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July 02 , 2010

Reading The Tale of Genji

Sources from the First Millennium


Written one thousand years ago, The Tale of Genji is a masterpiece of Japanese literature, often regarded as its best prose fiction. Read, commented on, and reimagined by poets, scholars, dramatists, artists, and novelists, the tale has left a legacy as rich and reflective as the work itself.

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The most comprehensive record of The Tale of Genji's reception to date, this sourcebook presents a range of landmark texts relating to the work during its first millennium, almost all of which are translated into English for the first time. An introduction prefaces each set of documents, situating them within the tradition of Japanese literature and cultural history. These texts provide a fascinating glimpse into Japanese views of literature, poetry, imperial politics, and the place of art and women in society. Selections include a recorded conversation among court ladies gossiping about their favorite Genji characters and scenes; learned exegetical commentary; a vigorous debate over Genji's moral concerns; and an impassioned defense of Genji's ability to enhance Japan's standing among the twentieth century's community of nations. Taken together, these documents reflect Japan's fraught history with vernacular texts, particularly those written by women.

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