Modern Japanese Novels and the West

Modern Japanese Novels and the West (1961)
by Donald Keene, illustrated by Narashige Koide
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Modern Japanese Novels and the West

Modern Japanese Novels
and the West
Japanese characters
By Donald Keene
University of Virginia Press

Copyright 1961
University of Virginia
The Committee on the Rushton Seminars

Mr. Keene’s appearance on the Rushton Seminars

was made possible by The Ellen Bayard Weedon Foundation

Modern Japanese Novels and the West

Modern Japanese Novels
and the West
Japanese characters

The Japanese Novel is today coming into its own as an important part of the literature of the world. The translations which have appeared have been generously, sometimes even extravagantly praised by reviewers. Although none has yet achieved best-seller popularity, sales have been respectable. Adventuresome instructors of comparative literature have begun to include modern Japanese novels in their reading lists, and some titles are even available in lurid paperbacks at drugstores across the country. It may not be long before our critics when writing about twentieth-century fiction discover that it may be found outside Europe and America. Readers already know that the modern Japanese novel affords not merely the delights of exoticism, but the insights that underlie all novels of lasting merit.

The rise to world recognition of the modern Japanese novel, mainly through American translations, would undoubtedly have much surprised the men who first created it, almost literally from nothing. Although the novel in Japan has a longer history than in any other country—the first important one, The Tale of Genji, dates back to the year 1010—it had sunk to its lowest point by the middle of the nineteenth century and had ceased to be of literary significance. Prior to the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853 and the restoration of imperial power under the Emperor Meiji in 1868, Japan had been sealed off from the rest of the world by her own choice for over two hundred years. At first this period of peaceful isolation fostered the unique qualities of Japanese literature, but with no outside stimuli at all for so many years, Japanese writers exhausted their talents. Debased imitations of older novels, some moralistic and some pornographic, made up the bulk of literary production. In the effort to intrigue readers when they could not convince them, novelists invented plots with incessant and absurd surprises. Constant references to current scandals and personalities made their books ephemeral; it is sometimes quite impossible today to decipher the allusions. Such traditional novels as The Tale of Genji or The Tale of the Heiké had occupied the attention of great scholars and even emperors, and were at times the chief object of a lifetime of study. But by 1868, when the new era in Japanese history began, serious men had reached a point where they showed nothing but contempt for contemporary novels. Indeed, novels were considered unworthy to be read, let alone studied. Fiction tended to be of the order found in this country in the worst sort of magazines.

There is no way to predict what course Japanese literature might have followed had contact with the West been further delayed. It might have revived of itself by discovering neglected subjects even within the traditional materials. This, however, seems improbable. An innate ability to write fine novels may have been dormant in the Japanese people, but without the sudden shock of European literature, no awakening was likely. The eagerness with which translations into Japanese were greeted in the 1870’s and 80’s surely indicates this. The new Japanese literature did not, however, spring into the world simultaneously with the Restoration of 1868. Novelists and playwrights were not able to alter their styles and subjects as easily as other Japanese turned from hand crafts to machines or from native drinks to whiskey and beer. For the most part they contented themselves with lending a certain topicality to their otherwise stale accounts of the doings of rakes and courtesans by mentioning peculiarities of Western dress or joking about the recently introduced steamship and railroad. Not until translations of European works began to appear could the West exert any real influence on Japanese literature.

The first translation of a literary work from the English was of Bulwer Lytton’s novel Ernest Maltravers. It is not clear why this book, which first appeared in England in 1837, should have seemed to the translator more suitable than any other masterpiece of European literature for introduction to Japanese readers, but its great success on publication in 1878 justified the choice. The Japanese, who for a decade had been schooled to believe that Europeans were models of utter efficiency and practicality, unaffected like themselves by the emotions, were surprised to discover that even Europeans had a tenderer side to their lives. The title Ernest Maltravers was rendered in Japanese as “A Spring Tale of Blossoms and Willows,” an indication of what attracted most readers to the book. The background of English political life was also of great interest to the Japanese, at the moment absorbed in the struggle for a constitution and self-government.

