Genji Monogatari and the Heian Divide

Genji Monogatari, credited to Murasaki Shikibu, defines contemporary aristocratic lifestyles and etiquette of the Heian era. The author’s lineage to the Fujiwara clan, which betrothed their women to the emperor, legitimizes substantive court life depicted in this tale. Society’s portrayal in this story primarily chronicles the life of Genji, whose rank is in the upper echelon of nobility, and explores what is tolerable and preferential to the elite’s cultured tastes. Given that aristocrats focused on their prestige, they were deeply sensitive to nature’s evanescent beauty, poetry, calligraphy, music, etcetera. Men and women within The Tale of Genji’s regal milieu highlights the historical importance of status and value amongst both sexes.

A Heian woman’s life is orchestrated from birth regarding what she learns and experiences akin to programming a machine. They are customarily confined within their home to study the arts and visible only to their female servants, mothers, fathers, and husbands. Hidden from view behind blinds and screens, their ventures outside of their dwelling is contingent upon further coverage from people. Ox-drawn carriages with a tiny slit to view the alfresco world along with an aristocratic lady’s intermittent pilgrimages to temples and shrines are admissible exposures. Rare glimpses of such women by men initially instill lust and thereafter shapes their expectations of what defines a most attractive woman. The color of their robes must be matching at all times, “sleeves [overlapping each other and] spilling from under their blinds [and carriage] were a wonder to behold,” and hair must be very thick and longer than the actual height of the woman; they must possess an ability to pen poems, and skillfully create calligraphy. (Shikibu & Tyler, 2003). Such opened positions such as a lady-in-waiting to the emperor and services to the court available to trek beyond the aforementioned locations and meet possib…

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