Chapter 11

The Wife of Bath and the Mediation of "Privitee"

ALL ECONOMIC EXCHANGE, from the most primitive barter to the most sophisticated credit transaction, involves signs, as universal as the grunt of agreement and as nominal as "money of account."1 Economic exchanges are, as it were, a laboratory of signs in action. And in this laboratory, where Chaucer posed the question "How shall the world be served?" he also posed the question, "How shall the word be served?" If, for many, language too is money, one more item to spend, what can we learn about them from the ways in which they spend it?

Chaucer's concern with such questions as this should come as no surprise. His age was a period of continuous economic upheaval-- owing chiefly, after mid-century, to the Black Plague.2 The changes in the economy of Europe and England resulting from the plague were many and vast,3 but the changes crucial to Chaucer's vision of England and human life are relatively easy to catalogue. Most important among them was the emancipation effected in the middle class and among the peasantry by greater wealth. This greater wealth was due, almost paradoxically, to the most drastic effect of the plague, the reduction in population. For if the population of England dropped by about one-third, the "gross national product," to speak anachronistically (Du Boulay 1970:30, 40), while it declined, did not plummet and, in fact, in some areas even flourished (Bridbury 1962:36). Hence the fewer people had a larger share of the available wealth (Postan 1973:47,194). As Bridbury expresses it (1962:103):

Undistracted by politics and enriched by a prodigious transfer of control over the resources of the economic system, the middle classes and the peasantry, during the later Middle Ages, entered upon a period of domestic comfort so astonishing by the standards of the time as to rouse passionate expressions of enthusiasm and disgust. {173}
So significant is this increase in personal wealth during the later fourteenth century and most of the fifteenth that Du Boulay (1970:70, 73) has characterized this period as the age in which "to be meant to have." Little wonder contemporary reactions were so mixed and often so extreme.

During the same period of problematic affluence, however, another economic factor? ultimately at odds with it, was also prevalent--namely, a serious monetary shortage (Miskimin 1964:490). This monetary shortage had many crucial repercussions. For example: "Shortage of bullion led to hoarding, either by hiding precious metal in treasuries or by using it in the form of fine gold and silver utensils and jewelled settings, and thus by a vicious circle the hoarding was perpetuated and aggravated" (Du Boulay 1970:37). Hence the peculiar situation in later fourteenth century England: more wealth, less coinage; more to exchange, but fewer media of exchange. In such a situation the available media become dear, and as they are hoarded, substitutes for them are sought. But the most noticeable and the most far-reaching consequence of such a situation is the increased desire for "real" property (Du Boulay 1970:93). To be now means to own the real. And in this situation the fate of linguistic media is rather the opposite of that of economic media. Words become cheap, since in the dearth of other media they are the most obvious and the most available substitutes, and credibility--or, as Chaucer would have put it, "trouthe"-- everywhere is strained. To speak now means to traffic in the meanings of words. People now appropriate the word to aggrandize their fame.4 And Chaucer tells us as much about this situation as any history can (cf. Leicester 1980:218). There was little that people would not say or do to gain fame. And surely one of the loudest denizens of the House of Fame is Dame Alisoun, the "good Wif of biside Bathe," who earned her place in that notorious house precisely by trafficking in the meanings of words. In her particular case, the traffic is for sexual aggrandizement and a woman's place in a man's world and in man's language. Other pilgrims traffic for other "goods." But the Wife, with her unusually long prologue, is the central example of such traffic in the meanings of words, and hence she is crucial to an understanding of Chaucer's concern with the ethics of reference.

The commercialism of the Wife of Bath pervades her idiom and her very imagination. Consider, for example (WBP D 477-78):
"The flour is goon, ther is namoore to telle;
The bren, as I best kan, now moste I selle."
or, even more blatant (lines 413-14):

"And therfore every man this tale I telle:
Wynne whoso may, for al is for to selle."
Further, in the portrait of her in The General Prologue, she is said to be a cloth maker, and thus a member of the dominant industry of fourteenth-century England.5 By describing the Wife as a figure of the commercial idiom and the commercial imagination, Chaucer problematizes in her three of the most volatile issues of human experience: economics, sexuality, and semiotics. Common to all three is the necessity of mediation and hence the risk of injustice.