Other works translated in the early days of the Emperor Meiji’s reign included Eighty Days Around the World (1878), Télémaque by Fenelon (1879), excerpts from the Decameron (1882) and Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (1882). The selection is certainly puzzling, not to say chaotic, but every book translated aroused tremendous excitement in Japan. The seventeenth-century Télémaque offered not only exotic literary pleasures but the challenge of new political ideas to the Japanese of 1882. These translations served especially to arouse the interest of the intelligentsia in literature once more after a long period of contempt. They helped also to make new Japanese novels more serious in tone and content, thereby introducing a new concept of the function of fiction. Finally, they were instrumental in bringing about the literary revolution which was to take place at the end of the same decade. The Japanese could never be the same again. Even if the Japanese novelists of the 1880’s had elected to restrict themselves to the time-tested themes of their predecessors, they would inevitably have treated these themes differently. The modern novel had ceased to be thought of as a mere diversion, as ribald as the censorship would allow, and redeemed only by occasional bows in the direction of the traditional morality. It was believed to be capable of fulfilling a serious purpose.

The first novel written by a Japanese under the influence of the translated literature appeared in 1880. Not surprisingly, it was little more than a tentative stab. Three years later was published Inspiring Instances of Statesmanship by Yano Ryûkei,[1] an historical novel about Epaminondas of Thebes. We may feel that the career of an ancient Greek general was not an auspicious subject for the fledgling Japanese literary movement, but the novel was acclaimed in its day by readers who saw in the virtuous and heroic actions of Epaminondas a model for the Japanese. When this novel was dramatized and performed on the Tokyo stage the characters wore traditional Japanese garb and not the togas of ancient Greece. Inspiring Instances of Statesmanship was welcomed by the public not for its exotic or antiquarian details but for its revolutionary message.

Another highly successful political novel, Fortuitous Meetings With Beautiful Women by “The Recluse of the Eastern Seas,” appeared in 1885–87. This work describes a Japanese wanderer, first inspired by the ideals of the American Revolution to plan the enfranchisement of Asia. Everywhere he goes he meets revolutionaries who have suffered for freedom, including two extraordinary ladies, an Irish beauty named Crimson Lotus who fought against English rule, and a Spanish noblewoman named Mysterious Orchid who is dedicated to the cause of political liberty in her country. Both women are seemingly attracted by the lonely wanderer, but after an inconclusive romance with them, he moves on, more interested in gathering data for his study of popular uprisings than in their feminine charms.

The true beginning of the modern Japanese novel is usually traced to the critical study The Essence of the Novel, published by Tsubouchi Shôyô in 1885. Tsubouchi, while a student at Tokyo University in 1881, attended lectures delivered by an American professor on the plays of Shakespeare. On one occasion the professor asked his class to discuss the character of Gertrude in Hamlet. Tsubouchi’s answer, couched in terms of the traditional Japanese morality, earned for him an extremely bad mark. This set him to pondering the differences between Eastern and Western thought, and he began to investigate by reading whatever English books were available. In 1883, when he was only twenty-four, he completed The Essence of the Novel, though it was not to be published until two years later, owing to general apathy in the literary world. Not more than 200 copies of the book were sold, but its influence was all out of proportion to the sales. Later, men recalled that its appearance shook the intelligentsia as few books before or since.

