Completed in the early 11th century, The Tale of Genji is considered the supreme masterpiece of Japanese prose literature, and one of the world’s earliest novels. A work of great length, it comprises six parts, the first part of which (also called The Tale of Genji) is reprinted here. The exact origins of this remarkable saga of the nobility of Heian Japan remain somewhat obscured by time, although its author, Lady Shikibu Murasaki, presumably derived many of her insights into court life from her years of service with the royal family.
The novel centers on the life and loves of the prince known as “the shining Genji.” Far more than an exotic romance, however, the tale presents finely drawn characters in realistic situations, set against a richly embroidered tapestry of court life. Moreover, a wistful sense of nostalgia pervades the accounts of courtly intrigues and rivalries, resulting in an exquisitely detailed portrayal of a decaying aristocracy.
Vibrant in its poetry and wordplay, subtle in its social and psychological observations, this work ranks in stature and significance with such Western classics as Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. This inexpensive edition, featuring Arthur Waley’s splendid translation of the first of the six-part series, offers readers a memorable taste of one of the world’s first and greatest novels.