Louise Van Hine: "Unity and Continuity in The Romance of the Rose

by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun"

The dual authorship and the allegorical structure of the Romance of the Rose raises questions about its structural unity and about its authors' respective intents. C.S. Lewis's approach to the poems is to praise Guillaume de Lorris for his conception and his loyalty to the form of allegory, and to condemn Jean de Meun for his length, satirical intent, and a dozen other faults. However, in examining the overall structure of each author's poem, the narrative style, tone and imagery, a unity of purpose can be construed. Though each poet has his unique style, that style is used to give a sense of wholeness to the poem. Both poets draw from the rich tradition of romance and Ovid's Metamorphoses. Jean, in completing the poem, has followed Guillaume's outline of the Romance meticulously, bringing Guillaume's conception of the love allegory to a satisfactory birth.

The Romance provides a wealth of opportunity for studying what C.S. Lewis terms the "bellum intestinum", the internal psychological struggle which lies at the root of allegory (Lewis, p. 68). Lewis's analysis of allegory as a kind of proto-psychological experience in medieval literature helps clarify the intentions of our poets. In the Romance, our subject matter is the torment and struggle of love. In Guillaume, the internal torment of love is frankly described in the opening lines:

Out of this mirror a new madness comes upon men: Here hearts are changed; intelligence and moderation have no business here, where there is only the simple will to love, where no one can be counseled. (p. 52)

By looking into the mirror of Narcissus, love is kindled, a kind of passion with which reason and rationality can not cope. The poem, with its vast array of personifications engaged in war, represents an internal war in the lover's heart. The campaign, which the Lover inadvertently launches by stepping up to Narcissus' fountain, only just begins by the time Guillaume's poem breaks off. But it is fully enacted in Jean's poem. In both poems, the story is told partly in allegory, partly in gloss. In both segments, the actions of the lover in his seduction are represented through the allegorical figures, and the commentary on love, marriage, and medieval institutions are made directly by the allegorical figures. So we have two basic narrative lines; the allegory, and the various explanations and discourses. In erxamining the question of unity between the two poems of the Romance, the course of these narrative lines, their tone, setting, characters, and imagery will be compared.

I. Guillaume

The Lover's reflection on his dream vision in the first few stanzas determines the shape of the entire Romance. We are told at the beginning that it is a long history, but it is a true dream, and worth the time, because it reveals the mysteries that the God of Love has imparted to him. Our narrator is anxious to instruct us:

Let him who wishes to love give his attention to it, for the romance improves from this point on. From now on one will do well to listen to it, if he is one who knows how to recount it, for the end of the dream is very beautiful, and its matter is new. I tell you that he who will hear the end of the dream can learn a great deal about the games of Love, provided that he wishes to wait while I tell the tale in French and explain the dream's significance. (p. 59)

We have learned by this that not only will we hear the dream, but also an explanation of its significance, and thus can expect two separate narrative streams. This promise we should bear in mind for the unfolding of the plot, which is laden with commentaries and glosses. So the stage is set for an involved discourse on the games of love, as experienced through the Dreamer's adventure in the Garden of Diversion. We also know from this promise that the Lover will accomplish his goal through experiencing the adventure.

Guillaume's garden is innocent-looking enough on the outside, but at its gate a host of cautionary figures meet our Lover, which gives a moral cast to the setting. In this preliminary description his prophetic intentions are made clear. The invocation of Macrobius stresses upon us that the importance of this dream lies in its prophetic, truth-telling quality. Our narrator relates Scipio's dream to his own dream, asserting that "for my part, I am convinced that a dream signifies the good and evil that come to men, for most men at night dream many things in a hidden way which may afterward be seen openly." (p. 31) At the outset, we are tantalized with the notion that what is to be related to us may be real and may not be, and that the dream, which will reveal the "good and evil that come to men" will be prophetic. And in these first stanzas, he admits that the dream does come true. In what way the dream comes true we are left to imagine.

