Natsume Soseki composed Inside Glass Doors at the end of his life. From inside his room, the “I” of these essays watches the days go by, meditating over visions of the past. Toshiyuki Horie, writer and scholar of French literature, unpacks the curious nature of these literary sketches. Among the major figures of Japanese literature, Horie is best known outside Japan for The Bear and the Paving Stone, which has been translated into English. An admirer of Soseki and the author of the book of essays Wandering Windows, Horie offers an alluring treatment of how “Soseki and windows” intersect.
In middle school or maybe high school, I had my first encounter with a photograph of Natsume Sosekiʼs study, printed in a handbook that accompanied my textbook for language class. It was a picture of his writing quarters in the Tokyo neighborhood of Waseda Minamicho. On account of being black and white, the true colors are a mystery, but a small, low writing desk is visible in the foreground, laden with manuscript paper, brushes, and dictionaries, behind which he sits on a plaid zabuton, with a giant brazier to his right, holding a substantial teapot that looks to have been cast. Foremost, I was fascinated by the tidy mountain range of books piled behind him. The books he was using, may use soon, or was hoping to reread formed a modest colonnade of knowledge, with no end in sight, and linking with the books stacked in the bookshelves to the rear along the wall, suggestive of a beautiful work routine. A clean desk with plenty of light, the ideal work environment.
Soseki moved into the house that had this study in September 1907, about six months after he had joined the staff of the Asahi Shimbun in the peculiar capacity of salaried fiction writer, and soon after completing The Poppy, his first novel for the paper. This is the study where Soseki wrote book after book, while suffering chronic stomach pains, until his death in 1916 at the age of 49, midway through the serialization of Light and Darkness. He used the neighboring living room to host guests at literary salons every week, granting these two rooms the status of undisputed holy sites among his readers, but given that the living room was a washitsu, floored with tatami mats, I had always assumed, from the low desk and the brazier, not to mention the author dressed in a kimono, that the study was tatami, too.