1993-01-11: The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji (1020)

by Murasaki Shikibu (978-1014)

tr. Edward G. Seidensticker (1921-2007)

This is one of the classics recommended by Rexroth. When he wrote, the standard (only?) English translation was by Arthur Waley. Seidensticker’s translation was published in 1976. It is an abridgement, containing only twelve chapters (1, 4, 5, 7-14, 17) from the original 54. Some of the omitted chapters are spurious or ‘inessential’.

EGS states that Waley “cuts and expurgates very boldly”, and also that he “embroiders marvelously”. EGS attempted to be truer to the author.

Given Rexroth’s comments, particularly on the tale as the working out of the karma of those around Genji, I had certain expectations which were not fulfilled by this abridgement. It would be interesting to know the translator’s opinion of Rexroth’s opinion, and to have a fuller justification for his cutoff point.

Nonetheless, the chapters given were interesting for the partial tale they told of Genji’s rise, fall and recovery, and their picture of courtly manners in a tiny, closed aristocracy.

On the whole, this translation has piqued my interest in the full tale, presumably in the Waley translation, whatever its flaws.


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