My research specifically deals with Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916) and his relation with the Asahi Shinbun, today still one of Japan’s leading newspapers.
Starting point for my research is the incredible shift in style between two of Sōseki’s novels: the highly poetic Kusamakura (1906) and his first “novel-like” novel Sanshirō (1908). There are almost no clues as to what brought about this shift, but for one major event in Sōseki career as a novelist: relinquishing his job as a professor of English literature at Tokyo Imperial University and joining the Asahi Shinbun in 1907, to devote his time fully to his novels, published in serialization. At first glance a simple change in career, this move was quite the shock to the intellectual community at the time, for writing fiction was not something with which a man of Sōseki intellectual capacities “should be concerned”.
Joining the Asahi Shinbun not only gave Sōseki immense financial freedom, but also insured he had the time to further develop his writing. However, the change in readership (after all, before writing for a newspaper audience – which rapidly grew in numbers through development of a railroad network, making distribution much quicker – Sōseki mainly wrote for a small, highly educated readership) made it necessary for Sōseki to rethink his style. This is where we are able to witness the gradual shift from Kusamakura, a poetic novel without a real beginning or end, and without any sense of plot, to Sanshirō, a novel with a clear plot and development of characters, about a young man travelling from the countryside to Tokyo in order to attend university. Clearly, the broad readership, which now extended to almost the whole of Japan, would be able to identify much easier with the style and content of the latter, be it as a guidebook of Tokyo – a city undergoing large scale changes at a rapid pace at this point in time – or as a means for the uneducated to get a sense of what it was like for a young man from the countryside to enrol in such a prestigious university.
My research focuses on this shift in literary style as a symbol of not only – to speak in terms of Pièrre Bourdieu – Sōseki ‘s quest for symbolic and economic capital within the literary field, but also of the processes of modernity that have shaped Japanese national identity in the late Meiji period.