My 2012 Side-Session: The Tale of Genji
a 52 week journey
WEEK ONE: CHAPTER 1- THE PAULOWNIA PAVILION
There’s great irony here that Genji is born to a woman who has found great favor with the Emperor. The rules of court apply to the Emperor as well as the entire government and those living at court. Though she is a favorite of the Emperor, because the affection goes beyond what is deemed proper the resentment is all piled on Kiritsubo no Koi. She’s punished for being found too attractive to the Emperor. This is the environment to which Genji is born. And at first the resentments attached to him as well. Yet he overcame them due to his beauty and his character. Not to mention he was male. It was a man’s world over a thousand years ago as it still is today in some respects.
His mother wastes away and dies, being frail anyway, and the resentment of those at court weighed heavily on her. But, don’t ‘ya know it? Now that she’s gone, everyone has only good things to say about her. This type of behavior hasn’t changed, has it? But resentment has to go somewhere it seems. Like energy, there’s a finite amount in the universe and it has to be transferred somewhere. The Emperor now gets it, but can’t help himself from continuing in his grief. Eventually Genji comes to live in the palace. Genji is so beautiful however, that the Emperor fears for him. There’s a superstitious belief that supernatural powers are apt to steal the very beautiful. He’d love to pass over his eldest son (three years older than Genji) but protocol dictates that he cannot. If Genji had a male relative on his mother’s side…but he does not. A grandfather would have been a good resource. But a grandmother? Not in this lifetime. After the elder son is named successor, even Genji’s grandmother passes away. The Emperor had also consulted astrologers and physiognomists in reaching his decision not the elevate Genji. The best alternative was to de-elevate him. Make him a commoner and appoint him with a title and a stipend. More irony.
When the Emperor brings a young Princess (Fujitsubo) to court because she reminds him of Genji’s mother, and maybe he’ll take her for his consort, he also tells Genji that she’ll be a mother to him. Genji has other ideas (she’s 16 and Genji is 11). But Genji is given to a first cousin in marriage when he comes of age. Still, he pines for Fujitsubo. The tale is thus set-up nicely
“Bell crickets may cry until they can cry no more, but not so for me,
for all through the endless night my tears will fall on and on.”
WEEK TWO: CHAPTER 2- THE BROOM TREE
When we last checked in on Genji, he was 12-years old. Now he’s seventeen, and a Captain in the Palace Guards, intent on protecting his reputation – the opinions of others matter to him. As the chapter opens he’s hanging out with his best friend and brother-in-law, also a Captain of the Guards, To no Chujo. They get to discussing women, and how they ultimately disappoint after getting to know them – at least those highborn and pampered elite. You can better tell what those of middle birth are like. The low born just don’t matter. After being joined by two others, they continue their discussion of finding the right woman (impossible!) and the difficulties of commitment (nothing new under the sun). An oblique reference to a failing relationship: an unmoored boat just drifts away. For To no Chujo, this is a veiled reference to his sister, Genji’s wife. He is therefore annoyed when he looks over at Genii and he is snoozing.
Choosing a woman is compared to woodworking: there is simple woodworking, pieces turned out for utilitarian purposes, and more elaborate pieces – works of art. Other comparison follow: to painting, to handwriting. Then one of them (The Chief Left Equerry) wants to further the discussion with a tale that may be a little risqué. As far as I could interpret, there was nothing risqué about it. Lost in translation. After they’ve each had a crack commenting on the suitability of the middle born classes, the male gossip group breaks up, after an all-nighter. Genji goes to his father-in-law’s, where he eavesdrops on several of the household women gossiping about him. What’s good for the goose…
Has Genji gotten all hot and bothered by all of the talk of women? At any rate, at his father-in-laws, he steals into the bedroom of Utsusemi and hauls her off to his crib, telling her gentlewoman to fetch her in the morning.
“This is not to be believed!” She was indignant. “I may be insignificant, but even I could never mistake your contemptuous conduct toward me for anything more than a passing whim. You have your place in the world and I have mine, and we have nothing in common.”
