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Unreal Houses

Unreal Houses

Character, Gender, and Genealogy in the Tale of Genji

Edith Sarra

ISBN 9780674244436

Publication date: 04/14/2020

The Tale of Genji (ca. 1008), by noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu, is known for its sophisticated renderings of fictional characters’ minds and its critical perspectives on the lives of the aristocracy of eleventh-century Japan. Unreal Houses radically rethinks the Genji by focusing on the figure of the house. Edith Sarra examines the narrative’s fictionalized images of aristocratic mansions and its representation of the people who inhabit them, exploring how key characters in the Genji think about houses in both the architectural and genealogical sense of the word.

Through close readings of the Genji and other Heian narratives, Unreal Houses elucidates the literary fabrication of social, architectural, and affective spaces and shows how the figure of the house contributes to the structuring of narrative sequences and the expression of relational nuances among fictional characters. Combining literary analysis with the history of gender, marriage, and the built environment, Sarra opens new perspectives on the architectonics of the Genji and the feminine milieu that midwifed what some have called the world’s first novel.


  • Brings new and valuable insights to Genji studies, and its interest in genealogies and generations of the dead will illuminate other work being done in the field …A compelling read: beautifully written and edited, provided with useful diagrams and helpful notes, Unreal Houses is an academic book that is hard to put down and a welcome addition to scholarship on premodern literature.

    —Elizabeth Oyler, Journal of Japanese Studies


  • Edith Sarra is Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures and Adjunct Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Indiana University Bloomington.

Book Details

  • 360 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center