The Letters of Eileen Chang - Part 1

One of my personal assignments in this Hong Kong apartment is to go through the file cabinets and sort through all the letters and documents.  And there are plenty of them.  Of the letters, the most important ones would be those between my parents and the late Chinese writer Eileen Chang.

Eileen Chang has the standing of being the greatest contemporary writer and at the center of a cultural industry about her.  She is bigger in China than Sylvia Plath in the United States.  There are books of photographs of all the buildings that she reputedly lived in; there are biographies about her and all the people in her life; there are books of photographs of all the places in Shanghai that she should have visited when she lived there; there are books about all the illustrations that accompanied the newspaper short essays that she wrote; there are doctoral dissertations about post-feminism in her work; and so on.  It is an industry because this kind of stuff somehow sells well because the demand exceeds the supply.

How did she ascend onto the peak of the pantheon?  Well, she wouldn't know because she never asked for it and she never did anything to make that happen.  So that may be the first secret -- the harder one tries, the more unlikely it is for people to grant that status; conversely, the less one cares or reacts, the more likely people will confer that honor.

The second key is that Eileen Chang was famous for being reclusive.  She had only a handful of close friends, and her editor at Crown Press had never even met her in person after decades of collaboration.  It has been remarked that the Chinese model hero Lei Feng could afford to be turned into a paragon of moral virtue and courage precisely because his life was so brief, leaving no time or opportunity for him to commit bad deeds that could tarnish that idealized image.  Eileen Chang lived long, but she provided very little information about herself to the outside world, which was then allowed to project their own ideas and feelings about her.

Given the burgeoning industry that revolved around the cult of Eileen Chang, any information about her is regarded as valuable.  Just a scrap or two might be enough to write yet another book.  So who are those few close personal friends who might offer some insights?  Upon her death in Los Angeles, she left a will that gave everything to my parents.  Shortly after, the will executor sent all her personal possessions in fourteen carton boxes to this apartment here.  After the contents were sorted out, much of the stuff such as the manuscripts and letters has been forwarded to Crown Press for organization.

So who are my parents?  What did they have to do with her that she left them everything, including her entire literary estate, over her own family in her will?  I will quote the relevant parts of my father's essay titled Some Private Words On Eileen Chang included in Crown Press' memorial volume.

[in translation]

In the preface to Eileen Chang's Art Of Literature, Professor C.T. Hsia mentioned that Eileen Chang was closest to me and my wife, and that she was a colleague of my wife.  These claims need to be clarified and explained.

When we were in Shanghai, we did not know Eileen Chang although we were her loyal readers.  In 1952, Eileen left Shanghai to come to Hong Kong.  At first, she lived at the YWCA and counted on translation to earn a living.  Based upon what I know, she translated the works of Ernest Hemingway, Margery Lawrence, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Washington Irving for the United States Information Services.  At that time, my wife was also translating for the same organization during her spare time.  So this was how it came about that people thought that they worked at the same place.

Eileen was not really interested in translation.  She said: "I forced myself to translate Emerson.  I had no choice.  It would be the same as if I were translating a book about dentistry."  Another time, she complained: "Translating the novel by Washington Irving was like being forced to speak to someone that you don't like.  You can't help it, and you can't run away either."

Eileen was staying in a single room at the YWCA.  But as her translation work became known, people began to look her up.  This is what she detested most, so she asked us to rent a room on a side street near us.  The room was sparsely furnished, and it did not even have a writer's desk . So she had to write on the small stand next to her bed.  She has always believed that possessions are a burden that interfered with personal freedom.  She would borrow books to read instead of buying them, "because as soon as one buys the books, it is like as if one has grown roots."

We would visit her and chat with her in order to relieve the loneliness and pain when her writing was not coming along well.  During this period, she was writing the commissioned novel Naked Earth based upon a synopsis provided by someone else, so she was not having a good time at all about writing according to specification, and she would never do that again in her life.  Sometimes, when I was busy, my wife would go visit by herself.  They liked each other, and they can talk forever whenever they met.  But no matter how well things were going, Eileen would send my wife home after seven o'clock.  Later on, Eileen would give my wife the title of "My eight o'clock Cinderella" who had to return home to her own family by that designated hour.  This was the period during which Eileen was closest to us.

