Thursday, 28 May 2009

Mother, son, holy toast - and imagination

The link in the title to this post is to a Yahoo story regarding a family who have seen the face of Christ in, of all things, a jar of Marmite. Needless to say, I am inclined to be sceptical about such 'visions,' though I do recall past events where, for example, someone saw Mother Teresa's face in a roll, and an entire group detected Christ's image in a worn screen door. (Fear not - I'm going to spare the lot of you deep reflections on seeing Christ in the face of the leper or poor man - since Franciscans wore that one out 7 centuries ago.)

I suppose the general attitude towards Marmite is 'either love it or hate it,' and I fall into the latter category. Were I imaginative enough, I could spin a sermonette about yeast - invisible, yet making the message of Christ grow - but my logical side (which occasionally outweighs my tendency towards the romantic) would scrap that one because the quality of yeast which makes the dough rise is not its invisibility. Those more fanciful still might produce a powerful sermon somehow linking yeast to the Eucharist - but I suppose I'd best leave that one to the Orthodox, since, in the western Church, most of us use unleavened bread. I'll be pragmatic for a moment and say that, sceptical though I am about the 'vision,' I'm glad of anything that would make one sense that God is near.

Since associations so far have been just as loose as those in some of the past writings and sermons I shall reference, I'll proceed to add one. I use the Roman Catholic Office of Readings on most days, and the readings for the Easter season, especially in Ascensiontide, are quite inspiring. For example, selections from Augustine of Hippo and Basil the Great during the past week were the sort which could lead one to an hour's meditation on each paragraph. The great theologians, even when (as is the case with Augustine and original sin) they made statements which led to messes in later centuries (especially if we forget what they were refuting), always were totally devoted to prayer. Their wonderful insights were flavoured not only by their outstanding knowledge, but by love - and an awareness of the limitations of our vision such as springs only from having a glimpse of the divine.

However, many of them, when they were writing neither philosophical arguments nor theological reflections such as those I read this past week, tended to be very imaginative in their homiletic treatment of the scriptures, worship, devotion and the like. Unrelated ideas (perhaps celibacy and the virginity of Mary), extreme symbolism (Augustine's preaching on the good Samaritan makes everything down to the coins have a powerful and unique significance), application of texts from the Hebrew scriptures to elements of Jesus' life as if the long-dead prophet had a crystal ball, all were very common.

Imagination is quite wonderful indeed. Yet the problem with such colourful presentations is that, unless one has background in the actual doctrine or concept, one can tend to remember the dramatic presentation and confuse it with the underlying truth. (As an aside, at least in my youth, I noticed far more people promoting private devotions than doctrine. They'd remember a talk on the brown scapular - or the green, or red, or white - or the promises of the Sacred Heart to Margaret Mary more than an exposition of the Trinity or Incarnation.)

Well, off to consider how Francis would have finished, "And we Praise You for Brother Marmite and Sister Toast..."

Friday, 15 May 2009

The perils of the past 'ladies'

The link in the title is to my essay on Chaucer's Prioress. She is SUCH a lady... or is she?

One of the more delightful parts I played in musicals during my younger days was Widow Corney in Oliver! - not that the character is delightful in any fashion, but because the actor playing Mr Bumble (with whom I appeared in several different productions) not only was extremely talented but was someone with whom I had wonderful 'stage chemistry.' (Thankfully, as is not true in all productions of that musical, I was permitted to sing in my natural voice, operatic though it was - too often, Bumble can sing and Widow Corney growls off-key.) Since the character - who hasn't a trace of compassion, for example, and watches someone drop dead in front of her whilst she is thinking only of how claiming Oliver's mother's locket can be to her advantage - is nothing like myself, and, being post-Method, I have to 'get into' parts, I shall admit how I managed to assume her identity. It all was simple, really. I am working class, and I had often viewed the sad truth that, when one is on one of the lower rungs of the ladder, it somehow is always possible to find someone on a rung that is lower still. Widow Corney can assume her affected ways (well, at least attempt to do so - she doesn't know, since it isn't shown in the musical, that Bumble's counting even her spoons) because at least she isn't a pauper - and, though, as the locket incident shows, she is not of a high moral standard, she can be smug in thinking that she just has to be far above those so wicked as to end up paupers.

