for day 27 of #blogjune
I bought my copy of The Tale of Genji when I first started studying at the University of Melbourne in 1978 and I still haven’t finished reading it. The entire book in my translation runs to over 1000 pages (the novel finishes mid-sentence so it appears to be incomplete).
A few years ago I decided that I probably wasn’t going to get around to finally reading Genji until I retired and I put it in the “donate to op shop” pile. I assumed it was gone but always regretted letting it go and mentioned it to Wayne the other day… and he went looking today and found it in the garage with a stack of other old books! His super power really is finding things.
I’m very happy to have it back. I checked and I found a bookmark at page 214 so it looks like that’s as far as I got last time.
The most famous translation is Arthur Waley’s, published between 1921 and 1933. I’ve read the first chapters, but I much prefer the translation by Edward Seidensticker that I bought, published in 1976.
There is a huge cast of characters, it’s like a very early version of Game of Thrones, and if you want to really follow the tale you’ll end up following footnotes and have post-it notes everywhere so you can keep track of who is doing what.
The prose, though, is wonderful. Compare the first sentence in Waley’s translation…
”At the Court of an Emperor (he lived it matters not when) there was among the many gentlewomen of the Wardrobe and Chamber one, who though she was not of very high rank was favored far beyond all the rest.”
and Seidensticker’s spare but beautiful…
”In a certain reign there was a lady not of the first rank whom the emperor loved more than any of the others.”
There is also a more recent translation by Royall Tyler and if you’re unsure about which one to start with there is an instructive discussion here.
And finally, should you find yourself in Kyoto one day you can even visit some of the sites mentioned in the book.