Fumiko Enchi Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Fumiko Enchi 1905–

Japanese novelist, short story writer, and dramatist.

Enchi is a significant contemporary Japanese novelist. Her fiction is characterized by subtle symbolism, precise use of language, and explorations of human psychology, specifically the complexities of female psychology. A scholar of classical Japanese literature, Enchi translated into modern Japanese the eleventh-century narrative The Tale of Genji and enriches her own fiction with allusions to classical works.

Enchi began her career as a playwright while in her twenties. She soon started to write fiction but did not become famous until the 1950s. Her best-known novel, Onnazaka (1957; The Waiting Years), which was awarded the Japanese Noma Literary Prize, and her novel Onna-men (1958?; Masks), are her only works to have been translated into English.

In probing the psychology of women, Enchi's fiction often touches on such subjects as repression, adultery, seduction, and eroticism. The Waiting Years concerns a nineteenth-century wife who must obey her husband's order to recruit a mistress for him. Though humiliated, the woman displays no emotion until she vents her anger in an outburst while on her deathbed. The novel explores the effects of her lifelong repression. Masks also exposes hidden dissatisfactions in human relationships. Like The Waiting Years, Masks revolves around an unspoken, insidious power struggle, but in this case the conflict occurs between a woman and her daughter-in-law. Both of Enchi's novels have been praised for their development of complex relationships and intricate characterizations.