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Genji 1-4 Addendum

I was searching for a genealogical chart for the novel and I came up with a detailed one from this Japanese website. According to the website, the chart is reproduced from Richard Bowring,  Murasaki Shikibu: The Tale of Genji. (Cambridge, 1988) I include a picture file below:

GenjiChartThe genealogy shows that Genji has two formal marriages, with Aoi (Chapter 2), the Akashi lady (Chapter 13, to be read), and the Third Princess (much later). For the following week, I plan to read to the end of Chapter 9, Aoi /Heart-to-Heart, since Chapters 7 and 8 are relatively short.

Chapter 1 Kiritsubo 桐壺 / The Paulownia Pavilion. In which Genji is born, his mother dies, and Fujitsubo, the emperor’s concubine, is introduced.

Chapter 2 Hahakigi 帚木 / The Broom Tree. In which men tell stories about women of different ranks and Genji meets Utsusemi, the wife of Iyo-no-suke a provincial governor, and was courted in vain by Genji.

Chapter 3 Utsusemi 空蝉 / The Shell of the Locust. In which Genji crawls into the bed of Utsusemi’s stepdaughter by accident. He seduces her by mistake.

Chapter 4 Yûgao 夕顔 / The Evening Faces. In which Yûgao, a beautiful girl who lives near Genji’s old nurse’s house, is killed by the Rokujô Lady’s ghost (not known at first), and Genji takes charge of Tamakazura, the daughter of Yûgao and Tô no Chûjô.

Further Reading:
Jackie’s First Impressions
CB James’s Thoughts

Genji 1-4


I was off a slow start so I’m trailing behind. My intention was to peruse the translation by Royall Tyler. I have found Edward Seidensticker’s writing more accessible to the understanding of the plot. Like any epic novel that covers a continuous period in history, The Tale of Genji does not follow a structure of plot. The book just unfolds as characters age naturally on a chronological path. Some of my observations and thoughts:

  • Although Genji was the Emperor’s most beloved son, but that his mother did not belong to the first rank in the court, she was deprived of backing. The emperor’s doting on her after Genji’s birth only accelerated her fall because her detractors were many. Once again it shows that palace is notoriously a web of conflicting backroom politics. Every dalliance is an act of political consequence.
  • The Tale of Genji depicts court life in 11th century, the Heian era of Japanese history. That it was contemporary of the Tang Dynasty in China, numerous references are made to Chinese poetry, which achieved its golden age during Tang Dynasty. Numerous references to Yang Kuei-fei, one of the Four Beauties in ancient China, are made to illuminate that ladies are to live in a life with no luster. They are to submit and to feign ignorance.
  • Genji’s flight from one love affair to another is distantly reminiscent of that of Jia Bao-yu in The Dream of the Red Chambers, the greatest epic novel ever written in Chinese history. But obviously Genji has predated by at least six centuries. His dangerous passion and romantic impulses have rendered him wasted. Maybe the source of his restlessness is the forbidden love between him and Fujisubo, whom his father the emperor has taken as a concubine after Genji’s mother died.
  • One of the most confusing aspects of the book is the anonymous girls, women, mistresses, and daughters that are dotted in the narratives. Only some of the most significant female characters are named. The lack of accountability also suggests how uncertain the world was for women at that time. They were like bits of driftwood at the mercy of men.
  • Another theme that is proven to be pivotal in understanding the book is incarnation. “What legacy from a former life could have brought him to this mortal peril?” [ES translation p.78] Genji himself is caught up in the ever turning wheel of pessimistic Buddhism. Through his purposeless navigation from one affair to another, a sense of evanescence is evoked from the reading.

Further Reading:
Jackie’s First Impressions
CB James’s Thoughts