Fear not, dear readers (heavens, did I get Victorian for a moment...) - I am not about to expound here on society's ills and how these often produce unfortunate paupers. I'm being mildly silly and a bit naughty today. I may not refer to sexism bluntly all that often, but I had an odd thought which has some relation to how women and men were viewed differently (and not without reason.) When it comes to the quality of the 'lady' or 'gentleman" (in the figurative sense - no one I knew in youth would have had the slightest chance of knowing any lords or ladies, or the gentry, unless they were carrying mops), there were notable differences. One, of any class, who was called a true 'gentleman' would, then or now, have been courteous, well mannered, of high moral standards, generous in any way possible, kind, considerate in his speech. All of these, of course, are traits I would applaud, and which I seek to foster in my own life.

Then there were the 'ladies.' Sadly, I knew quite a few - to whom I could apply none of the adjectives I just did to the gentleman.

For this to make sense, especially to my younger readers (as I mentioned in an earlier post, those in my mother's age group were raised by genuine Victorians - and many born during that era were very much alive when I was a child), there were huge extremes in common (no, not that meaning of common, though that often applied as well... I mean wide-spread) standards of behaviour between my childhood, when I was a young woman, and my middle age. Much of the formality, which I saw as distancing people from one another, needed to be modified - I, for example, am very glad that my friends' children can regard and treat me as a friend to them as well. That doesn't mean I am fond of the extremes one may observe today!

I'll explain this further in a moment, but first I must give some attention to why some of the quasi-'ladies' I knew years back were ridiculous and irritating in my view, where traits which I would consider laudable (similar to those I just mentioned in regard to the gentlemen) weren't illustrated. Courtesy, just as an example, is a wonderful and important trait. It is built on respect for others, and I see such regard as essential to charity, compassion, justice and so forth. The sad condition of the 'ladies' was not based on true courtesy at all. It certainly did not mean respect - their pretended shock when some ill bred character (or so they thought) coughed would give the sense that they thought someone choking was doing it only to annoy them. Overall, their affected, artificial, often smug ways had no element of virtue - it was based only on wanting to impress others.

I certainly am a modest woman, and would consider being virtuous (here referring to sexual morality) to be a very important matter. I am not pleased or amused (blasted Victorian again...) when I walk past girls who are having highly audible mobile phone conversations, punctuated with Anglo Saxon terms which are effective only when used sparingly and with humour, regarding the most intimate details of their relationships with their current flames. Yet the extremes the affected went to when I was a child (though the women almost always were quite chaste) somehow were nearly as offensive, because they took what was not suggestive in the least and, with euphemisms, pretended shock, and embarrassment, made it prurient. It may be hard for the young to believe, but the word "bed" could not be uttered - even if one was referring only to buying a duvet. (If use of the word was unavoidable, it had to be spelt out, as in, "I need a new pillow for the b-e-d.") Pregnancy, surely one of the most joyous events on the planet, could lead to one not even telling the news to her own mother or siblings - when the condition became obvious, she'd have to become very silent and keep her eyes down. (One prayer book aimed at married women, produced in Ireland in the early 20th century, and which ended up in my hands as legacy from a priest, considered it a sin of immodesty to speak of a pregnancy when the birth was months away. I can only imagine that such an announcement would make the hearer - assumed to have a really filthy mind - picture how the conception took place. My finding this deplorable does not mean I like the current trends, where one would be likely to have a photograph sent on a mobile showing just how the conception did take place...)

