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Thursday, 9 July 2020

The Tale of Genji: chapters 45-47, the Uji sisters, the uncertainty of life

1/ The Tale of Genji is still great.  
As I’m early on in the Uji chapters (45-54), I should leave the authorship question till later, but my impression so far is that I can still believe these chapters to be written by Murasaki Shikibu. There are still visual descriptions of nature and scenes, in translation the writing appears the same. The melancholic tone is still there. 
The chapters that bother me are 42-44—as written in my previous blog post, they are not very visual compared to the rest of the novel, and they are disjointed in terms of story and chronology. There are also continuity mistakes in chapter 44 (which didn’t happen earlier). There are different theories: perhaps the Uji chapters are meant to be a different book or a separate section, and chapters 42-44 are attempts to connect it to the story of Genji. Or maybe chapters 42-44 had some parts missing and other writers tried to fill in the gaps. 
Chapter 45 begins like it could be a separate section, talking about the Eighth Prince, Genji’s brother, who lives as a hermit at Uji with his daughters. But if we remove all of 42-44, Kaoru and Niou haven’t been properly introduced as adults (we of course have seen them as children before Genji’s death). Apart from all the changes to people after the gap of several years, the idea of Kaoru with an unnatural fragrance, and the rivalry between him and Niou, are introduced in 42. Kaoru’s doubt about his origins is also in 42. 
At the same time we’re told in chapter 45 that Kaoru, despite his youth, has an interest in religion and wants to renounce the world, which is why he starts seeing the Eighth Prince (the holy layman, he’s called), but I don’t think it’s really mentioned in chapters 42-44, except that he think the world is dross and he may flirt here and there but doesn’t want to engage his feelings. 

2/ Kaoru’s discovery of the Uji sisters (Oigimi and Naka no Kimi), in such a distant and dreary place, echoes Genji’s discovery of the woman at Akashi. 
Meanwhile his discovery of the truth about his origins echoes Reizei’s. The main difference is that Kashiwagi, Genji, and To no Chujo are now all dead. 
It is interesting that he chooses not to ask his mother, because what’s the point? 

3/ The Uji chapters, I’ve been told, are colder and darker than the previous chapters about Genji. The theme of the uncertainty of life becomes stronger as the story focuses on the Eighth Prince—Suzaku’s mother once championed him, but then he loses favour, his residence burns down, his wife dies, and he has to leave court and vanish into the wilderness. Everything is uncertain, the only thing he wants to do is to renounce the world but he cannot for a long time because of his 2 daughters. A daughter is only a daughter, and much more trouble than a son. 
So why does he do it, when feeling the end is coming, even though his daughters are not settled and everything is still uncertain? 
The pervading sadness of these chapters is so moving, especially in the way Murasaki Shikibu writes about the desolation and dreariness of the place. 
I love the way she describes the scenery: 
“It felt as though the night would never dawn, but even so, the ninth month came. The cold rains of the season, so apt to start tears, lowered over meadow and mountain, and now and then the sound of falling leaves or the noise of the river seem to mingle with the flood of their weeping, until those who served them wondered miserably how their mistresses would ever live out their allotted years and strove in vain to comfort them.” (Ch.46) 
Facing the tragic loss of their father, the sisters now have to live with another uncertainty—what would happen if they someday no longer have each other for companionship and comfort? 

4/ Anyone who reads The Tale of Genji must notice how full of beauty it is. The writing too is beautiful. See this line from Oigimi, the elder sister, saying to Kaoru: 
“We may appear to live on, and yet, wandering as we do through a dream from which there is no waking, we shrink from allowing ourselves to look upon the light of day.” (ibid.) 

5/ In these chapters we’re starting to see the differences between Kaoru and Niou. In chapters 45-46, Kaoru appears nicer and more mature—calmer, almost like he takes things for granted and doesn’t have any possessive, any jealousy. Niou appears callous, in his persistent way of courting the sisters and trying to guilt them into replying during their mourning. It is partly because he doesn’t know the Eighth Prince as well as Kaoru does, but it does suggest that he’s not very deep or sensitive.
In chapter 47, Kaoru reveals another side but Niou is still more callous in comparison.

6/ The isolation and dreariness of Uji is reminiscent of Suetsumuhana’s house in chapter 15, where she lives for years with only her gentlewomen and servants, forgotten by Genji and the world, and gradually abandoned by her servants one by one. The difference is that in chapter 47, “Trefoil Knots”, the author goes even deeper into her characters’ feelings. Afraid of the uncertainty of life, Oigimi (the elder sister) wants to follow her late father’s words and stays where she is, despite pressures from everyone else. We see her fears as well as Kaoru’s indignation and the gentlewoman Ben’s puzzlement. 
Murasaki Shikibu creates many parallels between Genji and the later generations. Earlier we have seen some echoes of Genji’s behaviour in his son Yugiri and in To no Chujo’s son Kashiwagi. Now in chapter 47, the scene of Kaoru entering the room in search of Oigimi and finding Naka no Kimi, the younger sister, reminds one of an early scene in which Genji looks for Utsusemi (cicada) but comes across her step-daughter Nokiba no Ogi instead.
Murasaki Shikibu invites the reader to draw parallels and compare the characters, but it’s not a simple comparison where Genji is bad (for sleeping with Nokiba no Ogi anyway) and Kaoru is better, because her characters are complex and may have self-contradictions. The older Genji, for example, tries to have self-control around Akikonomu out of respect for her mother (the Rokujo Haven) and, despite himself, doesn’t touch Tamakazura. 
Kaoru at first seems to be considerate and respectful towards the elder sister, but as the story goes on, we’re starting to see that he feels himself entitled to have her and doesn’t understand her feelings, and he manipulates others into giving him what he desires. 
But then Niou enters the scene, and even though Murasaki Shikibu doesn’t go with him into the room with Naka no Kimi, we know what happens and again can see the huge difference between him and Kaoru. 

7/ Is it not crazy that Kaoru and Niou and Oigimi all decide Naka no Kimi’s life for her? 
The Tale of Genji shows how shitty it is to be a woman in Heian Japan, but also lets us see that the life of a prince also has lots of restrictions, especially as the Uji chapters highlight a contrast between Kaoru, a commoner, and Niou, a prince. Niou cannot travel easily, cannot go anywhere without an appropriate number of retainers and other men, cannot visit Naka no Kimi whenever he wants to—even when he’s on the other side of the river (because of the large number of people), and as a prince cannot just bring a woman from nowhere to court as a wife. Genji and Kaoru can do so but Niou cannot, particularly when her parents now want him to marry Yugiri’s 6th daughter. 
It is therefore important not to refer to Genji as a prince, as some translations and reviews seem to do. The fact that Genji is an emperor’s son but a commoner, after being given a last name by his father, is significant and affects everything.  
Back to a prince’s restrictions, in the end it is still the women who suffer the most—Niou has always known the rules for princes but pursues Naka no Kimi anyway and lets her down; if he cannot move Naka no Kimi to court, as a man he can easily have other women, but what can Naka no Kimi and her elder sister do, as women, in such a faraway place?

8/ Oigimi, like Akashi, seems to have a distrust of men and fear of the future in general, but a deeper fear and distrust—Akashi hesitates but yields to Genji, Oigimi doesn’t, and the business of Naka no Kimi and Niou only confirms her fears. The way she slowly starves herself to death is similar to Kashiwagi, but Kashiwagi is largely motivated by guilt, shame, and a fear of scandal and dishonour, whereas she seems to have fallen into deep depression and despair. 

9/ In chapter 47, there are (at least) 2 references to Bai Juyi, who I think is Murasaki Shikibu’s favourite Chinese poet because he’s regularly referenced throughout The Tale of Genji. I was thinking, before starting on the Uji chapters, that a Bai Juyi allusion would support the one-author idea (I don’t know and can’t remember any of the Japanese poets), and here he is. 

