August 12, 2008

The Tale of Genji ("Twilight" edition)

The "imprinting" instinct used as a plot device in the Twilight series got me thinking about The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (written 1000 years ago). During his romantic conquests, Genji stumbles across a beautiful child by the name of Murasaki (hmm, also the name of the author).

He installs her in his manor as his "daughter," and then marries her after she grows up a bit. So I guess he has some standards, though it's still creepy by today's standards (not to mention that everybody in the story is somehow related to everybody else).

From the Seidensticker translation:

Murasaki was much on [Genji's] mind. She seemed peerless, the nearest he could imagine to his ideal. Thinking that she was no longer too young for marriage, he had occasionally made amorous overtures; but she had not seemed to understand.

All together now: Ewww. Though come to think about it, Murasaki and Genji also kind of remind me of Bella and Edward (Genji never "sparkles," but he is described as "the Shining Prince"):

Murasaki was suddenly a forlorn little figure. She put aside the pictures and lay with her face hidden in a pillow.

"Do you miss me when I am away?" He stroked her hair that fell luxuriantly over her shoulders.

She nodded a quick, emphatic nod.

"And I miss you. I can hardly bear to be away from you for a single day."


So she had herself a nice husband, thought Murasaki. The husbands of these women were none of them handsome men, and hers was so very young and handsome.


Murasaki was more on his mind. He must go comfort her. She pleased him more, she seemed prettier and cleverer and more amiable, each time he saw her.

On the other hand, if the above was getting you into a genre-romance state of mind, there is this (hard to put out of your mind) bit of self-reflection early on:

Murasaki was the perfect companion, a toy for him to play with. He could not have been so free and uninhibited with a daughter of his own. There are restraints upon paternal intimacy. Yes, he had come upon a remarkable little treasure.

But after reading this absurdly funny chapter-by-chapter summary of Breaking Dawn, I'm beginning to think I could really learn to grok Meyer's twisted, 11th century view of romantic relationships. I'd like to believe she wrote the previous three books just to get to this one.

In fact, the imprinting business strikes me as Meyer's buried lede (that she returns to in The Host). It is a more extreme example of the plot device I employ in The Path of Dreams--asking what happens when we are deprived of a specific element of human agency and try to accommodate it.

Though as my sister points out, this theme would have held together better if Jacob hadn't spent all his time up to that point hitting hard on Bella, apparently, it turns out, in order to get first dibs on her (as yet unborn) daughter. I'm sorry, but that even outcreeps Genji.

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# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
8/12/2008 1:06 PM   
I had forgotten about that part of Tales of Genji.

Now there's a parallel.
# posted by Blogger C. L. Hanson
8/12/2008 1:28 PM   
From that link: Twilight means never having to say you're kidding.

ROTFL!!! Saying ROTFL doesn't do it justice. I haven't laughed so hard from a line from blog for a long time.

I remember being pretty shocked by that part in the Tale of Gengi where Gengi decides that Murasaki is old enough to be done with dolls and move on to being a wife. Yet somehow that wasn't icky to me quite like Twilight...
# posted by Blogger Damien Sullivan
8/16/2008 4:08 AM   
Murasaki was an early Mary Sue? Neat.