Most of the definitions of the functions of the novel and the suggestions for its improvement enunciated by Tsubouchi in The Essence of the Novel may be traced to his readings in Western literature and criticism. What gave the book its great authority, however, was his practice of referring each statement to instances drawn from the Japanese literature of the preceding fifty years. Although he quoted European authorities, it was clear that he took nothing on faith. Each quotation was considered in the light of its implications for Japanese writing. He distinguished two categories of novels, the didactic and the artistic. To the former category he assigned all Japanese novels of recent years, not only those with a moralistic intent, but even the books of gossip of the licensed quarters, which had the effect of holding up to ridicule the mores of the day. Tsubouchi insisted that the so-called didactic works lacked any genuine moral character. “It has long been the custom in Japan to consider the novel as an instrument of education, and it has frequently been proclaimed that the novel’s chief function is the castigation of vice and the encouragement of virtue. In actual practice, however, only stories of bloodthirsty cruelty or else of pornography are welcomed, and very few readers even cast so much as a glance at works of a more serious nature.”

Tsubouchi claimed that the artistic novel, his second category, was no longer being written in Japan. The purpose of the artistic novel, he said, was to bring pleasure to cultivated men through a criticism of society. Because European novels belong to this category, they are read even by the greatest men abroad. “However,” he wrote, “in Japan it has been customary to consider the novel a mere plaything. Japanese authors are resigned to this situation, and none of them has thought of how he might improve his novels and make them works of art capable of bringing pleasure to mature, cultivated men. Comparing the novels and romances written in our country with those of the West is like comparing an ukiyoe print with a landscape in oils by a master. The print is not necessarily clumsy in its execution, but lacking as it does the qualities of refinement which might satisfy cultivated minds, it serves merely to amuse women and children.”

Tsubouchi proposed various changes in the Japanese novel which might enable them to attain the level of those written in Europe. The most important was the use of realism; that is, the practice of describing life as it actually is led, instead of resorting to the aimless fantasies and surprises of the past. Realism would inevitably affect not only the plots but the characters of the novels. In the didactic fiction of the early nineteenth century the heroes were always depicted as flawlessly, incredibly virtuous men who never knew a moment of hesitation much less of failing. Tsubouchi argued that such characters, being essentially unbelievable, forfeited their claims on the readers’ attention, and in the end the didactic interests of the book were thwarted. At the same time, the reader derived none of the pleasure from it that a European novel supplied.

The least satisfactory part of Tsubouchi’s study was that relating to the language suitable for novels. Tsubouchi was aware that Western novels were of necessity written entirely in the modern tongue, but he felt so strong an attachment to the beautiful phrases of the classical Japanese style that he found it unthinkable for a whole novel to be written entirely in the colloquial. By the end of the nineteenth century the gulf between the colloquial language actually spoken by the Japanese and the language found in books was almost as great as between Chaucer’s and contemporary English. Even trivial romances were frequently couched in archaic phraseology, and the novelist who wrote of his experiences in Berlin during the 1800’s felt obliged to make his German characters speak in medieval Japanese. Tsubouchi’s attitude on writing a novel entirely in modern Japanese may be imagined if we consider the proposal that henceforth all American novels, regardless of subject, be written in the dialect of an Indiana farm hand, on the grounds that it is the typical American speech. There was no tradition in Japan of using the colloquial for literary purposes, and nobody was even sure how to write some of the words commonly spoken. Tsubouchi compromised by suggesting that the dialogue in modern novels be in the colloquial, but the descriptions be left in the classical language. He himself followed up The Essence of the Novel with a novel in which he tried to incorporate his theories, but he was unequal to the task. Despite his awareness of the failings of the old novels, he was still too closely connected with them, especially in language, to make any real break with the past.

