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Book Club > Summer-Fall 2020 The Tale of Genji

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message 1: by Carol (last edited Jul 28, 2020 04:02PM) (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 1225 comments This is our discussion thread for The Tale of Genji, commencing in May 2020 and continuing over the next 3 6 months, at whatever pace each reader prefers.

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu سيرة الأمير جينجي by Murasaki Shikibu The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu La historia de Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

If you're joining in, let us know which translation you're reading, abridged or unabridged, and anything else you care to share.


message 2: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 1225 comments From Wiki, major English translation options, in chronological order.

The Suematsu Genji (1882) – Suematsu's Genji was the first translation into English, but is considered of poor quality and is not often read today. Significantly, only a few chapters were completed.

The Waley Genji (1921–1933) –Waley's Genji is considered a great achievement for his time,[25] although some purists have criticized Waley's changes to the original.[26] Others have criticized as overly-free the manner in which Waley translated the original text. Regardless, it continues to be well-appreciated and widely read today. When the Waley Genji was first published, it was eagerly received. For example, Time explained that "the reviewers' floundering tributes indicate something of its variegated appeal. In limpid prose The Tale combines curiously modern social satire with great charm of narrative. Translator Waley has done service to literature in salvaging to the Occident this masterpiece of the Orient."

The Seidensticker Genji (1976) – Seidensticker's Genji is an attempt to correct what were perceived to have been Waley's failings without necessarily making his translation obsolete. Seidensticker hews more closely to the original text, but in the interests of readability, he takes some liberties. For example, he identifies most of the characters by name so that the narrative can be more easily followed by a broad-based audience of Western readers. (In 2008, a 4,400-page Braille version of the Seidensticker Genji was completed. This Braille edition was the product of five Japanese housewives from Setagaya, Tokyo, working voluntarily for five years and was subsequently donated to the Japan Braille Library (日本点字図書館) and the Library of Congress. It is also available for download.[29])

The McCullough Genji (1994) – An abridgement.

The Tyler Genji (2001) – Tyler's Genji contains more extensive explanatory footnotes and commentary than the previous translations, describing the numerous poetical allusions and cultural aspects of the tale. Tyler consciously attempted to mimic the original style in ways that the previous translations did not. For example, this version does not use names for most characters, identifying them instead by their titles in a manner which was conventional in the context of the 11th-century original text – "...while wonderfully evocative of the original, can be difficult to follow...". Tyler's version "makes a special virtue of attending to a certain ceremonial indirectness in the way the characters address one another. The great temptation for a translator is to say the unsaid things, and Tyler never gives in to it." This has been praised by some critics as "preserving more of what once seemed unfamiliar or strange to English readers", as understanding the culture of Lady Murasaki's time is arguably a chief reason for reading Genji.

The Washburn Genji (2015) – Dennis Washburn's Genji separates the poems from the prose and puts interior thoughts in italics. The translation has been received slightly more controversially than Tyler's.

Here's the link. Many attributions are missing and the article could be improved if anyone here is motivated to do so.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tal...


message 3: by Carol (last edited May 13, 2020 05:06PM) (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 1225 comments A link to Ian Buruma's 2015 review of the Washburn Genji, and The Tale of Genji, generally, as published in the New Yorker. No doubt the spoiler-averse should avoid, but I found it highly valuable for setting the stage for reading and appreciating it.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20...

and from Japan Times, a review of the same translation.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/...

From the NYTimes, a 2001 review of the Royall Tyler translation:

https://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/02/bo...


message 4: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments I have a 40-year old paperback of Seidensticker's translation. Slightly yellowed but still in very good shape. I read his shorter version many years ago, which contains most of early chapters, but have never gotten around to reading the whole thing.

I've read any number of other books on the Heian period, including The World of the Shining Prince which is specifically about the setting of Genji (The Shining Prince). So I may comment on things not explained in the Seidensticker translation as I go along, and people can correct me by citing Tyler's extensive footnotes :)


message 5: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 1225 comments A fine plan, Bill. :)


message 6: by Ian (new)

Ian Josh | 270 comments I have the Waley translation of the first 200pages or so in a Dover Thrift Edition.

