Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Tale of Genji

In multiple interviews, Edward Gorey was asked about his taste in reading material and his literary inspirations. One of the novels that he consistently singled out as a favorite is The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki. While working at Anchor Doubleday, Mr. Gorey was responsible for the cover typography on this title (the copy shown above is not in my personal collection).

Largely regarded as the first "modern" novel, this work of Japanese literature was written in the early years of the 11th century and is attributed to a lady of the imperial court. Genji has a large cast of characters and a story that includes a number families and spans many years.

Genji, has been translated multiple times, and this is no small undertaking. With over four hundred individual characters, the task of translation becomes daunting when one realizes that none of the characters in the original manuscript are given proper names. Due to court etiquette, all characters are referred to only by their titles or functions, and multiple characters have overlapping titles and functions! Add this to the fact that many of the original Japanese words have multiple meanings which are open to interpretation, and a translator has their work cut out for them.

This is the kind of ambiguity that Edward Gorey reveled in and was inspired by. Mr. Gorey had multiple copies of The Tale of Genji in his personal library. These copies, along with the more than 21,000 books in his home at the time of his death, are in the permanent special collections of San Diego University. The university has been cataloging all the books and information about the collection can be found HERE.

No comments: