Literary Criticism and Cultural Anxiety in the Age of the Last Samurai
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Murasaki Shikibu’s eleventh-century Tale of Genji is the most revered work of fiction in Japan. This book explores Genji’s reception over the years and its place in Japanese culture.
Considered by many to be the world's first novel, The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu is a masterpiece of narrative fiction rich in plot, character development, and compositional detail. The tale, written by a woman in service to Japan's imperial court in the early eleventh century, portrays a world of extraordinary romance, lyric beauty, and human vulnerability. Appraising Genji is the first work to bring the rich field of Genji reception to the attention of an English-language audience. Patrick W. Caddeau traces the tale's place in Japanese culture through diaries, critical treatises, newspaper accounts, cinematic adaptation, and modern stage productions.
The centerpiece of this study is a treatise on Genji by Hagiwara Hiromichi (1815–1863), one of the most astute readers of the tale who, after becoming a masterless samurai, embarked on a massive study of Genji. Hiromichi challenged dominant modes of literary interpretation and cherished beliefs about the supremacy of the nation's aristocratic culture. In so doing, he inspired literary critics and authors as they struggled to articulate theories of fiction and the novel in early modern Japan. Appraising Genji promises to enhance our understanding of one of the greatest literary classics in terms of intellectual history, literary criticism, and the quest of scholars in early modern Japan to define their nation's place in the world.
Patrick W. Caddeau teaches Japanese film and literature at Columbia University and is Director of Studies at Forbes College at Princeton University.