Some of the 'ladies' I knew, who were like characters in the first draft of a really bad novel by someone trying to imitate Jane Austen, would have been comical were it not so sad. Even with friends whom they saw regularly, there could be no sharing of the genuine. They had twittering little voices. It was apparently vulgar for a woman to ever laugh - unless it was a high-pitched, phony sound usually in the context of mocking someone else. Ladies did not eat - at most, they could take a finger sandwich, and 'make like a mouse' taking tiny bites over the course of an hour.

My scant knowledge of the history of fashion had given me the impression that corsets were intended to set off women's figures (while distorting them - at least the 'ladies' I knew had the torture of elastic but not the agony of whale bone). By the time I walked the earth, the 'lady-like' (who, by the time the tight knits of the 1960s were the fashion, resembled rubber figures with material pulled tight over them) seemed to think that a woman's flesh must not be seen to be ... skin. It had to be immovable. I think they'd begun to picture girdles as some sort of chastity belt - where my impression is that I'd thank the guy who relieved me of those dreadful things...

Certainly I'd never known anyone who had servants, and I suppose that the very 'dainty' sorts (who couldn't cultivate the 'air of mystery' that was supposed to be alluring, because they were in living situations where they'd be lucky not to trip over one another, and were most fortunate to have an indoor toilet and water) must have read too many etiquette books aimed at the wealthy. Long after laundromats and even home washing machines were readily available, the 'ladies' (who had never possessed hand-made silk lingerie from Paris, to be sure) feared someone might find out they washed underwear by machine. Perhaps this dates to some reticence - thinking underwear too 'personal' to leave for the laundress (even though a servant carried away the chamberpot.) It becomes ridiculous when the laundress is oneself.

As for speech in social situations - there I've seen huge extremes as well. It went from 'politeness' that had no content whatever, to the 'openness' of my young adult years, to today, when people post every last detail of their lives on the Internet yet fear a live person who says "Good day" is telling them what to do, and that the person who smiles is violating their boundaries. It was tragic that 'ladies' could know each other for decades, yet fear being open (or even abandoning the phony voice and laugh) with their closest friends. (Then again, today one cannot say one feels a bit tired without busy-bodies chiming in recommending therapy, acupuncture, nutritionists, training in self esteem...)

What was saddest was that this affected manner, only intended to raise one's stock with others, was off the mark because it did not involve anything genuine. There are many times, Lord knows, when one is not feeling especially charitable or respectful - and acting with courtesy is not fake, but aimed at cultivating the attitude. (Over time, it does work.) But such courtesy is aimed at honouring the other, not on acclaim for oneself. The pathetic attempts at 'refinement' were begging to be thought better than one actually was - and tended to foster suspicion, anger, and the like towards family or truly old friends who knew otherwise.

Monday, 11 May 2009

'Scandal' and perfection - kindergarten version

This totally disjointed and idiotic post is presented as a public service for those who think they are alone in finding that what they believe is a far cry from what childhood goblins make them fear! :) I also took liberties in the title, since I'm sure I was at the advanced ages of 7, 8, or even 10 at the time of our story.

I awakened this morning with a vivid recollection (so much so that I remembered the exact pictures and questions) of some religion class elements from when I was a child. (I never remember dreams, but assume I had one - probably from having a late night supper of sardines.) I'll give two examples. In my day, much of religion class consisted of memorising questions and answers from a catechism, though there then might be activities (perhaps a mimeographed list of questions, or 'discussion,' which doesn't deserve the term because there was only one 'right' answer). One set of questions (heavens, I can picture the book, though I haven't thought of it in decades) referred to actions on the part of individuals, and we were supposed to say who did what was wrong (the sins were all based on obedience, of course), who did what was good (everything there based on self-denial), and who did what wasn't a sin but was still below par. An example of the last was "Michael says his night prayers after he is in bed." Michael, of course, fell short of what is perfect because anyone worth his salt would have said his prayers kneeling. I think that, on that occasion, I had the rare good sense not to question why prayer wasn't good wherever and whenever it was offered. (See other posts for 'sign and symbol' - of which I had no clue then, but no one else did either. Rubrics were sacred, but even the clergy weren't taught liturgy. And those of you who think Catholics always worry about sex - of which we knew nothing at the age when we reviewed these silly questions - may be comforted to know that I had no qualms whatever that I sneaked kisses with Gregory Murphy behind the trash bins by age 6 - the 'age of reason'!)

