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.
There have been numerous times that I’ve found my english classes have correlated nicely with one another, but the texts and topics studied this semester between my American Renaissance 1850-1870 class and English Studies have given insight into one another so consistently and so remarkably this semester I had to outline a few of my revelations. We began in English studies to dissect literary criticism using, for main exericises, the text of Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath and an essay of literary criticism written by Jane Tompkins about Hawthorne’s literary reputation and comparing it to the popularity of Melville’s Moby Dick. Not only have we read The Scarlet Letter and Moby Dick, in my English 343 class, but we have also focused a lot on the critical reception of the books and how their influence has changed and evolved with contemporary times. The editions we are using are specifically catered to inform us about how these, now cannonical works, were received upon publication, and then we have been comparing the grounds which we use to evaluate them now.
Then, in my Eng 343 class we continued on to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and upon its completion have focused on an essay of criticism, also by Jane Tompkins entitled “Sentimental Power: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Politics of Literary History.” The essay ties back to many of the “sentimentalist” ideas that Tompkins originally addresses in her essay “Masterpiece Theatre: The Politics of Hawthorne’s Literary Reputation,” for the English 299 class. Just when I’m beginning to think the courses were designed for one another, we begin to study Marxist Criticism in 299, right on the coat-tails of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and New York by Gaslight in my 343 class. I can’t tell you how insightful these classes have ended up being for one another.
Although I can’t pretend to be an expert on Marxist theory, our conversation today in 299 about the Wife of Bath and the conversion of the society’s system from feudal to monetary wealth—and the implications it had for the role of women, echoed for me the transition in early American history of the shift from a system dependent on slavery to one dependent on cheap labor—and the subsequent implications for African Americans. And, just like in Laurie Finke’s exploration of the idea, wheither intended or not, inherent in Chaucer’s work, of this evolving society which came before the actual shift, so we see a novel like Uncle Tom’s Cabin which instead of resulting after the social changes occurred for American slaves in society, addresses the shift on the higher “conscious” level of intellect that is occurring within the moment.
I’m fairly sure that if any of us were ever to meet Mr. Beidler, and perhaps sit down to dinner with him, we would find the man…interesting. He would probably spend a good 10 minutes saying how all of his friends found some dish completely amazing, but that he would never order it because it’s made with veal, highly controversial. He’d probably also go into detail about the origins of not only every recipe, but every ingredient.
Maybe I haven’t made myself clear, but I’m not really a fan of the detail that Beidler goes into in regards to the Wife of Bath. Perhaps the new critics are rubbing off on me, but I find the incredible detail he goes into for every source of Chaucer’s tale. At the base of it, nearly every story is going to be reminiscent of one before.
This rings true for his list of events going on during Chaucer’s period also. He spends six pages describing events leading up to and during Chaucer’s period, only to say that the martyring of Thomas a Becket was the only one to really influence him. It seemed as if Beidler was just struggling to make a page count and so used any thing he could think of to do it.
I personally enjoyed the readings from this week, mainly the Shakespeare sonnet and the second part of our “Biographical and Historical Contexts” from The Wife of Bath. I would side with the New Critics in their preference for poems that are less straight-forward. I favor poetry that involves a closer read and some thinking in order to fully appreciate the meaning. The ending of the sonnet especially made the reader think, as it gave question to how accurately the speaker could make such a judgement since he was so ‘frantic-mad.’
I also enjoyed the sources that Chaucer used in writing the prologue and tale for the The Wife of Bath that were discussed in the second assigned reading for this week. They all centered around love, which I admit I am a sucker for (probably why I favor Shakespeare’s sonnet as well.) My favorite was the summary of John Gower’s Tale of Florent (and accordingly, since the stories are so similar, the summary of the Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell.) The idea that what women want most, or most desire, is sovereignty over men’s love is spot on (in my opinion.) Reading the summaries of these sources made me eager to begin reading Chaucer’s work; I hope that I find The Wife of Bath just as interesting!
