The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji Evening Faces Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One evening, when Genji is coming home from a visit at Rokujō, he stops to see his old nurse, Koremitsu's mother. Genji finds the old woman's gate locked, so he waits in the street. He notices a house behind Koremitsu's mother's that appears to be full of intriguingly tall women. Genji also notices some beautiful white flowers climbing the wall and asks an attendant to pick one of the "evening faces" for him. As the attendant enters the gate, a young girl comes out of the house, hands the attendant a scented fan, and tells him to put the flower on it. Koremitsu comes outside, passes the fan to Genji, and explains that his mother lost the key to her gate.
Genji's interest in the natural world again shows that this world mimics or adds more meaning to the human events of the novel; the mystery of the "evening faces" flower and the fan that the girl gives the attendant heightens the mystery of the women in the house and specifically, the Lady of the Evening Faces (whom Genji soon begins an affair with).
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Genji enters Koremitsu's mother's home, where she has two other children and their spouses visiting. The old woman greets Genji, explains that she wouldn't mind dying except for that she wouldn't be able to see him again, and then collapses crying. Genji comforts her and tells her that she needs to live so she can see him develop his career. Her children are ashamed of her emotionality, but Genji is touched. He apologizes for not being able to visit due to restrictions on his activities. His kindness brings her children to tears.
The narrator shows how very important Genji is here by having Koremitsu's mother appear to care more about him than her own children; this shows that he's powerful enough to bend and twist parent-child bonds. When Genji is able to bring her children to tears, it again forces the reader to accept that Genji is exceptional and above all others.
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After Genji leaves, he examines the fan that holds the flower. He's intrigued by the poem on the fan, which is written in a cursive that implies "breeding and taste." He asks Koremitsu about the residents of the house. Though Koremitsu is annoyed, he asks around and discovers that an honorary vice-governor owns the house, and the woman is likely a sister of the vice-governor's wife. Genji thinks the woman could possibly be vulgar, but he's intrigued nonetheless. He disguises his handwriting and sends her a poem, asking her to come out and see who he is. The Lady of the Evening Faces had thought Genji was someone else but is nevertheless excited to receive his special poem. The messenger leaves, however, before the lady and her attendants can come up with an appropriate reply.
Genji's description of the writing on the fan offers the reader's first hint that one's handwriting can convey all manner of hidden meanings and add more intrigue to situations like this. The possibility that the woman is vulgar likely comes from her willingness to exchange fans with Genji in the first place, which implies that women can be punished for engaging in the very systems that men want them to—in other words, though Genji absolutely wants to have sex with her, she's thought of as being vulgar than for also expressing interest in that.
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Though Genji is sad, he stops thinking about the Lady of the Evening Faces as soon as he reaches the house of the Rokujō Lady. In the morning, though, he passes by the house of the Lady of the Evening Faces again, burning with curiosity. Several days later, Koremitsu tells Genji that he figured out that a few months ago, someone came to live in the house mysteriously and without revealing her identity. He caught a glimpse of the lady and tells Genji that she's very beautiful. Genji instructs Koremitsu to investigate further and busies himself with problems he's having with two of his other lovers, the Governor of Iyo's daughter and his wife, the Lady of the Locust Shell.
Remember that at this point in time it was rude to refer to someone by name—individuals were known by their role (as in the case of the Emperor) or where they lived, which is how the Rokujō Lady is named. Genji's desire to figure out the name of the Lady of the Evening Faces suggests that there's some power to be had by knowing someone's given name, whether or not one intends to ever use it.
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The Governor of Iyo returns to the city and immediately visits Genji. Though Genji tries to maintain his composure, he feels bad for the governor. He's upset to learn that the governor wants to find his daughter a husband and take the Lady of the Locust Shell away, so he attempts to quietly arrange a meeting with them. The Lady of the Locust Shell refuses, though her daughter receives him happily. Genji spends little time with Aoi, which angers her, and after pushing through the Rokujō Lady's resistance, he stops seeing her so often. The lady herself is somewhat distraught and often waits up for him. She fears that others will discover their affair and gossip about their age difference.
Pay particular attention to how Genji's relationship with the Rokujō Lady is described: he "pushes through her resistance" (meaning that he likely rapes her), leaves her out cold, and yet she still wants to continue seeing Genji. This shows that regardless of how a sexual relationship begins, it's often in women's best interest to continue these relationships with men in order to help their own reputations and reap the benefits of having the attention of a powerful man.
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One morning, as the Rokujō Lady hastily sends Genji away, he asks her serving lady to sit with him for a moment to admire the flowers on the veranda. In verse, he asks her why he feels compelled to return when he's also "seeking fresher blooms." She replies that regardless of his reasons, he seems to have little time for the "blossoms" at the Rokujō Lady's house.
The Rokujō Lady's serving lady delicately reprimands Genji for not appropriately spending time with the Lady here; this suggests that women can absolutely voice their concerns, though sometimes, they must do so through intermediaries.
