The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, translated and edited by Ivan Morris
Sei Shōnagon is among the greatest writers of prose in the long history of Japanese literature; The Pillow Book is an exceedingly rich source of information concerning the halcyon period in which she lived. Yet about her own life we have almost no definite facts.
She was born approximately a thousand years ago (965 is a likely date) and served as lady-in-waiting at the Court of the Japanese Empress during the last decade of the tenth century. Her father was a provincial official, but is best known as a poet and a scholar. It is possible, though unlikely, that Shōnagon was briefly married to a government official, by whom she may have had a son. Her life after her Court service came to an end is totally obscure. There is a tradition that she died in lonely poverty: but this is probably an invention of moralists who were shocked by her promiscuity and thought she deserved retribution. Our knowledge of Shōnagon’s life and character rests almost exclusively on the Pillow Book itself.
Ivan Morris has written widely on modern and ancient Japan, where he has lived for four years, and has translated numerous works from both classical and contemporary literature. He received his doctorate from the School of Oriental and African Studies and afterwards worked in the B.B.C. and the Foreign Office. In 1968 he was awarded the degree of D.Litt. by the University of London.