Read The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu Edward G. Seidensticker Online


In the eleventh century Murasaki Shikibu, a lady in the Heian court of Japan, wrote the world's first novel. But The Tale of Genji is no mere artifact. It is, rather, a lively and astonishingly nuanced portrait of a refined society where every dalliance is an act of political consequence, a play of characters whose inner lives are as rich and changeable as those imagined bIn the eleventh century Murasaki Shikibu, a lady in the Heian court of Japan, wrote the world's first novel. But The Tale of Genji is no mere artifact. It is, rather, a lively and astonishingly nuanced portrait of a refined society where every dalliance is an act of political consequence, a play of characters whose inner lives are as rich and changeable as those imagined by Proust. Chief of these is "the shining Genji," the son of the emperor and a man whose passionate impulses create great turmoil in his world and very nearly destroy him. This edition, recognized as the finest version in English, contains a dozen chapters from early in the book, carefully chosen by the translator, Edward G. Seidensticker, with an introduction explaining the selection. It is illustrated throughout with woodcuts from a seventeenth-century edition....

Title : The Tale of Genji
Author :
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ISBN : 9780307833525
Format Type : ebook
Number of Pages : 384 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Tale of Genji Reviews

  • Michael Finocchiaro
    2019-04-08 23:56

    The Tale of Genji is one of the hallmarks of classic Japanese literature - the equivalent to, say, the Canterbury Tales or the Divine Comedy or Dox Quixote - from which thousands of pieces of art, pottery and writings have been inspired. It is a sweeping bildungsroman about a Japanese prince in the 10th/11th century Heian court in Kyoto. Well, ex-prince because the emperor had to strip him of his title for political reasons. The tale has over 400 characters and is a true masterpiece of style and description. In the translation I read, each chapter has a beautiful haiku before the narrative and the translation just drips off the page with limpid, gorgeous text. I read this during my honeymoon and despite its occasional melancholic tone, it was one of the most challenging and yet beautiful things I ever read. I can only imagine what beauty must be in store for those lucky enough to be able to read it in the original Japanese.One of the greatest books ever written. A good respite from the fake news and twitter bullshit that is clogging the airwaves...

  • Hadrian
    2019-04-08 01:38

    Artist: Toshiaki KatoWithout stories like these about the old days, though, how would we ever pass the time when there is nothing else to do? Besides, among these lies there are certainly some plausibly touching scenes, convincingly told; and yes, we know they are fictions, but even so we are moved and half drawn for no real reason to the pretty, suffering heroine. We may disbelieve the blatantly impossible but still be amazed by magnificently contrived wonders, and although these pall on quiet, second hearing, some are still fascinating. Lately, when my little girl has someone read to her and I stand there listening, I think to myself what good talkers there are in this world, and how this story, too, must come straight from someone's persuasively glib imagination- but perhaps not.This reading of the Tale of Genji, my second, was through a glass darkly. The first time through, I had a superficial understanding of what was going on, and it was so foreign and so different to my previous conceptions of human behavior that I gave up a third of the way in. This time, I have a basic understanding of the course of events, but little understanding of why they happened. Court rituals, titles, poetry, all pass by in a bare haze, even with all of the summaries and glossaries in the back of the book. I read only in the most minimal meaning of the word, and there was very little understanding of the text and the characters.Despite this general lack of understanding, however, there are brief flashes of brilliance which help me to understand why this book has such long-lasting appeal. The cited part above, in Chapter 25, is one of the first appeals on the meaning of fiction, and how such stories have a greater meaning beyond just passing the time. This, perhaps, is Murasaki's own justification for this novel idea, and the sort of idea which endures long after her. But still the book is so alien that I am confused by it. The first section of the plot concerns the Shining Price Genji's sexual escapades with a variety of women. Some of these have the air of young romance, but others are in so different from our idea of 'romance' that I was left completely distant from them. This is not only a matter of cultural norms, but some things which I personally found disgusting - rape and pseudo-incest among them. This is supposed to be romance? There is a gap of one thousand years between us and this novel. Is human nature really so different that we could not understand what all this is? Or is it just being overwhelmed by technical details, and forgetting the emotions which underlie the story? I suspect many of us will remain outside the pavilion forever, left to only gaze at the flowers.

  • Aubrey
    2019-04-27 04:01

    The person who convinced me to read this is no longer on Goodreads, so I cannot tell you what meanings I thought I would discover within this work. Even the collective 'meanings' is a poor word choice, because my relationship with literature is one to which only the pair of mentor and mentee of the male variety has claim in the bowels of history and pop culture. It is my lot to be mentee to a few of the living and far more of the dead of various forms and nationalities; the only commonality is we have never met and, even in the case of the alive, will never do so. Thus, I do not have the benefit of consultation on even the most arduous or rare or fleeting of terms, nothing to enable an inheritance of a complete whole of the older and the wiser. What holisms I make, I make alone.He had a great contempt for people who renounce the world and then appear not to have done so after all. But she was leaving him.It is tiring to think on how academia would have processed us had it caught I and the work together. Thinking of it is unavoidable when one is interested in literature and not institutionalized definitions of such, and it has been a long time since I've forborne from writing what I knew classrooms would not like, but I am not yet aged enough for unconcern to come without resistance. Aspiring professors of English do not build their critical evaluation on video games and animated televisions shows and an uneasy consciousness of the Other, even when the evaluation is of the most loving nature. Technically this work is not found in the English curriculum, technically a proper understanding of this goes far beyond what my academic career is aimed towards, but I have not yet broken past the mental block of the ivory tower that dogs my every self-reflexive thought.She liked his bemused way of cocking his head to one side as he contemplated his unhappiness.My favorite video game of all time is called Okami, and I firmly believe my understanding of The Tale of Genji was aided immeasurably by my history of playing. It is funny, it is menacing, it is lengthy and complex, but above all it is gorgeous in the most life affirming of ways. I neither sniff at cities nor sentimentalize the countryside, but in Okami the goal is to restore growth of flora and fauna to the world through the power of writing. Add music and art and heartbreak that does not happen through war torn horrors, and you have as close to my ideal as reality can currently come.Such a difficult, constricted life as a woman was required to live! Moving things, amusing things, she must pretend to be unaffected by them. With whom was she to share the pleasure and beguile the tedium of this fleeting world? Since it choose to look upon women as useless, unfeeling creatures, should it not pity the fathers who went to such trouble rearing them? Like the mute prince who was always appearing in sad parables, a woman should be sensitive but silent.One thousand one hundred and thirteen pages and what I found of my Eurocentric feminism could be numbered off in concentric quotes with the fingers of a single hand. Even if the owner of the historically granted nom de plume of Murasaki Shikibu hadn't been female, my vein of 'outside reading' would have sought out my definition of evidence she was there. It is the usual lack of objectivity I favor after so many centuries of venerated others pretending otherwise, but this is one thousand and more years ago, this is one of the most auspicious pieces of literature known thus far, and above all else, this is Japan. Here, Orientalism is the name of the game, and my fascination does me no good if I do not make an effort.How could she even consider giving herself to a man? The first overtures, capable of arousing such tenderness, must lead to unhappiness later. No, it would be better for them to go on as they were, neither of them demeaning the other and neither going flagrantly against the other’s wishes. Her resolve was firmer than ever.Some of you may be familiar with Japanese anime. It's something I grew up with and have a great deal of fond feeling towards, but after learning of Hayao Miyazaki's distaste for the industry, I've had to critically evaluate my relationship with something that has entertained, sustained, and stabilized through various periods of my life. I've commented on similarities between Japan and the US before, and while a few animes are truly great and humanizing works of art, it is the worst that the media and the mainstream community sustains itself upon. The most obvious characteristic is the treatment of women, an objectifying and dangerous flaw that not even my beloved Okami escapes. Even this most esteemed of tomes builds itself upon systematic patriarchy; what is different is the deliberate separation of the realities of life from the feelings of the characters.Listen to them. They seem to have no notion that I might be ill because I misbehaved.Works such as Middlemarch may be easier to the eye of Eurocentric sensibilities, but this work here has as much to offer of real people thrown into social roles. It is much, much, much harder to see, and it's highly likely that what I'm actually seeing is my own desires of female affirmation in a world of ubiquitous male power. What I do know is Shikibu deconstructs the stepmother stereotype, the suicidal maiden stereotype, the manipulative wife stereotype and the useless hag stereotype and the wife in the madhouse stereotype and even the evil witch stereotype, all these women pulled and pushed along the lines of Genji and his descendants in a reality where feeling is both emphasized and shuttered away, where the next bite of food hinges on the calculus of relations and the spider web of public opinion. It is beautiful in the way all poisons are and, of course, I may be misleading myself entirely.Still, one would not wish to describe him as merely perverse. Had he been a man of reprehensible tendencies, the emperor would surely not have insisted upon having him for a son-in-law. In high matters of state, one would imagine, he showed uncommon talents.There's no war, or plagues, or any physical conflicted more violent than a doubly misguided tryst that ultimately ends in mutual hilarity. In light of that, I know many readers will find it boring, and there were times I wished I could be moved more by the usual things and not have to spend so much time with the ancient and the lengthy and the subtle. However, so much of that 'usual' is built up on what our world has become since the time this was written, and every so often I need something that unspools my brain from modern hegemonies and places the emphasis on what I can appreciate rather than how much I can understand. Proust came close, but I did not know how soothing the repetition of years with its poetry and its seasons and its flowers and colors and songs and dances could be until I began understanding the references without the help of the footnotes, and that is not something that can be acquired through an obsession with exact details. This work, masterful in its beauty, came down to us because only women wrote the much scorned fiction; I know this world should not survive, but I would become the woodcutter with their rotting ax handle in a heartbeat.Soon it would be sunset. Mists were rising, and the mountain fastness seemed already to be receding into night. The air was heavy with the songs of the evening cicadas. Wild carnations at the hedge and an array of autumn flowers in near the veranda caught the evening light. The murmur of waters was cool. A brisk wind came down from the mountain with a sighing of deep pine forests. As bells announced that a new relay of priests had come on duty, the solemnity of the services was redoubled, new voices joined to the old. Every detail strengthened the spell that was falling over him. He wanted to stay on and on. The voice of the priest who had come down from the mountain was grander and more solemn than the rest.When enough time has passed, I will come back here to rest. It is a matter of the heart I will never be able to reconcile, but its existence is enough.