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Koremitsu is unable to identify the Lady of the Evening Faces, though he does discover that she has some sort of connection to Tō no Chūjō, Genji's brother-in-law. Genji wonders if the lady is one of his former lovers. Koremitsu arranges for Genji to stop in at the lady's house the next time he visits Koremitsu's mother. For the visit, Genji disguises himself as a lower-class person and goes on foot, taking only Koremitsu and a page with him. After the visit, the lady attempts to have Genji followed to figure out who he is, but she's unsuccessful.
It's telling here that Genji is able to figure out some things about the Lady of the Evening Faces while the lady herself is wholly unsuccessful in finding out anything about Genji. This is one way that the narrator is able to make it clear that even if the lady might benefit from associating with Genji, Genji still has the most power of the two and will come out on top regardless.
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Genji decides he must continue seeing the Lady of the Evening Faces. He becomes almost obsessed with her, which surprises him—even though she's pleasantly childlike and quiet, her family isn't very good. He continues to disguise himself, which both scares her and makes her suspect that Genji is actually Koremitsu. Genji spends his days fretting about what he'll do if she decides to move without telling him, and he considers moving her himself so that he can see her more easily. As their relationship progresses, Genji thinks often about whether she is indeed Tō no Chūjō's former lover but doesn't question her.
Genji's thoughts about the Lady of the Evening Faces' family reminds the reader that one's connections are even more important than how much fun someone is to be with, given that he finds his attraction to her surprising in light of her poor family background. Also note that Genji describes her as "childlike;" this shows that Genji very much likes women that he's able to control like children, as they allow him to feel powerful.
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In the fall, Genji wakes in the house of the Lady of the Evening Faces to the voices of common people. The women of her house are extremely embarrassed by Genji hearing this, though the lady herself isn't as perturbed. Simultaneously entranced by and annoyed with the noise, Genji admires his lover, who is wearing a cloak of lavender, and suggests that they go away to enjoy the rest of the night. The lady protests and doesn't want to go, so Genji simply lifts her into the carriage and takes her to a nearby villa with Ukon, her maid.
The lives of court officials like Genji are extremely far removed from the lives of real people like those Genji hears here. This is reinforced throughout the novel, as Genji often describes common folk in terms more fitting for animals than people. When Genji lifts the lady and takes her away, it shows that he's secure in his power and knows he can get away with this.
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The villa is in disrepair, but Genji tries to speak of it as though it's all a grand adventure. The Lady of the Evening Faces is afraid. Ukon watches the caretaker energetically prepare the villa, which makes her suspect that her lady's lover might be Genji. Finally, around daybreak, the couple is shown to the prepared room. Genji dismisses the caretaker's suggestion to find women to serve them, as he doesn't want to be discovered. He tells the lady that he's going to show her a love that's dependable as that of river loons.
The fact that the villa is in disrepair tells the reader that there's something seriously wrong here, especially given that he later describes the grounds as being poorly maintained. Indeed, this scene forebodes the Lady’s impending death. Genji's allusion to the river loons shows again how important the role of nature is.
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Genji wakes up around noon and looks around the grounds, which are neglected and overgrown. He and the Lady of the Evening Faces exchange poems telling each other they're beautiful, and Genji attempts to get the lady to tell him her real name. She refuses, but they continue to talk all day. Koremitsu discovers them but leaves them alone as the day goes on. In the evening, the lady becomes scared of the dark and the shadows, so Genji lies with her and has the caretaker bring lights. He thinks about the panic that must be gripping the palace with his absence and how upset the Rokujō Lady must be that he didn't visit last night. Compared to the Rokujō lady, who is jealous and demanding, Genji finds the Lady of the Evening Faces delightfully easy to be with.
Notice that Genji refers to the Rokujō Lady as jealous and demanding; this suggests that the Rokujō Lady may have more power than Genji or the narrator has given her credit for up to this point, as the novel has already made it very clear that female jealousy is one of the most powerful things within the logic of the novel. The banter between the Lady of the Evening Faces and Genji shows that for Genji, this is all just a fun jaunt. The lady's fear, however, shows that this is far more terrifying for her and she's aware that she has little power in this relationship.
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Past midnight, Genji falls asleep and sees a beautiful woman suddenly appear by his pillow. The woman reprimands Genji for not visiting her and for spending time with a lady who is so poorly positioned in society. He wakes up to discover that the lights have gone out, and feels as though an evil being is in the room. He wakes Ukon and attempts to send her to fetch a light, but she's too afraid. He and Ukon notice the Lady of the Evening Faces bathed in sweat and trembling, so Genji sends a guard to find fire.
This apparition that reprimands Genji for not visiting makes it clear once again that female jealousy is so powerful, it can even cross over into the divine or spiritual realm to wreak havoc in the real world. The apparition's note specifically that the Lady of the Evening Faces is poorly positioned suggests that she's someone on the outs at court and therefore, isn't powerful.