I assume that will be long enough for me to decide if I need to attempt the rest... and I assume I will be happy if I am able to finish just this tiny version.


message 7: by Erin (new)

Erin (erinm31) | 8 comments I have the Tyler translation. I had planned to start in July after completing ‘The Story of the Stone’ saga, but it’s not often that an opportunity to join a group read comes along so I will plan to start The Tale of Genji later this month after finishing some of my current reads. =)


message 8: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 1225 comments I bought the Washburn edition with the lovely cover. I aspire to get farther than I did with Pillow Book, which might have been 40 pages. I was horrified, but learned that some texts I could enjoy in a group instructional setting have zero payoff when read alone at bedtime. If I get 1/3 through Genji, I’m rewarding myself in some as yet undefined way.


message 9: by Lucy (new)

Lucy Hutchins | 8 comments Hello everyone, I am new to this group and this is my first post. I have been lurking for a few weeks (sorry!) and have been waiting to see what the next reads would be. I am delighted you are dong Genji as I got this book only a few weeks ago at the beginning of lockdown but have not started it yet. It is the Tyler translation and I was shocked at the size of it when it arrived. I read an abridged version many, many years ago and enjoyed it so I am looking forward to reading the full version and contributing to the group.


message 10: by Agnetta (new)

Agnetta | 285 comments Carol wrote: "I bought the Washburn edition with the lovely cover. I aspire to get farther than I did with Pillow Book, which might have been 40 pages. I was horrified, but learned that some texts I could enjoy ..."

hardcover or "wave"-paperback ? it is a fascinating object, the wave-paperback. it also has a beautiful back , so if not read, it will still look great on the shelf.


message 11: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments That's too bad, Carol. I enjoyed the Pillow Book for what it was, a miscellany of observations and criticisms.

That's more than I can say for The Story of the Stone. I got 300 pages into that one before giving up. It seemed to just be about spoiled rich kids behaving badly.


message 12: by Erin (new)

Erin (erinm31) | 8 comments Lucy wrote: "Hello everyone, I am new to this group and this is my first post. I have been lurking for a few weeks (sorry!) and have been waiting to see what the next reads would be. I am delighted you are dong..."

Welcome, Lucy! I have been here a while but mostly lurking too just because at tomes I’ve had a lot going on in RL and then “so many books, so little time!” I am really looking forward to ‘The Tale of Genji’ too! =)


message 13: by Erin (new)

Erin (erinm31) | 8 comments Bill wrote: "That's too bad, Carol. I enjoyed the Pillow Book for what it was, a miscellany of observations and criticisms.

That's more than I can say for The Story of the Stone. I got 300 pages into that one ..."


I’m looking forward to reading ‘The Pillow Book’ later this year as well (reading several of the classics of East Asia is one of my reading goals for the year). I agree that it can be very helpful to know the background of a book, especially historical works, to not come in with the wrong expectations and be disappointed. I am currently reading ‘The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong’ and so far the history is more interesting to me than the memoir itself except that I keep in mind why and for whom it was written.

I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t care for ‘The Story of the Stone’! What translation were you reading? They are wealthy and in many ways spoiled to be sure, but as the story progresses, their characters are developed further, and I find the protagonist, Bao-yu to be quite likeable even with his shortcomings for how caring and considerate he is of not only his cousins, but all the maids in the household. Plus I find it a fascinating slice of life and novel of manners. =)


message 14: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments I don't have it anymore, so I can't be sure who the translator was. It was a slightly older Penguin edition... perhaps David Hawkes?

It's probably just me. I gave up on Romance of the Three Kingdoms, too. One of these days I'll try Journey to the West, to complete the experiment. I've been warned away from Outlaws of the Marsh already.


message 15: by Erin (new)

Erin (erinm31) | 8 comments Bill wrote: "I don't have it anymore, so I can't be sure who the translator was. It was a slightly older Penguin edition... perhaps David Hawkes?

