The Sea of Fertility

by Yukio Mishima

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Critical Context

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Mishima’s final work cannot be read without considering the dramatic significance Mishima himself attached to the work. He publicly announced his intention of writing a cycle of novels that would include everything he had learned as a writer. When he finished it, he was known to have said that he would have nothing left to do but kill himself. Though he finished the writing in August, he deliberately wrote the date November 25, 1970, as the last line of the last volume—the day he killed himself, after a dramatic confrontation with the army.

The public reception of the tetralogy in Japan varied; the first volume sold well, the second not as well. The third was not well-received critically. Mishima’s declining success may have related, at least in part, to politics. Though essentially apolitical, Mishima had associated himself with rightist groups since 1966, which did not earn for him the favor of the mostly left-wing literary establishment.

Mishima’s friend and Nobel Prize winner, Yasunari Kawabata, considered the tetralogy Mishima’s masterpiece. Its success is attributable, here as in most of the more than thirty books he wrote, to Mishima’s ability to tell a fascinating story in an evocatively poetic style. He was a writer who valued the literary aesthetic above all else. Mishima’s passion for tightly constructed plots, as well as the cosmopolitan literary background which informs his writing, makes him one of the best-known and most widely read Japanese writers of his time.

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