Every allegory is also a love story
Posted by hgreynold
There’s a reason, it occurs to me, that C.S. Lewis needed hundreds of pages to demonstrate the relationship between romantic love and allegory in fiction. It’s not the sort of argument to attempt in 1,500 words or less.
But one must stave off the tedium some way or another.
Let’s spend a few of these words to review: in his Allegory of Love, Lewis posits that the idea of romantic love – an idea we tend to assume is universal and ageless – had a very definite beginning in the literature of eleventh-century France.
The medieval poets (Chretien de Troyes, Guillaume de Lorris, Jean de Meun, et al.) used the romances to explore a fictional world in which the realities of the human experience were referenced allegorically. By a very generous extension, all subsequent fiction is necessarily allegorical in that it explores the human psyche by proxy.
So when Lancelot loses his way to Meleagant’s realm, we are to understand that he is wandering in a mythical kingdom and also within his own person:
“…when a poet has reached this stage it is impossible that he should not begin to incorporate into his allegory certain elements from the romances where the journey with adventures is already the norm; and before he has finished he will find himself making an imaginary country whose allegorical pretext justifies it in being rather more imaginary than the countries in romance, being grounded not in Britain or France or even Alexander’s East but in the much wider and more indefinite realities of inner experience” (Lewis 324).
Now, I promised to explain the Romance of the Rose, so here is a summary in ten seconds: it is a twelfth-century story, written by two or three people, about a young dreamer who goes to court and falls in love with a lady.
To win her love, though, the dreamer must contend with a host of characters named Danger, Fair Welcome, Fear, Franchise, Pity, and Shame – all of whom are different aspects of the lady’s mind. Fair Welcome befriends the dreamer from the first, enabled by the lady’s Franchise, who has given consent to humor his suit. But as the dreamer draws close to the well-guarded Rose, he is surprised by Fear and consequently jailed by Danger…
The novelty (not to belabor the point) is that we are meant to take each of these concepts as fully-realized characters: not as “non-entities”, but rather realities of “the inner world” (144). Guillaume de Lorris, Lewis writes, “knows quite clearly what he is about” (60).
And if that didn’t take you ten seconds, read faster next time.
“’Let no one tell you,’ said Schopenhauer, ‘what is in the Critique of Pure Reason.’ A similar caution might well be given about [the second part] of the Romance of the Rose” (171).
A summary of the Critique of Pure Reason will also be made available for a modest fee.