He tells her he is appalled at his conduct himself. So unlike him! ‘Well, it must be destiny that brought us together’. What a pick-up line! She tells him that under the present circumstances, this can go no further. There is no future and she is not into one-nighters. Genji worries he’ll never see her again – this perfect example of the middle-grade woman. Then he hits upon a scheme. He’ll take her brother into his employ, and use him to carry messages to his sister from him. In the end, none of this works and Utsusemi remains elusive.
WEEK THREE: CHAPTER 3 – THE CICADA SHELL
Still he pursues. This boy is nothing if not persistent. He’s got a jones for Utsusemi that just won’t quit. He thinks he’s learned this life lesson: love means suffering and rejection bears the mantle of shame. Jaysus, love certainly can mean suffering, but it can also mean great joy. As for Utsusemi, she knows it is not right, but in her heart she also harbors amorous thought of the G-Man.
The boy brings him back to the house, hoping to set up a rendezvous between Genji and Utsusemi. Pimping out his sis, my my…As G spies on a game of Go, his roving eye latches on to another beauty. Later that night as the boy guides him into the darkened rooms while everyone is asleep, he slips into the sack. But mistakenly not with Utsusemi, but with the other woman, the sister of the Governor of Kii – and therefore Utsusemi’s step-daughter). Well, while I’m here….
Keeping the relationships straight is half the battle in these Tales!
After satisfying himself (with the wrong woman, but oh, well) he steals but picks up a gossamer shift as he leaves that had been left on the floor by Utsusemi in her haste to remove herself from temptation. This reminds him of a cicada shell (the cicada sheds it’s shell when it molts). He has the boy send Utsusemi this note:
Underneath this tree, where the molting cicada shed her empty shell,
My longing still goes to her. For all I know her to be.
To Nokiba no Ogi (the woman who Genji had slept with) he sends… nothing.
WEEK FOUR, CHAPTER 4: THE TWILIGHT BEAUTY
Genji is now all of seventeen, when he goes to visit his old nurse, now a nun who practically raised him. Her son Koremitsu, is Genji’s foster brother. Genji is interested in who is living next door, and exchanges notes with whoever it is. He’s frustrated by his failure to move forward on his increasing interest in Utsusemi, and so is pulled in several directions to satisfy his desires. After many exchanges, the mysterious woman next door in hiding “yields” to Genji completely. Genji steals away with her (Yugao is her name) so they can be alone, somewhere more private. Somehow in the night she is either frightened to death or a spirit takes her.
Genji is afraid what this all might mean. He’s as afraid for his reputation as he is grief stricken at the loss of Yugao. Koremitsu wraps up the body and puts her in Genji’s carriage. Genji comes to believe that he too will die soon, and falls ill. But after 20 days, he begins to recover. Time heals all, including broken hearts.
He has taken Yugao’s servant Ukon, into his own service. He questions her and asks her to finally tell him who she was and Ukon does so. She reveals she had a child and Genji immediately insists on Ukon bringing her to him to raise as his own child.
Genji imagines that Yugao was the ideal woman for him:
“I do not care for a woman that insists on valuing her own wits. I prefer someone compliant, perhaps because I myself am none too quick or self-assured – someone easy for a man to take advantage of if she is not careful, but still circumspect and happy enough to do as her husband wishes.”
But you can’t keep a good man down and Genji begins once again to think of both Utsusemi and ‘the other woman’, Nokiba no Ogi.
Ending the chapter, the author intervenes with this:
I had passed over Genji’s trials and tribulations in silence, out of respect for his determined efforts to conceal them, and I have written of them now only because certain lords and ladies criticized my story for resembling fiction, wishing to know why even those who knew Genji best should have thought him perfect, just because he was an Emperor’s son. No doubt I must now beg everyone’s indulgence for my effrontery in painting so wicked a portrait of him.
Wicked, but not undeserved.
WEEK FIVE, CHAPTER 5: YOUNG MURASAKI
The narrative is rejoined in the Spring. The Spring of Genji’s eighteenth year. We find him with a fever that he cannot seem to shake and is encouraged to pay a visit to an old ascetic who never leaves his cave these days. The ascetic seems to have helped others, and since nothing else has worked, Genji sets off.
