The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji was written and published by MURASAKI SHIKIBU (c. 973 – c. 1014 or 1025), who was a novelist, poet and a lady in writing at the imperial court during the Heian period. Her real name is unknown, but she may have been from the Takako Fujiwara.

The Tale of Genji was published around the year 1011. Consisting of 54 chapters, it is generally considered to be the world’s first true novel, and thereby it occupies a critical role in the world‘s literary canon. It is almost universally acknowledged that this book is the finest flower of all Japanese literature, past or present.

The Tale of Genji offers an unparalleled glimpse into the spirit and grandeur of the Heian era of Japan, which extended from 794 A.D. to 1191, between the Nara and kamakura eras. During this era of peace and economic stability, an aristocracy controlled by the Fujiwara family dominated Japan, and the nation’s capital was at Kyoto. This period was a classic age of literary and art activities. Japan‘s culture was no longer largely taken from China. The Tale of Genji consists of two parts .Genji the hero of part one is the husband of the mother of Kaoru, the hero of part two and also the grandfather of Niou, kauro’s friend and nemesis.

 Each part of the novel is self contained, and each part, in form, is a different short novel. Genji’s story is about the whole arc of one man’s life- his mistakes and his virtues, his experiences and what he learns from them. Kaoru’s story begins when he is a young adult and follows the ramification of a single relationship, covering some seven or eight years. It seems to be unfinished. The conversations between characters are at times very well composed poetry of songs. The Tale of Genji also shows that the social arrangements in 10th century Japanese court are considerably different from ours. It is also about domestic rivalry and intrigue. Whatever might have been happening politically and militarily is entirely absent.

 The Buddhist world of 10th century Japan is at the forefront of the narrative. Monks and nuns are characters. Poetic pleas and responses always refer to the traditional images of the fleeting nature of love and life, which is also common, placed in the conversations of the characters with one another. In the 50 to 60 years covered by the novel, the fleeting and illusory nature of the world is invoked again and again – children are said to be too beautiful for the world, death strikes suddenly, blossoms fall, seasons pass. 1100 pages seem long but yet short.

Srividya Sundram



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