Richard W. Amero

Four main character types occupy Lady Murasaki. There are those who are analyzed more thoroughly from within than the others, such as Genji, Kaoru, Agemaki and Ukifune. These are the well-rounded. There are those who are presented through pertinent detail and incident, such as Yugao, Utsusemi, Rokujo, Tamakatsura, Kashiwagi, Higekuro and Niou. The latter people, though they feel their predicaments intensely, do not have the emotional or philosophical depth of the former.

The third group, the comic creatures, are different from the other two in that they are seen from the outside. Though one-dimensional, they can act in a forceful manner without the wavering characteristic of the leads. These are people such as Suyetsumuhana, the Lady of the Bedchamber, the night watchman, Makabashira, Tayu no Gen, and the Governor of Hitachi.

The fourth group, such as the women behind the screens and the numerous servants, are hardly presented. Genji and Kaoru admire the simple life these people lead. Because they lack wealth and leisure the underlings avoid many of the exactments required of their masters and are less prone to cultivate their whims and passions. Notwithstanding the differences in outlook, lesser people judge the greater and their verdicts are astute as often as they are shallow.

Finally, there is Lady Murasaki, omniscient authoress and sly narrator. Although she shares all points of view, at times she points out sides of her people everybody has missed.

As Genji is the most important character, he reveals many plights that are common to all. The idea that behind their experience controlling laws exist is borne out by the similar ways in which their passions affect Genji, Yugiri, Kashiwagi, Higekuro, Karou and Niou. Nonetheless, Lady Murasaki takes pains to differentiate her people and to involve them in different situations.

As with Swann and the narrator in Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, Lady Murasaki's men love in preset ways. There must be a period when the loved one by making herself unattainable arouses feelings of anticipation. The thought of victory encourages the men to make every effort to achieve their goal. Unlike Proust's Odette and Albertine, Lady Murasaki's women do not realize they can catch a lover by appearing indifferent to him. They are such easy conquests that the men become over fastidious.

Most of Genji's consorts cease to interest him after he has them, for then they are too much in love to excite him further. Due to the instability of his temperament, Kaoru has fewer successful affairs than Genji. His rival, Niou, is so successful that some women refuse to give in to him because they wish to sully his record as a wooer.

Love is not a sustained feeling, but an evanescent desire that transports the men from screen to screen. The men don't wish to be in love in the peculiar way they are. When obstacles confront them, they work themselves into rags, but when the going is smooth, they behave debonairly, making plans while in the midst of a supposedly insurmountable passion for the next.

In Remembrance of Things Past and The Tale of Genji the sense of being directed by mysterious forces occasions immense anguish. Proust explains that his characters act according to dominant biological and subconscious yearnings, while Lady Murasaki explains that her characters act according to the karma they have accumulated in present and past lives. In the forefront of the novels by these writers are people. In the background are the metaphysical principles that control their thoughts and actions.

Lady Murasaki's men look for felicity in the present moment. As this moment multiplies into a series, they have that many more to look for the satisfaction of their impulses. Genji's attitude toward Nyosan after she confesses her infidelity demonstrates his inability to understand himself. Nyosan has just informed Genji she wishes to enter a nunnery.

Did she really mean what she had said? He was appalled at the idea of her carrying out such a resolution. And yet he knew well enough all the difficulties that would arise if they attempted to go on loving as though nothing had happened. He knew his own feelings, knew that no effort of his own could alter them, and that, try as he might to forget the past, Nyosan would suffer at every instant from the knowledge that in his heart of hearts he had not forgiven her. And other people, her father, for example, would inevitably notice the change in their relations. If, on the other hand, she insisted upon taking her vows, it would be far better that she should do it at once, making her ill-health the excuse. Otherwise, the step would certainly be attributed to his unkindness.

But then his eyes fell upon her long, lovely hair, that should by rights have delighted his eyes for so many years longer; and the idea of its being shorn from her by the cleric's knife was intolerable to him. 'Come, come,' he said, 'you must pluck up your courage. Things are not so bad as that. Look at Murasaki, she was much worse than you have been; but now she is quite out of danger.' He persuaded her to drink a little soup. She was certainly very thin and pale, indeed in every way alarmingly fragile. But nevertheless, as he looked at her lying motionless on the bed, he thought her singularly beautiful, and at that moment all thought of her unfaithfulness vanished from his mind. To such beauty all things could be forgiven.

