Gender Reversal in Orlando

Compared with other literature of the Heian Period, the Torikaebaya Monogatari stands out as an unusual story. The reversal of gender roles that is central to the plot is a narrative device not found among the other surviving monogatari from this era. Although viewed as merely entertainment by many readers, Torikaebaya does explore what it meant to be both a woman and a man in the Heian period. Another story that has a similar plot, although far removed from Heian Japan, is the novel Orlando, written by Virginia Woolf. Orlando also uses gender reversal as the cornerstone of the narrative, and like Torikaebaya, this allows the characters to experience and contrast the reality of each gender. If these two stories are compared in terms of the way that genders are depicted, some common themes emerge that relate to literature written by women. However, to proceed from this perspective, the reader must make some assumptions concerning the Torikaebaya.

The authorship of Torikaebaya Monogatari is uncertain and will most likely remain so. In the introduction to the English translation, Rosette Willig advances the cases for both male and female authorship. She speculates that Meiji scholars concluded a male authorship merely because...

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