
In January Miskow attended the Modern Language Association (MLA) annual meeting in Seattle. The publisher, eNotated Classics, caught her eye. She approached the group and ended up landing a publishing contract for her annotated dissertation. The Third Youth of Madame Plum was out of print in the United States, until now.