(Part 4, Ch. 8, p. 683)

Genji has swung round a full circle in his attempt to explain himself.

Kaoru is as indecisive as Genji when he tries to explain what Agemaki and Kozeri mean to him.

What would Niou give (he could not help thinking) for such an opportunity as this? And indeed he wondered whether there was anyone else in the world who, having been given the encouragement he had just received, would have been so slow to benefit by it. Yet this did not in the least mean that he found the sisters unattractive. On the contrary, in the course of the present conversation he was more than ever struck by their unusual intelligence and sensibility, and he realized that he would not at all like it if anyone else took a fancy to them and carried them away --- which seemed to show, he reflected, that he already to some extent regarded them as his own property.

(Part 5, Ch. 5, p. 823)

Kaoru does not find out what he feels. His thoughts, devoid of form and completeness, do not end, but move on to more wondering.

Marcel Proust and Lady Murasaki find love to be unstable and unsatisfying. Love leads nowhere since it leads back to itself. Genji wonders in his affair with Yugao, "What is it in her that makes me behave like a madman?" Later Karou says he drifts "like a rudderless boat always to one spot, helpless as the most fatuous rake to resist the current of his desires." The image of drifting expresses the same pessimistic helplessness detectable in Proust's people. In The Tale of Genji the sense of drifting is more pathetic because the people never find the principle behind their experience as Marcel, the narrator of Remembrance of Things Past, believes he does in the book's final chapter.

To Kaoru the sense of drifting is both personal and social:

Kaoru's serving man asks him: 'Have you seen the people down by the fish weir? I should think by the look on their faces that it's a poor catch.' He it seemed knew all about these things, which to Kaoru were so unfamiliar and mysterious. Down the stream strange rafts were now passing loaded with timber. All along the river were people busy in one way or another with the humble tasks that kept them alive. How strange an existence it must be, day in and day out, to live thus frailly supported above the peril of those tossing waters! And yet how often had he, amid his terraces of jade, felt that he too was perilously afloat --- was drifting from uncertainty to uncertainty, with no solid ground beneath his feet.

(Part 5, Ch. 4, p. 806)

The sense of drifting in this passage represents the same instability as that foreshadowed by the magic lantern of Golo and Genevieve de Brabant in the "Overture" of Remembrance of Things Past.

Unlike Proust's solipsistic characters, Kaoru is capable of comparing his lot to that of others:

I always had the idea that it was possible to get through life without the violent stresses and upheavals by which most people seem to destroy their health and happiness. For what with Agemaki's death on the one hand and my own cursed folly about you (Kozeri) on the other I could hardly be further removed from the tranquility that was my ideal. And yet all around me I see people in real trouble --- losing their employment and so on --- and cannot help feeling that they have a far better right to be miserable.

(Part 5, Ch. 8, p. 913)


The use of contrasting personalities is typical of Lady Murasaki's method of revealing character. Reference has been made to the archetypal difference between Lady Rokujo and Murasaki. Also impressive is the difference between Kaoru and Niou, intended not only to show their uniqueness, but to show the loss the world suffered in the death of Genji, of whom they are fragments. Lady Murasaki makes her intention of opposing Kaoru and Niou to Genji clear in the opening sentence of the second section: "Genji was dead and there was no one left to take his place"; and by allusion when she says of Niou "the fact that he allowed himself to be identified with a particular attraction showed how different was his nature from that of Genji who would never have suffered one enthusiasm to eclipse the rest."

Kaoru and Niou are smaller people than Genji. Like him they are handsome and admired. Karou shares Genji's scruples; Niou shares his sensuality.

Not knowing the identity of his real father, Kaoru is chronically uncertain. "Who will not rid me of my doubts?" he says. "For groping I know not whither I am carried or whence into this world I came." Acclaimed as Genji's son, he is tormented by his desire to know the truth. His appearance of prosperity belies his insecurity. Fascinated by the discrepancy between his outward facade and inner reality Lady Murasaki said of him, "there was something about his appearance which tended to arouse sympathy even when he was in the least need of it, and he was constantly being credited with emotions he did not feel."

