Dr. Debora B. Schwartz
English Department, California Polytechnic State University

Jean de Meun and Guillaume de Lorris, The Romance of the Rose
Study Guide to Romance of the Rose Selections I, II and III 

(use to help you make sense of the three sets of e-reserve readings used in ENGL 203 and in ENGL 439, Gender in Medieval Literature)


Print out and READ Maxwell Luria's "Analytical Outlines of the Roman de la Rose" (.PDF file, 3 pp., on e-reserve in the Library Resources section of Blackboard).  This short REQUIRED READING is intended to give you an idea of how our selections from Guillaume de Lorris's and Jean de Meun's conjoined texts of the Romance of the Rose fit into the work as a whole.  The Analytical Outlines of the two works are taken from chapter 9 of Maxwell Luria, A Reader's Guide to the Roman de la Rose (Hamden, CN: Archon Books, 1982), pp. 88-92; this book s available in the library's collections under the call number PQ1528 .L8.1982.  You may also find it useful to consult two other e-reserve recommended readings:  Luria's more detailed "Narrative Summary of the Roman de la Rose" (.PDF file, 15 pp., or chapter 10, pp. 93-118 of the same text), as well as Heather Arden's "The Authors and Their Rose" (.PDF file, 12 pp., chapter 1 of Arden's The Romance of the Rose, TWAS 791 [Boston: Twayne, 1987], pp. 1-19, plus notes, pp. 113-114); this book is available in the library's collections under the call number PQ1528 .A89 1987.

Background Concept: Medieval Allegory

DEFINITION: Allegory is a form of extended metaphor in which objects and persons within a narrative are equated with meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. The allegorical figure exists simultaneously on two levels of meaning -- the literal one (what the figures does in the narrative), and the symbolic level (what the figure stands for, outside the narrative). Thus, allegory evokes a dual interest: in the events, characters and setting presented, and in the ideas they represent or the significance they bear. Allegory may involve the personification of abstract qualities (e.g. Truth, Beauty); of an event (such as Death, personified e.g. in the medieval morality play Everyman); or another sort of abstraction (e.g. Una in Book I of Spenser's Faerie Queene = the one True Church). It can be used to represent a historical personage (e.g. Piers Plowman = Christ; Gloriana in The Faerie Queene = Queen Elizabeth) or a category of individual (a Rosebud = a beloved Lady in the Romance of the Rose). Characters, events and setting may be historical, fictitious, or fabulous; the test is that these materials must represent meanings independent of the action described in the surface story. On the surface, the Romance of the Rose is about a young man who attends a sort of garden party; Piers Plowman about a peasant who guides a group of people looking for a nobleman; Everyman about a man on a walk and the people he meets; Book I of the Faerie Queene about a knight killing a dragon and rescuing a princess. On the allegorical level, however, the first is about a lover's efforts to win his lady, while the other three concern the duties of a Christian and the way to achieve salvation.

Note that use of personification (e.g. a talking animal) is not allegory in and of itself; in an allegory, characters and objects symbolize abstract qualities, and the events recounted convey a coherent message concerning those abstractions. Allegory is frequently, but not always, concerned with matters of great import: life and death; damnation and salvation; social or personal morality and immorality. It can also be used for satiric purposes.

Introducing the Rose:  the Romance of the Rose, Selections 1
(selections read as a context for Chaucer's General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales in ENGL 203 and as part of a stand-alone Rose unit in ENGL 439, Gender in Medieval Literature)

[Readings are on Electronic Reserve in the Library Resources section of Blackboard; 

The thirteenth-century Romance of the Rose was the most famous and influential dream vision of the Middle Ages. It recounts the dream of a young man who falls in love with and tries to win a Rosebud -- the symbol, at various points, of the beloved woman, of her genitalia, and of her virginity. Read Rose Selections 1, passage 2 (pp. 52-59) for an allegorical account of how the Dreamer sees and falls in love with the Rose. The notion that Cupid's arrows can make you fall in love derives from classical literature (for example, the Latin poets Tibullus, Gallus, Catullus and Ovid mentioned in Rose Selections 1, passage 3, pp. 186-7; more on this passage below). Recall how the Romance of Eneas poet played with this convention, causing Eneas to fall in love with Lavinia after reading the letter which she shoots to him on an arrow.

