Every story is an allegory
Posted by hgreynold
So, did you get around to reading Abelard and Heloise? Did you notice the part where he tells her it would probably be better if she could just contrive to die?
“I hope, Heloise, that after having deplored the irregularities of your past life, you will die (as the Prophet prayed) the death of the righteous.”
By the way, Abelard was the “irregularity”, and he’s deploring himself. That’s because, before Chretien de Troyes, love was considered a fatal affliction: it existed conceptually as passion, something to be discarded in favor of reason – or in Abelard’s case, a righteous death.
Romantic love, as we now imagine it, was not necessarily in existence until the medieval romances appeared:
“‘Love’, in our sense of the word, is as absent from the literature of the Dark Ages as from that of classical antiquity. Their favorite stories were not, like ours, stories of how a man married, or failed to marry, a woman. They preferred to hear how a holy man went to heaven or how a brave man went to battle” (Lewis 11).
But how did love become a battle, and a woman, heaven?
The answer is that they did, and they could, because the mechanism of allegory was already in place.
Once solely the province of religious biography (see Augustine) or theological exposition (see Dante), allegory now made itself available for the personification of the warring factions within the human soul. This is called psychomachia, if you’d like it in Latin – and it means that the human experience could now be explored in that ultimate exercise of courtly love.
It is difficult to exaggerate the novelty in the amazing assumption that the stories we tell today cannot but relate the experience of human consciousness. We as readers can expect internal developments to inform outward ones, such that the various elements of the human mind play a prominent role in the development of the plot. The romances of the Middle Ages are the genesis of the psychological novel – which is in modern times the dominant form of storytelling.
Every story is an allegory because every fiction is referential. Dating roughly from the moment Erec embarked on his quest for the White Stag, humans have used fiction to explore reality on the tilting ground of the mind.
And in no one element of the human mind is its quality better discovered than in that element of love. And in no medieval romance is this better depicted than in the Roman de la Rose…