Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Tale of Genji

About a year ago I had decided to buy myself "The Tale of Genji", but due the lack off time, interest, and all the other excuses you won't read here I did not started reading it until last week.

The tale of Genji is written by Murasaki Shikibu in the early eleventh century and is known as the first modern Japanese novel. Here is a the plot (coppied of course from Wiki):

The work recounts the life of a son of a Japanese emperor, known to readers as Hikaru Genji, or "Shining Genji". Neither appellation is his actual name: Genji (源氏, Genji?) is simply another way to read the Chinese characters for the real-life Minamoto clan (源の氏, Minamoto-no-Uji?), to which Genji was made to belong. For political reasons, Genji is relegated to commoner status (by being given the surname Minamoto) and begins a career as an imperial officer.

The tale concentrates on Genji's romantic life and describes the customs of the aristocratic society of the time. Much is made of Genji's good looks. His most important personality trait is the loyalty he shows to all the women in his life, as he never abandons any of his wives.[citation needed] When he finally becomes the most powerful man in the capital, he moves into a palace and provides for each of them.

Genji was the second son of a certain ancient emperor and a low-ranking concubine (known to the readers as Lady Kiritsubo). His mother dies when Genji is three years old, and the Emperor cannot forget her. The Emperor then hears of a woman ("Lady Fujitsubo"), formerly a princess of the preceding emperor, who resembles his deceased concubine, and later she becomes one of his wives. Genji loves her first as a stepmother, but later as a woman. They fall in love with each other, but it is forbidden. Genji is frustrated because of his forbidden love to the Lady Fujitsubo and is on bad terms with his wife (Aoi no Ue).

He also engages in a series of unfulfilling love affairs with other women. In most cases, his advances are rebuffed, his lover dies suddenly during the affair, or he finds his lover to be dull in each instance. In one case, he sees a beautiful young woman through an open window, enters her room without permission, and forces her to have sex with him (see rape). Recognizing him as a man of unchallengeable power, she makes no resistance, saying only that "Someone might hear us." He retorts, "I can go anywhere and do anything."[4]

Mary Arnold points out that, "Women in medieval Japan had little protection against male domination. The customs of the time expected women to be submissive to men, even to the point of rape. Men had no fear that they would be punished for rape, as evidenced in Genji's attitude."[5]

Genji visits Kitayama, the northern rural hilly area of Kyoto, where he finds a beautiful ten-year-old girl. He is fascinated by this little girl ("Murasaki"), and discovers that she is a niece of the Lady Fujitsubo. Finally he kidnaps her, brings her to his own palace and educates her to be his ideal lady; like the Lady Fujitsubo. During this time Genji also meets the Lady Fujitsubo secretly, and she bears his son. Everyone except the two lovers believes the father of the child is the Emperor. Later the boy becomes the Crown Prince and Lady Fujitsubo becomes the Empress, but Genji and Lady Fujitsubo swear to keep their secret.

Genji and his wife Lady Aoi reconcile and she gives birth to a son, but she dies soon after. Genji is sorrowful, but finds consolation in Murasaki, whom he marries. Genji's father, the Emperor, dies; and his political enemies, the Minister of the Right and the new Emperor's mother ("Kokiden") take power in the court. Then another of Genji's secret love affairs is exposed: Genji and a concubine of his brother, the Emperor Suzaku, are discovered when they meet in secret. The Emperor confides his personal amusement at Genji's exploits with the woman ("Oborozukiyo"), but is duty-bound to punish his half-brother. Genji is thus exiled to the town of Suma in rural Harima province (now part of Kobe in Hyōgo Prefecture). There, a prosperous man from Akashi in Settsu province (known as the Akashi Novice) entertains Genji, and Genji has a love affair with Akashi's daughter. She gives birth to a daughter. Genji's sole daughter later becomes the Empress.

In the Capital, the Emperor is troubled by dreams of his late father, and something begins to affect his eyes. Meanwhile, his mother grows ill, which weakens her powerful sway over the throne. Thus the Emperor orders Genji pardoned, and he returns to Kyoto. His son by Lady Fujitsubo becomes the emperor and Genji finishes his imperial career. The new Emperor Reizei knows Genji is his real father, and raises Genji's rank to the highest possible.

However, when Genji turns 40 years old, his life begins to decline. His political status does not change, but his love and emotional life are slowly damaged. He marries another wife, the "Third Princess" (known as Onna san no miya in the Seidensticker version, or Nyōsan in Waley's), but she is taken advantage of by Genji's nephew and bears his son ("Kaoru"). Genji's new marriage changes the relationship between him and Murasaki, who now wishes to become a nun.

Genji's beloved Murasaki dies. In the following chapter, Maboroshi ("Illusion"), Genji contemplates how fleeting life is. Immediately after Maboroshi, there is a chapter entitled Kumogakure ("Vanished into the Clouds") which is left blank, but implies the death of Genji.

The rest of the work is known as the "Uji Chapters". These chapters follow Niou and Kaoru, who are best friends. Niou is an imperial prince, the son of Genji's daughter, the current Empress now that Reizei has abdicated the throne, while Kaoru is known to the world as Genji's son but is in fact fathered by Genji's nephew. The chapters involve Kaoru and Niou's rivalry over several daughters of an imperial prince who lives in Uji, a place some distance away from the capital. The tale ends abruptly, with Kaoru wondering if the lady he loves is being hidden away by Niou. Kaoru has sometimes been called the first anti-hero in literature.

I have only read about 15 pages of the book so far, but I find it very amusing to read about their love life, and the way the story is written. It's a very difficult book for me (My English level is high, but this is higher than mine), but it's a challenge.

Here are some more links if you want to know more about "The Tale of Genji"
The Tale of Genji (wiki)
UNESCO - Tale of Genji

I will post more about the tale of genji, when I have read some more in the book... it's going to take me a while though.

Anyone else have been reading this book?

1 comment:

King Kong said...

Genji was a pimp...Real player