A Woman to Know: Murasaki Shikibu

Without stories like these about the olden days, though, how would we ever pass the time? — Murasaki

(image via Boston Museum of Fine Arts)

On the wide, leafy porch of her father's house in Kyoto, Murasaki Shikibu wrote "The Tale of Genji," considered the first novel in history. Women in 10th century Japan weren't permitted to learn reading or writing, but Murasaki's father recognized his daughter's gift, training her in Chinese classics. By the time she was older, she was just too good to be punished for her once-secret skill — in fact, it was Murasaki's beautiful poetry that scored her an invitation to the Palace.

Her own experience as a lady-in-waiting for Empress Shoshi later inspired the twists and turns in "Genji," and the people populating its pages. The richly-depicted scenes of Imperial Kyoto, ancient Japanese romance and life within the Heian court are beloved by historians and fiction readers alike.

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