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Orienting Arthur Waley : Japonisme, Orientalism and the creation of Japanese literature in English de Gruchy, John Walter


This dissertation examines the principal Japanese translations of Arthur Waley (1889-1966): Japanese Poetry: The Uta (1919), The No Plays of Japan (1921), and The Tale of Genji (1925-33). These works have been overlooked as English literature of the British modern period, although Waley intended most of his translations to function as modern English literature. I include a short biography of Waley's formative years and maintain that aspects of his identity—Jewish, bisexual, and socialist—were important in the choice of his occupation and in the selection and interpretation of his texts. I situate Japanese culture in the context of orientalism and Anglo-Japanese political relations. Japanese culture had a role to play in Anglo-Japanese imperialisms; this is demonstrated through an examination of the activities of the Japan Society of London, where Waley presented one of his first translations. The School of Oriental Studies in London also provided a platform for the translation and dissemination of Asian literature for the express purpose of promoting British imperial interests in the Far East. As an orientalist working through these institutions and the British Museum, Waley's positioning of himself as a Bloomsbury anti-imperialist was ambiguous. His texts, moreover, had a role to play in the presentation of Japan as an essentially aesthetic, 'feminine' nation. There are few letters, and no diaries or working papers of Waley. I rely, therefore, on his published works, as well as the memoirs, letters and biographies of family members and friends, especially those of the Bloomsbury Group with which he was associated. I make extensive use of the Transactions of the Japan Society and historical records of the School of Oriental Studies, as well as critical reviews of Waley and other translators. Social and cultural histories of the period are used to construct key. contexts: the Anglo-Jews, the Cambridge Fabians, British orientalism, and English modernism between the wars. Since I maintain that homoeroticism in Japanese literature was one of its attractions for Waley, I also look to queer theory to assist in my reading of Waley's texts. I conclude that The Tale of Genji enabled Waley to realize a personal ambition to write stories, and he produced a unique English novel that remains not only the most important modernist interpretation of Japanese culture between the wars, but a remarkable record of Edwardian-Bloomsbury language and aesthetic sensibility.

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