As he travels we get a sense of how restrictive his life is, being of such high rank. He never gets out, never sees the cherry blossoms of spring in the mountain mists. Being out of touch with the ‘common man’ is not so new it seems. Is it good when our ‘officials’ have such a different experience of life than the vast majority of people?
While visiting the ascetic, he also comes to know that there is a 10-year old girl (Murasaki) living near the cave that reminds him of his repressed yearning for Fujitsubo. Murasaki is in fact Fujitsubo’s niece. He seems to adopt the young girl, which frankly makes everyone uncomfortable. Nevertheless, G is nothing if not persistent, despite the raised eyebrows. Once they sleep in the same bed, “chastely” it is said.
He returns to the palace, but continues to write messages to Murasaki’s grandmother, hoping to get a more favorable response to his entreaties. No dice. Meanwhile, it becomes clear that Fujitsubo is pregnant from a brief encounter of theirs. His wife Aoi continues to be cold and frigid with him. He lies beside his wife, dreaming of Murasaki. The plot thickens.
It seems even though this earlier time and different society had its own values and mores, even then Genji’s actions were troubling. So we are within bounds to feel a bit unsettled in this ourselves, a society with values far removed from the times of Genji.
Murasaki’s grandmother comes to the city for a time and he speaks to her once, then she returns to the mountains where he later gets word of her death. The retinue then returns to the city and is visited by Murasaki’s father who is preparing to take her to his home. When Genji gets wind of this he impulsively kidnaps the girl – she’s still 10 remember – and brings her to live with him. Her nurse Shonagon is allowed to come with them.
As the chapter ends, a footnote tells the reader that they (the “little miss” is now referred to as the “young lady” and Genji is referred to as the “young gentleman”). This tacitly makes them a couple. They sleep together, though there is no inference at this point that the relationship is anything other than “chaste”. Ok. If you say so.
WEEK SIX, CHAPTER 6: THE SAFFLOWER
Chapter six covers the same time-frame as the previous chapter, but covers different and unconnected ground. Genji is still only eighteen. But I’ll say this for him, once he has met a woman, and whether he has ‘conquered’ her or not, he doesn’t forget her.
Taifu is the daughter of one of his favorite nurses and serves at court. He calls on her sometimes to run errands for him, act as a go-between. He likes and trusts her. When she tells him the story of the Lady Hitachi who is musically inclined (as was her father) he wants to hear her. Another clandestine observation is made, in typical peeping-Genji style. He stumbles upon his friend Chujo who has followed him here. They return to the palace together where they both get into a flute jam session and invite other players as well. One of the women (behind screens of course) is Nakatsukasa who kills on the Biwa. Genji has ‘known’ Nakatsukasa, Chujo has not.
Genji writes to the Hitachi Princess – several times – but she does not answer him. He is offended. Women – all women – are supposed to swoon at his feet. He demands that Taifu arrange a meeting with her, and she does so. The Hitachi Princess is a virtual recluse, a painfully shy woman, who has no clue how to talk to people, much less men. At the rendezvous he removes the screen and confronts her directly. Fade to black. It seems that he has spent the night with her, requiring a second visit for marriage. He only sends a letter, making it just an affair. These are the customs. Strange (to me) indeed. The rules are different for those with high and powerful positions. This is not so strange to me, but quite familiar.
Genji lets his communication with Hitachi lapse, much to Taifu’s shame. But many months later, pays another visit and spends the night. He really sees her for the first time, and is appalled to see that she has a nose that he compares to an elephant’s, though unlike an elephants, exceedingly red. Gasp! The description goes on rather brutally in detail for two paragraphs. The author paints a rather pathetic picture. He departs, feeling responsible for her now, and vows to send her practical gifts, which he does. The year comes to an end.
He plays dolls with his 11 year old wife, Murasaki, and paints his nose red, much to her delight. The chapter ends with this sensitive, wondering line from, the author:
I wonder what happened to all these ladies in the end.