It's probably just me. I gave up on Romance of the Three Kingdo..."


David Hawkes’ is the most recent English translation of ‘The Story of the Stone.’ I thought maybe you had either an older translation and/or a severely abridged edition. It definitely is not plot focused and I enjoy it more taking my time with it. What did you hear negative of ‘Outlaws of the Marsh’? I’ve been thinking of embarking on that or ‘Three Kingdoms’ next year.


message 16: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments Maybe it wasn't the David Hawkes' translation, then. The copy I had was maybe 20 years old, from before Penguin switched to solid black covers. I'm told the 'Outlaws of the Marsh' is both very bawdy and very cruel. So I'm putting it off until I try the others.

But on the subject of Genji, finally in chapter 2 Genji is allowed to speak, and what does this perfect man talk about? How to pick women.


message 17: by Carol (last edited May 15, 2020 05:07PM) (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 1225 comments Bill wrote: "That's too bad, Carol. I enjoyed the Pillow Book for what it was, a miscellany of observations and criticisms.

That's more than I can say for The Story of the Stone. I got 300 pages into that one ..."


I read it in two twenty page segments and each time I finished, I remembered nothing. I do need a plot. I’m not an appreciator of poetry generally either. I’m not proud. I’m glad other readers are different. But my Pillow Book experience was a bummer, and not inexpensive, to boot.


message 18: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 1225 comments Lucy wrote: "Hello everyone, I am new to this group and this is my first post. I have been lurking for a few weeks (sorry!) and have been waiting to see what the next reads would be. I am delighted you are dong..."

Welcome, Lucy! There’s no shame in lurking until you’re comfortable but it’s great to have you join us for Genji.


message 19: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 1225 comments Agnetta wrote: "Carol wrote: "I bought the Washburn edition with the lovely cover. I aspire to get farther than I did with Pillow Book, which might have been 40 pages. I was horrified, but learned that some texts ..."

The paperback. It is a lovely chunkster.


message 20: by Jeshika (new)

Jeshika Paperdoll (jeshikapaperdoll) | 209 comments I found an ebook edition that gives me 160ish pages free and then I think it's 99p if I want the rest. I'll be giving it a go. Are we sectioning it out in here? Or just gonna charge in at whatever speed?


message 21: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments It would be nice to section it, but none of us know where the good breakpoints are since we haven't read it yet...

Does the free teaser end with Heartvine? I suspect that will be a breakpoint.


message 22: by Jeshika (new)

Jeshika Paperdoll (jeshikapaperdoll) | 209 comments Maybe we could start sectioning by chapters and see how that goes?

Haha, nope. It looks like it ends in the middle of Evening Faces. Not even at a good cut-off point I don't think... Unless that chapter ends with "...his secret offerings: "


message 23: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments Wow. That's only like 70 pages in my edition. A very small teaser, indeed.


message 24: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments Chapter 1: Features the birth of Genji, the death of his mother, his coming of age, and his first marriage.

All of this is told third-person as a sort of prolog narration before the characters take the stage.

Marriage in this time period takes all sorts of forms and is significantly looser than we think of marriage. There were no religious or civil ceremonies or registrations.

One kind of marriage (and one that has survived in Japan in declining numbers) is where the parents agree to marry their children, to form ties with families of similar standing or such. Genji's first marriage is like this, and takes one of the common forms: his wife continues to live with her father, and Genji spends the night or a few days there from time to time. Genji already has his own mansion, but it's unclear at this point if he has 'installed' (to use the term often used in translation) any women there yet. Not all parental-agreement marriages see the wife continue to live with her father. Such a marriage can also lead to the wife becoming the 'principal wife' and living in the preferred north quarter of her husband's mansion.

A noble mansion was surrounded by a wall and contained within it multiple houses connected by covered and/or enclosed passageways. Each wife/consort of the man of the mansion would have her own house there, and the husband would travel around his mansion visiting them. Seidensticker in his introduction names certain of Genji's wives by the location of their house within his mansion.