The first important novel to appear in Japan after Tsubouchi’s manifesto was The Drifting Cloud by Futabatei Shimei, published 1887–89. Like almost every other contribution to the literature of the time, The Drifting Cloud was the work of a young man—Futabatei at the time was only twenty-three. Another important literary group of the 1880’s

(the Kenyûsha “Friends of the Inkstone Society”) had for its oldest member a dotard of twenty-four, and ranged downwards to fifteen-year-olds. The writers of the previous decade were too set in their ways to be converted to the new literature, which was largely the product of the new education. Futabatei himself attended a government school where the pupils received most of their education, even in such subjects as geography and mathematics, in the Russian language. Although the purpose of the school was to train young Japanese to deal with the Russians in Saghalien and other areas of conflicting Russo-Japanese interests, the students were given an excellent grounding in Russian literature. If anything suffered it was their knowledge of the Japanese classics. Unkind critics when discussing The Drifting Cloud, the first novel written entirely in the colloquial, have suggested that Futabatei chose this style because he was unable to cope with the florid literary language popular with novelists of the day. Be that as it may, the shift from the archaic phraseology of earlier books to the modern speech was a vital step in the development of realistic fiction. Even though many Japanese novelists continued to employ the old language for another decade or so, it was doomed. Writers today are all the literary heirs of Futabatei.

The Drifting Cloud is a brilliant portrayal of the newly-arisen society of its time. It is particularly successful in its treatment of the new men of the bureaucracy and the intelligentsia. The hero, a young man named Bunzô, is utterly unlike the characters found in Japanese novels of a few years earlier. He is timid and ineffectual. Far from capturing the affection of scores of young ladies by his manly charms, he feebly allows the one girl he loves to be taken from him by another man. Futabatei’s interest in Russian literature has led critics to suggest that The Drifting Cloud was inspired by Goncharov’s famous novel Oblomov, the supreme portrait of the lethargic hero. Oblomov may well have offered Futabatei some germs of inspiration, but The Drifting Cloud is certainly no mere imitation or Japanese adaptation of Oblomov. The book is entirely faithful to the Japan it describes—more so, certainly, than novels composed in the traditional manner, which by 1887 had become an anachronism. European influence enabled Futabatei to be a thoroughly Japanese writer. It liberated him from a literary past which deserved to be rejected. And his book in many ways surpasses Oblomov. It is a masterpiece of its kind and almost unbelievably good as the first work of a new movement.

Many translations of European novels appeared in the 1880’s and 90’s. They were chosen more systematically than before and executed with comparative fidelity to the originals. In the wake of translations came more and more Japanese works written under their influence. Some of them so closely follow their European prototypes as to excite our smiles today, but a period of close imitation was necessary before the Japanese could speak with their own voices in the new idiom. When Japanese novelists wanted to describe their experiences in the new Japan, they found that the traditional Japanese literature could offer them little help. Each year brought fresh excitement from abroad as the Japanese caught up with literary developments in Europe. It was natural that they should experiment with all the new forms. However, their chief object remained always to be themselves, men of Meiji Japan, and they had no desire to imitate for the sake of deception. Their activity may be likened to that of the French painters of the nineteenth century who copied, sometimes literally as in the case of Van Gogh, the ukiyoe prints, not because they wished to rival the Japanese artists, but because they thought that ukiyoe techniques might help them express their own emotions and perceptions. It has nevertheless been the fashion in the West whenever translations have appeared of Japanese novels written during the past sixty years, to point out resemblances to well-known European examples, and then to conclude that the modern Japanese novel is entirely derivative. One reviewer dismissed my anthology of modern Japanese literature as “skilful exercises in imitation,” though I think he would have been at a loss to say precisely of what. Other critics have been quick to express regrets that the Japanese ever permitted themselves to become contaminated by Western influence, instead of holding fast to their own great traditions.[2]

Such criticism fails to take into account the fact that borrowing from the West was not affectation but the only way a literature suited to a modern nation could be created. It also ignores the truth that such borrowings have been necessary for the survival of every literature at decisive times. Here, for example, is what Louis Kronenberger wrote of Restoration comedy. “A vast number of Restoration comedies are related to Latin comedies or Elizabethan comedies or French comedies. Some are related to two or three: Wycherley’s masterpiece, The Country Wife, is part descendant of Molière’s Ecole des femmes, part of his Ecole des maris. But for the most part this business of genealogy seems to me quite barren and unrewarding: to be much concerned with it in life is to be a snob, and to be much concerned with it in literature is to be a pedant.”[3] This judgment might well be applied to Japanese writing of the past eighty years. Futabatei’s Bunzô sprawled on the tatami, staring blankly at the ceiling, may be a spiritual descendant of Goncharov’s Oblomov reclining on his couch, but the characters in the two novels are as different as Russian and Japanese.

