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She knows the human body inside and out.

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But she doesn't know her own body anymore, because Helen is, quite literally, losing her senses. Sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste; all are disappearing. And she has started hallucinating - for surely it is a hallucination - that her body is being replaced, piece by piece, with someone else's.

The Sensualist: An Illustrated Novel

Her husband, too, seems to be lost; vanished during a business trip to Europe. Things are suggested, alluded to, often nebulously. What counts in the seduction scenes is the art, the poetry. Quite literally so: the proper approach to a desired lady was through poems, written on scented paper of the finest quality, delivered by an elegantly dressed go-between of appropriate social rank. More poems would be exchanged as soon as the approach bore fruit.

Women of the upper class sat hidden in murky rooms, behind curtains, screens, and sliding doors. For a respectable woman to be seen in daylight, especially standing up, instead of reclining in an interior, under many layers of clothing, would have been provocative beyond belief. Women were shielded by curtains even when they spoke to male members of their own family. Despite all these obstacles, people must have managed somehow. Genji, also known as the Shining Prince, marries his first wife when he is twelve, immediately following his coming-of-age ceremony.

So were other, more discreet forms of adultery. And both father and son lust after Tamakazura, a young girl whom Genji has adopted as his daughter. Little wonder that even emperors were not always sure who their real fathers were. The main thing required of a noble gentleman was a sense of style. Because of the Buddhist belief in rebirth, beauty, in all its forms, was seen as a sign of virtue in a former existence.

To have lovely handwriting, or a talent for poetry, was a mark of good character, in a former life as well as in the present one. No doubt she was born with such features as a reward for good deeds performed in a previous life. He was so beautiful that pairing him with the very finest of the ladies at the court would fail to do him justice.

It was, as all this suggests, a rather effete culture.


The aristocratic ideal of male beauty—highly perfumed, moon-faced, smooth-skinned, extravagantly dressed—was close to the feminine ideal. Less than two hundred years later, the self-obsessed nobility of the Heian court, distracted by the rituals and refinements of palace politics, oblivious of the world outside the capital, and mostly bored out of their minds, were overwhelmed by more vigorous provincial clans, notably the samurai, with their warrior codes and martial ideals. The sense of style was intimately linked to a sense of hierarchy. And this, too, was linked to karma: high rank was a virtue earned by good behavior in a previous life.

In such ways do ruling classes justify their privilege. The politics that permeate the novel show that sexual relations were not just part of an elaborate libertine game but also a matter of ruthless practical strategy. Heian politics were really marriage politics. Formally, Japan was ruled by emperors, but real power was exercised, in large part, behind the scenes by the Fujiwara clan.

Synonyms and antonyms of sensualist in the English dictionary of synonyms

This depended on daughters of the Fujiwara family marrying imperial princes, some of whom would one day be emperors. The Fujiwaras were thus able to exert control over the throne and to rule the country, or at least those parts of the country within reach of the imperial capital. Her father was a provincial governor, who, unusually for the time, passed on his deep knowledge of Chinese literature to his bookish daughter. Normally, only men wrote in Chinese, as a sign of superior status, while women confined themselves to Japanese. This explains why the first writers of literary prose in Japanese were highborn women, as were their readers.


She married late; her husband was a much older man, and Murasaki was probably not his most privileged wife. The story goes that she began writing her novel after he died.

the Sensualist: An Illustrated Novel by Barbara Hodgson

A sense of being on the fringes of society, as has been the case with so many writers since, sharpened her observations. Murasaki watched the sexual maneuverings, the social plots, the marital politics, the swirl of slights and flatteries that went on around her, with the keen, sometimes sardonic, and always worldly eyes of a medieval Jane Austen. At least one recent translator, Royall Tyler, thinks that evidence of sole authorship is shaky.

Others, including Dennis Washburn, the latest translator and a professor of Asian literature at Dartmouth, are more persuaded that the book had to have been the work of one person. The original manuscript no longer exists. Fragments of text survive in a twelfth-century illustrated scroll, but modern editions of the book are based on a thirteenth-century compilation made by a poet called Fujiwara no Teika. Different versions of the book were passed down in certain noble clans like secret family treasures.

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Summaries and Excerpts: The sensualist : a novel / Barbara Hodgson.

Write a product review. Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon. Verified Purchase. The start of this book captured my attention. It begins with Helen, a loyal wife seeking her missing husband - still loyal, whether or not he's worth being loyal to. Early in her journey, she encounters some very odd people and receives a mysterious gift. A touch of the supernatural swirls around it, and around the people she encounters. The theme of the senses gets support from Helen's long experience in anatomical art. Somehow, the story never builds. Elements that could have lent drama seem to fizzle.

Connections between characters never tie the story together. Then, the ending just terminates the book without resolving it. The husband's absence, though ended, stays unresolved, the supernatural elements just end without explanation. The means of a bizarre murder go unexplained, even though the murder demands explanation in terms of the murderer.

The writing carried me to the end, then unceremoniously dumped me. This book is an absolute treasure and you want it in your library. The pages are wonderful and then the author takes you off your guard with this tale. Such a mixture of both the good and evil which resides in the hearts and souls of most of us.

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It was mesmerizing with it's focus on ancient woodblocks which was analogous to the main character's search for her real self. While enjoyable with it's paranormal aspects, the book isn't for someone looking for a light pleasure read. The artfulness of the author is evident throughout in subject manner and writing style. It was a challenging and self enlightening reading experience! One person found this helpful.

Very cool novel! I would suggest it to anyone looking for an unusual read!

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