Chaucerian pathos

Dorrance, Nina Helen, Department of English, University of Virginia

In this dissertation I consider pathos as a literary technique in the Second Nun's Tale. Man of Law's Tale. Prioress's Tale, Legend of Good Women, and Squire's Tale. The pathetic and sentimental strain in Chaucer's oeuvre may be defined as problematic not only because it occurs in just those works that have inspired the greatest modern interpretive disagreement among Chaucerians, but also because our current preference for restraint and irony has made sentimentality per se suspect. These tales have often been read as satiric, and my purpose in this study is to attempt a different estimate of their meaning and place in the Chaucer canon. I argue that they represent a stylistic experiment rather than an exercise in the construction of ironic personae. Chapter One undertakes a theoretical examination of the structure of narrative pathos itself, and a preliminary analysis of some medieval theories of decorum--that is to say, of how style intersects with subject-matter. In medieval terms the literary opposition between sacred and secular subject-matter reflects real metaphysical convictions: though both contain some iv form of truth, these truths are not of interchangeable value, and their literary representations must necessarily assume differing statuses. Much of the stylistic incongruity which modern readers have discerned in Chaucer's tales of pathos arises, I argue, from the poet's attempt to adapt the style traditionally associated with one kind of text onto another kind, or to extend tendencies already latent in its decorum. Because the very stock-in-trade of the saint's legend is the depiction of meaningful suffering, and because its intent and decorum are well-defined, the Second Nun's Tale can supply a standard against which the sufferers of the Prioress's and Man of Law's Tales may be evaluated. Chapters Two through Four establish such a decorum, and show that these latter tales adapt the style of sacred literature onto more secular subject-matter. Chapters Five and Six examine the decorum of Chaucerian pathos in two important forms of medieval secular narrative, the exemplum and the romance.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Pathos in literature

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-14 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:35:21.

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