Futabatei Shimei's novel, Ukigumo/The Floating Cloud, 1887 is acknowledged as being one of Japan's first modern novels, his other novels have seen translation into English, Heibon/Mediocrity, 1907, translated by Glen W.Shaw, Hokuseido Press 1927, and also Sono Omokage/An Adopted Husband, 1906, translated by Buhachiro Mitsui & Gregg M Sinclair, Alfred Knopf 1919. Futabatei Shimei, like many other Meiji era novelists found inspiration in reading Tsubouchi Shoyo's Shosetsu Shinzui/The Essence of the Novel, 1885-1886, which can be read online in a translation by Nanette Gottlieb, in the essay Tsubouchi advises writers to, 'write about living people, not from fancy', Futabatei was also influenced by Russian literature and translated Turgenev into Japanese. Futabatei Shimei was the pen name of Hasegawa Tatsunosuke, who took his name from hearing what his father said to him when he told him that he intended to study literature, 'Kutabatte shimee', (Drop dead!).
The adopted husband of the title is Tetsuya Ono, a professor of Economics and Finance, and a well respected teacher, adopted by the wealthier Ono family to marry their daughter Tokiko, at the time Tetsuya was at university studying when his father passed away, leaving him struggling to finance his studies, the Ono's saw Tetsuya as a wise choice, thinking that a prosperous future lay ahead for him, families in Japan without sons often adopted in a husband to also ensure the family lineage. The novel opens however, with Hamura, a friend of Tetsuya's, pressurizing him into giving his sister in law away as a governess to the president of Hamura's company, the womanising, Shibuya. Tetsuya's sister in-law Sayoko, was an illegitimate child, in her early twenties she had married before, but shortly after the wedding her husband died unexpectedly, Tetsuya has heard about Shibuya's bad reputation and dreads being the one to communicate the proposition to Sayoko and the family. Tetsuya describes the immorality of Shibuya's household and reports of him abusing his maids, after her silence, he tells her he was only joking regarding the proposition, Tetsuya observes how kindly Sayo is towards him, very differently than the way his wife Tokiko treats him. Seeing Tetsuya vexed over the situation she agrees to go to Shibuya's house. The Ono family, whose father, Reizo, died recently also have strained finances, leaving the burden of supporting the family to Tetsuya. Tokiko, Tetsuya's wife seems very manipulative, and Tetsuya's relationship with his mother in law is approaching animated civility. Tetsuya tries to put off Hamura from making a formal request to the Ono family but fails and mother agrees to Sayoko being Shibuya's governess. Tokiko notices a change in Tetsuya, and suspects that her husband no longer loves her, Tetsuya finds himself missing Sayoko's kindness. Tokiko's hysteria comes out by way of demanding that Tetsuya hire another servant and asking for more money from him, he responds by saying that Sayoko should return, Tokiko accuses him that he's planning to leave her and live with Sayoko, mother over hears this and prostrates herself before him, begging him not to leave, bowing deeply until her head touches the ground.
Sayoko returns to the house after Shibuya tries to force himself on her, Hamura calls again on behalf of Shibuya saying that he intended her to be his future wife, Tetsuya declines the offer on behalf of Sayoko, Hamura calls Tetsuya stupid for sticking to his ideals, 'This is because you're obsessed by the spirit of old books!'. This seems to be the novels underpinning thesis, the pursuit of the moral good, or following your truer path as in Tetsuya's case, pitted against the pursuit of material wealth and advancement in society, and in the case of Tetsuya, it could be said it poses the question of what happens to the man who follows his heart, as he begins to meet with Sayoko outside of the family home, and together they plan to live together, but he has to pay his way out of his adopted marriage to free himself. Sayoko is confronted with familial obligations, and the consequences of their affair begin to undermine her, along with feelings of guilt of taking her sister's husband. As the couple's affair becomes untenable, Tetsuya having no way out, despite taking up an offer of work abroad, takes the path to self destruction, the end of the novel sees Tetsuya as a broken man and Hamura as successfully wealthy man.