Genji and murasaki relationship

Chapter 1. Genji and Murasaki: Between Love and Pride

genji and murasaki relationship

Those familiar with The Tale of Genji (early 11th c., by Murasaki Shikibu), know that its hero, Genji, establishes liaisons with a wide variety of. The characters of The Tale of Genji do not possess birth names. Instead they are assigned Murasaki takes her name from a poem by Genji), from the particular court positions they occupy (in the Tyler In the realm of amorous relationships, the narrative follows Genji from his adventurous youth, a time in which he. Murasaki refers to both the heroine of the Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji), and the book's author, Murasaki Shikibu. In both cases the name is a.

Are all women doomed to be found tedious in some way? The young men finally give up the discussion, but Genji, who is of an amorous turn of mind, sets out, more or less unconsciously, to test their hypotheses. A secondary main character, who contrasts with him and whose life intertwines with his, is his best friend, To no Chujo. The modern reader understands from the beginning that social arrangements in the 10th-century Japanese court are considerably different from ours.

Well-born women live in seclusion, surrounded by other women and removed from the gaze of all men except their husbands. A husband customarily has more than one wife; each has a separate room in his palace. All of his children are legitimate. Their claims to status depend in part on the power and influence of their mothers' families and in part on their own good looks and accomplishments.

The Tale of Genji is about domestic rivalries and intrigues.

The Tale of Genji - Wikipedia

Whatever might have been happening politically and militarily is entirely absent from the novel, though the male characters often have titles such as "minister" or "general.

The characters communicate most often by letters and poems, which are reproduced in the text, and which have traditional forms and symbols. Genji called "the shining Genji" when he dies is the astonishingly good-looking son of an emperor and a woman of little power.

He is superior in every way, but his superiority doesn't extend to what westerners would consider moral probity. In particular, he is often guilty of rape and seduction. His most profound relationship is with Murasaki, whom he takes into his house when she is 10, promising to be a father to her.

He later seduces and rapes her, then installs her as his favourite wife. When she dies toward the end of the Genji section of the novel, he goes into despair himself and dies soon after. They do not have any children of their own, but she raises several of his children by other women. The Tale of Genji proceeds at a dreamlike, deliberate pace, rather like a long scroll depicting a journey. The author is adept at description and dialogue, and at reporting the inner workings of the minds of the main characters.

The novel is always indescribably exotic, because of what the characters do and the world they live in, but it seems familiar because the details of their relationships - jealousy, frustration, desire, gossip, anxiety, rivalry, intimacy, good fellowship - are utterly understandable.

There is nothing even remotely primitive about it. If anything, the level of luxury and convenience depicted, as well as the complexity of daily life, with all its errands and responsibilities and conflicting demands, seem almost modern.

Kaoru's story is structurally more sophisticated, full of dramatic irony of which Kaoru himself doesn't understand the meaning. Born in unhappy circumstances, Kaoru is, to all appearances, an exceptionally sober and unamorous young man.

He is very good-looking, like Genji, but of a more serious turn of mind. Kaoru's most interesting quality is his natural fragrance, which is repeatedly compared to the most beautiful and rare sort of perfume. Kaoru seeks enlightenment, and hears of an old prince who has left the world and become a scholar in a villa in a small mountain village.

Genji Monogatari (The Tale of the Genji) by Murasaki Shikibu - 8. Young Violet, Part 1

The old prince has two daughters, and Kaoru agrees to watch out for them. He falls in love with the elder daughter, and promotes the affair of the younger daughter with his friend Niou, who is already married to the eldest daughter of the emperor. Kaoru's beloved cannot bring herself to live in the world, and dies shortly after the death of her father. The second daughter marries Niou, but he treats her badly, and Kaoru falls in love with her.

A third daughter is found, the daughter of the old prince and a former lady's maid, and she is so like the first daughter that Kaoru falls for her. In the tale, Genji is not the only man to feel this sense of responsibility. The young men who take part in the famous 'rainy night discussion' chapter 2 end up praising constancy, despite their accounts of their own lapses, and later on chapter 31, 'The Handsome Pillar' Higekuro shares similar sentiments.

