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courtly love, which had been evolved some seven or eight hundred years
earlier by the Heian courtiers and which stressed the aesthetic rather
than the erotic.
The Life of a Man Who Lived for Love is the story of Yonosuke, a townsman who commences a long life of sexual adventures by making advances to a maid at the age of eight; at sixty-one, after having enjoyed all
the delights that Japanese women can provide him, he sets forth by boat
to find an island inhabited only by females. Divided into fifty-four chapters, each of which deals with a year in Yonosuke’s life, The Life of a Man
Who Lived for Love is little more than a collection of spicy episodes
brought together as the doings of an indefatigable rake.
In 1686 Saikaku wrote another erotic work, entitled Five Women Who
Chose Love (Kòshoku Gonin Onna), which contains five fairly lengthy and
well-structured tales that may properly be called novelettes. Whereas The
Life of a Man Who Lived for Love deals mostly with life in the pleasure
quarters, Five Women Who Chose Love concerns women of respectable
townsman and peasant origins who, because of their excessively passionate natures, become involved in affairs that lead in all cases but one to dishonor and death. In this work, then, Saikaku shifted from accounts of the
artificial world of the pleasure quarters to stories, based on real events,
of people in everyday life. He also treated one of the most important
social themes in all of Tokugawa literature, the conflict between human
feelings (ninjò) and the heavy sense of duty (giri) imposed on the individual by the feudal laws and mores of the age.
In the same year that he wrote Five Women Who Chose Love, Saikaku
produced still another major erotic work, entitled The Life of an Amorous
Woman (Kòshoku Ichidai Onna). This is a tale of the darker side of love,
told in the first person, of uncontrolled lust and depravity. The heroine
is a nymphomaniac (descended on her father’s side from the courtier class The Flourishing of a Bourgeois Culture 185 of Kyoto) who makes her way through life largely on her ow...
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- Spring '13