10/ The passing of time is important throughout The Tale of Genji, but I paid more attention this time. Near the end of mourning (first anniversary), Kaoru comes to see the Uji sisters in the 8th month (lunar calendar) and brings Niou on 28/8, the day of the equinox. Niou has sex with Naka no Kimi and everything’s done to confirm the marriage but he doesn’t come back. In the 9th month he goes past and has something like a party on the other side of the river, intending to visit her, but the plan is thwarted when the Empress (his mother, Genji’s daughter) knows about it and sends a big group of people there. 
Time passes, Naka no Kimi sinks in deeper and deeper melancholy and Oigimi becomes more ill then Niou sends a letter. Then the narrator tells us that it’s the last day of the 10th month. 
Then more time passes and Niou doesn’t come visit until Oigimi has passed away—in the 12th month. 
Is he not such an asshole?

11/ Oigimi’s death must be Kaoru’s first true loss (he lost Genji and Murasaki as a child). The writing is so affecting—see the scene of her in her deathbed: 
“Her thin arms, as weak as shadows, still had all their pale, slender grace, and in soft white robes, with the covers off her, she lay like a bodiless doll. Her hair, not excessively long, gleamed most beautifully where it streamed away from the pillow. Oh, what is to become of her? he asked himself in desperate anguish…” (Ch.47) 
Soon after: 
“He wavered as though walking on air, and she remained frail to the last, for there rose in the end only a very little smoke. He went away numb with sorrow.” (ibid.) 
It is deeply sad. In the Uji chapters, the quality doesn’t drop—The Tale of Genji becomes even deeper and more moving. 

12/ There are a few supporting characters from earlier who get dropped from the narrative as they are, well, secondary, but I wonder what happens to them: Omi no Kimi (To no Chujo’s rustic daughter) and Suetsumuhana (the red-nosed woman).

Sunday, 5 July 2020

The Tale of Genji: chapters 42-44, a new beginning

1/ For a while I thought The Tale of Genji was getting easier because I was used to it and knew all the characters and their titles. 
Then chapter 42 happened…
Anyway, this is the first chapter after Genji’s death, and there’s an 8-year gap between chapter 41 and chapter 42 (not counting the blank chapter). People grow up or grow old or die, people change titles and move around. Everything is a mess. The only clue I’ve been told is that the central characters are Kaoru and Niou. 
So how many children does the Emperor have? 
- The First Prince: The Heir Apparent. Married to Yugiri’s 1st daughter. He also has a Consort, who is Kobai’s elder daughter. 
- The Second Prince: lives at Umetsubo. Married to Yugiri’s 2nd daughter. 
- The Third Prince (Niou): His Highness of War, or joking called The Perfumed Prince of War. Niou was Murasaki’s favourite. 
- The Fourth Prince: called His Highness of Hitachi. Son of an Intimate instead of the Empress (daughter of Genji and Akashi), so he doesn’t have the same social standing as the others. 
- The First Princess: lives at the west wing of the southeast quarter at Rokujo. 
Kaoru is son of Her Cloistered Eminence and Kashiwagi (To no Chujo’s eldest son), though to the world he is Genji’s youngest son. 
Yugiri meanwhile becomes Minister of the Right. 
There are 3 main locations to remember: Genji’s original residence at court is Nijo; the estate where he builds 4 quarters for 4 seasons and moves his women there is Rokujo; Sanjo is Yugiri’s residence, where he lives with Kumoi no Kari (To no Chujo’s daughter). 
Because Murasaki Shikibu is mean, everyone moves around: 
- Hanachirusato (falling flowers) moves back to the east pavilion of Nijo. 
- Onna San no Miya (Her Cloistered Eminence, the stupid princess) moves to Sanjo. 
- Akashi still lives at the Rokujo estate but moves to the spring quarter (where Murasaki once lived). 
- Yugiri moves Ochiba (the Ichijo princess) to the northeast quarter at Rokujo (where Hanachirusato once lived). 
Why the fuck does everyone have to move around? Why can’t they stay at one place and make it easy for us all? 

2/ Both Niou and Kaoru are interested in Reizei’s First Princess (Reizei His Eminence is the previous Emperor, now retired) in chapter 42. 
Kaoru is jokingly called the Fragrant Captain because of his naturally good scent. Niou, in rivalry with him, suffuses his own clothes with the finest incenses and spends all day blending more.
Genji, with his extraordinary good looks, is associated with the sense of sight. Kaoru and Niou are associated with the sense of smell. 

3/ How many of these characters will become important?
In the blog post about To no Chujo’s children, I listed Kobai, his 2nd son. He is now Inspector Grand Counsellor. 
After Kobai’s 1st wife dies, he marries Makibashira (the handsome pillar), who is daughter of Higekuro and his 1st, mentally ill wife. Makibashira has been married to the Hotaru Prince/ the previous His Highness of War, Genji’s half-brother, but now he’s dead. 
- Kobai has 2 daughters by his 1st wife. The elder one is Consort for the Heir Apparent. 
- Makibashira has a daughter by the Hotaru Prince. She is called Her Highness because she’s daughter of a prince. 
- Kobai and Makibashira have a son together. 

4/ Did I say chapter 42 was confusing? 44 is worse. 
According to Royall Tyler’s notes, chronologically ch.44 overlaps ch.42 “The Perfumed Prince”, ch.45 “The Maiden of the Bridge”, and the first part of “Beneath the Oak”, ch.46, but the story it tells has little to do with these chapters. What? 
This chapter features Tamakazura’s children: 
- The Left Palace Guards Captain (Sakon no Chujo). 
- The Right Controller (Uchuben). 
- The Fujiwara Adviser (To Jiju): youngest son. 
- The elder daughter, who becomes the Haven. 
- The younger daughter, who becomes the Mistress of Staff. 
Kaoru and Yugiri change titles a few times so I’m not bothered to write everything down. Niou doesn’t appear here, but there’s another male character who is important—Yugiri’s son, who is the Chamberlain Lieutenant, then Third Rank Captain, then Consultant. He doesn’t have a nickname so I assume he will not be a major character later on. 
Tamakazura is Mistress of Staff. I think it’s useful to note down the different Empresses in the story: 
- The Kiritsubo Emperor’s Empress is Fujitsubo. His other women are the original Kokiden Consort (Genji’s enemy), the Kiritsubo Haven (Genji’s mother), and the Reikeiden Consort (Hanachirusato’s sister). 
- Suzaku’s women include the Shokyoden Consort (mother of the current Emperor) and Oborozukiyo (sister of the original Kokiden Consort). Oborozukiyo, as Mistress of Staff, is the one who gets involve with Genji and gets tangled in a scandal. Suzaku marries off his Third Princess Onna San no Miya to Genji. 
- Reizei’s Empress is Akikonomu (the Ise Consort, daughter of the late Rokujo Haven). Among his other women is the new Kokiden Consort (To no Chujo’s daughter). 
- The current Emperor’s Empress is Genji’s daughter by Akashi. 
The focus of chapter 44 is on Tamakazura—what she should do about her daughters, now that Higekuro is dead and they are all powerless. Both Reizei and the current Emperor want the elder daughter. Yugiri’s son and Kaoru also court her, especially the former.  

5/ Look at this: 
“The Mistress of Staff, who still had all her looks, seemed much too young to have such grown-up sons. What made Retired Emperor Reizei so keen was above all his fond memory of the time when he had wanted her, and he insisted on seeking her daughter only to keep that old fancy alive.” (Ch.44) 
Again, a substitute. 
At the same time, there’s a scene of Yugiri’s son (the Chamberlain Lieutenant) peering through the door to watch Tamakazura’s daughters playing Go, which echoes an early scene where Genji secretly watching Utsusemi (cicada) and Nokiba no Ogi (the mistaken one) playing the same game. 
There are numerous echoes and parallels throughout The Tale of Genji
I should add that the Chamberlain Lieutenant, Kaoru, and the girl they’re courting are all related through To no Chujo, as Kumoi no Kari (the Chamberlain Lieutenant’s mother), Kashiwagi (Kaoru’s real father), and Tamakazura are children from different mothers. 
(But of course, we have established that in this world, nobody cares about incest). 

6/ Does anyone notice that different people have different ideas about where Tamakazura’s elder daughter should go but nobody bothers to ask what the girl wants herself? Her feelings obviously don’t matter. 
In the end she goes to Reizei and becomes the Haven, which means that she has to compete against Akikonomu and her aunt the Kokiden Consort. The conflicts are similar to the conflicts at the beginning of the book—the difference is that Genji’s mother mostly faces hostility from a Consort, whereas in this case both women turn against her, especially after the 2 children she gives Reizei. 
The younger daughter meanwhile is sent to become the new Mistress of Staff and serve the current Emperor. Again, this is a substitution. 