Even after the appearance of The Drifting Cloud had seemingly pointed a new direction, Japanese writers of the next twenty or thirty years did not give up their literary heritage easily. Far from flinging away old traditions in a mad rush to imitate the West (a picture we are all too often given of their activity), most of them clung to familiar styles and themes as long as it was decently possible. The worst features of the old novels—minute enumerations of clothing and personal adornments, lyrical but extraneous descriptions of the seasons, embarrassing accounts of weeping and fainting heroes and heroines—continued to dot the works of the new writers. There were even instances of authors who first accepted the form and content of European literature only to turn back later to Japanese traditions. One outstanding writer in this category was Mori Ōgai (1862–1922). Mori spent four years in Germany, from 1884 to 1888, as a student of medicine, but while there he also read literature and philosophy. He made translations of Goethe, Hans Christian Andersen, and modern French poetry. His first original story, The Dancing Girl, published in 1890, dealt with the unhappy love affair of a Japanese student and a German dancer, an autobiographical subject as we know from other evidence. The story does not imitate any specific European work, but its confessional tone certainly owed much to German romantic fiction. He followed The Dancing Girl with A Record of a Fleeting Life, a wildly melodramatic tale involving a Japanese painter, a beautiful German model, and Ludwig II, the mad king of Bavaria. Mori was later to shock his contemporaries with the detailed self-revelations of his Vita Sexualis.

While Mori was busy writing his most romantic novel, The Wild Goose, word came in 1912 that General Nogi, the hero of the Russo-Japanese War, had committed suicide with his wife. The old couple had not wished to survive their master, the Emperor Meiji, who died earlier in the same year. Their dramatic gesture, the product of the same Confucian training which Mori himself had received, moved him so deeply that the novels he wrote from then on until his death are all panegyrics of the old samurai morality. One of the

novels of his last period bears a preface with his guarantee that every incident related in the book was factually correct. It would be hard to imagine a more complete rejection of the German literary traditions which he had so long admired, but Mori could not forget the lessons he had learned. Even when he was describing some samurai of a hundred years before who had disembowelled himself to preserve his honor, Mori treated the material with modern psychological insights, and not with the conventional moralization of the old chroniclers. His style too was new (many novelists today consider Mori’s prose the finest of modern Japanese), and quite unlike the traditional literary language. Mori could return to the past only with a consciousness of the present.

This same dilemma may be traced through the writings of Tanizaki Jun’ichirô (born 1886), the most distinguished living Japanese novelist. As a young man he shocked his associates with his checked suits and gaudy neckties, and was a notorious frequenter of the foreign quarter in Yokohama. He studied English literature at Tokyo University for a time, and his readings in Edgar Allan Poe may account for the macabre intensity of his early works. His fondness for Western things did not, however, prevent him from feeling a warm nostalgia for the old Japanese literature. In 1919, for example, the same year that he translated Lady Windermere’s Fan, he published a volume of erotic stories in the style of the Japanese 1830’s, as well as two novellas in a Chinese vein. It is recorded that when Tanizaki heard of the great earthquake of 1923, he rejoiced that the city of Tokyo, which embodied all that he hated in the old Japan, was at last destroyed. But in the following year he published A Fool’s Love, the story of a man whose fascination for a European-looking waitress makes him endure repeated insults and humiliation. The man is ashamed of his protruding teeth and other caricaturish Japanese features, and can only conceive of beauty in terms of an un-Japanese woman. At the end of the novel the man, willing to yield to any conditions the waitress may impose providing he can stay with her, agrees that she may live in a Western-style house in Yokohama and entertain as many foreign men friends as she pleases.

