The Life of an Amorous Woman

Ihara Saikaku

translated from the Japanese by Ivan Morris
New Directions 1963
A book review by Danny Yee © 2004
Saikaku was also a haikai poet, but The Life of an Amorous Woman is a selection of his short stories, taken from four works published between 1686 and 1692. These are engaging and make a pleasant entertainment — many end unhappily and there is some grit in their realism, but they are light-hearted, irreverent, ironic, and detached. Saikaku's stories also offer a fascinating picture of town life during the period, with characters from all levels of society, from courtesans and merchants to servants and beggars.

The stories from Five Women Who Chose Love, describing ill-fated lovers, are based on actual events. In The Life of an Amorous Woman an old woman tells tales of her erotic adventures as wife, courtesan, secret mistress of a priest, servant, seamstress, street prostitute, and more. The Eternal Storehouse of Japan turns to commerce and the making and losing of money, through means both legal and illegal. And Reckonings That Carry Men Through the World has stories of debts and poverty and the settling of accounts. (One drawback to the volume is that these works are not complete — it has three of the five stories in Five Women, fourteen of twenty-four chapters of An Amorous Woman, and so forth — which may be annoying for those who end up reading more Saikaku.)

A fifty page introduction provides background on the Genroku period, on the increasing wealth of towns and the artistic and erotic Floating World they supported, and on Saikaku and his works and style. There are a hundred pages of detailed notes, explaining names and cultural references, but the stories can be read without ever consulting these. And a nice inclusion are some of the black and white line drawings that were integrated with the original text.

June 2004

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%T The Life of an Amorous Woman
%A Saikaku, Ihara
%M Japanese
%F Morris, Ivan
%I New Directions
%D 1963
%O paperback, notes, index
%G ISBN 0811201872
%P 402pp