The first 4000 lines of the Romance of the Rose were written by Guillaume de Lorris in the early 13th century (ca. 1230). While Guillaume may well have considered his poem to be complete, it was picked up and continued in the late 13th century (ca. 1275) by Jean de Meun, whose continuation of over 18,000 lines dwarfs and totally changes the character of the original poem. While Guillaume's poem is respectful of women and imbued with the spirit of "courtly love," Jean's continuation is highly disrespectful of women -- even misogynistic -- and extremely bawdy at times (we will discuss his account of plucking the Rosebud, found in Rose Selections 3, passage 4 [pp. 346-54], as a context for Christine de Pizan's reactions to the Romance of the Rose). More on these issues later; for now, you should simply be aware that the Romance of the Rose sparked an on-going controversy between the attackers and defenders of womankind (an issue we will return to when we read and discuss the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Christine de Pizan). 

Chaucer knew the Romance of the Rose well, and admired it enough to translate parts of it into English (NA 211). By so doing, he demonstrated that he too was a translatio poet. Interestingly, the midpoint of the conjoined Romance of the Rose poems (the scene that comes halfway through the 22,000 lines of the combined texts; see Rose Selections 1, Passage 3 [pp. 186-189]) is literally about translatio. In this scene, the God of Love explains how the classical love poets Tibullus, Gallus, Catullus and Ovid were followed by the French poet Guillaume de Lorris, whose work will itself be followed and completed by Jean de Meun (whom he calls "Jean Chopinel").


Contexts for the Wife of Bath: The Romance of the Rose, Selections 2
(selections read as a context for Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale in ENGL 203 and as part of a stand-alone Rose unit in ENGL 439, Gender in Medieval Literature)

[Readings are on Electronic Reserve in the Library Resources section of Blackboard; 

Recalling that Chaucer knew the French poem well (and translated parts of it into English), consider these further selections from the poem both for their intrinsic interest (remember that the Romance of the Rose is the best-seller of the 13th and 14th centuries) and as a context for the Wife of Bath.

Selections II, Passage 1 (pp. 86-8): the end of Guillaume de Lorris's poem.  Note that although the poem does NOT recount the Dreamer's successful plucking of the Rose, Guillaume probably thought his poem WAS finished (although Jean de Meun evidently did not agree!).  Guillaume claims to have written his poem in order to impress a lady who has either already become his lover or whose "fair welcoming" he still hopes to gain.  It is a courtly love poem that aims to please her so that she might be persuaded to welcome (and presumably respond to) his attentions. In this context, one would hardly expect him to include an account of the plucking of the "rose"-- after all, one of the first rules of courtly love is that one should not "kiss and tell"! 

Also in Selections II, Passage I, note the introduction of the "Old Woman" ("La Vieille"), one of Chaucer's sources for the Wife of Bath.  (This relatively minor figure in Guillaume de Lorris's poem becomes a major character in Jean de Meun's continuation; an excerpt from her extremely long speech is included as the next passage.)  The Old Woman has been asked to guard a young man, Fair Welcoming ("Bel Accueil"), whom Jealousy has imprisoned in a tower; this allegorical character represents the lady's favorable response to the lover's courtship (i.e., Fair Welcoming being on the lover's side = the lady giving in to the lover's advances).  Note that Fair Welcoming is presented as male because the Old French term "bel accueil" is grammatically masculine.  The Old Woman is an effective guard for Fair Welcoming because of her extensive experience in love affairs in her own youth:  she can't be duped by the tricks young people resort to in order to meet in secret, in defiance of the wishes of their parents, jealous husbands, or chaperones, because due to her own youthful indiscretions, she "knew the whole of the old dance" of love (Rose p. 86, bottom).  Similarly, Chaucer says of the Wife of Bath (in the General Prologue portrait), "Of remedies of love she knew perchaunce,/ For she coude of that art the olde daunce" (GP 477-8).

Selections II, Passage 2 (pp. 238-48): read this selection from the "Old Woman" ("La Vieille")'s speech in Jean de Meun's continuation, where she becomes a major character.  Read it  carefully and refer back to it while reading the WB's prologue and tale. What similarities do you find between Jean's Old Woman and Chaucer's Allison of Bath? How do they differ?  Consider e.g. their frank enjoyment of sex; their repective attitudes towards marriage and husbands; their love for a man who has mistreated them.

Selections II, Passage 3 (pp. 258-9): Note Jean de Meun's claim not to be a misogynist, his pride in his status as writer, his references to prior literary tradition (translatio!), and the metaphorical descriptions of pen, stylus, and the process of writing. Elsewhere, Jean  uses similar metaphors to refer to sex (where the pen or the stylus becomes the equivalent of the man's phallus; see Selections III, passage 3 [pp. 322-30] and study guide for Christine de Pizan 1). Think about the implicit connection of writing to maleness. Should women write? Is feminine literacy, clerkliness, or literary activity considered to be "natural" behavior? The Wife of Bath has a lot to say about male assumptions concerning women and about women writing -- as well as about male writing about women.

