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The Tale of Genji

by Murasaki Shikibu

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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5,017491,770 (3.9)1 / 305
The most famous work of Japanese literature and the world's first novel--written a thousand years ago and one of the enduring classics of world literature. Written centuries before the time of Shakespeare and even Chaucer,The Tale of Genji marks the birth of the novel--and after more than a millennium, this seminal work continues to enchant readers throughout the world. Lady Murasaki Shikibu and her tale's hero, Prince Genji, have had an unmatched influence on Japanese culture. Prince Genji manifests what was to become an image of the ideal Heian era courtier; gentle and passionate. Genji is also a master poet, dancer, musician and painter.The Tale of Genji follows Prince Genji through his many loves and varied passions. This book has influenced not only generations of courtiers and samurai of the distant past, but artists and painters even in modern times--episodes in the tale have been incorporated into the design of kimonos and handicrafts, and the four-line poems calledwaka which dance throughout this work have earned it a place as a classic text in the study of poetry. This version by Kencho Suematsu was the first-ever translation in English. Condensed, it's a quarter length of the unabridged text, making it perfect for readers with limited time. "Not speaking is the wiser part, And words are sometimes vain, But to completely close the heart In silence, gives me pain." --Prince Genji, inThe Tale of Genji… (more)
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» See also 305 mentions

English (46)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (1)  All languages (49)
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
Nothing is more infuriating than elevating this hallmark of shallow coquetry to the rank of classics. This work was considered vulgar and mundane by the upper class back then, and its contents are abysmally unappealing to anybody with a solid grounding in literature. ( )
  Vertumnus | Jun 20, 2022 |
Genji is an interesting character, a literal "everyman" yet at the same time the handsomest man in the world. Lots of layers to this story. Previously ranked 2.5, with review "There's a lot of beauty in Genji's world, but his character is in the end too shallow to make his story worthwhile." As I age, I see that Genji's character contains dualities that redeem him. He is in a way a literal bodhisattva. ( )
  Audacity88 | Jun 18, 2022 |
Whew. I'm glad I read this but I am ecstatic to be finished. Very long winded. ( )
  NicholeReadsWithCats | Jun 17, 2022 |
I'm not sure if this is the translation I have (would have to root through the shelves) but the book itself is a wonder. It's a whole planet, so far away and yet full of breath and blood perceivable even at this palpable distance. What a passionate intelligence Murasaki had, and what discipline to go with it--as a writer she knew when to hold tight and when to cut and run, and she doesn't seem to waste a lot of time. As this is the very first thing anywhere in the world in its genre, she made each of these choices based on her own mind, experience, heart, guts . . . she must have been amazing in person. The one person, maybe, that I would most love to meet. ( )
  AnnKlefstad | Feb 4, 2022 |
Classic work of Japanese literature, written at the beginning of the 11th century by the noble Murasaki Shikibu. The original manuscript, created around the height of the Heian period, is no more. It was done in the Orihon style: several sheets of paper glued and folded alternately in one direction and then in the other. The work is a unique representation of the lifestyle of the high courtiers during the Heian period. It is written in archaic language and in a poetic but confusing style, which makes it unreadable for the average Japanese without dedicated study. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that Genji was translated into modern Japanese by the poet Akiko Yosano.

The work chronicles the life of Hikaru Genji, or "Shining Genji", son of a former Japanese emperor, known to readers as Emperor Kiritsubo, and a low-ranking concubine. For political reasons, the emperor removes Genji from the line of succession, demoting him to a commoner, giving him the surname Minamoto, and he pursues a career as an imperial officer. The tale focuses on Genji's romantic life and describes the customs of the aristocratic society of the time. It is considered the first novel in the world and the first psychological novel.

The Tale of Genji may have been written chapter by chapter in parts, while Murasaki delivered the tale to aristocratic women. It has many elements found in a modern novel: a central character and a very large number of main and secondary characters, a well-developed characterization of all the main characters, a sequence of events that span the life span of the central character and beyond. The work does not make use of a plot; instead, events happen and the characters simply age.

