More about the literary background of “Maybe Love”

For Yi, who undertook literary creation in a context of an "awakening", "self-definition" and "self-disclosure", literature had to breathe as one with his newfound identity as a "writer" and with his self-esteem as a genius. Therefore, expression of same-sex love in "Maybe Love" could not be far removed from Yi himself and his personal experiences at the time, and was an act that deeply and honestly represented himself. Again, from all the background that can be gathered about Yi in 1909, the theory underlying Yi's maidenwork "Maybe Love" was a high-level literary practice centered on "true and direct self-expression". Explaining the source of his own literary beginnings, Yi later wrote in his memoir, "I read many Naturalistic works and was enthralled by Byron."

But the thought form shining through most clearly in "Maybe Love" is Japanese Naturalism. Based on what Yi himself said and wrote, we know that "the exposure of reality" which forms the particular literary style of "Maybe Love" was greatly influenced by this major trend in early modern Japanese literature. For Naturalists, literature was as much about theoretical practice as about artistic creation. In other words, creative writing was conceived as embodying a principle of exposing reality, even in its crudest aspects, a psychological realism that unapologetically revealed the character's true interiority. The Naturalist school, which sought to remove all artificial techniques from the narrative, took as its goal a bold confessional novel centered on "instinct". (This thought form influenced the thought and techniques of the Taishou Period "I-novel" [watakushi shousetsu] ). By Yi's own admission, the confessional, instinctual character of Japanese Naturalism greatly inspired him while a student at Meiji Gakuin.

The instinctual descriptions of emotion in "Maybe Love" speak of an erratic spiritual state of infatuation; that is, Mungil’s excitement and unrestrained passion for his male love interest, which in the course of the narrative, shifts to confusion, then disappointment, and finally, to the deepest depths of self-pity. In the first scene, in which Mungil rushes to Misao's boarding house, his excitement, passion and anticipation are captured in phrases like: "his heart brimmed over with eternal happiness and delight and hope".... "his heart beat like a hammer" "his body trembled...". Then, when Misao snubs him, "that special hope and happiness disappeared like snow in spring." His love rejected, "it was as though his [Mungil's] body was dashed with hot water, his breathing grew even rougher, his eyes grew terror-stricken." etc.

From these few random examples, we see that the effect of "Naturalist" theory -- exposing of one's own interior feelings while eliminating all artificial narrative devices—is the exposure of the psychology of a lover drawn to his love interest with an uncontrollable passion. On the one hand, to use philosopher Roger Scruton’s words, "Unlike friendship, which is expressed as a "choice', love is expressed as a destiny." Mungil is a puppet pulled about mercilessly by the strings of love. As he wanders the night streets of Shibuya, he finds himself in an utterly defenseless state divorced from his rational will, racing recklessly from emotion to emotion, thought to thought, from hope to hesitation, hesitation to fear, fear to expectation, a winding emotional "roller-coaster", to use another anachronism.

The "emotional" principle underlying Yi's writing, seen in his impassioned narration of Mungil's tragic heartbreak, was based in yet another literary theory besides Japanese Naturalism. If "Maybe Love is a text "overflowing with 'emotion', Yi's greatest conceptual model for artistically narrating that "emotion" was Alex Tolstoy's literature. Yi's debt to Tolstoy’s theory was mentioned repeatedly by Yi throughout his life, and he even described Tolstoy as “the number two greatest figure in human history after Jesus Christ”. In looking at the similarity between their literary theories, we may appreciate the fundamental importance of that relationship. What reveals this relationship most directly, of course, is the abovementioned "Value of Literature" (1910) which Yi published in Korea only a few months after "Maybe Love" was published in Japan. In Yi's theory, adapted from Tolstoy, so-called "emotional elements" (kor. jeong eui bunja) are recommended as a necessary tool for the civilizational development of Korea. And Yi, self-aware of his genius, saw himself as Korea’s teacher through his literary example. In "What Is Art?" (1896), Tolstoy advocates thus:

"The future artist . . , will, to the extent possible, share with many people what is the utmost spiritual fruit flowing within. Because delivering to many people . . . the emotion that springs up from within him, is the artist's happiness and his reward. The future artist will be one who takes delight in the maximum distribution of his work, and the concept of withholding one's work if he is not paid is alien to him."