Selections II, Passage 4 (pp. 276-81): Note the misogyny (prejudice against women) displayed in many passages of Jean de Meun's poem. (Such attitudes do NOT occur in the first half of the poem written by Guillaume de Lorris.) Jean de Meun was widely admired for his erudition and learning, which he attributes to his following the auctores ("authors") who were themselves highly misogynous (see translatio for a refresher on the notion of literary authority, or auctoritas). Consider Jean de Meun's claims NOT to be against women. How seriously should we take them? How might a woman reader react to them?

Selections II, Passage 5 (pp. 304-9): Note Jean de Meun's insistence upon the importance of books as repositories of knowledge which teach readers how to be noble and courteous, as well as his statements about the nobility (gentilesse) of learned men and "clerks," which he seems to feel is "nobler" than the inherited "nobility" of the aristocracy.  In this regard, his position offers a variant on that offered by Chaucer in his lyric poem "Gentilesse," where he asserts that true nobility was a function of one's behavior rather than of noble birth.

LOOKING AHEAD: you will want to keep these passages in mind when we consider the writings of Christine de Pizan, an actual (rather than fictional) woman writer who was highly offended by the misogyny of literary tradition in general and of Jean de Meun's Romance of the Rose in particular.

Contexts for Christine de Pizan: 
Romance of the Rose, Selections III
(selections read as a context for CHristine de Pizan readings in ENGL 203 and as part of a stand-alone Rose unit in ENGL 439, Gender in Medieval Literature)

[Readings are on Electronic Reserve in the Library Resources section of Blackboard; 

Like Chaucer (who translated parts of the text from French into English), Christine knew the Romance of the Rose exceedingly well. Consider these final selections from the poem both for their intrinsic interest (remember that the Romance of the Rose was the "best-seller" of the 13th and 14th centuries) and as a context for reading Christine de Pizan. 

Selections III, Passage 1 (pp. 133-137): An example of the crude language in parts of Jean de Meun's poem that offended Christine. Lady Reason (an allegorical figure) lectures the Lover/Dreamer about the fact that "naughty" words are just words and should not offend anyone. Male and female genitalia are part of God's creation and necessary for the propagation of the species, and there's nothing wrong with naming them by their names. Note the scholarly tone (references to learned sources and statements about "glossing" the meaning of a text; recall similar statements in the Prologue to the Lais of Marie de France).  Another passage where linguistic crudeness is coupled with references to male, authoritative scholarly tradition is found in Selections II, passage 2 (p. 239).  Here the Old Woman's talks about the Trojan War and other battles she claims were waged by men for the sake of a woman's con (Old French for, ahem, "cunt" -- and the etymological origin of that naughty word). In the same sentence, she praises the written records which preserve the memories of these battles (compare similar laudatory statements about writing in the prologues of Marie de France and of Chrétien de Troyes's romances Erec and Enide, Cligés and the Knight of the Cart.). 

Selections III, Passage 2 (p. 80): Guillaume de Lorris's most explicit statement concerning the completeness of his poem. Note that everything he says it is "right" for him to tell about IS told by the time his section of the poem is completed (review the end of Guillaume's poem, Selections II, passage 1, pp. 86-8). Note that Guillaume puts the seizing of the Rose outside the framework of what it is appropriate and "right" to tell in his poem. (His is a courtly work, and a courtly lover is NOT supposed to "kiss and tell"!) His poem is geared toward pleasing the beloved lady, in hope that she might grant him the gift of her "rosebud"; it is NOT a place to gloat about plucking it or to describe that event in graphic terms! Jean de Meun's purpose and tone will be very different from Guillaume's.

Selections III, Passage 3 (pp. 322-30). Despite his protestations to the contrary (review Selections II, passage 3, pp. 258-9), Jean de Meun is clearly one of the misogynistic clerics that so irritated the Wife of Bath (and Christine!).  Here "Genius," an allegorical representation of the sexual drive, talks about the necessity of procreation. Notice that some of his arguments rejoin those of the Wife of Bath, who similarly defends sexual activity against those who would preach chastity. But unlike the Wife of Bath, Genius takes an exclusively male perspective. The metaphors used to describe sexual activity equate male genitalia with styluses, hammers and plows, while female genitalia are tablets, anvils, and fallow fields. In all of these metaphors, men are those that act, while women are that which is acted upon. Men are subjects, while women are objectified. According to the Wife of Bath, this is precisely the problem with much misogynistic writing BY men ABOUT women. It is interesting to note that the metaphor of the stylus and the tablet equates the penis with a writing instrument while woman is what men write on -- an apt illustration of the "phallocentric" literary tradition of clerical misogyny to which both the Wife of Bath and Christine de Pizan react. 

