Sei Sonagon was a counselor and member of the Empress Sadako/Teshi's court in 10th. century Japan. Most of her life remains a mystery; little is known about her before she entered the court and there is no record of what happened to her after the Empress died in the year 1000, while giving birth. We happen to know she existed because she wrote a book called Makura no soshi or The Pillow Book. It's a wonderful compilation of thoughts, dreams and sketches on everyday life as a noblewoman. There are many lists of words that she simply loved the sound of, lists of things that made her angry and witty commentaries about her surroundings. An innocent description on how the Empress chatted while having her hair done ends the entire stereotype of historical figures being immaculate and statue like. In more than 300 different sections, we get a clear glimpse of the everyday life of an otherwise inaccessible world locked in the past.
From the list of things that infuriated Sei Sonagon.
A man you’ve had to conceal in some unsatisfactory hiding place, who then begins to snore. Or, a man comes in on a secret visit wearing a particularly tall lacquered cap, and of course as he scuttles in hastily he manages to knock it against something with a loud bump ….
The name Sei Sonagon is a composite made from her family name Sei and Sonagon, which translates as Minor Counselor.
The Pillow Book was written around the same time as The Tale of Genji, attributed to Murasaki Shikibu, one of Sei Shonagons rivals in court. The Tale of Genji is considered the first novel ever written.
The Pillow Book worked as a backbone idea to Peter Greenaway's film of the same name. In the film, the books that are addressed in the form of calligraphy adorned bodies are reminiscent of Sei Sonagon's obsession with capturing life on paper.