Reflections in a Glass Door: Memory and Melancholy in the Personal Writings of Natsume Soseki
280pp. July 2009
Reflections in a Glass Door: Memory and Melancholy in the Personal Writings of Natsume Soseki
Author: Marcus, Marvin;
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, Marvin Marcus introduces readers 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.

Marcus identifies memory and melancholy as key themes in Soseki’s personal writings and highlights their relevance in his fiction. He balances Soseki’s account of his Tokyo household with that of his wife, Natsume Kyoko, who left a straightforward record of life with her celebrated husband. Soseki crafted a moving and convincing voice in his shohin, which can now be pondered and enjoyed for their penetrating observation and honesty, as well as the fresh perspective they offer on one of Japan’s literary giants.

5 illus.

"This book in many ways reminds the reader of Soseki’s brilliance and the capacity of his writings to take on so many different meanings." —Journal of Asian Studies (69:2, May 2010)

“Making sense, often brilliantly, is what Marcus does in this eminently readable account of the inner life of Soseki.” —Japan Times (27 September 2009)

"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

Author: Marcus, Marvin;
Marvin Marcus is associate professor of Japanese language and literature and comparative literature at Washington University in St. Louis.
Read the introduction (PDF).
Introduction: The Glass Doors of Natsume Soseki

Chapter 1. London Underground: A Rhetoric of Melancholy
Chapter 2. Babashita Traces: Memories and the City
Chapter 3. Shohin Episodes: In Search of a Meiji Upbringing
Chapter 4. Burdens of Domesticity: The Writer and His Family
Chapter 5. Inside Glass Doors: The Writer at His Desk
Chapter 6. Literary Portraits: Mentors, Protégés, and Eccentrics
Chapter 7. Zoshigaya and Beyond: Re-membering Soseki

Soseki Chronology
Selected Bibliography