Langland: Labour and ‘Authorship
A generally critical review of Written Work: Langland, Labor and Authorship, Steven Justice and Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, eds. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997). The authors adopt an a priori assumption that C.5.1-104 constitutes an “Apologia pro vita sua” on the part of L, an assumption which prejudges its function in the poem. Analysis of this particular passage in isolation from the rest of the poem and its other versions tends to provide generalizations and inferences which the larger textual record does not support. Hanna’s contention that L represents himself (through the figure of the Dreamer) as a hermit ignores the active seeking of the Dreamer, driven by a quest for an object progressively redefined. Will does not claim to be perfect, but simply expresses the truism that the prayers of a man in the state of grace are pleasing to God. Kerby-Fulton offers no compelling evidence for her arguments that the focal passage is written to regain control over the text, to solicit patronage, and to assuage an offended readership. Clopper’s view of the figure of the Wanderer as a vehicle for L’s sympathy with the mendicant orders and his concern for their reform is countered by extensive evidence in C.5 and 22 that L did not consider the orders reformable. He admires the religious ideals of Franciscanism in its former state, not in its contemporary degeneration. Pearsall’s location of L as an unbeneficed cleric in London is helpful, but L sees the economic conflict of London’s commercial life as part of a larger cosmic predicament rather than a personal spiritual crisis, as Pearsall suggests. Middleton is correct to note the resemblance between the shape of the passage and the provisions of the 1388 Statute of Laborers, but this may arise from the passage itself having influenced the detail of the Statute. L himself may have had a hand in its drafting. Conscience and Reason, by the time of the writing of the passage, have acquired distinct allegorical values which transcend their value as political and judicial forces. They do not offer a reprieve to the Dreamer, since the scene of the action is the Dreamer’s mind, and the questions they posed are self-imposed, his objections formulated to be dismissed. The lines which follow the passage, withheld by the editors in the revised edition which opens the volume, describe the Dreamer’s contrition, an adumbration of his implication in the Great Confession of passus 6.
N&Q 45 (1998): 420-25.