The House of the Sleeping Beauties Essay - Critical Essays

Yasunari Kawabata

Critical Context

The process of Eguchi’s enlightenment in this novel is typical of Kawabata’s fiction. Similar old men struggle against aging and learn to welcome death in Meijin (1942-1954; The Master of Go, 1972) and Yama no oto (1954; The Sound of the Mountain, 1970). Also typical is Eguchi’s wistful attraction to innocent young girls. This is the subject of Izu no odoriko (1926; The Izu Dancer, 1955), Kawabata’s first novella, and he returned to it in Yukiguni (1947; Snow Country, 1956) and Sembazuru (1952; Thousand Cranes, 1958).

Less characteristic is the tightness of the novel’s construction and its sense of completeness. Most of Kawabata’s fiction was produced serially, often over long periods of time, and he often returned to earlier material to rework or add to it. The House of the Sleeping Beauties, by contrast, was written in a relatively short time, and it does not seem open-ended in the way that Snow Country and Thousand Cranes do. Eguchi’s story is perhaps Kawabata’s most thorough analysis, and certainly his most explicit, of the male character type he favored as protagonist. It is also a good example of his treatment of the effects of sexually innocent women on that kind of man.

When Kawabata was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968, his ability to convey in fiction the feel of an older way of life in Japan was singled out for comment. On the surface, this is less true of The House of the Sleeping Beauties, with its emphasis on the psychology of sexual attraction, than of other of Kawabata’s novels. Nevertheless, in the light of the explicitly Buddhist focus of Eguchi’s growing understanding of himself, this novella also becomes a book about a traditional aspect of Japanese culture.