  • Huda Yahya
    2019-04-25 01:48

    كل من قرأ كافكا على الشاطىء قد واتته غالباً رغبة شديدة في قراءة سيرة الأمير جينجيالتي كان يلتهمها كافكا الصغير في المكتبة العامة اليابنيةمراساكي شيبوكو هو الإسم الذي عُرفت به المؤلفة و ليس إسمها الحقيقيوقد عاشت عمرها في البلاط الإمبراطوري وروت مما عايشته فانتازيا مذهلة تشابه ألف ليلة وليلة العربيةالتي ربما لا يعرف أغلب كتاب العالم سواها عن أدبنا العربيحتى أن أنيس منصور عندما سأل الكاتب سومرست موم عما قرأه من الأدب العربي أجاب ألف ليلة وليلة فقط مما أدى بالعقاد إلى غضب شديد والإشارة بأنه رجل جاهل وأن الأعمى الذي لا يرى الشمس "يقصد نفسه خصوصاً :D"العيب فيه لا في الشمس!وحتى إيزابيل الليندي أو ماركيز أو حتى البرتو مورافيا وغيرهم لا يعرفون عنا شيئاً باستثناء هذه الفانتازيا الخيالية مجهولة المؤلف إلى الآنسيرة الأمير جينجي هو عمل من أهم كلاسيكيات الإنسانيةو يعتبر أول رواية مهمة في الأدب العالميوالرواية تسرد حكاية هيكارو نو جينجي واحد من نبلاء القصر الإمبراطوري ومغامراتهوندرة هذا العمل ليست فقط في أنه تراث قديم حيث تمت كتابته في أوائل القرن الحادي عشرولكن أيضا لأن من ألفه امرأة في عصور لم تكن المرأة فيها إلا زينة وديكور إنساني مسلوبة الحقوقلوحات تصويرية عن الرواية

  • Deborah
    2019-04-03 05:02

    I simply cannot believe this book is celebrating it's 1000th anniversary this year. The characters are so complex, with such a human range of emotions. There are so many characters, yet each one is unique. She has so calculatedly dialed in each character, subtly conveying how close they come to her view of perfection - Murasaki being at the top of this, and (in my opinion) Niou and others being at the bottom. It is so easy to see how this book still influences literary styles in Japan today... the fatalistic & existential as well as the methods of characterization -- these same methods can be seen in anime and manga today. It is definitely not an exaggeration to say that Genji's writing has influenced Japan as much as Shakespeare has influenced English literature. Shikibu also reveals the nature of Japanese culture with such eloquence. When I first started reading it, I was split between boredom w/Genji (and the author's obsession with his beauty) and fascination with the complexity of 9th century Japanese court. But as I read further I became more and more amazed at the beauty and subtlety of Shikibu's writing and poetry. I felt I was being spoiled - the writing felt so luxurious and conveyed so much atmosphere in each scene. It was easy to envision each room, each wilderness. The fact that the poetry has been translated from archaic Japanese that was laden with metaphors and double meanings --which are completely lost in the translation -- and still reads beautifully says a lot. She can convey so much without directly saying it, and with such intimacy it feels like you're reading a letter from a close friend (though I'm sure part of this is owed to the translator). I love how she occasionally speaks to the reader, I love how she goes into detail about the clothes and gifts and gardens (the number one indication a woman wrote it), the nuances of each characters handwriting, and how this has bearing on the true substance of that character.It is undeniable that -- while the plot may be dull and a bit trivial -- Shikibu's writing is truly genius.

  • Nozomi
    2019-04-14 21:41

    Oh yes, I totally want to read about all the affairs Genji, the "shining" prince, had with dozens of other women. Not to mention most of these women looked like his mother in some way or another. (Freud would be esctatic.) One of these women wasn't even a woman at all, but a small child he pretty much abducted. Of course, this young girl looked like his mother.The fact that this is the first true psychological novel in the world is interesting, it really is. But just because it is so doesn't mean it's interesting as a story.

  • Alienor ✘ French Frowner ✘
    2019-04-21 00:45

    I've come to realize that the 'right moment' to read a 1K+ novel never ever appeared on my doorstep so of course I thought fuck it and let's do it, that's how I roll

  • umberto
    2019-04-10 04:53

    3.75 starsThis epic-like Japanese novel is, of course, quite lengthy (54 Chapters, 1120 pages) and thus reading it would take your time and concentration. I thought I would never finish reading it but, after my visit to Japan for a week last April, I decided to resume reading it mixed with boredom and enjoyment.This novel written by a court lady in the 11th century has been depicted on various, innumerable noble characters with illustrious noble titles unfamiliar to, I think, most of its readers outside Japan. Therefore, we should read its chronology (pp. 1125-1133) before/while reading each Chapter because it'd help to guide us on what happens, who're the key characters, what and why they do, what're the consequences, etc. As far as I know, only this edition translated by Royall Tyler offers this useful guide to its readers. This considerate approach, I hope, should lessen our boredom.Surprisingly, I've never read any war scene or military campaign since it might not be her genre/expertise so we're always immersed in dream-like romance episodes related to various couples tinged by eventual psychological dilemma due to love or suffering. There are lots of Japanese-style word plays which we may read casually or skip some and I'm quite sure those readers who know Japanese may find them more enjoyable and understandable.In brief, the whole plot of the novel essentially focused on various life cycles of those key characters, that is, from birth to death and along the way all dignitaries suffer their aging as well as illness in which all mortals simply can't escape from the ultimate cycle.Nearing the end of this novel, I think Ukifune's decision to renounce the world by being a Buddhist nun is wistfully touching, remarkable and wise. However, her fate is similar to the young lady named Satoko Ayakura in the last chapter of "The Decay of the Angel," Book 4 of "The Sea of Fertility" by Fukio Mishima. I wonder if he's conceived the idea of such an end from this legendary novel.In essence, this famous Japanese 'Tale' is not a classic best-seller or page-turner, rather it's a literary treasure penned by such a formidable scholar named Lady Murasaki Shikibu as her masterpiece for those interested in Japanese court/culture/ways of life who may try reading it and enjoy some unthinkable, romantic atmosphere 10 centuries ago in ancient Japan. This paragraph suggests a tip of thought and action to some friends reluctant to read it or having started it but stopped somewhere: I think, first of all, we should be determined and constructive in terms of this a bit formidable literary mission, have no fear, just keep going, stay focused from what we're reading, find out some readable sentences, paragraphs, episodes, etc. and take notes as part of active reading. Then, I'd like to recommend my friends to read "The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan" (Kodansha 1994) by Dr Ivan Morris, one of the great Japanese scholars in the 20th century since this authoritative book would provide you with some backgrounds essential to our familiarity for better understanding and thus its more readability. Please allow me to confirm why we should read this key work by citing the following excerpt :The World of the Shining Prince, ..., has been a standard in cultural studies for nearly thirty years. Using as a frame of reference The Tale of Genji and other major literary works from Japan's Heian period, Morris recreates an era when women set the cultural tone. Focusing on the world of the emperor's court -- ... -- he describes the politics, society, religious life, and superstitions of the times, providing detailed portrayals of the daily life of courtiers, the cult of beauty they espoused and the intricate relations between the men and women of their milieu. (back cover)

