lizbrownlee – poet

Poems, animal info, extraordinary women, my books!

S is for Murasaki Shikibu, author of first novel ever in 1021 #AtoZ Challenge

Amazingly, this is part of the original manuscript of the first novel EVER to be written, in 1021.

It was written by Japanese noblewoman and lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu. The story contains 400 characters, whose lives are followed as they grow older, without an actual plot but with events, rather like a modern soap opera, showing the lifestyles of high courtiers during the Heian period in Japan.

It only calls the characters by their position in court, as court manners of that era would have meant it was unacceptably familiar to mention a person’s name.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that The Tale of Genji was translated into modern Japanese, by the poet Akiko Yosano.

How incredible is that – writing over 50 chapters containing 400 characters of remarkable consistency without reference to any technology whatsoever…

Many painted depictions of Murasaki and the Tale of Genji have been made in the inimitable and beautiful Japanese style. Here is one of them:

An interior court scene from The Tale of Genji by Utagawa HiroshigeJapan’s National Diet Library


And here are some quotes from the book:

There are as many sorts of women as there are women.”

I certainly agree with that.

One ought not to be unkind to a woman merely on account of her plainness, any more than one had a right to take liberties with her merely because she was handsome”

This sounds as if it could be Jane Austen writing centuries later!

It is indeed in many ways more comfortable to belong to that section of society whose action are not publicly canvassed and discussed”

This could be one of the Royal Family, or any celebrity now.

It’s amazing to see into her mind like this – and see how very little some concerns have changed!

What an extraordinary woman!


If you’d like to read about more extraordinary women, why not buy the book Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, by me, Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan – link below, press on book!


  1. wow that’s amazing!


    • I know! Such a long time ago – when we were in the dark ages, and women in Europe would not have been educated let alone able to read and write, it would have been the province of the clergy.


  2. Ok. this is super-cool. Did not know about this… more importantly, why don’t more people talk about this? It should ideally be a basic GK question in quizzes!

    Sarah Hoidahl – A Lovely Real Life Story of Kindness and Karma


    • It should, shouldn’t it! Probably because we are so Eurocentric or Americentric, that we disregard the history and achievements of cultures very unlike our own.


  3. Amazing! I had no idea about this. What an achievement.


    • Neither did I Nick… and how extraordinary that someone can step out of their life and invents something so profoundly wonderful that will engage and fascinate and nurture and comfort millions of people for all time to come!


  4. This is lovely – specially the image of that manuscript. Your book sounds fascinating.
    Scenes from a Marriage #Lexicon of Leaving


    • Thank you, Kalpana, and the manuscript is gorgeous, isn’t it!


  5. What an incredible accomplishment. And how lovely to see a bit of the original manuscript.


    • Also found some quotes from the manuscript translated, if you are interested.


  6. What an extraordinary woman. I am glad her legacy was not lost over the years.


  7. Fascinating! Who knew the first novel was written by a Japanese woman? Brilliant research, Liz.

    Susan A Eames at
    Travel, Fiction and Photos


    • Thanks, Susan. I’ve had fun!


    • PS – I wondered if I could find some quotes form the Tale of Genji, and sure enough, I could – they are not at all what I was expecting, although, I hardly know what i was expecting!


  8. That was a great find!


  9. Pikakshi

    Extraordinary indeed! And super cool! First when you said 400 characters, I was a bit confused.I thought, maybe symbols or something, but later I caught on.. and woah!! 400 characters, without a plot and no influence of technology!! Thats some lovely information you researched for us 🙂

    Social Stigmas are a bane for our societies.Lets not give in.

    Readers of the Night


    • Thank you! Isn’t it extraordinary? The thought of doing something that no-one else n the world has done before!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh my, I am behind! This lady was so eloquent. Have you read her book and will you? I love these quotes


    • I think it would be quite along book, Birgit, written as it was over her life time. It was written rather like a soap opera is nowadays, no over-arcing story with a beginning and an end but rather a dialogue of manners and happenings and events and scandals and gossip in court at the time.


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