Non-literary Commentary and its Literary Profits: The Road to Accounting-ville
The famous verdicts on PPl by C. S. Lewis (‘hardly makes his poetry into a poem’) and Morton Bloomfield (‘commentary on an unknown text’) suggest that tracking the poem in literary historical terms, or searching for literary or even non-literary models, will inevitably lead to frustration. Yet, ‘in their least explicitly “literary” preoccupations, commentaries on PPl have often pointed the way toward issues with significant potential to redefine “the literary”‘ (p. 11). This piece focuses on the poem’s relation to mercantile London, a fruitful topic in recent years (Barron, Benson, Pearsall, Smith, Ladd), but one that originated not in books and essays, but in commentaries. ‘A commentary seems the only place where such information’ as the sort of details about prices of mussels in 1390 that one finds in Skeat ‘could be pursued quite so far without further justification’ (p. 14). Galloway considers the mercantile account book as a model for Bloomfield’s ‘unknown text’, a form we know from the C text apologia (5.1-104). The merchants’ appearance in the Pardon episode, too, is ‘a central instance of the reconstruction of self and society through this open world of documentary mercantilism’ (p. 21). Only from the view of the poem’s commentators ‘can we fully assess how exacting, and how urbanely contemporary, are the poem’s ethical, economic, and political demands’ (p. 22).
YLS, 25 (2011), 9-23.