Japanese Author – Murasaki Shibiku


Murasaki Shibiku was a Japanese author who got her name from the one of the characters, Lady Murasaki, of her novel. The real name of the author is not known but some believe it might be Fujiwara no Kaoruko as this name is mentioned in a court diary of that period.


Murasaki Shibikuwas born in 978, in Kyōto, Japan and died in 1014. The dates are contested.  She was a poet, novelist and a lady-in-waiting at the king’s court during the Heian period. Heian women were not allowed to study but Murasaki was an exception as she was raised in a learned family with an erudite father. She had an aptitude to learn classics and soon became very fluent in it. She is the most renowned Japanese novelist as her ‘The Tale of Genji’ is believed to be the first novel of the world, years before ‘Robinson Crusoe’ was written. As she was a reputed writer she was asked to serve as lady-in-waiting to Empress Shoshi. She did not stop writing even as she served in the court and her work had the flavours of her experiences in the court. When Emperor Ichijo died in 1011, the empress went to live in Fujiwara mansion in Biwa. It is believed that Murasaki accompanied the empress. It is believed that she died in 1014 after giving to the world an epic of a novel.


When ‘The Tale of Genji’ was written Heian society was at its peak and this is reflected well in the novel. The aristocrats of the court were skilled in calligraphy, music, poetry and courtship. The main character of the novel is Prince Genji and it is his romantic tales. He had many women in his life who have been portrayed beautifully. Nature is also portrayed abundantly in the novel. There is no exciting action in the novel but the sensitivity to human emotions makes the novel outstanding. Towards the end of the novel there is rejection of earlier enthusiasm and it is darkness. It is believed by then Musrasaki was influenced by Buddhism. Some others say that the last fourteen chapters were written by someone else.

Popular works by the author

Other popular works were ‘The Diary of Lady Murasaki’ and ‘Poetic Memories’. The English translation of ‘The Tale of Genji’ is written by Arthur Waley and it went on to become a classic of English literature. ‘Poetic Memories is a compilation of 128 poems.

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