by Kinnosuke Natsume

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Critical Context

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Botchan belongs with Wagahai wa Neko de aru (1905-1906; I Am a Cat, two volumes, 1906, 1909) at the beginning of Sseki’s fiction-writing career, when he still treated human foibles humorously. Later works such as Kokoro (1914; English translation, 1941) and Michigusa (1915; Grass on the Wayside, 1969) present a darker and more tragic vision. Sseki came to the forefront of the Japanese literary scene when Japanese writers were largely engaged in aping Western literary fashions, especially that of naturalism. Sseki, however, who had studied English literature deeply, shunned mere imitation and developed his own voice and vision. Thus, though his works have been compared to those of Henry Fielding, Jane Austen, or George Meredith, they are distinctively his in execution and profoundly Japanese in sensibility. Indeed, Sseki’s total oeuvre establishes him as a master of the Meiji period and a pioneer of modern Japanese literature. Firmly in place within the Sseki canon is Botchan, a book that has sold more copies than any other work of Japanese literature.

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