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Rewriting Medieval Japanese Women

Rewriting Medieval Japanese Women: Politics, Personality, and Literary Production in the Life of Nun Abutsu

Christina Laffin
Copyright Date: 2013
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    Rewriting Medieval Japanese Women
    Book Description:

    Rewriting Medieval Japanese Womenexplores the world of thirteenth-century Japan through the life of a prolific noblewoman known as Nun Abutsu (1225-1283). Abutsu crossed gender and genre barriers by writing the first career guide for Japanese noblewomen, the first female-authored poetry treatise, and the first poetic travelogue by a woman-all despite the increasingly limited social mobility for women during the Kamakura era (1185-1336). Capitalizing on her literary talent and political prowess, Abutsu rose from middling origins and single-motherhood to a prestigious marriage and membership in an esteemed literary lineage.Abutsu's life is well documented in her own letters, diaries, and commentaries, as well as in critiques written by rivals, records of poetry events, and legal documents. Drawing on these and other literary and historiographical sources, includingThe Tale of Genji,author Christina Laffin demonstrates how medieval women responded to institutional changes that transformed their lives as court attendants, wives, and nuns. Despite increased professionalization of the arts, competition over sources of patronage, and rivaling claims to literary expertise, Abutsu proved her poetic capabilities through her work and often used patriarchal ideals of femininity to lay claim to political and literary authority.Rewriting Medieval Japanese Womeneffectively challenges notions that literary salons in Japan were a phenomenon limited to the Heian period (794-1185) and that literary writing and scholarship were the domain of men during the Kamakura era. Its analysis of literary works within the context of women's history makes clear the important role that medieval women and their cultural contributions continued to play in Japanese history.2 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3785-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Nun Abutsu and Women’s Writing in Medieval Japan
    (pp. 1-18)

    This book traces the life and works of an extraordinary thirteenth-century woman who is known today as Nun Abutsu. Abutsu was born in 1225 into the elite social echelon of courtiers who lived in what is now Kyoto, and she died in 1283 while residing in the new, warrior-based political center of Kamakura. She worked at the court of a princess and eventually married the most politically influential poet of her time. Compared with many medieval women, she led a privileged life, yet she also suffered through hardships, including self-imposed exile at a nunnery and destitution as a single mother....

  5. CHAPTER 2 A Woman’s Guide to Career Success: Nun Abutsu and Court Life in The Nursemaid’s Letter
    (pp. 19-59)

    The life of Nun Abutsu can be seen as a medieval success story—the tale of a midranking aristocratic woman who proved herself a capable attendant at court and who eventually overcame difficulties to wed an influential and prosperous courtier and literary luminary. Abutsu garnered literary fame in connection with her husband Tameie, but it was her skill as a poet and scholar that first brought her to his attention. In entering the service of a flourishing imperial salon in her youth, Abutsu received a thorough education in the arts of feminine refinement, including poetry composition, calligraphy, painting, incense handling,...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Lover and Nun: Embodying the Heroine in Fitful Slumbers
    (pp. 60-97)

    Based on the memoir that Abutsu wrote describing her youth, she appears to have followed the instructions outlined inThe Nursemaid’s Letterand committed to heart canonical poems and narratives that she then used to tell her own story.¹ She certainly was able to masterThe Tale of Genji,and she wove the work through all of her works, whether as scenes recounted in her diaries or as citations in her poetry. Today scholars argue that the only way she could have written a work likeFitful Slumbersthat fashioned itself so closely on the tale was to have a...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Women and the Way: Nun Abutsu as Poet and Genji Scholar
    (pp. 98-135)

    Abutsu’s diaryFitful Slumberscontains a total of twenty-two poems, all but one of which were composed by the author. It also includes the first of Abutsu’s forty-eight poems that would appear in imperial anthologies. If we assume that Abutsu wroteFitful Slumbersat the early stages of her relationship with her future husband Fujiwara no Tameie, then her skillful use of canonical poetry from imperial anthologies like theKokinshūand narratives likeTales of IseandThe Tale of Genjiwere a means of showcasing her talent as a poet, scholar, and capable member of Ankamon-in’s court. This chapter...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Politics and Poetry: Diary of the Sixteenth Night Moon as a Literary Appeal
    (pp. 136-172)

    Abutsu’s husband Tameie died at the age of seventy-eight. During his last years, he and Abutsu resided together in her home in the north of the capital, after he passed his own residence on to his daughter Tameko.¹ Abutsu was fifty-one years old and in the prime of her life as a poet. As we have seen in the preceding chapter, she went on to participate in numerous poetry matches, to be included in private and imperial collections, and to teach a circle of adherents. Abutsu’s own works give a more limited and carefully fashioned sense of her activities. The...

  9. Epilogue: Abutsu’s Legacy
    (pp. 173-180)

    Abutsu died in 1283, likely still awaiting her court case in Kamakura. Some later sources suggest that she was able to return to the capital,¹ but since her case dragged on and there is nothing to corroborate her presence in Kyoto after 1279, it seems she spent her last days in Kamakura teaching a large circle of students, participating in local literary events, recording her life, and writing to acquaintances in the capital. Part of the mystery surrounding her death is due to the existence of two graves, one near her former residence in Kamakura (see figure 1) and the...

  10. Appendix I: The Mikohidari Lineage
    (pp. 181-182)
  11. Appendix II: A Chronology of Nun Abutsu
    (pp. 183-188)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 189-240)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-258)
  14. Index
    (pp. 259-271)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 272-273)