Niou is a simpler person. Naturally carefree, he accepts the advantages that come to him as son of an Emperor and heir-apparent to the throne. His jealousy of Kaoru's beauty and fragrance goad him to emulation. At the same time he senses his friend, who cannot abandon himself to the passions of the moment, is superior.

When Genji hears that Kashiwagi and not Genji was his father, his suspicions are over. But the result of years of brooding leave their imprint. Though he falls in love with Agemaki, he cannot overcome her objections or, notwithstanding these, simply woo her as could the more understanding Genji. Even after he believes he has become a "fatuous rake," he is less so than he supposes.

Niou hardly reflects. Instead he surrenders to rhythms of passion and gratification. While Kaoru is capable of becoming a monogamous lover, Niou is congenitally polygamous. If Kaoru had succeeded with Agemaki, he might have achieved happiness. Despite his many attempts at sexual satisfaction, Niou never experiences more than momentary exhilaration.

Agemaki and Kozeri also emerge as contrasts. Their differences are subtly suggested. To Prince Hachi no Miya, Kozeri was a source of grief since her mother died in giving birth to her, yet:

. . . as the child grew up, she began to assume in his affections no less an important place than that occupied by Agemaki, her sister. In beauty indeed Kozeri, the younger girl, as the years went by became more than Agemaki's equal. In disposition however the elder had perhaps the advantages, showing from the first signs of a deeper and tenderer nature, while there was in her manners a grave restraint and dignity which made her, despite Kozeri's great beauty, undoubtedly the most distinguished of the two.

(Part 5, Ch. 6, p. 792)

After Prince Hachi's death, Agemaki assumes the superfluous task of worrying about the future of Kozeri. Kaoru's chance view of the girls through a chink in a sliding door blossoms into a fascination with Agemaki. Overcome with embarrassment, she feels her lack of social training will prevent her from coming up to her admirer's court standards and refuses to accept his attentions. Kozeri, a lighthearted person, thinks her sister is foolish.

When, under the delusion that his bed partner is Agemaki, Kaoru climbs into bed with Kozeri, she is more amazed than annoyed, especially when he persists in talking through the night. After discovering that Agemaki will not cooperate with her lover, Kozeri turns against her, an act which increases Agemaki's determination to place her sister's future ahead of her own.

Agemaki is guided by an exaggerated sense of duty, Kozeri by common sense. In the scenes leading up to Agemaki's death, Kozeri is grief-stricken by Niou's absence from Uji, Agemaki is torn asunder. Kozeri's practical view of her sister's hysteria is borne out by Niou's reappearance and Kaoru's extreme desolation following Agemaki's useless death.


Ukifune has no outstanding traits before she becomes part of a love triangle. When she does unfold, her awareness becomes wider than that of the other figures. She recognizes the differences between Kaoru and Niou and thus becomes the container of these two people in the second section of the novel. Her experiences before her botched suicide and later in the nunnery are more positively directed than were Kaoru's and Agemaki's because she understands the extent of her responsibilities. Consequently, when the book ends on its unresolved note, the reader thinks it is going to be harder to get her out of the nunnery than Kaoru or the priests suppose.


Niou and Kozeri are leading figures who are doers rather than thinkers. Tu no Chujo and Kobai, two of the most interesting of the supporting figures, are also doers. Chujo relates better to the novel than Kobai. He helps lay the groundwork for the Yugao and Tamakatsura episode. As Genji's youthful companion, he engages with him in the rollicking exploits compatible with their fun-loving natures. He is the only friend who risks his reputation by visiting Genji during his exile at Suma. Chujo is a gay blade who has a propensity for getting involved in incongruous situations. He changes radically after he becomes a father and a court official.

As a disapproving father, Chujo intervenes to prevent Genji's son Yugiri from making love to his first cousin Kumoi. He scolds his mother for allowing the affair to develop and sends Kumoi away from her palace. The lovers are heartbroken over their separation. In time Yugiri becomes a worldly success while Kumoi seems destined to be a spinster.

