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Internal Difference and Meanings in the Roman de la rose
Douglas Kelly


The Roman de la rose, one of the most important, complex poems of medieval France, has given rise to highly divergent readings since Jean de Meun completed it in the thirteenth century. In Internal Difference and Meanings in the Roman de la rose, one of the foremost authorities on medieval French literature brings his considerable erudition to bear on this classic of medieval romance, illuminating its artistry and controversial morality.

Douglas Kelly interprets the Roman de la rose in the context of known medieval reading strategies (modus tractandi) elaborated by Jean de Meun himself in the course of the poem. Kelly probes the modes used by Jean, examining the text from their different perspectives and drawing out the multiple readings and allegories present in the poem. He argues that Jean confronts readers with these multiple readings to force them to recognize and ponder the moral implications of the text, and thus to discover their own moral selves by identification, qualification, or distancing.

Kelly contrasts the Rose with other works, including models of romance from such forerunners as Ovid and Boethius and writings of medieval critics of the Rose. He looks particularly at the comments of Christine de Pizan, the most outspoken of these critics. Examining both the well-known "Quarrel of the Rose" she started and her writings about the poem, he reveals the complexity and ambivalence of her reception of the Roman de la rose. The confrontation of Jean de Meun and Christine de Pizan, Kelly shows, can be placed in the larger French tradition of moral writing: the moraliste who holds a mirror to human conduct versus the moralisateur who prescribes ideals of conduct.

"Kelly's interpretation is lucid, elegant, and eminently reasonable."—William W. Kibler, University of Texas at Austin

Douglas Kelly
is the Julian Harris Professor of French at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His many books include The Art of Medieval French Romance and Medieval Imagination: Rhetoric and the Poetry of Courtly Love, both published by The University of Wisconsin Press.


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August 1995

LC: 95-006474 PQ
224 pp.   6 x 9

The 1995 cloth edition of this book is out of print, but the paperback is still available.

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Paper $17.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-14784-6
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