The Tale of Genji Additional Summary

Lady Murasaki Shikibu


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

When the emperor of Japan takes a beautiful gentlewoman of the bedchamber as his concubine, he greatly displeases his consort, the Lady Kokiden. The lot of the concubine, whose name is Kiritsubo, is not easy, despite the emperor’s protection and love, for Kokiden’s influence is very great. Kiritsubo therefore has little happiness in the birth of a son, although the child is beautiful and sturdy. The existence of Kiritsubo’s son makes Kokiden even more antagonistic, for she fears that her own son might lose favor in the emperor’s eyes and not be made heir apparent. Because of the hardships of her life among the other women of the court, Kiritsubo languishes, her health fading away until she dies.

After his mother’s death, Kiritsubo’s young child is placed by the emperor under the protection of the clan of Gen; the emperor also gives the child the title of Prince Genji. The boy, spirited and handsome, becomes a popular figure at the court. Even Kokiden cannot feel a great deal of ill will toward him. Genji wins a secure place for himself in the emperor’s eyes, and at the age of twelve he is not only elevated to a man’s estate but also given in marriage to Princess Aoi, the daughter of the minister of the left, a powerful figure at court. Genji is not impressed with his bride, nor is she entirely happy with her bridegroom, for she is four years older than he.

Genji is appointed a captain of the guard, and in this capacity he spends much of his time at the emperor’s palace. Indeed, he is rarely together with his bride in their apartment in her father’s home, for with his good looks, accomplishments, and position, Genji can have any woman he wants. His wife becomes very cool toward him, but Genji cares little about what Princess Aoi says or does.

One of Genji’s first love affairs is with a young gentlewoman named Fujitsubo, who, like his bride, is a few years older than he. His second romantic adventure takes place at the home of a young courtier, Ki no Kami, who is honored to have Prince Genji at his home. Genji goes into the room of a pretty young matron, Utsusemi, and takes her to his own quarters. Because of Genji’s rank and pleasing self, the woman does not resent this. To keep in touch with her afterward, Genji asks that her brother be appointed a member of his train, a request that is readily granted. When Utsusemi realizes that the affair cannot long continue, she breaks it off; Genji calls her his broom tree, comparing her to a Japanese shrub that at a distance promises shade but is really only a scrawny bush.

A short time later, Genji enters Utsusemi’s room in an effort...

(The entire section is 1081 words.)

Chapters 1-41 Summary

(Epics for Students)

The Emperor and Kiritsubo give birth to the novel's hero, Genji, in 11th-century Japan. Kiritsubo, the Emperor's true love, is of the lower...

(The entire section is 1779 words.)

Chapters 42-54 Summary

(Epics for Students)

Nine years have passed. Kaoru, distinguished by a strong and distinct odor, declines to pursue any romantic relationships, though he is...

(The entire section is 833 words.)