Alchemy and Exemplary Narrative in Middle English Poetry.

Author/Editor
Rundstetler, Curtis T.

Title
Alchemy and Exemplary Narrative in Middle English Poetry.

Published
Rundstetler, Curtis T. Alchemy and Exemplary Narrative in Middle English Poetry. Ph.D. Diss. University of Durham, 2017.

Review
Rundstetler sends the following description: "This thesis examines the role of alchemy in Middle English poetry from fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England, particularly how these poems present themselves as exemplary narratives to raise moral points about human behaviour, fallibility, and alchemical experimentation. The introduction suggests the compatibility between the emergence of the vernacular exemplum and the development of alchemical practice and literature in late medieval England. I follow J. Allan Mitchell's 'ethics of exemplarity' for reading the alchemical poems in this study, extending his reading of Middle English poetry to understand the exemplary and ethical values of alchemy in poetry, which in turn helps the reader to understand the good of alchemical examples in medieval literature. Reading these alchemical poems as exemplary reassesses the role of alchemy in medieval literature and provides new ways of thinking about the exemplum as a literary framework or device in Middle English poems containing alchemy. The third chapter concentrates on John Gower's use of alchemy in the 'Confessio amantis,' in which it is presented as a model for ideal yet unattainable labour. Following R.F. Yeager's reading of Gower's 'new exemplum' in the 'Confessio amantis¸' I suggest that Gower's alchemical section follows this new, emerging style of vernacular exemplary writing and can also be read on its own as an exemplary narrative, which recognises alchemical failure as a post-lapsarian decline and a sign of human shortcomings."

Date
2017

Gower Subjects
Confessio Amantis