The condemnation of Japanese worship of the West implicit in A Fool’s Love takes another form in Tanizaki’s next major novel Some Prefer Neffles (1928). The hero of this work is attracted both to the new, a Eurasian prostitute, and the old, a Kyoto beauty. In the opening chapter we find him reclining in a deck chair wearing casual but well-tailored flannels, reading an unexpurgated English translation of The Arabian Nights. At the end of the novel the Kyoto lady, looking ghostly in the semi-darkness of his room, brings him an armful of books bound in the old-fashioned Japanese style. In between these two scenes we watch the hero—no doubt Tanizaki himself—gradually rediscover his own past. A decade later Tanizaki’s love for the classic literature was to lead him to devote years to a translation into modern Japanese of The Tale of Genji. He has recently completed a second, completely revised translation of the same work. His longest original novel, The Makioka Sisters (1944–47), has been likened to The Tale of Genji, and is an elegy for the passing of the traditional Japan—not the pristine Japan before European influence had changed the face of the country, but the world Tanizaki knew before 1941.

Mori Ōgai’s rejection of the West did not eradicate the Western influence in his novels; Tanizaki Jun’ichirô’s was expressed almost in Western terms. When Tanizaki’s nostalgia led him to exalt the traditional ways—as, for example, when he praised the solid, dignified architecture of the old cities, so unlike the flimsy structures of today—he was hardly different from a European expressing delight at picturesque Japan. Tanizaki was charmed by the dark, musty rooms of a traditional house, mainly because he knew also the concrete and glass of contemporary architecture. His rediscovery of the old literature was in some ways an exoticism directed at his own country.

Akutagawa Ryûnosuke (1892–1927), best known in this country as the author of Rashômon, was also fascinated by the old literature, but he took a wayward delight in perverting it to his own rather unhealthy tastes. In his reinterpretation of the ancient stories he supplied the characters with modern, often specifically Western motivations, twisting a conventional romance into a neurotic intrigue. In his story Kesa and Moritô, for example, he deliberately alters all the elements of the classical tale. The rough soldier Moritô in the original is so overcome by Kesa’s beauty that he determines to kill her husband in order to make her his wife. In Akutagawa’s version, Moritô finds on seeing Kesa again three years after their first love affair that “she was no longer beautiful…. Now her skin was lustreless; her smooth cheeks and neck had withered; only those clear, proud, black eyes … and there were dark rings around them.”[4] He agrees to kill Kesa’s husband only for fear that she will mock him otherwise. Kesa, who in the original takes her husband’s place and is killed by Moritô because she prefers death to dishonor, in Akutagawa’s story desires to die at Moritô’s hands because she realizes that he now finds her ugly, and she has not the courage to kill herself. Such complexities of modern psychology undoubtedly gave new life to the old tale, though they were hardly faithful to the spirit of the original. Unlike Mori and Tanizaki, who moved from West to East, Akutagawa, after beginning his career with stories drawn from the old collections, ended it with autobiographical fiction little marked by Eastern themes.

The cases of Mori Ōgai, Tanizaki Jun’ichirô, and Akutagawa Ryûnosuke represent three possible resolutions of the conflict between the traditional literature and Western influence. Even a man as devoted to Japanese ideals as Mori could not pretend after he had been exposed to the techniques and intelligence of Western literature that he wrote like a novelist of a hundred years before. But the distinction between East and West was rapidly becoming blurred, even in the mind of a man as sensitive as Tanizaki. In his novel The Makioka Sisters, the most Japanese of the sisters shows to her best advantage in Western clothes and is fond of playing the piano; on the other hand, the sister who is condemned for her excessively un-Japanese ways is a skilled performer of the traditional dances. The two worlds have become inseparably mingled.