7/ On its own, each of these chapters is fine, though a bit confusing. But in succession, chapters 42-44 become disjointed and episodic. In the introduction Royall Tyler says that these chapters are disjointed but 45-54 (the Uji chapters) would be all one piece, so that’s a good sign. 
Something that gets my attention is that these chapters, compared to before, are not very visual—the characters still write poems and mention flowers but there are barely any descriptions of nature. There are also fewer descriptions of contests, rituals, or events, as the narrative focuses more on the characters’ thoughts and feelings. 
Another thing is that chapter 44 for the large part has a smooth flow and nice pace but the last few pages have a jump of a few years and become a bit rushed—they feel like a summary of events. Royall Tyler also points out a few continuity mistakes, I’m not sure how to feel about them. 
However, these chapters are still good and lots of people have said that the Uji chapters are great or even the best in the book, so that’s something to look forward to.

Friday, 3 July 2020

The Tale of Genji: chapters 40-41 and the subject of death

1/ Murasaki first becomes ill when she’s 37—the dangerous age for a woman in Japanese culture (or Heian culture?). It is Fujitsubo’s age when she dies. 
From the illness Murasaki never completely recovers, and dies in chapter 40—according to Royall Tyler’s helpful notes, she’s at the age of 43 and Genji’s 51. 
It is a great chapter and her death comes like a devastating blow. 
“Genji recollected that dawn all those years ago when the Commander’s mother died, and he realized that he must still have been himself then, since he clearly remembered a bright moon, whereas this evening he was engulfed in darkness.” (Ch.40) 
The Commander refers to Yugiri and his mother is Aoi, Genji’s first wife. 
I love the way Murasaki Shikibu writes about death because she doesn’t fear it, and because she doesn’t use death as a way of getting rid of a character or moving the plot forward. She writes about dying and death, about grief, and about the lasting impact it has on other people, especially the main character—Genji. He’s only a child when he loses his mother, but in a way he seeks a substitute in Fujitsubo (and later seeks a substitute for Fujitsubo in other women, such as Murasaki). 
After his father’s death, he realises the vanity of all things.
Aoi’s death, in Genji’s mind, is always linked to some guilt because they’re estranged before her death, and it colours his perception, gives him fears, whenever there’s a pregnancy and childbirth. The horror never completely leaves him. 
He also carries within him lots of guilt after Fujitsubo’s death, but it is a different kind of guilt—the guilt of bearing a secret and lying to everyone, the guilt of betraying his father the Emperor, the guilt of disrupting the hierarchy, the guilt of making Fujitsubo suffer.  
The Rokujo Haven’s death affects him in a different way—part of him feels bad for the neglect and fulfils his promise with her by taking care of her daughter and helping her move forward (she becomes an Empress), while the other part is forever angry at her and fearful of her because an incarnation of her bitterness and jealousy has killed Aoi. This is why years later he brings it up in a conversation with Murasaki, but the spirit of the Rokujo Haven reappears and attacks her.
All the various deaths in the story affect Genji in different ways. Then after Murasaki’s death Genji is never the same—it’s like the Genji who survives her is only a shell. Everything becomes meaningless. 

2/ The sense of the uncertainty and fragility of life pervades The Tale of Genji

3/ There are 2 things that get my attention surrounding Murasaki’s death. 
The first thing is that for many years, before the illness, Murasaki wants to renounce the world and become a nun, but Genji never allows her and she cannot just defy him and go ahead with it. As she reflects in chapter 39, “there is nothing so pitifully confined and constricted a woman”. She dies without fulfilling her wishes.  
The second thing is that she becomes objectified, even in death. A woman at Heian court cannot go out in daylight and is rarely seen—she’s usually hidden behind curtains and screens, and communicates with men through another person. Speaking in her own voice is a step closer to intimacy. 
Genji’s son Yugiri only gets a glimpse of Murasaki once, during a storm, a glimpse he never forgets. So after her death, whilst everyone else is devastated, he tries to get another look at her. There is something slightly ironic about the situation, and it is so tragic.   

4/ For years I’ve thought Tolstoy’s the greatest at writing about death. Now I think Murasaki Shikibu is comparable, though different. 
I cannot write about how great these 2 chapters are. The Tale of Genji is among the greatest novels I’ve ever read—it may even be the greatest, but I probably shouldn’t get so excited.

5/ It is interesting that Murasaki Shikibu chooses not to write about Genji’s death. Following chapter 41, all we have is a chapter called “Vanished into the Clouds”. A blank chapter. 
The story of Genji now ends. The next chapters are about life without Genji.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

The Tale of Genji: chapters 36-39, 2 princesses and male entitlement

1/ So there is a suicide in The Tale of Genji—a man starves himself to death. 
There are echoes throughout the story and I cannot help drawing some parallels—Kashiwagi (To no Chujo’s eldest son) violates the Third Princess (and thus betrays Genji) so he chooses death out of guilt, shame, and fear of scandal, but years ago Genji had an affair with Fujitsubo and then Oborozukiyo, betraying his own father and his half-brother Suzaku respectively, but when stripped of rank and title and banished, he thought he’s blameless? 
The difference is that Genji’s relationships are consensual but I’m not under the impression that it’s a strong factor. On the one hand, Kashiwagi is more emotion-driven, cowardly, and apparently not willing to live with the consequences of his actions. On the other hand, Genji seems to think his affair with Oborozukiyo is foolish but not so serious, and doesn’t feel as guilty about the affair with Fujitsubo as she does. 

2/ Suzaku has 4 daughters. 
The Third Princess (Onna San no Miya) he marries off to Genji despite his protests. She gets neglected, especially during the several months of Murasaki’s illness, lacks guidance, and finds herself yielding to an affair with Kashiwagi that she finds hateful. 
With Suzaku’s approval, the Second Princess (Ochiba no Miya) marries Kashiwagi, who doesn’t love her. She too gets neglected as he chases her sister and, when he falls ill, stays with his parents and dies months later without managing to see her. So she becomes a widow. 
Kashiwagi manages to ruin 2 women’s lives. But through these 2 examples, Murasaki Shikibu lets us see why the characters say that generally it’s not advisable for princesses (Emperor’s daughters) to get married. 

3/ According to Knulp, one of the themes of The Tale of Genji is the conflict between religious life and material life. 
The Akashi Novice chooses religious life and stays behind, whilst his wife the Nun and his daughter move to Aoi and then to the Rokujo estate. He only contacts his family after Akashi’s daughter gives birth successfully—to tell Akashi about his dream and prayers and send them some scriptures (ch.34).
In contrast, Suzaku becomes a monk and moves to the mountains but cannot leave everything behind—he’s still concerned about his daughters, especially the Third Princess. He even returns in person when being told about the pregnancy and guessing that something’s wrong—he cannot renounce life completely, his heart is not fully set on religious life. 
Genji himself talks a lot about renouncing life, but I don’t think he can do it either. 

4/ As the Third Princess chooses to become a nun (Her Cloistered Highness), she not only renounces the world and seeks refuge in religion, but in a way she also abandons her child. 
Genji wonders how she feels about turning her back on the boy (known as Kaoru). 

5/ The passages about the parents’ grief are so raw and touching. There are many deaths throughout The Tale of Genji and Murasaki Shikibu has written several times about grief, but parents’ grief is quite something else. 

