[Note to readers, November 7, 2013: Amazon (or its software) has seen fit to attach my October 2003 review of the hardcover edition of C.S. Lewis' "The Allegory of Love" (as slightly emended later) to the 2013 Kindle edition of the book from HarperCollins. I've decided to up-date it, using my 2012 review of a paperback edition as a basis. You also can find reviews by others under some of the various, separate, Amazon listings of the title.]
"The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition" is the book which made C.S. Lewis' reputation as a critic of medieval and renaissance literature, in advance of his later fame as a Christian apologist, a fantasy writer, or a poet; his earliest works in these fields having been published under pseudonyms.
"The Allegory of Love" was first published in 1936, and has been reprinted many times, in hardcover at least into the 1970s, and in paperback from the late 1950s. Unfortunately, it has been out of print for some time, and third-party offering of re-printings (which have been listed separately by Amazon) have been rather high-priced.
It is therefore a pleasure to report that it has been scheduled for re-release in December 2013, by Cambridge University Press (Canto imprint); and that, as of November, HarperCollins has made a less expensive version available on Kindle, with hyper-linked notes (but no index; apparently the Kindle Search Engine is supposed to serve, IF you can remember the spellings of medieval names....).
There is (or was) another Kindle edition, without the notes, but using the cover art of what was the most recent Canto edition. I have no information on the legality of this (it is NOT from Cambridge University Press), but, given its truncated form, I don't find even the lower price asked for it to be really attractive.
As originally written, "Allegorical Love Poems of the Middle Ages" (the working title) covered the development of allegorical narrative from late classical times to Spenser's "Faerie Queene," with particular attention to the representation of human emotions (not strictly limited to love). It covered several related topics as well; for example, medieval theories of dreams, and how they compare to the use of dream-narratives as vehicles for allegories. It does not deal with Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," probably the best-known allegorical work in English; not only is it a century too late, it is theological and moral, rather than psychological.
Instead of following the then-prevailing fashion of dismissing allegory as "frigid" or "artificial," Lewis examined why it was used, and how it functioned to portray abstractions like emotions or inner turmoil in dramatic terms. In doing so, he was paralleling developments in art history (see, for examples, works by Gombrich, Panofsky, Seznec, and Edgar Wind, among others). How this stereotype became established in English, in the face of Bunyan's popularity, however, is not a topic he felt it necessary to address.
Unhappily for his book's long-term reputation, Lewis was persuaded to add to the planned text an earlier summary of modern theories of "courtly love" in medieval life and literature. Lewis himself noted that this theoretical construction did not quite fit the texts he analyzed in detail, and the whole approach is now regarded as at best problematic, and by many as simply wrong.
Since Lewis presented the material with unusual clarity and wit, however, he has come to be treated as an authoritative source by some, and attacked as such by others.
The rest of the book, being based on original studies of primary sources, retains much of its value. Later textual studies and shifts in critical theory have only slightly diminished its value, and his discussions of such now-obscure writers as Martianus Capella and Bernardus Silvestris remain among the most inviting of introductions.
(Capella is perhaps slightly less obscure these days. An on-line professional journal, "The Medieval Review," published a few years ago Michael Herren's review of Teeuwen, Mariken, and Sinéad O'Sullivan, "Carolingian Scholarship and Martianus Capella: Ninth-Century Commentary Traditions on 'De nuptiis' in Context," Cultural Encounters in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages 12 . For Bernardus, see my review of Winthrop Wetherbee's translation of "The Cosmographia of Bernardus Silvestris.")
Lewis writes engagingly of Chretien de Troyes Arthurian romances, in which the thoughts and emotions of characters are represented by brief allegories. Lewis' treatment of "The Romance of the Rose," in which allegory replaces literal narrative, one of the most popular secular works of the Middle Ages, is still illuminating (and the point of departure for many recent re-considerations). His chapter on "The Faerie Queene" is regarded by some competent scholars as the foundation of modern study of the unfinished Elizabethan epic.
Although Lewis never looses sight of the entertainment value of many of the works he discusses (and some of them never had any), he is concerned to show that they addressed real problems of human behavior and emotions, and their presentation in narratives. In "Inventing the Middle Ages," Norman Cantor reported from first-hand experience that the book helped make the study of medieval romances respectable in academic circles. My own reading of the secondary literature brought me to a similar conclusion.
It is probably of interest to note that, according to Lewis himself, the "Chronicles of Narnia" did not arise from his studies of allegory, and that their allegorical implications arose spontaneously in his mind. One has to wonder whether he would have written "The Allegory of Love" differently after, rather than before, those experiences. And how they relate to his experience with the early "Pilgrim's Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason, and Romanticism," published under a pen name in 1933.)
Also, some of the medieval material which Lewis used in his theological science fiction novel, "Out of the Silent Planet," and its successors, is discussed in its historical and literary context.
Serious students of English literature, and medieval literature in general, will find "The Allegory of Love" more than worth their time. So will those who simply enjoy reading Arthurian literature, and several other types of story. For many who are familiar only with Lewis the fantasist, or Lewis the Christian apologist, it will open new perspectives.
Those who wish to follow the development of Lewis' thought on some of these issues and authors can consult his collected papers and essays on medieval and other literature, his massive "English Literature in the Sixteenth Century," and the "The Discarded Image," published just after his death, a brief and witty summing-up of the world-view underlying most medieval literature.