Because she is a commercial being, the Wife herself is obsessed with media--money, clothes, church doors, and phalluses. But in her, commercialism has reduced media to commodities. The Wife consumes signs and their significances in the same way she consumes money and phalluses: they serve her pleasure--"`Of fyve husbondes scoleiyng am I'" (line 44f). The Wife of Bath renders "scoleiyng" irreferent: it refers to "scholarship" or "teaching" but it has very little reverence for either. For the Wife of Bath, scholarship is very much "explication de sexe," while sex is very much a business transaction (lines 154-55; emphasis added):

"An housbonde I wol have, I wol nat lette,
Which shal be bothe my dettour and my thral. . ."
The Wife means to collect on the letter: she glosses the church's metaphor (of the "marriage debt") stricte.

This gloss introduces us to the Wife's pose, that of an exegete, and hence to her highly promiscuous exegesis (lines 346-47; cf. Robertson 1962:317-21):

"After thy text, ne after thy rubriche,
I wol nat wirche as muchel as a gnat."
The Wife, of course, declares that experience is the equal of authority (lines 1-3) and thus very neatly sets herself up as an authority. Indeed, her challenge to authority is not that she will replace it. Rather it is that her position is just as authoritative as authority's. Hence her position convicts her of narcissism, but, at the same time, of a narcissism significantly different from any we have seen before. To be sure, for the Wife all media are mirrors: she sees herself in them, especially her body, and they are to be referred to her pleasure ("ad placitum"). For her, "le plaisir du texte" is "le texte du plaisir"--and that is her "écriture." But narcissist though she be, the Wife is not a falsifier, not a counterfeiter nor a liar.

Although it will seem to many heretical that I say so, the Wife of Bath is a {175/176} heretic. I do not mean, I hasten to say, that she utters this or that heretical doctrine (though, in fact, she may do so) nor do I mean to initiate an inquisition of her prologue. I mean rather that the structure of her peculiar exegesis is that of heresy. Medieval theology understood the word "heresy" to derive from Greek haeresis, meaning "to choose"; and it then reasoned that the heretic is he who chooses willfully to disobey orthodoxy or to supplant orthodoxy or to set himself up as an independent orthodoxy.6 And, we can readily agree, the Wife of Bath's reading of texts ("legenda") is certainly willful choosing ("legenda"-haeresis) of the meaning of those texts. Moreover, among the various labels for heretical construction of Scripture current in the Middle Ages one in particular seems almost designed for the Wife of Bath--"peregrinus sensus."`7 Alisoun of the many pilgrimages (GP A 463-67) is also Alisoun of the "pilgrimaging sense." Indeed, not only her sense but also her story wanders: "`But now, sire, lat me se, what I shal seyn? / A ha! by God, I have my tale ageyn'" (WBP D 585-86). Precisely because the Wife is very well versed in "wandrynge by the weye" (GP A 467), she does tend to stray, whether from orthodoxy or from one husband to the next.

If the Wife of Bath's exegesis is heretical, it is not necessarily false or lying. This is the crucial distinction, between her and, say, the Pardoner, which the structure of heresy introduces. The Pardoner, of course, is exceedingly orthodox, and a consummate liar; the Wife is heretical, but she is not a liar. While heresy may be the "proprius sensus" or the "propria pravitas" or the "sensus perfidus," it is not necessarily the "sensus falsus." And indeed, the Wife of Bath accurately quotes "wexe and multiplye" (WBP D 28), and she accurately quotes Saint Paul on marriage (lines 63-94). She is even scrupulous with these positions (lines 95-104). She just does not buy them, though. She has her own position, which is good enough for her. Hence she is not guilty of appropriation in the same way as Master Adam or the Pardoner is. She does not seek to deceive. Her will is good, though she may have lost her way.

Although the Wife, like all the other pilgrims, refers to "quiting" (line 422, for example), she "quites" less to own language than to make a place for herself in language. She spends words as if she owned them (so do we all), but she would really prefer to share them. "`Taak al my good, and lat my body go'" (line 1061), cries the young knight, in her tale, when the Loathly Lady requests to become his wife. And just so, if the Wife's body were free--if there were a place in language where her body were not a commodity, to be sold to the highest bidder--she would, I suspect, happily give up all her goods, including language, since she would no longer need to own it. As it is, however, no such place exists for her or for women generally, and so she {176/177} continues to assert her position in opposition to that of her male- dominated society. At the end of her tale, as if (ever the exegete) interpreting it for us, the Wife reduces its meaning to her very predictable position (WBT D 1258-64):

.... and Jhesu Crist us sende
Housbondes meeke, yonge, and fressh abedde,
And grace t'overbyde hem that we wedde;
And eek I praye Jhesu shorte hir lyves
That wol nat be governed by hir wyves,
And olde and angry nygardes of dispence--
God sende hem soone verray pestilence!

