Murasaki Shikibu

Murasaki's date of birth is not precisely known, but likely to have been in the 970's. I have used the most widely accepted date of 973. A few events in her life are recorded historically: she accompanied her father to Echizen when he was made governor of that province in the summer of 996; and she and returned to the capital to marry Fujiwara Nobutaka in 998. Their daughter, Katako, was born in 999.

   It is not known, precisely, when she began writing The Tale of Genji—the standard story is that she began it after she was widowed. I think she must have begun earlier in her life, however, writing bits and pieces that later she may have swept into a more ambitious narrative. There is also argument as to exactly when she entered court service. I have constructed a plausible chronology based on the events mentioned in her Diary that would make that date the last day of the year 1005. The fragments of her Diary that have come down to us primarily cover the years 1008-1010 during her life in service to Empress Shôshi.

   The date of Murasaki's death is unknown as well. Some scholars think she may have died in 1014, since that year her father suddenly retired from his post and returned to Miyako, but others feel she might well have lived a decade longer, perhaps in retirement somewhere. This is the line I have taken, imagining that Murasaki followed the religious inclinations hinted at in her Diary, and became a nun (like so many of her fictional heroines.) It is from that vantage point that I have her write the final chapter of The Tale of Genji and the memoir my novel purports to be.