UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Knowing women : Sei Shōnagon's Makura no sōshi in early-modern Japan Ivanova, Gergana Entcheva


This dissertation explores the reception history of Makura no sōshi (The Pillow Book, 11th c.) from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. Focusing on an extensive body of texts, including scholarly commentaries, erotic parodies, and instruction manuals for women, I examine how Makura no sōshi and the image of its female author Sei Shōnagon were transformed through shifts in political contexts, readerships, and socio-cultural conditions. The complex reception history of The Pillow Book, in which the text was recreated through diverse forms, serves as a useful case study of how literary criticism, gender structures, and the status of women have changed through time. Drawing from research on the invention of national literatures and the historical reception of Japanese “classical” works, this study reveals the processes and agents that contributed to the shifting place of Makura no sōshi within Japanese literature. By so doing, it sheds light on the extent to which misrepresentations of Heian texts and their authors have influenced approaches in literary scholarship and shaped contemporary images of the Heian period as a whole. The Introduction analyzes the context in which Makura no sōshi was produced and considers theoretical approaches to the reception of literary works, particularly the processes of evaluation, interpretation, adaptation, and canonization. Chapter One traces scholarly debates regarding the textual identity and the genre of the work as recorded in scholarly commentaries and works of literary criticism. Chapter Two takes up the popularization of the Heian text among male readers and considers its transformation into a highly eroticized work. An examination of illustrated adaptations of Makura no sōshi for a female readership follows in Chapter Three, which shows how the work was used as a manual for social mobility gained through marriage. Chapter Four turns to constructions of Sei Shōnagon in instruction manuals for women and examines the use of the image of the author as an efficient tool for gender training both in Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) Japan. The Conclusion summarizes aspects of Makura no sōshi that defy categorization and make it a dynamic text.  

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