His moral sense, and also his irony, is more easily seen in Guillaume's description of the paintings of ladies representing the Vices and Misfortunes. This is our first glimpse of Guillaume's satire on women as the misfortune of the world. What strikes the reader immediately is that the descriptions appear to be of living people the narrator knows, and not painted figures. He seems to recognize, in his mysterious way, all of the women, as though they are members of his community:

Beside her, on a little thin clothespole, hung a mantle and a coat of sleazy material. The mantle had no fur linings, but very poor and shabby ones of heavy, shaggy black lamb. Her dress was at least ten years old, but, in anything to do with clothing, Avarice rarely had any desire to hurry. It weighed heavily on her to use the dress at all, for when it was worn out and tattered, she would be very distressed over a new one and would suffer great privation before she would have another made (p. 33-34)

Our Lover knows Avarice in her peculiarities. He knows how long she's had the coat, and just how grasping she is. His comments anticipate the satiric intent of the Romance. Also, Guillaume has set up a worldly scheme of damnation, with a cast of unfortunate figures outside the garden, and a cast of noble figures within. The tone of the narrative suggests personal acquaintance with these vices and misfortunes. In the case of Old Age, the narrator has seen her in better days, when she was younger and stood taller:

Old Age, shrunken by a good foot from her former stature, was portrayed next. She was so old, so far fallen into her second childhood, that she could hardly feed herself. Her beauty was spoiled and she had become very ugly (p. 35)

Our narrator then turns his attention to the excellent inhabitants of the Garden, who, as we look closer, are not really so very excellent. Guillaume exploits the simplest ironic device in his use of the negative in describing the inhabitants of the Garden, and by so doing brings out their negative qualities:

"Moreover, she was not vulgar," (p. 40); "It was Joy, who hated him not at all" (p. 42); "Her neck was of good proportion, thick enough and reasonably long, without pimples or sores" (p. 38).

Into every compliment our dreamer injects a negative image; vulgarity, hatred, pimples and sores, as though these images are irresistibly called to mind in this setting. They are fully as unsettling as the descriptions of the misfortunes outside the garden. In spite of the beauty of the Garden, its Eden-like quality is undermined at every turn by the constant recurrence of negative imagery. Guillaume's satire of women is also more obvious in this portion of the poem, a symptom, Lewis writes, of the courtly tradition of Frauendienst:

Her body was dressed and adorned in a samite worked in gold, the same material that her lover wore, only she was much more proud of it. (p. 42)

In both works, the haughtiness and pride of women is a favorite target. Guillaume's descriptions of women, from their haughtiness and resistance to their vanity (Idleness wearing gloves to keep her hands from getting brown, for example), provide a set of ironic imagery underlying the allegorical conflict of the Lover for the Rose.

Guillaume's ironic devices serve to spoof the genre of allegory. His cautionary figures are caricatures, his gentlefolk are vain and self-centered. His glibness is not reserved for anyone in particular, but is general. Of Old Age he writes, "These old people, you understand, are very cold by nature," (p. 33). In Shame's conversation with Resistance, she discusses the Lover's character, "'I have heard it said in a proverb that a courtly boor talks nonsense and that one can in no way make a sparrow hawk out of a buzzard.'" (p. 33) Guillaume's characters criticize the very subject he is writing on. The "courtly love tradition" is rife with deceit and machinations, as the God of Love elucidates in his speech to the Lover.

The carol scene, which Jean returns to at the end of "Genius's Solution" has a merry, comic tone to it, inviting us not to take it too seriously:

In the middle of the carol, Diversion, with great nobility, directed the dancing of two darling young ladies dressed only in kirtles, with their hair in single braids. It is useless to speak of how quaintly they danced; each one came very prettily toward the other, and when they were close they thrust their mouths forward in such a way that it would have seemed to you that they were kissing each other on the face. (p. 41)

By stating "it is useless to speak of how quaintly they danced" employes the same ironic tone used throughout his poem to spoof the form of the romance. The carol scene, after which the couples pair off to make love, is an erotic buildup to the main action -- the encounter with the Rose and the scene with the God of Love.