The life of Chaucer is very intriguing to me, although it seems that we know nothing concrete about who he really was. Did he rape a woman and was he unhappy with his marriage? We don’t know and maybe that’s why the history behind this man is the topic of so many conversations. Today, people are planning to build a statue of Chaucer to commemorate his contributions to English literature. Ironically, we don’t even know the man that we are celebrating. All we have are a few scraps of history. Christmas lists with his name scribbled on them and a few documents, and none of this is of any real importance. What we do have is his literature.
If we abide by formalist rules we can’t relate Chaucer to his work at all. Formalism supports the idea that a piece of literature is completely separate from the author therefore, Chaucer and the literature he wrote are two completely different entities with each surviving on their own. I don’t exactly agree with formalism in this sense because it seems almost definite that an author’s own life will have some sort of affect on his writing. We don’t know if Chaucer raped a woman but the fact that their is a rape in the Wife of
Bath’s tale certainly makes us suspicious. It is small details like these that encourage me to disagree with formalism.
It is interesting to be looking at the biography of a man that we, in truth know little to nothing concrete about. Chaucer, like everyone, is a man most decidedly of his times however and much can be pulled from what we know about the everyday life of people living during that time period. Much of what we read this week seemed to be giving us a flash course in the major events that shaped the lives of the Englishmen of Chaucer’s day and how these might be used to understand the context in which the Wife of Bath was written.
Events like the Black Death and the people’s uprising that, seem to play important roles in the story. What I find interesting though is that the book also seems to draw a lot of inferences about Chaucer from what he writes in the Canterbury Tales. Scholars take the description of Chaucer in the Prologue of the Tales and use it to try and approximate a picture, even going so far as to say that it is a correct rendering based on a “portrait” of Chaucer that was included in a particular manuscript of the Tales. A picture which, at least to me seems like it was likely just done based on the character of Chaucer in the Tales and may or may not have any bearing on what the real life Chaucer looked like. It is interesting to see how little we really know about one of the most highly regarded writers in the tradition of the English language.
It is hard for me to read a text where the author tells you off the bat that nothing I will be reading is completely concrete. The number of times that Beidler uses the words “it seems”, “we assume”, or “we cannot say” is numerous throughout his account. It frustrated me and made me distrust Beidler in the beginning to know that he did not have anything else to present to us with other then how those have come to “think” of him rather then what they know of him. All that we know are those documents that just so happened to be found. But, then my sense of Beidler changed as I read more into the biographical and historical context section, for one cannot blame him for the lack of solid ground to define Chaucer. I then began to place myself in Beidler’s shoes and admire his perseverance to get to the most accurate account of this mysterious man. Through readings, documents, and historical events occurring at the time, Beidler, I believe, set us up with the most concrete description one can give. He presented the writer with not the modern/easiest read text, the Ellesmere manuscript, but rather took from the most true manuscript around that would have displayed the closest account as if Chaucer himself wrote it, the Hengwrt manuscript. Beidler showed us through historical events at the time, how Chaucer avoided challenging social structure by his lack of reference to those events. Lastly, to sum up my change of heart toward Beidler, I would rather him be as truthful towards me with his “we assumes” and “we cannots says” and “it seems” then for an editor to tell me something was concrete when it was not. I respect his honesty and his determination to unveil the mysterious man of Geoffrey Chaucer in most truthful, unembellished way possible.
Looking back on Chaucer’s biography, I realized that readers of Chaucer today have a
very different idea of the iconic author versus the man he truly was. Beidler
notes that we see Chaucer as an influential leader in English literature who
has impacted readers for centuries. Chaucer’s writings are read in classrooms across the nation and he is a fixed member of the Canon, so it is only natural for readers to idealize this great writer. But who would have guessed that the same man who was once referred to as “the father of English literature” also beat up a friar and
possibly abducted and/or raped a woman. It is interesting to see the
differences between the iconic visions readers have of famous authors, furiously
scribbling their world-changing works of genius by candlelight, and the actual
man bludgeoning a friar and being charged with rape.
