Wife “Pimping” in the Franklin’s Tale?
“I have an old saying framed in my office. It goes like this, ‘If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.’ That’s how I feel about a marriage partner, “is one of the numerous variations of this anonymous quote that applies to the Franklin’s tale, specifically to Averagus behavior. Hardly any critics of “The Franklin Tale” comment on what might’ve been the true underlying reason for Averagus sending his wife off to the squire and if they do it is usually through negative lens. What if Averagus may not actually be giving up his wife to Aurelius, but acting on the faith that Aurelius would do the right thing as a knight-in-the-making; and that is to return Averagus´ wife to him. Was he doing a favor to society by helping to prepare future knights for knighthood? If Aurelius returns this act of generosity is this a stepping stone for knighthood? Most critics take Averagus’ action at face value and assume that he wasn’t wise or did not have any common sense. However, when he says to Dorigen — just before setting her free, that maybe everything will turn out okay; he wasn’t gambling or rolling dice, he was allowing things to unfold through faith in untainted love. He loved Dorigen enough that he wanted to let her go, to free her from the bondage of a reason to stay with him and from any of his patriarchal influence. He knows about the latter because he is freeing her from him, knowing that that influence may be upon her wanting to stay with him.
When the Franklin asked, “ which was the most free, as thinkest yow?(1622)” One can argue that Averagus was the most generous if “free” means to be generous and Dorigen was the most “free” in the literal sense of the word. Dorigen makes a promise to Aurelius, the squire that if he could make the rocks disappear she would commit adultery on her husband – is this a premonition of her becoming “free” from reasons to be with her husband? When Averagus sends his wife off to another man wrapped, with a ribbon on her — a gift, this can be seen as an act of generosity. What if Averagus may not actually be giving up his wife to Aurelius, but acting on faith in true love? And to a lesser extent, the faith that Aurelius would do the right thing as an aspiring knight; and that is to return Averagus´ wife to him. Other critics such as Thormann, assert that Averagus “pimps” his wife. Whereas McGregor argues along similar lines that Averagus does not understand his wife, for what she wanted was different than the words that left her mouth. Also it was this misunderstanding that enabled him to insist she keep her vow. These critics see Averagus’ behavior through negative lens by taking his action at face-value, thereby assuming that he was foolish. The one critic showcasing a neutral perspective is Greene. She says that virtuousness leads to happiness, and that the happy couple must enlist virtuousness in all aspects of their lives, especially in the face of adversity. In this way that very virtuousness almost always assures happiness in an imperfect world. Dorigen and Averagus were virtuous people who did the best they could do in the circumstances they’ve been given and their actions have underlying implications. Averagus is not simply giving up his wife to Aurelius, but acting on the faith that Dorigen’s true feelings for him would affect the outcomes. Lastly, that Aurelius would do the right thing and that is to mimic Averagus’ generosity by returning his wife to him. Dorigen, on the other hand, was simply reacting to the absence of her husband. Aurelius was behaving typical of a squire, and it is behaviors such as what Averagus does that ultimately but indirectly prepares Aurelius for knighthood. When he hearkens unto Dorigen’s feelings and relinquish’s her from her vow, he is essentially learning how to make sound decisions as a knight.
Thormann interprets Aurelius’ action at face value in that he literally hands his wife over to another man. She argues that Aurelius’ willingness to send his wife off to another man is completely against what is expected of a Christian marriage, that his belief that everything works out well does not eliminate the implication that Aurelius is acting like a “pimp.” I am refuting this and arguing instead that it actually does eliminate Aurelius’ supposed pimping, and shows that there are underlying reasons for his action. When Averagus states that, “It may be wel, paraventure” (1473), he is actually suggesting two things. One, that he expects that Aurelius would make the right decision, and that is breaking her out of her vow with him and returning her to her husband. This decision would be based on reading Dorigen’s facial expressions and sensing that she actually wants to be with her husband and not Aurelius. Two, that Aurelius as a future-knight would imitate the generosity of Averagus who is already a knight. My main argument in refuting her claim is that if Averagus was simply handing over his wife to the squire, he would not have said, “perhaps all will be well” or have any form of faith. Because if Averagus was pimping his wife over to another man, it is already apparent that all cannot possibly turn out well.
