Western scholars have tended to read Heian literature through the prism of female experience, stressing the imbalance of power in courtship and looking for evidence that women hoped to move beyond the constraints of marriage politics. Paul Schalow’s original and challenging work inherits these concerns about the transcendence of love and carries them into a new realm of inquiry—the suffering of noblemen and the literary record of their hopes for transcendence through friendship. He traces this recurring theme, which he labels "courtly male friendship," in five important literary works ranging from the tenth-century Tale of Ise to the early eleventh-century Tale of Genji.
Whether authored by men or women, the depictions of male friendship addressed in this work convey the differing perspectives of male and female authors profoundly shaped by their gender roles in the court aristocracy. Schalow’s analysis clarifies in particular how Heian literature articulates the nobleman’s wish to be known and appreciated fully by another man.