6/ Have I mentioned the writing is beautiful? See this passage, when Yugiri visits his friend’s widow (now called the Princess at Ichijo): 
“The skies of the fourth month sometimes lifted the heart, and the color of the budding trees was lovely everywhere, but for that house, plunged in mourning, all things fed a life of quiet woe, and he therefore set off there as he did so often. The grounds were filling with new green, and here and there in shadowed places, where the sand was thin, wormwood had made itself at home. The near garden, once so carefully tended, now grew as it pleased. A spreading clump of pampas grass grew bravely there, and he made his way through it moist with dew, mindful of the insect cries that autumn would bring. The outside of the house was hung with Iyo blinds, through which he caught cooling glimpses of the new season’s gray standing curtains and of pretty page girls’ hair and dark gray skirts—all of which was very pleasant were it not that the color was so sad. 
This time he sat on the veranda, where he was provided with a cushion. The women felt that it was rude to leave him there, and they tried to persuade the Haven to receive him as usual, but she had been feeling unwell lately and was half reclining. While they did what they could to divert him, he looked out sorrowfully on the trees that grew in the grounds, indifferent to human cares.” (Ch.36) 

7/ Earlier Genji keeps To no Chujo’s daughter Tamakazura for a while before telling him. Now he doesn’t let him know about his grandson Kaoru. 
Yugiri’s eagerness to see his father’s face when he asks about Kashiwagi is funny. It’s curious how he doesn’t seem to understand why Genji wants to keep it a secret. 
Is this karma? Is this Genji having to pay for what he has done? 

8/ In these chapters the story moves away from Genji, especially in chapter 39, “Yugiri”, translated as “Evening Mist” (which becomes Genji’s son’s nickname), which focuses on Yugiri.
From regular visits due to respect to his close friend/ her dead husband, Yugiri gradually decides that he wants Ochiba (the Princess at Ichijo), and starts to “attack”. Again there are echoes of Genji’s behaviour in his son’s courtship of Ochiba, but if we exclude the case of Murasaki (which is unusual and complicated) and only look at the adults, in many ways I think Yugiri’s behaviour is more distasteful and abhorrent. 
First of all, he takes advantage of her circumstances and alludes to them, trying to get her into sex by saying that more gossip wouldn’t make any difference to her name—people are already laughing at her because she’s a widow. He also uses threats, which Genji never does. 
Secondly, Yugiri chooses to talk about his feelings when her mother, the Haven, is ill and receiving healing rites. It is not the right time, and it’s understandable that Ochiba thinks he disturbs her mother’s health and causes her death. Not only so, they are Buddhists and there is another significance: 
“... she remembered how her already weakened mother had died convinced that that unspeakably wicked moment had ruined her daughter, and she knew with awful certainty that the thought would harm her mother even in the life to come.” (Ch.39) 
In Buddhist beliefs the Haven would carry the anger and bitterness onto the next life. 
Worse, sometime during the mourning for the Haven, Yugiri thinks: 
“Why was he still so intent on upholding the lost cause of her honor? He might as well do as others did and have his way with her at last. He would no longer argue the matter with his wife. He would appeal to the authority of the reproachful letter that single night had earned him, even if Her Highness hated him for it. No, she would not succeed in presenting herself as unblemished.” (ibid.) 
(The letter is from the Haven, asking why he only comes for a single night instead of coming for 3 consecutive nights to confirm their marriage, as is custom. Her Highness refers to Ochiba). 
Is that not abhorrent?
Murasaki Shikibu, like Jane Austen and different from George Eliot, presents the character’s thoughts without comment—without moralising. Then she writes about Ochiba’s feelings, and also his wife Kumoi no Kari’s thoughts as she learns about the pursuit. Yugiri, after trying to persuade and threaten Ochiba, puts pressure to her gentlewomen. 
These chapters show very clearly the idea of male entitlement. 
Because of the patriarchal system, Ochiba is helpless and has to be dependent on men. There is pressure from all sides to force to accept Yugiri—Yugiri ignores her feelings and installs himself at Ichijo, her father Suzaku doesn’t allow her to become a nun (following him and her sister Onna San no Miya), her relative the Governor says he cannot continue serving her and she has to return to Ichijo, her gentlewomen think she’s childish for rejecting him when she doesn’t have a protector, and Yugiri presents to the world that they are together even though she hasn’t consented. In this world the men have all the freedom and the women cannot speak out to defend themselves. They lose either way. 

9/ If we place the 2 princesses next to each other, we can see some irony: the Third Princess (Onna San no Miya) has a child with someone else but escapes scandal because she quickly becomes a nun, whereas the Second Princess (Ochiba no Miya) has to live with rumour and shame even though she hasn’t done anything. 

10/ So far I don’t buy the idea of multiple authorship. 
I cannot say anything about the last 12 chapters because I’m not there yet, but The Tale of Genji so far looks like it has to be written by the same author because the story deals with the characters’ inner minds, not just plot and action; there are many characters who appear for the entire story so far and they are consistent, even when they mature and change by experience, there is a consistency to them—the core remains the same; there is no significant difference in style; the overarching themes of Buddhism and mono no aware are always present.  
There is no bad chapter in The Tale of Genji. If I say there’s a slight unevenness, I only mean that some chapters are better than others—they’re great, intense, and the others are good, very good. At the same time I cannot help noticing that for a large part of the book, the author is invisible—the narrator only appears once in a while to remind us that she’s a gentlewoman telling a story to her superiors, or to say it would be a bore to report everything the characters do or say (at an event, for example). However a few times in the Tamakazura chapters, there’s a bit of intrusion—I didn’t write it down as I thought the narrator was going to be more visible over time. But then after the Tamakazura story, probably from about chapter 33, the author/ narrator again disappears. 
Do I think that is evidence of multiple authors? Not really. The narrator only comments on things or makes obvious her opinion on a few occasions, which I noticed because that’s the sort of thing I tend to notice. Apart from that minor point, there is nothing that significantly stands out, in terms of scenic descriptions, character development, dialogue, style, tone, etc.

Friday, 26 June 2020

The Tale of Genji: chapter 35, change in reign, refuge in religion

1/ In The Tale of Genji, usually each chapter follows the previous one without break or there may be a break of a few months. 
Then in chapter 35, something unusual happens. All of a sudden in the middle of a chapter, there’s a jump of 4 years. The count is Royall Tyler’s, but it’s based on the mention of Reizei’s age in the same sentence. 
Then comes another change in reign, which means that everyone again changes titles: 
- Reizei abdicates because of health problems and becomes His Eminence. He is son of Fujitsubo and Genji, though to the public he’s son of Fujitsubo and the Kiritsubo Emperor (the first Emperor in the novel).
- Suzaku, the previous Emperor, has earlier renounced the world and become a monk, so he is His Cloistered Eminence. 
- His wife the Shokyoden Consort, who died within that 4-year gap, is posthumously appointed to the highest rank. 
- The Heir Apparent becomes the new Emperor—the 4th Emperor in the story. He is son of Suzaku and the Shokyoden Consort. He doesn’t have a nickname, as far as I know. 
- His eldest son with Genji’s daughter becomes the new Heir Apparent. They also have a daughter (the First Princess) and in this chapter she is pregnant with their third child. 
- Higekuro: previously the Right Commander, becomes the Left Commander, and then Minister of the Right. He is brother of the late Shokyoden Consort. His first wife is daughter of the Lord of Ceremonial (Murasaki’s half-sister), his second wife is Tamakazura (Mistress of Staff, Yugao’s daughter). 
- Yugiri: the Right Commander, becomes Grand Counsellor. He is son of Genji and Aoi. 
There are other promotions as well, but these are the important ones. 
The thing worth noting is that the Retired Emperor Reizei doesn’t have descendants of his own. The new Heir Apparent is Genji’s direct descendant but it is through his daughter, which isn’t the same, and the Reizei line, which in itself is a disruption of hierarchy, is cut off. 

2/ To recap, so far there have been 4 Emperors in the book: 
- The Kiritsubo Emperor: Genji’s father. 
- Suzaku: Genji’s half-brother. 
- Reizei: Genji’s son, but his half-brother in name. 
- The new one: Genji’s son-in-law. 
I should draw a family tree for illustration but their inter-connections are too complicated. 

3/ His Highness of War (Hotaru) marries Higekuro’s daughter with his first wife. 
As I have a morbid obsession with how the characters relate to each other, let’s see: His Highness of War is Genji’s half-brother, and Higekuro’s first wife is Murasaki’s half-sister, so His Highness of War marries his half-brother’s wife’s half-sister’s daughter. 
If we look at their relationships another way, he is also Suzaku’s half-brother and Higekuro is the late Shokyoden Consort’s brother, so His Highness of War marries his half-brother’s brother-in-law’s daughter. 
Are you confused? 

