The Greatest Riddle of the B Text of Piers Plowman: Why Langland Did Not Scrap the A Vita
In The Dream Thought of ‘PPl‘, Elizabeth Kirk identifies one of the central cruces of L scholarship: ‘The greatest riddle of the B text is why its poet did not scrap the A Vita’ (p. 121). This essay responds to Kirk’s challenge by analysing how L transforms the first two passûs of the A Vita into their counterparts in B in order to demonstrate that the B Vita rejects the optimism of A about humankind’s ability to do well. Rather, B.8 and 9 initiate a painstaking but legitimate enquiry into the new meaning of dowel as charity, both an internal state of grace and its manifestation in meritorious acts, with the dual purpose of articulating all aspects of this spiritual condition and of examining its relation to the natural human powers of wit and will.
Mindful Spirit in Late Medieval Literature: Essays in Honor of Elizabeth D. Kirk, ed. by Bonnie Wheeler (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006), pp. 149–63.
Baker, Denise N.