  • Amanda Spacaj-Gorham
    2019-04-08 00:46

    This novel is a challenge on many levels. The biggest challenge of all is not resenting (or even despising) Genji himself. It is best read in conjunction with "The World of the Shining Prince" by Ivan Morris to understand the environment(1,000 years ago at the end of the Heian Period). Also read the Diary of Lady Murasaki. I wouldn't bother taking on 1,090 pages of Genji without the assistance of these works, which are much easier to digest. Also read ALL the footnotes. When this book was written, the audience was assumed to have read all important Chinese and Japanese literature and poetry of the time and all proceeding. The endless references and allusions to other works makes the meaning subtle and complex in exchanges that would be otherwise banal. If you're ever going to read The Tale of Genji, I'd recommend this Seidensticker translation. I've previewed a few others and I believe this system of actually naming the hundreds of unnamed characters helps. I give this version 5 stars because Seidensticker did a magnificent job of translation, though it's really difficult to give Genji the character 5 stars (he's such a sh*t sometimes!).

  • Smenkhare
    2019-04-23 00:40

    i hate this book only a little less than i hate 'twilight'. the historical and literary significances are really impressive (it was the first novel written - and by a woman, for that matter), and it's the source of pretty much everything we currently know about heian court life, but genji is the wimpiest, rapiest protagonist ever. he is literally so mind-crushingly whiny, childish and just plain unlikeable that in my opinion, he ruins what is otherwise a pretty compelling story.also, he rapes more women than you could shake a stick at, and for some reason everyone's pretty cool with it because he's so physically beautiful and perfect at everything ever. this might be the first novel ever written, but it also includes the first and one of the most grating mary sues ever created.

  • David
    2019-04-04 04:47

    Arguably the first novel ever written (using a modern definition of novel), and at the very least the first novel written by a woman, this essential work traces the life of a prince in medieval (Heian) Japan. The novel is intensely psychological and manages to very consistently portray the lives of hundreds of individuals across half a century or more. Aside from the insight the novel provides into the extremely rarified culture of the Japanese court in the middle ages, a reader comes away from Genji feeling that he has just witnessed a life, a real, visceral life, with all its ups and downs, beauty and ugliness. It is truly a work of genius. The novelist Yasunari Kawabata was right to declare in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech that Genji "is the highest pinnacle of Japanese literature. Even down to our day there has not been a piece of fiction to compare with it."

  • Akemi G
    2019-04-11 04:46

    The world's very first, and possibly still the BEST, novel written by a Japanese woman! How can I not recommend this? It was written in the early 1000's (impossible to pinpoint the year because it was written and released over many years), primarily for the court ladies. I have read several versions of modern Japanese translation, part of the original text, and I have a copy of the Tyler translation, which I use more as a reference. I have not read other English translations, but I can say Tyler's translation is fair. Translation is a sophisticated work. It's not just about swapping Japanese words for English ones. The translator must have healthy understanding of the sociocultural background of the original novel. In a case like this, the translator must also know the difference between classic Japanese and modern Japanese; a word that is still in use might have meant something else before. Then the product must read well as English prose. Because of the nature of the Japanese language, the subject of the sentence is often unstated. (A sentence always has a subject in meaning. However, in Japanese, the subject is often omitted, to the point that omission is the norm. This means the audience must be able to figure out what the subject is. Due to cultural changes over the years, this isn't easy even for Japanese readers today.) And the sentences in the original are extremely long, so even when the subject is stated, it's easy to get confused by the time you reach the verb, which is placed at the end of the sentence in Japanese. The English sentences, on the other hand, must have subjects to be structurally correct. I think Tyler translation works out a good solution, being clear while also keeping some of the original beauty. I am pleasantly surprised to find that quite many people are enjoying this novel, and not just for the exoticism. With all the differences between Genji's world and our modern world, there is something so relevant, something that attracts us. We haven't changed much in essence; we still fall in love with the wrong person. We still suffer in love. We get a strange kick out of our romantic suffering. And life goes on while we are caught in the drama. Was Genji a womanizing jerk? I don't think so. Note that this novel was written by a woman, primarily for female audience. Yes, he gets into many relationships, and many are "wrong" kinds. The readers still sensed his genuine kindness and brilliance. That's why we've been reading it for 1000 years. A word about Young MurasakiOne of the main female characters, Murasaki, is about 10 years old when Genji, about 18 yo, spots her and decides to take care of her. Are you outraged? Easy, their consummation takes place much later. Also, we might want to take into consideration that people matured much faster in the old days. Genji is supposedly 12 when he first marries to Aoi, 16. By the way, men read this novel, too. The very reason Murasaki Shikibu was hired as a lady-in-waiting for Empress Shoshi was to keep the Emperor's interest. The competition for His Majesty's favors was fierce, and Shoshi's personal attraction alone was not deemed enough. But He enjoyed witty conversations with the court ladies, and most likely, He wanted to read the rest of this novel -- or perhaps to listen to it. (This was before printing, and books were hand-copied. A common way a book was enjoyed in those days was one person reading it aloud, while others listened.) So, with Murasaki and her novel, Shoshi had better chances to expect His visits. Male courtiers eagerly made copies of this novel; in fact, the oldest existing manuscripts are made by male calligraphers -- done in their private time. In their day jobs as court officials, they wrote official records in Chinese characters.

