Review Essay: "I think it’s really about us" : Review of Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan & Wayne Wang's Film Adaptation

Hung Lam, Elizabeth HO, Ursinus College, Pennsylvania, USA

Copyright for all material published in Neo-Victorian Studies resides with the journal.


Although set in nineteenth-century China, Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005, republished 2011) creates obstacles for neo-Victorian studies. Can – or should – this novel, which does not reference ‘the Victorian’ as such be incorporated into neo-Victorianism’s archive? Of course, this is another way of asking: in what ways is neo-Victorianism constructed by a version of the nineteenth century anchored to the geographical boundaries of the British Empire? An historical novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan opens with its narrator, Lily, reminiscing about her birth “on the fifth day of the six month of the third year of Emperor Daoguang’s reign” (p. 9), placing the beginning of the novel, as the foreword has to inform its primarily Western readers, in 1823 and its action well into the nineteenth century. In her old age, Lily is known as the “one who has not yet died” (p. 3); she becomes a potential vehicle for the neo-Victorian, an avatar of the nineteenth-century past that continues to haunt the present.