We may or may not find this out.
WEEK SEVEN, CHAPTER 7: BENEATH THE AUTUMN LEAVES
In the seventh chapter, the story turns to a celebration of the birth of a former Emperor. The former Emperor has a relationship to Genji: It’s either his grandfather of his grand-uncle. Is there such a thing? The gentleman is either 40 or 50 years old. These kinds of details seem unimportant. We get more precise information though, about our boy: picking up from the last chapter, it’s autumn, he’s eighteen and the story takes us through to nineteen.
At a rehearsal for the main event, Genji dances and sings and – of course – the dude brings the emperor to tears. Well, the Emperor still has no clue that Master G is boffing his wife. Genji. Either you love him or hate him. The mother of the heir to the throne hates him. Jealousy. Genji has a real enemy in this one. This is only exacerbated by the promotion that Genji receives later that night and someone seems to have dropped a dime on Genji and his child-napping too.
Little Murasaki is told its time to stop wearing mourning clothes, and to act more grown up. When Genji goes out, she dresses up her Genji doll and has him go out too! Although they are still sleeping together several times a week, it is ‘chaste’.
In the new year, Fujitsubo has ‘the Emperor’s child” (but really Genji’s). Whether this is perception borne of guilt (for both Genji and Fujitsubo) the kid is the spitting image of Genji. Whether it is a perception borne of self-denial, the Emperor remarks not on the uncanny resemblance at all. Besides, the Emperor has been unable to name Genji as the heir appapparent to him. Now he saw that this new child could eventually someday be so named.
The chapter closes when Fujitsubo is elevated to Empress, leading Genji to despair that she has now become unreachable to him.
WEEK EIGHT: CHAPTER 8- UNDER THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS
The autumn leaves give way to spring and the cherry trees blossom. Can you give a party for a blossoming cherry tree? It appears you can. Which is how this chapter begins. After the festival, Genji grabs the first available woman for his nightly pleasure. And the next day, he’s off to see his little Murasaki. Cherry blossoms morph into wisteria blossoms as the days creep on. So many blossoms to celebrate, so many festivals to attend, so many maidens to deflower. Exhausting work for young Genji.
The short chapter ends and there is a two year gap between the end of this chapter and the start of the next. A gap in which his father abdicates, the Heir Apparent is elevated and the son that Genji s
WEEK NINE: CHAPTER 9- HEART-TO-HEART
Genji, now 22-23, is rebuked by his father, the now retired Emperor, for dissing The High Priestess of Ise. He doesn’t know the half of it, right? Everyone continues to swoon over the beauty of Genji. Ok, we get it! And the older he gets, the more beautiful still.
At a festival, the lady Rokujo seems to have been dissed again (through no real fault of Genji’s). Just his luck. It’s striking how rigid, how structured every aspect of life seems at this time. Every third and fifth day of every fifth month is for this or that event.
Before the cutting of hair, the Buddhist calendar needs to be consulted. The placement of carriages… the culture seems to leave no room for individuality. Yes it does allow for all kinds of transgressions (depending on rank), all sorts of ‘looking the other way’.
The Dame of Staff, his elderly coquettish admirer, continues to stalk him, much to his irritation. And much to Aoi’s heartache, not really knowing who this other admirer is. This is another thing. Rarely are women actually seen in public. They’re in carriages, and at most wave a fan out the window. This allows for much confusion, misunderstanding and intrigue.
It wasn’t only ‘heartache’ that afflicted Aoi though – she was pregnant. She gives birth to a boy, Yugiri, Genji’s son. Aoi survived the birth, and though in weakened condition, seemed to be recovering. But after a visit from Genji, she suddenly died in the night. Genji, who had paid so little attention to her in life (though admittedly he had tried to break through her icy exterior) now is genuinely grieved. Or it seems so at least. He wonders
Why she had taken such offense at each of his casual diversions
“Casual” because, as he tells it, they were undertaken only because she had been cold to him and he undertook these “diversions” awaiting her to warm up to him.
