Two Tanizaki novellas


I didn’t enjoy reading what Tanizaki mistakenly thought was Donald Keene’s favorite of his works, The Mother of Captain Shigemoto (1949), though it had an impact by the time I finished. With Keene’s negative feelings for his mother (along with the lack of any evidence of heterosexual desire), it seems very unlikely that he would like best a book in which a mother taken away from the young child is idealized.

There is plenty of self-sacrifice in The Reed Cutter (1932), too, with Oshizu marrying a man so he can be near her sister Ozû (who, as a widow with a young male son, cannot remarry), and him later giving up Ozû (whose son has died) to marry another.

Finding a suitable partner for one’s wife seems a uniquely Japanese concern! It occurs in all three Tanizaki novel(la)s I’ve read (in both The Reed Cutter and The Mother of Captain Shigemoto, it is a wife (de facto in the first instance, de jure in the second) the man adores and continues to love after she is gone.  In The Key (1956), to stimulate his jealousy, the husband gets his wife drunk and throws his physician at her. In Some Prefer Nettles and Oe’s Silent Cry, it is one the man no longer loves. Male jealousy is generally absent in Dazai, too, except the retrospective jealousy about the earlier liaisons of his first wife, the ex-geisha. (I can’t recall men in Mishima novels feeling jealous about their female partners or covertly arranging new liaisons for them, and have only read one Kawabata novel, Snow Country).


©2016, Stephen O. Murray




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