This novel is probably one of the best pseudo-historical webnovels that I’ve read. Opinions vary of course. This was the author’s follow-up work to what could be considered the one that shot her up into the stratosphere. Of course, there were people who criticized her previous novel and I always feel that this was her response to them. There are many good qualities, especially if you compare to “trendy” C-novels. It contains the very basic elements of practically all historical C-novels, especially after Bu Bu Jing Xing (which you can compare this to). This novel has time-travelling (only a bit at the beginning) on part of the female lead, a titled and noble male lead and a struggle of succession. Sound familiar?
Hundreds of authors have written something using those elements.
But what also occurs in a lot of the novels are female leads believing themselves to be smarter, were former assassins, CEOs, special forces or Chinese medicine practitioners. They did business with men using “modern knowledge”, creating assassin organizations, affection succession of the throne and uncovered birth secrets and secret identities. There’s also a lot of trying to change or manipulate history and opposing the Emperor, wars against other countries or untangling struggles of succession. That’s NOT this novel.
Nothing like that happens in To Be A Virtuous Wife. This book can almost be considered a satire except it is very serious. This is not a fantasy story. It’s a story about a woman who believes that living on her own terms and risking abandonment is better than enduring and being constrained. The summary explains her life philosophy explicitly. It is about a woman who has an established self-identity and a set of circumstances she suddenly lands in. It’s about two people “growing up” and learning their roles. It’s also an exploration of life choices.
*SPOILER* (but not really) It has a happy ending. At its heart, it’s a love story and it’s describing how a relationship developed between two people. Both are not clichés (tragichistory!-secretidentity!-reallysonoftheEmperor!-male lead and democracy!humanrights!everybodyisequal!-I’maskilledgeneral/fighter/doctor/merchant!-female leads are not found here). There is no teenage angst. (I’m not mocking stories with those clichés. I like reading them as a guilty pleasure) You have two people wanting to get to know each other, communicating in symbols and through actions. There are no “I love you’s” and “sacrifices for love!”Of course, it is a “fairy-tale” as the main female lead had a past life but that makes her more of a relatable character than if she was just someone that grew up in this pseudo-historical world.
If you ever want to read other historical/ancient time- setting novels, this novel is a great primer to rankings, titles and intricacies of female life. Other authors may never write on and just hand-wave away those trappings which the author incorporates seamlessly in the text. The author writes in a calm, serene tone which hopefully remained through the translation. Additionally, it doesn’t bog itself down in “inner compound conflicts” or “palace intrigue”. I love the pacing of the story. Every little bit is used to set up the next part of the plot.
Guarantee for those that read too many palace intrigues: While both of them are not virgins in any physical sense, they do have a monogamous relationship throughout the story.
Added bonus: Almost all the minor characters are well-developed. They have their own reasons for what they do and most of them undergo character development throughout the story (whether good or bad). In a way, this is a story of two major characters and three smaller ones. In fact, the biggest character development seems to occur outside the two in the relationship.
General notes: The novel is set in a pseudo-historical setting of ancient China so there are lots of terms and categories which are used frequently but do not have exact equivalents in English. Consequently, I’ve decided to leave them in pinyin and treat them as loanwords. Spacing between words depends on whether or not the characters describe a concept together.
There are many intricacies in different positions. For example, there are different kinds of servants and different ranks. I could translate all of them as servant but that would be saying the janitor that cleans the government buildings and the President/Prime Minister are both government officials, which is true but there are significant differences. So this novel has a historical information section as well as notes in the text.
Glossary: keep this page open to search for definitions because there is a lot of them that repeat over and over.
Historical Information: not really required reading if familiar with historical China. A lot of the government in the book is pieced together from different dynasties so there is a general overview of the government here.
Cast: if it’s only this book, you’d think that there are very few noble families in this Dynasty. The book really trims down on the character list. Every character that gets more than one mention serves an important function or role. Also, I made a family tree.
I think I’ve been freer with keeping terms in pinyin rather than forcing a literal translation this time around. Part of it is something that’s two characters in Chinese is a whole long sentence in English if I don’t want to lose information (E.g. the mother of the wife of the older maternal uncle is not a very easy thing to comprehend). Also, I’ve been affected by the manga scanlations which usually keeps the pronunciation and translates it on the side.