Jim Grimsley's Reviews > A Tale of Flowering Fortunes: Annals of Japanese Aristocratic Life in the Heian Period

A Tale of Flowering Fortunes by William H. McCullough
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I read about this book when trying to learn more about The Tale of Genji and again when reading books about Japanese history. The descriptions of the tale, its importance as an evolution in history, and the description of its idiosyncrasies, were intriguing enough that I found a copy and read it. At first I thought I had made a mistake; it is a manuscript that's mostly of interest to scholars and to serious students of the period and of early Japanese writing. But the fact that it was written by a woman, a courtier, and a contemporary of Murasaki Shikibu made it more interesting and the reading of it was pleasurable. (The authorship is a subject of much discussion, of course; but the manuscript itself presents a first person point of view of a contemporary of the Fujiwara constellation of families and connections.) As a companion to Genji, it is illuminating, being a blend of the luxurious, stately activities described in the novel and the history of the Fujiwara family's dominance over the offices of emperor and empress. I am familiar enough with the period that I could see behind the action to the power politics that are submerged in the writing, the infighting between the branches of the family, and the all-important series of marriages, births, and liaisons that made up life in the capital. Nevertheless it was disconcerting to read in the footnotes the various places where the author made up incidents and cited incorrect dates. In one passage she borrowed to the point of plagiarism from Murasaki Shikibu's diary. The notes within the body of the text and appended to the volumes are the richest part of the reading, full of detail about the imperial calendar and the elaborate ceremonies that drove its life.
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Finished Reading
November 25, 2020 – Shelved

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