Another type of marriage is when a man carries off a woman and installs her in a house in his mansion. If he has sufficiently higher standing than her family, there's little they can do to stop this. Occasionally you see a wife carried off and installed by a different man, leaving her marital status confused.

Another, sometimes more consensual form of marriage is where a man visits a woman at her parents' house until she admits him to her bedchamber. After three such nights (not necessarily contiguous), the man, woman, and her parents all must admit that the couple is now married. But if his visits start tapering off, at what point are they no longer married? It's unclear.

A man was allowed to have multiple wives, but a woman was not allowed to have multiple husbands. This isn't to say women didn't have affairs. Just that they weren't allowed to have multiple above-board relationships at the same time.

This ignores the subject of the Emperor's women, which would require its own long, involved post. I'll skip that.


message 25: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments I'm going to lump Chapters 2 & 3 into one post, since I think the chapter break comes in a poor place.

In Chapter 2, Genji and his friends sit up late at night talking about women: women they've known, what makes a good woman, and how to find a good woman. Later in the chapter Genji finds himself spending the night at the governor of Kii's mansion and on a whim begins pursuing his married daughter. Chapter 3 continues this pursuit, and when it falls through Genji has a one-night stand with whatever woman he accidentally stumbles into.

Now on to my personal opinions. I know it's good to try to view old stories within their culture, but I can't get over what lousy human beings these guys are, and that applies to pretty much their whole social class. They want docile, convenient, constant women who are also capable of running a house when the man isn't around. They're rank hypocrites because they display none of the positive attributes they're looking for in their women. They couldn't care less what the women themselves want. But it does set the tone for much of the novel, and what we're going to see men do to women throughout.

I have to ask, in what way is Genji's behavior in the affair of the daughter of the governor of Kii any different to that of the protagonist of The Lake? We found the latter reprehensible. Is it only because Genji is beautiful, accomplished, and of high birth that we find his similar behaviors acceptable?


message 26: by Lucy (new)

Lucy Hutchins | 8 comments Bill wrote: "Chapter 1: Features the birth of Genji, the death of his mother, his coming of age, and his first marriage.

All of this is told third-person as a sort of prolog narration before the characters tak..."


Bill wrote: "Chapter 1: Features the birth of Genji, the death of his mother, his coming of age, and his first marriage.



All of this is told third-person as a sort of prolog narration before the characters tak..."


Thank you for this Bill. I have just finished chapter 1 in the Royall Tyler edition. Your information is very useful and as you say marriage was very complicated. I will read your post on chapters 2 and 3 when I have read them.


message 27: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments In World Within Walls Donald Keene quotes Motoori Norinaga's take on the Genji Monogatari:


The purpose of The Tale of Genji may be likened to the man who, loving the lotus flower, must collect and store muddy and foul water in order to plant and cultivate the flower. The impure mud of illicit love affairs described in the tale is there not for the purpose of being admired but for the purpose of nurturing the flower of the awareness of the sorrow of human existence.


(Motoori is the famous 18th century scholar of National Learning, a rejection of Chinese influence and an embrace of Japanese culture independent of that influence.)


message 28: by Alison (new)

Alison Fincher | 153 comments Bill wrote: "In World Within Walls Donald Keene quotes Motoori Norinaga's take on the Genji Monogatari:


The purpose of The Tale of Genji may be likened to the man who, loving the lotus flower, ..."


I've read interpretations of Genji as a Buddhist parable. I buy it.


message 29: by Aleksandra (new)

Aleksandra (asamonek) | 44 comments I have just recently started on Genji and I am reading Seidensticker's unabridged version, which is 1184 pages in total. I do not think that I will be done by the end of August, given that I am reading +-1 chapter a day. Would it be an option to extend our reading period beyond August? Would anyone else also be interested in the extension?

After the first chapters, the main thing I noticed it that Seidensticker's translation reads smoothly. I have not expected the text to be as approachable. I also appreciate his special attention to puns in poetry, the explanations he gives on the meanings and symbolism change a great deal in my perception of the text. As a non-historian and someone who speaks Japanese rather poorly, I benefit from such method of translating a great deal.

