Framing the Family: Narrative and Representation in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods

By Rosalynn Voaden; Diane Wolfthal | Go to book overview

IN THE BELLY, IN THE BOWER:
DIVINE MATERNAL PRACTICE IN
PATIENCE*

KAREN BOLLERMANN

The Middle English poem Patience, written by the anonymous Pearl-poet (late fourteenth century), presents the reader with two fundamental problems: How can the biblical Jonas serve as a didactic vehicle asserting the virtue of patience in light of the long tradition associating patience with Job; and, is patience the “poynt” after all?1 Much of the scholarship on the poem attempts to answer one or both of these questions. Ad Putter, for example, observes that, though homiletic, the poem fails as homily, in part because its message—that humans are “puppet[s] in the hands of God”—“evinc[es] the secular orientation typical of contemporary Ricardian poets.”2 Of scholars who see the poem as an exemplum tale, Sandra Pierson Prior, concurring with A. C. Spearing, finds that God, not Jonah, models patience, while Lynn Staley Johnson remarks that “Jonah is the stumbling block of the poem, … hardly exemplary.”3 F. N. M. Diekstra sees Jonah as a negative exemplar, the impatient through whom we come to know

* The author is a Ph.D. student at Arizona State University. This paper has benefited from the comments of Drs. Robert E. Bjork, Rosalynn Voaden, and Monica H. Green, and of an anonymous reviewer.

1 For information on the poet, see Malcolm Andrew, “Theories of Authorship,” and A.C. Spearing, “Poetic Identity,” in A Companion to the Gawain-Poet, ed. Derek Brewer and Jonathan Gibson (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1997), 23–33, 35–51 respectively.

2 Ad Putter, An Introduction to the Gawain-Poet (London: Longman, 1996), 135, 113, 105.

3 Sandra Pierson Prior, The Pearl Poet Revisited (New York: Twayne Pubs., 1994), 89; A. C. Spearing, The Gawain-Poet: A Critical Study (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 78; idem, “The Subtext of Patience: God as Mother and the Whale's Belly,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 29 (1999): 293–323, here 293; Lynn Staley Johnson, “An Examination of the Middle English,” Patience' American Benedictine Review 32 (1981): 336–64, here 343.

-193-

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