Genji, Part 1 – Youthful Genji – Genji 4

  • The first chapter “Kiritsubo” in some ways sets up themes and dynamics that will define the character Genji for his entire life as we come to know him in The Tale of Genji. How do you see court power and female power operating in this “Kiristubo” chapter, and how do those power operations compare or contrast with the representations of power in our female court writings that we read for Week 4?
  • The “Kiritsubo” chapter has been interpreted as setting up a foundation of erotic or romantic love for Genji in materinal love and the surrogate mother figure of Fujitsubo. By harboring this complex nexus of familial and romantic feelings, does Genji “shine” more or less in your eyes? Is the “shining Genji” more exemplary and special because of what we and the narrator know secretly about him, or is he diminished and more complex because of these blurring of mother/lover feelings?  Carefully delineate between your own sense of morality and how the text seems to view Genji.
  • Chp 2 “The Broom Tree” chapter (McCullough translation) is famous for its presentation of several different models of how a young court gentleman might conduct his love life. Some of those models are presented more comedically, and some are presented more seriously as “cool” or exemplary ways of having an affair. Describe how you see each of the major models presented in the chapter as representing a courtly value around romance and relationships, either in parody through humor or more straightforwardly? Be sure to name the advice-giver or narrator of each story or model as you assess the narrative for its underlying relationship values. If you were a young court noble hanging out with these guys on that rainy evening, what would you be learning if you were smart?
  • The third chapter, “Yugao,” seems very influenced by the preceeding chapter, but also introduces a strong and frightening supernatural element. What are some ways we might interpret that supernatural force?
  • Chp 4 “Young Murasaki” revisits that realm of familial/sexual set of desires and longings that the first chapter sets up for Genji. If we trust the narrator’s implied attitude that Genji is not a pedophile, how can we understand what is going on in this chapter? What are some significant concerns that a modern readership of the Tale of Genji might have with the way this chapter develops? If we were to play the devil’s advocate, could we interpret Genji’s actions in a generous way? Based on our experience of Heian court culture in our readings from week 3 and week 4, what do we think will happen to the relationship between Genji and Murasaki after this chapter?