Kasai Zenzō and the Modern Japanese Autobiographical Novel (Shishō Setsu): Together with a Translation into English of his At the Lakeside

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Kasai Zenzō (1887-1928) was one of the first and most prominent shishosetsu writers during the Taisho period (1912-1926). The shishōsetsu, “I” novel or autobiographical narrative, was once believed to be an ideal form of writing, the purest of prose, and an expression of the depth of the self, which was said to be created without fabrications derived from conventional fiction. The shishosetsu is the most outstanding feature of modern Japanese literature. This work examines and analyzes the narrative structure as well as the theme of At the Lakeside to shed light on the final stage in the development of shish?setsu in its finest form.


“Kasai Zenzō is one of the most important “I-novelists,” his dominating personality and openly contentious ideas about literature made him both a legend and a mystery in the Japanese literary world…such an important and even crucial literary figure has never quite received his due or proper attention, in part because he was not a prolific writer in comparison to others…Dr. Nakagawa’s book not only fills a gap in Japanese studies in America, but will also certainly re-energize and shape Japanese scholars’ work on Kasai Zenzō as a result of her fresh and original insights.”
-Dr. Hailin Zhou,
Villanova University

“An important contribution to the field of modern Japanese literature. The “I” novel is indeed one of the major literary genres in the history of modern Japanese literature. This style of writing is not commonly found in the West, but it defines modern literature in Japan… Kasai Zenz? was a classic writer in the “I” school of Japanese literature. His lakeside novel is a classic example of this genre. Dr. Nakagawa provides an excellent literary analysis of Kasai Zenz?’s work as well as a superb translation of his major novel.”
-Dr. Daniel A. Métraux,
Professor of Asian Studies,
Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, VA.

"Kasai Zenz? is not an easy writer to like. A drunken adulterer who can barely put pen to paper, Kasai requires a reader like Nakagawa Masako. Her obvious admiration for Kasai inspires us to pay him attention. With her gentle guidance, we learn to listen to Kasai’s complaints, and are rewarded in the end with an appreciation for his philosophy and his struggles...This manuscript brings to light a largely unknown Japanese writer from an important movement. The shish?setsu or I-novel genre is fundamental to any understanding of modern Japanese literature, from the early twentieth century down to Murakami Haruki. Masako Nakagawa is deeply read in the work of Kasai Zenz? (1887-1928), and brings a true sympathy to this autobiographical writer who would otherwise not receive his due. She works from within the Japanese tradition, thus her account begins with the author Kasai Zenz?’s biography. His Japanese readers would have been quite familiar with his life as lived and as represented in his works. Without the biographical background, there is no way to appreciate this writer of the self. To simply equate the story with the author’s biography, however, would be to discount the artistry of the novelist. Nakagawa also provides a close look at the way the story At the Lakeside (Kohan shuki) is shaped by four intersecting sets of narratives. These narratives reinforce each other and create the interest in what would seem to be an unrelieved cry from the writer’s misery. Nakagawa shows us how this fierce Japanese writer sought beauty in the quietude at the lakeside."
-Linda H. Chance,
Associate Professor of Japanese Language and Literature,
University of Pennsylvania

Table of Contents

Foreword by Dr. Hailin Zhou
Chapter One – Kasai Zenzō A Shishosetsu
Kasai’s Early Life
Chapter Two – Writing of At the Lakeside
At the Lakeside

The Senjogahara Plateau
The Chambermaids
Tsuru and Osei
Tanizaki Seiji
Chapter Three – The Lake
Chapter Four – After the Lakeside
At the Lakeside, an English Translation

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