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About the Author

Tekijän teokset

Associated Works

One Hundred Poems from the Japanese (1955) — Avustaja — 472 kappaletta
Women Poets of Japan (1977) — Avustaja — 130 kappaletta

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Muut nimet
Mother of Michitsuna



The writer of this diary is know only as "Michitsuna's mother". The diary starts with her future husband Fujiwara Kaneie courting her and encompasses the years 954 to 974. Since it is supposed she started writing the diary somewhere round the year 971, all the years before were written down retrospectively and as such are significantly colored by her experiences with her husband. She describes her depression, loneliness and her husband's negligence and unfaithfulness and is in general extremely prone to self-pity. This book gives us an interesting insight into Heian society and a woman's position in it.… (lisätietoja)
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NannyOgg13 | 8 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Mar 27, 2021 |
The narrator of this diary makes a wish on New Year’s morning, early in the second book – referring to her husband, “That he may be with me thirty days and thirty nights a month”. Unfortunately, she is a second wife in Heian-era Japan and her husband is not the faithful sort. The bulk of the diary describes her unhappy relationship with her husband, a well-connected and highly placed prince of the powerful Fujiwara family. Her jealousy and painful situation makes for an intense, if occasionally claustrophobic read. It provides an interesting contrast to other Heian-era diaries such as The Pillow Book and The Diary of Lady Murasaki (and of course her magnificent novel, The Tale of Genji, about a well-connected and highly placed prince, who has one real love but many, many women and affairs).

As with other Heian chroniclers, not much is known about the author of The Gossamer Years, not even her name. Often, women are referred to by their position or the position of a male relative. The narrator here is called the mother of Michitsuna. I read some comments on Heian diaries noting the dissonance of reading about the intimate details of these women’s lives while knowing very little about them, not even a name. This was definitely what I felt about the narrator of the Gossamer Years – we get a lot about her daily life and her unhappiness, but what is known about her is mostly her relations to various men. Oddly enough, she was related by blood or marriage to Sei Shonagon, Murasaki Shikibu and Sarashina (author of As I Crossed the Bridge of Dreams). The author was born to the provincial governor class and made what would be considered an excellent marriage to Kaneie Fujiwara.

The narrator describes her correspondence with her husband (the Prince, as he is referred to) with only a subtle allusion to their marriage. She mostly describes how resistant to his advances she was. The notes suggest that this part of the diary was written from memory, and it’s easy to see how the narrator’s bitterness at the marriage would have colored her writing about the initial courtship. At first, her husband visits her frequently (especially given that she was not his only wife and he did have a highly-placed position) but she resents every day or two that he is absent. The main crisis in the first section is her husband taking up with the “woman in the alley”, a woman from a lower class. The narrator’s rage, jealousy, and resentment take up a good portion of her diary. She had a son, but he was not enough. Unlike the other Heian-era diaries I read, she was not serving an Empress and found the time heavy on her hands. The descriptions of clothes, ceremonies and festivals are minimal compared with some other books from the same time. Although the narrator, like other highly ranked women, had serving women and a retinue, she was only happy in the company of her husband, her father or other family members (there are a few friends as well). The constant exchange of poems between the author and her husband will be familiar to anyone who has read Genji or The Pillow Book, but there are some differences – there are a couple very long poems with a detailed examination of the narrator’s or her husband’s feelings. Another dramatic event in the first book is the death of the narrator’s mother and her grief.

In the second book, things go well for the author initially – the Prince is consistent in his visits. When they start to slack, the author and her husband exchange angry or passive-aggressive poems. There’s a vicious cycle to the narrator’s behavior that provokes more unhappiness – she drives off her husband with her anger (sometimes not receiving him, or being irritable when he comes around), he stops visiting, she is unhappy, things continue in that fashion. She’s stuck between two bad options – show her anger, or hide it and pretend to be content when she is not. The author’s ideal relationship seems to be the modern ideal (that is today enforced as the Only Way) – a monogamous marriage where the couple spend all their time together. Her jealousy, and how it drives them further apart while making neither happy, is also understandable. The narrator describes how her son matures and starts to take part in public life. One of the few things, it seems, that she could do also makes various visits and pilgrimages to several shrines and temples. During an especially cold period with the Prince, the author thinks of becoming a nun and goes on a retreat to a temple for an extended period of time, leading to rumors that she has left her husband. The Prince comes to try to get her to return, sends many others, and even her family members try to persuade her to return. This seems to be another instance of the author being stuck with no good choices – she feels some relief with her retreat, but the world keeps trying to pull her back. At the end, she returns with her husband.

In the third part, the relationship grows colder and even the author seems resigned, although there are still multiple instances of her getting promises from the Prince that he will visit her, followed by her disappointment. The author continues to think about death or becoming a nun, but she does try to focus on other things – further trips to shrines, descriptions of her son’s flirtation, his continued rise, and her adopting a girl who was her husband’s daughter by another woman. A good portion of the final section describes the narrator’s attempts to manage a persistent suitor of her adopted daughter. In another irony, although her husband has pretty much abandoned her at this point, he is jealous as he thinks the man is making advances to the author. The diary breaks off in the middle.

The introduction is the original one from the 60’s and sometimes it feels a little paternalistic – the translator talking about hysteria and such. Still, there is a lot of good background there. Sometimes I felt the translator took liberties (for example, referring to as the author’s sister when the actual translation would be something like “someone close to her”). Although this is a fairly unhappy diary, I would recommend it to anyone interested in the Heian period.
… (lisätietoja)
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DieFledermaus | 8 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Jan 12, 2015 |
I only read the first 82 pages of this. Historically important, perhaps, but I found it tedious and ultimately couldn't continue with it.
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butrfli425 | 8 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Jun 15, 2010 |
Written around 1000 AD, this diary of a Heian noblewoman shares the story of her life as the second wife to a busy court official. Her comments form an insightful and eye-opening view of the marriage rituals of her time. For example, her husband did not live with her but maintained a visiting statues. She seemed crave his attention and was never satisified with the little time he could spare her. I read this book for a paper I wrote on the marriage practices of Heian Japan.
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mysteena | 8 muuta kirja-arvostelua | May 24, 2010 |



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Associated Authors

Sonja Arntzen Translator
Hannes Jähn Cover designer
Kaoru Ogimi Designer
Max Niehans Translator


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