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).