Essay about A Comparison of Sei Shonagon and Marie de France

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A Comparison of Sei Shonagon and Marie de France

Though more than two hundred years have separated Sei Shonagon and Marie de France, the scene is much the same. A courtly lady sits in a candle-lit room, with her writing hand poised above a book of parchment. Her face brightens in an instant of inspiration and she scribbles furiously onto the paper. This woman is closely associated with the royal court and is something of an anachronism, a woman author in a male-dominated world. The scene pictured here could have taken place in either Shonagon's late tenth century Japan or the twelfth century France of Marie de France. The differences that exist between these two authors are a result of their differing cultures and personalities.
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Shonagon's writing is that of someone who is oblivious to her audience. She has no care for proper sentence or paragraph structure. For example, "Things That Give a Clean Feeling" contains a series of sentence fragments, such as "An earthen cup. A new metal bowl." In fact, much of the Pillow Book is not written for an audience, as Shonagon admits in "It Is Getting So Dark." Here she reveals that since "much of it might appear malicious and even harmful to other people, I was careful to keep my book hidden. But now it has become public, which is the last thing I expected." At one point, Shonagon confesses that while a younger girl "might risk the consequences of putting down such impieties," a woman of her age "should be less flippant." While excerpts such as the satirical report on the ladies in waiting in "Especially Delightful Is the First Day" could be seen as mean-spirited, the author is just expressing her honest thoughts. She writes faithfully to her own strongly held opinions; no regard to religious or moral authorities is necessary.

Though some of the observations in the Pillow Book may justify Shonagon's intention to keep the book private, it would have been a pity not to share some of the beautifully vivid imagery she uses. In "When Crossing a River" Shonagon says that she loves "to see the water scatter in showers of crystal under the

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