The Romance of the Rose

by de Lorris Guillaume

Paperback, 1999





Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.

User reviews

LibraryThing member baswood
This was a best seller in its day. Perhaps the most widely read and controversial poem of the late middle ages and early renaissance. It was quarrelled over and moralised about; not surprising since its subject matter is amorous desire, but does it still have any relevance for the modern reader?

It helps that the version I read was the prose translation in English by Frances Horgan, which is accessible to the modern reader, but still maintains a feel for the medieval text. There appears to be no liberties taken with the language and no modern idioms jump out at you. It is one of the great allegorical dream visions of the middle ages started by Guillaume de Lorris in the middle of the 13th century and then enlarged and enhanced by Jean de Meun some forty years later. Part I opens with a twenty year old man dreaming that as he is walking along a river bank he comes across a walled enclosure. Idleness invites him inside to a beautiful garden owned by Pleasure. The dreamer is invited to join in with a group of dancers and then as he gazes into a clear stream he spots the reflection of a rosebud. At that moment he is shot by five arrows released by the God of Love and from then on he is the Lover with only one thought in his head: to pluck the Rosebud. He is helped initially by Fair Welcome, but Rebuff bellows at him to leave the garden. Sorrowful and lonely the Lover is counselled by Reason and then a Friend suggests he try again in the garden. He gets inside the garden and finds the Rosebud, but when he kisses her all hell breaks loose and Evil Tongue, Rebuff and Jealousy drive him back out of the garden. Jealousy then erects a castle around the roses and imprisons Fair Welcome. Jean De Meun then picks up the story in part II where the Lover is again counselled by Reason. He rejects her advice and again seeks advice from Friend. He fails in an attempt to get Wealth to help him, but finally the God of Love summons his barons to launch an attack on the castle. They have False Seeming and Constrained Abstinence now on their side and with the help of Old Woman liberate Fair Welcome from his prison. A pitched battle ensues with Jealousy and her minions and it is only with the help of Nature and Genius that the Lover gets to pluck the Rose.

Part I written by Guillaume De Lorris is a medieval romance based on the provisions of courtly love. In this version the Lover only manages to kiss the Rose and the feeling is that this is as far as he should go. It is a charming story written in the first person and has some beautiful descriptions of the garden and the dancers. It has a dream like quality, but there are some disquieting undertones which come to life with the appearance of the hideous Evil Tongue and the rough Rebuff. This part ends with a soliloquy as the Lover bemoans his fate in typical medieval fashion:

"love is so capricious that he robbed me of everything at once, just when I thought I had won. It is the same with Fortune, who fills men's hearts with bitterness but at other times flatters and caresses them. Her appearance changes swiftly, smiling one moment sad the next. She has a wheel that turns and when she wishes, she raises the lowest to the very highest place, while he who is at the top is plunged with one turn into the mud"

Part II written by Jean De Meun is five times longer and picks up the story where De Lorris left it. In De Meun's hands the charming tale of courtly love becomes something entirely different. It becomes a story of how a Lover will use all possible ways and means to get into bed with the Rose. The allegorical framework is preserved with the personifications introduced by De Lorris continuing to play their parts. This time however False Seeming and Constrained Abstinence play crucial roles. The innocence of the dream vision that was so much a part of De Lorris's tale has gone for good. The text becomes more wordy, less unified, there are now digressions, sermons and debates. De Meun starts his story with a long speech by Reason, who discourses at length on love in all its various forms (carnal desire, natural love, fellowship, friendship). Much of this is a re-write of Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy. Reasons advice is rejected and Friend launches on a long discourse on the subject of women. The Consolation of Philosophy is again used as source material but this time it is bent and warped out of shape. "I am not speaking of good women - there are none" says Friend and much of his speech appears misogynist, however much of what he says is ironical and even satirical:

" But if the women beats him or insults him, he should take care that his heart does not change. If he sees himself beaten or insulted, even if she should tear his living flesh with her nails, he should take no revenge, but rather thank her and say he would be happy to spend his whole life in such torment, provided that he knew that his service was pleasing to her, or even indeed that he would freely die there and then rather than live without her."

