83 The First Novel 1008 THE TALE OF GENJI, one of the masterpieces of Japanese literature, is the world's first extended fictional narrative. Its author, Murasaki Shikibu, lived much of her life in the royal court in Kyoto, where she was the center of a group of bril- liant women who competed for status through their literary skills. Her novel, finished sometime around 1008, concerns the colorful life of the court, with its many political and romantic intrigues. Hundreds of characters fill the book, but at its center is an elegant prince known as "the shining Genji." The novel's powerful feminine vision, its sympathy with the plight of women at court, its subtlety of language and penetrating psychological insights--all were unprecedented. The Tale of Genji remains a surprisingly modern work; it has recently been translated and recognized outside Japan as one of the great contributions to world literature. Its influence has been broad, not just in Japan, where it remains a principal source of stories for Noh drama, the Kabuki stage and contemporary cinema, but throughout the Western world. Any serious discussion of the structures, forms and intentions of the novel--the most significant new literary genre of the millennium--must take into account Murasaki's stunning achievement.