The Japanese Novel of the Meiji Period and the Ideal of Individualism

The Western ideal of individualism had a pervasive influence on the culture of the Meiji period in Japan (1868-1912), as well as on the development of the novel, a form imported from Europe. The author begins by examining the evolution of a literary concept of the inner self in Futabatei Shimei’s novel Ukigumo (The Floating Cloud, 1886-89), Kitamura Tōkoku’s essays on the inner life (early 1890s), and Tayama Katai’s work in the shishōsetsu (I-fiction) form, Futon (The Quilt, 1907). The second part of the book is devoted to Shimazaki Tōson (1872-1943), who, along with Natsume Sōseki, Mori Ōgai, and Nagai Kafū, brought Japanese fiction to its first stage of maturity in the beginning two decades of the twentieth century. This section analyzes Tōson’s evolution of a personal ideal of selfhood, treating in detail two of that author’s major novels: Hakai (The Broken Commandment, 1906) and Shinsei (The New Life, 1919).

The book suggests that Meiji novels of the individual provided their readers with mirrors in which to confront their newly-discovered sense of individuality in all its joys and sorrows. It both explores the development of the Japanese novel centering on the individual as a unique form of the novel and places it in a comparative context with its European prototypes and analogues.