A side note on the mourning expectations that are very much gender specific: First, black is not the color of mourning. Gray is, and a woman is supposed to wear a darker shade of gray when mourning the loss of her husband than the lighter shade a man would wear were the roles reversed. Furthermore, a woman must mourn a full year, while a man is tasked to only three months. Such is the relative value of men and women as codified in the mourning procedures.
Genji begins to come out of his funk: first with thoughts of the lonely Murasaki, and then with a secret letter from Rokujo, and then with a letter from the lady of the Bluebells, Her Highness, Asagao. He has much to live for, i.e. many “diversions” yet to come.
He returns to his Nijo mansion and calls on Murasaki, and at 15, finds her all grown up (and looking more and more like Fujitsubo) he begins to drop hints that they may soon consummate their relationship. Hints she apparently does not pick up on. They have always slept in the same bed, remember? But chastely. How is it broken to the reader that that “chaste” is a thing of the past?
…after three years of forbearance while her charm had offered had offered nothing more, he could endure it no longer; and so despite his compunction it came to pass one morning, when there was nothing otherwise about their ways with each other to betray the change, that he rose early while she rose not at all.
That’s it. The PG version of his sexual encounter with his 14-15 year old bed companion.
She’s pissed, having no idea that this is what, in her in innocence, he had had in mind. For his part, he’s petulant, telling her if she no longer “likes” him, he just won’t come anymore. The New Year comes, with Murasaki still obstinate – she feels that her trust has been betrayed. Not an auspicious start for a new year. Or a new marriage.
WEEK 10, CHAPTER 10: THE GREEN BRANCH
Genji, 23, makes arrangements to call on The Rokujo Haven. They spend some time together. Still, it’s a farewell. Bad boy Genji begins to muse on the charms of The High Priestess – Rokujo’s daughter. The word incorrigible comes to mind.
His Eminence, the former Emperor, is increasingly in ill health. He advises the Emperor of his wishes for Genji, and urges him to follow his wishes. When his Eminence dies , the Emperor tries to follow his wishes, but he is weak and his mother, a bitter enemy of Genji’s, manipulates him. Genji’s star seems to be waning.
In a major indiscretion, fraught with peril, he goes to see Fujitsubo unannounced. He embarrasses himself and vows never to let that happen again – to devote himself only to Murasaki. One doesn’t believe this for a moment. Once again (he periodically plays this farce in his head) he entertains the thought of giving it all up and becoming a monk – all the while thinking of the young morsel he has squirreled away at home.
When he meets a nephew of the Empress Mother (his bitter enemy), the nephew subtly insinuates that Genji may be plotting sedition. He is shocked. Subtly so. Following that shock, Fujitsubo announces that she wishes to renounce the world, to become a nun. He is “aghast” at this news.
Almost everyone who had been associated with the now deceased former Emperor, including Fujitsubo and her allies are left out in the cold. The worry is that the Heir Apparent is becoming isolated. And Genji? Well, after he’s finally caught under the same roof as his sworn enemy in flagrante delicto? He could be headed for a world of hurt. The golden boy’s image is taking a direct hit. Can he survive this? Is there any doubt?
WEEK 11, CHAPTER 11: FALLING FLOWERS
This weeks ”chapter” is hardly worth the designation. It’s a mere 2 1/2 pages long.
Genji is now 25, and its been 5 months since Fujitsubo has entered the what I’ll call ”convent”. He gets to thinking about the Reikeiden Consort. whose younger sister he had been acquainted with at the palace, Perhaps she needs some comfort? Always willing to lend a helping body part in this area, he seeks her out. But she also has a younger sister, eh? Dot dot dot.
Now 26 (and 27 by the time the chapter plays out) Genji decides the proper course is self-exile (although there is little choice). His many indiscretions, and making enemies out of the wrong people, has made the decision inevitable. He, and his pining “ladies”, are going to have a bad year. Protocol dictates that any of his close companions (this would include any of his “ladies”) may not accompany him either. He ensconces himself at the deserted and down on its luck Suma coast, a secluded seaside backed by mountains, in what is now Kobe. Doesn’t sound too punitive, right? Maybe not for me, but for Genji, the very core of who he is has been ripped from his breast. Plus he worries about his son, the heir apparent? He worries about Murasaki. He worries about all his responsibilities to his lady friends. Can he survive? With his status intact?