Guillaume's poem deals with the subject of love both on the literal and allegorical level, as I have said. The encounter between the Lover and the God shows Guillaume's purpose in unfolding the Romance as an allegory conscious of itself, alongside the allegorical struggle for the Rose, the God of Love remains at the literal level to discuss the matter at hand, the practical side of winning the beloved. Here the God of Love speaks in the whimsical way that we have come to recognize in this poem:

Allow no dirt on your person; wash your hands and scrub your teeth. If the least black shows under your fingernails, don't let it remain there. Sew your sleeves and comb your hair, but do not rouge or paint your face, for such a custom belongs only to ladies or to men of bad repute, who have had the misfortune to find a love contrary to nature. (p. 60-61)

This advice is like Ovid's advice in the Ars Amatoria. The God of Love glosses the love affair as a practical matter calling for strict hygiene and deceitful intrigue. But the literal narrative and the allegory are both sustained, as the God of Love continues to admonish the Lover, now on the allegorical plane:

A lover will never possess what he seeks; something is always missing, and he is never at peace. The war will never finish until I wish to seek the peace. (p. 64)

Again, in the speech by the God of Love, we are apprised of what is to come; a long war to win the Rose. We have been prepared for the dual narrative, and for the succession of glosses which will follow as the romance becomes more involved.

The Romance centers on the conflict between the Lover and his host of allies against the forces of the beloved's resistance. At the end of Guillaume, we have the first major stalemate. Guillaume has set up a dual narrative structure, ironic in tone, a set of characters who function both literally and allegorically, and a conflict which must be resolved on both the literal and allegorical level. The allegory Guillaume constructs gradually replaces the Lover and the beloved as the principal actors. The allegorical figures now become the cast in a high adventure. These figures have their own distinctive features and personalities, which are projections of the features and personalities of the lovers.

Fair Welcoming is one of the central figures. He is an intriguing and mysterious figure, whose behavior puzzles the Lover:

If he had been angry toward me, he was none the worse for having been so; rather he showed me an appearance fairer than he had shown before. (p. 78)

Guillaume's cast of figures helps him more fully achieve the ironic purpose. A flat statement on the fickleness of women, which does occur in the glosses, could not be more effective than the image of Fair Welcoming, a facet of the beloved's many-sided and conflicting attitudes, fleeing and reapproaching the Lover.

These figures have their own lineages and histories, just as Ovid's mythical figures do. They live in Guillaume as members of the allegorical pantheon. Here he describes Shame:

The most worthy among them was Shame. If one tells her parentage and ancestry correctly, she was the daughter of Reason the wise, and her father's name was Misdeeds, a man so hideous and ugly that Reason never lay with him but conceived Shame just upon seeing him. (p. 70)

The background to the allegorical figures provides an important link with the classical backdrop of the allegory. Guillaume tells the history of the "bellum intestinum" by the interaction of these figures, whom Lewis compares with puppets. It is a full set of characters with a rich history. And everyone has something to add to the lore of lovemaking. Hence the Romance can also be read as a series of tales of love by various Ovidian archetypes. The figures discourse at the literal level, telling tales and relating myths well known, and also participate in the allegorical seduction. The double image of the allegory and the folklore is discernable in the way the language changes.

The glosses serve three purposes: 1) to help shape the action of the Romance; 2) to preserve the double image of the poem and to clarify the meaning of the allegory as it progresses; and 3) to relate the Romance to the body of classical literature and to contemporary romances for ironic effect. Here the narrator's gloss helps to clarify the goal of the poem:

From now on it is right for me to tell you how I struggled with Shame, who gave me a lot of trouble afterward, and how the walls were raised and how there rose a rich and powerful castle that Love seized later through his efforts. I want to pursue the whole history, and I shall never be idle in writing it down as long as I believe that it may please the beautiful lady -- may God be her cure -- who better than any other shall, when she wishes, give me the reward. (p. 80)

In this gloss, the Lover identifies the lady as the object of his affection, and his intent in writing the history is to please her. The relationship between the fantasy and the glosses help to achieve the multiple purposes of this poem, in much the same way that the multiple figures help show the many-sided nature of the beloved.