Reading contemporary Japanese fiction as outsiders, we are likely to be startled now by the unexpected closeness to our own world, now by its remoteness. Yet, as anyone who has visited Japan knows, this is exactly the impression Japan itself produces today. It is not surprising therefore that the literature, which reflects contemporary Japan, should be equally heterogenous. Some writers today are still worried about what is truly Japanese. They may write works based on folk themes, believing them to be closer to the Japanese people than anything imported from the West. Or they may deliberately refrain from using any of the countless words borrowed from English and other European languages. But for most writers anything in Japan today, however obviously of Western origin, is a fit subject for a Japanese writer.

It is true that even the young intellectuals who burn with concern over politics and economics may read with a pleasure that Western novels do not quite afford the picaresque tales of the last century. Professors of English or French are also likely to confess that their real love is Japanese literature. Such preferences, however, are apt to be born of nostalgia or love of the Japanese language itself rather than the product of a theory of literature. For all the wealth of foreign novels available in Japanese translation, the Japanese not surprisingly still prefer works which touch directly on their own daily lives.

Japanese literature today in its main developments is rapidly becoming a branch of the modern literature of the world. It retains its identity as a branch because of the individuality of its long and persistent traditions. Most writers, if asked how their novels were distinguishable from those of their European contemporaries, would probably reply that it was in being written by Japanese. The Japaneseness, they would insist, is a quality more

successfully revealed unconsciously than deliberately displayed. Japanese literature of this century has shared in all of the international movements—symbolism, surrealism, socialism, existentialism, and the rest have each had their Japanese followers. It is possible moreover to trace at times the direct influence of some Western writer on a Japanese one. More often the resemblances between contemporary Japanese writing and that produced elsewhere stem from the fact that the Japanese now undergo many of the same experiences as Europeans and Americans, though formerly they belonged to an entirely different world. The war, the hectic post-war period, the growth of mass communications, the rebellion of the younger generation, and other features of the past fifteen years have had regional variants in Japan, but are part of the wider experience of our time.

As yet the current of influence has gone in one way from Western literature to Japanese literature, but this condition is today as much the product of ignorance as of superiority on the part of the West. Unlike the Japanese, who are abreast of all developments in fiction and criticism abroad, writers in Europe and America have paid scant attention to the great revival of Japanese literature during the past eighty years, both because of language difficulties and because of the conviction that Japan is too remote from their own experiences. However, as more translations are published, writers in the West may find in them techniques which may be successfully and unselfconsciously applied to their own novels. If this should happen, the world would be richer for the exchange. The dream of Tsubouchi Shôyô in 1885 of improving Japanese novels “until we may finally be able to surpass in quality the European novels, and permit our novels to take a glorious place along with painting, music, and poetry on the altar of the arts” would also be that much closer to realization.

  1. In this essay I have adopted the Japanese order of names: surname followed by personal name.
  2. At the time of the Kabuki performances in New York in 1960, one critic deplored the obvious Western influences in the comedy Migawari Zazen. As a matter of fact, this play is based on a sixteenth-century text with no Western influence whatsoever.
  3. The Thread of Laughter, p. 76.
  4. Translation by Howard Hibbett.

