More Information About The Tale of Genji

The exceptionally long novel "Genji Monogatari" written by Murasaki Shikibu is not only the foremost literary work of the Heian period. It is also one of the supreme glories of Japanese literature. This classical work which describes, in high-flown style, an amazingly eventful life of an intelligent, handsome noble "Hikaru Genji" is even today admired by many Japanese readers, and is listed on UNESCO's Catalogue of Representative Works.

Murasaki Shikibu was a nyobo (court-lady) who served Shoshi, wife of the Emperor Ichijo. She was a contemporary of Sei Shonagon (who wrote the so-called "Pillow Book"). In striking contrast with Sei Shonagon who went to everything showy, Murasaki Shikibu liked to be reserved in the presence of others. So it seems that she disliked Sei Shonagon. In her diary, Murasaki Shikibu notes: "she (Sei Shonagon) is a disgusting woman, looking big. Sooner or later, she will give herself away. Only to learn a lesson."

The characteristic woman literature of the Heian period was made possible partly by the invention of hiragana, a Japanese syllabary. While Chinese characters were officially used in those days, the use of hiragana in combination with Chinese characters dramatically increased the breadth and depth of presentation. Hiragana were formerly called female characters, and in the Heian period they were used only by women.

Plot of Genji Monogatari
Hikaru Genji. hero of the novel. was born between an emperor and his low-ranking wife. He is described as a perfect man gifted with good looks, talent, and noble character. Genji Monogatari is a story describing extravagant, yet repentant, love affairs of Hikaru Genji with his many lovers.

The first lady whom Hikaru Genji loved was Fujitsubo who had much of the image of his mother. Fujitsubo was another wife of his father, or a mother-in-law of Hikarti Genji. Thus the story begins with the illicit love of Hikaru Genji with Fujitsubo.

While Hikaru Genji experiences love affairs with many noble beauties in succession, he can never forget his first lover Fujitsubo. Every one of the ladies falling in love with him becomes heartbroken and none of them, including Hikaru Genji himself, feels happy for long.

Although Hikaru Genji is once relegated to an office in a remote place, he eventually returns to the capital of Heian (Kyoto), where he wins speedy promotion and lives a life full of splendor. It is the period in which Hikaru Genji spends his happiest days.

However, in his latter years, Hikaru Genji is far from happy. One his wives has an illicit love affair with a young man, giving birth to a boy, who is named Kaoru. Reflecting the illicit love with his mother-in-law in his youth, Hikal Genji is battered by the handness of the world and enters the priesthood.

To view UNESCO's illustrated version of The Tale of Genji with text - Click Here.


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