Introduction: Authorial Work and Literary Ideology
L did not consider his “work” a completed opus but a self-perpetuating labor. Modernist formalist criticism of the poem, developing from Manly to Donaldson and culminating in the Athlone project, seeks to detach the text from contingency, as it makes biography the metaphorical expression of literary form. The identification of the authoritative PPl as the best PPl leads them to reject textual evidence in order to preserve the poem’s integrity against the accidents of its author’s life, so that all that remains of “WL” is a warrant of stylistic perfection and classical regularity. The existence of two separate authorial traditions in B.15.504-69 demonstrates that L might consciously have shaped the textual tradition of the poem in response to its public acceptance, and that the portrait of L provided by textual difference might be self-drawn, and therefore manipulated.
Justice and Kerby-Fulton, Written Work: Langland, Labor and Authorship (no. 20). 1-12.