Introduction to Contemporary Japanese Literature

Excerpt

After a relatively long period of travail that extended from the middle of the Meiji-thirties (1902) to the beginning of the forties (1907), the Naturalist school of literature was firmly established in this country as well. This marked, at the same time, the origin of Japan's modern literature. Generally speaking, it is the literary output which dates from this period on that is customarily regarded here as " contemporary literature." Thus the indeterminate forms of the Naturalist mutation are still more or less extant to-day. As a matter of fact, our veteran authors since the Naturalist period are still occupying the front ranks in literary circles to-day. In order, therefore, to obtain a comprehensive knowledge of the modern, or contemporary, literature of this country, it is necessary that we begin with a general survey of our Naturalist school of letters. This accounts for the fact that in the present work, designed as it is to present an outline of Japanese contemporary literature, we have selected for our purpose the representative authors from that period on. Also, it is necessary in this Introduction, in which we propose to give a general explanation of the historical positions and distinctive features of these authors and their respective schools, to commence with a brief note on the characteristics of Naturalism.

Aside from the fact that it is essentially a study of social conditions resulting from distressing circumstances, the Naturalism of this country has come to clarify its course and content as naturalistic literature through the guidance of works and theories of the French Naturalist writers, notably Zola, Maupassant and the Goncourt brothers. In spite of this, however, its aspect of social research — a quality strikingly in evidence in Zola — was only of a very attenuated nature. At the same time its mastery of scientism, which it adopted as its point of view, was not always developed to its fullest extent. Being a school that had been evolved from the vestiges of Romanticism, which was early forced out of existence by the peculiar social conditions of this country and before it could achieve a healthy . . .

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