The world’s first novel, in a translation that is “likely to be the definitive edition . . . for many years to come” (The Wall Street Journal)
The inspiration behind The Metropolitan Museum of Art's "The Tale of Genji: A Japanese Classic Illuminated" -- Now through June 16 at The Met Fifth Avenue
A Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, with flaps and deckle-edged paper
Written in the eleventh century, this exquisite portrait of courtly life in medieval Japan is widely celebrated as the world’s first novel. Genji, the Shining Prince, is the son of an emperor. He is a passionate character whose tempestuous nature, family circumstances, love affairs, alliances, and shifting political fortunes form the core of this magnificent epic. Royall Tyler’s superior translation is detailed, poetic, and superbly true to the Japanese original while allowing the modern reader to appreciate it as a contemporary treasure. Supplemented with detailed notes, glossaries, character lists, and chronologies to help the reader navigate the multigenerational narrative, this comprehensive edition presents this ancient tale in the grand style that it deserves.
Widely recognized as the world's first novel, as well as one of its best, the 11th-century tale of Genji the shining prince has been painstakingly and tenderly translated by Tyler, a retired professor of Japanese language and literature. Genji, the son of an emperor by one of his "Intimates" and preternaturally blessed with beauty and charm, is the center of this two-volume opus though he and his heroine die some two-thirds into the book which details both his political fortunes and his many amorous adventures. Chronicling some 75 years of court life with a dizzyingly large cast of characters, it is an epic narrative; it is also minutely attentive to particulars of character, setting, emotion even costume. While two complete English translations exist (Arthur Waley's of 1933 and Edward Seidensticker's of 1976), Tyler clearly intends his to be the definitive one. It is richer, fuller and more complicated than the others indeed, Tyler's fidelity to the bygone Japanese custom of not writing proper names can sometimes make it difficult, for example, to determine which of Genji's myriad lovers he is thinking about. Unlike Waley's translation, Tyler's is unexpurgated; unlike Seidensticker's, his is heavily annotated. New line drawings of Japanese architecture and activity complement the text, while character lists at chapter beginnings, a plot summary at the conclusion and two glossaries one of offices and titles, the other of general terms orient the reader in a multigenerational and unfamiliar world. Tyler's formality of tone (contrast Seidensticker's anachronistic "He could see her point" to Tyler's simple "He sympathized") offers readers a more graceful, convincing rendering of this 1,000-year-old masterpiece. Scholars and novices alike should be pleased. 6-city translator tour.