Tu no Chujo's attitude is a source of wonder to Yugiri; to Genji, Yugiri's father; to Kumoi, a grieving lover; and to Chujo's mother who before she dies hopes to see her grandchildren reunited. While scorning Yugiri because of his emotional weaknesses, Chujo discovers another daughter, a product of a youthful dalliance and takes her into his home. Tamakatsura, Genji's ward, is another of Chujo's daughters of whose existence he is ignorant. Thus, along with the tempestuous separation of Yugiri and Kumoi, Chujo has problems of his own that require adjusting.

As with the changing characters of Swann and Charlus in Proust, Chujo's identity is troublesome. Yugiri is sure he is heartless and Genji, concerned with telling him about Tamakatsura, thinks he is "peculiar and exacting."

Yugiri and Genji do not understand Chujo. While he may be the overbearing martinet they fear, he is also deeply committed to his children. When he learns that Tamakatsura is his daughter, he accepts her cordially without the objections Genji expected him to raise. His relation to Yugiri is devious. It appears that if Chujo does not arrange for Yugiri to marry his daughter, he will be appropriated by some other parent. His backsliding is a painful affair seen in short scenes interspersed between the actions of the main characters. His chief reason for not approaching Yugiri is his expectation of a humiliating rebuff. On his part, Yugiri, when he is told Chujo no longer speaks of him with asperity, refuses to take the first step in patching up a quarrel not of his making.

After informing Kumoi of his fear that Yugiri is to marry the daughter of another nobleman, Chujo leaves her apartment. After he departs, Kumoi, going to the window, sees her father overcome with dejection, a view different from others presented of him.

Finally, unable to hold out, Chujo invites Yugiri to his house for the first meeting between the two since the onset of their difference. The surrender of the father to the young man is a problem in tact. To smooth matters, Chujo, pretending to be drunk, informs Yugiri of his disappointment because Yugiri stays away from his house. As an act of friendship, uncle and nephew drink and recite poems containing the double meaning necessary to show that Yugiri has Chujo's approval to do as he pleases. At the end of the banquet, Yugiri says to one of Chujo's sons, "Bring me to her." And the difficulty of several years is over.

Lady Murasaki makes skillful use of character reversals. Revelatory of this aspect of her work, though as it concerns a minor figure are the glimpses that Ukon, mother of Ukifune, has of the suitor who married one of her daughters. In the first glimpse, she sees him as a nonentity in Niou's palace. In the second, she sees him in his own home where "so different an impression indeed, did he now make that she could hardly believe that this was the same man."

The effect wrought on our ideas of people by their environment is basic to Proust. The truth of Ukon's observation was not as important to Lady Murasaki since she was not striving to deduce an ultimate principle concerning human identity. As a chance occurrence involving a shift of perception in one of her characters, it seems more credible than Proust's many character reversals. With Lady Murasaki, the major element of character elucidation is what the characters feel about themselves in their merry-go-round of alternative explanations.

Differing from Tu no Chujo, who has his character presented in a succession of reversals, Kobai is presented in one short chapter. Since he is a subsidiary figure, the reader's expectations are not excited. Here whatever the reader learns results from the way Kobai behaves. He is shown through dialogue which suggests his mental processes. He had the garrulousness and self-importance of Shakespeare's Polonius. When first seen, he is worrying about the future of one of his daughters; then he talks with an adopted daughter, with his son, and with his wife. All these conversations are one-sided speeches, the first about flute playing, the second about his youth, and the third about Niou, scents and flowers. What he is saying makes little sense and those whom he addresses listen with half an ear. Aside from his talk, his actions are the picking of a spray of plum blossoms and the writing of a letter; the first act, following one of his panegyrics about his youth, is a gesture as mechanical as his speech. In the poem he writes he invites Niou to take his daughter, a prospect that interests Niou not in the least.

Lady Murasaki conveys Kobai's self-centeredness through the use of a few trenchant details. Though a small one, the character is impressive because he is depicted so well through his absurd behavior.


