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The helpless dependence on men that society has forced on women down the ages has shriveled many a female soul. We see it at work in the 11th-century “The Tale of Genji,” the world’s oldest novel, written by court lady Murasaki Shikibu (c.978-c.1014).

The irrepressible Genji is forcing himself on a young woman who is under his protection as a kind of foster-daughter. To characterize Genji based on this one episode would be to do him an injustice. He is in fact kind, sympathetic, exquisitely sensitive, wondrously artistic and as loved as he is loving, though prone to inexcusable excesses. The woman “was stunned … she was sobbing helplessly.”

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