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Popular literature in early-modern Japan

Principal investigator: Dr Laura Moretti


The Everyman's Library: a new literary history of 17th-century Japanese popular prose (Laura Moretti)

This project focuses on Japanese early-modern Japanese prose literature in print. The main output will be the publication of the monograph entitled The Everyman's Library: a new literary history of seventeenth-century Japanese popular prose. The book proposal has been accepted by Brill and the manuscript will be sent for peer review in June 2014. This project aims at reconstructing the literary landscape of the popular prose printed in seventeenth-century Japan. By doing so, it fills a conspicuous gap in current secondary literature on Japanese early-modern popular prose and offers a new interpretation about it. After a discussion of what a ‘new’ literary history entails (preface), the first chapter discusses and defines theoretical concepts which lay the ground for this study: ‘popular’, ‘literature’, ‘literacy(ies)’, ‘publishing genres’ and ‘genre’. The second chapter retrieves the literary landscape of seventeenth-century popular prose by organizing a large corpus of forgotten texts into genres, which include both the publishing genres as defined by early-modern publishers/booksellers and the genres that can be reconstructed a posteriori. The distant reading of this non-canonical textual corpus is combined with the close reading of carefully selected texts, with the analysis their narrative strategies, of their textual fluidity, of the techniques applied to popularize contents, etc. The third chapter re-defines the boundaries of the genres defined in the second chapter, by exploring how the same corpus can be organized and interpreted in new ways when analyzed against the historical context and its main topical themes. The fourth chapter looks at the same corpus in a diachronic perspective. The genres identified in the second chapter and the themes examined in the third will be reconsidered in their evolution along the eighteenth and nineteenth century. This will allow rethinking of the traditional and conventional periodization of Japanese early-modern literature. In particular two aspects will be highlighted. Ihara Saikaku will be re-positioned in this newly envisioned literary landscape, by avoiding in considering him as the watershed between two literary traditions and at the origin of a new genre. The gap between Kamigata-based popular literature and Edo-based literature will be questioned as well, by analyzing how osmotic their boundaries are in the re-appropriation of seventeenth-century popular prose. 


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