4/ The Tale of Genji is a Buddhist novel. The gods and buddhas are mentioned frequently, the characters talk about karma and reincarnation and the vanity of things, they go on pilgrimage, etc. 
The thing I don’t quite understand is why many characters in the story just renounce the world and become monks or nuns, or at least talk about doing it. 
In a few cases, a woman becomes a nun to keep herself from being harassed by men and save her name from getting tainted, like Utsusemi (cicada), or to protect herself, partly living in quiet and avoiding court politics, and partly seeking salvation, like Fujitsubo (Genji’s late stepmother). As Royall Tyler explains, in this society a woman only has one refuge outside a stable relationship with a man: becoming a nun. In both of these cases, they don’t go into the mountains (like the Akashi Novice) or join a monastery—they take religious vows, cut their hair short, wear plain, discreet colours, and stay at home. This is a radical step that is not to be taken lightly. 
In Genji’s case, he wants peace and quiet—he learns the vanity of all things after the many deaths in his life, and especially after the exile, realises that life is treacherous, so he plans to renounce the world after seeing his children well-settled. 
There are other monks and nuns in the story, such as Akashi’s father and mother, Murasaki’s great-uncle, the monk who knows about Fujitsubo’s secret, and so on. 
But why does Suzaku (the second Emperor in the novel) become a monk? What about Asagao (bluebell) and Oborozukiyo? 
And why does Murasaki speak of leaving the world? I reckon Murasaki knows that her life is forever insecure, and wants to go away before getting abandoned by Genji. Religion is a woman’s only refuge. 

5/ Throughout the novel, we see Murasaki’s jealousy and resentment a few times and get an idea of her feelings about her relationship with Genji, but it is in chapter 35 that we truly know how she feels. 
She has been lucky, she thinks, getting more favours than (she thinks) she deserves, but it is forever an insecure life because of her dependence on Genji and his feelings. The 2 women who have caused her most insecurities are Akashi and the Third Princess (Onna San no Miya, Suzaku’s daughter). 
She has resented Akashi in the past, partly because of Akashi’s elegance and accomplishments according to Genji and partly because they have a child together. She has been afraid of the Third Princess, who is superior to everyone else in rank and moves into the main house, and people think the Princess should be placed above all of Genji’s women—it’s just fortunate that she is childish and bland. But Murasaki’s whole life is insecure—when she’s young, the bond with Genji may not be so strong and there are numerous other women; when the bond becomes stronger over time, she’s aging and younger women have the advantage of youth and freshness.  
The Tale of Genji places a male character in the centre, but in many ways it is about the female characters, about a woman’s fate in the Heian period of Japan. 

6/ Chapter 35 is a great chapter (so is 34). 
The Tale of Genji is brilliant from the start and gets better and better, than a few chapters become less intense, but it picks up again around chapter 34 and becomes particularly intense and haunting with the return of the vengeful spirit. The book may be called psychological realism with some supernatural elements, but the supernatural elements fit in so perfectly that there seems to be nothing unnatural or abnormal about them. 
Is there anywhere else a more fascinating depiction of a woman’s wrath? 

7/ There is not a smooth transition but a sudden cut from Murasaki’s illness to Kashiwagi’s (To no Chujo’s eldest son) affair with the Third Princess, which I don’t particularly like.   
But afterwards the story is interesting again, and the narrative moves nicely between Murasaki and the Third Princess. 
Apart from predatory men, a lady at court has another “enemy”: her own gentlewoman. As it turns out, Suzaku’s concern is not unfounded and Genji’s fear is correct—the Third Princess indeed has no sense. As Genji thinks to himself, the trouble with her has never happened to his women—especially not the proper ones such as Murasaki and Akashi. His “guidance” cannot prevent her from being foolish and committing an error, and Kashiwagi is insolent.  
But at the same time, can Genji say he’s any better? He has betrayed both Suzaku and his own father. 

8/ Kashiwagi is an asshole though, one must say. He has been fantasising about the Third Princess but couldn’t get her and therefore marries her sister the Second Princess (like Kim Trọng loses Thúy Kiều and marries Thúy Vân in The Tale of Kieu), but cannot get over his crush. See what he writes down: 
“O wreath of twinned green, what possessed me to pick up just the fallen leaf, 
though in name it seemed to be as welcome as the other?”  
He refers to his wife as a fallen leaf!  
(It’s because of this poem that the Second Princess comes to be called by readers as Ochiba, “fallen leaf”). 
Then afterwards when Genji finds out his shameful secret, he blames the Third Princess for being careless and letting him get a glimpse of her! 

9/ The scene of Genji and Kashiwagi at the dance is interesting. In front of others, Genji has to pretend to treat him normally and know nothing about the fling, Kashiwagi knows that he’s pretending but he himself has to pretend that he doesn’t know.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

The Tale of Genji: chapters 32-34, Murasaki, Akashi, Suzaku’s children

1/ There must be many moments in The Tale of Genji when the modern reader, non-Japanese especially, feels that something eludes them.  
When reading chapter 17 “The Picture Contest”, I couldn’t help feeling that I didn’t fully comprehend what Murasaki Shikibu was describing and talking about—Royall Tyler’s very helpful in explaining the different styles, colours, and references, but my lack of knowledge about Japanese arts was a barrier to understand fully what was happening and what was the meaning and significance of the paintings and the debates. 
Now in chapter 32, “The Plum Tree Branch”, all the descriptions of incense-making/ incense-judging and calligraphy are beautiful and fascinating, and I get the main points, but part of the meaning still eludes me because I know absolutely nothing about incense and calligraphy. When Murasaki Shikibu writes about handwriting and the writer’s character throughout a book, I understand it, because I still write by hand regularly (and judge people’s handwriting). But when she goes deeper and writes about men’s style vs women’s style, etc. it’s beyond me. 

2/ The way Murasaki Shikibu handles the friendship between Genji and To no Chujo is particularly good. In their youth they’re best friends though there’s a bit of rivalry going on. Then as they get older, the rivalry becomes more serious as both try to gain more power at court and have different plans for their children, and they drift apart, especially after To no Chujo separates his daughter Kumoi no Kari and Genji’s son Yugiri. But then Tamakazura (Yugao’s daughter) brings them close again, and afterwards To no Chujo accepts the marriage between their children. 
It is a very good scene when To no Chujo and Genji talk about Tamakazura and recall their memories together, then Genji thinks about it but chooses not to bring up the subject of Yugiri and Kumoi no Kari, whilst To no Chujo thinks he’s ready to approve of the union and waits for Genji to speak but sees that he doesn’t. They keep misunderstanding each other. 
Interestingly, the narrator ponders about the rivalry between Aoi and the Rokujo Haven when they’re alive and when they’re dead. Aoi’s son Yugiri is still a commoner, though he has a good position and high regard at court, whereas the Rokujo Haven’s daughter is now the Empress. 

3/ Koremitsu’s daughter, earlier known as a Gosechi dancer, is now the Fujiwara Dame of Staff. She and Yugiri have had a fling. 
To confuse matters, in chapters 34, there are 2 Mistresses of Staff
- Oborozukiyo: sixth daughter of the former Minister of the Right and sister of the Empress Mother (Kokiden Consort at the beginning of the book). She is one of Suzaku’s women (the second Emperor), and the one tangled in the scandal that causes Genji’s banishment. She still can’t resist Genji (naturally).
- Tamakazura: Yugao’s daughter, now wife of Higekuro (the Right Commander). They now have 2 children together. 

