This paper is part of a work-in-progress that engages with narrative theory and new formalist approaches to explore ideas of medieval fictionality. Bringing together what seems an initially odd pairing, I examine the narrative agency of the female protagonists of Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale and Melibee. Both tales explore the ways that narratives of constraint, or fixed plots, find new openings, a narrative dynamic that my larger project associates with the concept of literary grace. The female protagonists of these tales avoid undesired but apparently predetermined ends by opening up what Gary Saul Morson refers to as a “middle realm” of narrative. In both tales, the rehearsal of catalogued wisdom produces a formal expansion of the tale, lengthening the middle space of their narrative arcs. Forgiveness, these tales imply, requires commitment to an expanded and open temporality, not only the will but also the opportunity to search out other possible ends and new forms of relation between aggrieved parties. As agents of narrative grace, Dorigen and Prudence “make time” in their narratives: by resisting closure, they open up space for new narrative developments and unexpected turns in the plot, including changes of heart. But they also make time for narrative. As metafictions of narrative grace, the Franklin’s Tale and the Melibee address a concern central to the Canterbury Tales project: how do stories begin, and how do they endure?
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