The following feature on Soseki’s classic story ‘The Tower of London’ was broadcast by Damian Flanagan on the BBC Radio 3 show Nightwaves on January 31 2005.
This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the publication of 'The Tower of London’, the book that helped to launch the extraordinary literary career of the man described as the Japanese Dickens, Natsume Soseki. To mark the anniversary, Nightwaves asked the translator of a new English edition of ‘The Tower of London’, Damian Flanagan, to offer an appreciation of Soseki and to explain the influence of London on Japan’s most famous writer.)
autumn of 1902, an urgent telegram was
sent from the Japanese Embassy in
Desperately hard-up, isolated and constantly confined to his room with nothing but hundreds of second-hand books to keep him company in a grim boarding house in Clapham, behind his locked door Natsume Soseki could sometimes be heard sobbing aloud. Intense cultural shock and social alienation had it seemed finally caused the Japanese lodger to completely lose his mind.
But this is the man who was to become
It was in May 1900 that Soseki had
ordered by the Japanese government to leave behind his pregnant wife
and embark on two years of intense study in distant
Moving out of Japanese waters on his long sea passage to
the West, Soseki, previously
an accomplished composer of Japanese and Chinese verse, noted in his
he could not bring himself to write haiku any more in such alien
For two years in
It was a very different man that twelve years later
would lie dying on a
tatami mat in
Combining influences as diverse as English literature, Chinese poetry, Zen, Western painting and European philosophy, Soseki showed ready mastery of almost any literary form he attempted. He wrote densely poetic Arthurian tales that put Malory and Tennyson in the shade; he wrote of his own dreams, which inspired Kurosawa to make a film in the same vein. In 'The Miner', the tale of a young man fleeing the city and embarking on a journey of ‘degeneration,’ he wrote one of the world's first stream-of-consciousness narratives that flatly denied the existence of ‘character’ long before such things were being attempted in the West.
But Soseki’s imagination had first found
And so it was that his story ‘The Tower of London’, an unprecedented phantasmagoric exploration of English history complete with profound ideas on the nature of time and existence, set in train his literary career.
Since then, generations of scholars from the other side of the world have been pacing the modern streets of London trying to discern for themselves the area where once he was lost in the fog, and casting their eyes across the river Thames to the sights that now burn themselves in the Japanese literary imagination.
‘When I gaze at this
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