Though more than two hundred years have separated Sei Shonagon and Marie de France, the scene is much the same. A courtly lady sits in a candle-lit room, with her writing hand poised above a book of parchment. Her face brightens in an instant of inspiration and she scribbles furiously onto the paper. This woman is closely associated with the royal court and is something of an anachronism, a woman author in a male-dominated world. The scene pictured here could have taken place in either Shonagon's late tenth century Japan or the twelfth century France of Marie de France. The differences that exist between these two authors are a result of their differing cultures and personalities. Marie de France writes as a product of her time, expressing herself through her characters, while keeping in mind the mandates of the church. Sei Shonagon is ruled by no such mandates and as a result wrote with merciless honesty. Accordingly, the structure, diction and imagery used by each author reflects her own distinct personality and values.
Sei Shonagon is most well known for her Pillow Book, a collection of her personal thoughts and observations during her time at court. The structure, or lack thereof, in this work gives the reader a peek at Shonagon's personality. She writes in short bursts, giving the mini-chapters such titles as "The Sliding Screen in the Back of the Hall," "Hateful Things," and "Oxen Should Have Very Small Foreheads." The titles are representative of her tendency to write at length on subjects that may seem inconsequential, or as the author admits in the last segment of the Pillow Book, "most trivial." In fact, these so-called trivial observations provide a s...
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...es and cultures. One author is governed by her strict faith and adherence to the church, the other by her own strongly-held opinions. Each woman's writing clearly reflects her own distinct personality and temperament: Marie de France, more eager and spiritual, Sei Shonagon, more satirical and opinionated. Both courtly ladies seem faithful to their own beliefs and reflective of their time and culture.
Sei Shonagon. The Pillow Book. Trans. Richard Bowring. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Expanded Edition. Ed. Maynard Mack. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 1995. 2191-2218. All quotations are from this text.
De France, Marie. "Eliduc". Trans. John Fowles. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Expanded Edition. Ed. Maynard Mack. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 1995. 1680-1692. All quotations are from this text.
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