Enchi Fumiko – Skeletons of Men and Love in Two Lives
Enchi Fumiko’s seminal short story is the classic case of jealousy between a man and a woman and which ends up almost overcoming both of them in a maelstrom of hate and deception. Shizuko is a headstrong and creative woman who sees herself wasting away by the domineering nature of her husband who had no real time for her yet wanted to control her in every aspect of her life. However the story takes a different turn when Shizuko discovers the letter hidden in her grandmother’s Obi ( a form of Japanese dress) where there were protestations of love which had been scorned and fell by the wayside. Fumiko is a mistress at creating that unbearable sense of tension and thirst for discovery as Shizuko attempts to find out more about what happened in her grandmother’s past life and the story of deceit and jealousy which permeated her very existence.
The story which came out of Ritsu’s existence is one that reveals a heart which was broken as she remained married to a man whom she did not love at all. Her heart was there solely for the other man who in the depth of his heart knew that she wanted him but continued n his quest for power. Fumiko’s narrative reveals the sense of hopelessness and despair which permeates such relationships that always turn out to be sad and futile. The way she describes the burning of the letter is also extremely romantic indeed, the black smoke and the crumpled pieces of paper form part of the whole indigenous process of immolation, a tradition which was always very dear to the Japanese.
Enchi Fumiko’s ‘Love in Two Lives’ also deals with the remnants of love as man seems to take a different turn as he professes his secret love for his student. The Professor’s wistfulness and shyness is almost a mirror image of Ritsu’s predicament as she felt excluded and without hope for her future with another man. The sad story of Professor Nukowama is also part of Fumiko’s longing for the apst which seems to permeate most of her novels and short stories. The man is lonely and has almost lost everything with his son killed in the war and his wife having left him. The editing of poems is perhaps his only link with the outside world and which leaves him alive, but it is a story which is quite sad and full of unhappiness.
The roles of male dominance and female suppression also come out in the later part of Skeletons of Men where Shizuko recalls her visits to her grandfather Yoshimitsu who was a reserved and austerely patriarchal figure. This made her question the reasons behind his comportment and her emotional attachment to the situation. The visit to the cemetery is also full of symbolism and the descriptions of the graves are very powerful and full of wistful nostalgia. Shizuko almost seems to portray a sense of longing and a break with the past which must have been hell for that woman who had to conceal her love at the expense of her marriage which had fallen by the wayside. Then we also have the reference to Shizuko’s own affair which is subtly revealed by the narrator and which leaves the woman blushing as she also recalls her own infidelity although her husband had already died when she had had an affair.
The comparison with ‘Love in Two Lives’ is also instructive since the main character also has to face allegations of infidelity and the sufferings endured by this are intricately as well as emotionally described. The way Noritake describes the Professor attempting to use the urinal and his servant asking whether she should be sent away recalls memories of her intimacy with her teacher. It is a powerful moment in the story displaying emotions and turnarounds in the very sense of the word.
Both short stories are powerful statements of how infidelity and love affect the lives of women who have been left in the dark for far too long. The way the Professor reads the stories to his younger student is also charged with erotic intensity which makes the story all the more intriguing and exciting. Although both stories eventually take a different course, the fact that there is redemption in each of them makes them very readable and in a sense excellent examples of Japanese literature. The liberation with which Fumiko recalls and narrates the events also tend to imbue a certain autobiographical tendency to everything and shows that love is something which should be spoken about and not left in the anals of one’s heart since this can return to haunt you. Fumiko’s characters are full of intriguing self righteousness which comes to the fore in their views and eventual acceptance of society as a whole and are as such a window on Japanese post war society in general.
Fumiko E (1968); Skeletons of Men
Yasunara Kawabati (1968); The 1968 Noble Peace Prize Acceptance Speech
Fumiko E (1955); Love in Two Lives
Kenzaburo O (1963); Japan, the Ambigous and Myself