Ancrene Wisse: Middle English Prose - Summary & Analysis

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      Ancrene Wisse (Ancrene Riwle) is the best example of the prose of the middle English period. It is a book written for a community of three Anchoresses living in a retreat near a church. This anonymous treatise offers a complete guide to, and a warm justification of the anchoress' life. It is carefully planned throughout its eight books. Book one is devoted entirely to religious observances and devotional exercises. Then follow books on the five senses as guardians of the heart, the advantages of a life of retirement from the world, the temptations fleshly and spiritual which must be resisted, confession, penitence and the love of Christ. The eighth and last book gives specific advice on domestic life food, clothing attendants, and a variety of small but important and interesting points.

Ancrene Wisse

Critical Analysis

      The Ancrene Riwle (Rule for Anchoresses) is the most remarkable prose work in English literature between King Alfred and Malory. Its appeal is not in its subject but in the freshness of treatment and the personality of its author. A new gentleness and humor permeate these simple and minute instructions with their sense of devotion to the virgin. It is the personality of its author that colors his writing. His qualities of mind and temperament are as attractive to us as they must have been to the three young women for whom he wrote. There is, for example, his independence and remarkable freedom from the conventional attitudes of the ordinary religious writer of the Middle Ages. The poem is remarkable for its descriptive and narrative style and for its proverbial quality, its familiar illustrations from everyday life, its homespun metaphors, its humor.

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