One night a storm blows up (it’s an area that floods with the slightest breeze), and he takes this as a sign that he must leave this place. He has a dream in which he is summoned back to court. As the chapter closes, there are hints that his banishment may be nearing its end. Will he learn from this ordeal?
WEEK 13, CHAPTER 13: AKASHI
Genji moves further along the coast in an attempt to get away from the horrible weather, but it seems to follow him. A retainer from Nijo – his home – arrives with news, but things are not much better there. Everything seems to be going to hell. The world seems to be coming to an end. He prays and makes sacred vows. This only seems to make things worse, and lightning strikes one of the rooms and starts a fire. Not only are the mucky-mucks perturbed at Genji, it seems the Gods are none too pleased with him either.
G has a ghostly visitation from his father, who suggests that he will intercede on his behalf. The Akashi Novice shows up and rescues Gengi from Suma, as he was urged to do in a dream. His new surroundings are much more hospitable. Plus he has a daughter…Here we go again. There’s no other way to say this: The Akashi Novice literally thrown his daughter to Genji. She’s “reticent” however. You have to feel sadness for her. This is something she never wanted, but was forced into by circumstance – and her parents. Gengi himself was really just going through the motions, not really on his game. He kept thinking of Murakami.
There’s also increasing sentiment (from the Emperor) to bring Genji back to court. Moms, of course, is dead set against this idea. Nevertheless, the Emperor finally goes against her advice and pardons Genji. Genji makes a triumphant return to court (leaving behind the very preggers daughter of the Akashi Novice).
Genji, now 28, is promoted to Acting Grand Counselor. Randy G looks around for his next conquest. Umm…The Gosechi Dancer always seemed delectable. Boing!
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
WEEK 14, CHAPTER 14: THE PILGRIMAGE TO SUMIYOSHI
Back in most everyone’s good graces, and back at court, Genji is 28/29 and now Palace Minister. The Emperor decides it’s time to abdicate which makes Genji’s son the Emperor. The Lady Akashi has delivered a baby girl, thus fulfilling a prophecy that Genji would father 2 boys and a girl, all of whom will attain high office. The Rokujo Lady is taken ill and she elicits a promise from Genji that he will not think of her daughter (‘the former High Priestess of Ise’, who has now fulfilled her duties and is back in the world) in that way’, but will protect her. He thought of her in that way the first time he saw her. Bur he promises.
It’s humorous how he goes back and forth. I’m sure he’ll find a way to convince himself that he owes it to her – and himself – to forget the promise to Rokujo who dies at the end of the chapter.
Week 15, Chapter 15: A Waste of Weeds
This chapter serves as sort of a flashback – yes, even in this ‘first’ novel – to the Princess Hitachi who Genji had vowed to support after her father died. But then he was self-exiled. Now the home of her father that she still clings too is in serious disrepair, and most of her staff has abandoned her. She does have an offer from a neighbor who covets the land, but she refuses to hear of it. Neither will she allow the sell off of her precious antiques, those prized pieces that her father had left to her.
Her Aunt, who is the wife of a midlevel official, would like to have the Princess become her nanny, which would raise her status. Think of it. A princess for a nanny! Priceless! No. The Princess refuses even to answer the request, so ix-nay on the nanny thing.
The Princess keeps hoping for Genji to remember, for something to jog his memory. Her Aunt stops by on her way to the country in a last ditch attempt to persuade the Princess to accompany her.