The major systems of imagery in Guillaume's poem are military and religious. The act of love in the Romance is viewed as an act of war and also as a religious devotion which will be rewarded through the mercy of the God of Love and of Venus. The God of Love, having wounded the lover, has taken him as a prisoner of war:

When I revived, I wailed and sighed, for my anguish was growing so much worse that I had no hope, either of cure or of relief. I would rather have been dead than alive, for, in my opinion, Love would make a martyr of me in the end. (p. 56)

Though the God has hurt him and martyred him, like the God of religion, he offers the Lover succor in his misery:

He did not want me to die but to be relieved by the power of the unguent, one which was full of healing comfort. (ibid)

The power of the allegory in conveying convincing images of the anguish of love we accept today as standard. In this poem, the imagery of battle and of religious faith are potent analogies for the suffering of the lover. The relationship between the God and the Lover, as Lewis points out, is similar to that of master and vassal, but the master is impotent and immortal, controlling the Lover's struggle from start to finish. Only divine intervention will bring the Lover to his goal, the intervention of the God of Love and of Venus, who in Guillaume descends briefly to warm Fair Welcoming with her torch to win a kiss from the Rose.

II. Jean de Meun

Where Guillaume's poem breaks off, Jean resumes, in the midst of the Lover's ruminations on his misfortune and frustration. The transition between the two poems is practically seamless; the tone is uninterrupted. Perhaps the only perceptible difference at the beginning of Jean's poem is the increase in the frustration level, which is indicative of the overall escalation of the plot. Throughout the second part of the Romance, there is a greater concentration on and awareness of the Lover's state of mind, as his involvement with the campaign for the Rose becomes more complex. At the beginning of Jean, the Lover laments his situation with unrestrained passion, abandoning all hope:

But whatever happens, I pray that after my death he remember Fair Welcoming who, without doing harm to me, has killed me. In any case, to divert him, and since I cannot bear the burden of his misfortune, I make my confession to you before I die, O Love, as do all loyal lovers, and I wish to make my testament here; at my departure I leave my heart to Fair Welcoming; I have no other goods to bequeath. (p. 93)

The return of Reason and her lengthy monologue on the kinds of love and the foolhardiness of the Lover's commitment to the God is a recapitulation of the scene in Guillaume where the Lover repulses Reason in favor of his passion. The change taking place in the Lover signals a change in the allegory: the courtliness, perhaps the Lover's naive acceptance of his situation, has worn off. He is alternately angry and miserable, cursing and supplicating his God.

In Guillaume, the forces which rally for the battle of love seem to gather like clouds, suddenly and without plan. The outbreak of passion is unrestrained and not well thought out, and perhaps not even well fortified. Here we see a Foul Mouth doing double shifts at the Castle:

Foul Mouth - God curse him -- had soldiers from Normandy and guarded the door behind. Know, too, that he came and went, when it suited him, at the other three gates, since he had to be on the lookout at night. (p. 86)

Guillaume's Castle of Jealousy seems to be suffering a slight shortage of personnel, in keeping with the impromptu nature of the love affair at its conception.

In Jean, the plot thickens and is rendered more complex. The road to the Castle becomes long and arduous, a troop of barons from the Garden, most of whom we have already seen in the Garden, gather around the God to help with the battle plan, in order to assault the Castle and win the prize.

There are many new characters, some of them we are hard put to fit into the original scheme, because they are so specific; characters such as Skillful Concealment, who appear in a moment to contend with Shame, who is suddenly armed in a skirmish with a sword named Suspicion of Ostentation. What unfolded as a delicate irony in Guillaume (a flirtation, perhaps) is now a full-fledged satire in Jean as he unleashes this troop of figures to add to the cast already presented. Yet this intensification of the action is built into Guillaume's poem. The precedent for escalation is implicit in the construction of the Castle before Guillaume breaks off, as forces are gathered to guard the Castle and imprison Fair Welcoming. Reason, in fact, warns the Lover in the argument that war is the inevitable outcome of his foolish pledge to the God:

Now I want to tell and advise you to forget the love by which I see that you are thus weakened, thus conquered and tormented. I cannot otherwise envisage your health or cure, for cruel Resistance hopes to wage a very violent war against you (p. 73).

