In early nineteenth-century Japan—the “silver age” of Edo-period literature—Ryutei Tanehiko was a well-known author of popular illustrated fiction. This account of his life and works covers his early yomihon (lengthy romances of improbable perils and adventures) and his gokan (intricately plotted stories in simple language intended for a general audience). Special emphasis is given his most popular work—the illustrated serial Nise Muraskai inaka Genji (An Impostor Murasaki and Rustic Genji), which ran for fourteen years—Japan’s first national bestseller.
Andrew Markus deftly shows how Tanehiko transposed episodes of the eleventh-century Genji monogatari to a fifteenth-century Muromachi setting in a plot dependent on the conventions of nineteenth-century kabuki. Markus fleshes out Tanehiko’s diaries and the remarks of his contemporaries to create a fascinating picture of an author who, after years of spectacular success, fell victim to the Tenpo Reform promulgations against “morally inappropriate” publications and whose mysterious death sent shock waves through the publishing world.