  • Stephen
    2019-04-03 21:01

    La poésie veut quelque chose d'énorme de barbare et de sauvage.(Poetry craves something enormous, barbarous and wild).-DiderotI would much rather meet Murasaki than I would the quirky and observant Sei Shonagon or the sexually charged, emotionally volatile, religiously inspired Nijo, fun though those two might be, as the more substantive woman of the tradition. It would take some time breaking down her barriers, but once through them the culture she'd impart would be tremendous. I know I am of a like mind with her when she complains and gossips in her diaries (in order to instruct us) about Sei Shonagon,(she's) dreadfully conceited. She thought herself so clever and littered her writings with Chinese characters; but if you examined them closely, they left a great deal to be desired. Those who think of themselves as being superior to everyone else in this way will inevitably suffer and come to a bad end, and people who have become so precious that they go out of their way to try and be sensitive in the most unpromising situations, trying to capture every moment of interest, however slight, are bound to look ridiculous and superficial. How can the future turn out well for them?Well enough that Sei Shonagon is used as an example in Japanese schools today as the epitome of excellent style in expression. But I think that despite that we could still have some good laughs about the silliness and illusions these children are being taught as we banter back and forth knowingly about the accessible cast.Translation Issues This has been an outstanding reading experience for me despite the English versions being a major barrier to enjoyment. Begun over two and a half years ago I've been reading it slowly, slowly, at a kind of pace as if I've been living within Murasaki's court. Now that I've almost finished the tale I feel that I can finally begin to read her in her splendor: after having read the first 400 pages in the Royall Tyler translation, the second 400 pages in the Arthur Waley translation, the next 150 pages or so in the Edward Seidensticker translation I realized just last month while browsing the Yosano Akiko modernization at Schoenhof's in Harvard Square that the years of studying Japanese have actually born some fruit. With great joy I discovered hers isn't so difficult to read - Yosano Akiko's own letters, essays and poems actually contain more classical elements than her version of Murasaki. With this one I can feel rest assured that the poems will be poems and not the weird approximations that we find with the English. Waley, for instance, pitches up the tone when the prose shifts to poetry so that there are many thees and thous and hithers and thithers, as we are brought back to some corner of Elizabethan England to look for a match. Tyler turns Murasaki's poetry into bland prose - you can skip past these "poems" and nothing would be lost. Seidensticker pretty much admitted in his memoir (which I read last month) that he has little interest in poetry to begin with (an astonishing thing to reveal). There's an unintentionally telling and amusing anecdote in his memoir that says while translating Kawabata he would often ask the novelist for explanations of his ambiguities... only to get blatantly ignored: you picture Kawabata thinking, if you cannot handle these on your own what are you doing translating us?I have spent the past two years plus, basically, reading no more than a one thousand page introduction to Murasaki's tale. But the English translators have done the unimaginably difficult thing of translating The Tale of Genji in its entirety and they do offer an approximation so perhaps it's bad form criticizing the results. As approximations of the original the translation issue is not with style but of receiving a difference in kind. There's the complete absence of poetry, for one. And for Murasaki as an incomparable observer of male and female character where is the wit and the sense of humor? Waley hints at it, especially with the passages where the noisy, young lady-in-waiting is featured about halfway through: "She could be seen at any hour of the day running this way and that at full speed (and usually in the wrong direction) with a zest never equaled in the annals of this ancient house". Seidensticker sticks to a factual retelling while Tyler's slothful prose doesn't appear equipped to handle the ironies that are undoubtedly there (not to mention that he often employs court names and rank instead of character names, a fidelity to the text I found extremely confusing). With Tyler this lack of verbal dexterity is especially deflating, since he has done such excellent scholarly work which is presented as helpful footnotes at the bottom of each page (the Chinese poems from which Murasaki is drawing, for example). Tyler's English is the least readable, though some would say Waley's is, but if you've ever read Scott-Moncrieff's À la recherche du temps perdu Waley's prose will not be a problem. His aim is creating the psychological atmosphere first (similar to one that is found in Madame de La Fayette's La princesse de clèves), so that the sentences aren't really all that important once you recognize the world Murasaki has created. You read his sentences so as not to be able to quote them. If you're looking for "what-happens-to-who-and-when only" then Seidensticker's is excellent - but it feels like what you'd get if you retold Shakespeare through Hemingway's prose: not only have you stripped away all the excitement but it feels like the psychology isn't telling the whole story. Yosano Akiko's ironical touch in her poems is magnificent, especially when describing those kinds of faithful men who would preserve their sense of well-being over sexual excitement (once again, a quality sacrificed when she's turned into an English person through translation), so I proceed eagerly, onward, exhilarated, as the tale exists today within her hands. These versions do have their value, though. I'd recommend you compare the three versions next to each other to find out which one is the most appealing. I would also say that it's not absolutely necessary to read all one thousand pages plus to get a sense of Murasaki's genius given that the tale isn't plotted in a post-1789 democratic-era sense (that a novel must have a beginning, middle and an end). At some point "the main character" Genji fades from the scene and then the next generation takes over, almost becoming another tale altogether. For a sampling I would recommend the chapter focusing on Genji and his relation to his wife Aoi (chapter 9, called "Aoi"), or the ones dealing with his exile (chapters 12 and 13, called "Suma" and "Akashi"), or one of my favorite chapters, the one where great music is to be played in a concert, spring has appeared, and Genji, caught in the middle of a myriad of feminine sensibilities is at a loss for which woman to spend the night with (the short chapter 23, called "Hatsune" - Waley's version is the one to read).Murasaki's Genius 紫の かがやく花と 日の光 思ひあはざる ことわりもなし (紫に輝く花と日の光が思いたがう道理がない。)Make no mistakeWhen the light of the day shinesOn the violet MurasakiThe flowering is brightInvoking us to its truthYosano Akiko's translation of Murasaki starts with this poem she wrote as a kind of honorary gesture to the woman who set the standard for all Japanese literature to come. The word Murasaki is "a violet flower," and it has been here much longer than the day. So many 20th century poets and novelists have cut their teeth on her work. Higuchi Ichiyo, for one, who when she wrote in her diary the following she had Murasaki in mind, "Still, if one writes but a one-page piece that appeals to the human heart and depicts human sincerity, how dare we say it has no literary value? I do not desire to live lavishly by dressing splendidly and dwelling in a grand house. I am attempting to establish a thousand-year legacy as a writer; why would I tarnish it with (writing that is a kind of) temporary extravagance?" And it looks like Ichiyo is well on her way: more than a hundred years later she appears on Japanese currency. Out of all the genius men and women of literature I am reading now, then, Murasaki Shikibu intrigues me the most. The genius of Shakespeare - great actor, businessman and poet - is something I can easily visualize, even though there is little to say about his biography in relation to his work. "Murasaki Shikibu" was not her given name at birth. Her father was enough of a poet and close enough to power to have a small selection entered in an imperial anthology. Her brother, though essentially lazy, was positioned well enough to become Minister of War. Like Margaret Fuller and Virginia Woolf her father's influence on her education was significant. Through him she sharpened her intelligence based on close readings of the classics of Chinese literature. Like Nijo three centuries later, Murasaki appears to have tried to secure her family's place in the cosmos on her own, since her father didn't realize his talents as much as he should have. A familiar pattern emerges of fathers whose intelligence was superior for their daughters but not superior enough to create lasting art on their own. When Murasaki was born and when she died is guesswork. We know she was born of the great Fujiwara clan who ruled the court, but as close as this clan was to power birth didn't guarantee influence. How well individuals married determined the political environment and she served more than she stood out. Her husband was a much older man, had at least three wives that gave him children. He was a flamboyant character, and the records show that his high-handed methods as provincial governor caused disturbances "among the people". It is considered unusual that we have any records at all of these ladies-in-waiting. Murasaki was one, but her diaries show that it pleased her to keep plenty of distance between herself and the other women of the court ("So all they see of me is a facade. There are times when I am forced to sit with them and on such occasions I simply ignore their petty criticisms, not because I am particularly shy but because I consider it pointless. As a result, they consider me dull.") Eventually she became well-placed at the court due to her writing abilities, which was evidence that she might be an excellent tutor of the next generation of leaders. The walls of the imperial court were as claustrophobic as the Japanese workplace is today, where everything is noted and self-analysis is required (in this sense, poetry was and is the perfect vehicle for discovering truths of an enclosed environment, a way for circumventing everything from the ritual and the spontaneity of life that keeps "our world" a place of illusion). Her husband dies, and then not long after that she begins writing a tale that shapes the culture of her country for the next one thousand years. But at least up until the year 1100 - ironies abound - her daughter was known as the much greater poet.Murasaki might not have stood out at court, but she knew exactly the nature of power. A glance could tell you everything about an individual's place in the power structure. But what set apart a glance from Murasaki to those easily flattered or impressed and who tend to express themselves that way is that she could see straight through to the nature of a person's substance. Much is made of the rules and formality of the Heian court where Murasaki resided, but I think we'd be fooling ourselves if we think we don't have these intense strictures ourselves. Our rules are embedded in a much looser social structure, but when considering the way we apply for power through a resume where one's entire life work must fit on a single page, the way we fashion a glance still counts for everything. I know that for myself I can pretty much tell the quality of a writer by no more than a glance at a few of her pages. The recognition of the glance, according to Murasaki as expressed in her diaries,At normal times of informality, you can usually identify someone who has been less than careful about her appearance, but on this occasion everyone had tried as hard as possible to dress well and to look as attractive as the next. Just as in a beautiful example of a Japanese scroll, you could hardly tell them apart. The only difference you could detect was between the older women and the younger ones, and then only because some had hair that was thinning a little, whereas others still had thick tresses. Yet, strangely enough, it seemed that one glance at that part of the face which showed above the fans was enough to tell whether or not a person were truly elegant. Those who still stood out among such women were indeed exceptional (Bowring tr.) The Nature of a MasterpieceI have seen Murasaki's great male hero Genji described as a philanderer (or even more hysterically, a rapist), which makes me feel bad for those advocating this view, for the limited experience they must have had in their sexual relationships, real, imagined or otherwise. Murasaki explores love in all its tenderness and violence without flinching. As soon as Genji reaches maturity he never forgets any of the women who have touched his heart. He appears to suffer much more than he copulates. For creating a male hero like this Murasaki herself must have been exceptional. There are plenty of tears in this tale, but not any more than the guilt and regrets we find expressed in Jewish and Christian literature. Outside of translation issues, another huge barrier to enjoyment for the present-day reader is to find a way to read the tale outside of our economically privatized, middle-class conception of love. It may be hard to believe, but there was once a day when men and women went for lovemaking outside of the risk-averse, contraceptive version we practice today, a time when "no" didn't ALWAYS mean "no", and when the act was enjoyed on its own terms without having to let everyone in the world know who you are with. On the nights when Genji was away, Murasaki used to make her women read to her. She thus became acquainted with many of the old-fashioned romances, and she noticed that the heroes of these stories, however light-minded, faithless, or even vicious they might be, were invariably represented as in the end settling down to one steady and undivided attachment (Waley tr.)Much suffering on Genji's part is attributable to his appreciation of beauty on this earth which makes him very attractive to the women of the court. As a form of appreciation his sense of beauty is vast but it is also restless. And like all the men of the court it is situated within a world of political maneuvering.Nor did anyone make much effort to break in on her seclusion, for suitors are in general more attracted to girls with fathers who can back their interests than to a fatherless one immured in dull seclusion. It was however just the accounts of her strange and depressing existence that had excited Niou's interest, and he was determined to get into contact with her (Waley tr.).Simone Weil described beauty as a fruit which we look at without trying to seize it. The same goes for an affliction which we contemplate without drawing back from the pain. These two meditations when placed together fit Murasaki's vision perfectly.Onward then to the heart of Murasaki's vision! It will take up the rest of my life to reach her in her own language but here's one steady and undivided attachment I do not mind settling down with.___________________________________Explanation of images in spoiler.(view spoiler)[They are from fashion photographer Izima Kaoru and I believe highlight an important aspect of Murasaki's themes as they exist in contemporary life. There is nothing quite like a meditation upon the death of beauty at the moment it happens. Izima is simply putting into human form the sources of nature found in traditional Japanese poetry. When asked, "What do you think is the most poetic thing about death?" Izima answered "That death is the beginning of a legend as much as the end of a story, a way to fix the proof of his or her life as something universal into people's memories." It is the women and not the photographer who have staged their death scenes with Izima's cooperation in the ongoing series "Landscapes with a Corpse". For those unfamiliar with these famous Japanese actresses and models it is probable these images will be viewed abstractly, and maybe for that reason will appear disturbing. But for someone like myself who have followed their roles with fascination and pleasure, their imagined deaths were disturbing in the way intimacy is when it abruptly ends. 1) Kimura Yoshino wears Alexander McQueen, 2007. 2) Koizumi Kyoko wears Sybilla, 1993. 3) Hasegawa Kyoko wears Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, 2003.(hide spoiler)]While it's still up on YouTube the 2011 movie called The Tale of Genji: The Thousand Year Riddle, for nothing it's very exciting to imagine Murasaki reading her tale to the emperor as depicted at 55:32 to 1:01:08. The emperor is seen comparing himself to Murasaki's creation, Genji. How does he match up? Not very well, he suspects. In this way and in so many others, since the reaction was supposed to be immediate we cannot really call what Murasaki wrote a "novel". The impact of her "tale" was meant to speak directly to power - we do not having anything like this in our present day. Everything written that reaches power in our time has to be, by nature, a finished product. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

