Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Paradigm, Intertext, or Residual Allegory: Guillaume De Deguileville and the Gawain-Poet

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Paradigm, Intertext, or Residual Allegory: Guillaume De Deguileville and the Gawain-Poet

Article excerpt

In the context of a general revival of interest in allegorical and didactic literature, the last few years have seen a surge of attention to the works of Guillaume de Deguileville, author of a seminal pilgrimage trilogy that played a crucial role in the evolution of medieval and early modern literature and consciousness.1 Our sense of Deguileville 's impact on specifically English literature from those periods, first discussed in some detail by Rosemond Tuve in Allegorical Imagery, is being sharpened by recent research, and it is within this context that I propose the present discussion of Deguileville's influence on one of the 'canonical' English authors, the Gawain-poet.2 The possibility of a direct influence has not, so far as I am aware, been presented before, and I will therefore take some time to contextualize the connection I am proposing. My reasons for establishing the connection in the first place differ, I hope, from those driving the older type of 'source-hunting' studies so prominent in Gawain scholarship, and stem from my belief that the benefits of linking Deguileville with the English poet may be twofold. Firsdy, the connection helps to illuminate the pattern of reception, dissemination, and influence of Deguileville's works in late fourteenth-century England and in a wider European context; secondly, a study of the connection can yield some precious information concerning the Gawain-poet's poetic method and in particular his use of, and dialogue with, earlier texts.

Before going on to discuss the details of the relationship between the two poets and their works, a broader context needs to be established, dealing with matters of circulation, reception, and the question of thematic and poetic affinity. A direct influence of Deguileville's Pèlerinage de vie humaine on the Gawain-poet remains hard to establish with any definitive certainty. Written by the Cistercian monk Guillaume de Deguileville (or 'Digulleville') in two versions generally referred to as Vie 1 and Vie 2, from 13 3 1 and 1355 respectively, the work is part of a pilgrimage trilogy, widely read (around ninety manuscripts including one or more of the three Pèlerinages, seventy-seven of them with a version of Vie), translated, and later adapted into prose and printed.3 The problems with tracing Deguileville's 'influence' on the Gawain-poet are the following: firsdy, as critics often observe, Deguileville constructs his allegory using the most universally familiar and successful Christian imagery,4 and intertextual relationships to any supposedly 'derivative' texts are accordingly difficult to demonstrate. Secondly, there is the problem of the Gawain-poet's 'art', and his tendency to appropriate and transform material in a highly personal and original manner.5 Thirdly, there is the evidence - or lack thereof - concerning the possible circulation of manuscripts of Deguile ville 's Vie in England at the time.

To sum up the evidence on this last point, it has to be admitted that there is no firm indication available concerning the circulation of the trilogy in fourteenth-century England. Circumstantial evidence, however, is more encouraging. Deguileville seems to have suddenly become a widely read and translated author in the early fifteenth century in England and elsewhere. This fits within the wider history of the reception and adaptation of his trilogy on the Continent, where it was widely reworked, adapted, translated, and later printed, rapidly becoming a canonical work refashioned to serve as a reference work, a kind of vernacular summa in narrative form, circulating among a lay, often aristocratic readership.6 In fifteenth-century England Vie was translated at least twice, once in the first quarter of the century as The Pilgrimage of the LyJe of the Manhode, in prose (six manuscripts),7 and then in 1426 by Lydgate in verse (three manuscripts + one fragment).8 A third translation by Skelton is now lost, but its existence is generally accepted on the evidence of Skelton's own claims in the Garland of Laurel, lines 1219- 22. …

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