- Natsume Sōseki
Natsume Sōseki in 1912
Born 9 February 1867
Died 9 December 1916(aged 49)
Occupation Writer Genres novels, short stories, poetry Notable work(s) Kokoro, Botchan, I Am a Cat
Natsume Sōseki (夏目 漱石, February 9, 1867 – December 9, 1916), born Natsume Kinnosuke (夏目 金之助), is widely considered to be the foremost Japanese novelist of the Meiji period (1868–1912). He is best known for his novels Kokoro, Botchan, I Am a Cat and his unfinished work Light and Darkness. He was also a scholar of British literature and composer of haiku, Chinese-style poetry, and fairy tales. From 1984 until 2004, his portrait appeared on the front of the Japanese 1000 yen note.
Born as Natsume Kinnosuke in the town of Babashita in the Edo region of Ushigome (present Kikui, Shinjuku), Natsume began his life as an unwanted child, born to his mother late in her life, forty years old and his father then fifty-three. When he was born, he already had five siblings. Having five children and a toddler had created family insecurity and was in some ways a disgrace to the Natsume family. In 1868, a childless couple, Shiobara Masanosuke and his wife, adopted him until the age of nine, when the couple divorced. He returned to his family and was welcomed by his mother although regarded as a nuisance by his father. His mother died when he was fourteen, and his two eldest brothers died in 1887, intensifying his sense of insecurity.
Natsume attended the First Tokyo Middle School (now Hibiya High School), where he became enamored with Chinese literature, and fancied that he might someday become a writer. His desire to become an author arose when he was about fifteen when he told his older brother about his interest in literature. However, his family disapproved strongly of this course of action, and when Natsume entered the Tokyo Imperial University in September 1884, it was with the intention of becoming an architect. Although he preferred Chinese classics, he began studying English at that time, feeling that it might prove useful to him in his future career, as English was a necessity in Japanese college.
In 1887, Natsume met Masaoka Shiki, a friend who would give him encouragement on the path to becoming a writer, which would ultimately be his career. Shiki tutored him in the art of composing haiku. From this point on, he began signing his poems with the name Sōseki, which is a Chinese idiom meaning "stubborn". In 1890, he entered the English Literature department, and quickly mastered the English language. Natsume graduated in 1893, and enrolled for some time as a graduate student and part-time teacher at the Tokyo Normal School.
In 1895, Natsume began teaching at Matsuyama Middle School in Shikoku, which became the setting of his novel Botchan. Along with fulfilling his teaching duties, Natsume published haiku and Chinese poetry in a number of newspapers and periodicals. He resigned his post in 1896, and began teaching at the Fifth High School in Kumamoto. On June 10 of that year, he married Nakane Kyoko.
In the United Kingdom, 1901–1903
In 1900, the Japanese government sent Natsume to study in Great Britain as "Japan's first Japanese English literary scholar". He visited Cambridge and stayed a night there, but gave up the idea of studying at the university because he could not afford it on his government scholarship. He studied instead at University College, London (UCL). He had a miserable time of it in London, spending most of his days indoors buried in books, and his friends feared that he might be losing his mind. He also visited Pitlochry in Scotland.
He lived in four different lodgings, only the last of which, lodging with Priscilla and her sister Elizabeth Leale in Clapham (see the photograph), proved satisfactory. Five years later, in his preface to Bungakuron (The Criticism of Literature), he wrote about the period:
- The two years I spent in London were the most unpleasant years in my life. Among English gentlemen I lived in misery, like a poor dog that had strayed among a pack of wolves.
He got along well with the Leale sisters, who shared his love of literature (notably Shakespeare—his tutor at UCL was the Shakespeare scholar W. J. Craig—and Milton) and spoke fluent French, much to his admiration. The Leales were a Channel Island family, and Priscilla had been born in France. The sisters worried about Natsume's incipient paranoia and successfully urged him to get out more and take up cycling.
Despite his poverty, loneliness, and mental problems, he solidified his knowledge of English literature during this period and returned to Japan in 1903.
After his return to the Empire of Japan, he replaced Koizumi Yakumo (Lafcadio Hearn) at the First Higher School, and subsequently became a professor of English literature at Tokyo Imperial University, where he taught literary theory and literary criticism.
Natsume's literary career began in 1903, when he began to contribute haiku, renku (haiku-style linked verse), haitaishi (linked verse on a set theme) and literary sketches to literary magazines, such as the prominent Hototogisu, edited by his former mentor Masaoka Shiki, and later by Takahama Kyoshi. However, it was the public success of his satirical novel I Am a Cat in 1905 that won him wide public admiration as well as critical acclaim.
He followed on this success with short stories, such as Rondon tō ("Tower of London") in 1905 and the novels Botchan ("Little Master"), and Kusamakura ("Grass Pillow") in 1906, which established his reputation, and which enabled him to leave his post at the university for a position with Asahi Shimbun in 1907, and to begin writing full-time. Much of his work deals with the relation between Japanese culture and Western culture. Especially his early works are influenced by his studies in London; his novel Kairo-kō was the earliest and only major prose treatment of the Arthurian legend in Japanese. He began writing one novel a year until his death from a stomach ulcer in 1916.