McGreger also interprets Averagus’ actions at face-value and through negative lens. She argues that Averagus ignores Dorigen’s “intent.” Even while acknowledging other critics’ argument that Averagus is actually respecting Dorigen’s will, she refutes this and states that he does not separate her “words” from her “intent.” He also views her “words,” that is, the promise that she made to Aurelius, as more important than her intent — which was to make sure Aurelius never got access to her body. She brought up that if he makes all the rocks disappear, “Ye remoeve alle the rokkes, stoon by stoon…/I seye when ye han maad the coost so clene/Of rokkes, that ther nis no stoon y-sene—”(993-996). She thought that it would be impossible for Aurelius to ever succeed in having all the rocks disappear and felt free to make this promise. While McGregor doesn’t explicitly conclude that it is him ignoring Dorigen’s “intent” that enabled him to insist that Dorigen keep her promise to the squire, it can be implied. Essentially McGregor would agree with Thormann, that Averagus is pimping his own wife because he doesn’t understand her and is “ignoring her sense of who she is” (372).
Here I will examine Dorigen’s “intent” and Averagus’ likely interpretation of it. Averagus’ reaction tells us that “intent” verses “words” is in itself a contradiction. If Dorigen’s intent was to make sure the squire never got access to her body, then she has failed in that regard since this promise actually only opened up the possibility of Aurelius having access to her body. Therefore this “intent” should have either elicited a different set of words leaving her mouth or no words such as that, spoken. Frankly, Dorigen saying, “I wol ben his to whom that I am knit/ Take this for final answere as of me” (986-987), would have sufficed in making sure that she was hands-off to Aurelius. “What deyntee sholde a man han in his lyf/ For to go love another mannes wyf,/ That hath hir body whan so that him lyketh?” (1003-1005) would have also sufficed. If these were all that Dorigen said, it would have sent a point-blank signal to Aurelius that he did not stand a chance. Aurelius may not want any contradiction in his interpretation of the supposed love that Dorigen has for him. I am therefore refuting McGregor’s assertion and arguing that Averagus sees Dorigen’s “intent” and “words” as the same thing, there is no contradiction. He does value her sense of who she is since that would include taking her words seriously, insofar as it involves vows and promises since that was what their own marriage was resting on. McGregor also defines “entente” in “the Franklin’s Tale” as being “linked to that of the heart or mind…it is fundamental to how people view themselves” (369). Her “intent” should’ve been strong enough to affect her “words.” Her heart and mind would have loved Aurelius enough to affect the words that left her mouth. Especially when she says to the squire, “Thanne wol I love yow best of any man.” This is most likely the part that makes Averagus undermines his own title as husband and she doesn’t just stop there, she continues to tell Aurelius, “Have heer my trouthe, in al that evere I can” (997-998), then there lies the contradiction, that was what did it for him. Averagus, as a result, is under the supposition that if she makes a vow to another man and she doesn’t keep it, she will not keep the vow she made with him, her own husband, either. Dorigen’s vow to another makes Averagus reevaluate his “husbandry.” In the beginning, Dorigen made a vow to her husband that she will be a faithful and true wife. “Sire,” Dorigen says to Averagus, “I wol be youre humble trewe wife: have heer my trouthe, til thay myn herte breste” (769-760). Averagus’ husbandry or title of husband then, is but a vow Dorigen made to him. In other words, within the context of the tale, he is a husband only in as far as Dorigen is faithful to him. Averagus then, doesn’t see himself as different from Aurelius except that he wooed Dorigen and became a knight both before Aurelius. Averagus has accepted that his husband title has become fleeting. I think I can safely deduct that he is now testing the authenticity of his wife’s feeling for him by letting her keep her word to Aurelius. Would she have made that vow to Aurelius if she truly loved Averagus? Averagus is taking this seriously and seems to believe that she would not have even let those words slip from her mouth.
