Back to ACLAnet Syllabi & Documents & Documents

Japanese/Comparative Literature

The Tale of Genji

William E. Naff 

The Tale of Genji, the supreme masterpiece of Japanese literature and one of the central monuments of Japanese civilization, is a psychological novel of immense subtlety and complexity written during the opening years of the eleventh century by Murasaki Shikibu, a woman of the Japanese court. It employs narrative strategies and rhetorical techniques that not only anticipate but may in some ways go beyond those developed by literary modernism in the twentieth-century West. This is why the first successful readings by Europeans had to wait until European readers had the precedents of Proust and Joyce before them. Yet, like all great works of art, it enriches all who approach it, whatever their level of sophistication and preparation.

After nearly a millennium of intense critical attention in Japan that both reflects and informs the characteristic approaches to literature of each successive age, the present generation continues to make new and exciting discoveries in the text and its related literature. Genji scholarship is one of the most fertile fields of Japanese studies both in Japan and abroad. Much important new English language research has appeared in just the past few years.

The seminar will focus on close reading and discussion of the Seidensticker translation of The Tale of Genji. Other translations and critical studies in English and other languages will be explored as well as selections from the original Japanese text and Japanese-language scholarship. Some of the questions to be explored include:Genji and women in the arts in Japan and in Europe,the historic evolution of Genji scholarship, the character and validity of Murasaki Shikibu's defense of fiction, the advantages and limitations of the aristocratic perspective, genre problems posed by Genji, Genji and the nature of classical Japanese civilization, the continuing influence of Genji in medieval, early modern and modern Japan, similarities and differences in the assumptions and values of Murasaki Shikibu and her world and those of the present day, the major religious and spiritual systems and world views that inform Genji, and comparisons and contrasts between Japanese and non-Japanese readings of Genji.

Prerequisites: Completion of third-year Japanese, or an ability to read any language other than English, or instructor's permission. It is most likely that all students will not be able to read all the languages represented in the discussions but all seminar members will be expected to do some of their research in at least two languages: English and Japanese, Chinese, French, or German. Those with a background in literary studies in the latter three languages are particularly encouraged to participate even if they do not know Japanese.

Requirements: Keeping up with the assigned reading, participation in class discussion; developing a research topic; presenting the instructor with a formal, written research proposal by the end of the fifth week; an oral presentation to the class during one of the final meetings, completion of a term paper to be due during examination week.



Bargen, Doris, "Spirit Possession in the Context of Dramatic Expresssions of Gender Conflict." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 48:1 (June, 1988)

Bargen, Doris,"YPtgao: A Case of Spirit Possession in The Tale of Genji." Mosaic XIX/3 (Summer, 1986).

Bowring, Richard. Murasaki Shikibu; The Tale of Genji. Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 1988.

Field, Norma, The Splendor of Longing in the Tale of Genji. Princeton University Press, 1987.

Morris, Ivan. The World of the Shining Prince. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964.

Murasaki Shikibu, Edward Seidensticker, tr. The Tale of Genji. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976.

Murasaki Shikibu, Arthur Waley tr. The Tale of Genji (originally published1925-1933; now available in various editions including Modern Library)

Murasaki Shikibu, Oscar Benl tr.

Murasaki Shikibu, Die Geschichte vom Prinzen Genji. Herbert E. Herlischka. Franfurt am Main: Insel Verlag, 1965

Murasaki Shikibu, Renä Seiffert, La dit du Genji. Paris: Publications Orientalistes de France, 1978.

Murasaki Shikibu, Richard Bowring, trans. & notes. Murasaki Shikibu Her Diary and Poetic Memoirs. Princeton University Press, 1982.

Murase, Mieko. Iconography of the Tale of Genji. New York: Weatherhill, 1983

Pekarik, Andrew (ed.) Ukifune Love in the Tale of Genji. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

Rimer, Thomas, Modern Japanese Fiction and Its Traditions. Princeton University Press, 1978.

*Shirane, Haruo. The Floating Bridge of Dreams. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987.

B. Related Materials

(*Works of Special Importance to this Seminar) 

Araki, James T. The Ballad Drama of Medieval Japan. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1964.

Association for Asian Studies Bibliography of Asian Studies. Annual. University of Michigan.

*Blacker, Carmen. The Catalpa Bow. London, George Allen and Unwin, 1975.

