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Small Consolation: Goscelin of Saint-Bertin's Liber confortatorius and Pearl

Watt, D (2016) Small Consolation: Goscelin of Saint-Bertin's Liber confortatorius and Pearl Chaucer Review: a journal of medieval studies and literary criticism, 51 (1).

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Abstract

Goscelin of Saint-Bertin wrote the Liber confortatorius for Eve of Wilton sometime shortly after 1080, following Eve’s decision to leave England and become a recluse in Angers. It takes the form of an extended letter ostensibly offering guidance to the recluse in her new spiritual life. The Liber confortatorius is significant because it is the earliest surviving guide for a female recluse in the English literary tradition. Other famous later examples of such works include Ælred of Rievaulx’s De institutione inclusarum, and the Middle English Ancrene Wisse. Yet Goscelin’s text is very different from these later examples, not least because, despite its form and avowed intention, its emphasis is far less on giving advice and on regulating the conduct of the recluse than on describing the author’s sense of abandonment and loss. As a book of consolation, it seems to be directed more to the needs of the author-narrator than to those of the reader, whether Eve or any other recluse or individual seeking spiritual comfort. In this respect, I suggest that the Liber confortatorius is closer to the Middle-English poem Pearl than to other later anchoritic works. Within the Liber, Goscelin develops to its fullest extent the metaphor of the recluse as dead to the world, a metaphor which was to become a commonplace in later anchoritic literature. Even though she is still alive at the time of writing, Eve, as Goscelin conjures her, resembles a spirit reanimated, who, from the afterlife brings to the bereaved writer consolation, and perhaps some spiritual guidance. The Liber thus seems to anticipate Pearl, in which the dreamer encounters the spirit of one he has lost, and indeed there are rather striking similarities between the two texts, both of which focus on the ambiguous, troubling, relationship between an adult man stricken by grief, and an idealized and virginal girl or young woman. Yet, thinking through fully the connections between the Liber confortatorius and Pearl, forces to confront the differences between the two texts.

Item Type: Article
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > School of English and Languages
Authors :
AuthorsEmailORCID
Watt, DUNSPECIFIEDUNSPECIFIED
Date : 29 January 2016
Additional Information : Paper accepted for publication in Chaucer Review: a journal of medieval studies and literary criticism 2016
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 15 Sep 2015 13:58
Last Modified : 15 Sep 2015 13:58
URI: http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/id/eprint/808366

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