Selections III, Passage 4 (pp. 346-54). The end of Jean's poem uses the same metaphors found in passage 3 (plowing, writing, etc.) to recount the Dreamer's final conquest of the Rose (he "deflowers" her, so to speak). These pages don't need much commentary -- they are fairly self explanatory. Note the extreme crudeness -- even obscenity -- of the allegory. Comparison of what Jean de Meun sees as the appropriate ending of the poem with what Guillaume thought was the appropriate ending (see Selections III, passage 2, above) makes clear the difference in tone, attitude and purpose of the two poems. While Guillaume is highly respectful of women, Jean regards them as little more than sexual objects. It's no wonder that Christine de Pizan (like many ENGL 203 students) found his work offensive and objectionable. 

Selections from the Work of Christine de Pizan

1) Reactions to the Rose: The God of Love's Letter (pp. 15-29) and the "Debate on the Romance of the Rose" (pp. 41-5).  Read carefully the headnotes in The Selected Writing of Christine de Pizan, pp. 15-16 and 41-42. As you read these pieces, note what Christine objects to in the Romance of the Rose and how she responds to clerical traditions of misogyny.  Notice also where her arguments coincide with the opinions of the Wife of Bath and how they differ. (Note to students of ENGL 439, Love in Medieval Literature:  these readings are available on e-reserve in the Library Resources section of Blackboard; be sure to print them out and be sure to bring them with you to class!)

The God of Love's Letter (written in 1399) was Christine's initial response to the Romance of the Rose (in which the God of Love also played a prominent role). Compare Christine's God of Love with those found in both parts of the Rose (for Guillaume de Lorris, see Rose Selections I, Passage 2; for Jean de Meun, see Rose Selections I, Passage 3). Whose God of Love, Guillaume's or Jean's, would you expect this Cupid most to resemble? It is not surprising that Christine would wish to "rewrite" Jean's God of Love (whom we might more rightly call a God of Lust). But might she have had some issues with Guillaume's ostensibly more respectful attitude toward women as well?  Later this quarter we will meet up with a final "rewriting" of the God of Love, who appears several times in Dante's Vita Nuova.) 

Between 1400 and 1402, Christine played a prominent role in a polemical literary debate on the Romance of the Rose, a short sampling of which is found pp. 41-5. While the excerpt from the Debate is fairly dry, note how gutsy it was for Christine to defy convention and engage in a public debate in which she holds her own against prominent male adversaries (whose reactions to her range from patronizing condescension to outright hostility). Recall that a woman's rightful "place" was thought to be the private sphere of home and family -- an opinion largely shared by Christine, who would willingly have remained "only" a wife and mother had her husband not died, leaving her with a family to support. So while Christine vigorously defends a woman's right to an education and attacks the misogynistic writings of clerical tradition, she was by no means a modern-day "feminist."  It is telling that Christine characterizes her own entry into the public sphere as a metamorphosis, a "mutation of Fortune" which transformed her from a woman into a man.  Apparently only a man -- or at least an honorary one -- could rightfully participate in public discourse, which Christine still saw as an exclusively male domain. (See in this regard the article by Beatrice Gottlieb, "The Problem of Feminism in the Fifteenth Century," pp. 274-97; as well as Sheila Delaney's "'Mothers to Think Back Through': Who Are They? The Ambiguous Example of Christine de Pizan," 312-28.  Also excellent reading:  Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski's "Christine de Pizan and the Misogynistic Tradition," 297-311.) 

2) Autobiographical Writings: from The Book of Fortune's Transformation (1403),  pp. 88-95 and 99-107, and from Christine's Vision (1405), pp. 173-201.  Read through these selections quickly. You can ignore most of the allegory; look for details about Christine's personal history, in particular her relationship to her parents, her love of learning, her love for her husband, the difficulties she encountered after his death, and her efforts to win acceptance as a writer or intellectual. Note in particular the notion that by entering the public sphere, Christine becomes an "honorary man."

3) Symbolic Autobiography: on being a Woman Writer.  From The Book of the City of Ladies (1404-5), pp. 116-37 and 147-9.  Again, you can read these selections over quickly -- don't worry about all the details of the allegory itself. But DO look carefully for evidence of Christine's feelings as a scholarly woman confronted with the overwhelming misogyny of "authoritative" literary tradition (see e.g. headnote pp. 116-8 and the opening of Christine's dream vision -- an implicit answer to that famous medieval dream vision, the Romance of the Rose?). Notice that Christine's allegorical Lady Reason is very different in character and tone from Jean de Meun's! And note in particular references to women's learnedness, reading and writing.

Click here for Christine de Pizan II Study Guide

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