4/ In these chapters, Murasaki goes from being called the lady of the southeast quarter or the lady of spring, to the lady of Genji’s east wing. 
In chapter 33, “New Wisteria Leaves”, we see the start of friendship between Murasaki and Akashi, as Genji’s daughter enters the palace and is “returned” to her mother. Earlier Murasaki has been jealous of Akashi, but they like and respect each other—each can see why Genji holds the other in high esteem, and apart from the love of Genji, they share a daughter. 
Personally I like them both. Murasaki is described as elegant, accomplished, loving, and patient—her only perceived flaw is that she doesn’t bear Genji a child. She understands Genji better than anybody and sees through him, but he sometimes fails to understand her because he can sometimes be thoughtless and she’s too proud and conscious of people’s talks to express bitterness or jealousy, though sometimes she can’t help it. She accepts his affairs (and deceit) in quiet suffering. 
Akashi is Genji’s 2nd favourite among his women—she’s also my 2nd favourite. As I have written before, her personality is interesting because she’s proud and shy at the same time, and fully aware of a woman’s place in this society—at first she hesitates to accept him and only acquiesces because of her father, then she hesitates about moving to court and only chooses to settle at Oi, and only joins Genji when he moves to the Rokujo estate, away from court. Somehow I imagine that the author would be closer to Akashi than Murasaki.
In a way, the friendship between Murasaki and Akashi might seem strange, because they share a husband (see the wives’ rivalry and hatred in Raise the Red Lantern), but there is no bitterness between them and ultimately the thing that binds them together is the daughter they share and both love. On Murasaki’s side, she has the kindness and sensitivity to understand Akashi’s loneliness and sacrifice—Akashi never puts herself forward and tries to claim anything. On Akashi’s side, she can’t help liking the kind and loving woman who has done a lot more for her daughter than she has dared to hope. 
Out of Genji’s women, the one least developed so far is Hanachirusato (falling flowers, northeast quarter). I don’t see her as clearly as I see Murasaki and Akashi and many other characters. 

5/ Suzaku (the second Emperor in the novel) has 5 children: 
- The Heir Apparent: the mother is the Shokyoden Consort. Genji sends his daughter to palace to become his Consort—she then becomes the new Kiritsubo Consort. 
- The Third Princess (Onna San no Miya): his favourite among the 4 daughters. 
Earlier when To no Chujo was manoeuvring his daughters into “the right places”, I was thinking that he treated his daughters like chess pieces and didn’t care about their feelings. But the situation with a Retired Emperor’s daughter is different, and Suzaku’s concern for his daughter makes me see everything in a new light: in this world a woman needs the protection, guidance, and backing of a powerful patronage, or she might stray and dishonour herself and lose her social standing. Suzaku cannot comfortably leave the world until he has found his daughter secure, that’s why he has to place her in Genji’s protection, making it impossible for him to reject becoming her husband/ father/ guardian. 
Am I ruining it when noting that Suzaku and Genji are half-brothers, which makes Genji her uncle? 
In a sense The Third Princess disrupts the entire ranking when she moves to the Rokujo estate. She is a princess whereas all of Genji’s women are commoners—in terms of rank, she is higher than anyone else. Luckily she is bland, disappointingly bland in Genji’s eyes, and still a child. She cannot compare to any of his women (except Suetsumuhana perhaps). 
Kashiwagi, To no Chujo’s eldest son, is interested in her however. In chapter 34, his title is Intendant of the Right Gate Watch. I expect an affair between them. 
According to Royall Tyler’s notes, he’s in his mid-20s, whereas the princess is her mid-teens.

6/ See these lines about Yugiri and Kumoi no Kari: 
“His wife had no great merit or any particular wit, despite his deep affection for her. Familiarity had dulled his enthusiasm now that all was settled between them, and at heart he still found it hard to turn his thoughts from the varied charms of the ladies his father had brought together—especially Her Highness, of course, since, considering her birth, his father showed no sign of any great interest in her, and he could tell that his father was only keeping up appearances. Not that he had anything untoward in mind, but he did not want to miss any chance to see her.” (Ch.34) 
Is that not a bad sign? Yugiri is already bored with his wife, and interested in his father’s women. 

7/ In chapter 34, the Kiritsubo Consort (daughter of Genji and Akashi) gives birth. 
I’m going to be a spoilsport by noting that the birth takes place sometime after Genji’s 40th birthday celebrations—according to Royall Tyler’s calculations, she’s about 12 then, and the father, The Heir Apparent, is about 14.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

The Tale of Genji: chapters 28-31, indirectness, Tamakazura’s suitors

1/ In chapter 28, “The Typhoon”, we can see that Yugiri is becoming more and more like his father. 

2/ How many men at court pursue Tamakazura (Yugao’s daughter)? 
- Genji: her guardian. 
- Yugiri: Genji’s son with Aoi. 
- To no Chujo’s sons, i.e. her half-brothers. These people need to calm down with all the incest. 
- His Highness of War: previously Prince Hotaru. He is Genji’s half-brother, but I’m not sure who the mother is. Genji encourages Tamakazura to accept him but she doesn’t. 
- Higekuro: the Right Commander. His nickname means black beard. He is brother of the Shokyoden Consort (who is married to Suzaku, the second Emperor in the novel, and mother of the current Heir Apparent). His wife is daughter of the Lord of Ceremonial (previously His Highness of War) and Murasaki’s half-sister. 
- The Intendant of the Left Watch: Murasaki’s half-brother. He’s not mentioned till chapter 30, “Thoroughwort Flowers”. 
- Reizei, the current Emperor. 
Did I miss anyone?
The only man that seems to interest Tamakazura is Reizei and she goes along with Genji’s suggestion to become the new Mistress of Staff, which would make her serve the Emperor as a quasi-wife but not give her an official title. But she ends up marrying Higekuro. 
I had a discussion on Twitter with Knulp and Marina about the marriage, and we compared translations: Tyler’s, Seidensticker’s, Washburn’s, and the French one: https://twitter.com/hdinguyen11/status/1274305190590656513 
There seem to be some significant differences. I wasn’t sure about why Tamakazura accepted Higekuro when there was no development, but according to Wikipedia, he rapes her, which is possible, judging by the hints in Tyler’s translation. It makes sense and all the reactions fit together. In that context it’s more accurate to translate that afterwards Tamakazura is unhappy than to write that she finds everything tedious. 

3/ The Tale of Genji is very subtle and indirect, and Murasaki Shikibu sometimes throws out details in a way that is unusual to the modern reader and easily missed. 
For example, between chapter 29 and chapter 30, Yugiri (Genji’s son) is promoted from the Captain to the Consultant Captain. She doesn’t say anything about the change. Right when the character appears in chapter 30, she calls him the Consultant Captain without an explanation. 
However a few lines later, she has a reference to him seeing Tamakazura’s face the morning after the storm (chapter 28), so we know it’s him. 
Similarly, their grandmother (Omiya, mother of Aoi and To no Chujo) dies between chapters—Murasaki Shikibu doesn’t mention her death, she starts chapter 30 by describing Tamakazura’s grey clothing (which we know is the colour for mourning), then moves on to describe Yugiri’s mourning clothes. Then they talk and allude to the fact that Tamakazura doesn’t want outsiders to know that she’s in mourning because at this time only a handful of people know she’s To no Chujo’s daughter. 
Everything is very subtle and indirect. 
Murasaki Shikibu also introduces characters in “unconventional” ways (but who came before her?). For example, Higekuro has been appearing for many chapters, known as the Right Commander, but only in chapter 30 is he introduced as being related to so-and-so.  
This is why Royall Tyler’s translation is extremely helpful, because at the beginning of each chapter he has a character list, and within the chapter itself he adds lots of notes and helps readers remember the characters. This version is very reader-friendly, without spelling everything out and ruining the text. 

4/ It is surprising to see how passive, almost indifferent To no Chujo is, after knowing about Tamakazura and Genji’s plans for her. 
He is unkind to Omi no Kimi though. She is his newly discovered daughter and may have countrified manners, not wholly suitable for court, but he always makes fun of her, usually without her knowing. Genji may also be unkind to the red-nosed woman sometimes, but not in front of her. 
Omi no Kimi is interesting however. Murasaki Shikibu may describe her as rustic and lacking in taste (especially in the letters) but also gives her charm, some kind of innocence, and a liveliness that makes everyone else appear stiff and affected next to her. 

5/ In these chapters we have other male characters to whom to compare Genji.
Chapter 31 focuses on Higekuro, who is more of a douchebag. He rapes his new wife, and wants to throw away his first wife, who seems to have some mental illness. The Tale of Genji is written in the 11th century and apparently set in the 10th century, so naturally people have no understanding of mental illnesses and think she’s attacked by some spirit and get monks to “exorcise” her. 
However, I think it’s clear that Murasaki Shikibu has sympathy for her—for both of his wives. Higekuro is indifferent to both women’s feelings and only cares about himself. He is also possessive. 
He takes her away from the palace and moves her directly to his house, instead of letting her go back to the Rokujo estate, and thus breaking protocol. However, as To no Chujo makes no objections, there is nothing Genji and Tamakazura can do. Genji’s plan is thwarted. But at the same time Genji becomes much better—much nicer, in comparison. 

