–By Shivam Pathak
“You that in far-off countries of the sky can dwell secure, look back upon me here; for I am weary of this frail world’s decay”. These are the very words of the first novel (Originally inscribed in Japanese) ever known to the world. To Japanese it is Genji Monogatari and throughout the world it is known as The Tale of Gengi. The genesis of this eminent piece of writing can be traced back some one thousand years ago during Heian period in Japan when a noble girl was born into the Northern Fujiwara clan. The girl was named Murasaki Shikibu. The period in which she was born was very invidious for women. Women of that period were thought to be incompetent of real intelligence, and therefore were not educated.
Even if they were educated they were only permitted to learn Japanese language and not Chinese language because the education of Chinese
language was not regarded as a women’s attribute. Education of Chinese language was only limited to men of the imperial court. But Murasaki, raised in her erudite father’s household, showed a precocious predilection for the Chinese classics and soon managed to acquire fluency in Chinese.
At around 20 Shikibu married Fujiwara No Nobutaka, and gave birth to a girl (named Kataiko) in 999. Two years later Nobutaka died, and left behind his wife as a widow. In 1005, Murasaki was invited to serve as a lady-in-waiting to empress Shoshi at the imperial court. Murasaki also served the empress as a tutor of Chinese language in private due to empress Shoshi’s penchant for the Chinese language, and after all Chinese education for women was not considered as legal. In the imperial court
Murasaki met many other wise women, and to some of them she gave a fierce competition in wise discussions. One such rival of Murasaki in the
imperial court was Sei Shonagon, who was in service of empress Teishi as a lady-in-waiting. Murasaki’s personal diary shows that she and Shonago were not on good terms. Heian period was also witnessing a time of Japan’s cultural insurgence. In Murasaki’s lifetime, men continued to write formally in Chinese, but Kana became the language of intimacy and of noble women. Kana set the foundation for unique forms of Japanese literature.
To take Japanese literature to its zenith, Murasaki Shikibo wrote the first novel of the world- “The Tale of Genji”, and ultimately became world’s first ever known novelist. However, some people consider it as a controversial statement, but to many Murasaki is the world’s first novelist. Therefore “The Tale of Genji”, a novel of 54 chapters written in Hiragana script, took Japanese literature to its pinnacle. Today it is translated in many languages, and read throughout the world.