English, Department of


Date of this Version



ELH, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Sept 1961), pp. 203-214.


Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press. Used by permission.


The Merchant in the Canterbury Tales tells the tale of a husband whose misfortunes bear an obvious relation to his own marital pain. He has this advantage over his character: that he is perfectly clear-eyed about the miseries of his marriage. One cannot say so much for January. Though the knowledge that one is not " in the perpetual possession of self-deception " may form small consolation if one is a husband in the Merchant's situation, it does seem to dull his affliction somewhat to imagine a character who endures his own extremities but endures with the torpor and innocence of the ass. He would have one believe that he is, unlike January, a man who learns from experience. Thus, January's inner blindness would appear to mirror both the narrator's own past condition and his present contempt for it. How- ever, though the Merchant is clearly conscious of his tale's relevance to the blindness of marital concupiscence, he reveals that some of January's torpor is also his in that he is innocent of its further relevance to his personal position as merchant.