In 1955, Eileen took the President Cleveland ocean liner to leave Hong Kong for the United States.  The two of us were the only ones to see her off at the pier.  When she reached Japan, she sent a six-page letter, which included: "After we said goodbye, I cried all the way back to my room.  This departure was completely different from the happiness that I felt when I left Hong Kong last time.  As I write these words, my eyes are welling with tears again."  Then she wrote that she wanted to write down everything about this trip, because "there are many small things that I would not write about later, so I ought to write them when I have the time now."

This was her principle later on.  She would tell us about all things big and small, "continuing on and on, which probably would not be told in live conversation."  She would write whenever she can, sometimes long and other times short, and her tone would change with her environment and mood.

Eileen thought that the world changes so much that nothing can be relied upon.  That was why she only trusted a few people, and she told us repeatedly: "Write when you have the time ... but I won't be upset if you don't write for six months or a year.  As long as you remember me, you remember me."  This introverted and asocial woman would have a deep and long-lasting friendship with us.  It has been more than twenty years by now, and we have a huge pile of her letters.  Occasionally, we would bring out those letters to read, and it was like as if we were chatting in that small room again.

At this point, it should be clear that the trove of letters may be the foundation of a brand new cultural empire of textual exegeses.  Most of those letters have been forwarded to Crown Press, so there is no point in contacting me to get the inside edge.  Within this apartment, I have come across a few more letters that had been misfiled by my parents previously.  As I read them, I have this taxonomy:

First, the letters contain a lot of financial details about loyalty payments, contracts, movie rights and so on.  Eileen Chang was shielded from these necessary evils by her own choice, and my father acted as her literary and business agent and provided her with the summaries.  Also, Mr. Ping at Crown Press was a trustworthy old friend of many decades who did much more than a publisher is obliged to.  It suffices to say that Eileen Chang did not suffer from want or need, and those kinds of detail do not illuminate on her literary accomplishments.  

Second, the letters contain some personal information which should be nobody's business either.  For example, why should anyone care that an author had a temporary case of incontinence in 1978 or some such?

Third, Eileen Chang was good enough friends with my parents that she held nothing back.  The letters contain some very frank but unkind comments about her relatives, associates and other friends, including some living persons for whom it would be extremely painful to read.  I, for one, cannot say that these comments ought to be published at this time for the sake of literature.  Even more, I will say that I would never have put those kinds of sentiments into any form of writing about anyone.

Fourth, there is probably some information that would be quite interesting from a literary point of view.  I am going to use just one quirky example from a letter signed and dated December 27 that I found yesterday.  The signature and date are shown below in a scanned image (and this may be the first time that her sign-off has ever been shown to the public).  This shows one technical problem with the letters, as she only put down the day and month and not the year, so that it is not a simple project even to try to date the letters in chronological order.

Here is the short excerpt from this three-page letter:

Translation:  "That article based upon the reporter going through my garbage has finally been published in Center Daily News: Dai Wencai's 'My neighbor Eileen Chang.'  Chuang Xinchong mailed it to me and wrote that China Times' supplement editor Cui Cui refused to publish it.  I have asked Chuang to thank Cui Cui for me.  I only glanced at the article.  I got the general idea, and I tried not to get too upset."

This was a cause cιlθbre in its own time when this reporter from Taiwan went to Los Angeles, found a place near Chang's apartment, followed her around secretly and ploughed through her garbage in order to write this article about the reclusive author.  So now at least we know how the subject felt about her stalker.  While this was not earth-shattering news, it does at least answer one question.

(季季的部落格我與張愛玲的垃圾  July 27, 2007.








張愛玲已於今年九月八日大去。對於過往的事情,我不能用「我希望…」這樣的語句。我只能說,非常不幸,也非常遺憾,在錯綜複雜的因緣際會裡 ﹔在人生某個階段的特定時空裡,我間接的接觸到了張愛玲的垃圾--有人在遙遠的太平洋彼岸,要把張愛玲的垃圾丟給我。但是,我拒絕了。




作家的存在意義,最重要的是生產文字。透過文字,作家以他的智慧呈現不同的作品風格,架構,人物,感覺,對話,期待,想像…。作家的責任是 以文字與世人相見,不是以臉孔與世人相親。在這一點上,張愛玲嚴守分際,善盡職責。現在有些作家喜歡以臉孔與世人相親﹔「只要我喜歡,有什麼不可以?」但 是大部分文化界的人都知道,張愛玲並不喜歡以臉孔與世人相親,尤其自一九七二年幽居洛杉磯之後。