And yet so much more than this transpires in her tale, her tale exposes a temperament and a vision so much finer than this, that we are left wondering whether the Wife felt compelled to cover herself--to lapse back into that pose of bitchy exegete in which she is, at least, safe from the prodding eyes of those who deal in women and wives. This wonderment is not as fanciful as it seems. All her life Alisoun has had to expose her "privitee." From the age of twelve, she has been a commodity for sale, a wife, and she has had to advertise herself. Indeed, she has not stopped yet: "`Welcome the sixte, whan that evere he shal'" (WBP D 45). Handled like a commodity all her life, the Wife of Bath handles all other media like commodities too.

In an economic environment like that of the late fourteenth century in England, the phenomenon of a Wife of Bath--of a woman of means, of independence and outspokenness, and of wide traveling-- was not an isolated or unusual phenomenon. The means which liberated such a woman into public space did not, however, at the same time provide for her a status--a public posture transcending the contingency of her empirical self-- in a society which despite spreading affluence was still male-dominated.8 Alisoun was liberated into public space in a society which actively sought to dictate the lives of women. Hence the media available to the Wife for her self- expression in public space were radically circumscribed by the male population. She did not have a blazoned shield, an Oxford degree, or an ecclesiastical privilege. She had at most her trade, her funds, and her sex and its numerous modes of appearance.9 Accordingly, in contradistinction to the media available to the men in her society--which were resoundingly public--the media available to the Wife of Bath, if she was going to be more than just an "everyday" wife, involved the exposure of her "privitee" (lines 531, 620). If she would be seen, she had to sell herself.

Both male and female media functioned as commodities, to be sure. The ec- {177/178} clesiastical privilege was bought and sold, we know. But it was bought and sold as a commodity with a public value which was recognized as transcendent of the individuals who entered into the transaction. The Wife's sex and its modes of appearance, however, were so proper to her individual self that when they emerged in the public sphere, where women were only beginning to appear, they emerged inevitably as her "privitee." That is why, for example, the Wife's admirers for the past six centuries have known practically everything there is to know about her, from the position of the stars at her birth to the quality of her "quoniam" (lines 603-20); that is why there are very few secrets about the Wife of Bath. The more public the Wife became, the more private she appeared--that is, the more her "privitee" was exposed and the more she was deprived of a conventional public role.10 Instead of a role, publicly recognized and publicly validated, the Wife, in fact, had only poses. Everyone has sensed the feeling of frustration Alisoun suffers deep within her: "`Allas! allas! that evere love was synne'" (line 614). She may have had her world in her time (line 473), but she has had to pay for it with a certain lack of definition. The only medium of exchange which her society assigned Alisoun once she had entered public space was her body, and in order to express herself in public space, she had to sell herself, her sexuality--she had to become a commodity if she was to remain visible in public space. From the first husband who bought her (lines 197, 204-206) to the last, the Wife of Bath was a commodity, and the essence of a commodity is to appear on the market there to have others handle all its hidden parts. Little wonder, then, that the Wife of Bath handles all other media, such as language, like commodities. She does unto them as others have done unto her.

The basic injustice of the community in which the Wife of Bath lives is the reification and commoditization of human beings. She opposes this injustice from her pose as heretical exegete of the feminist position. But in doing so, she becomes herself guilty of it. She reduces media of all sorts to commodities. They become servants of her "commoda privata." Evidence of this actually bitter irony comes from one of Chaucer's most brilliant scenes--the burning of Janekin's book.