Comic figures are scattered throughout The Tale of Genji. They frequently provide relief after a tense or harrowing episode. Genji's adventures with Suyetsumuhana and the Lady of the Bedchamber occur after or while he is beset by complications resulting from affairs with Yugao, Utsusemi and Fujitsubo. With Higekuro, the counter position of his mad wife against Tamakatsura, the other woman in his case, throws a note of humor into a pathetic situation.

A strain of the morbid in some of the comic figures evokes laughter and pity. Suyetsumuhana and Makabashira generate sympathy because they are human and, as such, more than targets of ridicule. As with Proust, the pathos in these people, though it increases their stature as grotesques, makes them something other than caricatures.

Suyetsumuhana, the woman with the red nose and old-fashion manners, is so timid that the appearance of a man near her screen frightens her. She cannot adjust to others because years of training in pride and years of solitude cannot be overcome. Genji is trapped into an affair with her because he has been piqued by the report of a mysterious person behind the screen. The discovery of a woman with a red nose and an acute inferiority complex seems amusing, but it is amusing in the sense that it was amusing for the aunt of Marcel to torment his grandmother or for the Verdurins to "execute" Charlus. Too much the patrician to resort to such crudity for her jokes, Lady Murasaki atones for her foolery by presenting moments of splendid pathos, such as the moment when Suyetsumuhana, in love with Genji, so far succeeds in overcoming her shyness that she sends him a poem she has with effort managed to write. To Genji it is "the most unpleasant jingle of syllables he had ever encountered," but it is also touching for "these absurd verses were her masterpiece and should be prized accordingly." Finally Suyetsumuhana ennobles Genji, for though she may mean nothing to him, her confidence in him during his three-years of exile is so complete, despite the jeers of her servants, that Genji upon his return does not have the heart to disillusion her and she is added to his entourage of women.

While Suyetsumuhana is eccentric, Makabashira, Higekuro's wife, is, along with Lady Rokujo, insane. She is introduced at a time when Higekuro has succeeded in sleeping with Tamakatsura. Not only has she been suffering for years from a spiritual disorder which makes it impossible for her to live with Higekuro "in the ordinary sense of the word," but she has become, as a result of her husband's attachment to Tamakatsura, more irrational than ever.

For some time there has been a lull in her outbursts. Taking advantage of this respite, Higekuro tells her how reasonable it is for him to have two wives. She says nothing. Instead she seems "a marvel of tolerance, reasonableness and amiability." For the first time in years, Higekuro feels tenderness for her. The scene is beguiling with Makabashira lying at her husband's feet, until she leaps up and empties an ash pot over his head.

The Lady from Omi, the fantastic daughter of Tu no Chujo, is one of the most appealing of Lady Murasaki's comic people. In the court of refinement in which she finds herself after Chujo picks her up from an out-of-the-way place, she talks in a way she alone finds proper and in an alarmingly loud and tactlessly frank voice. Her encounter with Yugiri displays her naivety at its best.

It happened one day that a number of distinguished courtiers had come to the house; it was an autumn night of exceptional beauty, music was in progress, and everybody was in uncommonly good spirits. Even Yugiri, usually so quiet and orderly, was talking in rather an excited manner. Someone amid the group of ladies at the end of the room pointed him out to her neighbor and made some remark to the effect that she had never seen him look so handsome. 'Handsome! Who's handsome?' screamed a piercing voice, the owner of which suddenly craned her neck in the direction indicated; and before anyone could stop her the Lady of Omi had pressed her way to the front of the throng, where she stood staring at Yugiri open-mouthed, while everyone present wondered what piece of folly or impertinence would shortly issue from those ecstatically parted lips. But all she did was to point at the embarrassed Yugiri and say in a voice which though it was meant to be a whisper, was audible all over the room: 'Look at that one, now, look at him!' And she recited in a ringing voice the poem:

If your ship is lost at sea
And you cannot land where you'd like to be,
You'd better come aboard of me.

Like the man who lost his rudder said, when he found himself at the same point where he started: 'It all comes to the same thing in the end,' she added encouragingly.

Who on earth could this extraordinary madcap be, wondered poor Yugiri, when suddenly he recollected the queer stories that had a little while ago been current about some girl whom Tu no Chujo had adopted. This of course must be she, and laughing, he answered her with the poem:

Though my good ship should split in two,
I'd rather be drowned with all my crew
Than trust my life to one like you.

