Fall 2017

The World's Oldest Novel: The Tale of Genji and Its Refractions

Listed in: Asian Languages and Civilizations, as ASLC-335

Formerly listed as: ASLC-35


Timothy J. Van Compernolle (Section 01)


Written over one thousand years ago by the court lady, Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji is the supreme masterpiece of Japanese literature and a work whose influence on subsequent arts and letters in the country cannot be overestimated.  As the world’s earliest extant prose narrative by a woman writer, the Genji has received much attention in world literature and women’s studies programs and, with its rich psychological portraits of desire, guilt, and memory, has gained for itself 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 the tenth-century prose experiments that made the work possible and examine 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.

Fall semester. Professor Van Compernolle.


Attention to Writing, Transnational or World Cultures Taught in English


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Fall 2017