This is the tale of
The Tale of Genji by Murasaki ShikibuA princess likes stories. One of her ladies-in-waiting is good at making them up. Over years, the lady spins a long, elaborate story containing the princesss favorite theme: hot dudes nailing chicks. Crucially, the lady writes it down and here we are with historys first novel, the origin story of Japan, their Homer and their Star Wars, the winding and weird Tale of Genji.
This is around 1000 CE. In Europe, someone was writing Beowulf about hacking the arms off monsters. The world of Japan couldnt have been more different. This was the Heian Period, an effete and decadent time where folks spent most of their time writing poetry to women hidden behind screens and then weeping about the beauty of a sunrise.
Things one might write a poem about
Sleeves (wet, inevitably, with tears)
The phrase How long must I...
You can practice this at home. Try it!
How long must I wait until iHop opens
my sleeves wet with my tears
Sea grasses bend with the foamy tide
as I bend into my couch to binge Nashville
Theres almost a poem a page in this book, so get used to it, unless youre reading one of the bullshit translations that duck the poetry altogether. I read Seidenstickers translation, and perhaps skipped a few parts here and there because listen, it is lengthy. The Scheherezadian author kept tacking chapter after chapter onto the thing; it ambles on into the next generation and it ends up being like 1100 pages and I will perhaps catch up with the rest of these poems after I retire.
That author, that lady-in-waiting, we never got her name so we call her Lady Murasaki after the primary love interest for our handsome prince Genji, and heres the first thing you should know about that love interest: shes like ten. I mean not forever, but definitely when Genji first notices her and goes like what a babe, shes a babe indeed, and this whole book is squicky as all fuck. Not like Lolita squicky? He doesnt actually have sex with Murasaki when shes ten! He just kidnaps her and saves her in his palace for slightly later, which is also not great.
But hey, he also rapes and impregnates his stepmother, so. Rape is a little murky here - encounters that seem unambiguously to start with rape evolve into consensual affairs. I dont know if this was the time or the author or what. And this is as close as were getting to a plot: Genji seduces a series of women with various levels of consensuality.
I mean, but its not actually that simple, and this is the wild thing about this ancient book: Genji has real psychological depth. The characters are consistent and they change over time for logical reasons. Theres a certain circularity; Genjis crimes will come back around to haunt him. The book seems to have more of a handle on how a novel might operate than other early experiments like Don Quixote, and Im not fucking with Don Quixote, its great, but certainly the second half is on a different trip than the first half is.
So Genji isnt just a historical landmark, its for real good reading. The setting is like nothing youve ever read before - if you want some nonfiction on the Heian period, by the way, the unanimous choice is The World of the Shining Prince, which is pretty good. The characters are memorable, sophisticated, and ambiguous. And if nothing else, its extremely easy to parody. Genji is just constantly moping about with a guitar, writing poems on fancy stationary thats described in exactly the same loving detail as the business cards from American Psycho, while women swoon over how good his handwriting is.
its long and weird, but worth it
Like an autumn moonrise, or my dick.
The Tale of the Lonely Ghost
Frank walks in, sees the book, and thinks it's childish. He tells her that fairy tales are weak. Kristen snaps at him for that and asks if he's ever even read them. David backs her up, saying they weren't the wimpy versions, but the original ones. Betty Ann says her favorite one is where an old woman kidnaps a prince and puts blood on the queen's mouth to make the king think she ate him. David loves it even though he thinks it's gross, but Frank still doesn't seem convinced and says that a kid's story is a kid's story.
Kristen is walking to the clearing, and she almost seems lost. Then David bumps into her startling her., Sign in. No host?
Its devoted readers over the centuries include Kawabata Yasunari, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, whose writings were suffused with the Japanese sense of aesthetics. An entry in the diary of author Murasaki Shikibu shows that she was in the process of writing Genji in Murasaki served in the imperial court. Her father was a famous scholar and writer of Chinese-language poetry. At this time in Japanese history, politicians held effective power while nominally counselling the emperor.
The main thing required of a noble gentleman in Heian Japan was a sense of style. Things are suggested, alluded to, often nebulously. What counts in the seduction scenes is the art, the poetry. Quite literally so: the proper approach to a desired lady was through poems, written on scented paper of the finest quality, delivered by an elegantly dressed go-between of appropriate social rank. More poems would be exchanged as soon as the approach bore fruit. Women of the upper class sat hidden in murky rooms, behind curtains, screens, and sliding doors.