Another 'activity' involved a drawing (something like what might be an illustration in a cheap children's book where the little ones could colour in the figures) of a classroom full of children reading. We were supposed to pick out who was doing 'wrong.' Of course, some kids were passing notes, whispering, playing, whatever (no immorality - unless, as was typical, the greatest sin was to disobey - and kids of 8 aren't taught or capable of knowing the distinction between breaking a rule and what is immoral.) But, though we pupils managed to identify the 'glaring errors', our teacher had to point out some that we missed. One boy in the picture seems to be obediently studying, not at all distracted from the book, yet, horrors, not a one of us noticed that he had his ankles crossed! I didn't know, then or now, why that was so dreadful - but obedience demanded all sorts of standards of posture (noun.) I'm inclined to view such attitudes today using the same word as a verb... especially in the gerund form.

Certainly, children would not be understanding the difference between 'counsel' and 'commandment,' but the idea of what is 'most perfect' and 'example' endured. Two friends of mine in adulthood - fun loving wives and mothers who were delightful, not morbid or obsessive - would never have prayed, in church or at home, except on their knees. It wasn't based on any theory about posture enriching prayer - but they weren't going to be like Michael or his equivalent and not do what was most perfect. Deep down, we all absorbed an idea that God wants whatever is most difficult, and that He especially loves deprivation. Our "Sabbath" wasn't as strict as that of some other sister churches. Kids could play on Sunday without heading for hell, and entertainment was allowed, but those who were seeking to be 'perfect' would, for example, have heard another Mass or gone to Vespers - in order to 'sacrifice' the unnecessary pleasure. It just occurred to me that my shaking my head at this must seem strange, since I'm exactly the one who is likely to attend another Eucharist or Vespers... but I'm not doing it because it's a 'sacrifice' other than one of praise and thanksgiving. A few of my friends would have thought that going to another service would have been less than perfect if one enjoyed doing so, so I suppose it has no value in my case.

A part of me is totally Mediterranean - I'm going to take pleasure in whatever I can, and I think that is not wonderful (unless one is pursuing a pleasure that is sinful, or going to such extremes as to neglect serious responsibilities to pursue the pleasure at any price - I add this in case a reader less innocent than myself pictures all sorts of depravity when hearing 'pleasure.' I survived all of Augustine, but Calvin and I never were friendly.) Yet how those old ideas get under one's skin! Perhaps most kids sitting in class with me wouldn't have given the ideas a thought, but those of us who were very devout 'internalised' them. As well, I'm an artist - very deep, very sensitive - and had the exaggerated ideas of perfection that are common in creative sorts. Artistic types know that pleasing the public depends on tastes, and these can be hard to gauge. Unfortunately, a mind-set fostered on obedience and 'what is most perfect' can give one the mistaken notion that one has to go to lengths to please God - who never had anything less than Perfect Love for us in the first place.

My mother used to like to go to the earliest Mass on Sunday - just, as she freely admitted, to 'get it over with.' Others are natural 'early birds,' or want to go golfing, or (in the days before modern kitchen equipment) needed hours to cook Sunday lunch, or, way back before Pius X's decree on frequent communion (when there was 'non communicating high Mass') went to early Mass in order to receive. Even though, back before vigil Masses, aside from cops and nurses who had to go to work, and a few elderly people who tended to be awake very early, most of those at the dawn Mass had been out all night (possibly breaking many a commandment in the process) and were there so they could return home and sleep all day, attendance at the first Mass was the goal - because 'it's a bigger sacrifice.'

