Kinnosuke Natsume Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sseki Natsume (soh-seh-kee naht-soom-ee)—against tradition, he is usually referred to as Sseki—is generally regarded as the most popular twentieth century Japanese novelist. The son of a ward chief, he was born Kinnosuke Natsume in Tokyo on February 9, 1867. Sseki later referred to himself as a “spiritual orphan” during his childhood, for he was given up for adoption at birth, having been an unwanted fifth child of aging parents. He was sent to several private schools, where he became interested in Chinese and English. Later he entered the University of Tokyo and graduated in 1893 with a degree in English; he was only the second Japanese to complete such a degree. Sseki taught English at a number of schools until 1900, when, desiring to improve his already excellent English and do research in literature, he accepted an opportunity to go to England for two years on a government scholarship. The stay proved to be a nightmare for Sseki. He was lonely, developed feelings of inferiority toward English people, and decided that no Japanese could ever compete with an Englishman as a scholar of English literature.seki[Natsume, Soseki]}{$S[A]Natsume, Kinnosuke;Natsume, S{omacr}seki}seki[Natsume, Soseki]}seki[Natsume, Soseki]}

Back in Japan by 1902, increasingly unhappy with his career and doubting his cultural identity, Sseki tried creative writing and found a new career. The enormous success of his first two novels, I Am a Cat and Botchan, prompted him to retire from teaching the following year and devote his energies to the novel. He signed an agreement with a Tokyo newspaper, Asahi, whereby one novel each year would be serialized in the daily, an arrangement which lasted to the end of his life. These first two novels were lighthearted and somewhat satirical in tone, but almost immediately he made a turn to the more serious, moralistic stance that would be the hallmark of all of his later novels. The Three-Cornered World, written in 1906, is a transitional novel marking his new direction in subject matter; it is far more serious in tone and experimental in style.

Drawing upon his own legacy of alienation and lack of identity in childhood, Sseki produced...

(The entire section is 910 words.)