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Baroness Murasaki Shikibu

"...[there was a] moment in the history of our country when the whole energy of the nation seemed to be concentrated upon the search for the prettiest method of mounting paper scrolls!"
-Baroness Murasaki Shikibu about the nature of court life in her time

Murasaki Shikibu was born around 978 A.D. in Kyoto, Japan to the Fujiwara family. Her real name is unknown, but it is thought that she possibly got her name from the name of her novel's heroine. Not much is known about her, for she wrote in a diary from 1007 to 1010 and that is the only real source of her known biography. She was educated by her father and learned the language of Chinese. While in her early 20's it was necessary for her to marry a distant relative and together, they had their only child, a daughter, in 999. However, her husband died in 1001.

After this event, Murasaki chose to join the court. It was there that she wrote what she is known for today: Genji-monogatari, also called The Tale of Genji in English. It told facts about the upper class of society while integrating the story of a prince named Genji who has a life full of complications. It was written sometime between 1001 and 1010 and was published in 1011. This book became very popular and was read out loud throughout Japan. It also influenced (for centuries, I might add) Japan's literature by establishing a standard. Many imitations or works based on Genji-monogatari were written as well.

Close to nothing is known about Murasaki's later years of life. It is simply known that she died around 1014 A.D. in Kyoto, Japan. In 1935, her book was translated into English by Arthur Waley, and it was produced as an animated movie in 1987 and honored as a "cultural masterpiece." Murasaki Shikibu was the best known author from the Heian period in Japan and may very well have been the first modern novelist in the world.

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