This volume I have tentatively nicknamed, A Tale of Mellow Genji.
Every so often, Murasaki lets us know approximately how old characters are, but it’s intermittent and she likes to do multiyear jumps forwarded. Genji turns forty during this volume and appears to end it in mid or even late forties.
There is more than a bit own petard hoisting, as Genji finds himself cuckolded. Though he really doesn’t feel that bad about it and is not nearly so embarrassed as you might think (though, of course, he still keeps it relatively secret, even though his son suspects).
He is pressured into marrying his half brother’s (a former emperor who abdicated the throne) favorite daughter, in order to guarantee she is will cared for. To modern sensibilities, this is icky for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that the girl is thirteen and very childlike (she carries on a correspondence with Genji’s favorite concubine about the “activities” of her dolls).
One of his son’s friends develops an infatuation and has one night stand, as it were, with her (the novel constantly portrays it as being almost rude for a woman to say no to sex if the man has succeeded in getting her alone in a room and past a modesty screen), resulting in child which, based on the lack of recent sex (a year, Genji specifies) between her and her husband, is clearly not the product of the marriage bed.
The friend dies of grief and shame (sort of) and Yugiri goes on to seduce his widow.
It’s that kind of book.
Lady Murasaki (the character, not the author) dies, as well, leaving Genji, the reader feels, without a moral center.
I started to read the next volume and was quickly shocked. It opens with the country in shocked mourning because Genji is dead. This hit me pretty hard and I was legitimately upset and had to put it down for a bit.
Narratively, it makes sense because, ultimately, the personal narrative of Genji is of a man who constantly lets his lust and passions direct him. Whether trying to seduce two different girls he informally adopted, sleeping with the only girl for a hundred miles while in exile. He comes across not so much as sex-obsessed, but as someone who is easily distracted by the appearance of even the slightest chance of a some sly nookie.
But, still… sigh. I was constantly repulsed by his actions and thoughtlessness, but the author did her work well, because I miss him, in spite of it all.