Creator: Murasaki Shikibu

It is difficult to write a biography of woman whose birth and death are unrecorded and whose very name is unknown - not that people have let this stop them!

The woman known to us as Murasaki Shikibu was probably born in the early to mid 970s AD. She was the daughter of a lower level official Fujiwara no Tametoki who had literary pretensions instead of rank or connections. As a child she was permitted to study Chinese literature along with her brother with such success that her father openly mourned she had not been born a boy. This 'masculine' learning was of course perfectly useless to Murasaki and a source of embarrassment as it labelled her an unfeminine bluestocking.

Late in the 990s Murasaki became one of the several wives of her second cousin Fujiwara no Nobutaka an official of the Ministry of Ceremonials and man about the Court. She had at least one child, a daughter who became a noted writer like her mother, but was widowed after only two or three years of marriage. We know, because Murasaki herself tells us so in her 'Diary', that she was depressed and unhappy after her husband's death but whether she was drowned in grief or only depressed over the loss of his economic and social support she doesn't say. She began her service at court in the entourage of the Empress Akiko in the early years of the 11th c.

Murasaki portrays herself as melancholy and reserved and feeling out of place and unhappy at court - though she admits she is no happier at home. Her 'Diary' is an autobiographical fragment covering perhaps two of the years she spent at court. In it she recounts exchanges poetic and otherwise with the Empress's father the chief minister Michinaga which has suggested an affair between them to some readers and sexual harassment on Michinaga's part to others. Incidentally, Michinaga's court diary gives the names of several ladies-in-waiting at the time and some scholars have suggested that Murasaki and Fujiwara Takako are one and the same.

The date of Murasaki's death is as uncertain as all the others, some experts placing it as late as 1025 and others as early as 1014. She is remembered chiefly as the author of The Tale of Genji, and is also credited with the aforesaid Diary and a collection of poems.