MURASAKI SHIKIBU: influential women of all time – Early Life and Reign, social and political life, major works and death

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favourites. In 802 a conspiracy of officials and generals deposed her and placed on the throne Nicephorus, the minister of finance. She was exiled, first to the island of Prinkipo (now Büyükada) and then to Lesbos.

Irene’s zeal in restoring icons and her patronage of monasteries ensured her a place among the saints of the Greek Orthodox Church. Her feast day is August 9.

MURASAKI SHIKIBU

(b. c. 978, Kyōto, Japan—d. c. 1014, Kyōto)

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he court lady known as Murasaki Shikibu was the author of the Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), generally considered the greatest work of Japanese literature

and thought to be the world’s oldest full novel.

The author’s real name is unknown; it is conjectured that she acquired the sobriquet of Murasaki from the name of the heroine of her novel, and the name Shikibu reflects her father’s position at the Bureau of Rites. She was born into a lesser branch of the noble and highly influential Fujiwara family and was well educated, having learned Chinese (generally the exclusive sphere of males). She married a much older distant cousin, Fujiwara Nobutaka, and bore him a daughter, but after two years of marriage he died.

Some critics believe that she wrote the entire Tale of Genji between 1001 (the year her husband died) and 1005, the year in which she was summoned to serve at court (for reasons unknown). It is more likely that the composition of her extremely long and complex novel extended over a much greater period; her new position within what was then a leading literary centre likely enabled her to produce a story that was not finished until about 1010. In any case this work is the main source of knowledge about her life. It possesses considerable interest for the delightful

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Murasaki Shikibu confers with wise men and fellow poets in this detail of a woodcut by Kitigawa Utamaro. She is credited with writing one of the greatest works of Japanese literature. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Murasaki Shikibu confers with wise men and fellow poets in this detail of a woodcut by Kitigawa Utamaro. She is credited with writing one of the greatest works of Japanese literature. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

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