That does not sound very kind, she thought.

(Part 4, Ch. 3, p. 590)

Lady Murasaki shows the guileless nature of the Lady of Omi through the impression she creates on others who would not dream of acting so directly. Because she is so unaffected, her straightforward manner does not distress her. If others are distressed, it is because they lack a sense of humor. Unlike Chujo's sophisticated daughters, the Lady from Omi's highest ambition is to empty the chamber pots of the ladies about her. Such she is the action she imputes to the honorary title "Lady of the Bedchamber," which she seeks.

The Lady from Omi may be flamboyant, but she is also sensible.

'But I must be getting ready,' she now exclaimed. 'My father told me I was to call on Lady Chujo, and if I don't go at once, her Ladyship will think I don't want to meet her. Do you know what? I think I'll go this very night, for though I can see that my father thinks the world of me, I shall never get on in this place unless the ladies are on my side.'

(Part 3, Ch. 8, p. 521)

Though she shows off the folly of the court as much as the court shows off hers, the Lady from Omi can never become part of a court of elegant, refined and discreet people. After trying without success to act as her father wishes, she senses she is in the wrong place.

She gazed after (her father). He was attended by officers of the fourth rank, who made a brave show as they escorted him toward the main building. But why were they all nudging one another and laughing? 'Well,' she said at last, 'I have got a fine gentleman for my papa, and no mistake. It does seem queer to think what a funny little house I was brought up in, when by rights I ought to have been in this palace all the while.' 'If you ask my opinion,' said her friend the dancer, 'I think he is far too grand for you. You'd be a great deal better off if you had been claimed by some decent hardworking man, who wouldn't be ashamed of you.' This was too bad! 'There you go again,' the Lady from Omi cried, 'trying to put a body down whenever she opens her mouth. But you shan't do it anymore, indeed you shan't; for they've made me into a lady now, and you'll have to wait til I chose to let you speak. So there!'

Her face was flushed with anger. Seen thus, showing off in the presence of one whom she now regarded as an inferior, she became suddenly handsome and almost dignified. Only her manner of speech, picked up from the absolute riffraff among whom she lived, remained irredeemably vulgar.

(Part 3, Ch. 8, p. 521)

Tayu no Gen is the most grotesque of the comic figures. Unlike the others, he is not a member of the Kyoto court, but the provincial Lord Lieutenant of Tsukushi where Tamakatsura spent her childhood. To Tamakatsura's nurse, Tayu is "a coarse and unscrupulous barbarian." Virile and gross, he is drawn to the beautiful and delicate Tamakatsura.

Lady Murasaki continues:

It would indeed have astonished Tayu to know anyone in Hizen considered him in such a light as this. He had always regarded his attentions to women as favors bestowed; he flattered himself, moreover, that he knew as well as any man how to conduct a gallant correspondence, and his letters began to arrive thick and fast. They were written in a clean, bold hand on thick Chinese paper, heavily scented. It was evident indeed that he regarded himself as no mean calligrapher. His style of composition was not an agreeable one, being very torturous and affected. Soon he made up his mind that the time had come for him to call in person, and he arranged with the brothers to meet him at their mother's house.

Tayu was a man about thirty, tall and solidly built. He was far from ill-looking; but he had the power (which he frequently exercised) of assuming the most repulsive ferocious expression. This, however, was reserved for his followers and opponents. When in good temper and engaged upon errands of love, he adopted an entirely different voice and manner. You would have thought indeed that some little bird was chirruping, so dexterously did he reduce his rough bass to a small silvery fluting: 'As a lover, I ought to come after dark, ought I not? Isn't that what courting means --- coming at night? So I was always told. What extraordinary weather for a spring evening! In autumn of course one expects it.'

(Part 3, Ch. 4, p. 439)

In desperation, Tamakatsura flees from Tsukushi. Tayu follows in a melodramatic race between the two boats, until at last Tamakatsura's boat outdistances his.

