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The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon Mass Market Paperback – 29 Jul 1971
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The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon has not only amply filled the long-felt need for a full English translation, but has also made a contribution to Heian studies... A mine of information... [Morris's] translation maintains a high quality throughout. Journal of Asian Studies The Pillow Book is one of the three most important works of its kind in Japanese literature, and Professor Morris has given it handsome treatment. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland Gives all sorts of insights into the court life of the times, and into the worldly character and mentality of its author. It comes over extraordinarily well in this translation, and can rank with any other collection of court memoirs the world over. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies The liveliest and most endearing of Heian writers, and the one who gives the most intimate and vivid picture of life at court... Its denizens emerge as real and never-to-be-forgotten people... Morris belongs to the literary rather than the literal school of translators, and his talents are shown here at their best. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies "[Morris's] scholarship is a living thing... he sees through all the painted paper screens... Outstanding. New York Times A beautiful translation. Japan Quarterly A mine of information. Journal of Asian Studies Shonagon comes through vividly... [Morris] has given us for the first time in full a delightful and fascinating book which is also a work of notable scholarship. The Observer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Ivan Morris (1925-1976) was considered the most versatile Japanese translator of his generation and wrote widely on modern and ancient Japan. He taught at Columbia University and was chair of its Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. His books include translations of Lady Sarashina's As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams, Jiro Osaragi's The Journey, Ihara Saikaku's The Life of an Amorous Woman, and Yukio Mishima's The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, as well as several historical studies, including The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan, The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan, and Nationalism and the Right Wing in Japan: A Study of Postwar Trends. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
The book is very unlike anything I have read before in its random chapter arrangement. This is essentially a diary of sorts. It is very poetic and at times funny. Sometimes I had to stop and re-read a passage that stroke me as special. Beautiful observations of nature co-exist with sharp comments about people and their behaviour.
Sei Shonagon herself is a fascinating character. She is obviously educated, but at times sounds silly and petty. Her loyalty to her Empress is very touching. At the same time she is cruel and cold towards "ordinary" people. She seems to pay too much attention to the court dress and elegant verses. Being at court is the highest honour and achievement in life for her.
Apparent promiscuity of the Heian court, which seemed to be a norm, is surprising It was also a surprise to learn that so much had been borrowed from Chinese culture and fashion. Japanese way was regarded unsophisticated and unrefined, and everybody seems to defer to Chinese tradition, fashion and literature.
I wish we new more about what happened to Sei Shonagon, but she is well hidden behind those court curtains in the depth of centuries.
The author expresses also her personal vision on mankind, men and women, her social, sexual and moral preferences as well as her remarkable poetic inspiration.
Palace life was completely cut off from the rest of the population. The palace was a golden prison and its life turned around the puppet emperor, the empress and her ladies in waiting. It consisted mostly of chatter, intrigues, gossip, secret encounters with lovers, exchanges of messages written as short poems, like `My name, though innocent of rain / Has long been spattered by unfounded tales.'
Daily life was uplifted by ceremonies, festivals (dance, music), excursions or pilgrimages (temple visits).
As a haughty person, the author's vision on mankind is highly influenced by her admiration of status (power) and her obsession with etiquette.
Men should not be trusted: `A man's heart is a shameful thing. When he is with a woman whom he finds tiresome and distasteful, he does not show that he dislikes her, but makes her believe she can count on him.' And, `how shameful when a man seduces some helpless Court lady, and, having made her pregnant, abandons her without caring in the slightest way about her future.'
She scorns the plebeians: `what is it like to be one of those women who live at home, faithfully serving their husbands - women who have not a single existing prospect in life, yet who believe that they are perfectly happy.'
And, `it is unpleasant to see a woman of a certain age with a young husband; and it is most unsuitable when she becomes jealous of him because he has gone to visit someone else.' (!)
This book is a goldmine for Japanese scholars. For `normal' readers it can become boring with its many trivial scenes about sewing, eating and drinking, carriages, clothes, birds, trees etc. However, its human, literary and sincere emotional qualities make this pillow talk, written some one thousand years ago, one of the highlights of world literature.
Not to be missed.
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