A Select List of
Modern Japanese Novels
Available in English Translation

  • Akutagawa, Ryûnosuke. Hell Screen, translated by W. H. H. Norman; Pasadena, Calif., P. D. & Ione Perkins, 1948.
  • Akutagawa, Ryûnosuke. Rashomon and Other Stories, translated by T. Kojima; New York, Liveright Publishing Company, 1952. An imported edition was distributed in 1952 by Tuttle, and a paperback edition was published in 1959 by Bantam.
  • Dazai, Osamu. No Longer Human, translated by Donald Keene; Norfolk, Conn., New Directions, 1959.
  • Dazai, Osamu. The Setting Sun, translated by Donald Keene; Norfolk, Conn., New Directions, 1956.
  • Kawabata, Yasunari. Snow Country, translated by E. G. Seidensticker; New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1956. A Paperback edition was published in 1957 by Berkley.
  • Kawabata, Yasunari. The Thousand Cranes, translated by E. G. Seidensticker; New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1959.
  • Mishima, Yukio. Confessions of a Mask, translated by Meredith Weatherby; Norfolk, Conn., New Directions, 1958.
  • Mishima, Yukio. The Sound of Waves, translated by Meredith Weatherby; New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1956.
  • Mishima, Yukio. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, translated by Ivan Morris; New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1959.
  • Mori, Ōgai. The Wild Geese, translated by Kingo Ochiai and Sanford Goldstein; Rutland, Vt., C. E. Tuttle Company, 1959.
  • Natsume, Soseki. Kokoro, translated by Edwin McClellan; New York, Henry Regnery Company, 1958.
  • Ooka, Shohei. Fires on the Plain, translated by Ivan Morris; New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1957.
  • Osaragi, Jiro. Homecoming, translated by Brewster Horwitz; New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1955.
  • Osaragi, Jiro. The Journey, translated by Ivan Morris; New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1960.
  • Tanizaki, Junichiro, The Key, translated by Howard Hibbett; New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1961.
  • Tanizaki, Junichiro. The Makioka Sisters, translated by E. G. Seidensticker; New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1957.
  • Tanizaki, Junichiro. Some Prefer Nettles, translated by E. G. Seidensticker; New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1955.

Peters Rushton Seminars in
Contemporary Prose and Poetry

McGregor Room Seminars

  • Donald S. Stauffer, The Poetry of William Butler Yeats, December 5, 1946.
  • Edwin Berry Burgum, The Work of James Joyce, January 16, 1947.
  • Willard Thorp, The Poetry of T. S. Eliot, March 21, 1947.
  • Theodore Spencer, The Poetry of W. H. Auden, May 16, 1947.
  • Cleanth Brooks, Poetry in the Age of Anxiety, October 31, 1947.
  • W. H. Auden, Poetry and Freedom, February 27, 1948.
  • René Wellek, Literature and Ideas, April 2, 1948.
  • Arthur Mizener, The Work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, May 7, 1948.
  • Basil Willey, The Value of Literary Study to Society and the Individual, November 4, 1958.
  • A. T. Mollegen, Some Theological Aspects of Contemporary Poetry, February 18, 1949.
  • Stephen Spender, Modern Poetry in the Modern World, April 21, 1949.
  • Malcolm Cowley, William Faulkner’s Legend of the South, May 6, 1949.
  • Lionel Trilling, Art and Neurosis, November 18, 1949.
  • R. P. Blackmur, The Lion and the Honeycomb, March 3, 1950.
  • Caroline Gordon, The Use of Metaphor in Prose Fiction, May 5, 1950.

Peters Rushton Seminars

  • Robert Penn Warren, William Faulkner and his South, March 13, 1951.
  • Alfred Kazin, E. E. Cummings and the Paths of Righteousness, April 6, 1951.
  • Archibald MacLeish, Poetry and the Belief in Man, May 4, 1951.
  • Carlos Baker, Hemingway’s Wastelanders, March 14, 1952.
  • Norman Holmes Pearson, Gertrude Stein and Writing on Writing, November 7, 1952.
  • Kenneth MacLean, James Thurber, April 24, 1953.
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Fifteen hundred copies of Modern Japanese Novels and the West by Donald Keene were designed, printed and bound by Clarke & Way at The Thistle Press in May, 1961. The title line was written in Japanese by Professor Peter H. Lee, and the illustrations were drawn by Koide Narashige (1887–1931) for the original edition of Tade Kuu Mushi (Some Prefer Nettles).

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was legally published within the United States (or the United Nations Headquarters in New York subject to Section 7 of the United States Headquarters Agreement) before 1964, and copyright was not renewed.

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