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Murasaki Shikibu

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About Murasaki Shikibu:

Known for: writing what's considered the world's first novel, The Tale of Genji
Occupation: novelist, court attendant of Empress Akiko of Japan
Dates: about 976-978 - about 1026-1031
Also known as: Lady Murasaki; her real name is not known
Religion: Buddhist

Family:

  • father: Fujiwara Tamatoki
  • husband: Fujiwara Nobutaka, died 1001
  • daughter: born 999

Murasaki Shikibu Biography:

Murasaki Shikibu was born a member of the cultured Fujiwara family of Japan. A paternal great-grandfather had been a poet, as was her father. She was educated alongside her brother, including learning Chinese and writing. She was married to another member of the extensive Fujiwara family, had a daughter in 999, and her husband died in 1001. She lived quietly until 1004, when her father became governor of the province of Echizen.

Murasaki Shikibu was brought to the Japanese imperial court, where she attended the Empress Akiko, Emperor Ichijo's consort. For two years, from about 1008, Murasaki recorded in a diary what happened at court and what she thought about what happened.

She used some of what she'd recorded in this diary to write a fictional account of a prince named Genji -- and therefore the first known novel. The book, which covers four generations through Genji's grandson, was probably meant to be read aloud to her main audience, women.

After the emperor Ichijo died in 1011, Murasaki retired, perhaps to a convent.

Her real name is not known. "Murasaki" means "violet" and may have been taken from a character in The Tale of Genji.

The book The Tale of Genji was translated into English by Arthur Waley in 1926.

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