Monday, June 07, 2010
The Summer of Genji
According to Wikipedia, The Tale of Genji “is a classic work of Japanese literature attributed to the Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu in the early eleventh century, around the peak of the Heian Period. It is sometimes called the world’s first novel, the first modern novel, the first psychological novel or the first novel still to be considered a classic.”
Virginia Woolf reviewed it favorably in Vogue in the 1920s, and many Europeans went on to claim it as a Japanese Proust or Austen. Jane Smiley claimed it helped her make sense of 9/11.
In The New York Review of Books, V.S. Pritchett wrote this about it:
When Arthur Waley’s translation of The Tale of Genji came out, volume by volume, in the late Twenties and early Thirties, the austere Sinologue and poet said that Lady Murasaki’s work was “unsurpassed by any long novel in the world.” If we murmured, “What about Don Quixote or War and Peace?” we were, all the same, enchanted by the classic of Heian Japan which was written in the tenth and eleventh centuries, and we talked about its “modern voice.” What we really meant was that the writing was astonishingly without affectation. Critics spoke of a Japanese Proust or Jane Austen, even of a less coarse Boccaccio. They pointed also to the seeming collusion of the doctrines of reincarnation or the superstition of demonic possession with the Freudian unconscious—and so on.
See here for the schedule; the first round of dicsussion begins June 15-20.
Thanks for posting this, Rohan! Perfect timing.
Thanks for this, Rohan. I’d pretty much decided to read Genji on my own, so this group reading came just at the right time for me.
The beauty of the Waley translation lies very much in Waley’s lovely prose. I have an old copy of the Waley and also a copy of the later Seidensticker translation—which is apparently much more accurate, doesn’t drop passages (as Waley does), and is (I thought) a bit of a chore to read. I haven’t read the Tyler translation.
I hope they’ll also be considering other Heian period works. Also, Morris’ _The World of the Shining Prince_ is good as background info.
Sorry you’re not running one yourself, Rohan, I enjoyed them.
Thanks, Sue; I really enjoyed them too, but it will be an interesting change to focus on a book I know nothing about. I’ll do a bit of cross-posting at The Valve as the project goes along, assuming I’m able to keep up, but otherwise the discussion will be at the Summer of Genji site.
What a wonderful idea!
I cut my teeth on the Waley translation way back at the University of Michigan decades ago. Glad to know it’s unsurpassed.
My daughter was studying Japanese last year at University of California, Santa Cruz, I tried to bootleg the Waley translations to her, though they didn’t mesh with the class content.
Was the Waley work ever issued in an unabridged one-volume (or even two-volume) edition? I only have mismatching paperbacks issued at different times.
I have a one volume edition from The Modern Library, published in 1960. My copy was falling apart from many re-readings and was recently re-bound.