I found the idea that history and literature could experience a sort of role-reversal when reading the chapter on New Historicism. Stating that the historical event became a social text while the literary text serves as the social event was a little confusing at first, but then started to make sense once we discussed what this means in class. Professor Seaman stated that our reading suggests that even as an event happens, it doesn’t occur in a historical sense but in a literary one. Looking at a work of literature from this standpoint, then, one can gather a sense of the event or people it depicts rather than of the historical facts themselves.
In regards to Chaucer, it was really intriguing to see Patterson’s perspective on his intentions and his depiction of the Wife herself. The idea that she represents an ideal of the time seems to insinuate that he was simply reproducing the conventions of his time period in that people accepted this stereotype. Thinking of Chaucer as consciously attempting to write in the form of literary representation true to the tradition makes me wonder what else he may have meant by his description of his characters. Making the Wife’s story center on marriage because that is how she is represented as a subject of literary attention also seems interesting. If she had been presented as an artisan, her story would have had a different significance at the time and would have elevated her skill level for the readers. However, the fact that she is defined by her social position makes her seem more ordinary, and in doing so she becomes important historically as signifying a simple character of the time period. In my opinion, Chaucer seemed to acknowledge that in preserving this cultural norm of his time he could create an ideal true to his era while at the same time keeping her in the social constrictions that would have been in place. The benefit of this today is that we get a sense of the role of women—even though she is unusually happy and content with her life through her good (and bad) marriages—that would have been ordinary at the time yet are culturally telling for a retrospective standpoint.