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The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval…

The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (Canto Classics) (original 1936; edition 2013)

by C. S. Lewis (Author)

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764422,901 (4.06)23
The Allegory of Love is a landmark study of a powerful and influential medieval conception. C. S. Lewis explores the sentiment called 'courtly love' and the allegorical method within which it developed in literature and thought, from its first flowering in eleventh-century Languedoc through to its transformation and gradual demise at the end of the sixteenth century. Lewis devotes particular attention to the major poems The Romance of the Rose and The Faerie Queene, and to poets including Chaucer, Gower and Thomas Usk.… (more)
Title:The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (Canto Classics)
Authors:C. S. Lewis (Author)
Info:Cambridge University Press (2013), 488 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Allegory of Love by C. S. Lewis (1936)


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I enjoy Lewis' style and wit, which surprisingly (to me) appear even in his scholarly work. My first reaction was, "Why didn't anyone teach me things like this in school?" Then, "Maybe they tried, and I wasn't listening…."
  luskwater | Feb 11, 2019 |
A review for readers of OHEL

Lewis's volume in the _Oxford History of English Literature_ series ("OHEL", as he called it) is still in print, while _The Allegory of Love_ (AoL) is not. Therefore, there might be some shoppers who have read the former and are wondering whether they should read the latter. This review is for those shoppers.

In short, if you liked OHEL, I think you will probably like AoL. Some specifics:

1) Lewis began working on AoL when he was in his 20s, and _Collected Letters_, vol. 1, reveals a mindset in the young Lewis less appealing than that which would later help to make him beloved by his readers. Does this mindset mar AoL? No, not at all. Lewis was approaching 40 when AoL was published, and in it his voice is essentially indistinguishable from that of the later Lewis.

2) I haven't yet read _Boxen_, but I'm guessing that it gives ample evidence that Lewis's writing style developed substantially over time. Is AoL an early enough work that it exposes the rough edges in Lewis's prose? No, it is not.

3) While both OHEL and AoL are written for literature scholars, I found OHEL to be reasonably accessible and AoL even more so.

4) AoL is far more focused and coherent than OHEL, making for a more pleasurable read.

5) AoL was for Lewis a labor of love--no pun intended--while there was a reason he gave OHEL its nickname.

For me, OHEL was a 5-star work. If it also was for you, I think you'll give AoL 5 stars, too. ( )
  cpg | Oct 14, 2017 |
C S Lewis traces the development of love poetry from the celebration of adulterous love by the 12th century Troubadours through to Edmond Spenser's utter refutation and then vindication of married love in the Faerie Queene. He takes Courtly Love and allegory as his twin themes for his exploration of medieval French and British poetry. His enthusiastic search for and love of beautiful poetry; some of which he finds in unexpected places, makes this an enthralling read.

Lewis lays plenty of groundwork for the reader to enjoy his romp through the period. He offers a convincing account of Courtly Love, which seems to have suddenly appeared in the 12 century and which would influence vernacular poetry for the next four centuries. Courtly Love was based on four basic premises: humility, courtesy, adultery and the religion of love. Medieval feudal society was based on service of vassals to their Lord and therefore humility and courtesy were significant factors in the success of this relationship. It was no stretch then for an idealised woman to demand these same qualities from her suitors. Marriages were arranged and purely utilitarian and many were not love matches, therefore for those interested in sexual love adultery was the norm. The religion of love celebrated by the troubadours and backed by rules of engagement that protected the honour of those involved led to the ethos of Courtly Love. In an age where passionate and sexual love was deemed to be more or less wicked (even in marriage) by the church: Courtly Love was a natural reaction by those that could afford it and resulted in a dichotomy between church and state. It is vital to understand this situation to appreciate much of the poetry of the period.

