A Neglected Chapter. Courtly Fiction of the Kamakura Period

A Neglected Chapter. Courtly Fiction of the Kamakura Period

By Donald Keene

Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 44, No. 1 (1989)

Introduction: The reputation of the works of fiction composed during the Kamakura period in the tradition of Heian monogatari is by no means high. Few scholars are attracted to what seems to be a barren field, certainly when compared to the gunki monogatari  (martial tales), or setsuwa monogatari (anecdotal writings) of the same period, and even they are likely to opine that the later examples of courtly fiction are so greatly indebted to Genji Monogatari as to be little more than copies. Every instance of influence from Genji Monogatari on these works has been painstakingly traced, but the extraordinary dissimilarities are generally passed over in silence or stated without comment, as if the scholar was rather embarrassed to discover that not everything could be explained in terms of imitation. No doubt it is frustrating to deal with works of literature that are known, even before they are read, to be inferior to Genji Monogatari. The incomplete state of the texts of some of the best monogatari of the Kamakura period also makes it difficult for the rare enthusiast to claim that his particular discovery is almost as good as Murasaki Shikibu’s masterpiece. Other problems of a more technical nature are involved when discussing the courtly fiction of the Kamakura period.

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