  • bup
    2019-04-14 23:49

    Turns out "Genji"'s not the little dog. Huh.I guess the big lesson here is that it really matters what translation you get of a thousand-year-old Japanese novel. The one published by Tuttle Classics, translated by Kencho Suematsu, is terrible. At first, I figured, hey, thousand-year-old Japanese. Going to be turgid. But then, I noticed, the footnotes couldn't write their collective way out of a paper bag either:"Sasinuki is a sort of loose trousers, and properly worn by men only, hence some commentators conclude, the attendant here mentioned to be a boy, others contend, this garment was worn by females also when they rode."You can't blame that on Murasaki, Kencho. I've seen the original scrolls. No footnotes.Also, this edition (ISBN 0-8048-3256-0) has different chapters than Wikipedia says it should (17 chapters versus 54), and is 208 pages long, whereas other editions are ~1,200. On the other hand, I kind of read 1,200 pages because I had to reread each sentence about six times. I have no idea what I read. Maybe the real "Tale of Genji" *is* about the little dog.The thing I read, I *think*, is about a decadent quasi-royal slut, but it's hard to say because the intimate encounters are all implied. On the other hand, there wasn't much of anything else. It mentioned he had a sword once, but that was probably a double-entendre. So no swash-buckling, no comedy, no suspense. Mostly I read something that's like listening to a person on a phone describe a trashy chick-flick they're watching. It had that "once removed" feeling to it. I never felt like I was reading the story, just what somebody who had read the story felt like telling.Read a different edition.

  • Evan
    2019-04-09 20:52

    I went to the library and compared the Whaley, Seidensticker, and Royall Tyler translations and for me it was no contest. Tyler's which is the newest is by far the easiest to read and has a more friendly page layout, not crammed like Whaley's. If you're going to read a book this long (the unabridged version) of a thousand pages or more, then fatigue avoidance is a key consideration. I did this same process at the library comparing versions of Tolstoy's War and Peace, and glad I did too. It no doubt made the difference between me finishing and not. Tyler's seem to flow easier, compressing thoughts in a less tangential way than Whaley's. Seidensticker's just struck me as dry and lifeless. We'll see. This or Dickens' "Bleak House" are my top contenders for this year's *epic read of the year.*

  • Nathan
    2019-04-13 00:05

    "The Tale of Genji is a novel written by an aristocratic woman for other women of her rank -- men at this time read history and poetry, sometimes theology, but not fiction -- which presents the first challenge to reading it. It wasn't written for you, dear reader, but for select contemporaries who instinctively understood everything that now needs to be spelled out in annotations and commentary. . . . The modern reader doesn't so much listen to the story as eavesdrop on it, spy on it, like the courtiers in Genji always peeking through gaps and peepholes to catch glimpses of the young beauties indoors. The reader of Genji is not an invited guest but a voyeur." -- Steven Moore, The Novel: An Alternative History: Beginnings to 1600, p544.

  • Justin Evans
    2019-04-14 21:42

    Utterly meaningless star rating alert: what else could you give it? Now, granted, I suspect a lot of readers are just like me, in that we'll go hunting for really good things about this book, even if, on the surface, it perhaps does less for us than most 1400 page medieval tales. And I'm not afraid to admit that the overwhelming impression I have now is that this is astonishingly long, and astonishingly old, and despite those two things is easily readable as what we today call a novel. The problem is that we today are not accustomed to reading books like this. Genji is more like a successful '90s television series: it's pretty good, it's best taken one hour per week, there turns out to be very little variation but who cares because you're only reading it for an hour a week, and then the show-runners, who never had any real idea of how to end their now twenty year old 'artwork' just kind of stop making it. That's just like a lot of books that we now read as old novels: they weren't meant to be read cover to cover in a short period of time, they were meant to be dipped into, lived with, were meant to sink into the reader rather than be swallowed like a nice cherry. I admit, I've been formed by the modern novel, and I like to eat. Besides, if I spent years reading a book, I'd never get to write a goodreads review, and then my life would have no meaning. All of that said, Murasaki was clearly a woman of genius. That she can keep someone even moderately interested, despite the book's lack of variation, (what we now think of as) shallow characterisation, and formlessness is a testament to that. The real flaw of the book, from this modern reader's perspective, is none of these things, but the final third. Here, we have a story following the generation following Genji's. It's a fine story, about two young men and three young women, lots of love, conflict, and so on. But it suffers in comparison to the story of Genji himself for two reasons. First, the Genji part is very narrowly focused on Genji himself, which means that for all the proliferation of characters and incident, we have a firm base. The later chapters lack this strong focus, and it's not clear to me that Murasaki (if she actually wrote those chapters; apparently there's some debate) had as much control there as she did earlier. Second, the second part is very similar to the first. It's a bit as if Proust had put Swann in Love at the end of his novel: all the themes and dilemmas are there for you to see, but instead of being a little introductory taste, it's more like being served another main course after your main course. All that said, a scholar will be able to tell me why I'm wrong about these flaws, show me how important they are to Murasaki's art and so on. A scholar will not be able to convince me, though, that you should read Washburn's translation. Leaving aside the very odd decision not to have a list of characters (which becomes incredibly irritating in the later chapter, when everyone's being referred to by family associations), the prose is workmanlike at best. Nothing is ever unclear, which is nice, but there are so many sentences of the "There was one thing that Mr. Spot didn't like to do, and that is write calligraphy" type (where any competent writer or editor would have condense them down to "Mr. Spot didn't like to write calligraphy") that I sometimes wondered if anyone had proofread the thing at all. They obviously did, since there are only a couple of typos. But there's no way you could read this book and know that Murasaki is meant to be a master stylist. I don't know if the Penguin translation is any better, but I have to assume it is, and recommend that to people instead of this one.

