Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Guest Post by Anna: A Literary Canon of Women Writers, Part Five: The Tenth Century to the Eleventh Century

(Echidne's note: Earlier parts of the series can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.)

Rābi'a bint Ka'b al-Quzdārī, popularly known as Rābi'a Balkhī and
Zayn al-'Arab, was a semi-legendary tenth-century Persian poet,
possibly the first female poet in the history of New Persian poetry.
Her name and biography appear in 'Awfī's lubābu 'l-albāb, 'Attār's
maṭnawīyat, and Djāmī's nafahātu 'l-uns. She is said to have been
descended from a royal family, her father Ka'b al-Quzdārī, a chieftain
at the Samanid court, reportedly descended from Arab immigrants who had
settled in eastern Persia during the time of Abu Muslim. She was one of
the first poets who wrote in modern Persian, and she was, along with
Mahsatī Dabīra Ganja'ī, among a very few female writers of medieval
Persia to be recorded in history by name. When her father died, his son
Hāres, brother of Rābi'a, inherited his position. According to legend,
Hāres had a Turkic slave named Baktāsh, with whom his sister was
secretly in love. At a court party, Hāres heard Rābi'a's secret. He
imprisoned Baktāsh in a well, cut the jugular vein of Rābi'a and
imprisoned her in a bathroom. She wrote her final poems with her blood
on the wall of the bathroom until she died. Baktāsh escaped the well,
and as soon as got the news about Rābi'a, he went to the governor’s
office and assassinated Hāres. He then committed suicide.
Her love affair with the slave Baktāsh inspired Qājār poet Rezā
Qulī-Khān Ḥedāyat to compose his Baktāshnāma.

Michitsuna no Haha (c.935-995) was a Heian period writer in Japan. Her
true name is unknown to history. The term "Michitsuna no Haha"
literally translates to "Michitsuna's mother".
She wrote the "Kagero Diary" about her troubled marriage to Fujiwara no
Kaneie; it is a classic of Japanese literature and is available in
English as "The Kagero Diary: A Woman's Autobiographical Text from
Tenth-Century Japan (Michigan Monographs in Japanese Studies),"
translated by Sonja Arntzen.

Hrotsvitha (c. 935 – c. 1002), also known as Hroswitha, Hrotsvit,
Hrosvit, and Roswitha, was a 10th-century German secular canon of the
Benedictine Order, as well as a dramatist and poet who lived and worked
in Gandersheim, in modern-day Lower Saxony. Her name, as she herself
attested, is Saxon for "strong voice." She wrote in Latin, and is
considered by some to be the first person since antiquity to compose
drama in the West. She wrote six plays in rhymed prose, two historical
epics, and eight legends in verse. One legend she wrote in verse,
the story of Theophilus, was one of the most popular written in any
language. It describes how the young archdeacon was disappointed about
his promotion. He consults a Jewish sorcerer and is taken to a meeting
of devils, renounces God in a written document, then repents. He is
rescued by the Virgin Mary. The most well known and original of the
works of Hrotsvit are her six plays. She writes in her preface to them
that her writing will appeal to many who are attracted by the charm of
style.. Her plays are widely available in English in the book "The
Plays of Hrotswitha of Gandersheim", by Hrotswitha of Gandersheim and
Larissa Bonfante (Jan 15, 1979). Her plays feature the chastity and
perseverance of Christian women and contrast these to the Latin
portrayal of women as weak and emotional.

Sei Shōnagon (c. 966-1017) was a Japanese author and a court lady who
served the Empress Teishi, also known as Empress Sadako, around the
year 1000 during the middle Heian period. She is best known as the
author of "The Pillow Book", which is a book of observations and
musings recorded by her during her time as court lady. The book was
completed in the year 1002. In it she included lists of all kinds,
personal thoughts, interesting events in court, poetry, and some
opinions on her contemporaries. While it is mostly a personal work,
Shōnagon's writing and poetic skill makes it interesting as a work of
literature, and it is valuable as a historical document. There are
several English translations of the book, a notable one being "The
Pillow Book", translated by Meredith McKinney in 2006.

Murasaki Shikibu (c. 973 – c. 1014 or 1025), or Lady Murasaki as she is
often known in English, was a Japanese novelist, poet, and a maid of
honor of the imperial court during the Heian period of Japan. "Murasaki
Shikibu" was not her real name, which is unknown. Some scholars have
suggested that her given name might have been Fujiwara Takako, recorded
as a name of a lady-in-waiting ranked shōji on the 29th day of the 1st
month, Kankō 4 (February 19, 1007) according to Midō Kampaku Ki, a
diary written by Fujiwara no Michinaga, although this theory has not
been supported by many others. Her own diary, The Murasaki Shikibu
Diary, states that she was nicknamed "Murasaki" ("Violet") at court,
after a character in her novel "The Tale of Genji". "Shikibu" refers to
her father's position in the Bureau of Ceremony (shikibu-shō). She is
best known as the author of "The Tale of Genji", written in Japanese
between about 1000 and 1008. While universally hailed as a masterpiece,
the precise classification and influence of "The Tale of Genji" has
been a matter of debate; it is variously called the world's first
novel, the first modern novel, the first psychological novel or the
first novel still to be considered a classic. It is widely available in
English, with the most recent complete English translation being "The
Tale of Genji", translated by Royall Tyler. This translation also
includes notes, glossaries, character lists, and a chronology to enable
the reader to better appreciate the richness of this classic of world
literature. Murasaki Shikibu's diary is available in a 1999 English
translation by Richard Bowring, called "Diary of Lady Murasaki."

Izumi Shikibu (born circa 976) was a mid Heian period Japanese poet.
She is a member of the Thirty-six Medieval Poetry Immortals, a group of
Japanese poets of the Nara, Asuka, and Heian periods selected by poet
Fujiwara no Kintō as exemplars of Japanese poetic ability. There are
five female poets among them. Izumi was the contemporary of Murasaki
Shikibu (who had high praise for her work) at the court of Joto Mon'in,
and was perhaps the greatest poet of her time. Some of her poems are
available in English in the book "The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono
no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan,” by
Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani (1990). A diary she wrote is also
available in English as part of “Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan,”
translated by Annie Shepley Omori and Kochi Doi.

Sugawara no Takasue no musume (born 1008), also known as Lady
Sarashina, was a Japanese author. "Sugawara no Takasue no musume" means
a daughter of Sugawara no Takasue. Her real name is unknown. She is
known for her classic Heian period travel diary, the "Sarashina nikki".
In his later years, poet Fujiwara no Teika admired it enough to copy it
out for his own perusal. It stands out for its descriptions of her
travels and pilgrimages and is unique in the literature of the period,
as well as being one of the first in the genre of travel writing; it
intersperses personal reflections, anecdotes and lyrical poems with
accounts of her travels and descriptions of the Japanese countryside.
It is available in English as "As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams:
Recollections of a Woman in 11th-Century Japan", translated by Ivan