红楼梦 THE DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER
The Dream of the Red Chamber (红楼梦 Honglou Meng) or The Story of the Stone (石头记 Shitou Ji) is a novel composed by Cao Xueqin in the middle of the 18th century.
One of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, it is known for its psychological scope, and its observation of the worldview, aesthetics, life-styles, and social relations of 18th-century China.
The intricate strands of its plot depict the rise and decline of a family much like Cao’s own and, by extension, of the dynasty itself. Cao depicts the power of the father over the family, but the novel is intended to be a memorial to the women he knew in his youth: friends, relatives and servants. At a more profound level, the author explores religious and philosophical questions, and the writing style includes echoes of the plays and novels of the late Ming, as well as poetry from earlier periods.
Cao apparently began composing it in the 1740s and worked on it until his death in 1763 or 1764. Copies of his uncompleted manuscript circulated in Cao's social circle, under the title Story of a Stone in slightly varying versions of eighty chapters. It was not published until nearly three decades after Cao's death, when Gao E and Cheng Weiyuan (程偉元), edited the first and second printed editions under the title Dream of the Red Chamber in 1791–92, adding 40 chapters. It is still debated whether Gao and Cheng composed these chapters themselves and the extent to which they did or did not represent Cao's intentions. Their 120 chapter edition became the most widely circulated version. The title has also been translated as Red Chamber Dream and A Dream of Red Mansions.
The dream of the red room is considered one of the pinnacles of classical Chinese literature, the pinnacle of Chinese novel art. In two thousand pages, Cao Xueqin shows the wealth of the eighteenth-century nobility, who live behind red walls and try to hold on to their power with the help of fragile ties with the emperor. But isn't that wealth ultimately an illusion after all? This Buddhist-Taoist insight comes to the young Baoyu: born with a piece of "inspired jade" in his mouth, a stone of mythical origin. His love life forms the common thread of the great family story. In a famous love triangle with two cousins, he learns the difference between love and marriage. Sobered up, he increasingly thinks of giving up earthly life and continuing as a mendicant.
As the carefree adolescent male heir of the family, Baoyu in this life has a special bond with his sickly cousin Lin Daiyu, who shares his love of music and poetry. Baoyu, however, is predestined to marry another cousin, Xue Baochai, whose grace and intelligence exemplify an ideal woman, but with whom he lacks an emotional connection. The romantic rivalry and friendship among the three characters against the backdrop of the family's declining fortunes form the central story.
The Filter Vertaalprijs 2022 has been awarded to Anne Sytske Keijser, Mark Leenhouts and Silvia Marijnissen for their translation The Dream of the Red Room by Cao Xueqin. The jury interpreted the prize as a tribute to the creativity and talent of translators who open up new worlds of thought, experience and culture to the reader. It also had to be a special translation. The dream of the red room met all the criteria in a superlative way. "The story takes place far from our beds, in a different world, a different culture, a completely different society, with different norms and values, with a different sense of aesthetics and symbolism, of social relationships. And yet: you read, you taste , and you're sold."
In the novel's frame story, a sentient Stone, left over when the goddess Nüwa mended the heaven aeons ago, wants to enjoy the pleasures of the "red dust" (the mundane world). The Stone begs a Taoist priest and a Buddhist monk to take it with them to see the world. The Stone, along with a companion (in Cheng-Gao versions they are merged into the same character), is then given a chance to learn from human existence, and enters the mortal realm, reborn as Jia Baoyu ("Precious Jade") – thus "The Story of the Stone".
The novel provides a detailed, episodic record of life in the two branches of the wealthy, aristocratic Jia (賈) clan—the Rongguo House (榮國府) and the Ningguo House (寧國府)—who reside in large, adjacent family compounds in the capital. The capital, however, is not named, and the first chapter insists that the dynasty is indeterminate. The ancestors of the two families were made Chinese nobility and given imperial titles, and as the novel begins the two houses are among the most illustrious families in the city. One of the Jia daughters is made a Royal Consort, and to suitably receive her, the family constructs the Daguanyuan, a lush landscaped garden, the setting for much of subsequent action. The novel describes the Jias' wealth and influence in great naturalistic detail, and charts the Jias' fall from the height of their prestige, following some thirty main characters and over four hundred minor ones.