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Chapter 3 Notes

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This chapter contines directly from where chapter two left off.

Chapter Two
Chapter Three, The Shell of the Locust

The stepmother wants Genji, even though she doesn't want Genji.

***

The last time I read this chapter I found her attitude completely inexplicable -- more accurately, I thought it was explicable, but only in the context of the Murasaki's insistence that everyone loves Genji, even when it doesn't make any sense that they would (see: Kokiden). For some reason, though, I am not getting that feeling again. This time, I can see where the attraction is coming from.

Is it a difference in the translation? Or is it because I know where the story is going? I find myself much more aware of Genji's rank and circumstances -- which explain, in true Murasaki fashion, the bulk of his behavior -- in this translation, ironically because their effects are not addressed directly. That Genji is a prince used to getting his own way is such a basic assumption of the book that I find myself judging all of his actions in light of it.

***

On the other hand Genji has the younger brother on a really short leash. It's sad, really, how much this kid adores him. Run away! He's only using you to get to your sister! ...actually the truly creepy thing is that the boy knows this, but his love for Genji is such that he pimps her out anyway.

Creepiness aside, this is a short, humorous chapter. Genji and the boy conspire to sneak back into his sister's quarters, but when they arrive she is keeping company with her step-daughter! The step-daughter is, well, she's jolly. Genji has never seen anyone like her and he's fascinated. Later, when he sneaks into the lady's bedchambers and finds the step-daughter asleep there instead -- the lady having slipped out through the back door at the smell of his perfume -- Genji decides to make the most of the situation, and sleeps with her instead.

From there, the absurdity of the situation escalates. When Genji leaves, he takes a robe, thinking it's hers -- actually, it belongs to the lady. On the way out, he's spotted by an old servant, who mistakes him for a woman. Later he sends a letter to the step-daughter, which is mistakenly delivered to the lady. The lady reflects on her lost maidenhood and lost robe, while the step-daughter wonders why Genji hasn't written her?

All counted, either four or five cases of mistaken identity (depending on whether you count the letter twice).

***

In some sense the joke is on Genji: as wonderful as he is, stubbornness -- his own and the lady's -- has reduced him to skulking around at night, trying to break into the bedchambers of a woman far below his station, who is not even all that attractive, and then further reduced him to playing hide-and-seek with half-blind old servant women. But ultimately it's the step-daughter, an innocent, who suffers. She's a frivolous character according to both plot and characterization; but her sadness is real.

I think that note of seriousness amidst absurdity is why this chapter ends with introspection and a poem, a sad one by Ise:

The dew upon the fragile locust wing
Is lost among the leaves. Lost are my tears.


Chapter Four
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