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Yosano Akiko and The Tale of Genji
by G. G. Rowley, Waseda University

“Rowley draws on a wealth of evidence and her own detailed analysis of Akiko’s writings to make the highly original argument that in negotiating between art and life, Akiko identified so closely with Murasaki and saw so much of her philandering husband in Genji that she made the text into her own story, transforming both Murasaki and Genji in the process. . . . A concise summation of Genji studies and how readers have interacted with the text. . . . This book is well worth reading not only for its fresh insights into a major modern writer, but as a model of what can be learned from an array of close textual analyses.”
Anne Walthall in BSOAS
 

“A clear and incisive description of the cultural and historical contexts of Yosano Akiko’s involvement with Genji monogatari as reader, translator, and scholar. . . . This study’s detailed treatment of Yosano Akiko’s activities concerning Genji and their background . . . will be of definite value to students of Genji and of translation.”
Janine Beichman in The Journal of Asian Studies

Yosano Akiko (1878–1942) has long been recognized as one of the most important literary figures of prewar Japan. Hitherto she has been renowned principally for the passion of her early poetry and for her contributions to twentieth-century debates about women. This emphasis obscures a major part of her career, which was devoted to work on the Japanese classics, and, in particular, the great Heian period text The Tale of Genji. Akiko herself felt that Genji was the bedrock upon which her entire literary career was built, and her bibliography shows progressively increasing amounts of time devoted to projects related to the tale. This study traces for the first time the full range of Akiko’s involvement with The Tale of Genji.

The Tale of Genji provided Akiko with her conception of herself as a writer and inspired many of her most significant literary projects. She, in turn, refurbished Genji as a modern novel, pioneered some of the most promising avenues of modern academic research on Genji, and, to a great extent, gave the text the prominence it now enjoys as a translated classic. Through her work Genji became, in fact as well as in name, an exemplum of that most modern of literary genres, the novel. In delineating this important aspect of Akiko’s life and her bibliography, this study aims to show that facile descriptions of Akiko as a “poetess of passion” or “new woman” will no longer suffice.

Published by Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan
Michigan Monographs in Japanese Studies No. 28
Published 2000, 232 pp.
ISBN 0 939512 98 X, hardback, £24.00