Borgen, Robert. Sugawara no Michizane and the Early Heian Court. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

Bownas, Geoffrey, and Anthony Thwaite. The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse. Harmondsworth and Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1964.

*Brower and Miner Japanese Court Poetry, Stanford University Press, 1961

Brownstein, Rachel. Becoming a Heroine: Reading About Women in Novels New York: Viking Press, 1982.

*Goff, Janet. Noh Drama and The Tale of Genji. Princeton, 1991

Hare, Thomas B. Zeami's Style: The Noh Plays of Zeami Motokiyo. Stanford University Press, 1986.

Hare, Thomas B. Zeami's Style: The Noh Plays of Zeami Motokiyo. Stanford University Press, 1986.

Harries, Philip Tudor, The Poetic Memoirs of Lady Daibu. Stanford: 1980

Hirshfield, Jane, with Mariko Aratani. The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company (Charles Scribner's Sons Poetry) 1988. ISBN 0-684-187691-2.

*Hisamatsu, Sen'ichi. Helen Craig McCullough, tr. The Vocabulary of Japanese Aesthetics. Tokyo: Center for East Asian Cultural Studies, 1963.

*Izumi Shikibu, Edwin A. Cranston, tr. The Izumi Shikibu Diary: A Romance of the Heian Court. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969.

*Japan P.E.N. Club, comp. Japanese Literature in European Languages. Tokyo: Kazui Press, 1961. Supplement (1964).

*Japan P.E.N. Club, comp. Japanese Literature in Foreign Languages 1945*1960. Tokyo: Japan Book Publishers Associates, 1990.

*Katö, ShPtichi. A History of Japanese Literature. (3 vols.) Tokyo, New York, and San Francisco: Kodansha International, 1983

Kawabata Yasunari, Edward Seidensticker, tr., Japan the Beautiful and Myself. Palo Alto and Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1969.

Keene, Donald, 20 Plays of the Nö Theatre. New York: Columbia University Press, 1970.

Komparu Kunio, The Noh Theater Principles and Perspectives. New York, Tokyo, Kyoto: Weatherhill/TankÖsha, 1983.

Komparu Kunio, The Noh Theater Principles and Perspectives. New York, Tokyo, Kyoto: Weatherhill/TankÖsha, 1983.

*Konishi Jin'ichi (Aileen Gatten and Nicholas Teele, tr. Earl Miner, ed.) A History of Japanese Literature Volume One, The Ancient and Archaic Ages, Princeton University Press, 1984

*Konishi Jin'ichi (Aileen Gatten and Nicholas Teele, tr. Earl Miner, ed.) A History of Japanese Literature Volume Two, The Early Middle Ages, Princeton University Press, 1987.

Levy, Ian Hideo (trans) The Ten Thousand Leaves, A Translation of the Man'yöshPt, Japan's Premier Anthology of Classical Poetry, volume one. Princeton University Press, 1981

*Levy, Ian Hideo, Hitomaro and the Birth of Japanese Lyricism. Princeton University Press, 1984.

Matisoff, Susan. The Legend of Semimaru Blind Musician of Japan. New York: Columbia University Press, 1973, 1978.

Matsunaga, Alicia Orloff. "The Land of Natural Affirmation: Pre-Buddhist Japan." Monumenta Nipponica 21: 1-2 (1967) pages 203-209.

McCullough, Helen Craig (trans & notes) Ise Monogatari. Tales of Ise: Lyrical Episodes from Tenth-Century Japan Stanford University Press, 1968.

McCullough, Helen Craig (trans & notes) Kokin WakashPt: The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry. Stanford University Press, 1985.

*McCullough, Helen Craig, Brocade by Night: "Kokin WakashPt" and the Court Style in Japanese Classical Poetry. Stanford University Press, 1985.

McCullough, Helen Craig, tr. and intro, The Tale of the Heike. Stanford University Press, 1988.

*McCullough, William H. "Japanese Marriage Institutions in the Heian Period." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 27 (1967): 103-167.

Michitsuna, mother of, Edward Seidensticker (trans) The Gossamer Years (Kagerö Nikki). Tokyo and Rutland: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1964.

*Miner, Earl. Introduction to Japanese Court Poetry. Stanford University Press, 1968.

Miner, Earl, Japanese Poetic Diaries. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969

Miner, Earl, Odagiri Hiroko, and Robert E. Morrell. The Princeton Companion to Classical Japanese Literature. Princeton University Press, 1986.

