• Book
  • English(English)


  • Author
  • Country
    Republic of Korea
  • Publisher
  • Published Year
  • Genre
    Literature - Korean literature - Contemporary fiction



    Title: Heartfelt

    Author: Yi Kwang-su

    Genre: Fiction


    LTI Korea staff: Alex Baek ( / +82-2-6919-7741)


  • About the book

    Heartfelt was first serialized in the Chosun Ilbo from October 1 to December 31, 1933. After his works dealing with the enlightenment and the modernization of Koreans and Korean society, as shown, for example, by The Heartless and The Soil, this novel pursues and thematizes humans’ inner world of affection as a significant factor for a fulfilled life and happiness. Affection, or jeong in Korean, is crucial in self-recognition and communication with others. This feeling, however, is an unstable complex of emotions that does not exclude romantic love, and Heartfelt explores this complexity in the main character of Choe Seok, who struggles with his contradictory feelings for a brilliant, beautiful girl, Jeong-im.


    The story is as follows. Choe Seok is a middle-aged married man with four children who works as a school principal. One of his best friends, a Korean man who had fought against Japan in Manchuria, dies and leaves behind his Chinese wife and their daughter Jeong-im. Choe Seok assists them, and when the mother dies only a few years later, he takes in the daughter, who was about 12 years old, and raises her. Jeong-im, a girl of intelligence and beauty, is an object of his wife’s jealousy, and also the jealousy of his daughter Sun-im, who is of Jeong-im’s age. Jeong-im graduates from school as the best student and is sent to Japan on scholarship to study at a college. But she gets sick one day, and Choe Seok travels to see her. His wife, however, has suspicions about his relationship to Jeong-im, and accuses him of having a love affair. He is disgraced by the rumor as it spreads, and he loses his job. He then leaves Korea and travels through Manchuria and Siberia to a place near Lake Baikal. The story starts with a narrator who is a friend of Choe Seok and has received a packet of his letters from a village near the lake. Most of the story consists of details offered in Choe Seok’s letters, intended as a testament. After the narrator shows the letters to Choe Seok’s wife, the misunderstanding is rectified, but Choe Seok dies in a foreign country before even Jeong-im manages to reach him.


    Yi Kwang-su himself had visited Siberia in 1914 on the way to San Francisco to take a job as chief-editor of a newspaper published there. He stayed in Kita about six months but could not travel further because of the First World War’s outbreak, which blocked his plan of travelling across Europe to reach America. He was very impressed by the landscape and people of Siberia and incorporated his impressions later in this novel from memory. The author once said that Heartfelt was his favorite work, and he considers this novel as the one worthy of translation if any book of his were to be translated.

    About the author

    One of the most important intellectuals from the colonial era, Yi Kwang-su is widely considered a pioneering figure in the development of modern Korean literature. The publication in 1918 of his novel, The Heartless (Mujeong), is in fact cited as a major landmark in the history of modern Korean fiction, for the work marks a decisive break from both classical narratives and the “new fiction” of the kind written by Lee In-jik, Lee Hae-jo, and Choi Chan-sik in both content and form. In the novel, Yi Kwang-su espoused the figure of the liberated modern man, capable of free thought and individualism. The Heartless is also one of the first Korean fictional works to successfully bring the active sense of spoken Korean to the written word. Its author, however, remains a contested figure in Korean literary history. In early 1919, Yi Kwang-su was a young intellectual living in Japan who expressed a fervid nationalism by drafting the Declaration of Independence used by Korean students in Japan to demand Korea’s liberation. By the end of the 1930s, however, he had become an enthusiastic spokesman for the Japanese colonial project, urging Korean students to join the Imperial Army as volunteers. Yi Kwang-su’s remarkably active career as a thinker, writer, lecturer, and journalist spanned the entire gamut from early eminence to eventual public disgrace in the postcolonial period.


    Yi Kwang-su’s writing career can be broadly divided into three periods. The first falls between the years 1910 and 1919, when he published actively in journals such as Children (Sonyeon), Life’s Prime (Cheongchun), and Academic Light (Hakjigwang), as well as the Daily News (Mae-il Sinbo). His seminal work of fiction, The Heartless, dates from this period, and the work is characterized by a strong critique of traditional mores and an emphasis on the need to adopt a modern worldview. The second period extends from the early 1920s, when he returned to Korea from Shanghai and resumed his literary activities, to the early 1930s. Yi Kwang-su’s works from this period evince the influence of Ahn Chang-ho’s theories on national preparation. One of the best-known and most controversial pieces of colonial writing, “On the Remaking of National Consciousness” (Minjok Gaejoron), advocates a thorough overhauling of morality as a preparation for national revival. In the process, the article lays blame on the indigenous Korean outlook as defeatist. The third period extends from the mid-1930s, when his works begin to evince a strong Buddhist color. Among his important books from the post-1945 period are Dosan, Ahn Chang-ho, a collection of stories titled My Confession (Naui Gobaek), and a collection of personal essays, The Stone Pillow (Dolbaegae).


    Born Lee Bo-gyeong on February 1, 1882 in Jeongju, North Pyeongan Province, Yi Kwang-su was orphaned early and grew up under the aegis of Donghak believers. In 1904, in order to avoid persecution by the authorities for his involvement in this movement, he moved to Seoul. A year later, he headed for Japan and studied at the Meiji Institute. Returning to Korea, he taught at Osan School in Jeongju until 1913. In 1915 he headed for Japan a second time and studied philosophy at Waseda University. Moving to Shanghai in 1919, he served in the Korean Provisional Government and became editor-in-chief of the newspaper The Independent (Dongnip Sinmun). In April of 1921, he returned to Korea and established the Alliance for Self-Improvement (Suyang Ddongmaenghoe), founded on the same ideals of enlightenment and self-strengthening that Ahn Chang-ho had articulated when he formed the earlier Society for Fostering Activism (Heungsadan). From 1923 to 1934, Yi Kwang-su pursued a career in journalism, serving in editorial and managing positions for a number of newspapers including The Dong-A Daily and The Chosun Daily. In 1937, he was jailed for five months for cultural activities allegedly subversive to the smooth running of the colonial government, but by 1939, he had adopted the Japanese name of Kayama Mitsuro and had begun pro-Japanese activities in earnest. On account of these activities, Yi Kwang-su was jailed in post-Liberation Korea after being found guilty of collaboration by the Special Committee for the Investigation of Anti-Nationalist Activities. In July 1950, he was taken prisoner by North Korean forces and died in Manpo on October 25th of that year, probably of chronic tuberculosis.

    About the translators

    Hwang Sun-Ae has a doctorate in German literature from the University of Munich, and works as a freelance translator. Horace Jeffery Hodges has a doctorate in history from UC Berkeley, and he works as a professor at Ewha Womans University and as an editor. He has published a novella titled The Bottomless Bottle of Beer and a book of his collected poems titled Radiant Snow. Hwang Sun-Ae and Horace Jeffery Hodges live in Seoul, Korea, and have co-translated several works of Korean literature together. Their translation of Yi Kwang-su’s novel The Soil was selected as one of the WLT’s notable works in 2013.

Translated Books (35)

News from Abroad (3)