As for the "romance" or "love affair" elements of the novel, I assume they are non-existent. With the jarring imbalance of power present in the relationships described in Genji, I do not suppose that the word "love" is appropriate. Women may indeed be making choices in relation to affairs with men, but these are overwhelmingly social-economic choices and not ones concerning the affairs of the heart. Of course, I am not expecting feminism to sneak into an early 11th century novel, especially not in a form similar to how we would conceive of it today. But I do think that instead words like "love affair", etc., one would be more accurate to say "purchase" or "service" when transposing the novel to contemporary language.

The most ridiculously horrible aspect of the novel for me is that, clearly, its approach to romance closely resembles that of many contemporary novels of romance-related genres. Ten centuries went by, but the story of women being mere objects of love for men to use and enjoy is still as fresh as ever.

Bill mentioned the similarities with The Lake, which I also see, although I do not perceive Genji as any less reprehensible than Gimpei. I think one may only see Genji's behavior as acceptable or assume it will be seen as such if one was raised to see the behavior of men in power in that way, which I guess may not be typical of my demographic. Also, the huge time difference between the creation of the male characters by Tanizaki and Lady Murasaki does make Gimpei's existence and attitude much more shocking, at least in my perception, perhaps because 11th century sexism is much more to be expected than 20th century sexism.

And lastly, is there some way to get insight into the historical significance of the events and references in each chapter without reading some academic work after Genji? I would like to be able to understand the chapters in context as I go through them. The novel is not particularly informative as is, a significant part of what I read so far is rather cryptic and filled with men go shopping for women while women try to make the best of it fluff. Is there some sort of friendly companion or internet resource which you would recommend?


message 30: by Aleksandra (new)

Aleksandra (asamonek) | 44 comments Bill wrote: "I have a 40-year old paperback of Seidensticker's translation. Slightly yellowed but still in very good shape. I read his shorter version many years ago, which contains most of early chapters, but ..."

Also, I am so grateful to have Bill in this thread.


message 31: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments Thank you for joining me in this read, Aleksandra! I was beginning to think I was the only one in the group reading this.

It's not the sort of book I plan to read all at once. I've been reading a chapter after finishing another book. I just read chapter 21 yesterday. I certainly won't get to the end by August, but maybe by the end of the year. Extending the read is just fine by me. Feel free to comment on wherever you are in the text.

I've read The World of the Shining Prince in addition to various history books on Heian Japan. I don't know of any internet resources to recommend.

Concerning your use of the word 'purchase'...

Women, in theory, had the right to own property in Heian Japan, including real estate and the income derived from being a landholder over estates. But it was political office that was the chief form of capital, which allowed particular men to violate the property rights of others with their political authority. Since this was denied to women, they needed a man to defend their interests, including their property. You'll see throughout the novel women without such defense falling into poverty and ruin.

Feel free to ask about anything you might find cryptic. I don't expect I'll be able to have an answer to everything, but I'll do what I can.

I continue to be impressed by your command of English. I wish my Japanese was as good.


message 32: by Aleksandra (new)

Aleksandra (asamonek) | 44 comments Bill wrote: "Thank you for joining me in this read, Aleksandra! I was beginning to think I was the only one in the group reading this.

It's not the sort of book I plan to read all at once. I've been reading a ..."


Thanks to you, Bill, my hypothesis as to "why does Genji's father have so many women around?" changed from "because he was a rich a**hole in olden times maybe?" to "roughly what Bill just said", so your running commentary for these chapters was priceless. Was there a reason you stopped posting after chapter 3? I am in chapter 5 now and I have a feeling I do not even recognize what I am missing...

The extension proposal is partly due to my trying to make the best of reading Genji now, since it's not exactly the kind of book I would re-read within a few years. I will definitely order The World of the Shining Prince and will probably post a bunch of silly or/and basic questions as I proceed.


message 33: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) | 1225 comments I'll push the discussion end date out until the end of October, for now. If people are still commenting, we'll leave it as "current" in parallel, so that it's on display on the landing page.

