(夏目 漱石, 1867-1916), was one of the best-known Japanese authors of the 20th century. His works of fiction, as well as his essays, haiku
, and kanshi (poetry composed in Chinese) were tremendously influential and are popular even today. Such writers as Yasunari Kawabata
and Junichiro Tanizaki
ripened further what has been termed the "I-novel" or psychological novel.
Natsume Soseki was the pseudonym of Natsume Kinnosuke. He born into a large family in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) in the final year of the Tokugawa shogunate in Japan. He experienced a troubled childhood, living with a foster family from infancy to nine years of age, when he was reclaimed by his natural family.
Soseki initially studied Chinese but was persuaded by a friend to pursue English literature and soon specialized in English literature at both the undergraduate and graduate level at Tokyo University. Upon graduation in 1895, he accepted a teaching position at a rural school in the Japanese countryside. This experience later served as the basis for his novel, "Botchan" ("Master Darling") in 1906.
"Botchan" conveys Soseki's feelings of awkwardness as an utterly urban teacher working in rural Japan. Unsatisfied with both his profession and his marriage, Soseki accepted a government scholarship to study in the United Kingdom in order to improve his English. After two miserable years in London, he returned to teach at Tokyo University.
In 1904 Soseki began work on what would become his most popular literary publication, "Wagahai wa Neko de aru" ("I am a Cat"). This work consists of observations of the human world by a nameless cat. In 1907 Soseki left teaching for journalism, taking a job at Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper.
The two famous comic novels, Wagahai wa Neko de aru ("I Am a Cat") and Botchan ("Master Darling") were part of a trilogy. The third book, "Kusamakura" (1906; The Three-Cornered World), is a lyrical masterwork about a painter's time in a remote village.
After 1907, when he gave up teaching to devote himself to writing, he produced his more characteristic works, which were all sombre without exception. They deal with people's efforts to escape from the confines of themselves. His typical heroes are well-educated middle-class men who have betrayed, or who have been betrayed by, someone close to them and through guilt or disillusionment have cut themselves off from others. In "Kojin" (1912-13; "The Wayfarer") the hero is driven to near madness by his sense of isolation. In Kokoro (1914, "Mind") the hero kills himself. And in "Mon" (1910; "The Gate") the hero's inability to gain entrance at the gate of a Zen temple is a symbol of frustration, isolation, and helplessness. Natsume's last novel, "Michikusa" (1915; "Grass on the Wayside"), was autobiographical.
Soseki's last work, Meian (1916), remained unfinished at his death.