Yes, he is fed up with his original wife, who is no longer in her right mind, and has taken a new one; but he seems to be sincere when he protests that he has no intention of abandoning his original wife outright. The author makes it quite clear that Kaneie was no model of conjugal behaviour. Still, considering the way according to her account she let him know time after time exactly what she thought of him, it is also interesting that he should have kept in touch with her at all.

genji and murasaki relationship

The victim of rape is forced into sexual intercourse without her consent, and this certainly happens in the tale. However, a man courting a woman socially worthy of him within quite a wide range does not in principle take initial intercourse with her lightly. In the tale, such intercourse is typically the beginning of a long-term relationship. In fact, it may be the start of a marriage or quasi-marriage [12] and may therefore affect the woman's entire future.

It therefore makes sense first of all to ask whether a woman in such a situation can properly give her prior consent.

genji and murasaki relationship

An attentive reading of the tale shows that no young woman of good family could decently, on her own initiative, say yes to first intercourse. One conscious of 'who she is,' and who wishes to remain so, must be directed to comply by someone with the authority to do so—normally, her father. In theory, her own feelings on the matter are irrelevant, although in practice a father in the world of the tale knows that it would be folly simply to ignore them.

A young woman may enter into correspondence with an appropriate suitor and may even receive him in a manner that does not compromise her good name, but she may not, on her own, betray sexual interest in him. A lady in the tale did not do that, in which she resembled many other respectable ladies in other countries and times.

The tale contains only rare instances of a man forcing himself on a woman of good family whose father is alive and active in the world. One of these is Genji's first intercourse with Oborozukiyo chapter 8, 'Under the Cherry Blossoms'the whole point of which is to be amusingly dangerous.

Moreover, Oborozukiyo's failure to resist Genji seriously reminds him that, despite her charm, she has unfortunately not been brought up to what he considers the highest standard. Another example is that of Nokiba no Ogi chapter 3with whom Genji goes to bed by mistake and who does not object. However, Nokiba no Ogi is personally and socially insignificant, at least in Genji's eyes, and she is only a passing figure in the tale. A young woman without a father is likely to be more or less seriously disadvantaged either materially or socially, or both.

Utsusemi is an example.

Consuming narratives

If her father had lived, he would have saved her from falling to the level of a provincial governor's wife. As for Suetsumuhana, her father seems never to have had much political weight, but if he were still alive she at least would not have been all but destitute, with her women starving and her house slowly collapsing around her.

She would also have had someone to authorise her to accept a husband. Dedicated as she is to honouring her father's memory, she could not possibly give herself this licence. Genji who for reasons explained in the narrative is determined to see the thing through therefore has no choice but to proceed without her consent.

His decisiveness saves her life not once but twice. As soon as the act of sharing her intimacy whatever that may actually consist of has committed him to her, he has her house and grounds redone and supplies her and her household with all that she needs. Then his own troubles erase the thought of her temporarily from his mind. When she comes to his attention again, her material situation is even more desperate than before, but he puts things right again, this time permanently.

She literally owes him everything. Her experience provides a simple model for that of Murasaki. He immediately wants her, for reasons familiar to anyone acquainted with the tale.

However, she is not easy to get. When he comes upon her she is living with her grandmother, now a nun, in the hills north of the capital. Her mother is dead. Her father, a Prince, is alive, but unfortunately Murasaki's mother was not his formal wife.

Consuming narratives: The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu | Books | The Guardian

His wife fiercely resented Murasaki's mother when she lived and resents Murasaki even now. As a result, Murasaki's father has never dared to recognise Murasaki as his daughter and has always refrained from bringing her home for fear of the treatment she would receive there.

Genji asks the grandmother for her granddaughter, but she demurs. Murasaki is not yet of marrigeable age, and the grandmother finds his request suspiciously strange. Meanwhile, Murasaki's father decides to bring her home after all. Genji realises that if he lets that happen he will have little further access to Murasaki and will have to wait several years before he can even hope to obtain her.

The thought being unbearable, he abducts her instead. Suddenly, she is gone without a trace. What Genji does is outrageous, not to mention implausible outside fiction. Many recent readers have roundly condemned him for it.

But does it harm Murasaki? Considering the realities of her life and her prospects, the answer is no, on the contrary. At her father's house she would be from her stepmother's controlling standpoint no more than an unwanted stepchild, a sort of Cinderella. All her stepmother's efforts go to promoting her own daughters, who, needless to say, lack Murasaki's many qualities.

The stepmother would soon be defending her daughters against the threat that Murasaki represents and relegating Murasaki as much as possible to the outer darkness. Mursasaki would of course be married off in the end, but to a relative nobody. Her beauty and her abundant gifts would go to waste. In contrast Genji treasures them throughout her life.

No husband approved by her father could possibly have become Honorary Retired Emperor or made her an Empress's adoptive mother. Still, there remains the question of how Genji actually consummates his marriage with her.

That he rapes her has been self-evident to many recent readers, for whom the matter is so clear and so reprehensible that nothing further need be, or even should be, said about it. This is what happens. Having obtained Murasaki after all, Genji treats her with great affection but also with unfailing tact and respect. Despite sleeping with her literally every night when at home, he never betrays the slightest wish to press himself upon her.

Meanwhile, she grows up. Then Genji's original wife dies, under the circumstances alluded to above. When the mourning is over, Genji looks at Murasaki with fresh eyes and sees that the time has come. He therefore tries in various, discreet ways to arouse her interest in changing the nature of their relationship. However, he fails completely. His hints pass right over her head. She cannot even wonder whether or not to consent, since she has no idea what he is talking about. The intimacy already established between her and Genji throws her incomprehension into sharp relief.

Is such innocence even possible under her circumstances? Or has Genji misjudged her stage of development? With respect to the first question, one need only recall that the tale is fiction. The reader has no reasonable choice but to accept what the narrative says. As for the second, Murasaki is certainly still very young—perhaps only fourteen.

However, this was a normal age for marriage in the world of the tale. In fact, many years later her adopted daughter will give birth to a future Emperor, apparently without difficulty, at the age of twelve or thirteen. There is no reason to believe that Genji is wrong by the standards of his time. He seems even to have been unusually patient.

Then what does the author mean by Murasaki's failure to understand him? The answer should be clear already. Her incomprehension proves her quality and promises her future greatness as a lady.

genji and murasaki relationship

For her to say yes would be unworthy of her; for her to say no would place Genji, hence herself, in a very difficult position; and for her to say either would compromise her by showing that she does know what he is talking about. Her utter innocence is what proves her supreme worth. As in the case of Suetsumuhana it is up to Genji to act, and he does. Yes, Murasaki remains furious with him for some time thereafter, but her anger passes, and beyond the chapter in which all this takes place the narrative never alludes to it again.

The experience is inevitable, but once it is over, it is over. Its only significant consequence is that now Murasaki can begin her adult life with Genji. That life that will bring her various trials, as anyone's is likely to do, but also great happiness; and in the end it will lift her, for the reader, to a height of grandeur beyond anything her yes or no could have achieved.

The case of Suetsumuhana also provides a key to a situation that occurs much later in the book, after Murasaki and Genji are gone. She and her younger sister, Nakanokimi, are the daughters of the Eighth Prince Hachinomiyaa half brother of Genji.

Long ago this gentleman lost out in a power struggle at court and vanished into obscurity. His wife died after Nakanokimi was born, and he brought up his daughters alone although with the help of a household staff.

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In his last years an extremely distinguished young lord known as Kaoru befriends him, and in time Kaoru glimpses the two sisters. When the Eighth Prince feels his end approaching, he lets Kaoru know that Kaoru should assume responsibility for the sisters after him. One may assume that he wishes Kaoru to marry at least one of them and to assure the welfare of the other.

Unfortunately, the Eighth Prince does not judging from the narrative express this wish nearly so clearly to his daughters.

genji and murasaki relationship

All they retain from his words, after his death, is a warning to be wary of all men. They recall him holding out the remote possibility that someone worthy of them might appear, but they remain far more impressed by his admonition never to discredit themselves by yielding rashly to anyone unworthy.

They conclude that, in their father's absence, marriage is too perilous to embark upon at all. She refuses him time after time, but she also worries so much about Nakanokimi's future that she tries to deflect him towards her younger sister.

Kaoru will have none of it, however, and soon Nakanokimi's fate is decided in a quite different way. Some time ago, Kaoru told his great friend Prince Niou about the sisters, and so eventually Niou has Kaoru take him to their house and smuggle him in to Nakanokimi.

Being as assertive a lover as Kaoru is reticent, he succeeds instantly. It is impossible to imagine him requesting her consent first, although the narrative makes it clear that she is well pleased afterwards. Niou has married her, and her future is now assured. Alas, that is not obvious for some time. The sisters live far from the capital, and Niou is too exalted in rank to travel freely.

He has great difficulty merely returning, as custom required, for the three successive nights that seal the marriage see note Then more difficulties intervene, and the sisters conclude gloomily that that he has forgotten Nakanokimi. Their fear of marriage seems to be vindicated. In chapter 47 she starves herself to death.