So again there is continuity of action, and justified escalation of the hostilities. But Jean takes Guillaume's vehicle and loads everything onto it: the commentaries, which follow one upon the other, range outward to encompass medieval lifestyles, religious observances, the role of the University, etc. There is in Jean, as in Guillaume, a satiric purpose in these commentaries. But in Jean there is a much wider scope.

In "Discourse of Reason", Reason's long suasoria bores and frustrates the Lover even more than his predicament does, and bores the reader at the same time. Reason, not to be outdone by the God of Love in his speech, invokes Socrates, Suetonius, and the entire body of classical rhetoric for over 3,000 lines, putting it to the purpose of discouraging the Lover. Her attempt, of course, fails, and so demonstrates the failure of Reason (and classical thinking) in dealing with the problem of falling in love.

"Advice of a Friend" is an Ovidian commentary on the vicissitudes of women. The entire section is a condemnation of marriage as a dangerous enterprise for men. The Friend reserves special ire for "pope-holy" women and the false-religious, who are again attacked in False Seeming's speech:

In cloisters and abbeys all the women are sworn against her (Chastity). They will never be so walled in that they do not hate Chastity so strongly that they all aspire to shame here... Certainly, if the truth be told, women give great shame to God. (p.164)

The glosses in Jean serve, not only as a justification of the outcome of the Romance, but also as satirical vehicles on the whole of contemporary life. From the point he departs from Guillaume, Jean turns the allegory to a full employment of its satiric purpose. But Jean has not forgotten the traditional role of these figures, and he too carefully introduces his new characters, complete with family history:

Fraud engendered False Seeming, who goes around stealing men's hearts. His mother's name is Hypocrisy, the dishonored thief who suckled and nursed the filthy hypocrite with a rotten heart who has betrayed many a region with his religious habit." (p. 186)

Departing from classical references, Jean here has invented new and vile figures, who are attributes neither of the Lover or of the beloved, nor of the world of romance, but of the secular and religious world. His scope has broadened, and into the romance he has thrown the entire contemporary scene, which he builds upon Guillaume's mild but provocative foundation. C.S. Lewis acknowledges Jean's mastery of the satiric form in his poem, attributing his satire of women to the courtly tradition of Frauendienst, which includes a love-hate relationship to women. But Lewis also finds Jean to have overdone his satire by throwing everything into it, employing the "general vice of diffuseness." (Lewis, p.145)

Whether Jean has gone too far in satirizing (if there is such a thing), he takes the trouble to explore the entire body of argument against the fulfillment of romantic love through sexual intercourse. This is the import of "Nature's Confession" and "Genius's Solution."

The success of the Romance lies in the preservation of the double image, the return from the literal level to the allegorical, which occurs at the conclusion of each successive gloss. While carefully avoiding the collapse into purely narrative commentary, Jean keeps the allegory intact, and enriches it with discourses, from below as it were, at the literal level.

So Jean has used glosses for the same purposes that Guillaume has: to shape the action of the Romance, and to help it reach its necessary conclusion; to preserve both the literal narrative and the allegorical structure; and to sustain a relationship beween the Romance and its classical background, from which it is attempting to depart.

In a like fashion, Jean has preserved the major systems of imagery that Guillaume has established, and extended them. The small-scale struggle at the garden hedge in Guillaume has become in Jean a sophisticated plan for taking the Castle by treachery. At the literal level, his imagery works to create an adventure. The immediate drawback, however, is the military campaign is more aimed toward the destruction of the Castle and the destruction of the enemy than on the Lover's purpose: but it can be argued that even in this instance the allegory works as a faithful representation of a lover focusing on winning consent than on whatever consent will ultimately bring in terms of a relationship, and what the relationship will mean to his life.

I have already mentioned Jean's preoccupation with religious imagery on the allegorical level; rather, he reserves it for the final pilgrimage. The battle scenes, where Reason's prophecy of a violent war from Guillaume is realized, dramatizes the emotional height of the lover's affair, in which Venus (as in Guillaume) finally descends with her torch, and sweeps away the defenders.