Let us examine the reason Dorigen made such a promise to Aurelius. Thormann argues that Dorigen does not fulfill her end of the bargain, her desire and not the terms of the marriage contract is what causes the problem. When Averagus leaves to go to war, he leaves his marriage in jeopardy. Thormann believes that Averagus chose to go to war and leave Dorigen. I disagree, I believe that he had an obligation to his countrymen and had little choice extending beyond social pressure. He had to keep his knightly status both up to par and to date—street credibility. It is Averagus’ absence that arouses Dorigen’s desire for a husband-replacement. This “frustrated” desire is turned onto Aurelius, the first male that comes her way to supposedly offer himself up on a silver platter as this replacement. It is this displaced desire that enabled Dorigen to make such a promise to Aurelius. When Averagus cries on the verge of relinquishing his wife to another, he does this out of fear that Dorigen’s feelings for him were not authentic. “Trouthe is the hyeste thing that man may keep/ But with that word he brast anon to wepe” (1479-1480), means that Averagus believes that a vow such as the one Dorigen made to him in the beginning, is the most prized thing a man can possess in his life. He might’ve only said “trouthe” because having returned from war he is still in a mentality of chivalric knighthood but to Dorigen he actually means marriage vows. Then he begins to cry for the pain of the possibility that Dorigen’s vow was not true. These tears could also symbolize his fear of how soon his wife has developed new feelings for another man in his absence. Aurelius takes the place of the “absent husband,” assuming responsibility for Dorigen’s behavior, he frees her from all the reason she has for staying by him. She would’ve likely not been in a position to make such a promise to Aurelius, had he simply been present, so her behavior should have been predictable at least on the part of Averagus who left his wife and normal given the circumstance.
When the characters are doing the best they can, given the trials that they are facing, then they are being virtuous. Greene states that, “Goodness, by such logic, is shorn from any natural desire for happiness in this world.” I am agreeing that goodness is related to having your own true happiness. Greene asserts that a man is happy or successful if he exhibits virtuous behavior. She asserts that the Franklin’s tale backs up the assertion that a wealthy gentleman such as the teller of the tale, has carried out the moral duties of “gentillese” by putting the “virtue of generosity” into action. Greene then concludes that the happy couple must enlist virtuousness in all aspects of their lives, especially in the face of adversity. Greene is mostly focused on the teller of the tale within the tale which is the Franklin. I am agreeing with Greene’s hypothesis that virtuousness leads to happiness and extending this assertion by stating that Chaucer is highlighting the goodness in the hearts of human beings through the characters in the Franklin’s tale, that they don’t always have to have an hidden agenda. First he showcases Dorigen wanting to stay faithful to her husband. If Dorigen did not have any authentic feelings for Averagus, she would have probably ended up with the lowly squire. Secondly, we see Averagus’ reaction to Dorigen’s hasty promise. He does not react violently, instead he asks her calmly, “Is ther oght elles, Dorigen, but this? (1469)” Dorigen did not sleep with Averagus or run off with him. Thirdly, Aurelius hearkens unto Dorigens wishes, for he sees how much she wanted to be with her husband. Because she already genuinely wants to return to her husband, Aurelius shows compassion. The characters are enlisting virtuousness in the face of adversity.
By saying that Dorigen manipulates Aurelius, McGregor is underestimating Aurelius’ common sense and Dorigen’s feelings for Averagus. Firstly, Aurelius has no legitimacy over Dorigen, in comparison to Averagus and whatever he has over Dorigen is in so far as Dorigen’s husband allowed. To say that she is manipulating Aurelius is saying she has a hidden agenda and is being dishonest. Thus it would mean that she doesn’t love Averagus and has reasons for wanting to return to him. Secondly, Aurelius is not her husband, even though Averagus undermines his status as husband, the squire still does not have any legitimate claim over her. Part of the reason she was in front of him, to begin with, was because Averagus sent her. Aurelius’ virtuous decision increases his chances of happiness, this includes finding a wife of his own. Ultimately, the characters are virtuous in how they act on their feelings and this will eventually lead to their happiness.
