Title Background

Langland’s Fictions.

Langland’s Fictions.

PPl, a dream poem constructed (in B) from no less than ten dreams, lacks a single continuous narrative, yet is not indifferent to the coherence of its dream worlds, with the endings of many of the dreams calculated to cue the one following. WL uses dreams not as opportunities to represent dream psychology realistically, but as a relief from the demand of literal truth; his use of the device is original in having multiple dreams that introduce narrative discontinuity without sacrificing the overall integrity of the poem. PPl creates an imaginative space within which irreconcilables can coexist in a precariously balanced equilibrium. Of the two general types of dialogue/debate, the vertical and the horizontal, WL’s infrequent use of the latter (e.g., the debate of the Four Daughters of God) is surprising. That concerning Lady Meed shows Theology at odds with the depiction of Meed on the narrative level, as the dream fiction fails fully to accommodate, because it fails to exclude, “a consideration which the usage of the word itself — its collocation with `heaven’—evidently forced into the poet’s mind.” The dialogue of Piers and Hunger enacts the conflicting responses of Piers’s anger and pity, and shows how opinions in such matters are swayed by changing circumstances and the feelings they gave rise to. The Dinner Party offers a fiction treating both sides of the case of learning vs. Dowel in an effort to unpack the content of the Pardon scene. The poem successively presents three controlling narratives, in which the subject is society (the Meed episode), the individual (B 8-15), and mankind (B 16 to end), with biblical events incorporated into the imaginative world of the poem — a practice that occasionally creates internal inconsistencies. WL treats biblical material that falls outside the poem’s story space by following the letter and merely filling in with a few details; for that which is inside he assimilates persons and events so that they lose their historical character. Seemingly autobiographical details in the poem should be read as both fictive and representative of WL’s thinking about his own life; Will is both an individual and a universal human attribute. Unmotivated details do not function novelistically to contribute to a naturalistic effect: they are either iconographic or autobiographical. As a vehicle of self-interrogation, Imaginatif in B affords the opportunity for Will to articulate his most essential self, “the self that creates the poem, and also to comprehend the different moral issues involved in that creation.”

Rev. Catherine S. Cox, YLS 8 (1994): 187-90; A. A. MacDonald, ES 75 (1994): 387-88; James Simpson, MÆ 63 (1994): 328-29; C. David Benson, Archiv 232 (1995): 201-03; Mary Carruthers, Speculum 70 (1995): 348-50; Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, MLR 90 (1995): 228-31; Derek Pearsall, Review 17 (1995): 267-70; M. Teresa Tavormina, N&Q 240 (1995): 79-81; Míceál F. Vaughan, SAC 17 (1995): 182-85.

Volume

Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

Author

Burrow, J. A.