I have learned a great deal from these comments.


message 34: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments I'd like to start by saying that the following should not be taken as a criticism of anyone.

I didn't appear that anyone else was reading Genji, and that I was talking to the wind, so I stopped posting. But I've been meaning to read it for a long time, so I continued to read it intermittently and will finish it eventually. I can't guarantee that'll be by the end of the year.

Reading Genji now also aligns well with my COVID goal: now that I'm stuck at home, it's a good time to read the books that are too large to carry around.


message 35: by iliana (new)

iliana (ssk52) | 69 comments Hi all! I'm also reading it slowly but I haven't collected my thoughts so far on it. I also really like your commentary, Bill!


message 36: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments Chapters 22 through 30 center on Tamakazura, the daughter of To no Chujo and The Lady of the Evening Faces from chapter 4. She and her retainers turn down what seems a promising marriage for her in the provinces to return in poverty to the capital. There, they are taken in by Genji who behaves in his usual way, harassing Tamakuzara in the hopes that she will give in and be his. Genji is at this time around 45 and Tamakazura 20, which would not be considered an inappropriate age difference at the time. Genji deliberately hurts Murasaki in this 'courtship', and I had a great sense of foreboding as this storyline began. I wonder if contemporary readers would see things the same way.

The tale wanders through various outings and events with the relationship between Genji and Tamakazura (the daughter of The Lady of the Evening Faces) driving the tension, until the beginning of chapter 31 which begins with an oblique description of her marriage.

It seems a good place to take a break for a bit and read another book.


message 37: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments Chapter 31 is disappointing in a number of ways. Tamakazura is unhappy with her marriage, but we're not given any reasons why she chose the man she did over another she might have been happier with. A whirlwind of events results from this marriage, none of them covered in sufficient detail and none of them resolved. Perhaps they will be revisited later.

I'm surprised that Higekuro's father-in-law would take his daughter home just because Higekuro has taken up with another woman. It's not like any other man in this novel (or time period) is expected to be monogamous. I must be missing something.

Chapter 32 is back to the usual elegance of the idle rich, as Genji prepares to send his daughter to court to hook her up with the crown prince who has just reached adulthood and is unattached. Then Genji's son Yugiri is pressured to finally get married and strained relations continue to get in the way of the marriage his (and his intended) intend. I hope this works out, but somehow I don't expect it to.


message 38: by G.G. (new)

G.G. | 20 comments Bill wrote: "Chapter 31 is disappointing in a number of ways. Tamakazura is unhappy with her marriage, but we're not given any reasons why she chose the man she did over another she might have been happier with..."
Forgive me for disagreeing, but Tamakazura does not choose her husband: no noblewoman in this period did. Higekuro has the permission of Tamakazura's father, Tō no Chūjō, to marry her. See Tyler, 520-21, which describes Higekuro "summoning the Secretary Captain [=Kashiwagi], his deputy in the Right Palace Guards, and passionately urging him to press his suit with His Excellency [Tō no Chūjō, Kashiwagi's father and also Tamakazura's father]. His Excellency could see nothing wrong with him [Higekuro], since he was a fine man who promised to become a pillar of the realm…." And thus he allows Higekuro to go ahead. Kashiwagi’s serving as messenger for his “boss” can be seen as his performance of a valuable service that may help his career; and the marriage between Higekuro and Tamakazura can be seen as “one up” for Tō no Chūjō over Genji, revenge of a sort for the defeat suffered by Tō no Chūjō's daughter, the Kiritsubo Consort, at the hands of Genji’s adopted daughter Akikonomu.
Higekuro's father-in-law takes his daughter home because she--and therefore he, as her father--has been humiliated when Higekuro marries the lower-ranking Tamakazura.
I don't recall which translation you're reading: it's possible that all of this is less than clear in the Seidensticker translation!


message 39: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments Disagreeing is always fine! I'm glad to see someone else commenting! ^_^

I must have missed the bit you quoted, or Seidensticker spun it differently. Since the page counts don't match, could I ask what chapter that quote is from and roughly how far into the chapter it is so I can look it up? I have to admit to being surprised by who Tamakazura married, and it wasn't at all obvious to me that her father set it up.


message 40: by G.G. (new)

G.G. | 20 comments Bill wrote: "Disagreeing is always fine! I'm glad to see someone else commenting! ^_^

I must have missed the bit you quoted, or Seidensticker spun it differently. Since the page counts don't match, could I ask..."

