Magdalene Medievalists’ Society (23 Feb)

The Shadow of Faux Semblant: Fiction, Truth, and Deception in
Fourteenth-Century Allegorical Poetry (France, England, Italy)’

The Roman de la Rose is not only one of the most influential literary
texts of the later middle ages (surviving in over 300 Manuscripts), but
it is also one of the most problematic and intellectually challenging
texts of the period. Far from being a ‘canonical’ work in the ordinary
sense, the Rose in fact invites its readers to interrogate the very
notion of literary authorship and discursive authority. Rather than
affirming his own identity as author in self-confident fashion, as many
readers of this influential poem assume, Jean de Meun’s attitude towards
his own poetic craft is in fact deeply ambivalent and ironic. This
culminates in the exact centre of the poem, with the appearance of the
character of Faux Semblant, the embodiment of hypocrisy and deception.
As a personification of the liar-paradox, Faux Semblant thus
crystallises a whole range of anxieties concerning the epistemological
status of literary fiction, and this concern comes to play a central
role in later European literature influenced by the Rose, notably in the
work of such figures as Machaut and Deguileville in France, Langland and
Chaucer in England, or Dante and his contemporaries in Italy. In this
paper I propose an initial sketch for a wider study of a European
reception history of the Rose, with particular attention to the ethical
function of poetry, and its problematic, unstable relation to truth and

Dr Marco Nievergelt is currently a EURIAS research fellow at the Paris
Institute for Advanced Studies (2015–16), and is working on a
book-length study entitled Allegory as Epistemology: Dream-Vision Poetry
on Language, Cognition, and Experience. His research interests include
allegorical literature, chivalric literature and culture, Arthurian
literature, Anglo-French cultural relations, and the history of literary
self-representation from the medieval to the early modern period. His
first book is entitled Allegorical Quests from Deguileville to Spenser.