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Genji and Women

21 Jun

Sam wrote nicely about all the guy talk in book 2, so it seems like a good time to look into the way that Genji actually interacts with women (or acts AT women, frequently.) Genji is blessed, we are told again and again, with physical beauty and fabulous penmanship. This latter quality is delightfully explicated when Utsusemi reads a letter from Genji: “His writing was so extraordinarily beautiful that her eyes misted over, and she lay down to ponder the strange destiny that had broken in upon her otherwise dreary life.” These days it’s usually the content of the writing that attracts the girl; in our aesthetically degraded age, not many of us would get too far on our handwriting.

But not many of us (blessedly) would get very far with Genji’s other seduction techniques either. I may need some help from a Book 2 expert on this, but as far as I can tell, Genji bursts into the sleeping chamber of the wife of the Iyo deputy (in a home in which he is being treated as an important guest), carries her away, and sleeps with her (?) despite her protests. This last activity remains somewhat obscure to me, but I hope I’m not being obtuse if I say that what actually takes place between them seems ambiguous. Genji spends the night, yes, but does he spend the entire time trying to talk her into having sex with him, or does the act occur?

When he first enters her chamber we are told that Genji “spoke to her so gently she could not very well cry out rudely, ‘There is a man in here!’ because not even a demon would have wished to resist him…” A similar reluctance to resist Genji afflicts Utsusemi’s waiting woman, Chujo: “If he had been anyone ordinary she would have wrested her mistress bodily from him, but even that would have been a risk, since everyone else would then have known what was going on…”

Once they are laying together Genji is not without some degree of discomfort—“It upset him to find that his forwardness really did repel her”—but reassures her, and presumably himself, that his desire is of a higher quality than a simple “whim,” which justifies his action. The narrator tells us that, even though the woman is “pliant by nature”(!) she “resembled the supple bamboo, which does not break.” The line in this section that seems to directly implicate an actual sexual act refers to another of Genji’s tinges of remorse: “It pained him to be the culprit, but he knew that he would have been sorry not to have had her.” And Utsusemi tells him he “must forget this ever happened.”

Genji’s willfulness and lack of regard for Utsusemi’s wishes is especially discomfiting from a modern perspective, but he’s not behaving well for his own era either, I suspect. Later, in the terrifying and deeply upsetting “House of the Twilight Beauty” he faces much more dire consequences for his letting his passion get the best of him, but I’ll save discussion of that one for another post. I had started this in the hope of writing more explicitly about the link between Genji and later European romantic heroes, particularly Byron’s Don Juan (Genji= Don Ju-on?), but I have a feeling this will be a theme for much of our next thousand pages as well. So maybe for now Chris or Sam or Laura or Meechal (where you at?) can help explain to me what happened in the Broom Tree.– Andrew Martin