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An Analysis Of The Gossamer Years

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The Gossamer Years

In the book The Gossamer Years, Heian society of Japan is expressed through the voice and actions of the author of the book. The book is a compilation of memoirs written by a noblewoman who lived during this period; however, it is not an extremely accurate historical reference. Instead it is a personal encounter of an individual and her response to her life and lives surrounding her, which leaves the reader to deduce for themselves how events effected society in a non-bias type of way. From these memoirs, Heian Society can be dissected from the stand point of an outsider looking in, instead of a history book telling the reader what it was like. The writer doesn't explain the society and events that she faces; however, through her actions and words a fair assessment can be made on topics such as court life, religion, women's right, and marriage.

The author, Lady Gossamer, begins her entries in her journal around the time that she is being courted by her future husband, who happens to be a man of stature and wealth in their society. There are definite social classes in the Heian society and unspoken rules about class integration. When Lady Gossamer's husband, the Prince, began correspondence with her, she was "half-inclined not to answer, but (her) mother insisted that a letter from such a gentleman was not to be ignored, and finally (she) sent off a return (page 34)". The Prince was an official and a member of the elite social class in Heian, society, so it would have been regarded as disrespectful and ignorant for her not to respond to his advances because even though she was of good social standing, she was not of the same caliber as the Prince. Through their union, Lady Gossamer gained more social status than she had before and also reaped the benefits of this merger. She was outfitted with a small group of people to tend to the house the Prince moved her into as well as tending to her needs. She refers to them as her people on many occasions, but never references them by name. Their responsibilities are to tend to the needs of the house whether it be doing gardening, or seamstress types of projects that were needed for Lady Gossamer or the Prince. Throughout their marriage there are references to the career path of the Prince, different advances and promotions in his status in council. With each promotion it seemed that he became more and more in the public eye. In The First Year of Ten-en, there is an annual Yawata Festival where "an elaborate procession with a noisy gang of out runners approached, and (she) recognized the Prince's men, and then the Prince himself, riding with his blinds up, quite in the public eye (page 142)". The high class in this society often traveled quite similar to this procession and a man or woman of the Prince's stature, or of Lady Gossamer's, would never travel without the support and protection of a group of men. Not much is expressed about the lives of the support staff or the men and women involved; the little that is told is primarily their response to the happenings that surround the people that they tend to, distinguishing Lady Gossamer's societal importance over theirs'.

Religion is a very intricate part of the every day life of a Heian citizen. It was commonplace for Lady Gossamer to take part in what we would today refer to as a religious sabbatical on numerous occasions throughout her life. The regularity of these practices are hard to timeline because it is unclear if each and every sabbatical is accounted for in her journal, or if she just picks and chooses which one she wanted to discuss. Lady Gossamer makes reference to Buddha a few times, so we realize that Buddhism was the religion practiced among Heian society. When she ventures on one of her retreats, where the destination is always a temple of some sorts, located in a mountain, she partakes in praying, fasting, and/or purifying. During The Second Year of Tenroku, the Lady leaves on a trip to a temple in the western mountains and decides to stay indefinitely, unbeknownst to her husband. After spending quite some time at the temple, the Prince writes to her asking her to return to the city and he even tries to threaten her in a way by telling her "that gossips say I have done and become a nun (page 104)," but she is not swayed. In response to his threats she replies, "I am here only because I have been bored and have nothing else to do (page 105)". Acts such as this makes it unclear if she is really at the temple for religious purification or to upset her misbehaving husband. There are other times when the Prince's correspondences have a forgiving tone due to such days when "he is in penance, and on the (next day) my direction is forbidden". These are presented to the Lady in a way that comes across as an excuse and not actually a religious obligation. It is not explained whether direction is forbidden for religious



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