The Wife's fifth husband, the one she loved best of all, "`was of his love daungerous'" (line 514) to her. The Wife elaborates on his behavior and its meaning in an image ultimately commercialistic (lines 5l5-23):

"We wommen han, if that I shal nat lye,
In this matere a queynte fantasye:
Wayte what thyng we may nat lightly have,
{178/179} Therafter wol we crie al day and crave.
Forbede us thyng, and that desiren we;
Preesse on us faste, and thanne wol we flee.
With daunger oute we al oure chaffare;
Greet prees at market maketh deere ware,
And to greet cheep is holde at litel prys."
Alisoun begins in conventional fin'amors rhetoric, but this rhetoric mutates under the pressure of the commercial idiom, and this mutation is part of Chaucer's concern: "daunger" has become an advertising gimmick. As any good advertiser knows, persuade many people to desire a commodity, reduce it thus to rarity or at least scarcity, and each of them will pay dearly for it then. The Wife will spend herself recklessly for "daungerous" love. This advertising gimmick is crucial to an understanding of Chaucer's exposition of the Wife: hoarding appreciates value.11 The desirable item which is absent, or in danger of becoming absent, constantly escalates in price. Janekin hoarded his affection for and attention to the Wife, and consequently, she swears that she "loved hym best." She paid the highest price for him: not only did she take him "for love and no richesse" (line 526), but in addition she made over to him all her "winnings" from her previous four marriages (lines 630-31).

Janekin's hoarding took the form of reading. He invested all his attention and affection in reading books, old books, that dealt chiefly with the hallowed profession of misogyny.12 This form of hoarding resulted, as we all know, in the Wife's deaf ear and Janekin's burned book-- after, of course, the Wife had torn a few pages out of it. Since Janekin's book is a hoard of affection and attention, it is the presence of an absence which in the commercial idiom constitutes dearness. His book is the medium of--it emerges as and it interrupts--an absence always on the margin of presence: the Wife knows there is affection and attention absent in the book; all she has to do is burn the book--somehow consume the medium--and the affection and the attention will be present.

Not only commercially but also metaphysically speaking, a book is the presence of an absence. Metaphysically, such is every sign: something present in phonic substance which imports something else in its own substance absent.13 Hence, commercially speaking, Janekin's book "presents" the affection and the attention which is "absent" to the Wife: present in his book as hoard is that absence. But the book speaks also metaphysically as a sign. And as a sign it mediates a most unflattering, or--from the Wife of Bath's position--improper meaning of womankind: for her, the book is a lie. Present in it as sign is the absence of a meaning of woman which she desperately wants to materialize, to reify, so that she can consume it and destroy it. Thus Chaucer {179/180} exploits the analogy between commercialism and the metaphysics of the sign. By selecting a book, which is already a sign, to be also the locus of a hoard and the focus of sexual desire, Chaucer centers in the one object all those vectors--economic, sexual, and semiotic--which subtend the pose of the Wife of Bath. When the Wife tears pages out of Janekin's book and forces him ultimately to burn it, Chaucer exposes her fabulous mixture of narcissistic and heretical exegesis and commercial and sexual savvy. The Wife of Bath consumes the sign, the presence of an absence: as she will not permit the absence of Janekin's affections and attention, but consumes his book, so as to own them, so she will not permit the absence of the sign, but consumes it, too, in her own desire, so as to dictate its reference. As the archetypal consumer-- of sex, money, and signs-- the Wife poses the fate of the sign in a commercial world: it belongs to the customer who is always right.

But at the same time the consumer is consumed by what she consumes. If the Wife of Bath reduces media to commodities which she then consumes, she only reinforces the tendency of men to do the same to her. Moreover, and more precisely, in the act of consuming signs, she becomes herself a sign and is consumed in signs. It is her doom that every refutation she enters against the misogyny of men--such as informs Janekin's book, for example-- immediately incriminates her as a living example of the women whom the misogynists so prolifically attack. Every time she opens her mouth the Wife becomes an exemplum in a "Legend of Bad Women." She becomes, that is, a sign of all that is bad in women. Reduced to a sign, partly by her own doing, she is treated like a sign: Janekin is said to "glose" her (line 509). Of course, "glose" means "cajole" primarily, but it also means "gloss." Janekin had the Wife by her "gloss," her significance. He already "owned" her significance, or so it seemed from the perspective of the male position. A wife "means" lust, or, we might say--"quoniam (line 608) mulier est, lussuria est": "since she is a woman, she is lust" but also "pudendum is woman, and she is lust." The double meaning of "quoniam" connects logic (a traditionally male prerogative) and sex in a devastating reduction of the person of woman to the status of an abstraction. Once she is reduced to a sign, the Wife's predicament is one with the predicament of the sign. Every sign mediates an inevitable anteriority: someone has always already enunciated the sign. So much the Middle Ages acknowledged in the theory of "impositio ad placitum." From the perspective of the Wife's position, the opposition has contaminated the words available to her self-expression. Hence, to purge the words, she must gloss them according to her exegesis. For example (lines 440-42):