Mishima Yukio, Donald Keene, trans. Five Modern Nö Plays. New York: Alfred E. Knopf, 1957.

Morris, Ivan (trans. & ed.) The Pillow Book of Sei Shönagon. 2 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967.

Morris, Ivan, ed. Madly Singing in the Mountains: An Appreciation and Anthology of Arthur Waley. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1970.

Naff, William E. "Cultures and Climates of Liberality in Japanese Court Literarature," Comparative Civilizations Review, No. 7 (Fall, 1981) pages 27-44.

Naff, William E. "The Comparative Tradition in Japanese History." Comparative Civilizations Review, No.15 (Fall, 1986), pages 1-21.

Naff, William E. "The Heritage of Courtly Love in Japanese Society," Comparative Civilizations Review, No. 1 (Winter, 1979), pages 42-63

Nakamura Hajime. The Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples. Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1964.

NijÖ, Lady, Karen Brazell, tr. The Confessions of Lady Nijö (Towazugatari). New York: Doubleday/Anchor, 1973.

Nippon Gakujutsu ShinkÖkai (ed.) Japanese Noh Drama 3 vols. Tokyo: 1955, 1969, 1960.

Nippon Gakujutsu ShinkÖkai (ed.). The Man'yöshPt. New York, Columbia University Press, 1965.

Philippi, Donald (translator). The Kojiki. Princeton University Press; University of Tokyo Press: 1969.

Philippi, Donald, This Wine of Laughter, This Wine of Peace, New York: Grossman/Mushinsha, 1968.

*Pollack, David. The Fracture of Meaning: Japan's Synthesis of China from the Eighth through the Eighteenth Centuries. Princeton University Press, 1986.

Putzar, Edward. Japanese Literature: A Historical Outline. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1973.

Reischauer, Edwin O. Ennin's Diary. New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1955

Reischauer, Edwin O. Ennin's Travels in T'ang China. The Ronald Press Company, 1955.

Rimer, J. Thomas, and Robert Morrell, eds. Guide to Japanese Poetry. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1975.

Rodd, Laurel Rasplica with Mary Catherine Henkenius (ed. & notes) KokinshPt: A Collection of Poems Ancient and Modern. Princeton University Press, 1985.

Rolich, Thomas H., (trans.) A Tale of Eleventh-Century Japan: Hamamatsu ChPtnagon Monogatari. Princeton University Press, 1973.

SatÖ, Hiroaki and Burton Watson (ed. & trans) From the Country of Eight Islands.Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981.

*Silberman, Bernard S. Japan and Korea: A Critical Bibliography. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1962

Tahara, Mildred, (tr.) Tales of Yamato A Tenth-Century Poem Tale. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1980.

Takasue, Daughter of, Ivan Morris, trans. As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams: Recollections of a Woman in Eleventh Century Japan. (Sarashina Nikki) New York: Dial Press, 1971.

Tsukui, Nobuko. Ezra Pound and Japanese Noh Plays. University Press of America, 1963.

Tsunoda, RyPtsaku, et al. Sources of Japanese Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1958.

Tyler, Royall, trans & ed. Japanese Tales (Konjaku Monogatari)New York: Pantheon Press, 1986.

Ueda, Makoto. Literary and Art Theories in Japan. Cleveland: Press of Western Reserve University, 1967.

Ueda, Makoto. Zeami, BashÖ, Yeats, Pound. A Study in Japanese and English Poetics. The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1965.

Ury, Marian (tr.) Tales of Times Now Past Sixty-Two Tales from a Medieval Japanese Collection. (Konjaku Monogatari) Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1979.

Waley, Arthur, The No Plays of Japan, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1921.

Waley, Arthur. Japanese Poetry: The 'Uta'. (1919). London: Percy Lund, Humphries & Co., 1965.

Whitehouse, Wilfred, and Eizo Yanagisawa (trans.) The Tale of the Lady Ochikubo. Tokyo: HokuseidÖ, 1965. (New York: Doubleday/Anchor, 1971)

Willig, Rosette, (tr.) The Changelings. (Torikaebaya Monogatari). Stanford University Press, 1983.

Yasuda, Kenneth. Masterworks of the Nö Theater. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1989.

Back to ACLAnet Syllabi & Documents & Documents


About ACLAnet - Syllabi and Documents - Syllabus Related Materials - Pedagogical Theory and Practice
Participant List/Profiles - Additional Resources - Suggest New Links - Submit Material - Search ACLAnet