The Tale of Genji: Chapters 18 – 20

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It has been a long time since I last picked up The Tale of Genji, but I am not going to let it defeat me! Six months may have passed since I last made the effort to read it, but I have promised myself that I will finish it and so although my progress may be slow, I will get there in the end!

Chapter 18: Wind in the Pines

Genji has just finished building the east pavilion of his Nijo mansion and brought the lady Falling Flowers to live there. He has reserved the east wing for Lady Akashi, but she is reluctant to move in as she is worried about her low position within the aristocracy. Lady Akashi has decided to live in an old property in Oi, owned by her father. Eager to visit her, Genji decides to build a retreat on a plot of land that happens to be nearby.

There he sees his three-year-old daughter for the first time:

The girl was a little shy with him at first, being so small, but she soon came round, and the more she snuggled up to him, chattering and laughing, the more exquisitely lovely she became.

Genji is keen to bring his daughter back to Nijo and discusses the possibility with Murasaki. She is reluctant at first, but she loves children and agrees to look after her.

Chapter 19: Wisps of Cloud

Genji tells Lady Akashi of his plans to bring their daughter back to Nijo. Lady Akashi is distraught, but agrees that it is the best thing for their child.

Genji returns one snowy day and takes his daughter back to Nijo where she is well looked after, but homesick.

In the New Year His Excellency the Chancellor dies, as does the Imperial Lady Fujitsubo. Genji is stricken with grief and withdraws to the chapel in tears.

Chapter 20: The Bluebell

The Asagao princess resigns as Kamo priestess after the death of her father. Genji has been interested in her for a long time, so goes to pay a visit.

Murasaki hears of Genji’s interest in Princess Asagao and is worried about losing her position.

One snowy day Genji talks to Murasaki about the princess, but that night the Lady Fujitsubo appears to him in a dream, cross at him for his discussion.

Thoughts on reading Genji

It took me a long time to get used to reading Genji again. My progress was painfully slow at first, as I had forgotten much of what I’d already read. I had to spend a long time reacquainting myself with the plot, the characters and the writing style. Now that I’ve made the effort to read and understand these three chapters I am going to try to ensure that I keep on reading Genji. Hopefully I’ll make it to the end sometime soon!

I know that several of you were also reading The Tale of Genji. Have you given up?

Are you planning to read The Tale of Genji?

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  1. At the moment I am finishing off reading I Am a Cat and have started to read The Pillow Book so it may be some, some time until I read The Tale of Genji. I am loving the slower installment reading and learning about different periods of Japanese history.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, I think I’ll probably move onto I am a Cat and then The Pillow Book once I’ve finished this. There is something strangely satisfying about a book being such hard work!

  2. Sandy says:

    I don’t know – one part of me really would like to read this, if only to say that I had, since it is so famous. So far, though I just can’t bring myself to do it. I have watched so many struggle with it – people who are much more patient and intellectual. I think I’d just prefer to read your Cliff’s Notes!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I think I am reading this more for the sense of achievement than the enjoyment. I don’t blame you for giving this a miss!

  3. cbjames says:

    Have I given up? Well, it has been a while. I do intend to finish volume one, I’m very close t the end. I’m not sure that I will go on to complete the entire thing. I’ve found some wonderful stuff in Genji, some of the best stuff I’ve read, but it has become a bit repetitious at this point.

    I think The Pillow Book is a very easy read. Make sure you get the annotated translation. The footnotes are as much fun as the book is.

    1. Jackie says:

      cbjames, I will ensure I get to the end of volume one too. It is great to learn so much about life in early Japan, but I wish it was an easier read.

  4. Kathleen says:

    This is one on my list but I know I have to catch myself at just the right moment to tackle it or I will go down in defeat!

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, the problem is that this book requires more than the right moment – it is a long term commitment. I hope that you manage to tackle this book and win!

  5. FleurFisher says:

    I keep meaning to go back to Genji, but I’ve been distracted by other books. I’m so glad I wrote chapter summaries in my progress reports!

    1. Jackie says:

      FleurFisher, I found my chapter summaries useful too! I’m hoping to keep up with Genji, so I don’t have to try to remember everything again – it did take a long time to get the facts straight in my head.

  6. Samantha says:

    Well done for coming back to a book six months later! My memory is so bad that I think I would have to start again which wouldn’t be good with a book that size!

    I read The Diary of Lady Murasaki for my book club many years ago and I quite enjoyed that. It gave a glimpse into her life and opinions and it was only 144 pages long!

    1. Jackie says:

      Samantha, There is no way I’d start it all again! It takes so much effort to understand the meaning of each chapter that it is much easier to read the brief summaries before starting up where I left off.

      The Diary of Murasaki sounds interesting. I have a copy of a similar book: The Tale of Murasaki:

      I plan to read it soon and hope that it will give me a greater appreciation of Genji.

  7. Belle says:

    I have been wanting to read The Tale of the Genji for a while now, but it’s such a big book, I keep putting it off. Good for you for being able to come back to it after six months!

    1. Jackie says:

      It is a massive book! I hope that you get a chance to read it at some point and that I can make it to the end!

  8. Rebecca Reid says:

    I do think with some of these old classics, it helps to keep going and not take too many breaks — if I walk away, it’s hard to get in the rhymth again. I do look forward to reading this someday. I really enjoyed Shonagon’s Pillow Book. They were contemporaries (some say, “rivals.”)

    1. Jackie says:

      Rebecca, I’m finding that is the case! I will try to keep up the momentum with it this time, as getting back into the swing of things took a long time. I’m sure I’ll get round to The Pillow Book at some point.

  9. Bellezza says:

    Sadly, when I ordered The Tale of Genji from the idiots (or, perhaps it was myself?) sent me the abridged copy. I didn’t know whether I should weep it wasn’t the original, or be glad that I had something I could wrap my hands around. I’m glad to have it overall, and I suppose I’ll read the condensed version first, but then I’m worried I’ll never get back to the real deal. I imagine where you are is rather like returning to War and Peace: possible, but not fun.

    1. Jackie says:

      Bellezza, I’m not sure how I’d feel in that case. Part off me wishes that I had an abridged version, but then I know I’d get to then end and feel a fraud if I said I’d read it. I think it is a difficult choice – good luck whatever you decide!

  10. The Reader says:

    I don’t know that I would continue to read a book that I kept drifting away from. I think we sometimes feel we MUST read something beecause it’s a classic, but I strongly disagree with that logic. If the book doesn’t resonate with us, then reading it is a waste of the time we could spend digesting something truly moving and meaningful to us.

    For me, discovering authors like Michel Houellebecq, Bret Easton Ellis, Charles Bukowski and Chuck Palahunick literally made reading FUN again– and challenged me to think at the same time.

    It is possible!!

    The Reader
    I’m a Bookworm

    1. Jackie says:

      The Reader, normally I couldn’t agree with you more, but in this case I think it is worth the investment. It is interesting to read the first ever novel and learn about what life was like back then. I feel a sense of acheivement in understanding passages. I make sure I always read books I enjoy at the same time though!

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