I'm smiling, remembering another 'religion class' exercise (this when I was slightly older.) There were groups of descriptions of different 'hypothetical' people, and we were supposed to pick out the one in each group who had the most grace. (Huh?) So - perhaps the 'winner' in one group (though, if I recall correctly, no one described was doing anything wrong) would be the missionary in Africa. I was puzzled, even then, because I wondered if someone in such a life might still be guilty of stealing, or slander - whatever. But the missionary was in the hardest and most dangerous situation, and had sacrificed the most, so he won.

It's hard to explain this, but, even as a child, I had a strong attraction to prayer. I wasn't a 'group type' - you wouldn't have found me joining a sodality. I spent time, at home or church, reciting from the prayer books or just placing myself in the divine presence - and I began, totally on my own initiative, to attend Mass daily by age 12. I was very private about this. None of it was focussed on self-denial, to be sure. I loved films, music (including rock!), any kind of interesting talk - it wasn't that I was turning off the television just because my favourite programme was on. (Don't laugh - I knew people who actually did that!) I never gave anything up for Lent, and I still don't - I wasn't one to take the guilt trip that I had to 'give up' a soda to put the money in the mission box. (In fact, considering that I wasn't likely to have pocket money, I would have definitely not given up the rare chance for a soda. My heavenly Father hardly minded - my earthly one would have thought it a flaw because water was free.)

I hardly would meet any standards of a great ascetic! Yet, deep down, I can see that things I enjoy, have no intention of abandoning, and value, even though they are not sins, would not have been 'perfect.' I'm not going to lose sleep over praying already in bed, or crossing my ankles, or attending an outdoor concert when I could be hearing three Masses on Sunday. I say the Office at home in a comfortable chair, with the teapot nearby. I enjoy my tobacco, wine, decent food - even though these are 'sins' in society today, though not theologically. But it is possible that, deep down, since I must have recognised a deep attention to prayer back in the days when I read about Michael's praying other than on his knees (incidentally, I kneel only when it is a liturgical rubric - not at private prayer in church or at home), I fear God expects a standard of 'perfection' from me, instilled at a very early age.

In total honesty, I wish I had people who also would smoke, have a wine, not be obsessed with the gym or what they read on the Internet was 'unhealthy.'

Of course, we arty types tend to have an intense desire to be loved. In the stories of saints (not that I thought I was one, and I certainly have no illusions of holiness now - but I was striving for holiness), we received the distorted idea that they not only led people to Christ by example but that they were loved by all. (That Jesus ended up on a cross didn't cancel that - we were given the impression that everyone indeed loved and admired him, but God's pointing a finger or Satan's tricks led to the crucifixion. Everyone else was gathering in thousands and watching with awe as he preached on the Mount, heard a mile away even without microphones.) I doubt I ever thought I'd directly lead someone to Christ - the eleventh commandment for me was always thou shalt mind thine own business. But my schooling also included points off for penmanship or a blot of ink - just to mention one example - so a degree of perfection one could not attain was expected if one could please those in authority. I wasn't tender to the Establishment then, either - but I recognised that God was the authority!

There are many jokes about Catholic guilt, most very much exaggerated. In fact, the Calvinist element had guilt few Catholics could begin to manufacture. I think the 'Catholic guilt' myth stemmed from that RCs had to make sacramental confession. But one huge flaw indeed was doing what is 'most perfect.' Had it meant being loving (and, considering only God is Perfect, I think that is a good wager), it could be lovely. Yet we never seemed to remember that the Incarnation did not consist only in going to the cross - so perfection meant suffering.

I was too young and innocent then, of course, to know that many people looked down on Catholics, especially we working class ones - and I'm sure some of the prissy ways were were taught had some connection with morality were just intended to make us seem well mannered. As well, when I was a child many genuine Victorians were still alive - and the children of Victorians had kids in my age group. Convent etiquette, which would have been impressed on our teachers, was ancient by the time of Victoria. I just must write a post on the silliness propagated in the name of being lady-like - or 'dainty.' (I had a chance at the first - the second was about as probable or desirable as flying to the moon.)