一九八八年九月一日,我抵達美國愛荷華,住進愛荷華大學學生宿舍「五月花」大廈的八樓。那一層樓在每年的八月到十二月,都提供給來自世界各 地,參加愛荷華大學「國際寫作計畫」(International WritingProgram)的各國作家﹔每年大約三十多人。那一年應邀的華人作家,台灣地區是蕭颯與我,大陸地區是白樺與北島。

愛荷華是個大學城,人口不足五萬,很安靜,簡樸,美麗。五月花大廈面對愛荷華河,河岸遍植垂柳,秋天裡隨風搖曳,頗有詩畫之意。有位中 國作家酷愛釣魚,常在凌晨去愛荷華河邊釣魚,天亮之前回到五月花,漁獲塞滿冰箱冷凍庫。按照美國法律,釣魚須有執照。這位到訪作家當然是沒有執照的。選在 凌晨前去,一來不易被人發現,二來據說魚兒容易上鉤。作家對此不敢大肆張揚,以免招來國恥﹔但又頗為沾沾自喜,引為旅居愛荷華的一大收穫。關於觸犯美國法 律,他的說詞是﹕「只要不被抓到就好﹔反正河裡那些魚,美國人是不吃的,釣也釣不完!」



I WP的活動,包括參觀,訪問,座談,演講,旅遊。這些活動都不參加也沒關係--你儘管閉門寫作,沒有人怪你冷漠。那時我的工作是台灣C報的副刊主編,需和 台北的辦公室常通電話或傳真。當年傳真機還不普遍,而兩地時差十多小時,晚上十一點多,蕭颯常陪我散步二十多分鐘,去城中心的影印店傳真稿件回台北。


鹿橋七0年代以《未央歌》馳名海內外,後來又以《人子》轟動一時。《未央歌》至今仍是台灣的大學生最喜歡讀的小說之一。如以階段性的熱潮而 論,張愛玲孤島時期揚名上海灘,鹿橋七0年代在台灣文壇的聲望則超過張愛玲。一九七九年秋天,夏志清的《中國現代小說史》中文版在台灣出版後,張愛玲在台 灣文壇的聲望已凌駕所有中國作家之上﹔因為夏志清寫〈魯迅〉(第二章)僅二十八頁,寫〈張愛玲〉(第十五章)的篇幅則多達四十二頁。



但是鹿橋與張愛玲,在創作的出發點上,曾經有非常特殊的關係﹕一九四0年,他們在《西風》雜誌三周年紀念徵文中同時列名﹕鹿橋名列第八,張 愛玲名列第十三!當時鹿橋二十一歲(一九一九年生),就讀於雲南昆明西南聯大,得獎作品〈結婚第一年--我的妻子〉﹔張愛玲二十歲(一九二0年生),就讀 香港大學,得獎作品〈我的天才夢〉。

依據一九四0年四月十六日《西風》副刊第二十期的「徵文揭曉啟事」,這項以「我的…」為主題的徵文,入選作者共有十名。參加徵文的稿件 六百八十五篇,而作者的身分「有家庭主婦,男女學生,父親,妻子,舞女,軍人,妾,機關商店職員,官吏,學徒,銀行職員,大學教授,教員,失業者,新聞記 者,病人,教員及慈善機關工作人員,流浪者,囚犯等﹔寄稿的地方本外埠、國內外各地皆有…



我們如今不知《西風》當年徵文的評審是哪些文壇名士,但以得獎者後來的創作軌跡來看,得獎與否以及得獎名次的先後,與一個作者的終身成就絲 毫無傷﹔但也可能絲毫無助。例如當時以〈斷了的絃琴-我的亡妻〉獲得第一名的水沫先生(上海人),現在有誰知道他呢?如果水沫是巴金或者柯靈或者錢鍾書的 筆名,那當然另當別論﹔然而事實卻非如此。


