Monday, March 11, 2013

Book Review: A Diplomat's Helpmate

Title: A Diplomat's Helpmate: How Rose F. Foote, wife of the first U.S. Minister and envoy extraordinary to Korea, served her country in the Far East 
Author: Mary Viola Tingley Lawrence
Paperback: 50 pages
Publisher: H.S. Crocker Company (1918) location

A pretentious title to complement outlandish laudatory writing, A Diplomat's Helpmate: How Rose F. Foote, wife of the first U.S. Minister and envoy extraordinary to Korea, served her country in the Far East is a short but valuable piece of history transparently disguised in absurdly extravagant acclaim. Embellishments notwithstanding, this is a brief recount of events involving the wife of the first American Minister to Korea, Rose F. Foote.

Her biographer, Mary Viola Tingley Lawrence, was a personal friend and dutifully exaggerated Foote's accomplishments posthumously. Consequently, notable events are glossed over with patriotic zeal and otherwise useful personal accounts are unfortunately missing. For instance, nothing is mentioned of Foote's supposed domineering personality or her obstinate rivalry with the only other Western woman in Seoul. An example of Lawrence's flourishes:

The American lady at once commanded a prominent place in oriental diplomatic life. Her exceptional beauty and queenly bearing aroused admiration wherever she was seen.

For the reader's sake, included authentic photos of Foote betray this likelihood. Another example of Lawrence playing up Foote's prominence is in her retelling of the supposed feud between Foote and the Korean Queen. The grudge supposedly came about because of Foote's magnanimously arrival in Seoul where she was instantly loved and appreciated by all citizens. The Queen's alleged reaction:

The baffled Queen in a fury of rage beat upon her imprisoning walls, as she smarted under the taunting realization that the uncrowned occidental woman commanded a limitless freedom in her interference with the traditions that had been dearest to the Korean heart.

The book isn't all fluff, though. Rose Foote did indeed live a pioneering life abroad; after all, she was the first Western woman to enter Seoul. She accompanied her husband on this rather risky political assignment while in her fifties. Dutifully, she made the legation grounds social and accommodating of the status her husband garnered. It wasn't all tea parties, though; her perspective of her husband's witness of the abortive 1884 coup d'etat was graphically worth mentioning. It also seems that her time abroad proved to be too taxing on her health; she passed away six months after returning to San Francisco. 

For a fifty page adulatory account, it's short and far too sweet. It's not exactly fiction, though, so a discerning eye can detect some of the genuine work that the Foote's accomplished. For those interested in the time period, it's worth a quick read-through. 

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Robert Neff penned a broader picture of the woman for OhMyNews a few years back: Parts One and Two.


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