“…I doubt that anyone else could give up all of life to stay on in this ghastly place. You would obviously have a proper palace instead if the Commander did it up for you, but I gather that for the time being he thinks of no one but the daughter of His Highness of War. They say he has given up all the ladies with whom his wandering fancy once got him involved in casual affairs. Surely you do not expect him to come calling on you just because here in this hopeless wilderness of yours you are chastely trusting him to do just that”
For his part, G sometimes wonders if she is still alive, but doesn’t really think of her much. In the new year, he decides to visit “the village of falling flowers” and comes across, by accident, the Princess Hitachi’s now nearly abandoned residence. He thinks it looks familiar. When he finds it is her, he makes amends by fixing the dump up, and then moves her intoa wing of the new mansion he’s building. People wonder at her ordinariness, which is not usually the G’s style. They assume they have some bond from a previous life. All the front-runners who had abandoned her come flocking back. Go figure.
The chapter finished with one of those authorial intrusions that pop up every now and then in the Tales. With the flashback nature of this chapter and this meta pop-up, the mix of ancient and eerily modern is highlighted.
I would happily rattle on a bit about how surprised the Dazailu Deputy’s wife was when she came back up to the City and about how Jiju, though very pleased, smarted with shame at her own faintheartedness for having failed to wait a little longer, but for now my head is aching so badly that I am not up to it, and I am afraid I shall have to go on another time, when I remember more.
The female author just has a headache? Yeah, well I’m not touching this one with a 10-foot pole! Ths is the best chapter so far. Loved it!
Week 16, Chapter 16: At the Pass
A very brief chapter has Genji crossing paths with another old lover (Utsusemi), and that lover getting her self to a nunnery when her husband dies. This is the effect that Genji has on women. It’s becoming so he can’t turn around without running into another old conquest. Then when their husbands die, the least offensive alternative for them seems to be joining a nunnery. Talk about limited horizons!
Week 17, Chapter 17: The Picture Contest
Genji would now be about 31 years of age. When the former Ise Princess (Akikonomu, Genji’s 22-year old ‘ward’ of sorts) returns to Court, she is a smash hit for her painting skills. The Emperor (13-year old Reizei) also loves to paint, so she quickly becomes a favorite of the young Emperor, who you’ll recall is actually Genji’s son by Fujitsubo. You didn’t recall? Well you can hardly be blamed!
Up until this point, the Emperor’s favorite companion had been the 13-year old daughter Genji’s old friend (and rival), To no Chujo. Stay with me now. The set up is almost done…
To counteract the new preference that the Emperor is showing to Genji’s stand-in, To no Chujo brings in some ringers for paintings. Genji goes to his archives and ups the ante.
The two sides were organized into RED and BLUE sides. The Red side favored the more familiar. traditional representations of classical tales. The Blue side gravitated to the new, the modern themes. This sound familiar?
The Blue team takes an early lead, but Genji for the Red side is keeping some hole cards. To no Chujo and the Blue side are also furiously at work, stashing new paintings in a secret room. The contest rages on well into the night with no clear leader emerging.
Then Genji unveils his Suma masterpiece that he had produced in exile and seals the deal. Genji is again on top but he is uneasy in his heart. He is of two minds.
His desire to shut himself away in peace, so as to prepare for the life to come and perhaps to prolong this one, moved him…to secure a quiet plot in the hills and to have a temple built there and holy texts and icons consecrated, and yet his longing to bring his children up to be what he wished them to be dissuaded him from acting promptly. It is not easy to fathom what her really meant to do.
It’s not easy being Mister G.
Week 18, Chapter 18: Wind in the Pines
Chapter 18 takes place during the same time frame as the previous chapter so Genji is 31 years of age, still trying to juggle “wives” and children. With so many “ladies” to provide for, there seems to be a housing shortage. He’s furiously at work building, expanding and providing.
He moves the Akashi Lady into a specially refurbished property since she is reluctant to move into the East Pavilion of the Nijo Palace. She’s uncomfortable at that prospect. But still, there’s the problem of what to do with the three-year old daughter of their union. In order for her to make her way in the world, she really needs to be where the action is – that means living at the the Nijo Palace. Genji feels out Murasaki on the prospect of raising his daughter (by Akashi) in the palace. She’s none too pleased at this point with her man, but seems to consider it favorably. She loves kids after all (being a recent kid herself).
