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Murasaki Shikibu

(fl ca 1000). Celebrated court lady and author who wrote a large part, if not all, of the Tale of Genji, the supreme classic of Japanese literature. The work known as the Murasaki Shikibu nikki (Diary of Murasaki Shikibu; tr Murasaki Shikibu: Her Diary and Poetic Memoirs, 1982), is also attributed to her, as are most of the poems in the collection Murasaki Shikibu shō. She is generally held to be the greatest author of narrative prose in the history of Japanese literature. Of her life, almost nothing can be said with certainty. She seems to have been a member of the Fujiwara family, and after her husband's death she was summoned to the imperial court as a lady-in-waiting to the empress Akiko. As a writer, she is noted for her interest in the complexities of the human spirit and for her ability to convey points through the mediation of character rather than through simile and metaphor, which are the rhetorical devices that characterize the largely lyrical tradition of Japanese literature. In the millennium since it first appeared, the reputation of the Tale of Genji has never flagged. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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