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I-Novel (私小説 Shishōsetsu, Watakushi shōsetsu?) is a literary genre in Japanese literature used to describe a type of confessional literature where the events in the story correspond to events in the author's life. This genre was founded based on the Japanese reception of Naturalism during the Meiji period. Many authors believed form reflected greater individuality and a less constrained method of writing. From its beginnings, the "I-Novel" was a genre that also was meant to expose the dark side of society or the dark side of the author's life.
There are several general rules for the creation of an I-Novel: The first and most important was that it was often written from the first person perspective (and this is where the "I" of I-Novel comes from). The Japanese contains a number of different words for "I;" generally, the formal 'watashi' (私) was used in the I-Novel. (But note Natsume Soseki's Wagahai wa Neko de aru, "I am a Cat," in a comically elderly/senior voice.) A break with the traditional "I" to use the informal/younger 'boku' (僕), was part of the break with tradition Haruki Murakami invoked in some of his works, accounting for some of his conflict with the 'literary establishment' that is long noted about his reception. (And the effect of different 'watashi' and 'boku' voices is inevitably lost in English translation.)
I-novels attempt to portray a realistic view of the world (thus the genre's ties to Naturalism). As autobiographical works, they involve real experiences to be completely portrayed with language. Because these two concepts were so important to the authors they used the events of their own lives for their subject matter. Many of them were also trained in literary studies, so their works expressed a great knowledge of literature. Additionally, compared to formal writing styles influenced by Chinese literature, used more casual language.
The first "I-Novels" are believed to be Hakai (Broken Commandment), written in 1906 by Shimazaki Toson, and Futon (Quilt) written by Tayama Katai in 1907. In Hakai, Toson described a male who was born a member of a discriminated segment of the population (burakumin), and how he decided to violate his father's commandment not to reveal his community of birth. In Futon, the protagonist confesses his affection for a female pupil.
- Fowler, Edward (1988). The rhetoric of confession : shishõsetsu in early twentieth-century japanese fiction (1. paperback printing. ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-07883-7.
- Bary, Karatani Kōjin. Transl. ed by Brett de (1998). Origins of modern Japanese literature (3. pr. ed.). Durham [u.a.]: Duke Univ. Press. ISBN 0-8223-1323-5.
- Hijiya-Kirschnereit, Irmela: Rituals of Self-Revelation: Shishosetsu as Literary Genre and Socio-Cultural Phenomenon; Harvard University Press: 1996
- Fowler, Edward:The Rhetoric of Confession - Shishosetsu in Early Twentieth-Century Japanese Fiction; London: 1988
- Suzuki, Tomi: Narrating the Self - Fictions of Japanese Modernity; Stanford:1996
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