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History: CPLT324_Shikibu

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CPLT 324 MURASAKI SHIKIBU QUESTIONS


Assigned: The Tale of Genji (2174-2270).

Chapter 2 (2182-2204)

1. On 2184-96 before embarking on a frustrating courtship of the wife of the Governor of Iyo, Genji listens to several gentlemen discuss their perspective on relationships with women. What ideals and practical observations do the men set forth about their experience with women of various ranks? Do they seem satisfied with the amatory status quo, or do you find that their complaints overshadow their happiness?

2. On 2196-2204, Genji courts the Governor of Iyo's wife (the "lady of the locust shell"), without, it seems, much success at this point. What seems to attract him to this lady, and how does she conduct herself in the face of Genji's advances?

Chapter 4

3. From 2204-08, Genji continues his intrigues, but at from 2209-24, he has one of his most memorable and melancholy affairs: describe the development of an interaction between Genji and this young woman. How well does Genji acquit himself morally in this affair, and how does he take the young woman's death?

4. Again with reference to this affair from 2209-24 (as elsewhere in the novel), quotations from and adaptations of the Kokinshu and other key poems are interwoven with the characters' dialogue. How might the poetry quotations deepen our understanding of what happens between Genji and the ill-fated young woman? How do the verses offer a window into the thoughts, feelings, and expectations of the characters who speak them?

Chapter 12 (2224-2243)

5. In this chapter, Genji (thanks partly to an ill-considered affair with Kokiden's sister Oborozukiyo, as well as the death of the Emperor) is exiled to Suma, and must leave behind Murasaki, Fujitsubo, and his old way of life. From 2231-43, what is exile like for Genji? What are his surroundings like, how does he spend his time, and what qualities does this period of exile bring out in him?

Chapter 13 (2243-61)

6. From 2243-47, events lead rapidly to Genji's decision to return from Suma to the Court by way of Akashi – what events help him make his decision? Also, Buddhism is a complex belief system, but one of its most powerful elements is a strong sense of life's impermanence – how does this part of the chapter reinforce that point? What supernatural elements also come to Genji's assistance?

7. From 2250-57, Genji corresponds with the daughter of the old monk who once governed Harima. Reflect on how the narrator describes the letters that are written – not only what is written, but how it is written, in terms of calligraphic style, choice of paper, and any other considerations that matter. Why are these things so important, and why, more generally, does the act of writing letters seem so significant in our selections? (Chapter 12, 2234 also contains a description of letter-writing that you may want to draw upon.)

Chapter 25 (2261-70)

8. Judging from his behavior towards Tamakazura and his interaction with some of the other women in his life, what does Genji (now restored to grace at Court) seem to have learned now that he has reached the relatively mature third decade of his life? Part of this chapter's selection is taken up with Genji's comments on the status of the romance fiction that his women friends read – what do those comments suggest about the wisdom he has gained up to this point?

9. A general question on any of our selected chapters: how important is the natural world and descriptions of it in this novel? What do the chapters' natural settings add to our understanding of characters and events?

10. A general question on any chapter: the Norton introduction says that Murasaki Shikibu is interested not so much in politics as in "fate, retribution, sexual attraction, and the emotional depth of sexual experience" (2174). That's surely true, but find a place or two in the text that touches upon political considerations at Court or elsewhere and discuss the observations made by the narrator or the characters. How are "politics" to some extent a vital concern in Genji?

Lawall, Sarah, ed. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 2nd edition. Volume 1ABC. New York: WW Norton, 2002. ISBN A = 0393977552, B = 0393977560, C = 0393977579.


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