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other hand, the scent of a delicately mixed perfume or the haunting
notes of a zithern on a soft summer night could excite his greatest passion and launch him recklessly on a romantic escapade whose outcome
was more than likely to have embarrassing and even disastrous results
both for the lovers and for others among the intimately associated members of Heian courtier society.
In a famous scene that takes place one rainy night, when Genji and
his friends informally assess the merits of womanhood, there is this exchange between To no Chujo, a young Fujiwara, and Genji:
To no Chujo: “I have at last discovered that there exists no woman of whom
one can say ‘Here is perfection. This is indeed she.’ There are many who have
the superficial art of writing a good running hand, or if occasion requires of
making a quick repartee. But there are few who will stand the ordeal of any
further test. Usually their minds are entirely occupied by admiration for their
own accomplishments, and their abuse of all rivals creates a most unpleasant
impression. Some again are adored by over-fond parents. These have since
childhood been guarded behind lattice windows and no knowledge of them is
allowed to reach the outer-world, save that of their excellence in some
accomplishment or art; and this may indeed sometimes arouse our interest.
She is pretty and graceful and has not yet mixed at all with the world. Such a
girl by closely copying some model and applying herself with great industry
will often succeed in really mastering one of the minor and ephemeral arts.
Her friends are careful to say nothing of her defects and to exaggerate her
accomplishments, and while we cannot altogether trust their praise we cannot believe that their judgment is entirely astray. But when we take steps to
test their statements we are invariably disappointed.”
He paused, seeming to be slightly ashamed of the cynical tone which he
had adopted, and added “I know my experience is not large, but that is the
conclusion I have come to so far.” Then Genji, smiling: “And are there any
who lack even one accomplishment?” “No doubt, but in such a case it is 66 The Cour...
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- Spring '13