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Alisoun, Dorigen, and the Conventions of Women

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  1. Introduction
  2. Men in Chaucer's age
  3. The concept of having the husband hold sovereignty
  4. Alisoun's ability to interpret the Bible
  5. Alisoun's financial position
  6. The largest component to Alisoun's personality
  7. Conclusion
  8. Works cited

Domestic and social propriety are the most important concerns of wives of the era exemplified in The Canterbury Tales. Volumes of texts -- also known as deportment books -- are used to expound on domestic and social propriety and to teach young women the expectations of women in general, and in the confines of marriage. The information in these deportment books cite laws, social mores, and the Bible to procure the husband's position as head of the household. In The Franklin's Tale Dorigen exhibits a form of social propriety that is most congruent with the social mores of the time in which The Canterbury Tales was written. On the other hand, Alisoun, The Wife of Bath, exhibits none of these conventions, and instead uses her own financial success and personal experience to invalidate the conventions set forth by the church and men in power. Dorigen and Alisoun are archetypal extreme opposites in the spectrum of domestic and social propriety.

[...] Alisoun, the Wife of Bath, retains attributes which are contrary to the conventions of women of her time period; she openly enjoys sex, wears clothes that are risqué, and maintains wealth through land and entrepreneurship. In addition to this, she uses her knowledge of the Bible to refute arguments made against sexuality, multiple marriages, and women in general. On the other hand, Dorigen maintains most of these conventions, maintaining a position under her husband, and remain obedient to him. The Wife of [...]

[...] It would have been more socially damaging to have Dorigen make false promises than to have her engage in a love affair. Alisoun's ability to interpret the Bible, as well as her interpretations of Biblical passages refutes the gender biases of the church and men in power. Her ability to read and write is not a common attribute; most women of the lower classes are unable to read or write. Her challenge of church doctrine is frowned upon by society, but the reinterpretation of the text is an act that invokes a stronger response in society. [...]

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