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The Tale of Genji

Genji Monogatari (源氏物語) is a classic work of Japanese literature written by the Japanese noblewoman Murasaki-shikibu in the 11th century. Written in the beginning of the 11th century or earlier, it is generally considered to be one of the first recorded examples of the novel form.

It tells the story of the a fictional character, named Hikaru no Genji, of a historically existent clan of Minamoto. He is a son of Japanese emperor, who, for political reasons, is delegated to civilian life and begins a career as an imperial officer. The tale concentrates in his romantic life and gives an impressive portrait of the customs of the time. Written in an engaging but difficult style due to court conventions (it seems it was written to entertain Japanese courtwomen) it has all the elements of a novel: a more or less central character, a line of events happening over a period of time and a narrator. The author delights in describing Genji's handsomeness, and how "he never forgot a woman he met". This charming, beautiful and courteous hero is amazingly similar in style to the Spanish, fifteen century Amadis de Gaula (including its complete lack of peasants), and is a sharp contrast to the almost barbaric heroes found in literature.

Some of the court customs affecting the style of the novel are the importance the Japanese gave (and still give) to rank: a character is rarely called by his or her name, but for rank, and women are named based on the colors of their clothing or the words they said when first met, or the rank of their male parents. Thus the highly restrictive manners of the court where even visual contact between lovers is difficult give a totally different and poetic flavor to the tale.

An important part of the book is poetry. Poems were an important part of social communication, and modifying or rephrasing a classic poem according to the current situation was expected behaviour, and the thinly veiled allusions made in them using wordplays (something quite natural in japanese) are as interesting as the story itself.

The story is entire written in Japanese kana and one of the most representive Kana literature[?]. Almost all Japanese schools teaches the story in their Japanese class.

Because of the cultural difference, reading an annotated version is quite common, even among native Japanese. Many works including comics are derivered from the Tale of Genji. A comic version, Asakiyumemishi, is widely read among the Japanese youth.

Chapters

The novel have three gradual stages:

  1. Hikaru no Genji's Growth and Downfall
    1. The experience of a youth (Chapters 1-33): Love and romance
    2. The glory and the stains (Chapters 34-41): A taste of power and the death of his beloved wife
  2. The Descendants: Chapters 42-54: after the death of Hikaru no Genji
    1. The Transition (Chapters 42-44): very short episodes
    2. The Ten Uji Chapters (Chapters 45-54): The Descendants

The chapters are:

  1. 桐壺 Kiritsubo (setting in the Court of Emperor Kiritsubo)
  2. 帚木 Hahakigi ("The Broom Tree")
  3. 空蝉 Utsusemi ("A Cicada, Empty Within")
  4. 夕顔 Yūgao ("Face at the Evening")
  5. 若紫 Sakamurasaki or Waka Murasaki ("Purple Like Lavender")
  6. 末摘花 Suetsumuhana ("Pick not the Flowers")
  7. 紅葉賀 Momiji no Ga ("An Autumn Excursion")
  8. 花宴 Hana no En ("The Feast of Flowers")
  9. 葵 Aoi (Genji's wife)
  10. 榊 Sakaki ("The Sacred Tree")
  11. 花散里 Hana Chiru Sato ("The Village Where Flowers Spread Around")
  12. 須磨 Suma (the place of exile for Genji)
  13. 明石 Akashi (Lady Akashi was a lover of Genji)
  14. 澪標 Miotsukushi ("Buyonacy")
  15. 蓬生 Yomogiu ("From the Grass"?)
  16. 関屋 Sekiya ("The Gatehouse")
  17. 絵合 E Awase ("")
  18. 松風 Matsukaze ("The Wind from the Pine")
  19. 薄雲 Usugumo ("A Cloud Too Thin")
  20. 朝顔 ("Colours of Morning")
  21. 乙女 ("The Second Daughter")
  22. 玉鬘 ("The Hair of Jade")
  23. 初音 ("The First Sound")
  24. 胡蝶 ("A Butterfly")
  25. 螢 Hotaru ("Fireflies")
  26. 常夏
  27. 篝火 ("The Fire within the Bamboo Basket")
  28. 野分
  29. 行幸
  30. 藤袴 Fujibakama ("Skirts Made of Wisteria")
  31. 真木柱 (The Pillar of ___ Wood)
  32. 梅が枝 ("A Branch of the Plum Tree"?)
  33. 藤のうら葉 ("Wisteria Leaves"?)
  34. 若菜 I Wakana: Jo ("New Herbs, Part 1")
  35. 若菜 II Wakana: __ ("New Herbs, Part 1")
  36. 柏木 ("The Cypress")
  37. 横笛 ("The Flute")
  38. 鈴虫 ("Insects of the Bells")
  39. 夕霧 I ("A Mist by the Dawn, Part 1")
  40. 夕霧 II ("A Mist by the Dawn, Part 2")
  41. 御法
  42. まぼろし Maboroshi
  43. 雲隠れ ("Retreating behind the Cloud")
  44. 匂宮
  45. 紅梅 ("The Red Plum Blossom")
  46. 竹河 ("The River of Bamboo")
  47. 橋姫 ("The Woman on the Bridge")
  48. 椎が本
  49. 総角
  50. 早蕨 Sarawabi ("A Fern of the Morning")
  51. 宿り木 (Yadorigi) ("The Wood for Living"?)
  52. 東屋 Azumaya ("The Cottage in the East")
  53. 浮舟 ("The Floating Ship")
  54. 蜻蛉 ("The Dragonfly")
  55. 手習 Tenarai ("At Writing Practice")
  56. 夢の浮橋 Yume no Ukihashi ("The Floating Bridge of Dreams")

See also: Japanese literature



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