Lewis then goes on to explain the use of allegory and how it developed from the pagans personification of their Gods to its usage by medieval poets to express passions and inner thoughts. The function of allegory was not to hide, but to reveal emotions and was taken up by poets to express the feelings of the courtly lover. The Troubadours and Chretien de Troyes were the early exponents of allegory but Lewis traces this back to Boethius and the writers in antiquity. Lewis makes an excellent case for Guilliame de Lorris's Romance of the Rose as being the pinnacle of allegorical poetry. Here it all came together as personification (allegory) was used in some marvellous poetry to express real emotions in a way that could be understood by those reading at the time. Lewis's excellent critique of the poem goes on to explain why Jean de Meun's continuation of the poem was less successful in his usage of allegory: his use of irony and satire produced some fundamental disunity that made it a different poem.

Chaucer has a chapter to himself, but the Canterbury tales are largely ignored because of their lack of allegorical content. Earlier work such as The Parliament of Foules is critiqued: A special case is made for Troilus and Cryseide, despite its lack of allegory, because as Lewis says, it is one of the finest love poems of the English language, based on the tenets of Courtly Love. Lewis finds Gower worth reading for his Confessio Amantis and encourages readers to dip in to Thomas Usk.

The poets that followed the age of Chaucer are only given consideration where they use allegory. It is not therefore a complete survey of the period. Allegory had become an over used convention that was increasingly producing bad and mediocre poetry. Lewis however uncovers some gems from the morass: translations by Thomas Hoccleve are praised as well as some of the poetry by Gavin Douglas. This section of the book highlights Lewis's wide reading and determination to find worthy poetry. He finds examples by Lydgate and Hawes which he shares but does not encourage the reader to explore further.

Spenser's crowning achievement The Fairie Queene is discussed in the long final chapter. A brief analysis of the six books and the Mutabilitie Cantos is cogent and insightful. Lewis links the poem more closely to the Italian epics such as Orlando Furioso, than to the allegorical tradition of Britain and France. Lewis claims that Spenser's use of allegory is not in conjunction with the ethos of Courtly Love. In fact he claims books III and IV refute Courtly love in favour of a celebration of married love. He attempts to resolve the dichotomy between church and state. Britomart who represent chastity is easily misunderstood by the modern reader Chastity stands for married love and its enemy is Courtly Love. These books may account for Spenser's lack of success as a courtier in later life (my view not Lewis's), perhaps he was seen to be biting the hand that fed him.

Lewis writes here in a lucid and clear style. There are a few untranslated Latin phrases sprinkled through the text, but nowhere do they obscure the meaning. The book was published in 1936 and there have been no revisions, it might therefore be considered to be a little outdated. I have no doubts in recommending this to anyone interested in medieval literature ( )
13 vote baswood | Sep 22, 2011 |
Interesting for his comments on individual works, but his overall theory of progress from adulterous to married love as a literary ideal I think mistaken. There are early works that favor married love (e.g. the German verson of Lancelot) and late works that favor adultery.
It is ironic that Lewis who often warns against theories of progress falls into one here. ( )
  antiquary | Aug 13, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
C. S. Lewisprimary authorall editionscalculated
Perosa, SergioIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stefancich, GiovannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Multa renascentur quae iam cecidere, cadentque quae nunc sunt in honore.
To Gwen Barfield, wisest and best of my unofficial teachers.
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The allegorical love poetry of the Middle Ages is apt to repel the modern reader both by its form and by its matter.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The Allegory of Love is a landmark study of a powerful and influential medieval conception. C. S. Lewis explores the sentiment called 'courtly love' and the allegorical method within which it developed in literature and thought, from its first flowering in eleventh-century Languedoc through to its transformation and gradual demise at the end of the sixteenth century. Lewis devotes particular attention to the major poems The Romance of the Rose and The Faerie Queene, and to poets including Chaucer, Gower and Thomas Usk.

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Autograph: Graham Greene
Copiously annotated text in Greene’s hand

Note: First published in 1936 (with corrections)
This is a 1946 printing
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