6/ What I find even more interesting is the reaction from the Lord of Ceremonial. He decides to move his daughter (Higekuro’s first wife) back to his house to protect her, but several years earlier, when Genji’s stripped of his rank and title, he cuts off all ties with Murasaki—also his daughter. Of course the situations are different and this one needs him more than Murasaki does, but is it not appalling that he protects one daughter but abandons another to protect himself? 

7/ As the Lord of Ceremonial takes his daughter away, he also takes his granddaughter and doesn’t give Higekuro access to her. 
Look at this line: 
“In her youthful innocence she suffered acutely from everyone’s merciless condemnation of her father and from the mounting insistence on keeping her away from him.” 
Is that not something that we can recognise today? Different cultures may have different beliefs and practices, norms may differ, society may change over time, but certain things about human behaviour remain the same. 

8/ I’m not a Freudian, but I can’t help thinking about resemblance and the idea of substitution in The Tale of Genji.  
Tamakazura looks like her mother Yugao. Reizei looks like his father Genji.

Friday, 19 June 2020

2 kinds of big novels

I’m going to get it out of the way by saying that Moby-Dick doesn’t fit into this way of dividing big novels, because Moby-Dick is more than a novel—it is 3 books put together (a novel, a whale encyclopaedia, and a philosophical book), and the story is only a small part of the book. 
Some recent articles and posts about big novels have made me think about them and storytelling, and I’ve come to the conclusion that big novels can be roughly divided into 2 types. 
The 1st type is the multiple-strand novel, which is essentially several novels put together. An example is Anna Karenina, in which we have the Anna strand and the Levin strand. Some characters belong to both sets of characters, such as Kitty or Oblonsky, but the Anna plot and the Levin plot are separate. 
Middlemarch is similar, which has 3 main plots: Dorothea- Casaubon, Lydgate- Rosamond, and Fred-Mary. Again, they sometimes intersect, but each of these plots can function as a novel on its own, even though the Fred-Mary one is thinner in comparison. Daniel Deronda is a better example, in which the Gwendolen Harleth plot and the Daniel Deronda plot only touch. 
Little Dorrit is less clear, but once I wrote that there were 4 strands of story in it: the Marshalsea prison, the Clennams, the bureaucrats, and the Marseilles prisoners. The line is more blurred, compared to Anna Karenina or Daniel Deronda, and Arthur Clennam connects all 4 plots, but they are separate—the world of the Clennams is distinct from the world of the Marshalsea prisoners and the Dorrit family, for instance, and the plot of the Marseilles prisoners is the one that stands out the most. 
Now look at War and Peace, it is different. It is the 2nd type, the one-big-story novel. War and Peace has 5 families and about 500-600 characters—they are all inter-connected and their lives are intertwined. Some readers speak of the War part and the Peace part, but they are just separate by location and action—they are not separate in the sense that they could be different books put together, especially if we look at characters such as Andrei and Nikolai. Andrei and Nikolai are not points of intersection of different strands the way Arthur Clennam is in Little Dorrit—their lives unfold in both the War part and the Peace part. 
A better example is The Tale of Genji, which is longer than War and Peace but tells a single story of Genji with his women and children. I’ve been told that about 2/3 or 3/4 through the book, Genji would die and the author would move on to tell the story of his children, but that would be a continuation. The entire book tells a single story—there are about 400 characters in the book but most of them relate to Genji one way or another. At least till he dies, Genji is always the central character, even if Murasaki Shikibu switches between perspectives. 
I think the 2nd type is harder to write. With the 1st type, you’re essentially writing 2 or several novels at the same time—you have to move back and forth between the plots, but generally speaking you’re focusing on one set of characters at a time. In contrast, when you write the one-big-story novel, the characters are not divided into different sets and you have to juggle with everyone at the same time. In The Tale of Genji for instance, Murasaki Shikibu must have full control over her 400 characters—what they’re doing, where they’re living, how old they are, when they move from one residence to another or how they move from serving one person to another, and so on. She has to keep track of passing time, age, seasons, festivals, amount of mourning time after a loved one dies, etc. and has to keep track of everyone’s age and changing titles as well as their relationships with each other. 
There may be some works that are hard to categorise, but I think big novels can be roughly divided into these 2 types.
What do you think?

Thursday, 18 June 2020

The Tale of Genji: chapters 24-27, Tamakazura and To no Chujo’s children

1/ I’m going to go straight to the point by saying that Genji is such a dick sometimes. 
In the previous blog post, I was probably creating the impression that Genji wasn’t too bad, as he matured over time and changed after his exile. But Genji doesn’t become a different man. Murasaki Shikibu, in a skilful way, drops little hints here and there that even though he seems to settle down and builds a new house for his women, he’s not quite content with them. There’s a part in him that can’t resist pursuing other women. 
For many chapters, he still pursues Asagao (bluebell), for instance, even though she always resists him. 
Murasaki Shikibu sets it up so that, when the thing with Tamakazura (Yugao’s daughter) happens, it is abhorrent but not a surprise. He brings her home, and for several months acts a guardian and talks about fatherly feelings, but afterwards wants to sleep with her. 
Just look at what happens with the Ise Consort earlier (daughter of the late Rokujo Haven, formerly Priestess of Ise, and now the Empress). The only reason Genji doesn’t get involved with her is because her mother, in her deathbed, has asked him not to. Even then, he betrays himself at one point. That animal in him doesn’t go away.
The thing with Tamakazura is only the next step, and the author shows his shamelessness in “courting” her whilst talking about fatherly feelings. 
Murasaki Shikibu is, for the large part, invisible in the text and the narrator usually appears only to remind us that she is a gentlewoman telling the story to an audience (her superiors)—only rarely does she comment on something. But her feelings about Genji’s odious behaviour to Tamakazura are quite clear—the narrator briefly comments on his strange way of being a father, but mostly we can see it in Tamakazura’s reactions (disgust, anger, pain) and Genji’s callousness. 
“That is the way of the world”, so Genji says (ch.24). 

2/ There are some similarities between Murasaki and Tamakazura in their situations. 
In both cases, Genji keeps them away from their biological fathers and acts as a father/ guardian, and then forces himself on them.  
In both cases, they are a substitute for someone else—Murasaki resembles her aunt Fujitsubo (who in turn looks like Genji’s dead mother), whereas Tamakazura looks like her mother Yugao. 
Imagine Freud reading The Tale of Genji
A crucial difference between the two is that Murasaki is about 10 when Genji first sees her and abducts her, whereas Tamakazura is about 21 when he brings her home. 

3/ How many children does To no Chujo (Genji’s brother-in-law) have? In a note at the end of chapter 25, Royall Tyler says: 
“As far as one can tell, 10 sons and 4 daughters.” 
I don’t know about you, but I sure am glad that it’s the tale of Genji, not the tale of To no Chujo. 
To be quite honest, I’m at a loss about who’s who among his sons, because each time one is mentioned, my eyes just glaze over the title, “right, one of the sons, whatever”. In chapter 26, Royall Tyler helpfully lists the children as they appear in the chapter: 
- Kashiwagi: the Right Captain, his eldest son. In these chapters, he unknowingly pursues Tamakazura. In chapter 27, he becomes the Secretary Captain. 
- Kobai: the Controller Lieutenant, his 2nd son. 
- The Fujiwara Adviser: his 3rd son. 
- Kokiden no Nyogo: his eldest daughter, the Consort. In earlier chapters, he introduces her to the Emperor (Reizei, Fujitsubo’s son), but he favours the Ise Consort and picks her to be Empress instead. To no Chujo is bitter about this failure. 
- Kumoi no Kari: his daughter with another woman (who is married to Inspector Grand Counsellor). Genji’s son Yugiri loves her but To no Chujo separates them because he has other ambitions for her. 
- Tamakazura: his daughter with Yugao. Known as the pink (nadeshiko), which is the same flower as gillyflower (tokonatsu), but tokonatsu refers to Yugao whereas nadeshiko refers to their child. Genji “adopts” her. 
- Omi no Kimi: his newly discovered daughter. She is said to be rustic and have low-class manners and language. People laugh at her and To no Chujo is embarrassed of her.  

