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Chapter 4 Notes

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Gets off to a rough start, but this is a great chapter.

Chapter Three

Chapter Four, Evening Faces

He felt a little sorry for the inhabitants of such a place -- and then asked himself who in this world had more than a temporary shelter. A hut, a jeweled pavillion, they were the same.

Occasionally I have to supress my anti-aristocratic outrage at sentences like this one. You, rich boy! Stop romanticizing poverty!

Then I remind myself that he isn't, actually. The house he's looking at is not really a hut -- it's the house of his former nursemaid, a little run down and not in the best neighborhood, but far from a shack. And Genji's poetic analogy is an idle, careless kind of thought -- which is very in-character for him. Genji probably stopped paying attention to the words the instant they'd formed in his mind. Of course no one in this book has any reason to articulate an ideology like Britain's "noble poor," since they are all not just rich, but interacting only with other rich people. (Contrast this to eighteenth century London, where the poor were right there in the open and the rich were tripping over them on their way to the pub...but I digress.)

***

In this chapter, Genji is very nice to his old nursemaid, and we learn that he loves her and visits her all the time, even though she lives in a run-down house in an unfasionable neighborhood. In this context, Genji's idle philosophisizing is the method by which he overcomes his discomfuture at her (slightly) shabby surroundings. For someone so unused to shabbiness, you could almost call it a gesture of great nobility...I'm stretching, I'll stop.

This is the first of what I think of as the "getting the readers to like Genji" chapters. First Genji is introduced as a perfect person everyone likes (chapters 1 and 2), then the author has a little bit of fun at his expense (chapter 3). If you weren't convinced of his goodness by the first two chapters, you probably had a little bit too much fun laughing at him in chapter 3, but now chapter 4 comes along to build up Genji's karma before the really questionable stuff goes down.

As to whether Murasaki is effective in getting the reader to like Genji in this chapter, well, that depends. It may be that you, like me, don't see the connection between the kindness Genji shows one old lady and the sense of entitlement he has toward most young and pretty ones. Specifically, you don't see why the first should forgive the second. In this case, keep reading: there will be other attempts to rehabillitate Genji.

***

Amative = amourous, inclined towards romantic love. In the next part of this chapter Genji's "amative propensities" once again have their way with him. This time the lucky lady is a neighbor of the old nursemaid. The lady catches his attention through virtue of her penmanship, sending an elegantly caligraphed fan to his carriage when he stops to ask for a flower from her garden. Konemitsu, who is the son of the nursemaid and something of an old servant/friend to Genji, reports that he has seen her writing a letter, and she was very pensive and beautiful.

At this point Genji is thinking back to the conversation in chapter two, and remarks that if that conversation hadn't opened his eyes to the charms of lower-class women, certainly this woman -- and the step-mother and step-daughter from chapter three -- would have been below his notice. Speaking of them, Genji meets the governor! He feels a little sorry for him, but not sorry enough to stop plotting to sleep with either his wife or daughter.

The only affair which is going well at this point is his long-running one with the lady of Rokujo, who is at least ten years older than him (possibly a widow). Unfortunately Genji does not seem to favor women it is easy or advisable to sleep with, because he has been losing interest in her lately. The only woman he is less interested in, in fact, is his wife. Because of his neglect, both the lady of Rokujo and Aoi are full of resentment...

***

Getting back to the neighbor with the fan, Koremitsu tells him something that leads Genji to believe that she is the overly secretive woman who ran away from To no Chujo all those chapters ago! The instant Genji hears this, he becomes completely serious about the affair, even going to see her in disguise, on foot, with no retinue (okay, so he does have a retinue, but it is a very small one).

rachaelmanija had some very snarky comments at this point about exactly why the fact that this is his best friend's girl is so important to Genji. I'll just note that Genji's given reaction is, she's everything To no Chujo said, and more! He becomes obessed. He goes to see her almost every day. He frets when he's not with her. Her childishness is endearing. He wants to kidnap her to his estates. He thinks it's madness, what's come over him -- were they bonded in a previous life? Etc.

One night there are workman outside being very loud -- Genji is reminded that he is in a poor neighborhood, where people actually do work -- and he proposes they relocate; when the lady asks to where, he suggests permanent concubinage.

The sun rises. He sweeps her into his arms and carries her to a nearly-abandonned villa. The lady is confused and frightened, Genji thinks fondly. That's so cute. Her servant woman Ukon begins to suspect who Genji might be; the lady has already guessed. Genji won't say, but that's okay: if he won't tell her his name, she won't tell him hers. They banter about this for a while.

In a very eerie scene, the lady dies, killed by a vengeful ghost.

***

The only thing that ruins the emotional impact of this moment is Koremitsu and Genji's subsequent discussion of how to quietly dispose of the body.

***

I'm being vulgar. There's a need for discretion, but the lady is buried properly, at a small Shinto shrine in the mountains. It's a beautiful ceremony. Her death and funeral have made Genji impure -- again no notes in the Seidensticker version, but I know and Waley notes that Shinto considered death defiling -- and so now he has to stay away from court for a while.

Genji falls ill from grief. Once again fearing that his extreme beauty is an indictator that he is not long for the world, his father the emperor orders all the temples to pray for his recovery. After twenty days, Genji recovers; his long illness has only made him more handsome. Meanwhile Ukon, the servant, has been installed in Genji's household.

***

Reading this for the second time, I know that it is grief that causes his illness -- the first time, I thought it must be some deathly contagious disease, and that the same disease must have killed the lady. Now when the narrative says it's a ghost, I can accept that it really is a ghost.

Another thing that really is: the woman really is To no Chujo's long-lost love affair. Genji decides to adopt her and his friend's child, a baby girl, without telling anyone (not even To no Chujo). The chapter ends with him and the step-mother from chapter three exchanging poetry, and the step-daughter from chapter three happily married to a leuitennant of the guards, so I guess I was wrong about her.

Genji's status at the end of this chapter: the extent to which he is living a double-life has become even more clear, as the affair and resultant death are kept entirely secret from the rest of the court, where Genji has a reputation as an entirely proper, upright young man. But we know the truth, don't we...at the end of this chapter, Murasaki notes that she has hopefully convinced the nay-sayers in her audience that even though Genji is perfect and a prince, he has problems too. In other words Genji's problems in this chapter are meant to enhance his appeal as a protagonist, in the same way that his illness within the chapter only makes him more handsome.

***

Autumn ends; winter begins.
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