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When Genji returns to the room, he takes the Lady of the Evening Faces in his arms but discovers that she's dead. A man arrives with a torch, and Genji moves screens to hide her body. As Genji motions the man to come forward, he fleetingly sees the woman from his dream by the lady's pillow. Genji asks the torchbearer to go find Koremitsu and a holy man. In the following silent hours, Genji listens to the wind and a strange birdcall. He wonders if Ukon is going to die of grief. Finally, when he hears a rooster crow, Genji feels as though he's being punished for a "guilty love" and he'll be known forever as a fool.
Here, the apparition appearing next to the body of the Lady of the Evening Faces suggests that female jealousy even has the power to kill other women. Again, this implies that it's not in women's best interests to work together to improve their situations; rather, they must fight each other for men's affections as that's the only way for them to become powerful in Heian culture. The wind and the birdcall mimic and expand upon Genji's feelings of sadness and fear, again showing how the natural world mirrors real life.
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Koremitsu finally arrives and Genji explains what happened. Koremitsu almost cries but composes himself and insists that what happened must be kept secret. He decides that they should send the body of the Lady of the Evening Faces to a temple on the mountain. At daylight, Koremitsu wraps up the body and puts it in the carriage, forbidding Genji from accompanying it to the temple. Genji barely makes it back to the palace and sits alone in his chambers, feeling as though he should've gone with the lady's body and wondering if he's going to die.
Koremitsu's suggestion to send the body to the mountain is a way for him to avoid detection and keep this story from getting out. This shows that according to those making decisions, preserving Genji's reputation is far more important to them than trying to find the Lady of the Evening Faces' family or any of her friends who would want to deal with the funeral themselves.
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The only person Genji allows to visit him is Tō no Chūjō. Genji lies that he went to his old nurse's deathbed and then became sick. Tō no Chūjō tells Genji he doesn't believe it, and Genji says that he experienced an "unexpected defilement." This means that Genji is unable to receive visitors, though he receives Koremitsu immediately when he arrives later. He explains that the Lady of the Evening Faces is definitely dead and will have her funeral tomorrow, while Ukon is alive but distraught. He promises to keep what happened a secret and comforts Genji.
When Genji changes his story to say that he experienced “defilement”—likely a reference to some sort of spiritual debasement—it shows that he's very tuned into court life and knows how to get people to leave him alone. However, when he later receives Koremitsu, it shows that Genji is possibly not particularly concerned with keeping up appearances entirely, seeing as it wouldn't be proper for him to receive anyone after defilement.
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Genji insists that he must see the Lady of the Evening Faces one more time. Against his better judgment, Koremitsu takes Genji on horseback. The moon lights their way to the desolate temple, and upon arriving Genji takes the lady's hand and cries uncontrollably. The priests don't know who he is, but they sense he's someone remarkable and find themselves moved to tears. Genji attempts to convince Ukon to come back to the palace with him, but she refuses. On the ride home, Genji is so overcome with grief he falls off and is unable to get back on. Koremitsu prays and finally, Genji is able to complete the journey.
Again, Genji's ability to move the priests to tears tells the reader that he's someone very special who exists outside the realm of other normal people. The fact that he appears to feel grief so strongly does show that as unhealthy as his relationships with women may be, he does still form emotional attachments to them. Essentially, he does on some level see them as more than mere playthings.
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Genji spends the next three days sick in bed. The Emperor orders continuous prayers in various shrines and temples and fears that Genji might not live long. After a few days, Genji summons Ukon to the palace, and he and Koremitsu get her settled in. After twenty days, Genji's period of cleansing from his defilement is up and he's feeling better, so he returns to court. He's back to his old self by the end of the next month, though he still cries for seemingly no reason.
The novel very much implies that the Emperor is ordering prayers because he believes Genji has suffered defilement and is ill because of it. This shows that Genji can, at the very least, fool his father into buying his excuses that don't do much for his peers who are more aware of the way he interacts with women.
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Some evenings, Genji summons Ukon to talk. He asks her once why the Lady of the Evening Faces insisted on keeping her name a secret, and Ukon explains that the lady figured out who Genji was and felt that he was belittling her by not sharing his name. Genji insists he couldn't tell her his name or the Emperor would find out and reprimand him for seeing her. Eventually, Ukon shares that the lady was indeed Tō no Chūjō's lover, but she ran away after his family scared her. She gave birth to his daughter, and Genji asks to have the girl brought to court. As Genji and Ukon admire the evening sky, Genji admits that he loves quiet, withdrawn, and obedient women, and Ukon cries that the lady was just that. Genji softly recites a poem about the lady's death.
Here, Genji essentially tells Ukon that he respects his relationship with his father far more than he respects any of his other relationships. It's also worth noting that though Genji asks that the lady's daughter come to court, she's never mentioned again—suggesting that however apparent his grief, his ultimate views on women may still be primarily as inconsequential playthings.
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