一九九四年秋天,張愛玲獲得第十七屆「時報文學獎」的「特別成就獎」。十二月三日,她於《中國時報》人間副刊發表得獎感言〈憶西風〉,猶耿 耿於懷重提當年參加徵文比賽名列十三的往事﹕「十幾歲的人感情最劇烈,得獎這事成了一隻神經死了的蛀牙,所以現在得獎也一點感覺都沒有。隔了半個世紀還剝 奪我應有的喜悅,難免怨憤。」不過她在最後一段又說﹕「五十年後,有關人物大概只有我還在,由得我一個人自說自話,片面之詞即使可信,也嫌小器,這些年了 還記恨?」



例如名列第八的鹿橋先生,目前仍住在聖鹿邑市,身體還算健康。另一位南郭先生,也名列張愛玲之前(名譽獎第二名),尚在人世,只是並不健 康。南郭本名林適存,比張愛玲大五歲(一九一五年生),中央軍校畢業,當時在貴州遵義從軍,得獎作品是〈黃昏的傳奇-我的第一篇小說〉。一九五四年南郭由 香港到台灣後,主編過《作品》《幼獅文藝》等文學月刊,也主編《中華日報》副刊十二年,出版了二十六部散文及長短篇小說。聽說近年備受老人癡呆症困擾,返 回大陸度殘生。至於其他的得獎者,或許有人還住在大陸,或者住在這世界的某一個角落,只是未以文字與我們相見,也就渺不可知其存亡。

我與蕭颯造訪聖鹿邑時,鹿橋剛從密蘇里州華盛頓大學退休,忙著整理從學校搬回家的大批書籍資料,準備分門別類捐贈各大學。鹿橋心胸開 闊,一路往前,很少緬懷過去,和我們談的都是退休後計畫做的事和計畫寫的文章,特別是有關中國建築與文化的問題﹔沒有談到張愛玲,也沒有談到《西風》徵文 的事。

十月底萬聖節前夕,蕭颯與我由聖鹿邑到了加州聖地牙哥。那時鄭樹森執教於加州大學聖地牙哥分校,孤家寡人,沉迷書堆,蕭颯與我住在李黎 家,他每天都抽空來聊天。鄭樹森精研文學經典,也好奇文人掌故,天南地北閑聊之中,我們也談到了大家都關心的張愛玲近況。不過我們所談亦多只是二手傳播, 詳實待查。

鄭樹森居所與李黎家僅一街之隔。但李黎說,到她家做客的文友,無人能夠走進鄭樹森的大門,即使當時蕭颯與我熱切示意,他亦只是笑而不 答。據李黎的非正式說法,鄭樹森藏書太多,客人進到他家也許無立足之地,或者客人也許會窺視他的藏書,使他坐立難安…。總之,鄭樹森給予我們的待客之道, 規格與其他文友相同。李黎說﹕「鄭樹森沒有客廳,我家的客廳就是他的客廳。」我對鄭樹森說﹕「你的生活和張愛玲相比,有一部分已經很接近了。」他仍是笑而 不答。
























莊信正對我說,他總是每隔一段時間就給張愛玲打個電話,問候近況﹔「不過張愛玲是不大接電話的,十次電話大概有九次不接。 」




第二天,莊信正又打電話去, 但是沒人接。按照與張愛玲的交往慣例,沒人接電話並不表示她不在家。不過莊信正不放心,又給他住在洛杉磯的好友林式同打電話﹔這位好友接受莊信正之託,近十多年裡一直負責協助張愛玲的租屋及搬遷事宜。

















U報和C報,號稱台灣兩大報,一向競爭激烈。U報副刊主編W先生洞燭機先,向D小姐提出委託她去採訪張愛玲之事,一切費用由U報負擔。W先 生為人溫雅,我相信他向D小姐提出的一定是設法訪問到張愛玲本人﹔自一九七一年張愛玲在舊金山接受水晶訪問的〈蟬--夜訪張愛玲〉在C報副刊發表後,就沒 有任何一個媒體能再訪問到她。但我絕不相信W先生委託D小姐做的訪問工作,會包括「採訪張愛玲的垃圾」這個子題。

