Abstract

The narrator of the Legend of Good Women is caught in a conundrum. Accused of wronging ladies with his poetry, he is assigned a penitential task: the praise of good, faithful women. Fulfilling this, however, means hurting women more. In describing their beautiful suffering, he becomes complicit in the aestheticization of female pain and makes women into objects of violent lust. Even in praising them he lies, thus resembling the silver-tongued men who deceive their wives and lovers. The narrator's solution is to present himself as an unskilled poet, a mere copier and translator who cannot be held responsible for the beauty and lies of his verse. He makes this show of ineptitude so as to conceal his participation in a long tradition of idealizing women who suffer and die.

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