Chaucer is also attempting the highlight the goodness in people and what he believes a true marriage is about. Cartlidge states that Chaucer’s tale is “his most optimistic vision of marriage, (224)” evident in the relationship between Dorigen and Averagus which is based on mutual generosity. Cartlidge suggest that the Franklin is asserting that this marriage is “an exceptionally good one.” This is because, Cartlidge asserts, the partners both agree to behave as if what they have is not a marriage at all. This will come back to inspire Averagus’ decision to test Dorigen’s love for him. If they were behaving as if they were actually not married, then this is why Dorigen’s promise to Aurelius is taken seriously by Averagus. Aurelius sees the vow Dorigen made to Averagus same as the one she made to him. As a result, he does not have the self-evidence of knowing if Dorigen is truly in love with him and only him. With the contract of marriage tossed aside all they would have to keep their dynamics going is love for one another with, as Cartlidge states, “no obligation to constrain them beyond those of mutual respect.” I agree with Cartlidge that the idea that husband should have “soveriegn” over his wife is one that Averagus’ treats as fiction. Cartlidge also states that if marriage is defined as a husband ruling over his wife, then marriage in this tale “becomes too contradictory to be realized at all, except as a fundamentally paradoxical relationship. This is, of course, precisely how the Franklin does attempt to realize” (9224). As I have been arguing in this paper, the contradiction that Averagus sees in Dorigen’s feelings for him, is the reason he trots her off as a test for whether she has true love for him. Aurelius returning Dorigen is the end result of this test. Aurelius sees who she wants to be with and that is enough to hearken unto her wants. Hence Aurelius is answering Averagus by saying, yes her feelings for you are true. So there is no “pimping” in this scenario, just a successful attempt at removing what would have been a “fundamentally paradoxical [marriage]”(224)
Averagus has two underlying reasons for insisting Dorigen keep her promise; one being more important than the other. The less important one is an oath to society for the preparation of future knights. We know this because he went off to war in the first place as an obligation to his countrymen. By giving Aurelius the incentive to make a sound decision he is preparing him to be a knight as generous and has virtuous as he. The most important reason is testing Dorigen’s love for him. It was not that he was pimping his wife or that he did not understand her. He was instead giving Dorigen way more power than what she realizes when she went off to meet Aurelius saying, “Unto the gardin, as myn housbond bad. . . (1512). He wanted to make sure that Dorigen did not want to stay with him just because as a husband, he has “soveraynetee” over her. By relinquishing Dorigen, he is letting her feelings speak for itself. Another variant of the anonymous quote mentioned earlier goes, “If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.” This is Aurelius’ premise, perspective and what he was doing. The reason is that he wanted to make sure that he wasn’t controlling his wife’s emotions that her supposed love was not out of duty, fear, and loyalty or reputation. A reason for the love is what tarnishes true love. He wanted that her emotions would have free reign and influence the outcome of matters; so yes Dorigen was the most “free.” Goodness in heart equates to virtuousness, all the characters are for the most part good people because they did the best they could do, given their circumstances. Dorigen trying to fill the missing void was a reaction to her husband being absent for two years. After Averagus’ way of asserting his true love for Dorigen, by saying, “For verray love which that to yow have” (1477), he wanted to test if her love for him was true. Was he truly what her heart desired? When Dorigen comes back, Averagus “cherisseth hire as though she were a quene, and she was to him trewe for everemore” (1554-1555). I would say that both partners ultimately kept their promises to each other. Dorigen and Aurelus’ marriage then, is based on love — the emotional component and generosity — the component of turning words into action. For Aurelius, Dorigen will not “come back;” this leaves the possibility of him finding another lover.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Franklin’s Prologue and Tale.” The Canterbury Tales: Fifteen Tales and the General Prologue. Comp. and ed. V. A. Kolve, and Glending Olson. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005. 212-33. Print.
Cartlidge, Neil. “Moral Obligations, Virtue Ethics, and Gentil Character in Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale.” Ed. Greene Darragh. The Chaucer Review 50.1-2 (2015): 88-107. Print.
McGregor, Francine. “What of Dorigen? Agency and Ambivalence in the “Franklin’s Tale.”The Chaucer Review 31.4 (1997): 365-78. Print.
Saunders, Corinne. A Concise Companion to Chaucer. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2008. Print.
Thormann, Janet. “Networks of Exchange in the Franklin’s Tale.” Postmedieval 3.2 (2012): 212-26. ProQuest. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.