Return to sender : epistolarity in Chaucer's Legend of good women
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] In Chaucer's Legend of Good Women, the narrator adapts several tales from Ovid's Heroides and at the end of these tales points to letters that the heroines of the tales have written. Within the letters the women relate the events of the tale from their perspective. The letters that appear at the end of these tales often dismissed as a mere capitulation to the demands of adaptation. However, I suggest that the letters have a distinct epistolary authority that provides a new way of considering Chaucer's relationship with his predecessors. The love letters in the poem gesture at their authors' attempt at self-definition, an attempt that the poem itself can not or does not represent or encapsulate. The letters imagine an effective textual existence for these women independent of Chaucer's authorial purview. The form of the letter allows the text to do this through a logic of epistolarity. The poem imagines the letters as composed at a particular moment with one intended recipient. The publication of the letters breaks open this closed circuit. The poem then gestures at the publication, moment of composition, and intended recipient, but its failure to capture the letter completely reveals the fissures in Chaucer's narrative control. Chaucer theorizes the letter's form as a particular model of authorship and then he uses it to comment on his own poetic practice.
Access is limited to the University of Missouri - Columbia.