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Premodern Korean literature

… a work-in-progress listing. Titles are sorted in date of publication in English translation, most recent first.

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The Diary of 1636: The Second Manchu Invasion of Korea
Na Man-gap tr George Kallander
Columbia University Press, 2020

Publisher description: Early in the seventeenth century, Northeast Asian politics hung in a delicate balance among the Chosŏn dynasty in Korea, the Ming in China, and the Manchu. When a Chosŏn faction realigned Korea with the Ming, the Manchu attacked in 1627 and again a decade later, shattering the Chosŏn-Ming alliance and forcing Korea to […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Tales of the Strange by a Korean Confucian Monk: Kŭmo sinhwa by Kim Sisŭp
Dennis Wuerthner, Kim Si-seup tr Dennis Wuerthner
University of Hawai'i Press, 2020

One of the most important and celebrated works of premodern Korean prose fiction, Kŭmo sinhwa (New Tales of the Golden Turtle) is a collection of five tales of the strange artfully written in literary Chinese by Kim Sisŭp (1435–1493). Kim was a major intellectual and poet of the early Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1897), and this book […] (Link to online store)

The Nine Cloud Dream
Kim Man-jung tr Heinz Insu Fenkl
Penguin, 2019

A Buddhist journey reminscent of Dante’s Inferno exploring the illusions of human life, published here in the first new translation in forty years Often considered the greatest work of classic Korean fiction, The Nine Cloud Dream poses the question: will the life we dream of truly make us happy? A historical novel set in 9th-century […] (Link to online store)

The Tale of Cho Ung
Trad / anon tr Sookja Cho
Columbia University Press, 2018

The Tale of Cho Ung is one of the most widely read and beloved stories of Choson Korea. The anonymously written tale recounts the adventures of protagonist Cho Ung as he fearlessly confronts and overcomes obstacles and grows into a heroic young man. As a child, Ung flees a wicked tyrant who wrongfully killed his […] (Link to online store)

Premodern Korean Literary Prose: An Anthology
Ed Michael J. Pettid, Gregory N. Evon, Chan E. Park tr Chan E Park, Chang Wang-rok, Michael J Pettid
Columbia University Press, 2018

This anthology presents new translations of Korean prose works from the tenth to the nineteenth century. It offers insight into past Korean societies by highlighting genres that have largely not been translated, such as diaries, short fictional biographies, erotic tales, oral narratives, and novellas, all of which illustrate the depth and variety of premodern Korean […] (Link to online store)

The Song of Ch’unhyang: Musical Text as compiled by Master Singer Kim Yŏn-su
Trad / anon tr Ah-jeong Kim, RB Graves
LTI Korea, 2017

The Song of Ch’unhyang is one of the most popular p’ansori pieces in the genre’s classic repertoire. Its story is simple. Ch’unhyang (“Spring-Fragrance”) is the beautiful daughter of a deceased aristocrat and Wŏlmae, a retired kisaeng. Her ambiguous social status becomes the key dramatic complication when she falls in love with Yi Mongnyong, the young […] (Link to eBook / PDF / online text)

An Anthology of Traditional Korean Literature
Ed Peter H. Lee tr David R McCann, Kim Chong-un, Marshall R Pihl, Peter H Lee, Richard Rutt, Seo Daeseok
University of Hawai'i Press, 2017

This revised, expanded anthology, compiled and edited by pioneering scholar and translator Peter H. Lee, offers a representative selection of traditional Korean literature. Its rich and diverse selections, covering all genres and forms written in classical (literary) Chinese and the vernacular Korean language, were chosen for both their literary merit and socio-historical engagement with their […] (Link to online store)

Classical Writings of Korean Women
Kim Keum-won, Trad / anon tr Kyung-Nyun Kim Richards, Steffen F Richards
LTI Korea, 2016

This work is a collection of essays travelogues written by women during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The work ranges from a eulogy for a broken needle to a travelogue describing various trips to scenic spots on the Korean peninsula, including to the Keum-Gang Mountains. Now available in English, this collection gives us a sampler of […] (Link to eBook / PDF / online text)

The Story of Hong Gildong
tr Minsoo Kang
Penguin, 2016

The Story of Hong Gildong is arguably the single most important work of classic Korean fiction. Like its English counterpart, Robin Hood, it has been adapted into countless movies, television shows, novels and comics. Its memorable lines are known to virtually every Korean by heart. Until now, this incredible 19th century fable has been all […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Eerie Tales from Old Korea
Ed Brother Anthony of Taizé tr Homer B. Hulbert, James Scarth Gale
Hawaii Distributed Titles, 2014

The tales in this book were originally translated by Homer B. Hulbert and James Scarth Gale, both of whom were missionary/scholars who arrived in Korea in the late 1880s. Hulbert published his tales in the magazine, “Korea Review” between 1902 and 1905 and Gale in the book “Korean Folk Tales: Imps, Ghosts and Fairies” (1913). […] (Link to online store)

Korean Tea Classics by Hanjae Yi Mok and the Venerable Cho-ui
Hanjae Yi Mok, Ven Cho-ui tr Brother Anthony of Taizé, Hong Kyeong-hee, Steven D Owyoung
Seoul Selection, 2011

Publisher description: Three ancient texts expressing the essence of the Korean Way of Tea are here translated into English for the first time. The oldest, ChaBu (Rhapsody to Tea), by Hanjae Yi Mok (1471-1498), is a sophisticated and delicate celebration of tea. The author was a scholar of considerable attainments who died far too early. […] (Link to online store)

Jehol Diary
Pak Chiwon tr Yang Hi Choe-Wall
Global Oriental, 2010

Publisher description: This is the first translation into English of the eighteenth-century Korean masterpiece entitled Yŏrha ilgi (‘The Jehol Diary’) by Pak Chiwŏn (1737-1805). The original text was written in classical Chinese and is a notoriously difficult work to translate. Pak Chiwŏn diarises the experiences of his remarkable overland journey on horseback from the northern border […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

The Korean Singer of Tales
Marshall R Pihl, Trad / anon tr Marshall R Pihl
Harvard, 1994

Publisher description: P’ansori, the traditional oral narrative of Korea, is sung by a highly trained soloist to the accompaniment of complex drumming. The singer both narrates the story and dramatizes all the characters, male and female. Performances require as long as six hours and make extraordinary vocal demands. In the first book-length treatment in English […] (Link to online store)

Virtuous Women – Three Classic Korean Novels
Kim Man-jung, Trad / anon tr Kim Chong-un, Richard Rutt
RASKB, 1974

Contains the following classics: A nine cloud dream by Kim Man-jung The true history of Queen Inhyŏn The song of a faithful wife, Ch’un-hyang (Link to online store)