Tayu is a braggart liable to outbreaks of temper and cruelty. Historically he was one of the outside lords who looked to the court for lessons in decorum. He is an oaf pretending to be sophisticated and so vainglorious he thinks he has succeeded. Since he would have made Tamakatsura's life a hell, the drama of her relations with him reaches a level of boldness different from the discreet and subdued exchanges of genteel courtesies at the Heian court.

Lady Murasaki's comic people have about them a taint which makes them less comic than, for example, Shakespeare's Falstaff. Suyetsumuhana's, Makabashira's and the Lady from Omi's frailties are moving as well as amusing.. Except for the parvenu Tayu, these people never reach the depths of folly in which they, like Monsieur and Madame Verdurin in Remembrance of Things Past, pretend to be happy with simulated guffaws and grimaces. Behind all of them, however, is the sense of being out of place that characterizes the leads.


The voices or names which appear and disappear but never belong to full-fledged people constitute the fourth group. These supplemental people see the same things as the leading characters do, but their perceptions are different.

A servant interests Genji in Suyetsumuhana; then, after the affair has begun, she wonders if he has acted wisely:

Myobu was thinking how well Genji looked in the picturesque disguise which he had elaborated for use on these night excursions and wished it were being employed in some quarter where it was more likely to be appreciated. Her only consolation was that so mild a lady was not likely to make inordinate demands upon him or pester him with jealousies and exactions. On the other hand, she was rather worried about the Princess. 'What,' she thought, 'if Suyetsumuhana should fall in love with him and her heart be broken merely because I was frightened of getting scolded?'

(Part 1, Ch. 6, p. 116),

Some of these people magnify the importance of the heroes by standing next to them:

The country people from far and near crowded round the gates to see Genji go, uncouth figures strangely gnarled and bent. His carriage was draped with black and he himself was still dressed in the drab unbecoming robes of mourning. Yet even the momentary glimpse of him that they caught as he entered his carriage sufficed to convince them that a prince of no ordinary beauty had been dwelling near to them and many were moved to tears.

(Part 2, Ch. 1, p. 210)

Suyetsumuhana's aunt mocks her niece's faith in Genji:

While celebrities like Prince Genji were frequenting the house I was not at all sure that humble people like ourselves would be welcome. However, one of the advantages of being of no importance is that we humdrum people are not subject to the same violent ups and downs as you exalted ones.

(Part 2, Ch. 6, p. 314)

Oblivious to the exceptional qualities of his mistress, one of Tamakatsura's servants hopes she will be fortunate enough to marry a mere Governor of Yamato. With more acumen, one of Agemaki's servants attributes her mistresses' fear of Kaoru to her isolated upbringing "with not a soul coming near the place, and no one to tell her about things in the proper way."

An old lady-in-waiting praises Genji's beauty:

'There will never be anyone like Genji. He has aged, of course; but I think that the extraordinary vividness and radiance of his expression --- the quality which in infancy won for him the name of Hikaru --- has if anything increased as time goes by. His face when in repose has now a nobility and dignity that in his younger and more irresponsible days were lacking; but I still think he is never so attractive as when laughing and talking sheer nonsense. Then he is the real Genji whose like has never been seen in the world before.'

(Part 4, Ch. 6, p. 617)

Supplemental people grumble about the burden the protagonists place on them as when Niou stays up thinking of Kozeri:

'First he said he must sit up because he was waiting for an answer, and now that it has come, he seems as if he were going to sit staring at it for the rest of the night. It's something serious this time, that's quite clear.' And no wonder they were in a bad temper, for they were longing for bed.

(Part 5, Ch. 5, p. 828)

Finally, after Lady Murasaki has shown the anxiety of Kaoru and Agemaki, the anonymous voices comment, "One can't help feeling sorry for both of them."


Lady Murasaki's presence can be sensed on every page of The Tale of Genji. She is the narrator who knows everything, though some of the things she knows are incredible to her:

What here follows was told me by some of the still surviving gentlewoman of Tamakatsura's household. I myself was inclined to regard much of it as mere gossip, particularly where it concerned Genji's descendants, with whom they can have very little contact. My informants, however, were indignant at the idea that Genji's or Murasaki's women must necessarily know better than they. 'If anyone gets things wrong,' they said, 'it is far more likely to be Genji's people, who are all so old that their memories are beginning to fail.'