  • Richard Derus
    2019-03-27 02:39

    Rating: 5* of fiveThis review at A Dribble of Ink says more about why Genji matters than I can ever do.I read the book in 1974. I got a hardcover Modern Library edition from my decade-older sister, who owned a bookstore. I read it in one solid week of enchantment, followed by a year of revisits and studies of the notes and other references. (The librarians at my high school agreed with the kids who teased me for being weird.)This is a new translation, I have a copy, but many chunksters await my attention that I haven't read before. I'll get back to it. I look forward to getting back to it!This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

  • Ana-Maria Negrilă
    2019-03-29 02:40

    Scrisă la începutul secolului al XI-lea de către Murasaki Shikibu, Povestea lui Genji a fost pe drept considerată una dintre cele mai importante creații ale literaturii universale. Cartea prezintă într-un mod fragmentar povestea vieții prințului Genji, supranumit Strălucitorul (Hikaru), și a numeroaselor sale povești de dragoste. Redactată în perioada Heian, acțiunea este plasată câțiva ani mai devreme și, cu toate că majoritatea personajelor sunt rod al ficțiunii, anumite întâmplări povestite fac aluzie la evenimente istorice.continuare

  • Annie
    2019-04-13 01:50

    You know, this book is a lot of things (what 1000+ pager isn’t) but it’s nothing if not truthful. The character of Genji can be summed up in four totally accurate lines from the book:“Genji felt like a child thief. The role amused him.”“Difficult and unconventional relationships always interested him.”“Self-loathing was not enough to overcome temptation.”“Genji’s troubles, which he had brought upon himself, were nothing new.”Genji is a total pedophile. Once, in true pervert style, he grooms a little girl to be his sex toy as an adult. Wait, did I say once? No, that happens like... three or four different times.He also rapes a few women and statutorily rapes prepubescent girls and boys, not to mention a variety of women. Nbd.Also, he’s Hugh Hefner. He has a huge arsenal of Bunnies who run around his Playboy Mansion waiting for his pretty “shining” self to come and give them their long-awaited cock. That’s tiresome.It was a bit like a complicated Russian novel, trying to keep track of all his ladies. They have beautiful, poetic nicknames, though. Lady of the Evening Faces, the Lady of the Misty Moon, the Lady of the Locust Shell, Lady of the Orange Blossoms, the Safflower Lady. NTS reference one night stands with such lovely handles.It’s a great novel, though. The reason it took me so ridiculously long to read this- like over a month, which for me is obscene- wasn’t lack of interest. It’s just too big a volume to lug to work, which is where I get the bulk of my reading done, so I pretty much just read smaller books there and kept this one aside, grabbing snippets of when I could. It sagged in the middle- mostly because that was peak character count and you just get so lost in how everyone’s related to one another- but it makes an abrupt recovery.After reading Murasaki Shikibu’s diary, which was very dry, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get through this, but it was actually engrossing. I guess Lady Murasaki is just a lot better at fiction than fact.I also feel it's worth noting that the last third- commonly called the Uji chapters, centering on events that happen after Genji's death, is better than the first two thirds. I know it's been debated whether or not they're by the same authors, and I suspect they are not. The author of the Uji chapters doesn't hate her fellow women half as much as Murasaki Shikibu does. Honestly, it's amazing the first two thirds were written by a woman. I almost wouldn't believe it, except that Murasaki's diary was likewise pointlessly cruel to her fellow women, laced with petty jealousies, and quick to put individual men on golden pedestals. We never stop hearing about how damn shiny Genji is, in spite of the misery he wreaks on his "true love" Murasaki with his many affairs. And we constantly are told how idiotic Murasaki and his other mistresses are for being so jealous. Our hero of the Uji chapters, in contrast, Kaoru, stays pretty faithful to his dead love

  • Elizabeth Reuter
    2019-04-25 01:48

    Genji is a literary snapshot of life in Japan over 1,000 years ago. Following Prince Genji, a handsome and accomplished courtier who the author pictured as an ideal man, the book tells us of his rise through court life, often diverting to cover his many romances and the lives of people around him.Lady Murasaki's work is remembered because, in my opinion, of her extraordinary insight into human nature. DO NOT read this book looking for heroes; you'll find characters you relate to, but everyone is flawed and usually sabotoges themselves with their own weaknesses, just like people in the real world do. Instead, read this book for a look at very recognizable people in a completely alien culture. Even the "romantic" Genji acts so stupidly at times you'll want to hit him, is rejected by certain women he's after, and ages like anyone else, rather than existing in a bubble of perfect, youthful beauty as is common in romances.Able to see, and express, every side of each character's story, Lady Murasaki does nothing to romanticize infidelity or rape, showing the trauma they cause. Yet Murasaki was a product of her time, and assumed these things were to be borne with grace. She tells us her opinions: Tamakatsura (to take a side story from "Blue Trousers" for an example) is wise and genteel for accepting the misery of her marriage with a man she hates, and her husband Higekuro would naturally want to pull her away from all happiness because it takes her further from him. After all, he knew how much she loathed him, so what could he do? Letting her go never occurs to him, nor Tamakatsura's father or male guardian. And Lady Murasaki, despite her sympathy and affection for Tamakatsura, didn't expect them to.It's incredible that Lady Murasaki, understanding Tamakatsura's anguish at Higekuro's hands, never thinks that perhaps her culture is flawed to allow the near-kidnapping and total domination that allow it to happen. The psychological honesty of her writing, however, let ME see it, and opens up a lot of questions about culture as a whole. If Lady Murasaki, so brilliant, was blinded by her ideas of "normal," what are we today missing?Amazing, thought-provoking writing. -Elizabeth ReuterAuthor, The Demon of Renaissance Drive

  • Sookie
    2019-04-07 21:43

    During the course of reading A tale of Genji, a lot of jidaigeki (period Japanese drama) thta I have watched in the past decade suddenly started to make sense. And, of course, a part of Japanese culture in itself is deeply rooted in these timeless stories.The book is written by a woman of noble class written for women of her own class. The writing is inviting, intimate and is almost like sharing a secret. Shikibu-san employs subtlety, metaphors and euphemisms to drive home a point; its both frustrating and very tongue-in cheek.Its the writing that is inviting and lulling into a false sense of security since plot is very ordinary. With some aspects of lifestyle that modern world has come to frown or downright condemn, a constant reminder that Genji lived a thousand years ago is absolutely necessary. Once that thought is settled and is available at anytime the cringe worthy actions are glorified or brushed off, the story gets a lot easier to consume and frankly, more enjoyable.Shikibu-san tale circumvents instability in feudal Japan and introspects on society and its people. Its a genius piece of literature.

  • Larou
    2019-04-23 22:54

    After having read all six of the Chinese Classic Novels, it seemed like a logical continuation to go on to the Classic Japanese novel Genji monogatari; not just because of the geographical proximity but also because Japanese culture was greatly influenced by China back then (the early 11th century) and I was expecting something in a similar vein. As it turned out, I was profoundly mistaken in that assumption – The Tale of Genji is something quite different and fascinating in its own, unique way.Apart from their cultural and temporal remoteness, what probably throws off most contemporary Western readers attempting the Classic Chinese novels is their huge cast of characters, many of them figuring under several different names – something that can make the narrative very hard to follow. The Tale of Genji, however, manages to outdo this by not even bothering with names in the first place – all of its (supposedly around four hundred) characters are referred to only by rank or role, at the utmost a nickname by way of some association (with a place, a colour, a flower etc.). Even “Genji” is not really a proper name but a designation given to Imperial offspring outside the line of succession. Now, as the novel spans several decades and generations, ranks and roles keep changing, and you end up with not only one character having several different designations, but also the same designation being used for several different characters. This alone would probably have sufficed to make the novel nigh unreadable, but thankfully the translator and editor of the edition I have been using, Royall Tyler, kindly placed a dramatis personae not only at the end of the book but also in front of each individual chapter, and I cannot emphasise enough how extremely helpful this was (and even then, I got confused on a couple of occasions and had to backtrack to figure out in which relationship a given character stood to another, or to Genji, or to the Emperor).Similarly helpful are the extensive explanatory notes Tyler has added as well as the gresat number of illustrations spread throughout the book, which are not only decorative but very frequently help the reader visualise clothing, furniture or other items of daily use referenced in the narrative. I was really happy with this particular edition and think it is exemplary in pretty much every respect – this is how editions of literary texts from remote epochs and places should be done. Tyler makes The Tale of Genji approachable to modern readers without modernizing it, and the same thing can be said about his translation – obviously, I do not have the first clue about how faithful it stays to the original, but it reads very well; the language has an easy, rhythmical flow, but without trying to make readers forget that they are perusing the translation of an ancient Japanese novel. Even with all of Tyler’s efforts, however, the novel remains tantalizingly opaque in many places, many of the customs – in particular those regulating relationships between the sexes – appearing strange or outright bizarre to a modern reader. But as it turns out, this is not a bad thing at all, quite to the contrary, as this distance and the resulting struggle by the reader to comprehend generate significance and as the strange customs frequently reveal surprisingly recognisable structures.The Tale of Genji starts off with a death, the death of Genji’s mother, who his father the Emperor was so much in love with that he could not bear to let her leave when she fell sick, thus indirectly causing her death. The Emperor eventually goes on to take a new wife which resembles the previous one (i.e., Genji’s mother) very closely, and which Genji falls hopelessly in love with (and has sex with, resulting in a son a few chapters later who will eventually become Emperor in turn, i.e. take over the position of Genji’s father). And as if that was not enough, Genji (who during all this time is having countless – I gave up trying to keep up by chapter 4 – other affairs) comes across a 10-year-old child which very much resembles the Emperor’s wife (and thus Genji’s dead mother) who Genji declares his soul mate and abducts in order to bring her up to be his perfect lover (i.e., become a version of the Emperor’s wife, the one who is the spitting image of his mother). And all of this is thematically tied up with a discussion Genji and his friends have in chapter 2 about whether there is such a thing as an ideal woman… It is all quite dizzying, but also strikingly familiar – French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan would have had a field day with the way the Oedipal theme here runs through several substitutions, permutations and deferrals until signifier and signified become hopelessly entangled. One can easily imagine a Lacanian reading of the novel based on the Freudian Fort/Da dialectics on this alone, and that is even before the following generations come into play… Obviously, I am not going to do this here, but I have to admit that I am sorely tempted.Now, many people might not care about Lacan or even Freud, but even readers without any interest in psychoanalysis will very likely be struck by how deeply psychological The Tale of Genji is. I always assumed that self-reflexive subjectivity was for the most part an invention of 18th century bourgeoisie, most notably Kant and Rousseau and that Stendal was the pioneer of the psychological novel. But as it turns out, they were (well, Murasaki Shibiku was) already doing it several hundred years before in Japan. It seems likely that Murasaki got there by a somewhat different way (I will speculate a bit on that farther down), but her keen insight into what motivates human beings, her rich and nuanced descriptions of the inner life of her protagonists rival that of Stendal or any other nineteenth century psychological novelist. Even though The Tale of Genji takes place among the upper crust of Japanese feudal society (we meet several emperors, and almost all main characters are highly placed court officials), there is nothing about politics or warfare here – the novel deals exclusively with private affairs, the only subject (the narrator remarks at one point) suitable for women to write about. The novel’s scope is hence confined to the domestic, but what might seem a limitation ends up giving it focus – as an analysis of the mechanics and power shifts in Romantic relationships I think it is only rivalled by De l’amour and Proust’s Recherche à la temps perdu.There is an additional facet to Murasaki’s work, however, which figures neither in Stendal or in Proust (or at least is nowhere near as prominent as in Genji monogatari) and that is a keen awareness of gender relations. In Japanese feudal society, the relationships between men and women appear to have been at least as strictly regulated as those between differences in rank, with distance being the all-important factor. And this means literal distance – there is a whole arrangement of barriers separating men from women in The Tale of Genji, starting with several layers of clothing, moving on to curtains, to wall screens, doors, and walls – symbolic and real space working together to keep the genders apart. Even while most of the interaction in the novel takes places between people of different gender, for the most part they are not even visible to each other during their conversations, but talk through some kind of barrier and the closeness between two people is indicated by the degree of physical separation between them. The males often invest considerable effort and guile just to catch a brief glimpse of a woman’s face or figure, which very frequently leads to them hiding and outright spying on a woman they are interested in (and at this point, I could have sworn I heard Lacan chuckle). It is important for women to keep that distance as otherwise their reputation and possibly even existence is threatened; but it will come to nobody’s surprise that the men on more than one occasion pierce those barriers even against resistance of the female behind them. Murasaki does only very rarely judge openly – the narrator generally keeps her distance, and only in a few instances draws attention to herself – but lets her characters condemn themselves by their own words and actions. There is more than one case of a male noble complaining about a female who had the misfortune to catch his eyes being “childish” only to then loudly denounce her as a wanton after she has given in to his forceful advances (and more often than not against her will). As the novel unfolds, it effectively presents something like an encyclopedia of rhetoric devices for dominating women – and I was struck by how much those devices resembled those chronicled in Kelly Sue DeConnick’s and Valentine DeLandro’s comic Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine, the first volume of which I happened to be reading at the same time as Genji. Both works obviously are very different from each other – but also very (and depressingly) similar in their cataloguing of ways in which women are manipulated and subjugated by a male-centered discourse, which apparently has not changed much during the last thousand years.Genji, although far from innocent of this behaviour himself, at least differs from the novel’s other male characters in that he appears to genuinely care about his women, trying to give all of them at least some amount of attention and frequently taking care of their livelihood. And if this sprawling, dispersed novel has something like a centre, it would certainly lie in Genji’s relationship to one of them, the Murasaki under whose name the author of the novel has become known. She is the girl Genji abducts when she is ten years old, something the author makes quite clear was not at all a common occurrence in feudal Japan, and in spite of those rather inauspicious beginnings, the love between him and Murasaki runs as a red thread even through all of Genji’s numerous affairs and general inconstancy. With all of Genji’s ceaseless womanizing, the novel does get a bit repetitive and even a bit of a slog in parts, but the reader’s interest never quite flags completely before it is rekindled by the enchanting description of a lavish feast or the narration of a particularly adventurous tryst. And then, about two-thirds into the novel, Murasaki dies, and the chapter following this death, describing Genji’s reaction to it, is one of the most touching and heart-rending piecer of literature which I have ever read. The only comparison I can think of is the ending of Samuel R. Delany’s Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders – in fact, once one starts to think about it, there are rather a lot of similarities between Delany’s novel and The Tale of Genji: Both present a decades-spanning love story between two people embedded in a closed community, both are centered around amorous relationships, both are (although for entirely different reasons) somewhat hard to get through on occasion, but reward the reader with a huge emotional pay-off…. of course, both novels read entirely differently, but the similarities are of a sufficient density to make me think that Delany consciously used Murasaki’s novel as a model for his own. All of which is a bit off-topic, but it shows, like the parallel to Bitch Planet I mentioned above, how The Tale of Genji, in spite (or possibly because) of all its strangeness and opacity, still can resonate with contemporary readers.There is a surprising amount of poetry in this novel (at least I was surprised by it): Almost every time one of the characters sees some striking scenery, or experiences a particularly intense emotion, or has something interesting happen to them – in short, pretty much every time something in any way extraordinary happens, the experience is shaped and crystallized into a poem by the character it is happening to. And as if that wasn’t enough, poems also are an important means of communication between characters – they keep sending them to each other, and judgement on the quality of the poem often is synonymous with judgement on the person who wrote it. These poems are no spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, however, but are carefully crafted, full of clever wordplay and subtle literary allusions (and as such they are of course quite untranslatable – this is where the efforts of translator / editor Royall Tyler reach a truly heroic peak; and while there is no way to faithfully render the poems into English, he at least manages to give readers an appreciation of what the poems must be like in the original). Apart from their inherent quality and the light they shed on the characters presumably composing them (the poems being expressions of a character, their quality does vary somewhat, not all characters in the novel being equally accomplished poets), I think the poems fulfill a third, possibly even more important function for the novel as a whole: In order to be able to transform their experience into elaborately fashioned poetry, the characters need to step from the immediacy of that experience, to view it from a distance and ultimately, they need to distance themselves from their own selves.Considering how central distance both literal and figurative is in The Tale of Genji, it is probably no surprise to find it structuring the most fundamental of the individual as well; there is a distance, a deferral inside the individual itself, and that distance not only enables the characters’ constant poeticizing but also the turning inwards on oneself, the self-observation and psychologizing that appears so strikingly modern about this novel and which now turns out to result from the profoundly feudal, hierarchical and rank-obsessed society it was written and is set in. (Or, one would at least like to imagine, maybe it is the other way around and the ancient Japanese penchant for allusive, wordplay-heavy poetry let not only to psychological observation but also to the kind of highly formalized thinking that determined Japanese society of that time and has lasting effects on the Japanese way of life until today.)