De Meun as is usual with medieval writers relies heavily on his sources. Apart from Boethius, Juvenal, Ovid, Horace and Plato are all heavily plundered. This together with his use of irony and the personifications allows him to present a number of different view points. There is no one "authority" here, but a number of them and the reader is never sure whose views are being expressed. De Meun can hide behind this to a certain extent and allows his text to be opened up for debate. It has the feel of being written for the universities where debate held centre stage: Does the Romance show how a rose can be plucked or does it show the moral degradation that such an activity suggests?

The poem continues to become more diversified as De Meun distances himself from the Lover. All sorts of stuff is crammed into the text: Aristotle's cosmology, a debate on chastity, women's hygiene, table manners, a condemnation of the mendicant friars and the right way to deal with premature hair loss. Much of life in medieval times is recorded here. It just about holds together with De Meun going back to his story of the Lover and the assault on the castle. Jealousy is finally put to flight and the Lover finally gets to his Rose, leaving the reader with little doubt as to what happens next:

"I can tell you that at last when I had shaken the bud, I scattered a little seed there. This was when I had touched the inside of the rosebud and explored all its little leaves, for I longed and it seemed good to me to probe its very depths."

The poem was written in the vernacular (13th century French) as opposed to Latin. French was just beginning to find acceptance in official circles. Jean De Meun was able to demonstrate the power of the written word as people were able to read into it just what they liked. There was something for everybody and it showed how a text was open to different interpretations. De Meuns use of irony and satire managed to keep his poem just the right side of propriety.

What relevance has the poem to readers today? Well, I think it is an essential read for anybody interested in medieval literature. One of the first and best allegorical dream visions. Frances Horgans prose translation opens it up for the more general reader, who may enjoy the dreamlike quality of Guillaume de Lorris. Jean De Meuns continuation where the poem leaps in all sorts of directions is full of interest. It has its longueurs, but I think there is enough here to delight, annoy and scandalise. What more do you want?
… (more)
LibraryThing member charlie68
At times hard to read lots of long speeches and discourses. I find allegories at times tiring. This one though has a goodly share of wisdom and insight in its pages. To read literature from the Middle Ages it is interesting to note the references they make and what they were familiar with. Lots of Greek, Roman and even Pagan myths were very well known, and of course the Bible.… (more)
LibraryThing member KayCliff
It's altogether delightful. Charming frontispiece, `Idleness and the Dreamer'. The Prologue, preceded by a list of `Faults Escaped', is just wonderful about translation, the skills required. Daunting, but `he determined to undertake the work, or he would rather say the pleasurable pastime'. It took 18 months. RR `contains only 8000 lines more than the "Divina Commedia" ... so it has been that the 2 and 20 thousand, 6 hundred and eight lines of RR have melted imperceptibly as the days followed on ...'
then, later - `Of the translation here submitted to the public no more need be said than that it has been a labour of love to the author, and that his only hope is, that it may bring an adequate return to the enterprising publisher who has consented to print it.'
The prologue (14 pages) ends - `It will be understood by those who have practised translation how hopeless it is to reproduce the word-play of one language into another. Good critic, ere you censure, try your hand.'
… (more)
LibraryThing member shanaqui
The Romance of the Rose is worth reading mainly if you have an interest in medieval texts and particularly in those that express 'courtly love' (or fin'amours, whichever you think more accurate). It's one massive allegorical dream sequence, the work of two writers, and it was massively influential on later medieval writers.

This translation, by Charles Dahlberg, is very readable, though it is a prose translation. Obviously this isn't a modern novel, but I found it quite fun to read -- this translation, at least, captures a kind of energy and playfulness to it. At the same time, I can't say I was riveted, or that I'd read it if I wasn't so heavily involved in other courtly love texts.… (more)


Original language



Page: 0.211 seconds