不過D小姐顯然沒有完成U報委託的工作。她在那裡住了一個月就自我洩密,驚走張愛玲。D小姐也許認為「走失了張愛玲」並非事不可為﹔還 有「張愛玲的垃圾」可以報導啊!她把垃圾分門別類,一字一句細加分析,完成了那篇垃圾報導文學,火速把稿件影本寄給W先生。但W先生給她的答覆是﹕「我們 要等張愛玲百年之後,才能發表妳這篇稿子。」--這是W先生的英明之處。他早已料到,已經神秘隱居十多年的張愛玲,如果有朝一日大去,必會掀起媒體競爭熱 潮,U報屆時如果能刊出一篇張愛玲的訪問稿,勢必拔得頭籌。所以,即使D小姐真的訪問到張愛玲,W先生也不會立刻發表的。《紐約時報》有個訃文版,都是預 做規劃,名人大去,次日見報,在報界早已建立權威聲望。W先生預做這樣的規劃,頗有《紐約時報》之風。問題是,《紐約時報》絕對不會在訃聞裡提及翻找名人 垃圾的過程﹔就算真的有做,亦唯恐人知,決不會連翻找過程亦滴水不漏的寫進去。W先生當然也深知,如果立刻刊登那篇垃圾報導,對張愛玲及對U報形象的殺傷 力。







任何垃圾在成為垃圾之前,都曾有她的生命﹔每一種生命,都各有它的形貌和聲音。許多垃圾可以回收,甚至可以再生。D小姐如果耐心等待,等張 愛玲大去之後再發表她的垃圾報導,也許會成為垃圾再生的佳作。遺憾的是,D小姐急於回收她的付出,急欲與張迷「分享」她的「收穫」,雖然被兩大報副刊婉拒 刊登,仍然在張愛玲大去之前七年昭告天下!

一九九五年九月八日張愛玲去世後,我多次與莊信正先生通電話。獲得他的應允與鼓勵,才有勇氣寫出我與張愛玲的垃圾正面相見,但讓讀者錯 肩而過的前後過程。在文化發展與新聞競爭的長路上,我寫的這篇憶往之作,當然也很快就會成為垃圾。垃圾曾經有它的生命流動過程,我只是在轉身的剎那,託借 文字肉身,重現生命的聲音。



一.張愛玲去世後,新聞熱潮果然持續不斷,各種道聽塗說紛紛現身。其中最為荒腔走板的是水晶一時不察,竟說《西風》徵文「得首獎的就是後來 以寫《未央歌》《人子》成名的吳納孫(鹿橋)先生」。友人把相關報導寄到美國,鹿橋看了大驚﹕「言者無心,讀者卻難免有看熱鬧的心理。我十分覺得平白受了 冤屈。」幾經思索,他寫成〈委屈、冤枉,追慰一代才女張愛玲-兼及往事、心事一籮筐〉一文,年底於「人間」副刊發表﹔一九九八年十二月收入時報出版新書 《市纏居》。讀者如能比照閱讀,必能領會鹿橋對張愛玲性格的觀察,及他對那篇得獎感言的絃外之音。最耐人尋味的是,他在那篇文章中說,張愛玲的小說「我至 今一篇也尚未看過…」

二.二00五年九月八日是張愛玲去世十周年,美國哥倫比亞大學特為她出版《海上花》英譯版。一九八五年,張愛玲為了《海上花》譯稿遺 失,曾向洛杉磯警方報案,然而始終下落不明。張愛玲去世之後,美國南加大教授張錯擬在該校成立「張愛玲文物特藏中心」,徵得張愛玲遺物所有人宋淇鄺文美夫 婦同意,捐增兩箱張愛玲文稿給該校圖書館。該館中文部主任浦麗琳細加整理,發現其中有三部不同版本的《海上花》譯稿,但稿件陳舊,塗改甚多,可能是早期的 初譯稿。哥大教授王德威,特把三部譯稿寄給香港中文大學翻譯研究中心的孔慧怡,請她修訂,潤飾﹔前後費時三年,始得重新編排出版。至於張愛玲費時十八年英 譯的《海上花》定稿,似乎永遠行蹤成謎了。

三.世間事有行蹤成謎者,也常有意外之喜。二00五年七月,我正為這篇十年前的舊作進行訂正之際,在當期《印刻文學生活誌》「超新星」 專輯的「十問九答」裡,看到作者林維寫著﹕「我家老太爺林適存是位老作家。」原來她是南郭的女兒!設法與她取得聯繫,才知道南郭因罹患老人癡呆症時常迷 路,而家人忙於工作無暇照顧,一九九四年七月十日由她護送去武漢,託給叔叔照顧﹔一九九七年三月二十八日去世,享壽八十二歲。