WORLD WITHIN WALLS: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600-1867 by Donald Keene

WORLD WITHIN WALLS: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600-1867

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Tokagowa family ruled Japan in public peace and worldly isolation for over 250 years, from 1600 to 1867. During this whole time, Japanese writers inhabited a ""world within walls,"" and Donald Keene, Professor of Japanese at Columbia, has written an encyclopedic history of their achievements--the first of three volumes on Japanese literature. With a sharp eye on the fate of literary forms and with abundant examples, Keene shows that, although isolated, Japanese writers were not timid and succeeded in shaking or exhausting most of their artistic traditions well before the cultural revolution that began in 1867. He traces Haikai poetry from its origins in humorous plebian verse to its classic but inert perfection, and waku poetry from a graceful, naturalistic form to a mode of private self-expression. He follows fiction from the witty proto-realism of the great novelist Saikaku to the whimsical, popular tales composed by almost every writer by 1850. And he describes the popular drama, which supplanted the aristocratic No theatre, as it develops into a vivid and affecting portrayal of social life which provoked government suppression in 1866. Readers unfamiliar with Japanese literature may find their comprehension taxed by the mountainous detail, but the handy glossary can help them arrive at the threshold of modern Japan prepared to enter its very different, unwalled world, which Keene will open in volume II. With masterly erudition and discernment, he has written here what is certain to be the standard guide to the literature of Tokagowa Japan.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1976
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston