Sunday, October 12, 2008

I have just finished reading the Arthur Waley translation of 'The Tale of Genji' and I am about to start on the Edward Seidensticker translation. It pretty much took me all summer and some of fall to finish it and I read it just about every day. It certainly wasn't boring but it is the kind of work that one sips at rather then devours. The Arthur Waley translation was done in the 1930's the Seidensticker translation in the 1970's. The Seidensticker translation is still in print. I purchased two lovely box sets of both editions and though the Seidensticker version is bigger and heavier it is actually less "wordy" then the the Waley translation and contains along with the text these wood cuts from a illustrated version of the Genji first published in 1650 (as in 307 years ago). The print is also much larger and the pages made of stronger stuff then the Waley publication which I had to handle carefully as I carried it with me everyday and read on the bus.
The Genji was probably written early in the 11th century but doesn't show up in a complete form until 200 years later according to the introduction by Edward Seidensticker. A classic for centuries in Japan it only became available in English translation in the 20th century. Maybe this is why it has such a contemporary tone. Seidensticker notes that Waley may have been guilty of a certain amount of "embroidery" in his translation and that when reading it one may not know in which voice the story is being told; Lady Murasaki or Arthur Waley. I was reminded in reading the Waley version of 19th century gothic romances or the work of Jane Austen. To compare Jane Austen to Lady Murasaki I don't think is so far off the mark because both women "dissect" the nature of love in their writing and are not afraid to confront the reality as well as the romantic ideal. Both also wrote their stories for the enjoyment of their immediate contemporaries oblivious that their stories would be in publication long after their deaths. I wouldn't be one bit surprised, provided humanity is still around in a 1000 years and still reads, they will still be reading Jane Austen just as 1000 years after Murasaki her book is still in print today.


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