The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon

By: Waley, Arthur

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The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon by Waley, Arthur (translator)
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London: George Allen and Unwin, 1949. 162 pages. page facing title creased. Some underlinings and notes - the last page bears a tick and the words "Tokyo 10/3/56 AW", evidently the date the previous owner (Alan Watt - inscribed front endpaper hidden by cover) finished reading. Dust jacket frayed around edges and spine, small pieces missing from top and bottom of spine. A delightful book of miscellanea from the Imperial Japanese Court in 1000 CE. Sei Shonagon's family was literarily but not politically influential. Except for her period at the Japanese court, we know nothing about her life. She may have been married before she became a court attendant; she may have had a son. In 990 she became an attendant to Empress Sadako /Teshi, the daughter of Fujiwara Michitaka. Her name, "Shonagon" refers to the position she held at court (Minor Counselor); "Sei" is the name of her family. For five years, Sadako's apartments were the center of the court's cultural activity. However, in 995, Michitaka died, and his position as the power behind the throne was taken by his brother, Michinaga, who had brought his own daughter, Shoshi /Akiko, to the Emperor's attention. From then on, Sadako's position became increasingly insecure, but Shonagon remained with her until Sadako's death in childbirth at the end of 1000. We have no details of Shonagon's life after 1001: it appears that she began Makura no soshi at court and finished it after Sadako's death, perhaps as late as 1010, and possibly as a gift for Sadako's daughter. Makura no soshi (Pillow book) is made up of about 320 separate sections: reminiscences; opinions and imaginative sketches; and lists, some with comments, others merely lists of words. The datable sections are not in chronological order, and since the earliest extant manuscript dates from the 1500s, we have no way of knowing if the current order of the sections represents Shonagon's plan. The work has always been highly regarded by Japanese readers, and scholars see it as a model of linguistic purity because it uses few Chinese words. Some think it is a greater work than Murasaki Shikibu's Genji monogatari, due to its variety and its compressed language. In any case, it is delightful to read, even in translation, and in it we can hear Shonagon's distinctive voice. . Cloth. Good - Very Good/Fair. 12mo - over 6¾" - 7¾" tall.

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