“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Margaret Mackprang Mackay’s Lady With Jade, 1939

Posted: April 11th, 2017 | No Comments »

Margaret Mackprang Mackay published her novel Lady with Jade in 1939. Mackay had written a previous novel set in China, but I think Lady with Jade is more interesting to those with an interest in the foreign colony in China between the wars. However, it is hard to get hold off and often quite expensive….

Chinese-American flapper, journalist and author Flora Belle Jan described Mackay as taller than average, svelte, with narrow blue-grey eyes, a wide thin mouth, fair skin which freckles in summer and auburn hair. Helen Foster Snow disliked the novel (the main character is loosely based on Helen Burton who ran the Camel Bell store in the Grand Hotel de Pekin, and for who Helen acted as a mannequin in the 1930s) as too ‘pretty-pretty’…but she wrote this when in her most communistic phase so maybe she mellowed towards the book later (after ditching the awful Edgar)….

from Kirkus, October 1939

Again a background of China, in which the author loses herself a little too completely for eye-comfort, but nevertheless a well-developed piece of characterization and an unusually colorful, exotic backdrop. The story is that of an American, Moira Chisholm, who separates from her husband and stays on in Peking to which she has become rooted. Sybaritic, cold, but vital, she has an excessive passion for beauty per se, for which she finds an outlet in opening a curio shop, working with old brocades and metals, collecting and creating. She withdraws gradually from people, refuses marriage twice over, and finally falls in love profoundly but at the last minute renigues on marriage, realizing that no human relationship will ever be a satisfactory substitute for the immaculate, classic perfection of the jades and objects d’art to which she has given her life, and which, by the close she resembles. Capable portraiture, fascinating material, but overlong.

Kate O’Brien, The Spectator, 18 July 1940

Lady With Jade could almost be described, in theatrical jargon, as a presentation. It is an enormously laborious parade of Peking, of its art curios and its curio trade. A woman called Moira Chisholm is taken with a passion for the surface beauties of Chinese life, and starts a curio shop about eight years before the outbreak of the current Sino-Japanese war. She becomes successful, and a local celebrity ; she collects a set of jewel jade for herself ; she collects and discards a preposterous lover ; she decides to stay in Peking when all other foreigners forsake it. It might be a marvellous story—it is a boring one. The heroine is deadly and, spreads her cold, vulgar deadliness over the whole book, almost even, for the weary reader, over the ancient art of China. In any case, it will be a long time before I want to hear any more about Chinese jewel jade.


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