MURASAKI SHIKIBU: Her Diary and Poetic Memoirs by Richard--Ed. & Trans. Bowring

MURASAKI SHIKIBU: Her Diary and Poetic Memoirs

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Lady Murasaki--author of the 10th-century masterpiece Tale of Genii--emerges as an even more remarkable figure through this diary and stylized memoir-in-poetry. Her position as a lady-in-waiting, a widow contemplating the nunnery, is made clear: such women were expected to keep diaries--and most did. But Murasaki went much, much further in writing the Genji, becoming (as she reports here) ""Our Lady of the Chronicle"" to her mocking fellow-courtiers at the Heian empire court of Michiniga. Still, though the nobles were amused by her writings, Murasaki's diary shows her to have been often lonely, desolate, jealous--with sour-grapes comments on a few of her literary peers: Izumi Shikibu has ""a rather unsavory side. . . but has a genius for tossing off letters with ease and can make the most banal statements sound special""; Pillow Book author Sci Shonagon is ""dreadfully conceited."" And also on display here is the sort of precise and delicious description that distinguishes the Genji--of clothes, of the sexual negotiations conducted between men and women courtiers. . . by means of delicate, pointed poems. Translator/critic Bowring (Japanese Lit. and East Asian Studies, Princeton) has loaded this volume with scholarly, sometimes pedantic notes and annotations--which the general reader will prefer to skip over. But his translation of the text itself is jaunty and economical. And he is largely correct in observing that Murasaki, though a rare individualist, does little soul-baring here: her stylization is simply too careful, too effective in screening out feeling. In other ways, however, Murasaki seems startlingly modern--and admirers of the Genii will want to sample her lively rendering of the Heian court, complete with social particulars, inventive description, and occasional cattiness.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1982
Publisher: Princeton Univ. Press