Wednesday, July 30, 2008

On "Five Women Who Loved Love" by Ihara Saikaku ****

Five women, five love stories. The title is pretty much what you get. Each of Ihara Saikaku's stories end in tragedy, save the final one, and even in that one there are two deaths along the way, two tragedies that would have made for a sad story had not the story carried on. In that last story, a homosexual man who has lost two former gay lovers (and then pledges to give up women--quite noble of him, really, seeing as he was never attracted to them) takes up with a woman who he thinks is a man. Her devotion to him finally wins him over despite his discovery of the truth. Another story involves a woman who starts a fire in an attempt to have a chance to slip away to see her lover, with tragic results.

The first story in the book is typical. It involves a playboy who eventually finds one true love. They attempt to elope but are caught. Money comes up missing, and the former playboy is blamed and sentenced to death. Soon after, the money is found--he wasn't a thief after all. His lover decides to kill herself (only as is to be expected in all of these stories), but after some discussion is convinced instead to become a nun and live a spiritual, monastic life.

It's seventeenth-century fiction, and it's pretty good. It's probably a little sappy, but because I'm reading it in modern translation, it doesn't come across nearly so bad as such melodrama might come off in the original tongue--or maybe the Japanese are simply better at keeping the stories simple than the English are. Whatever the matter is, Ihara Saikaku's point seems to be that love is born in tragedy, and without the possibility of loss, the value of love can't be weighed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think what Saikaku is really doing is pointing out the mercurial nature of the urban class in Edo at this time. It's almost a parody of Samurai culture and the merchant class. And you're right the Japanese helps. After all, the title in English doesn't translate that way in Japanese. It could mean the five women who loved sex, the five prostitutes, the five women who loved lust...etc.