In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Edith Maude Eaton (Sui Sin Far)

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Biographies
  • Anthologies
  • Asian American Studies
  • Charles F. Lummis
  • The New Woman
  • Winnifred Eaton/Onoto Watanna
  • Other Writers
  • Canadian Literature
  • Teaching Edith Eaton
  • Edith Eaton in China

American Literature Edith Maude Eaton (Sui Sin Far)
Ying Xu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0148


Edith Maude Eaton (b. 1865–d. 1914)—also known by her pen name, Sui Sin Far (meaning “water lily” or “narcissus” in Cantonese)—was born in Macclesfield, England, on 15 March 1865. She was the first daughter of a British father, Edward Eaton, and Chinese mother, Grace A. Trefusis (Lotus Blossom), and the second of fourteen children that would come to this family. When Edith was six, the Eatons left Macclesfield and migrated to the United States, living briefly in Hudson, New York, before settling down in Montreal, in 1872 or 1873. Eaton lived and worked in Montreal until she was nearly thirty-two years old. She began her career as a journalist, publishing shorts stories and essays, in 1888–1889. Between 1888 and 1896 she published her signed poetry and fiction and unsigned journalistic contributions in local newspapers and magazines in Montreal. She spent a brief interval in Jamaica, from 1896 to 1897, and moved to the United States in 1898, relocating to California. During the same period, she also published Chinatown stories signed “Sui Sin Fah” in California family journals. Eaton also used the pseudonyms Sweet Sin and Sui Seen Far, though most of her later works were signed Sui Sin Far. While living on the US West Coast, from 1898 to 1909, Eaton continued publishing her Pacific Coast Chinatown stories. She then moved to Boston c. 1910, and in this last period of her literary career she published most of her well-known stories and writings: “Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian” (1909), “In the Land of the Free” (1909), “Mrs. Spring Fragrance” (1910), “The Inferior Woman” (1910), “Her Chinese Husband” (1910), and “A White Woman Who Married a Chinaman” (1910). In Mrs. Spring Fragrance, a collection of her short stories published by A. C. McClurg in 1912, she portrayed different pictures of Chinese men and women in the United States and of mixed-race women, challenging the stereotypes of Chinese immigrants. Eaton died in Montreal, in 1914. Late-20th- and early 21st-century scholarship challenges our perception of Eaton’s body of work and her construction of authorship, particularly with Mary Chapman’s uncovering of Eaton’s previously uncollected periodical writing. Eaton’s sister Winnifred Eaton (b. 1875–d. 1954) was also a writer, who published under a Japanese pseudonym, Onoto Watanna. The Eaton sisters are acclaimed as the first North American writers of Chinese ancestry.

General Overviews

Eaton was first recuperated by Chin, et al. 1974, the first anthology of Asian American literature, but this work did not select any of her writings. It was the authors of Solberg 1981 and Ling 1983 who brought Eaton to critical attention. Ling 1990 and Ling 1994 (cited under Gender Studies and Feminist Criticism) were the first texts to explore Eaton’s feminism. The 1990s were a fruitful time in Eaton studies. Ammons 1991 provides important scholarship on Eaton that is still stimulating to scholars in the early 21st century. White-Parks 1995 was the first, often considered definitive, critical biography on Eaton and was accompanied by the publication of Mrs. Spring Fragrance and Other Writings (Ling and White-Parks 1995, cited under Editions). Yin 1991 (cited under Biraciality, Hybridity, and “Eurasianness”) joined the reinvigorating interest in Eaton and analyzed her major stories in relation to identity formation. Yin 2000, revised from its author’s dissertation, expands on his earlier study of Eaton, contending that she represents a Eurasian consciousness reaching beyond Chinese communities. Chapman 2012 explains the author’s archival research methodology for recovering Eaton and challenges our understanding of her cultural position, authorship, oeuvre, politics, and popularity.

  • Ammons, Elizabeth. “Audacious Words: Sui Sin Far’s Mrs. Spring Fragrance.” In Conflicting Stories: American Women Writers at the Turn into the Twentieth Century. By Elizabeth Ammons, 105–120. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

    One of the best early essays on Eaton, analyzing thematically a range of issues and perspectives in Mrs. Spring Fragrance. Stresses the diversity of the themes in Eaton’s work and raises questions on art, voice, and form in her writing that proved seminal for later scholarship.

  • Chapman, Mary. “Finding Edith Eaton.” Legacy 29.2 (2012): 263–269.

    DOI: 10.5250/legacy.29.2.0263

    Discusses the author’s strategic archival methodology for recovering Eaton’s uncollected and unknown works and uncovers Eaton’s “The Success of a Mistake” by using a combination of approaches. Expands our awareness of Eaton’s inventive modes of authorship, which Chapman calls “stenographic authorship” (p. 267).

  • Chin, Frank, Jeffery Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Hsu Wong, eds. Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian-American Writers. Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1974.

    The first anthology of Asian American literature. Recuperated Eaton and claimed her as “one of the first to speak for an Asian-American sensibility that was neither Asian nor white American” in the 19th century (p. xxi). Does not include Eaton’s work.

  • Ling, Amy. “Edith Eaton: Pioneer Chinamerican Writer and Feminist.” American Literary Realism 16 (1983): 287–298.

    One of the earliest assessments of Eaton’s writing, praising her as a pioneering Chinese American writer anteceding Maxine Hong Kingston. Presents a feminist reading of Eaton.

  • Ling, Amy. “Pioneers and Paradigms: The Eaton Sisters.” In Between Worlds: Women Writers of Chinese Ancestry. By Amy Ling, 21–55. New York: Pergamon, 1990.

    Offers much needed bibliographic and biographical material that served as an impetus to further research on Eaton. Argues against the polarization of the sisters; instead asserts that both writers’ adoption of different authorial personas indicates “alternative tactics of survival and negotiation within a hostile environment” (p. 26).

  • Solberg, S. E. “Sui Sin Far/Edith Eaton: The First Chinese-American Fictionist.” MELUS 8.1 (1981): 27–39.

    DOI: 10.2307/467366

    The first scholarly article to recuperate Eaton. Built on William Purviance Fenn’s consideration of Chinese American literature, the article examines the genre, the subject matter, and the difficulties Eaton’s stories reflect. Also the first work to look at the New York Times obituary on Eaton by her sister Winnifred Eaton.

  • White-Parks, Annette. Sui Sin Far/Edith Maude Eaton: A Literary Biography. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

    A fundamental text that recovered Eaton and made her a canonical writer in both North American and Asian American literature. Meticulously details Eaton’s life and work. The exhaustive bibliography is helpful for students and researchers.

  • Yin, Xiao-huang. “The Voice of a Eurasian.” In Chinese American Literature since the 1850s. By Xiao-huang Yin, 85–116. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

    Gives a thorough assessment of Eaton’s writing in relation to the themes of acculturation, miscegenation and Eurasians, and racial relations. Contends that Eaton’s work reaches far beyond the realm of the Chinese American experience, hence surpassing the Chinese cultural boundaries and serving as a link with white Americans.

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