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the Complete Review
the complete review - diary

The Diary of Lady Murasaki

Murasaki Shikibu

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To purchase The Diary of Lady Murasaki

Title: The Diary of Lady Murasaki
Author: Murasaki Shikibu
Genre: Diary
Written: ca. 1010
Length: 135 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Diary of Lady Murasaki - US
The Diary of Lady Murasaki - UK
The Diary of Lady Murasaki - Canada
Journal de Murasaki-Shikibu - France
  • Japanese title: 紫式部日記
  • Translated and introduced by Richard Bowring
  • Includes two appendices:
    1. Ground-Plans and Map
    2. Additional Sources
  • Includes: A Guide to Further Reading
  • This edition (Penguin Books, 1996) is a "re-edited and revised version of the author's earlier work Murasaki Shikibu: Her Diary and Poetic Memoirs (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982)"

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting document, well presented

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Japan Quarterly . 10-12/1996 Janet Goff
Times Ed. Supp. . 24/5/1996 David Self

  From the Reviews:
  • "It provides valuable insights into court life and the mind that produced the Genji." - Janet Goff, Japan Quarterly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Murasaki Shikibu is best known as the author of the Japanese classic, The Tale of Genji. While in service at the Heian court she also kept a diary of sorts, part of which, covering the years 1008-1010, has survived.
       It is this that is presented in this volume. There is not that much to it: Murasaki's text only takes up some sixty pages. Much of the text focusses on the events surrounding the birth of a son to Empress Shoshi, in whose service Murasaki was. The Tale of Genji only figures peripherally in the text, but also find some mention -- as does another contemporary whose work has survived to this day, Sei Shonagon (author of the Pillow Book).
       The text gives an interesting picture of court life, describing a variety of ceremonies as well as day-to-day occurrences. From imperial bantering and poetry-challenges to behind the scenes rivalries, there are a number of interesting episodes. Murasaki is a good (and well-situated) observer, and Bowring's translation reads effortlessly.

       Richard Bowring presents the text very nicely. His introduction -- almost as long as the text itself -- gives a great deal of background, on everything from Murasaki herself to the architecture, dress, titles, and language of the time. The text itself is well annotated, with useful (and not excessively intrusive) footnotes. One appendix offers ground-plans and a map (for readers who want to follow literally every footstep, apparently), while another offers additional sources relating some of the same episodes (especially surrounding the birth of Prince Atsuhira).

       This Penguin Classics edition, The Diary of Lady Murasaki, is an edition designed for a popular audience (and is certainly made approachable enough). It is a much-revised version of Bowring's earlier book, Murasaki Shikibu: Her Diary and Poetic Memoirs (1982). The major difference (and only great fault) with the new version is that the collection of poetry included in the first (Murasaki Shikibu shu) has been omitted, which we deeply regret.
       The annotations in the earlier, scholarly edition dealt at greater length with textual issues, but most readers can certainly do without that. It must also be noted that Bowring has significantly revised his translation: it is, essentially, a new translation.

       A rich, small work, nicely presented and very accessible, The Diary of Lady Murasaki can certainly be recommended. And it is essential reading for anyone interested in Heian Japan or The Tale of Genji

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The Diary of Lady Murasaki:
  • Penguin Classics publicity page
  • Text of The Diary of Murasaki Shikibu, as translated by Annie Shepley Omori and Kochi Doi (1920)
Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部) was born ca. 973 and probably died between 1014 and 1025. She wrote the classic, The Tale of Genji.

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