Although we don’t have many accounts of Chaucer’s life, for most of what we know comes from legal documents, we have learned as much as we can to put a face to the
author of The Canterbury Tales. Readers have pored over miscellaneous documents to find little snippets of information on Chaucer. This obsession reveals that readers want a close relationship with the author of these influential works that define our English
classes today. By knowing more of Chaucer’s life, we get to see the mind that
created the famous characters of The Canterbury Tales. I think it’s really interesting that readers are even fascinated in knowing about Chaucer’s physical appearance. It is almost as if we will use all the information we have to learn as much as we can about an author, even if it’s only about his height or weight. I doubt readers during
Chaucer’s time really cared about his appearance like we do today, but this
information gets us just a little bit closer to learning about the man himself.
Much of Chaucer’s life is a mystery to readers today so every bit of
information helps us feel connected to Chaucer and see how he was like during
his lifetime. Likewise, learning about significant events during his life, such
as the Black Death and the reign of King Richard, help readers see how major
events influenced his writing. By using all the information we have on Chaucer, readers can begin to unveil the mystery behind the man who wrote iconic tales that have stood the test of time. We can recognize the inspiration and motivations behind his work and see into his personal life to reveal Chaucer as an individual, not just a godly writer.
In high school and last semester, I read parts of The Canterbury Tales (including The Wife of Bath) and I’m excited to be reading it again! I’ve always been a fan of Chaucer since I first read the Canterbury Tales in high school.
Although, I was a little scared at first when I read that Beidler was keeping it pretty traditional with the middle English. I had to recite the first 16 lines of The Canterbury Tales in front of my whole class and I just remembered how difficult it was. But actually, I think after reading this introduction I’m more excited now for Beidler’s edition. I also liked how he has lists of translations and what not. He sort of shifted my opinion on middle English when he talked about preserving the language. I guess I hadn’t really thought about how I was missing out on the poetry itself when I first read the stories. Also, I thought that blog Professor Seaman showed us that was written in middle English was pretty interesting. I think the whole idea of a blog devoted to middle English that talks about modern life is actually a pretty unique idea.
To be honest, I always dreaded doing middle or old English and I would be the first to find some modern text translation (especially after having to memorize those 16 lines, blahh) I guess I feel like I’ve sort of been cheating because I’ve been going around the real text and going for the translated ones instead. But now, thanks to Beidler, I’ll be introduced to the real, raw stuff. (well, I guess it’s still technically semi-middle English, but still) I think I’ll appreciate Chaucer a little more now than I have before since I’m not just looking at the modernized versions.
Seeing as how I’m also in Dr. Russel’s 201 class and am suffering through reading ‘The Wife of Bath’ in Old English with absolutely no close by translation, I think I’ll address that reading. I actually found it to be very interesting how this text I’ve been reading since High School might not even be Chaucer, but just some bored scribe that wanted to make some stuff up.I’m glad Beidler tried to justify his translation after that, because I was ready to go into the story thinking ‘oh, well this probably wasn’t Chaucer at all, so it’s really not at all important that I read it’. But Beidler really lays it out, explaining everything he’s doing (almost to the point where it’s over kill). However, given my recent history with the Norton version of ‘The Wife of Bath’, I was very grateful to it. While the placement of ‘merrily’ in the scenario mentioned on pg 39 is trite, it’s a problem that, if repeated enough times, could lead to a serious misreading of the text.Beidler works to not only translate words, but the entire sentence, which, especially as this is coming from a time with little to no punctuation, is very important to the over all meaning of any given snippet from ‘The Wife of Bath’.
I also think it’s very important how he addressed that ‘The Canterbury Tales’ were supposed to read aloud, and that the stories really served better as a sort of lyrical performance than as just a text. Actually hearing them spoken in Old English is something I encourage everyone to do, because it suddenly becomes clear why these stories became so popular. While it would look as if this language would produce hard, Germanic like sounds, it’s actually very beautiful, and being able to hear the iambic pentameter makes it much easier to realize where the emphasis should go in a line and how you should interpret it.