EX 417: Women Writers in Japanese Literature

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(4 credits)

Instructor: Gaye Rowley

Japanese literature is unusual in world history for the importance of women writers to its development. Women who lived in the tenth, eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries created masterpieces of narrative fiction and poetry, as well as carefully constructed diaries. Writing by women who lived in the Edo period (1603-1868), once thought hardly to exist, is in the process of being rediscovered and translated for the first time. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century women writers, too, have made a major contribution to the corpus of modern Japanese literature. In this course, we will read and discuss a variety of texts by women, dating from the tenth to the twentieth centuries, in English translation. Texts considered will include autobiographies, diaries, novels, short stories, and Chinese poetry. Our reading of nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction by women will focus on professional writers such as Higuchi Ichiyō, Yosano Akiko, and Enchi Fumiko; and, for a radically different perspective, some autobiographical writing by women—political activists, geisha, and prostitutes—who wrote from the margins of society. In addition, I hope the course will serve as an introductory history of women in Japan. There will also be a weekly song.

For full bibliographical details of the set texts, please see the Women Writers in Japanese Literature bibliography.

Week 1 – Introduction: Studying “women writers”.

  • Reading: Simone de Beauvoir, “Women and Creativity”.

Week 2 – Before Genji, I

  • Reading: Carolina Negri, “Marriage in the Heian Period”; The Kagerō Diary, Part One. Class set in SILS library.

Week 3 – Before Genji, II

  • Reading: The Kagerō Diary, Parts Two and Three; The Pillow Book (selections)

Week 4 – After Genji, I

  • Reading: The Sarashina Diary. Class set in SILS library.

Week 5 – After Genji, II

  • Lecture: Introduction to the Kamakura period.
  • Reading: Abutsu, “Fitful Slumbers”; “The Diary of the Sixteenth Night”.

Week 6 – Re-enacting Genji

  • Reading: The Confessions of Lady Nijō. Class set in SILS library.

Week 7 – Women in the Sengoku (Country-at-War) Era and the Edo Period

  • Reading: Hitomi Tonomura, “Re-envisioning Women in the Post-Kamakura Age”; “O-An’s Stories”.

Week 8 – Discovering Edo Period Women Writers

  • Reading: Atsuko Sakaki, “Sliding Doors: Women and Chinese Literature in the Heterosocial Literary Field”; Arakida Rei, “Fireflies Above the Stream”; Breeze through Bamboo: Kanshi of Ema Saikō (selections); Patricia Fister, “Female Bunjin: The Life of Poet-Painter Ema Saikō”; Mari Nagase, “Pursuing ‘Women’s Words’: The Poetry of Ema Saikō” (all in coursepack).

Week 9 – Women in the Yoshiwara

  • Mid-term exam.
  • Reading: Liza Dalby, “Courtesan and Geisha: The Real Women of the Pleasure Quarter,” in The Women of the Pleasure Quarter: Japanese Paintings and Prints of the Floating World, ed. Elizabeth De Sabato Swinton. On reserve in the SILS library. We’ll also watch and discuss Liza Dalby’s DVD “Geisha Blues” in this class.

Week 10 – The Modern Murasaki

  • Lecture: Introduction to the Meiji period.
  • Reading: Rebecca Copeland, “Introduction: Meiji Women Writers”; Higuchi Ichiyō, “Child’s Play” (1895-96).

Week 11 – Finding a Voice, I

  • Reading: selections from Jan Bardsley, trans. The Bluestockings of Japan; Kaneko Fumiko, selections from The Prison Memoirs of a Japanese Woman (1925-26).

Week 12 – Finding a Voice, II

  • Reading: Masuda Sayo, Autobiography of a Geisha (1957). Class set in SILS library. Debate on prostitution.

Week 13 – Witnessing the Empire, Remembering the War

  • Reading: Short stories from Japanese Women Writers: Twentieth Century Short Fiction. Class set in SILS library.

Week 14 – Looking Back

  • Reading: Enchi Fumiko, A Tale of False Fortunes (1965). Class set in SILS library.

Week 15 – Essay Week

  • Individual consultations; final discussion; last song.

Grading Criteria:
The course will be run as a seminar in which the active participation of all students is expected. In-class discussions of texts will be the heart of the course. Commitment to reading and thinking carefully about the texts and a willingness to share ideas in class are vital.

1. Class participation 20%

  • Class participation means participating actively in class, by answering questions, asking questions, and responding to other students. Coming to class but saying nothing does not count as participating and will result in a 0 for this element of the course grade.

2. Short written responses 20%

  • Three short (+/- 500 word) responses to the texts will be assigned.

3. Mid-term test 20%

  • The mid-term test will consist of a few dates, identifications from the set texts, and short answer questions.

4. Final essay 40%

  • Essays should be between 2000 and 2500 words in length, typewritten in a 12-point font and double-spaced; and must be submitted in the form of a hard copy. No e-mail attachments please! Students are free to choose their own essay topic; the only constraints are that the essay should be about women’s writing in Japanese literature and/or its reception, and that you should make enough reference to a specific work or works of literature to make it clear that you have read those works closely. A list of possible essay topics will be provided later in the semester. The essay is due on [to be advised].

Attendance and etiquette:
Everyone is allowed one absence. This covers illness, family emergency, job interviews, or other personal time you need to take. Please notify me by e-mail if you cannot attend class. Failure to observe this minimum etiquette will count against your grade. Cell phones and laptop computers should be switched off. You may bring a drink to class, but no food, please. Be on time for class and stay the entire time. Bring your copy of the day’s reading to class: we will refer to it in our discussion.

Class sets of most of the texts we will read are available in the SILS library. If you cannot find a text on the open shelves, ask one of the librarians to fetch a copy from the stacks for you.