Seems like a raw deal. Not only does she have to contend with the many ladies falling all over themselves to get a crack at the G-Man, there’s Genji’s roving eye (and the results of that fact).
He was at the ineffable peak of his beauty. Always tall, he had now filled out somewhat, in harmony with his height, and she thought he had acquired a weightier dignity than before; but perhaps it was only her own predilection that gave hun such enchanting grace, right down to the ends of his gathered trousers.
All that way! Oh, my!
It’s the following winter and 31 year old Genji is putting gentle pressure on the Akashi Lady to let their daughter come to court. She wavers, but everyone is prodding her to act, to give up her daughter into the care of Genji and Murasaki. The pressure is too much and she succumbs for the good of her daughters future. When the time comes she breaks down as her daughter enters the carriage that will take her to Nijo.
After the New Year, everyone seems content with these arrangements. Murasaki is thrilled to have a daughter to raise. Genji is spending more time with with the Akashi lady because he truly enjoys her company. As for her, she has resigned herself and is content as well. Then big things start to happen.
Word comes down that the great love of his life (Fujitsubo) is gravely ill. On the other side of a screen at her bedside she has her ladies relay to him her thanks for his service to his majesty – and to herself. Genji breaks down weepIng at this, “he had succumbed to the abyss”.
“…it is a great blow to find yon like this, when His Excellency’s passing has already taught me that all is vanity; I do not think I shall survive it long.” She expired as he spoke, like a dying flame, and he was left alone to mourn.
But that ain’t all. An elderly priest, Fujitsubo’s confessor, tells the Emperor that Genji is really his bio-dad, not the former Emperor. This is shocking news and the Emperor has trouble processing it. He’ll abdicate. The he grasps upon the idea of elevating Genji in rank, by promoting him to higher office. This doesn’t fit in with Genji’s plans, though. The duties would be too much like actual work, and as always, the G-Man would rather perform between the sheets, rather than the councils of government. Things are getting interesting
Week 20, Chapter 20: The Bluebell
In “The Bluebells” (or as I like to call it, “Booty call, again”) Gengi shamelessly seeks once more to get himself in a position to seduce and conquer one of the only women he hasn’t had success with. It’s certainly not for lack of trying. You certainly have to hand it to Princess Asagao who has resisted him for years. His renewed attentions (she’s newly out of the nunnery) to her here forces her to walk the fine line: Be civil without encouragement. This certainly must be stressful for her, and it’s distressing for Murasaki as well. She knows what’s going on, and G really makes no effort to hide his renewed attentions to Asagao.
Always playing the angles, he uses as an excuse a visit to The Fifth Princess, his elderly aunt. While I’m here I may as well….Asagao’s ladies (as usual) are all too willing to get her into Genji’s bed. With friends like these…
There seems to be a subtle shift in how we view Genji. There is a flavor of increasing skepticism about his character, if not outright condemnations of his misogyny. There are viable alternatives to blindly praisimg Genji. He may be dazzling, but he’s also a user. Let’s face it. He’s a boy – and yes, I use the word ‘boy’ in the full sense of the word – who wants what he cannot have. If only for the reason that it has been denied him.
Genji did not exactly burn for her, but her coolness maddened him, and he hated to admit defeat. In bearing and reputation he was of course all anyone could wish, and he had pondered many things, acquired by now a far wider, more discriminating knowledge of people. Long and varied experience reminded him that any renewed misbehavior on his part would certainly earn him criticism, but he worried that failure might provoke still louder laughter.
Gengi can be seen as a victim of his own reputation, if you’re inclined to cut him some slack. I’m thinking I’m not.
Genji’s son Yugiri, passes his ‘civiil service’ exam, and it’s time to celebrate with a Gosechi dance performance. One of them catches Yugiri’s eye. Remind me whose kid this is? Genji has built a new mansion and moves the whole gang in. It’s like a scene out of Big Love. What was that def of marriage again? They hold a kind of poetry slam as part of the festivities. This causes one of those meta-comments from the author which are sprinkled throughout the work:
…a woman has no business repeating what she cannot know, and since I do not wish to give offense, I have omitted it