Langland and the Bibliographic Ego
L’s “bibliographical ego” emerges in the apologia of C.5 as a manifestation of authorial self-consciousness, which serves at once to establish, protect, and to market the author. This passage, as well as other C revisions, is prompted by L’s increasing sensitivity to audience response. L’s elliptical “signatures” and other forms of self-identification provide authorial authenticity for those among his coterie at the same time that they conceal his identity from unsympathetic readers. The apologia also functions as an epistle mendicant, wherein the author is made to appear within his own work, defending past transgressions and justifying his own poetic mission, as a strategy toward being rewarded. Will’s claim to bibliographic authority derives both socially and educationally from his status as the educated son of a respectable man. His argument that he should be exempt from manual labor is grounded on the parable of the pearl of great price (Matt. 13:45-46; C.5.93-96) and that of the unjust steward (Luke 16:3; C.5.22-24), the latter having become conventionally attached to authorial cries for support. Independent circulation of some C passages indicates the importance attached to L’s responses to current ecclesiastical issues by an intimate coterie of readers. The costs involved with producing manuscript copies of three versions of a long poem suggest that L had substantial support, perhaps from a noble patron with reformist sympathies, or from a coterie of like-minded clerics and civil servants.
Justice and Kerby-Fulton, Written Work: Langland, Labor and Authorship. 67-143.