The Tale of Genji

I started to read The Tale of Genji the other day. This is something that will take a long time to read, and I plan on taking it slowly. It’s about 1,000 pages, a collection of 54 stories or chapters in one larger story, I haven’t figured out which, written around the early 11th century in Japan. Most of the chapters are about one character, I believe, but I think the book’s structure might be more like a collection of stories about that character rather than a having a traditional plot line like we might expect from something contemporary. It’s sometimes claimed to be the first novel, or sometimes one of the precursors of the novel. There are probably tons of books one could call the “first novel” out there.

The first chapter got Genji born and grown up and married, all really fast, so it seems that the focus of the stories will be on his adult life. The chapter was full of stories of court intrigue; the wives of the emperor competing, and the Minister of the Right competing with the Minister of the Left, etc. I am already grateful for the list of main characters that opens the book. Since I don’t know anything about 11th century Japan, I’m looking forward to learning about it. Actually, I should say, I’m looking forward to reading about court life in 11th century Japan, since I don’t think the book deals with people outside the court setting. I suppose this is one way The Tale of Genji differs from the novel that developed in the 18th century: that version of the novel is very middle class.

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