Friday 10 May 2002

Intimate relations

My brief flirtation with Flaubert ended abruptly. Whatever interest I might have had in nineteenth century France or Frédéric Moreau’s unrequited love for Madame Arnoux could not withstand the gravitational pull of Heian (794-1185) Japan. So I’ve returned to my project of reading all three translations of The Tale of Genji (Waley, Seidensticker, and Tyler—chapter by chapter).

In the introduction to the first volume of Waley’s translation, he quotes Murasaki Shikibu’s diary to illustrate the intimacy of her relationships with other ladies in the Empress Akiko’s court:

It has often been observed that whereas in her commonplace book (the Makura no Soshi [Pillow Book]) Sei Shonagon scarcely so much as mentions the existence of the other ladies-in-waiting, Murasaki refers constantly to her companions, and to one of them at least she was evidently very strongly attached. Her great friend was Lady Saisho. ‘On my way back from the Empress’s rooms I peeped in at Saisho’s door. I had forgotten that she had been on duty at night and would now be having her morning sleep. She had thrown over her couch various dresses with bright-colored linings, and on top of them had spread a covering of beaten silk, lustrous and heavily scented with perfume. Her face was hidden under the clothes; but as she lay there, her head resting on a box-shaped writing-case, she looked so pretty that I could not help thinking of the little princesses in picture-books. I raised the clothes from her face and said to her: “You are like a girl in a story.” She turned her head and said sharply: “You lunatic! Could you not see I was asleep? You are too inconsiderate….” While she was saying this she half raised herself from her couch and looked up at me. Her face was flushed. I have never seen her so handsome. So it often is; even those whom we at all times admire will, upon some occasion, suddenly seem to us ten times more lovely than ever before.’

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Comments

I've got a question for you... since you've quoted liberally from various works (good stuff!), I wonder if you remember what the rules are on quoting from copyrighted works?

I've got a site I'm helping out that wants to show examples of great dialogue, and rather than contact each author (which we're doing for some anyway), I was curious as to what/how much/how I could legally quote from various sources, whether in print or other media.

What's the good word?

Posted by Rick on 11 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

I've been back to read this more than once, and I still chuckle over the image of the one, awestruck by beauty, the other pissed as hell.

I'm going to have to buy this book.

Posted by Burningbird on 11 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Rick, when I asked Loren Webster about quoting from copyrighted works he told me that if you are writing critically about a work you are allowed to quote a sufficiently long portion to illustrate your point. He mentioned a figure of 10% for a shorter work (I've heard other people quote this same figure).

Bb, I'm glad you enjoyed that quotation. I'd read it before but forgotten about it and was pleased to find it again in Waley's introduction to the Genji. When I was typing it out, it also occurred to me that you'd like the sensual description of the Lady Saisho's bedding.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 11 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

I did. I was curious why she threw the clothes onto the couch and why she was sleeping among them. I imagined a scene where Lady Saisho, in a whirl of activity, is grabbing clothes from their storage for whatever reason, tossing them on to the bed for inspection, only to be overcome with weariness. As sleep overcomes her, she throws the covering over the clothes to protect them as she lays down.

Or not. Gives one a glimpse into court life at the time, doesn't it?

I was also curious about "beaten silk" and when I looked for information online found a web site I think you'll like http://www.reconstructinghistory.com/japanese/.

Posted by Burningbird on 12 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

On second thought, web site I found most likely doesn't have anything new for you -- never mind.

Posted by Burningbird on 12 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

To the contrary, Bb. The page that provides photographic comparisons of original and modern versions of Heian clothing is extremely useful. And the page that explains how to make a Heian costume is even more interesting. Thank you!

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 12 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Thanks for the input on the copyright!

Posted by Rick on 13 May 2002 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour