Introduced by Anne Rose Kitagawa
A magnificent fine edition of one of the earliest and greatest examples of the modern novel, illustrated with 54 colour paintings from the earliest complete depiction of Murasaki Shikibu’s masterpiece.
Thought by many to be the first example of the modern novel, The Tale of Genji was written in the 11th century by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady of the Japanese court. The eponymous hero, or the ‘Shining Lord’, is the charismatic and handsome son of the emperor, and his epic story is full of romance and court intrigue.
Royall Tyler’s acclaimed translation captures the poetry of the age whilst remaining utterly accessible. To help the modern reader experience the full depth of Genji’s tale, this fine edition features extensive notes on court protocol, poetic allusions and colour symbolism, as well as guides to the characters and several maps and diagrams.
Widely regarded as the greatest work of Japanese literature and the first modern novel, The Tale of Genji was written during the Heian period (794–1185) in the 11th century by the noblewoman and lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu. In truth, very little is known about the author – even her name is unrecorded, ‘Shikibu’ referring to a post once held by her father and ‘Murasaki’ the name of her fictional heroine – but there is no doubt that this epic had a significant impact on Japanese culture and the wider world.
‘The sight of him would have brought smiles to the fiercest warrior, even an enemy one’
The eponymous hero of the story, also known as the ‘Shining Lord’ for his great beauty and charm, is the son of the emperor born to a low-ranking ‘Intimate’ or concubine. Despite being loved by his father and by all who meet him, his mother’s status means he cannot be heir to the throne, and so he is given a surname and made to serve as a commoner and government official. Nevertheless, Genji’s life is full of romance and poetry: he meets his lifelong love, Murasaki, when she is just a little girl, and is immediately entranced.
Murasaki and Genji are the focus for much of this sophisticated, intricate novel, but the reader is also invited to follow the characters that surround them, all of whom play a part in a thrilling dance of intrigue through the Japanese court.
Poetry was considered the noblest of all the arts at the peak of the Heian period. During this time, readers of Genji would have been deeply familiar with the poetic references that run throughout the novel, and attuned to the layering of imagery and its myriad meanings. As a woman writing in the Japanese court, Murasaki Shikibu would have been unable to comment directly on the political manoeuvres that were part of her life, but she could introduce a sharper commentary about imperial Japan just under the surface of her story.
An important historical document, The Tale of Genji is the source of much of our knowledge about the Heian period, and down through the centuries it has offered readers a unique perspective of a world long since lost.
This lavish two-volume edition has gilded page tops and a blocked slipcase, and the bindings are blocked with the title and an eye-catching design inspired by The Tale of Genji Album illustrations, a design that is continued through the text itself. In addition to the images from the Harvard Album – an ensemble of images that dates from the early 16th century and is thought to be the earliest complete cycle of Genji illustrations, the two volumes have over 180 black and white illustrations, expertly redrawn by a contemporary artist from a range of medieval sources such as painted scrolls, or emaki. Depicting details as varied as musical instruments, hairstyles, architectural features and festivals, they bring Genji’s world to life.
The critically acclaimed translation by Royall Tyler sensitively retains the tone of the original text, filled as it is with beauty and poetry, while remaining thoroughly accessible to the modern reader. The Tale of Genji is as compelling and as enjoyable today as it was a thousand years ago.
Murasaki Shikibu (c.973–c.1020) was a writer, poet and lady-in-waiting of the Heian court of eleventh-century Japan. Little is known about her life; even her given name is unrecorded. ‘Shikibu’ (‘Bureau of Ceremonial’) refers to a post once held by her father, while ‘Murasaki’ is the name of The Tale of Genji’s fictional heroine. In about 1006 she was invited to serve Empress Akiko in the imperial court, where her talent for writing was prized. During this time she kept a diary, fragments of which have been collected as The Diary of Lady Murasaki, and also wrote poetry, but The Tale of Genji is her most famous creation. It is widely regarded as the world’s first novel and the greatest work of Japanese literature.
Royall Tyler was born in London but spent his early years in the United States. After graduating from L’École des Roches in Normandy in 1954, he received a BA in Japanese from Harvard in 1957 and a PhD in Japanese literature from Columbia in 1977. In 1990, after teaching at the University of Oslo and elsewhere, he moved to the Australian National University in Canberra. He retired in 2000 and now lives on a farm in New South Wales. He has also translated the medieval Japanese epic The Tale of the Heike (2012).
Anne Rose Kitagawa received a BA in East Asian Studies and Art History from Oberlin College in 1987, and worked at the Art Institute of Chicago before receiving a Mellon Fellowship to study Japanese Art and Archaeology at Princeton. Later she worked at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Harvard Art Museums before moving to the University of Oregon to become chief curator of collections and Asian art at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. She has published about Tale of Genji illustrations, Japanese lacquer, and postwar Japanese prints.
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Review by KEVINYANG on 15th Apr 2016
"The books are a pleasure to hold and read. They are as lavish and beautiful as the story itself. Everything about this set radiates beauty and quality – the glided page tops, the binding, the elegan..." [read more]