The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji
Genji emaki 01003 002.jpg
Written text from the earliest illustrated handscroll (12th century)
AuthorMurasaki Shikibu
Original title源氏物語
Genji Monogatari
TranslatorSuematsu Kenchō, Arthur Waley, Edward G. Seidensticker, Helen McCullough, Royall Tyler, Dennis Washburn
CountryJapan
LanguageEarly Middle Japanese
GenreMonogatari
PublishedBefore 1021
Media typemanuscript
895.63 M93

The Tale of Genji (源氏物語, Genji monogatari) is a classic work of Japanese literature written by the noblewoman and lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu in the early years of the 11th century. The original manuscript no longer exists. It was made in "concertina" or "orihon" style[1]: several sheets of paper pasted together and folded alternately in one direction then the other, around the peak of the Heian period. The work is a unique depiction of the lifestyles of high courtiers during the Heian period, written in archaic language and a poetic and confusing style that make it unreadable to the average Japanese without dedicated study.[2] It was not until the early 20th century that Genji was translated into modern Japanese, by the poet Akiko Yosano. The first English translation was attempted in 1882, but was of poor quality and incomplete.

The work recounts the life of Hikaru Genji, or "Shining Genji", the son of an ancient Japanese emperor, known to readers as Emperor Kiritsubo, and a low-ranking concubine called Kiritsubo Consort. For political reasons, the emperor removes Genji from the line of succession, demoting him to a commoner by giving him the surname Minamoto, and he pursues a career as an imperial officer. The tale concentrates on Genji's romantic life and describes the customs of the aristocratic society of the time. It is sometimes called the world's first novel, the first modern novel, the first psychological novel or the first novel still to be considered a classic. While regarded as a masterpiece, its precise classification and influence in both the Western and Eastern canons has been a matter of debate.

Historical context

The Tale of Genji may have been written chapter by chapter in installments, as Murasaki delivered the tale to aristocratic women (the nyokan). It has many elements found in a modern novel: a central character and a very large number of major and minor characters, well-developed characterization of all the major players, a sequence of events covering the central character's lifetime and beyond. The work does not make use of a plot; instead, events happen and characters simply grow older. One remarkable feature of the Genji, and of Murasaki's skill, is its internal consistency, despite a dramatis personæ of some four hundred characters. For instance, all characters age in step and the family and feudal relationships maintain general consistency.

One complication for readers and translators of the Genji is that almost none of the characters in the original text are given explicit names. The characters are instead referred to by their function or role (e.g. Minister of the Left), an honorific (e.g. His Excellency), or their relation to other characters (e.g. Heir Apparent), which changes as the novel progresses. This lack of names stems from Heian-era court manners that would have made it unacceptably familiar and blunt to freely mention a person's given name. Modern readers and translators have used various nicknames to keep track of the many characters.

The Tale of Genji was written in an archaic court language that was already unreadable a century after it was written.[3] Thus, the Japanese have been reading annotated and illustrated versions of the work since as early as the 12th century.[3] It was not until the early 20th century that Genji was translated into modern Japanese, by the poet Akiko Yosano.[4]

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Genji Monogatari
العربية: قصة غنجي
aragonés: Genji Monogatari
asturianu: Genji Monogatari
Bân-lâm-gú: Goân-sī Bu̍t-gú
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Аповесьць пра Гэндзі
brezhoneg: Genji Monogatari
Cymraeg: Chwedl Genji
français: Le Dit du Genji
한국어: 겐지 이야기
Bahasa Indonesia: Hikayat Genji
íslenska: Sagan um Genji
עברית: מעשה גנז'י
Kiswahili: Hekaya ya Genji
македонски: Приказна за Генџи
Bahasa Melayu: Hikayat Genji
日本語: 源氏物語
norsk nynorsk: Genji-soga
پنجابی: گنجی کعانی
português: Genji Monogatari
Simple English: The Tale of Genji
slovenščina: Princ in dvorne gospe
српски / srpski: Прича о Генџију
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Genji Monogatari
українська: Ґендзі моноґатарі
Tiếng Việt: Truyện kể Genji
吴语: 源氏物语
粵語: 源氏物語
žemaitėška: Genji Monogatari
中文: 源氏物語