The Decay of the Angel (The sea of fertility : A cycle of four novels) by Yukio Mishima ; Translated from the Japanese by Edward G. Seidensticker
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 1974. First American Edition. Hardcover. 236 pages ; 21 cm. $6.95 dust jacket. Priced rubber stamp on flyleaf. Slight bow to board. Otherwise, a near fine copy with firm binding, clean and unmarked pages.
THE PUBLICATION OF THIS, the fourth and final novel of The Sea of Fertility, brings to brilliant completion a monument of Japanese literature—Yukio Mishima's universally acclaimed tetralogy summing up the Japanese experience in the twentieth century. The first book, Spring Snow, published in 1972 and memorializing the twilight of the old Japan in the first decade of the century, was followed (in 1973) by Runaway Horses, set in the 1930's, and The Temple of Dawn, carrying the narrative through the aftermath of World War II. In all three novels critics recognized the unfolding of a masterpiece which is now seen whole—as epic, social document, jeremiad, and elegy.
In The Decay of the Angel, in its climactic drama lit by irony and forebodings of death, themes that have branched through the earlier novels come together at last: the meaning (and decay) of Japan's courtly tradition and samurai ideal, the essence and value of Buddhist philosophy and aesthetics and, underlying all, Mishima's apocalyptic vision of the modern age.
The time is the late 1960's—the last years of the author's own life. The protagonist is Honda—the young student of Spring Snow, the honored judge and legal defender of the conspirators in Runaway Horses, the philosopher-voyeur of The Temple of Dawn. He is now an aged and wealthy man. His own life nearly over, he discovers and adopts a sixteen-year-old orphan boy as his heir—identifying him with the tragic protagonists of the previous episodes, each stricken at twenty. Seeking to find in Toru the aristocratic sensibility of Kiyoaki, the uncompromising idealism of Isao, the pure beauty of the Thai princess, Honda educates the boy, teaches him the ways of society, yet watches him, waiting ...
In the magnificent final scene that brings the tetralogy to its close, as Honda slowly climbs the long sloping path to the Gesshu temple, retracing Kiyoaki's steps of sixty years before, the full thrust and import of The Sea of Fertility is given its ultimate metaphoric expression. The empty flood of sunlight, anticipating not only Honda's death but the terrible death by ritual suicide of Yukio Mishima himself, illumines a void— the final dissolution of the moral and cultural forces that, through the ages, nourished a people and a world.
YUKIO MISHIMA was born into a samurai family. He was forty-five when, on November 25, 1970, at the peak of a brilliant literary career and immediately after the completion of The Decay of the Angel, he committed the ritual suicide called seppuku. "The Sea of Fertility is his masterpiece, as he knew," Donald Keene has said of the tetralogy. But he had already won enormous international acclaim for his many earlier novels, the first of which to be published in America was The Sound of Waves (1956). The last, previous to the publication of Spring Snow, Runaway Horses, and The Temple of Dawn, was Thirst for Love (1969). Mishima's works have been compared to those of Proust, Gide, and Sartre, and his obsession with courage to Hemingway's. "He had an economy of means," Arthur Miller has said, "to create enormous myths—his novels are compressed visions."
IN PRAISE OF YUKIO MISHIMA'S TETRALOGY
The Sea of Fertility
FROM REVIEWS OF THE FIRST THREE NOVELS
"Having read the first and second volumes of Mishima's tetralogy, I can see already the outlines of a masterpiece." Christopher Isherwood
"If Spring Snow is an earnest of what is to come, The Sea of Fertility should prove to be a major literary creation." Thomas Lask, The New York Times
"Spring Snow, a novel with the perfect beauty of a Japanese garden, will be a classic of world literature."-M James Park Sloan, Chicago Sun-Times
"Like Spring Snow, [Runaway Horses] is a masterpiece." James B. Steele, Philadelphia Inquirer
"To read Runaway Horses is to be in the midst of a modern masterpiece." Wayne J. Henkel, Baltimore Sun
"Marvelous in its artistry [Runaway Horses is] a tremendous literary achievement." Abe C. Ravitz, Cleveland Plain Dealer
'The Temple of Dawn is a brilliantly done novel of Japan in flux." K. N. Maxwell, Cleveland Press
"This tetralogy will eventually rank among the supreme literary achievements of the century." David Brudnoy, National Review
"All the characters and themes that Mishima weaves together create a vision whose rich, coherent density recalls not only Proust, but also Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. There is no one writing today who can rival
Mishima." Michael Dalzell, Chicago Daily News
"Mishima is one of the century's most enchanting, terrifying novelists." Peter Wolfe, St. Louis Globe-Democrat
"The Sea of Fertility [is] clearly Mishima's testament to the world." Donald Keene, Saturday Review
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