Still, I'm sorry to this day that I was given the impression of a God who was demanding on such petty matters - loving God and neighbour is quite difficult enough... Had I only stopped to think that Jesus of Nazareth was a Mediterranean peasant who must have enjoyed socialising just as much as I did for the Pharisees to comment about it (Jesus fortunately never heard the untrue cliché "show me your company and I'll show you what you are"), and that he won't be noted for meeting the Establishment's arbitrary rules either, I might have been less tense. For now, get me another gin!


Monday, 4 May 2009

Margery and Alisoun - two sides of the same coin

Please note that the link in the title to this entry will take you to the essay about Margery Kempe on my Internet site - don't miss the quotations. I'm assuming anyone with the patience to regularly visit this blog is already acquainted with my old friend Geoffrey Chaucer.

Recently, I've been thinking of adding a few new essays to my Internet site. My site is not truly scholarly - it is intended more as an introduction and overview for certain medieval subjects, mostly spirituality. At present, the only two essays on Chaucer are about the Prioress and the Miller... why I feel I know those particular characters so well probably stems from how I love the earthy quality of the latter and loathe the affected 'lady-like' ways of the former. (There - I said it and I'm glad. Be forewarned that I'm in one of my restless moods, and shall have to discipline myself if I want to save my satire on being 'lady-like' for another day... whether I'm capable of such discipline at the moment is anyone's guess.)

The problem with preparing any essays on Chaucer (and I fell in love with The Canterbury Tales decades ago, a love which has deepened with the years) is hardly a lack of ideas. Rather, his references are so rich and clever - incorporating direct mention of or allusions to scripture, mythology, classical thought, great literature of his own time, canon law, liturgy, and so forth - that one wonders where to stop. :) I find myself alternating between laughter (his humour was exceedingly dry and wry), mentally preparing a sermon, going off on a tangent, whatever. The 'courtesy books' and sermons of Chaucer's day (...and a few I saw or heard in my own youth...) valued silence as a feminine virtue - I suppose I'd have had no more chance to be the first female Franciscan canonised as a Doctor of the Church then than now...

But I digress. I've been considering preparing an essay on the Wife of Bath, whom I consider a delightful character for her sheer honesty. For all our differences, I can see myself enjoying sharing a tankard of ale with Alison, because Chaucer creates her as one who has no need to fit into conventional expectations (nor do I... for a split second, I found myself envying the freedom one would have if she'd inherited from five husbands and was warming up for another... despite my thinking it quite fortunate that I never had even one husband of my own...). Granted - few women, in any day, wanted the 'woe' (Alison's word) of marriage five times in succession, and I doubt Alison would endear herself to most pilgrims by the ending benediction which wishes women husbands who drop dead. Yet I'm sure that those who struggle to be conventional and acceptable could not help but inwardly envy not only her wealth, her freedom to travel about, and her not caring a fig for whether others think this 'old crone' (past 40 - the age when anyone then was supposed to be totally concerned with the spiritual in preparation for death) mind her wearing her red stockings and looking for another man to bed.

I had the oddest thought come to me as I reread the Wife of Bath's prologue and tale, though I've done so many times. She reminds me very strongly of Margery Kempe, and not only because both had a taste for pilgrimages. Alison and Margery, if you'll forgive the cliché, are different sides of the same coin. Both consider experience to be greater education than wisdom handed down traditionally. (In their day, not only was study of the classics reserved to men, mostly clergy or those in minor orders, but it was based on learning texts in order to use them in arguments. They were not questioned or really explored in most cases.) They are women of means (Alison from both inheritances and being a master weaver - Margery from owning a brewery), who have to have mastery (Margery's of her confessors. The only one who lasted long with hearing her daily confessions, tellingly, was the one who understood only German.) Both must always have their own way. They are incapable of embarrassment - in fact, Margery's description of some of her temptations make Alison's outright talk of 'how pitifully she made her husbands work at night' seem downright modest by comparison.

