Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Even though he spends years working on a priest’s tract, Giles claims to have forgotten about the existence of religion because it is so irrelevant to his life. More important, the Tretis deals with virtue, innocence, and love, concepts to which Giles devotes little attention. The main idea of Wise Virgin seems to be that none of the three main characters can be alive fully until he or she encounters and understands love.

Until Louise proposes, no one has ever “declared a passion for” Giles, but her feelings make him uncomfortable, since his view of the world has always been so dispassionate. He chooses to ignore the content of the Tretis for a linguistic analysis of it, but is as much in need of instruction as the thirteenth century nuns. Ironically, he was a twenty-nine-year-old virgin when he met Mary, and he would not have married her had she not become pregnant. He throws himself into a series of loveless affairs after Mary’s death, and his relations with Carol are more carnal than romantic. He does not even contemplate another marriage, since Tibba’s devotion meets most of his needs and sex is not that important to him.

Giles does not begin to think of the message of the Tretis until he writes the introduction to his edition: “Love itself is a concept the poets borrowed from the theologians, and not the other way about.” He does not have to experience Christian love before he can understand romantic love,...

(The entire section is 585 words.)