Major themes in Natsume's works include ordinary people fighting against economic hardship, the conflict between duty and desire (a traditional Japanese theme; see giri), loyalty and group mentality versus freedom and individuality, personal isolation and estrangement, the rapid industrialization of Japan and its social consequences, contempt of Japan's aping of Western culture, and a pessimistic view of human nature. Natsume took a strong interest in the writers of the Shirakaba (White Birch) literary group. In his final years, authors such as Akutagawa Ryūnosuke and Kume Masao became close followers of his literary style.
Natsume's major works include:
Year Japanese title English title Comments 1905 吾輩は猫である Wagahai wa Neko dearu I Am a Cat 倫敦塔 Rondon Tō The Tower of London 薤露行 Kairo-kō Kairo-kō 1906 坊っちゃん Botchan Botchan 草枕 Kusamakura The Three Cornered World
(lit. The Grass Pillow)
latest translation uses Japanese title 趣味の遺伝 Shumi no Iden The Heredity of Taste 二百十日 Nihyaku-tōka The 210th Day 1907 虞美人草 Gubijinsō The Poppy 1908 坑夫 Kōfu The Miner 夢十夜 Yume Jū-ya Ten Nights of Dreams 三四郎 Sanshirō Sanshiro 1909 それから Sorekara And Then 1910 門 Mon The Gate 思い出す事など Omoidasu Koto nado Spring Miscellany 1912 彼岸過迄 Higan Sugi Made To the Spring Equinox and Beyond 行人 Kōjin The Wayfarer 1914 こころ Kokoro Kokoro 私の個人主義 Watakushi no Kojin Shugi My Individualism A famous speech 1915 道草 Michi Kusa Grass on the Wayside 硝子戸の中 Garasu Do no Uchi Inside My Glass Doors English translation, 2002 1916 明暗 Mei An Light and Darkness, a novel Unfinished
- Anglo-Japanese relations
- Japanese literature
- List of Japanese authors
- Natsume Fusanosuke – Natsume's grandson
- Mizumura Minae – finished Natsume's last, unfinished novel, Light and Darkness
- Bargen, Doris D. Suicidal Honor: General Nogi and the Writings of Mori Ogai and Natsume Sōseki. University of Hawaii Press (2006). ISBN 0824829980
- Brodey, I. S. and S. I. Tsunematsu, Rediscovering Natsume Sōseki, (Kent: Global Oriental, 2000)
- Doi, Takeo, trans. by W. J. Tyler, The Psychological World of Natsume Sōseki. Harvard University Asia Center (1976). ISBN 0674721160
- Gessel, Van C. Three Modern Novelists: Soseki, Tanizaki, Kawabata. Kodansha International, 1993
- Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era: Fiction, Chapter 12. 2nd Revised Edition, Columbia University Press, 1998.
- Milward, Peter. The Heart of Natsume Sōseki: First Impressions of His Novels. Azuma Shobo (1981). ASIN: B000IK2690
- Olson, Lawrence. Ambivalent Moderns: Portraits of Japanese Cultural Identity. Savage, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield (1992). ISBN 0847677397
- Ridgeway, William N. A Critical Study of The Novels of Natsume Sōseki, 1867–1916. Edwin Mellen Press (January 28, 2005). ISBN 0773462309
- Yu, Beongchoeon. Natsume Sōseki. Macmillan Publishing Company (1984). ISBN 0805728503
- ^ a b c d e McClellan, Edwin (2004). Two Japanese Novelists: Sōseki & Tōson. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0-8048-3340-0.
- ^ Takahashi, Akio (2006). 新書で入門 漱石と鴎外 (A pocket paperback == introduction: Natsume and Ōgai). Shinchosha. ISBN 4106101793.
- ^ Brodey and Tsunematsu p.7
- ^ Brodey and Tsunematsu p.8
- ^ Introduction, p.V Natsume Soseki (2002). I Am A Cat. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 978-0804832656.
- ^ Theory of Literature, May 1907, introduction
- ^ Natsume, Sōseki; Tsunematsu, Ikuo (2002). Spring miscellany and London essays. Rutland, VT: Tuttle. p. 80. ISBN 0-8048-3326-5.
- ^ Mostow, Joshua S. The Columbia Companion to modern East Asian literature, Columbia University Press, 2003. ISBN 9780231113144 p88
- ^ Takamiya, Toshiyuki (1991). "Natsume Sōseki". In Norris J. Lacy, The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, p. 424. (New York: Garland, 1991). ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.
- Natsume Sōseki at かまくら GreenNet, the website of Kamakura City
- Natsume Souseki at Meisaku Live
- Video: House of Ogai Mori & Soseki Natsume
- Natsume Souseki at Amazon Kindle Store
- Works by Natsume Sōseki at Project Gutenberg
- Sōseki page including links to the entire text of Kokoro
- Natsume Sōseki on aozora.gr.jp (complete texts with furigana)
- Tohoku University: Natsume Soseki Library
- Natsume Sōseki's grave
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