Marvin Marcus

​Chair of East Asian Languages and Cultures
Professor of Japanese Language and Literature and of Comparative Literature
Head of the Japanese Section
PhD, University of Michigan
MA, University of Michigan
MLA, Johns Hopkins University
research interests:
  • Literature of the Meiji-Taisho periods (1868-1926)
  • Japanese biographical and autobiographical literature
  • Japanese literary journalism
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office hours:

  • Monday 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM
  • Thursday 11:00 AM - 12:00 PM
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  • Washington University
  • CB 1111
  • One Brookings Drive
  • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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Professor Marcus’s area of specialization is modern Japanese literature of the prewar (so-called kindai ) period, and his research has focused on personal narrative and ‘life writing’—memoir, reminiscence, essay, diary, and autobiography.​

Marvin Marcus did his doctoral work at the University of Michigan, under the direction of Robert Brower and Robert Danly, and he has been on the Washington University faculty since 1985. Marcus’s area of specialization is modern Japanese literature of the prewar (so-called kindai ) period, and his research has focused on personal narrative and ‘life writing’—memoir, reminiscence, essay, diary, and autobiography. He also researches aspects of the Tokyo literary community—the bundan—and the literary journalism that was its lifeblood. Marcus has extensively researched and written on authors such as Mori Ōgai, Natsume Sōseki, Shimazaki Tōson, Futabatei Shimei, and Uchida Roan. Literary translation has been an essential component of this work over the years. Paragons of the Ordinary (Hawaii, 1993) concerns Ōgai’s biographical writings. Reflections in a Glass Door (Hawaii, 2009) centers on Sōseki’s wide-ranging personal writings. Marcus’s current book project, entitled Writing in the Margins, brings together a number of interrelated perspectives on kindai literature through the ‘marginal’ endeavors of major writers.

Marvin Marcus has a courtesy appointment with Comparative Literature and has taught comparatist courses on the literature of reminiscence to freshmen and doctoral candidates as well. He also teaches widely in the area of Japanese poetry and is himself a practicing poet. His collection, entitled Orientations: The Found Poetry of Scholarly Discourse on Asia (Mellen Poetry Press, 2004), speaks to the creative, and at times ironic, expressiveness that has been a welcome corrective—and complement— to his scholarly research.

Courses Taught

  • L05 226C Japanese Civilization
  • L03 294 Images of East Asia: Chronicling the Japan Experience
  • L05 324 A User's Guide to Japanese Poetry
  • L05 333C Modern Voice in Japanese Literature
  • L05 445 Japanese Fiction: Japanese Fiction in the Postwar Period
  • L05 4451 Topics in Modern Japanese Literature: Memories of Childhood and Youth in Japan
  • L05 448 Japanese Poetry
  • L05 464 Japanese Textual Analysis
  • L05 491 Topics in Japanese Literature & History: Japanese Literary Reminiscence
  • L05 491 Topics in Japanese Literature & History: Survey of Modern Literary Texts
  • L03 4911 The Nativist Dimension in Modern Japanese Culture
  • L05 561 Special Topics Seminar in the Literature of Japan: Historical Fiction & Question of Historical Narrative
  • L05 561 Seminar in the Literature of Japan: Survey of Meiji-Taisho Literary Texts
Memoirs, Diaries, and Personal Reflections from Meiji-Taishô Japan

Memoirs, Diaries, and Personal Reflections from Meiji-Taishô Japan

Within Japan’s literary tradition, sketches on literary, psychological, and other miscellaneous topics enjoy considerable popularity. Western academia tends to dismiss such writings but they are crucial to understanding Japanese culture. This collection fills a critical lacuna in scholarship on Kindai literature.

Japanese Literature: From Murasaki to Murakami

Japanese Literature: From Murasaki to Murakami

"Japanese Literature: From Murasaki to Murakami" provides a concise introduction to the literature of Japan that traces its origins in the seventh century and explores a literary legacy-and its cultural contexts-marked by the intersection of aristocratic elegance and warrior austerity. Coverage extends to the present day with a focus on the complex twists and turns that mark Japan's literature in the modern period. In under one-hundred pages of narrative, Marcus's account of Japanese literature ranges from the 712 CE publication of Japan's first literary work, the Kojiki, to internationally-famous 21st century authors.

Reflections in a Glass Door: Memory and Melancholy in the Personal Writings of Natsume Soseki

Reflections in a Glass Door: Memory and Melancholy in the Personal Writings of Natsume Soseki

In Reflections in a Glass Door, Marvin Marcus introduces readers to a rich sampling of Soseki’s shohin. The writer revisits his Tokyo childhood, recalling family, friends, and colleagues and musing wistfully on the transformation of his city and its old neighborhoods. He painfully recounts his two years in London, where he immersed himself in literary research even as he struggled with severe depression. A chronic stomach ailment causes Soseki to reflect on his own mortality and what he saw as the spiritual afflictions of modern Japanese: rampant egocentrism and materialism. Throughout he adopts a number of narrative voices and poses: the peevish husband, the harried novelist, the convalescent, the seeker of wisdom.

Marcus identifies memory and melancholy as key themes in Soseki’s personal writings and highlights their relevance in his fiction. He balances Soseki’s account of his Tokyo household with that of his wife, Natsume Kyoko, who left a straightforward record of life with her celebrated husband. Soseki crafted a moving and convincing voice in his shohin, which can now be pondered and enjoyed for their penetrating observation and honesty, as well as the fresh perspective they offer on one of Japan’s literary giants.

Orientations: The Found Poetry Of Scholarly Discourse On Asia

Orientations: The Found Poetry Of Scholarly Discourse On Asia

A book of poetry by Marvin Marcus.

Paragons of the Ordinary: The Biographical Literature of Mori Ogai

Paragons of the Ordinary: The Biographical Literature of Mori Ogai

Paragons of the Ordinary is about a quite extraordinary literary achievement: a series of biographies of obscure scholar-literati written by Mori Ogai, one of Japan's most prominent writers and intellectuals. Deeply concerned about the cultural toll taken by Japan's headlong modernization early in this century, Ogai employed the format of newspaper serialization in presenting meticulously researched accounts of individuals who had come to embody exemplary traits and traditional virtues. His unique project, undertaken over the period 1916-1921, resulted in nine interconnected works, the centerpiece of which is based on the life of Shibue Chusai, an all-but-unknown individual toward whom Ogai developed a deep bond of kinship and reverence, much like the sense of discipleship that Marvin Marcus holds toward Ogai.

In exploring Ogai's biographical project, Marcus' aim is to convey a sense of its unique power and authority and to show how this power derives from Ogai's deft use of anecdotal episodes to highlight the exemplary character of his subject. Marcus places Ogai's work in the context of a long tradition of biographical narrative in Japan; at the same time he calls attention to the author's relationship to the contemporary literary scene and its journalistic orientation. Ogai's biographical works stand on their own as the unique artistic achievement of a giant of modern Japanese literature and culture. They also constitute a brilliant critique of a society that had lost touch with its traditional values. Marcus' reading of a literature often considered “inaccessible” or “elitist” will be relevant to the study of Japanese literature and history as well as to the craft of biographical research and of journalistic conventions that influence writers – in Japan as elsewhere.