Memory and Melancholy in the Personal Writings of Natsume Soseki

Much has been written about Natsume Soseki (1867–1916), one of Japan’s most celebrated writers. Known primarily for his novels, he also published a large and diverse body of short personal writings (shohin) that have long lived in the shadow of his fictional works. The essays, which appeared in the Asahi shinbun between 1907 and 1915, comprise a fascinating autobiographical mosaic, while capturing the spirit of the Meiji era and the birth of modern Japan. In Reflections in a Glass Door: Memory and Melancholy in the Personal Writings of Natsume Soseki, by Marvin Marcus, readers are introduced to a rich sampling of Soseki’s shohin. The writer revisits his Tokyo childhood, recalling family, friends, and colleagues and musing wistfully on the transformation of his city and its old neighborhoods. He painfully recounts his two years in London, where he immersed himself in literary research even as he struggled with severe depression. A chronic stomach ailment causes Soseki to reflect on his own mortality and what he saw as the spiritual afflictions of modern Japanese: rampant egocentrism and materialism. Throughout he adopts a number of narrative voices and poses: the peevish husband, the harried novelist, the convalescent, the seeker of wisdom.

“Author of a marvelously readable study of Mori Ogai, modern Japan’s other immovable mountain, Marcus here combines translation, biography, history, criticism, and analysis to guide the reader gracefully through the best of Soseki’s non-fictional (and semi-fictional) writing, illuminating both the major novels and the idiosyncratic mind that created them. An impressive work.” —Jay Rubin, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies

July 2009 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3306-0 / $49.00 (CLOTH)