Title: ‘Avarice’, Anonymous (after Guillaume de Deguileville), The Pilgrimage of the Lyfe of the Manhode; and, The Pilgrimage of the Sowle, fol. 63r
Place: Lincolnshire, England
Date: c. 1430
Medium & technique: Pen and ink drawing on parchment
Dimensions: 265 x 185 mm
Themes: Monstrous – Marvellous
Collection: State Library of Victoria, Shelf no. RARES 096 G94

This unsophisticated yet arresting drawing depicts the sin of Avarice, personified as a loathsome hag. It appears in a manuscript that includes the first two of a trilogy of allegorical dream visions by the French poet Guillaume de Deguileville (1295–1358) adapted in Middle English by an unknown author. The narrator of the text is a naïve pilgrim who resolves to embark on a journey to the heavenly Jerusalem after seeing it in a vision. His spiritual pilgrimage is aided by the staff of Hope, the satchel of Faith, and Grace Dieu, a beautiful woman. His progress is fraught with dangers, including a succession of female monsters representing the seven deadly sins. The largest and most dangerous is Avarice, who is also accorded the biggest illustration. According to the text, this monstrous creation grasps all she can with her six hands, her ‘giving’ hands having been cut off into useless stumps. On her head is perched a small mawmet or Mahoun, ‘my god in whom I believe’, presented as the heretical false idol of the Muslim enemies of Christianity. Avarice’s ardour for possessions generates so much heat that she pants like a dog, her leprous tongue lolling from her mouth. Deguileville’s representation of all the sins as female is unusual, and plays into themes of alterity, the foreign and the ‘other’. Described in the most abject of terms, his personification of the sins as the ‘monstrous feminine’ reinforces the medieval view of women as vice-ridden agents of the devil.

Hilary Maddocks, University of Melbourne

Further Reading:

Avril Henry, ed., The Pilgrimage of the Lyfe of the Manhode (London: Early English Text Society for Oxford University Press, 1985).

Hilary Maddocks, ‘Seeing is Believing: Reading the Deadly Sins in Deguileville’s “Pilgrimage of the Lyfe of the Manhode” in the State Library of Victoria,’ in Imagination, Books and Community in Medieval Europe, ed. Gregory Kratzmann (Melbourne: Macmillan Art Publishing, 2010), 204-211.