You're right: Seidensticker spun it very differently. You can compare Tyler pp. 520-21 with Seidensticker pp. 488-89 (towards the end of his "Purple Trousers" chapter). In the next chapter ("The Cypress Pillar," p. 491, S. has Genji muse: "Genji too was unhappy. He was sorry that she had done as she had, but of course helpless to change things." T., p. 525, has: "Genji, too, was annoyed and disappointed, but it was too late now...." much closer to the original:
otodo mo kokoroyukazu kuchioshi to obosedo, iukainaki koto nite.... ("Makibashira," NKBZ 14:342). It's interesting how interpretive Seidensticker's translation is! I really think he goes astray here.


message 41: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments It's still not clear to me that Tamakazura wasn't allowed to choose between three options: Higekuro, Prince Hotaru, and the Emperor. (And Genji, too, but she'd already done her best to decline that offer.)

What does Tyler have just after "since he was a fine man who promised to become a pillar of the realm"? Seidensticker has "he [To no Chujo] would defer to Genji's wishes" which would seem to leave To no Chujo out of the decision making process. And I didn't see Genji express any strong preferences for any of the three suitable candidates.


message 42: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments I'm halfway through chapter 34, where the new year arrives when Genji will turn 40. Not that I expect authors to always be careful with such things, but that just doesn't add up.

Tamakazura is an infant in chapter 4 when Genji takes her mother away, and is 20 when she is taken in by Genji. She marries 1-2 years later, and has two children (not described as infants) when Genji is about to turn 40. In addition, Yugiri was married after Tamakazura and is also mentioned as having multiple children. That makes Genji 13 or 14 in chapter 4 when he abducts the Lady of the Evening Faces (and he's already been married for a while at that point!)


message 43: by Aleksandra (new)

Aleksandra (asamonek) | 44 comments I will be a little behind for the next two weeks. I am moving and I had to pack away Genji together with all other books.


message 44: by G.G. (new)

G.G. | 20 comments Bill wrote: "It's still not clear to me that Tamakazura wasn't allowed to choose between three options: Higekuro, Prince Hotaru, and the Emperor. (And Genji, too, but she'd already done her best to decline that..."
Tyler's translation continues in a similar vein: "...but he [Tō no Chūjō] could hardly object to Genji's own plans for her, granting as he did that Genji might after all have his reasons, and he therefore left Genji free to do as he pleased." But of course that isn't what transpires! In the next paragraph, Higekuro observes, "He knew quite well from an inside source that the Palace Minister [Tō no Chūjō] did not reject him outright and that the lady disliked the prospect of palace service, and he therefore gave the gentlewoman Ben no quarter. 'His Grace of Rokujō is alone in disagreeing,' he said, 'and as long as it is not against her real father's wishes...'" (p.521).
In the next chapter, after the marriage has taken place, "His Excellency her father observed privately, 'She is much better off this way.'" (p.525).
Royall has written a fascinating essay entitled "Marriage, Rape, and Rank in The Tale of Genji" (http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue...) that sets out the rules of aristocratic marriage as depicted in Genji: I found it quite revelatory when I first read it.


message 45: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments Really interesting stuff! Thank you very much!


message 46: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments I'm getting back to Genji after a long hiatus. It's the sort of novel you read in pieces over time rather than all at once.

I am confounded by the ending of chapter 39.

39 is a long chapter where after consoling Kashiwagi's widow for over two years under false pretenses, Yuugiri finally admits he's had designs on her all along. She is horrified, and continues to be horrified and refuse him while he pursues her to the point of ruining his marriage. How that turns out remains to be seen.

