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THE TALE OF GENJI (ca. 1021)
by Murasaki Shikibu

The Setting of The Tale of Genji

Haruo Shirane :: First of all it's about love, it's a romance. It's a male hero [Genji] who encounters many different women from many different social backgrounds. He himself belongs to the highest echelon of society. He's the son of the emperor, a member of the royalty. But the women that he encounters tend to be from lower ranks. And this is the setting, the social setting, for the Tale of Genji.

It's stream-of-consciousness in a way that's not found until seventeenth-, eighteenth-, ninteenth-century Europe. And that stream-of-consciousness, this pursuing of psychological, emotional, delicate intertwinings of the mind and emotions comes out of the women's literature. The men were more concerned with public affairs, with history. For the women it was their personal history, which was the ultimate history, and ultimately it was that personal history, the psychological description, that survived. We never read the histories by the men.