Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima (The Sea of Fertility)
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1972. First American Edition. Hardcover. 389 pages ; 21 cm. $7.95 dust jacket. Gifts inscription on flyleaf. Otherwise, a very good copy with firm binding, clean and unmarked pages.
ON THE DAY of his death, Yukio Mishima delivered to his publishers the final pages of the four-book roman fleuve that is his ultimate work—a series of connected novels summing up his vision of the Japanese experience in the twentieth century. "I have put into it," he wrote, "everything I have felt and thought about life and this world."
Spring Snow, a complete and self-contained novel, is the first book of Mishima's tetralogy. It is set in Tokyo in 1912, in the closed circles of the Imperial Court and the ancient aristocracy, a hermetic world beginning to be breached by newcomers—the rich provincial families whose money and vitality, unhindered by burdens of tradition, make them formidable contenders for the prize of social and political power. The Mat-sugae family belongs to this rising new elite. Their son has been raised—for the sake of his parents' advancement—in a family of the waning aristocracy, the elegant and attenuated Aya-kuras. Now, in his first manhood, he is caught up in the tensions between the old and the new — fiercely loving and, seemingly with almost equal ferocity, hating the Ayakuras' exquisite and spirited daughter, Satoko. Wanting her and repelling her, he is held in psychic paralysis until the shock of her engagement to a royal prince shows him the magnitude of his passion and leads to a love affair as doomed as it was fated.
In its splendid evocation of the past, in its assertion of the insubstantiality of beauty and happiness, in its subtle orchestration of cultural forces and individual lives, Spring Snow is one of the major novels of Japanese literature. As the subsequent novels appear, carrying Misli-ma's social, esthetic, and moral examination of Japanese life up through the 1960's, his extraordinary final work will be recognized as the masterpiece of one of the most brilliant novelists of our day.
Yukio Mishima was born into a samurai family and imbued with the code of complete control over mind and body, and loyalty to the Emperor—the same code that produced the austerity and self-sacrifice of Zen. Much of the tetralogy views the self-seeking arrogance and corruption of the militarists of the thirties (and their contemporary successors) as being inimical to the samurai code. Mishima was often wrongly called a rightist because of his private "army" of unarmed young men, but it was not blacklisted by the careful Japanese police because it was never involved in violence and so differed from conventional rightist organizations. Mishima reverenced and mastered the martial arts of Japan, creating a beautiful body he hoped age would never make ugly. He began to practice body-building in 1955 and kendo (dueling with bamboo staves) in 1959. In 1966 he took up karate as well. By 1968 he had become a kendo master of the fifth rank. On November 25,1970, Yukio Mishima committed seppuku (ritual suicide).
Yukio Mishima was forty-five years old when he died, and at the peak of a brilliant literary career. "His tetralogy, The Sea of Fertility, is his masterpiece, as he knew," Donald Keene has said. Mishima often told his friends he wished to die young. After he conceived the idea of The Sea of Fertility in 1964, he frequently said he would die when it was completed. He told Keene, "The title, The Sea of Fertility, is intended to suggest the arid sea of the moon that belies its name. Or I might say that it superimposes the image of cosmic nihilism on that of the fertile sea."
Mishima's works have been compared to those of Proust, Gide, and Sartre, and his obsession with courage and the manly virtues to Hemingway's. Arthur Miller said, "I felt Mishima had an admirable style. He was surrealistic. He was very erotic. He had an economy of means to create enormous myths—his novels are compressed visions."
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