Alison's red stockings have a counterpart in Margery's religious garb. Margery had only one husband (and 14 children), but, when she decided she was the greatest mystic of her century, she wanted retroactive status as a consecrated virgin. (The confessor who thought it inappropriate for a married lady to go on pilgrimage in such garb was cautioned that Margery would reveal his sins if he kept her from this choice. Where Alison's ways of distinguishing 'counsel' from 'commandment' actually show sophistication - and her overall references make one wonder if some interesting pillow talk led to quite a degree of learning - whenever I read of Margery's manipulation of her directors I wish someone could have taken the rocks out of his head to plug the holes in hers.) Alison is aimed at being an adequate, not perfect, Christian - the everyday dish of brown bread. (She displays yet another form of sophistication in her admittedly accurate assessment that a man won't be unable to light his candle if others use the same lantern.) Probably most of those en route to Canterbury would have sincerely felt much the same way - but the clergy and nuns undoubtedly would not have admitted this, though nearly all of them show a deficiency in virtue which make a merely lusty woman seem superior if only for her honesty.

Chaucer's tales show no adulation for the bliss of marriage, to be sure. Alison at least is honest about her avarice. Margery Kempe thought herself a great saint (and wore companions out making sure they knew it as well), but her avarice, equally intense, is more subtle and therefore harder to spot. Margery's was a spiritual avarice. She was totally focussed on increasing her bank account of merits - totally self absorbed, her acts of devotion show no love of neighbour beyond what she can do (even for her own husband during his terminal illness) to raise her stock value for heaven.

There is another, perhaps more subtle, similarity I see between the two. (I must add this - the pedantic among you may have noticed that I refer to both the all too real Margery and the literary character of Alison as if they were 'real people'. So be it. Any exceptional fiction includes a huge amount of truth, and there were and are many an Alison... one even meets a reasonable facsimile of the 'real' Margery here and there.) In Alison's descriptions in the prologues, and in her tale, women desire mastery indeed - and including an authority to teach, based on experience which often is a far better indicator of truth than arguments based on total adherence to classic works. Note how, in her tale, the women who do get authority are the source of a good end! The young knight is a rapist - the queen and her ladies are the ones who save him from execution. The old crone he weds (for giving him the true answer to what women want most - dominance), probably a witch since she can take the form of youth and beauty at will (and he gives her the choice of which to assume), not only saves his life but effectively transforms a rapist into a good husband.

Margery took on all too much authority to teach! (One wishes she had the wisdom of Alison, at the least. One doubts that the priests she consulted had many gifts of wisdom in the first case, but one must allow for that they'd have toppled into a brewery vat at the effort of trying to get a word in edgewise...) Her faith was true, but her versions were unquestionably of her own minting. She could learn nothing because she already had all of the answers. Equally as lusty as Alison (though within a perfectly respectable marriage, not multiple marriages which, at the time, were tolerated for widows only as a concession to weakness, and were seen as far from the Christian ideal), Margery informed her husband that the Trinity would make him drop dead so she could revert to 'virginity' (somehow, Alison's wanting wealthy husbands to die to get their money is a step short of that...), and sought her 'consecrated virgin' status as an asset in her spiritual bank account.

The qualities I admire in both (even while shuddering at the thought of the manipulation and sheer greed both display) are sheer honesty and the courage to admit to what others undoubtedly felt - but would have refrained from admitting, out of respect for convention or perhaps some worries about censure. Some of their ways are deplorable, and, were I in the company of either for long, I probably would find them insufferable (even if I'm an 'old crone' who wore purple, pink, and orange stockings within the past week - and net ones to the Sunday Eucharist, though my Tau cross was about my neck as always). Yet Chaucer's clergy and religious (though I dare say that, then as now, many good people were in both categories... and more than a few close cousins to Chaucer's crowd though less entertaining) largely are far from honest - whether in blatant manipulation of others or, as with the Prioress, in affected self-deception.

Still, I'll leave my readers with a thought that I undoubtedly shall ponder. Avarice is at the root of many of our failings, and spiritual avarice can be the more dangerous because we're unlikely to recognise it for what it is.