The religious imagery, as well as the allegorical structure, is maintained through the figure of the God of Love and through the final pilgrimage of the Lover to the shrine, carrying out the Lover's devotion to the God and receiving his reward. The religious imagery in the final section of Jean is much more fully explicated here than in Guillaume, and characteristically encyclopedic in detail:

I knelt without delay between the two fair pillars, for I was very hungry to worship the lovely adorable sanctuary with a devoted and pious heart. Everything had been razed by the fire, with which nothing can war, so that nothing remained standing except the unharmed sanctuary. (p. 351)

As before, Jean renders this encounter hilarious with his attention to carrying out his descriptions to the last detail. Here he compares the Lover's assault on the beloved's hymen with the assault of Hercules on Cacus:

If you had seen me jousting -- and you would have had to take good care of yourself -- you would have been reminded of Hercules when he wanted to dismember Cacus. He battered at his door three times, three times he hurled himself, three times fell back. His struggle and labor were so great that he had to sit down three times in the valley, completely spent, to regain his breath. I had worked so hard that I was covered with the sweat of anguish when I did not immediately break the paling, and I was indeed, believe it, as worn out as Hercules, or even more. (p. 352)

This is the really fun part of Jean's poem, and reveals his comic power. But he does the legwork necessary to get to this comedy, through the introduction of Nature and Genius, who give lengthy commentaries on the need for sex in preserving the species as God intended. While this gloss may seem unnecessary to the modern reader (as it seems to Lewis, who finds Jean consistently overlong), one must bear in mind Lewis's original analysis of the causes of allegory to understand what Jean is undertaking:

We saw that allegory was in no sense a mere device, or figure of rhetoric, or fashion. It was not simply a better or worse way of telling a story. On the contrary, it was originally forced into existence by a profound moral revolution occurring in the latter days of paganism. (Lewis, p. 113)

By Lewis's own definition, the moral implications of literature are of the utmost concern in this period, and the allegory developed as a uniquely apt mode of storytelling. Whether the glosses of Nature and Genius are necessary to the moral resolution of the Romance is a matter for the medieval critic to determine, since our moral sense today is so distant from that time. We can only project that it must have been necessary, since the form of allegory was necessary.

I have examined the unity and continuity between the two parts of the Romance in terms of story line, setting, structure and imagery, as well as in allegorical method. The Romance as it resolves is satisfyingly complete. The changes which occur as the conflict escalates and is resolved are necessary to carry out the pattern that Guillaume lays down for the plot.

Jean brings to the Romance his own commentaries on social institutions; the church, marriage, courtly life, and love; and includes massive glosses on the body of classical and medieval love literature. He often imitates the style and tone of Ovid. Jean's purpose (and Guillaume's, perhaps, if he had had the opportunity to finish the Romance, as Jean did), is not only an allegory of love, but of life and the role of love in society. In the discourses, Jean relates the Romance to the entire 13th century way of life and its roundabout and sometimes hilarious style of courtship.

Guillaume's portion of the Romance is related to and explicated by Jean, even down to the characters and key descriptive words. Jean's success in unfolding Guillaume's conception can be determined by examining their respective handling of the allegorical method, the preservation of the allegorical level throughout the poem, and the use of glossators to bring the reader safely through the affair. This is achieved, and not only well but with a sense of adventure, humor, and morality. Lewis's criticism of Jean as a "satirist, often at intolerable length" (Lewis, p. 144) may have pleased Jean enormously, for it mean that his spoof, as an enlargement of Guillaume's spoof of the form of the love allegory, succeeds.

Long-winded Reason, the bizarre lecture of the Old Woman, the torturous discourse by Nature, the endless talk on the varieties and vicissitudes of Love, all play out traditional responses to the human impulse to love, and one by one they are swept away by Venus's fire.

The satire found in the Romance successfully answers every medieval objection to the moralities of lovemaking, and marks a literary milestone in the human experience of the sexual impulse.