4/ In these chapters, especially chapter 26 “The Pink”, we can clearly see what it feels like to be a woman in the Heian era of Japan—women are dependent on men and controlled by men, their lives are dictated by men. If To no Chujo uses his daughters like chess pieces to gain power for himself and his family, with no regard for their feelings, Genji appoints himself as Tamakazura’s guardian, keeps her under his control, and decides what to do with her—her thoughts are of no importance.  
Tamakazura is helpless. She is in an awkward position. At the same time, the gossip about Omi no Kimi, To no Chujo’s newly discovered daughter, makes her think it may be a better idea after all to stay with Genji. 

5/ In chapter 25 “The Fireflies”, there is a defence of tales, or fiction. 
In The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu writes about other arts: poetry (over 800 poems in the book), music (koto, biwa, shō…), dance, painting (especially in chapter 17 “The Picture Contest”), gardening (see the way Genji designs his gardens according to seasons for his Rokujo estate), writing of tales, etc.  
As Tolstoy does with Russia, in War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Murasaki Shikibu, in The Tale of Genji, depicts Japan or at least Japanese court in the Heian era—she captures the entire world with its customs and habits, the culture, the aesthetics, the thoughts. 
However I should get back to this point once I’ve finished reading the entire book.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

The Tale of Genji: chapters 21-23, new generation, education, and Rokujo estate

Some of Yoshitaka Amano’s paintings for The Tale of Genji
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1/ From chapter 21, titled “The Maidens”, the story starts to focus on the new generation. 
Genji has 3 children, in this order: 
- Reizei: Genji’s son with Fujitsubo (Her Late Eminence), but to the world, he’s son of the late Kiritsubo Emperor (Genji’s father). Currently the Emperor. 
- Yugiri: son of Aoi, Genji’s first wife. Aoi dies a short time after childbirth. 
- The daughter, known as Akashi no Himegimi: Genji’s daughter with the Akashi Novice’s daughter, but she’s now raised by Murasaki. 
Genji doesn’t have any children with Murasaki, the love of his life. 
Chapter 21 is particularly interesting for the subject of education, and also shows the difference between Genji and his best friend To no Chujo, who has several children from different women. 
Genji focuses on raising his children properly—he deliberately makes it difficult for his son Yugiri by promoting him to a lower rank than expected (6th rank instead of 4th rank) and making him work for it. Genji prioritises learning and good qualities for his children. He is not that different from rich and successful parents in modern day who don’t give their children a high position or the entire inheritance but make them work hard to prove themselves. 
To no Chujo, in contrast, focuses more on ambitions. Among his children, the most notable at the moment are two daughters. One of them he has introduced to the Emperor—she is now the new Kokiden Consort, but Reizei, the Emperor, prefers the Ise Consort and makes her the Empress. 
Having failed, he has ambitious plans for another daughter, known as Kumoi no Kari. Her mother (not the same as the Kokiden Consort’s) is married to the Inspector Grand Counsellor. The man treats his daughters like chess pieces. The plans aren’t going well, though, because the poor girl is interested in Yugiri. 

2/ In chapter 21, Murasaki Shikibu raises the question of love vs social ambitions. 
Reading The Tale of Genji as a woman, I can’t help seeing how shitty it was to be a woman in that time, even for ladies at court, who were literally at the top of society. Imagine being at the bottom. 

3/ In these chapters, Genji and To no Chujo are rivals, and it is interesting that very early on in the novel, Murasaki Shikibu already sets up their rivalry—see the Aging Dame of Staff. 
She sets things up so cleverly that, as I recently realised, some characters were “sneakily” introduced several chapters before they officially appeared, that their introductions were not noticed by a first-time reader. 

4/ Yugiri, like his father and perhaps other men at court in general, is interested in 2 girls at the same time: To no Chujo’s daughter Kumoi no Kari, and a Gosechi dancer, daughter of Koremitsu (Genji’s confidant). 
I’m going to be a spoilsport by pointing out, in case it wasn’t clear, that he and Kumoi no Kari are first cousins. 

5/ As Murasaki Shikibu is a cruel writer who likes challenging and torturing her readers, Genji, after building some residences nearby, decides to build another house at Rokujo estate and moves there, away from court. Again, his women change “names”. 
- Murasaki: Genji’s wife (after Aoi). Fujitsubo’s niece and daughter of the former His Highness of War, now Lord of Ceremonial. Resembles Fujitsubo. Previously referred to as the lady of Genji’s west wing or Genji’s darling. Associated with the colour purple. Genji and Murasaki live at the southeast quarter—associated with spring. 
- Hanachirusato: sister of the former Reikeiden Consort. Associated with the village of falling flowers. Previously the lady in east pavilion. She now lives in the northeast quarter—associated with summer. 
- The former Ise Consort, the Empress (Akikonomu): daughter of the late Rokujo Haven. I’m not sure why she moves here (what about the Emperor?), but she has the southwest quarter, which is where she once lived—associated with autumn. 
- The Akashi Novice’s daughter (Akashi no Kimi): Genji meets her while in exile. She and Genji are second cousins, as his late mother is daughter of the Akashi Novice’s uncle. They have a daughter together, known as Akashi no Himegini. Previously known as the lady at Oi, now often called Akashi. She now moves to the estate and lives in the northwest quarter—associated with winter. 
- Suetsumuhana: also called the red-nosed woman. The late Hitachi Prince’s daughter. Associated with the safflower because of its dye. In chapter 17, Genji moves her to the west wing of the east pavilion (Genji’s Nijo estate, at court). She doesn’t move to Rokujo estate. 

6/ Following the chapter “The Maidens” is a chapter about another maiden—chapter 22, “Tamakazura”, translated as “The Tendril Wreath”. 
Tamakazura is the nickname for the lost daughter of Yugao (twilight beauty) with To no Chujo. 
In the chapter, Murasaki Shikibu leaves the current narrative to pick up a thread from earlier. 
The nurse has been bringing up Tamakazura, without knowing anything about Yugao’s fate, but after her husband’s death, has to choose between accepting a suitor for Tamakazura and going to the city to help her find her father. The interesting part is the disagreement between her and Ukon, formerly Yugao’s gentlewoman and now Murasaki’s. The nurse wants to contact the father—To no Chujo. Ukon wants to inform Genji, because she herself works in Genji’s house. 
Previously, there have been conflicts between the two because Ukon has to keep the secret about Yugao and Genji, whilst the nurse doesn’t tell her about the child. Now they disagree about what to do about Tamakazura. 
Finally Genji wins, and the young woman moves in with Hanachirusato (the lady from the village of falling flowers). 
But isn’t that wrong? His reasoning is that To no Chujo has lots of children to busy himself with already, and he himself has only 3, but who is he to decide? She is To no Chujo’s daughter—he deserves to know. 

7/ I like that Genji is (usually) honest to Murasaki. He often downplays his feelings for other women, sometimes even dismisses them as unimportant, but generally still tells her about other women, about what he plans to do or who he intends to meet, etc. 
In chapter 22, he tells her about Yugao, almost without restraint. 
Yugao’s daughter Tamakazura is now known as the lady in the west wing, because she lives in the west wing of the northeast quarter (sharing a building with Hanachirusato).  

8/ Genji tries to make it fair to everyone. 
The women are not equal—Murasaki lives in the same building with him, the other women don’t, and he doesn’t move Suetsumuhana to the Rokujo estate. But he makes sure that all of them are taken care of and get everything they need, and sometimes visits them so they don’t feel neglected, even if, in the case of Suetsumuhana, he no longer cares about her. 
The case of Suetsumuhana is particularly interesting, because Genji doesn’t feel attracted to her anymore and sometimes may even be unkind to her in his thoughts or behind her back. But he feels a duty to take care of her, which he does, despite getting nothing out of it, and he still visits her, as we see in chapter 23.
Suetsumuhana, under a lesser writer’s pen, might easily have become mere comic relief, or a two-dimensional character created only to prove a point about Genji’s goodness. But Murasaki Shikibu is a great writer, and in chapter 15 gives the character more complexity. Suetsumuhana is proud, stubborn, antiquated, and not very self-aware. She is an interesting character on her own.