A bit over-charged with psychological analysis

The National Library of Australia's Trove has an online newspaper archive covering most of the 19th century and the first half of the twentieth. It's really very well put together in terms of searchability, browsability, and even linkability. Here's the Literature column from the Hobart Mercury, 1913-12-14, the bulk of which is about Natsume Sōseki:

Those in any degree familiar with both English and Japanese modern literature (writes Mr. J. Ingram Bryan in the "Athenæum") will doubtless admit that what George Meredith has been to the one, Soseki Natsume is to the other—a searcher of human motives, revealing the thoughts and intents of the heart. Indeed, Natsume himself would be content lo class himself there; for he has confessedly taken Meredith as his master and model.

The novels of Soseki Natsume, the most noted name in modern Japanese fiction, indicate rather a marked tendency to didacticism, and are perhaps a bit over-charged with psychological analysis. Art here is found in lusty embrace with philosophy; and his men and women reveal themselves by their subtle play on one another in the slow progress of situations lifelike in their apparent unimportance. Philosophy, like a shroud, surrounds the characters he depicts, and the majority of an ever over-hasty public usually give up in weariness, if not despair. But for those with an ear for truth divinely put there is an enthralling style, which leads the searcher on; and in a world where wisdom is not dead, Natsume will have a constant and growing circle of select readers. On the whole, however, he has been as much neglected by his fellow-countrymen as George Meredith was by English readers during the early part of his literary career.

I don't know about that. There are very few writers who do better for themselves in terms of non-neglect than being able to quit their day job and write full-time, as Sōseki did.

The approach to Natsume should be made through his early history, of which his writings are a strong reflection. Born in 1867 in the present Japanese capital, like another name of note in Japanese fiction, Koda Rohan, Natsume quickly gave evidence of having inherited the Tokyo spirit what, in the vernacular, is called the Edo-ko kishitsu, which displays itself in a tendency to improvidence and a general indifference to social conventions. It has long been tho boast of the Tokyo man that he never keeps his money over night, and that he is more proud of intellectual superiority than of any other excellence. To Kyoto for beauty, but to Yedo for men, was the old aphorism, which Natsume in his personality well bears out. But in recent years he has become rather an invalid, a state to some extent reflected in the satire and cynicism of his later volumes of fiction. [...]

(Short run-down of Sōseki's stay in London snipped)

It is, of course, impossible here to review the numerous volumes of fiction that have [...] flowed from his pen [since returning from abroad], but two of the most popular may be mentioned as indicating the character of a certain type of Japanese fiction. "Wagahai wa Neko Nari" ("I am a Cat"), one of the most widely read of his novels, is something after the manner of E. A. Hoffmann's "Kater Murr", and is richly charged with a sort of droll humour.

Note that the actual title is Wagahai wa neko de aru; nari is just a trifle too old-fashioned. It's interesting though that you can't make this mistake unless you are familiar enough with archaic Japanese to overshoot like that, like misremembering a quote as using "thinketh" instead of "thinks" in English.

It is the autobiography of a cat which lives in the home of a school teacher, Mr. Sneeze, in Tokyo, and the animal gives its impressions of the family and the various guests entertained in the home, including poets, literary men, students, the new woman, and even thieves and robbers that sneak in at night. The whole is deliciously tinctured with epigram and satire. Another popular volume is "Bochan" [sic!] ("My Young Man"), a book somewhat after the manner of "Tom Brown's School Days." For aptness of local colour and unerring depiction of social life with all its whims and vices this volume is a masterpiece. It has all the intensity of Dickens as well as his deep sympathy with the oppressed, but all in the manner of Meredith. This being true, his characters naturally speak in a manner and indulge in a tone somewhat foreign to the average Japanese. Most of Natsume's other volumes are too much taken up with philosophical disquisitions and recondite matters to become popular.

I found this statement baffling at first. Then I rechecked the date and realized it was one year before the first serialization of Kokoro. Win some, lose some.

Bonus link: I found a huge list of Wagahai wa neko de aru parodies, from 1907's I am a rat through 1942's I am electricity to 2001's I am a nameneko.

Popularity factor: 4


You mentioned some of these in February... although the writer insists that they are humor, the titles sound slightly didactic or pedagogical in purpose, like Annie Carey's "Autobiography of a Lump of Coal".

Leonardo Boiko:

And of course Zetsubou-sensei has a chapter 吾輩は天下りである。仕事はまだない。 (“I am an amakudari. I still don’t have work.”, from the opening line “I am a cat. I still don’t have a name.”).


I made a four-song demo in 2003 for BMG Japan (totally rejected!) called 『吾輩は海象である。』for the Natsume-Lennon mashup.


Interestingly I make the same titular mistake, but I blam Golden Eggs for that.

Comment season is closed.