Essay on Gender Issues in "The Tale of Genji"

1181 Words 5 Pages
The Tale of Genji is a classic work of Japanese literature attributed to the Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu in the early eleventh century, around the peak of the Heian period. 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 universally hailed as a masterpiece, its precise classification and influence in both Western and Eastern Canon has been a matter of debate (the Tale of Genji).
The Tale of Genji was written chapter by chapter, as Murasaki Shikibu delivered the tale to women of the aristocracy. It has many elements that are found in a modern novel including a central character and a very large number of major and minor
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However these imperial women were not equal as an Empress was normally appointed from among the Consorts. But by no means did all the Consorts have any realistic hope of such success, with the Intimates having none at all. Their birth rank was too low, and they lacked the necessary weight of political support (Tyler).
In Murasaki Shikibu’s Heian court, the men were all officials of great and small importance. They studied things like philosophy, history, and law in Chinese, learned to write the Chinese language, and also composed Chinese poetry. They of course composed poetry in Japanese as well, but fiction was in principle at the time beneath their dignity, since it was classified as worthless fantasy. Still, some clearly knew about tales anyway and once the Tale of Genji came to be widely admired, it was the men who most visibly preached its worth (Tyler).
At the time women were not supposed to study Chinese, but some women still did. Murasaki Shikibu wrote in her diary that she taught the Empress to read Chinese poetry, but that she did it in secret. Chinese was considered very unladylike, even masculine. Chapter 2 of the book describes a scholar’s daughter who taught her lover to write Chinese poetry and gentlewomen who liked to fill their letters with Chinese characters, but such things were not encouraged. A ranking lady who could read Chinese advertised her knowledge at her own peril (Tyler).
Phonetically written Japanese, along with a few Chinese

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