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September 6, 2018


Classic: The Pillow Book

by N@ncy



  1. The tone and content of these ’thoughts’ seem very modern in outlook,
  2. full of interesting comments about pleasures
  3. (visiting, dinners, getting ready for important people)
  4. humour, historical commentary and analysis of
  5. processions, festivals and events, descriptions of nature, and
  6. compassion for misfortunes heard about other people.
  7. It’s a unique and personal diary of a 10th C lady-in-waiting in Heian Japan.
  8. Sei Shonagon writes for her personal
  9. amusement about things that
  10. delight and also disgust her!


Who is Sei Shonagon?

  1. Sei Shonagon herself is a fascinating character.
  2. She is obviously educated, but at times sounds silly and petty.
  3. Her loyalty to her Empress is very touching.
  4. At the same time she is cruel and cold towards “ordinary” people.
  5. She seems to pay too much attention to the court dress and elegant verses.
  6. Being at court is the highest honour and achievement in life for her.


I especially liked pg 148:
Things that make the heart lurch with anxiety…
watching a horse race…
the voice of a secret lover in an unexpected place…
when a parent looks out of sorts…
when someone you detests arrives for a visit…!

….pg 150
Repulsive things:
back of a piece of sewing…
hairless baby mice tumbled out of a nest…
the inside of a cat’s ear…rather dirty place in darkness…

…pg 204
Things that just keep passing by:
A boat with its sail up…
People’s age…
Spring. Summer. Autumn. Winter

…pg 204
Things that no one notices:
The inauspicious days…
The ageing of people’s mothers…


  1. While reading …the song
  2. “These are a few of my favorite things” from
  3. The Sound of Music keeps…popping into my head.
  4. That is what Sei writes about….her favorite things,
  5. especially how people are dressed in 10th C imperial court.
  6. There is the emphasis on the art of communicating
  7. one’s feelings by writing a poem.
  8. It was considered a valuable art.
  9. Lovers, queens, a lady-in-waiting all revel in poetic thoughts.
  10. Sei also…mentions painfully embarrassing things
  11. disconcerting, dispiriting and horribly startling things.
  12. Some of her complaints and delights are very 21st C!
  13. People never change!


Last thoughts:

  1. It’s fun to visit the members page of The Classics  Club
  2. …to see what other people are reading
  3. I was inspired by Karla Strand’s Classic Club List
  4. to read The Pillow Book.
  5. Karla  has selected some impressive examples
  6. …of classic women’s writing!
  7. #TakeALook  at the ‘Members Page’
  8. …you can discover some great book!



Read more from Classic
5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sep 7 2018

    This is so on my list to read, and now even more so!


    • Sep 7 2018

      The poetic allusions woven into the elegant conversation reveals the character of these people.
      The likes and dislikes at times made me say: “Oh, ya, I hate that too!”
      The connection 10th – 21st C is evident!


  2. Sep 10 2018

    I read some excerpt of this for a poetry class, but I intend to read the whole thing soon. I’m looking forward to it. I love when old books have parts that make you think “people really haven’t changed!” I had that feeling a lot when reading Northanger Abbey.



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