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Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of GenjiPhilosophical Perspectives$
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James McMullen

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190654979

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190654979.001.0001

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The Structure of Genji’s Career

The Structure of Genji’s Career

Myth, Politics, and Pride

(p.36) Chapter 1 The Structure of Genji’s Career
Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji

Royall Tyler

Oxford University Press

The hero of The Tale of Genji is famous or infamous above all as a lover and a seductive master of the courtly arts. The political aspects of his career are not as well recognized, perhaps because they are often difficult to distinguish from his love interests. One goal of this essay is to disentangle in Genji’s case political or personal advantage from erotic enterprise. A second goal is to show that Genji’s overt career follows a political (for want of a better word) trajectory that gives his story an underlying form distinct from simple acknowledgment of passing time. The main issues are the imperial succession, acquisition of decisive influence at court, and hierarchically advantageous marriage. Genji’s trajectory follows the rise of a man who comes against the odds to dominate his world, then overreaches himself and loses all that he holds most dear. Having been forced by external circumstance to favor his lackluster first son (Suzaku) publicly, the Kiritsubo Emperor does all he can to favor his brilliant second son (Genji) privately. Feeling cheated of the honor to which his gifts and his father’s favor should have destined him, Genji maneuvers successfully to overcome those who forced him into this position. Out of pride he then takes a gratuitous step that estranges him from his beloved Murasaki and, by the way, crushes his unfortunate brother. When last seen, he is only the shell of a once great man.

Keywords:   Tale of Genji, Heian literature, Heian period politics, marriage politics, women’s history, fraternal strife

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