Because it was written to entertain the eleventh-century Japanese court, the work presents many difficulties for modern readers. First, Murasaki's language, the court of the Japanese Heian period, was highly inflected and had a very complex grammar. Another problem is that naming people was considered rude in Heian high society; therefore, none of the characters is named in the work; instead, the narrator often refers to men by their position or title, and women by the color of their clothes, or the words used in a meeting or the position of a prominent male relative.

Since Chinese was the academic language of the court, works written in Japanese (the literary language used by women, usually in personal accounts of court life) were not taken very seriously; prose was also not considered equal to poetry. The Tale of Genji, however, differed in being informed by a comprehensive knowledge of Chinese and Japanese poetry and in being a graceful work of imaginative fiction. It incorporates about 800 waka, cutting poems allegedly written by the main character, and his flexible narrative supports the story through 54 chapters of a character and his legacy.

At its most basic, The Tale of Genji is an absorbing introduction to the culture of aristocracy in the early Heian period of Japan, its forms of entertainment, its way of dressing, its daily life and its moral code. The era is recreated through the story of Genji, the handsome, sensitive and talented courtier, an excellent lover and a worthy friend. Most of the story concerns Genji's loves, and each of the women in his life is vividly outlined. The work shows a supreme sensitivity to human emotions and the beauties of nature, but as it continues, its somber tone reflects the Buddhist conviction of the transience of life in this world.

For those who are truly interested in Japan, especially its history, it is a delight. ( )
  Marcos_Augusto | Mar 19, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
The main thing required of a noble gentleman in Heian Japan was a sense of style. Seducing another man’s wife could be forgiven; a bad poem, clumsy handwriting, or the wrong perfume could not.
added by Jozefus | editThe New Yorker, Ian Buruma (Jul 15, 2016)
 
Het verhaal van Genji is dé klassieke roman uit de Japanse literaire historie. Het boek werd in de elfde eeuw geschreven door Murasaki Shikibu, pseudoniem van een hofdame in de keizerlijke hoofdstad Heian-kyo (Kyoto). Het torent al duizend jaar als de berg Fuji uit boven het literaire landschap van Japan.
added by Jozefus | editNRC Handelsblad, Auke Hulst (pay site) (Nov 15, 2013)
 

» Add other authors (32 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shikibu, Murasakiprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Соколова-Д… Татьяна Львовнапер.main authorsome editionsconfirmed
Buckley, PaulCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Enchi, FumikoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koh, TsuboiIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
MajeskaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Seidensticker, Edward G.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tyler, RoyallTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Waley, ArthurTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zimet, JayeDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In a certain reign (whose can it have been?) someone of no very great rank, among all His Magesty's Consorts and Intimates, enjoyed exceptional favor.
In a certain reign there was a lady not of the first rank whom the emperor loved more than any of the others.
Quotations
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
There are reportedly three basic translations of "The Tale of Genji" into English. Arthur Waley produced a six part translation between 1925 and 1933. Edward Seidensticker produced the second English version in 1976, described as "doggedly faithful" to the original. The most recent translation into English is Royall Tyler's, published in 2001.
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The most famous work of Japanese literature and the world's first novel--written a thousand years ago and one of the enduring classics of world literature. Written centuries before the time of Shakespeare and even Chaucer,The Tale of Genji marks the birth of the novel--and after more than a millennium, this seminal work continues to enchant readers throughout the world. Lady Murasaki Shikibu and her tale's hero, Prince Genji, have had an unmatched influence on Japanese culture. Prince Genji manifests what was to become an image of the ideal Heian era courtier; gentle and passionate. Genji is also a master poet, dancer, musician and painter.The Tale of Genji follows Prince Genji through his many loves and varied passions. This book has influenced not only generations of courtiers and samurai of the distant past, but artists and painters even in modern times--episodes in the tale have been incorporated into the design of kimonos and handicrafts, and the four-line poems calledwaka which dance throughout this work have earned it a place as a classic text in the study of poetry. This version by Kencho Suematsu was the first-ever translation in English. Condensed, it's a quarter length of the unabridged text, making it perfect for readers with limited time. "Not speaking is the wiser part, And words are sometimes vain, But to completely close the heart In silence, gives me pain." --Prince Genji, inThe Tale of Genji

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Book description
First Modern Library Giant Edition, 1960. Hardcover published by Random House by arrangement with Houghton Mifflin Company. 1135 pages + xvi front matter.
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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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