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Although it opens with a lyrical description of the Tsuchimikado mansion in autumn and gives vivid accounts of court events and ceremonies, the work is in no sense an official chronicle. Spiced with anecdote, searching self-analysis and sharp sketches of a timid Empress, spineless courtiers and quarrelsome ladies-in-waiting, it reveals the underside of imperial splendour from an unexpected, utterly female point of view. Since women were discouraged from learning Chinese, the language of bureaucaratic power, many played a key role in forging forms of early Japanese prose. Where others wrote fairy stories or tales of thwarted passion, Murasaki's Diary is something far more subtle, one of the crucial stepping stones which culminated in the Genji. Relevant detail of Japanese dress, religion, architecture, and social convention are clearly set out in Richard Bowring's footnotes and fine introduction.
The Diary recorded by Lady Murasaki (c. 973-c. 1020), author of The Tale of Genji, is an intimate picture of her life as tutor and companion to the young Empress Shoshi. Told in a series of vignettes, it offers revealing glimpses of the Japanese imperial palace - the auspicious birth of a prince, rivalries between the Emperor's consorts, with sharp criticism of Murasaki's fellow ladies-in-waiting and drunken courtiers, and telling remarks about the timid Empress and her powerful father, Michinaga. The Diary is also a work of great subtlety and intense personal reflection, as Murasaki makes penetrating insights into human psychology - her pragmatic observations always balanced by an exquisite and pensive melancholy.
Lady Murasaki lived in Japan at the end of the ninth century. She was the author of The Tale of the Genji, which has been hailed as the first novel. Richard Bowring has also translated The Tale of the Genji and is editor of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Japan.