EX 420: The Tale of Genji and Its Readers

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(4 credits)

Instructor: Gaye Rowley

The Tale of Genji is Japan’s greatest work of narrative fiction. Over the thousand years since it was written, Genji has been seen as a guide to elegant behaviour, and also as a sinful, salacious, or simply frivolous fiction. Genji has inspired artists, playwrights, and poets; and in the twentieth century was transformed into an “Oriental classic” as well as film and manga. In this course we will read and discuss Genji in English (or Chinese, French, German, Korean, modern Japanese, or Russian) translation; and we will consider a few of the many different ways readers have understood the text over the centuries.


Week 1

  • Introduction to the Heian period; Ii Haruki, “The Composition of The Tale of Genji.

Week 2

  • Chapters 1-4; clips from the 1987 anime version of Genji.

Week 3

  • Chapters 5-8

Week 4

  • Chapters 9-11

Week 5

  • Chapters 12 & 13

Week 6

  • Chapters 14-16; Royall Tyler, “Marriage, Rank and Rape in The Tale of Genji.”

Week 7

  • Chapters 17-21

Week 8

  • Chapters 22-31 (the Tamakazura chapters)

Week 9

  • Chapters 32 & 33; clips from the 2001 film Sennen no koi.

Week 10

  • Chapters 34 & 35 (the ‘Wakana’ or ‘Spring Shoots’ chapters)

Week 11

  • Chapters 36-39 (Kashiwagi and Yūgiri)

Week 12

  • Chapters 40 & 41; Marguerite Yourcenar, “The Last Love of Prince Genji.”

*23 December-5 January inclusive: winter holidays. Read chapters 42-44.

Week 13

  • Chapters 45-48 (Ōigimi)

Week 14

  • Chapters 49-54 (Ukifune); clips from the 1957 film Genji monogatari Ukifune.

Week 15

  • The Tale of Genji in the twentieth century.

Grading Criteria:
In-class discussions of The Tale of Genji will be the heart of the course and the active participation of all students is expected. Do the reading, make notes of your answers to the discussion questions, and come to class prepared to listen and to talk.

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%

  • Two short (+/- 500-word) responses to the text will be assigned; and there will also be a summary/presentation assignment.

3. Mid-term test 20%

  • The mid-term test will be short answer format. It will be held on Tuesday 20 December 2011.

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 hard copy. No e-mail attachments please! Please use the word count function on your computer to calculate the number of words in your essay; record this on the title page / cover sheet when you submit it. Students are free to choose their own essay topic (some suggested questions will be distributed later in the course); the only constraints are that the essay should be concerned with some aspect of The Tale of Genji or its reception. The essay is due on Tuesday 31 January 2012.

Attendance and etiquette:
Everyone is allowed one absence. This covers illness, family visits, 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 Tale of Genji to class: we will refer to the text in our discussions.

Over the course of the semester, all students will be expected to read The Tale of Genji in its entirety in either Chinese, English, French, German, Korean, modern Japanese, or Russian translation. Copies of the various translations are available in the SILS library. For a list of the principal foreign-language translations, see the Genji bibliography.

  • A list of modern Japanese translations will be provided in the first class. Students are free to choose any complete version.

For discussion questions, click here (password protected page)