Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu(mur-ah-sah-kee shee-kee-boo) is credited with two other works: her diary, Murasaki Shikibu nikki (eleventh century), and a collection of her poetry, Murasaki Shikibu-sh (eleventh century). Both of these works are translated and annotated in full in Richard Bowring’s Murasaki Shikibu: Her Diary and Poetic Memoirs (1982); a partial translation of the diary may be found in Annie Shepley Omori and Kochi Doi’s Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan (1920), excerpted in Donald Keene’s Anthology of Japanese Literature (1955).

In common with other Japanese diaries by court women of the period, Lady Murasaki’s diary is both of high literary quality and of importance as a social-historical document. It is not a daily journal, but rather a collection of entries, made erratically between the years 1008 and 1010, that record significant events in Murasaki’s life as a lady in the court of Empress Fujiwara no Shshi, consort of Emperor Ichij. Like other diaries of the period, also, this one includes poetry, both by the author and by other people in her life, and thus helps document the role of poetry composition in the daily life of the imperial court. Of greatest importance, however, is the insight the diary provides into the personality of Murasaki Shikibu; while the diary is not an intensely self-revealing, confessional work, it is helpful in understanding how The Tale of Genji came into being because it reveals the way in which Murasaki processed real life into literary art and her finely tuned sensitivity to human relationships. Murasaki’s collected poems are not regarded as being of great literary quality or consequence in themselves; rather, as in the case of her diary, the poems are looked to largely for the light they might shed on Murasaki as the author of The Tale of Genji.