"Oon of us two moste bowen, doutelees;
{180/181} And sith a man is moore resonable
Than womman is, ye moste been suffrable."
Note the intricacy and the deftness of the heresy. Man is, in fact, throughout medieval thought, understood to be more reasonable than woman. This the Wife concedes. But in conceding the point, the Wife has let it "wander by the weye" into a context which is false to it. This "peregrination" of the reasonableness of man ends in the unreasonable result of female "soveraynetee." In fact, the Wife of Bath has counterfeited the reasonableness of man: her argument looks eminently reasonable, but it is not--it is false (from the male point of view).

And yet, she is not a counterfeiter in the same sense in which Master Adam is. She does not seek to conceal a crime; she does not even seek to deceive. She, in fact, seeks to persuade. But the attempt to persuade is carried out in male terms and male arguments: the Wife opposes men with their own arguments--"`a man is moore resonable / Than womman is'"--and ipso facto her position can only be an imposition on their position. Hence, the Wife willy- nilly concedes the opposition's position--her shrewishness. Any assertion of individuality by the Wife issues in a proof of the hated generality. The sign as the presence of the type inscribes the absence of the individual. And the Wife's identity is only an illusion maintained, as on a life--support system, by constant opposition to men.

So it is that the burning of Janekin's book is so disturbing (and so successful a poetic structure): in that act of scandalous consumerism the Wife only condemns herself to the meanings she would rather dictate, becomes a falsifier when she would be an authority, a shrew when she would be a lover. When Janekin finally capitulates (lines 804-22), the Wife, to be sure, has "won" (i.e., bought) her "soveraynetee," but she has sold her sovereign privilege to be loved for herself. Janekin's love for her will never again be free of guilt and obsequiousness. He may be kind and true to her (lines 823-25), but he is also overcome. The customer, yes, is always right, but the consumer is consumed by what she consumes--be it sex, signs, or money. Little wonder the legend of Midas so appealed to the Wife of Bath, though for reasons other than those she consciously assumed: everything she touches turns to sex. Everything the Wife of Bath touches turns to sex, the principal commodity to which the male world reduces her. Because a commodity once in public space, the Wife attempts to control media, especially signs, as if they too were commodities, or private property--in order, as it were, to "feminize" them. In fact, however, signs in her world, meanings generally, were almost the exclusive "property" of men--just as, in fact, women were too. In regard to marriage, men bought {181/182} and sold women regularly, with often drastic results (Margulies 1962: 210-16). In a passage which would be gruesome were it not for the breathless energy of her vituperation, the Wife castigates the alleged "property" rights of men (lines 285-92). The array of goods which she lists during this outburst--in which, by implication, from the masculine perspective, women should belong since, after all, they too are "housbondrye" (line 288)--is certainly less than flattering to women. More troubling, however, is the poverty of the Wife's response to the "property" rights of men: she can do no more than vituperate; she cannot offer an authentic, workable alternative to the masculine attitude.

Similarly, in regard to the alleged "property" rights of men over signs and meanings, the Wife cannot offer an authentic, workable alternative. For example, in a passage where she effectively acknowledges these rights, she exclaims (lines 368-70):

"Been ther none othere maner resemblances
That ye may likne youre parables to,
But if a sely wyf be oon of tho?"
If the trope or metaphor ("resemblance") is a "turning" or violent ex-propr-iation of a word or thing in favor of an alien sense, then--so the Wife is complaining-- men have subjected wives to this violence by "troping" them-- turning them into "resemblances" and hence turning them out of themselves.14 It follows that if wives are to escape this violence they must somehow circumvent the dominant tropes of the male culture. The Wife of Bath herself peregrinates around these tropes, or tries to do so, by means of her heretical exegesis, whose "auctoritee" is her "experience." But in the attempt, as we have seen, she becomes herself as guilty as the men in her world.

