Author: Mori Ogai
First published: Gan, 1911–1913 (English translation, 1959)
Locale: Tokyo, Japan
Plot: Psychological realism
Okada, a medical student at Tokyo University, a young man who lives a life of balance and order. He is a good but not outstanding student and a solid athlete who is a member of the rowing team (an outlet for his inclination toward the martial arts). He appears to do nothing with passion; he is remarkably free from obsession. In his free time, he takes long walks, and he often visits the local bookstores, where he searches for the Chinese romance novels that are the only books he reads for pleasure. His view of Otama, whom he encounters on one of his walks, is colored by his fantasy of the ideal woman. A true woman, Okada believes, is one who is able to concentrate solely on the traditional womanly virtues and who is able to be concerned primarily with her appearance even on the verge of death. Because he has so little contact with Otama, he is able to keep his fantasies about her intact.
Otama, a virtuous and obedient young woman who, through no fault of her own, becomes a fallen woman in the eyes of society. Although her father had turned down various marriage proposals for Otama, he finally accepted a proposal from a policeman who intimidated him. It turned out that the policeman already had a wife and children; he had simply been using Otama as a plaything. Because her prospects for a good marriage have been ruined by that calamity, Otama agrees to become the mistress of the moneylender Suezo, who plays on Otama's desire to ensure that her father will be well cared for as he grows older. As the novel progresses, Otama discovers that Suezo has deceived her about his career, and she loses her innocence when she resolves that she will never again be tricked on account of her naïveté. In spite of that resolution, however, she begins to have romantic fantasies about Okada. Her thoughts of Okada awaken her sexual desire, which has lain dormant in spite of her sexual relationships with Suezo and her policeman husband.
Suezo, who began his career as a lowly servant who ran errands for medical students but has managed to become wealthy by making loans to students who have temporarily run out of money. Suezo does not care that he and his family are reviled because his is a despised profession; his concerns are almost exclusively financial. As he has become more successful, however, he has come to resent his wife Otsune, who is a good mother but is also ugly and quarrelsome. When he decides that he deserves the companionship of a beautiful, obedient woman, he remembers Otama and realizes that he has the opportunity to turn her misfortune to his own advantage. He makes her his mistress, but afterward he has to deal with his wife's anger and resentment. Although Otsune is dull-witted and is temporarily confused by Suezo's excuses, she knows that he is seeing another woman. As his family situation deteriorates, Suezo becomes more obsessed with Otama, who becomes more beautiful and fascinating in his eyes as she becomes more worldly.
Otama's father, a candy seller who loves his daughter dearly but is too weak and ineffectual to protect her. He stands by helplessly as his daughter is ruined by the bigamist policeman who marries her under false pretenses. Later, he can only watch as Otama, after she becomes Suezo's mistress, changes from an innocent and trusting girl into a sexually aware and worldly woman.
Otsune, Suezo's argumentative and unattractive wife. Initially a good mother, she begins to neglect her children as well as her husband when she becomes consumed by anger and resentment brought on by her awareness of Suezo's relationship with Otama.