Murasaki Shikibu Summary
For the Japanese, The Tale of Genji depicts an ideal aristocratic society whose inhabitants loved elegance and were themselves paragons of grace, culture, and artistic skill. In barely a hundred years after it was written, Murasaki Shikibu’s novel had become almost an object of religious veneration—an ideal representation of better days to which, following the collapse of Heian civilization and the civil unrest that followed, the Japanese people looked back nostalgically.
Since the novel’s translation into English, Western readers have experienced similar responses. It is universally admired not only for the insight that it offers on a fascinating civilization but also for its intrinsic psychological interest, the beauty and intensity of its great scenes, and the artistry and penetration of its characterizations. Most particularly, it is admired for its profound expression of perennial human themes, not least of which is its celebration of human affection and emotional tenderness, feelings that make the pain of existence not only bearable but also meaningful for people in times and places far removed from the story’s exotic civilization.