In fact, there is very little difference between them. She herself confesses as much when she asserts her "property" rights-- and by extension those of women generally--over signs and their meanings (lines 693-96):

"By God! if wommen hadde writen stories,
As clerkes han withinne hire oratories,
They wolde han writen of men moore wikkednesse
Than al the mark of Adam may redresse."
In other words, women would write tropes in the same way and to the same end as men have done. But the word they thus usurp can only usurp in turn their womanhood. If women ex-propr-iate words and things as men have done with their institutionalized tropes, they must suffer the painful and immediate consequence of coming to resemble men. This is, in fact, what has happened to the Wife of Bath. Not only does she argue like a man, drink like a man, and {182/183} ride like a man, she also even fights like a man (lines 788-93; 808)--with perniciously ironic results. Her blows on Janekin's cheek assert, "I am a woman! How dare you treat me this way!"--and yet, how like a man to Janekin must Alisoun have looked when she landed her punches. The Wife, because she seeks power over men, also, inevitably, seeks the power of men, with the equally inevitable result that she resumes her identity, sexual and otherwise, from her opponent--not that it is improper for a woman to argue, drink, ride, or fight, but that it is a crime that reverse bondage should determine the identity of a woman. And yet to justify herself and to found her identity, the Wife of Bath must resort to the works of man: at the extreme of this snarled predicament, she must plunder the literary works of men for arguments in defense of her position. As long as the "proper" of words falls to the "property" of discrete positions, the movements of ap-propr-iation and ex-propr-iation will determine human relationships--reduce them to oppositions, in effect. Only fiction, "true" or designed not true or designing, fiction, can prevent this fall or reverse it. The universalizing power of fiction, the power to make whole and hale, unifies positions and pacifies oppositions in its beauty and truth. Great beauty and no little truth occupy The Wife of Bath's Tale. If we leave to one side, for the moment, her exegesis and interpretative appropriations, her "quiting" the Friar (WBT D 864-81), and her asides on "`What thyng /it is/ that wommen moost desiren'" (line 905), we can agree on the beauty of "gentilesse," on the truth of mercy, and on the value of poverty; we can agree that there is a beauty in the Wife's fiction which transcends her and her exegesis and us and our exegesis--a beauty which is no one's "property."

Ultimately, no one, man or woman, "owns" language; if anything, it is far truer to say that language "owns" us. To be sure, men have demanded--and still do demand--unreasonable rights over language. Perhaps the modern feminist movement will correct their error. But if it is to do so, its members will have to remember what, in the end, Alisoun forgot (despite the beauty of her tale) that merely reversing roles will not help the situation. If I have understood her predicament in any way fairly, the Wife of Bath confronted massive societal pressure which she could not bear but which she in part brought on herself. Yet she is not a victim to be pitied so much as a natural force to be wondered at. Loud, ostentatious, selfish, avaricious, and promiscuous, she nonetheless commands energy so extraordinary that if our life on this planet were the highest good in creation we would probably be forced to swear by her and others like her. Such prodigious openness to life is in its way possibly humble, certainly humbling. Alisoun will survive what W. H. Auden calls "the {183/184} treason of all clerks" ("At the Grave of Henry James") precisely because she is always reaching out, demanding to be understood.

But energy and our life on this planet have their limits. And if "`the children of Mercurie and of Venus / Been in hir wirkyng ful contrarius'" (WBP D 697-98), it may be because Mercury is closer to the sun. In a sense, the Wife of Bath has traded the light of understanding for the beautiful but murky clouds of passion. And so she goes "wandrynge by the weye," lost in the fabulous and fabular if obscure side paths of her exegesis, looking for the world she did not have in her time (cf. line 473).

She will not find it--though in her missing it Chaucer finds a poetry very close to it. She will not find it because she cannot escape the relentless process of opposition. She depends on it for her very identity. When the Wife of Bath "privatized" signs and meanings, such as "scoleiyng," so as to open for herself a place in language, she had to load them with her "privitee." Her own "privitee" had to come "in between" her and her world. Her only publicity is her privacy (and that reads two ways). From her "bele chose" (line 510) and its "Martes mark" (line 619) to her doubts about the Judgment Day ("`Allas! allas! that ever love was synne!'") the publication of the Wife's "privitee" is the very ex- propr-iation she so resents in men. She expropriates herself: she makes of herself a sign, she publishes herself, as if she were a piece of writing--a peregrinating commercial, looking for a buyer. If the Wife of Bath seems to us so delightful, so energetic, so saucy, so very individual and yet so disturbingly unfinished and unhappy, that is because, as a woman who chose to be, and even reveled in being, for sale, she still is. {184}