All along we've been told how single-mindedly devoted Yuugiri was to his wife during the years they were apart and after they were married; such a sharp contrast to his father and his many women. Yet like a clue suddenly sprung on the reader at the end of a whodunit, the end of the chapter reveals that Yuugiri had been sleeping with another woman while attempting to win his wife and has continued to alternate having children with her and his wife throughout his marriage. Our author says this out of wide side of her mouth, while adding that "he had turned away from her after his marriage".

One wonders why Kumoinokari is so jealous and angry now, when she had such reason to be jealous and angry all along.


message 47: by G.G. (new)

G.G. | 20 comments Bill wrote: "I'm getting back to Genji after a long hiatus. It's the sort of novel you read in pieces over time rather than all at once.

I am confounded by the ending of chapter 39.

39 is a long chapter where..."

The reason why Kumoinokari is jealous and angry over Yugiri's relationship with Kashiwagi's widow Ochiba no Miya (lit. the fallen-leaf princess) is because 1. Kashiwagi's widow is an imperial princess and thus far outranks Kumoinokari; and 2. Yugiri treats Ochiba no Miya as his wife when he brings her back to her house in the capital. Kumoinokari is not jealous and angry about Yugiri's relationship with Koremitsu's daughter, the (former) Gosechi dancer, because Koremitsu's daughter is beneath her notice. It's hard for us moderns to appreciate the import of these distinctions in rank, especially if we're reading the Seidensticker translation, which for the most part obliterates them. But they are fundamental to understanding why characters, perhaps especially women, behave as they do in the tale.


message 48: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments Thank you! I really appreciate you answering my questions.

I was thinking of it in terms of children: when Yugiri has children by another woman, that will cut into the favors or inheritance for her own children. But that's perhaps more a modern worry than a Heian one.

But Kumoinokari really could see herself ending up a secondary wife to the Second Princess (Seidensticker never gives her a name), despite being his wife for some many more years. Looked at in that way, it's a wonder that Murasaki didn't make more of a fuss when Genji brought home the Third Princess.


message 49: by G.G. (new)

G.G. | 20 comments Bill wrote: "Thank you! I really appreciate you answering my questions.

I was thinking of it in terms of children: when Yugiri has children by another woman, that will cut into the favors or inheritance for he..."

No, I don't think inheritance is more a modern worry than a Heian one: there's a wonderful scene in The Kagero Diary: A Woman’s Autobiographical Text from Tenth-Century Japan after Michitsuna's mother has left Kaneie and taken her son by him to a temple, threatening to become a nun. Kaneie sends his eldest son by his principal wife to reason with her, the implication being "all that I am your son could be too...." In the end it's the boy Michitsuna who--understanding very well what is at stake--persuades his mother to return to the capital.
You write "it's a wonder that Murasaki didn't make more of a fuss when Genji brought home the Third Princess," but I think after you have reread the Wakana (Spring Shoots) chapters--I'd especially recommend the Tyler translation here: he captures the utter heartbreak so brilliantly--you will change your mind. Genji's marriage to the Third Princess is a blow from which Murasaki never recovers. That she doesn't make more of a fuss is another example of what a superior woman she is. The Third Princess outranks her and for that reason (too) she cannot make a fuss.


message 50: by Bill (new)

Bill Johnston | 700 comments I have to say I did not care for the latter part of the book, skipping over the death of Genji, and proceeding to the next generation. It focuses on two men who were small children just before the gap: Kaoru (Genji's purported son) and Prince Niou, and the ladies from Uji they come across. Existing characters from earlier chapters are nearly ignored, such as Genji's more prosperous son Yuugiri.

The names and places have changed, but the action is the same. Men pursue women, often brazenly and rudely, between ceremonies, deaths, and gala events. When all is over, Kaoru oddly seems willing to forgive, or at least overlook, Niou's dastardly and treacherous behavior, which seems a bit too dispassionate even for Kaoru. In many ways it combines the worse parts of 'being the same' with the worse parts of 'being different'.

Someday I may pick up a more modern translation to enjoy it again with a fresher look, but I'll stop when it stops being The Tale of Genji.


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