  • Alex
    2019-04-11 23:53

    I haven't researched translations yet. Would be happy to hear your opinion if you have one, friend!JG says to check out the nonfiction book The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan

  • Eadweard
    2019-04-19 01:37

    Born to an official of the court, the book's author would have lived and interacted with the aristocrats, princes and ladies-in-waiting that make up this tale. As a result, the book provides a vast amount of insight into the courtly life and behavior of the Heian era ruling class, the way they addressed each other, their daily rituals, their festivals, religious events... etc.Most chapters are episodic and the book could roughly be divided in two parts; the first one dealing with the life of Genji, his many love affairs and escapades, the second (the last 200 pages or so) with the lives of two of his descendants. I can see why some people could find it a bit repetitive, reading about Genji's constant conquests and what not, but it's also a fascinating tale about a man and his life, and the life of his extended family and also a glimpse into a very different Japan.Royall Tyler's footnotes and annotations really help flesh out the story. Many of the events, tales and poems that the characters constantly refer to would go over some people's heads and that would diminish the experience, the book simply would not have been the same.Advice? You better like long books and poetry (I felt like I read the entire Kokin Wakashu while also reading the book).

  • Ann Klefstad
    2019-04-22 00:47

    I'm not sure if this is the translation I have (would have to root through the shelves) but the book itself is a wonder. It's a whole planet, so far away and yet full of breath and blood perceivable even at this palpable distance. What a passionate intelligence Murasaki had, and what discipline to go with it--as a writer she knew when to hold tight and when to cut and run, and she doesn't seem to waste a lot of time. As this is the very first thing anywhere in the world in its genre, she made each of these choices based on her own mind, experience, heart, guts . . . she must have been amazing in person. The one person, maybe, that I would most love to meet.

  • Duane
    2019-04-14 23:48

    Supposedly, the first novel ever written. That fact alone compelled me to read it, to check it off my classics list. Parts of it were interesting from a cultural and historical aspect, but it was long and boring for the most part. I generously gave it 3 stars because it's 1,000 years old.

  • Pantelis
    2019-04-07 20:56

    To read in tandem with Laclos' "Les Liaisons Dangereuses"...

  • Gary
    2019-04-03 21:38

    This very long and very old book was written 1,000 years ago during the famous Heian period of Japan. Without turning all geeky and writing out a no-doubt poorly understood bit of history, it’s sufficient to say that this was, like many periods of history, a time of astonishing beauty and artistic achievement yet also absurdly dangerous, unhealthy and exploitative. It’s well worth reading up about it on the Internet because you will be enamoured.This book is unusual for those in the West because not only is it very old, but it was also written by a woman. However, the Heian period is famous for pumping out quite a lot of women’s fiction and I believe that this is because the Heian period was when the Hiragana syllabary was developed by women, for use exclusively by women. FWBW.It concerns the Shining Price Genji and his development from boy to old man. It is sensual, sexual, poetic and moving. Poetry is in fact the key point here – the story contains over 700 individual poems, sadly mostly very underwhelming due to the difficulties in translating from one language to another. However, the copious notes go some way towards explaining the meaning and word trickery that takes place in the original language and if you’re in the right frame of mind then it is possible to vaguely understand the overreaching concept of what’s happening in that try-not-to-focus-on-one-point-too-hard manner familiar to anybody who has spent time reading about various art movements or, in fact, any book written by Alfred Bester.I can only speak for myself as a Westerner, but this book provides a double hit of culture shock curiosity. I read a lot of Japanese fiction and I still come across prose – even in contemporary fiction – that make me realise that in many arenas, some subtle and some not, our societies developed in very different ways and have not really converged yet. Perhaps they never will.Being Japanese, The Tale of Genji frequently shows motivations and outcomes to thought processes that leave me a little puzzled and occasionally mediating on why I think in the way that I do that is so at odds with the characters I’m reading about. However, it also gives this the even more compelling/frustrating (delete as appropriate) twist of describing this within a society that is entirely alien to all but the experts in Heian culture.To make things even more difficult, plenty of the chapters overlap each other and incorporate different characters or points of view. The careful reader will go mad trying to fit this into their mental timeframe. I just ploughed ahead as I always do and made it fit retrospectively.It would be a waste of time to go into too much detail. Suffice to say that I’m talking about the bewildering amount of official, non-official titles and alternative names that each character carries but the very drives and ambitions and reactions to situations that are a fundamental part of a person’s being. We are talking about a society that on one hand judged a woman’s worthiness on the quality of her handwriting while on the other was perfectly happy to have these extremely delicate living monuments to a beautiful ideal shit in a box in the corner of the room.Normally I wouldn’t bother to discuss this kind of thing and focus instead on what makes the story and characters worthy of your time, but The Tale of Genji is steeped in an ancient and mysterious culture that is at once gorgeous to behold and terrifying in its callousness. It’s the same length as War and Peace but will take you twice as long to read. It’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into with this.Personally I found the first 300 pages or so to be engaging and insightful. As ever with a very old book, it was a thrill to read and recognise parts of modern humanity among the dust, and the Heian period, for all of its many, many faults, gives the story a powerful, moving, almost erotic charge. The next 400 pages were a struggle. There was a point where I was reading 4-5 pages a morning on the bus to work and falling asleep for the rest of the journey. While I could understand how it was a good read on a technical level, it was too much of a product of its time, delving into the detail of diplomatic affairs and subtleties of relationships that, to my shame, left me flummoxed. The rest of the book picked up again though, and I was hesitant to turn over the last page.The Tale of Genji is, according to the 2 Japanese people I know who have read it, a tough, complex read that not many people finish. The English translation wasn’t convoluted or knotted in any sense – indeed, the language is simple enough and there are plenty of notes that explain some of the more obscure scenes (perhaps too many, but this is a frequent complaint of mine with Japanese books). It’s just a bit of a drag in places. I can’t even pretend that I’ll read it again any time soon, but one thing is certain – I’m very glad I have read it and don’t consider the considerable amount of time it took me to be a waste. It’s an incredibly valuable insight into a very strange society and so rich in detail and imagery at times as to be quite staggering. It is, objectively, a beautiful achievement. It’s just not that entertaining.

  • Mark
    2019-04-24 04:50

    The sphere of Genji is the incredibly narrow one of Japan's Classical aristocracy, and its being situated in a period of long stability means that although temporally it covers a fair bit of ground (four generations) it is otherwise restricted socially, geographically, politically. Psychologically it is more diverse, and strikingly so in comparison to European literature of even several hundred years later - consider the Icelandic sagas, which are far greater in scope and yet almost entirely devoid of insights into the minds of their thousands of figures. Men and women within the text are emotionally complex in their culturally restricted way (to my American eyes) and so much of the tale is fraught with the difficulties that surround their mutual relations. It's easy to imagine their lives as terrifying and distant - the women with their porcelain faces, blacktoothed in lightless rooms from which they scarcely move, the stratabound men to whom they are almost entirely invisible and with whom they can only converse through intermediaries, or very rarely through a screened wall (and I think the sexual coerciveness of so many of them can be partially attributed to the anxieties of distance) - the real fun, though, is trying to understand their motivations and their emotions and see them with empathy, for which Murasaki's novel provides ample material.There are far too many textual and cultural specificities to note in a commentary of this length, so I'll highlight just one other that struck me throughout - the Buddhist perspective that the English language might term pessimism. The kind of romantic troubles that the characters in the novel endure are extremely tame by world standards of suffering, but all of them are so highly sensitive to negative experience that seemingly half of them end up turning away from civilization into asceticism. Others, especially the heroes like Genji and Kaoru, espouse this perspective in the way that people here in the states talk about emigrating when a disfavored president runs for office - as a stock expression whose earnestness becomes increasingly suspect with every utterance. Far more surprising though is the volume of people who do go through with renouncing worldly ways. A study of catalysts (several women, for instance, do so to avoid the unwanted attentions of a man) would also overrun this little box. It's interesting though that in a world this stable and self-sustaining, even its highest echelons would be so often disconsolate with their state of being.