The Diary of Lady Murasaki
- "As a young boy my brother Nobunori studied the Chinese classics, and I liked to sit in and listen to his lessons. I found that even when he struggled to understand or memorize passages, I would find them remarkably easy. My father, a well-read man himself, often used to lament this fact, saying, 'Such a shame. Would that you were born a man!'"
The Tale of Genji
- "New grass, you don't even know where to sprout and grow. How can I, a drop of dew, vanish away in the air leaving you alone?"
The Lady Murasaki (meaning “Violet”), best known writer of Japan’s glorious Heian period, penned 'Genji monogatari,' perhaps civilization’s earliest novel. Born around 973 AD (or perhaps 975) into a branch of the powerful Fujiwara clan, her approbation Shikibu likely relates to her father Fujiwara Tamatoki, who served in the Ministry of Ceremonies and later as a provincial governor, as it is a title. She was very intelligent, outpacing her brother in their studies, and her father is said to have lamented, “If only you were a boy, how happy I should be!” But he allowed her to read the Chinese classics, considered improper for Japanese females at the time.
In her early twenties, Murasaki was married to a distant relative and gave birth to a daughter, during which she began writing poetry. After the early death of her husband in 1001, having heard of her writing and her brilliant mind, the imperial family brought Murasaki to court where she served as a lady-in-waiting to the Empress Akiko. Despite her elevation to court, Murasaki Shikibu did not approve of the frivolous nature of life there, keeping a diary in which she gave vivid accounts of the vapid foolishness.
She likely began writing in earnest to avoid the tedium, although she may well have started work on 'Genji' before arriving. It is a lengthy, engaging work about the complications in the life of a fictional prince, drawn no doubt from her observations in the imperial court. Upon the death of Emperor Ichijo in 1011, the empress – along with her ladies – went into enforced retirement. Little is known of Murasaki’s life afterward; she is thought to have died around 1031.