Written over one thousand years ago by Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari) is the supreme masterpiece of Japanese literature, a work whose influence on subsequent arts and letters in the country is impossible to exaggerate. As the world’s earliest extant prose narrative by a woman writer, the Genji has received attention in world literature and women’s studies programs. With its rich psychological portraits of desire, guilt, and memory, the work has also gained a reputation as “the world’s oldest novel.” In this course, we will read the entire Tale of Genji in English translation and engage fully with its sophistication and complexity by employing diverse critical perspectives. We will investigate both the tenth-century prose experiments that made the work possible and a number of later works in different genres so as to gain awareness of the impact of the Genji on the culture of every historical era since its composition. We will also have occasion to consider the reception of Murasaki’s masterpiece in the English-speaking world.
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Van Compernolle.