(Part 5, Ch. 3, p. 766)

Here Lady Murasaki indicates how she got her material, as if the incidents were not products of her invention. Thus she is in the life she imagines and is not above it as its creator.

Lady Murasaki says she is writing a true and a full story:

I should indeed be very loath to recount in all their detail matters which he (Genji) took so much trouble to conceal, did I not know that if you found I had omitted anything you would at once ask why, just because he was supposed to be an Emperor's son, I must needs put a favorable showing on his conduct by leaving out all his indiscretions; and you would soon be saying that this was no history but a mere made-up tale designed to influence the judgment of posterity. As it is, I shall be called a scandal monger, but that I cannot help.

(Part 1, Ch. 4, p. 80)

But Lady Murasaki cannot tell everything. Realizing her limitations, she admits Karou is more portentous than the person she depicts:

I am afraid that his whole attitude toward his marriage gives a rather unpleasant impression of his character. I can only say that if he had really been so ineffectual a character as he must necessarily appear in the story which I have to tell, it is obvious he would never have been singled out by the throne and heaped with honors, as in fact he was.

(Part 6, Ch. 8, p. 952)

Occasionally Lady Murasaki shows her characters about some act sufficient to say all that need be said, as when Kurodo no Shosho, suspecting Kaoru of being his rival for the affections of Himegimi, demands and reads a letter Kaoru has written:

The note of gentle and restrained melancholy which pervaded Kaoru's letter irritated Kurodo profoundly. For it seemed by contrast to make his own wild outbursts, to which as he was aware his friends were so well accustomed that they no longer paid the slightest attention to them, appear merely ill-bred and ridiculous. He handed back the letter without a word, and for a moment thought of going to see Omoto, a gentlewoman of Himegimi's, to whom he was in the habit of unburdening himself. But what was the use of saying all over again what he had said so often before?

(Part 5, Ch. 3, p. 777)

Lady Murasaki's lambent laughter can be heard when she remarks after Genji sleeps with the sister of Lady Reikeiden:

It was often thus with those whom he met only in this casual way. Being women of character and position they had no false pride and saw that it was worth their while to take what they could get. Thus without any ill will on either side concerning the future or the past they would enjoy the pleasure of each other's company, and so part. However, if by chance anyone resented this kind of treatment, Genji was never in the least surprised; for though as far as feelings went perfectly constant himself, he had long ago learnt that such constancy was very unusual. The lady in the house by the roadside was clearly an example of the latter class; she had resented the infrequence of his visits and no longer felt disposed to receive him.

(Part 2, Ch. 2, p. 228)

One might well ask, who is kidding whom?

Less obvious, but no less Lady Murasaki's voice, this time as the Comic Spirit, is the comment about Kaoru inserted within his rationalizations"

Night after night alone on his bed (when there was no reason why he should be alone) Kaoru would go back time after time over what had happened.

(Part 2, Ch. 1, p. 214)

The delicacy with which Lady Murasaki handles the love affairs of her gallants keeps her narrative from becoming salacious, as when she says after Genji enters Fujitsubo's quarters, "I need not tell all that happened," or when she adds after Kaoru blurts out his love for Kozeri:

She was thus left entirely in his hands. It cannot be said he succeeded entirely in fulfilling his promises of good behavior. But just as on that first night, when he was in real distress, he could not bear to force her, and he did not do all that he would have wished to do. It is not necessary that I should go into further details. Suffice it to say that in the end he saw that it was useless to insist.

(Part 5, Ch. 8, p. 928)

Eventually Lady Murasaki disappears from The Tale of Genji. She becomes the all-seeing eye who shows the truth of the incidents. On this final level, she is not one of the multiple points of view, but a mirror of such lucidity that she knows all the characters, not as they deceive themselves, but as they are. Her stature is Homeric in its disinterested view. Whatever values, enjoyment or instruction the reader finds in The Tale of Genji is his rather than Lady Murasaki's because, by giving the novel to him, she has asked him to make up his own mind about it.

NOTE: The above is a revision of a thesis on The Tale of Genji submitted by Richard Amero toward the award of a Bachelor of Arts Degree at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, 1950.

For more articles by Richard Amero see: