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Appraising Genji

Literary Criticism and Cultural Anxiety in the Age of the Last Samurai

Patrick W. Caddeau

Publication Year: 2006

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.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title page, copyright page

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pp. v-vii


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pp. ix

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pp. x-xi

I am indebted to friends and colleagues in the United States and Japan for their advice and comments. Yamazaki Jun patiently guided me through numerous passages of commentary that to me were impenetrable. Yamazaki Katsuaki made it possible for me to gain access to important documents I might never have discovered on my own and helped me better understand...


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pp. xiii-xv

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pp. 1-8

Many renowned thinkers have praised The Tale of Genji since its composition in the early eleventh century. Undaunted by the efforts of his predecessors, the poet and scholar Hagiwara Hiromichi (1815–1863) chose deliberately simple language to turn the world of Genji commentary and criticism on its head. In explaining Genji’s status as a monument of prose fiction, he wrote:...

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CHAPTER ONE. Heian Fantasies: Nationalism and Nostalgia in the Reading of Genji

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pp. 9-26

In 2000, The Tale of Genji was adapted for the stage of the Takarazuka Theater in a production titled “Myujikaru roman Genji monogatari: Asaki yumemishi” (The Tale of Genji Lived in a Dream: A Musical Romance). This modern retelling of Genji provides several valuable signposts that will help guide our examination of nativism, a precursor to nationalism, and nostalgia in the transmission...

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CHAPTER TWO. Hagiwara Hiromichi: Masterless Samurai and Iconoclastic Scholar

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pp. 27-47

Hagiwara Hiromichi was born in 1815 and died in 1863, less than fi ve years before the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the beginning of Japan’s modern era in 1868. His contributions to the literary arts of premodern Japan are extraordinary in many ways, but the failure of the modern literary establishment to embrace his greatest achievement makes the story of his life’s work...

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CHAPTER THREE. From Moral Contention to Literary Persuasion

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pp. 49-79

Noguchi goes on to explain that he sees the Hyoshaku as a work of literary interpretation, because Hiromichi does not approach Genji from the outlook of a Confucianist, nor from the perspective of a nativist. Instead, he approaches the text as if it were nothing other than a work of literature.2 Hiromichi’s experience working with a variety of literary genres and critical traditions made...

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CHAPTER FOUR. Exposing the Secrets of the Author’s Brush

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pp. 81-98

Chapter 3 examined Hiromichi’s treatment of previous scholarship on Genji, focusing on his efforts to overcome the limitations inherent in dominant critical theories of the Edo period to emphasize the importance of interpretive function over ideology in Genji criticism. To accomplish this goal he crossed boundaries that had previously divided two opposing ideologies, Confucianism...

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CHAPTER FIVE. Ambiguity and the Responsive Reader

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pp. 99-129

Having dismissed the interpretive tools of his predecessors as failing to fully account for Genji's value as literature, Hiromichi must now provide his own strategy for reading the text. For this reason, he introduces the most innovative aspect of his Appraisal of Genji with deliberate caution. In his “General Remarks,” Hiromichi devotes the longest section to his exposition of what...

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CHAPTER SIX. Translating Genji into the Modern Idiom

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pp. 131-162

The Sarashina Diary stands out as one of the few extant accounts of how Genji was read in the Heian period. The author, known to us only as a daughter of Vice Governor Sugawara no Takasue, reflects back on her life, including her brief service at the Imperial court, in the form of a recreated diary. Early on in the diary, Takasue’s daughter recounts her frustration at having seen only...


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pp. 163-183

APPENDIX I. Character Glossary of Premodern Names, Titles, and Terms in Chinese and Japanese

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pp. 185-189

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APPENDIX II. List of Major Commentaries on Genji

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pp. 191-194

The following is a translation of the introduction and list of major commentaries on Genji appended to the “General Remarks” in Hiromichi’s Appraisal of Genji. This translation serves as a useful summary of premodern Genji commentaries and also illustrates Hiromichi’s integration of these works into his own interpretation of Genji ....


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pp. 195-206


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pp. 207-212

E-ISBN-13: 9780791482117
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791466735
Print-ISBN-10: 0791466736

Page Count: 227
Illustrations: 3 illustrations
Publication Year: 2006