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Art. 76, Le dit des femmes: Introduction

Abbreviations: AND: Anglo-Norman Dictionary; ANL: Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts (R. Dean and Boulton); BL: British Library (London); Bodl.: Bodleian Library (Oxford); CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; CUL: Cambridge University Library (Cambridge); DOML: Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library; FDT: French Devotional Texts of the Middle Ages (Sinclair 1979); FDT-1French Devotional Texts of the Middle Ages, . . . First Supplement (Sinclair 1982); IMEV: The Index of Middle English Verse (Brown and Robbins); MED: Middle English Dictionary; MWME: A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050–1500 (Severs et al.); NIMEV: A New Index of Middle English Verse (Boffey and Edwards); NLS: National Library of Scotland (Edinburgh).

Called a sermon in writing, this poem showers praise on womankind because, according to its author, God favors all women for the sake of the blessed Virgin Mary. Moreover, women are so innately virtuous that they will never see the torments of hell (lines 101–04). They are attractive, elegant, and pleasing to men. Anyone who would slander or harm women acts ignobly and foolishly. This discourse generalizing on the virtues of one gender is openly paired in the manuscript with its rhetorical opposite, The Blame of Women (art. 77). Both belong to a dense cluster of playful verse, mostly in booklet 6, on the question of women’s natural goodness or malevolence. The Ludlow scribe chose the subject of praising and defending women as the opener for his portion of the manuscript: ABC of Women (art. 8). He thus sees to it that both sides of the argument are expounded, perhaps as a way to spur fun and stimulate conversation among a mixed group of men and women. Such literature contributes to a complementary debate raised in other texts, that is, the marriage question: whether to marry, the dangers for men in doing so, and the qualities sought in a wife.

The Anglo-Norman text in MS Harley 2253 is unique, but some verses from the French Bien des femmes crop up in it and in Urbain the Courteous (art. 79) (ANL 197; Nolan, p. 296 n. 15). For discussions of the debate on women in the Harley manuscript, as well as on this poem in particular, see Dove 2000, pp. 343–44; and Nolan, pp. 310, 319.

[Fols. 110vb–111rb. ANL 197. Långfors, p. 369. Vising §277. Scribe: B (Ludlow scribe). Quire: 12. Meter: Octosyllabic couplets. Layout: Double columns. Editions: Wright and Halliwell, 2:218–21; Kennedy, pp. 95–102 (no. 6). Dove 1969, pp. 89–91. Altered Edition: Jubinal, pp. 334–38. Other MSS: None. Old French AnalogueBien des femme (ed. and trans. Fiero et al., pp. 105-18). Translation: Kennedy, pp. 95–102.]

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