Our readings this week had appropriate timing with current events yet again! I really appreciated the Differences chapter in TT and its citation of very similar statistics to those fuelling the Occupy protests which had an extremely eventful week of raiding and re-prioritising.
The Wife of Bath reading on psychoanalysis was fun as well. I like how Freud suggested this approach, then it was interpreted by different people of different times and places, and we are left with the head-cocking notion that we can psychoanalyse a text to psychoanalyse the characters to psychoanalyse the author and then we look at how we analysed all that so we can psychoanalyse the reader. Uhhh. Okay! I really enjoy looking at all the levels of the literature experience psychologically. I am naturally inclined to look at things in life in psychological ways so it is nice when I can carry that over to literature. It’s definitely a useful tactic for strong characters like the Wife. I can definitely think of a few examples where psychoanalysis isn’t useful on a character level, though. For example, the characters in Hard Times do not come across as particularly psychologically profound. I suppose it is useful to apply this to Charles Dickens because it points to the distance he felt at the time, the way he felt industrialism was prohibiting him from engaging deeply with others. And maybe that brief analysis is wildly telling about the way I see things! Oh the multi-faceted application of literary theory.
It was very useful to look at the two project proposal examples in class today. I’ve actually yet to have to do a project proposal at the College and was feeling kind of lost about the whole thing. I do feel a bit better now, albeit not entirely because I have the daunting deadlines of other assignments looming overhead. Speaking of which, off to the lands of productivity!
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.
So a critical moment in class for me was discussing the fact that Patterson does not read Chaucer from the aspect of literary Historicism, but rather to consider the role of the Wife of Bath as a unique individual within the framework of her societal position of a business woman and the complex relationships with her past husbands. The significance of this view for me was that I realized how important it is to understand the various ways of interpreting texts, even if some of them happen to be different than how would usually choose to interpret the text. In this scenario, since we understand how to Historically-analyze the Wife of Bath, it enabled us to explore another avenue to reveal that Chaucer may not have been taking a Historicist view, but rather highlighting qualities concerning the wife of bath that may her an exception to the norm of the day. In other words, we know can view her story as an unrealistic story of her time, and appreciate her unique qualities in comparison to the conventional hardships of the 18th century woman. When I consider Patterson’s argument, I can understand easily why Chaucer was considered a “modern man,” in that he may have been anticipated changes in freedom for women, or at the very least, elaborating upon her professional life which was unusual for a woman at that time.
In considering Patterson’s argument for a non-Historicist reading of the Wife of Bath, I can clearly understand why we should have a thorough understanding of various ways of reading texts. Not only can we use those types of readings to interpet a text, bu we can also use them to narrow down the ways we could be more aptly applying literary techniques, and discover rewarding paths of exploration that can only be fueled by first ruling out other ways of reading the text. What a valuable tool!
In Marxism criticism, the text is looked at as work. It is concerned about the prevailing social order at the time along with race, values, gender, etc. Marxist critics are very comfortable with being political unlike New Historians. It looks at texts in clearly historical context which is very different as well from that of New Criticism who believes that a text should not be looked at in its historical context. Finke’s Marxist Criticism toward the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale is interesting to look at in terms of historical context. The Wife of Bath falls in the gap of Feudalism and Capitalism. She does not seem to value the need to produce children as an important value like most women would during Feudalism. She is a working woman, yet makes most of her money from the men she marries, taking on the role as a “gold-digger”. Most women did not live the way the Wife of Bath did unless it was in the moment of shifting from Feudalism to Capitalism. The Wife of Bath equates to the producing of more money and more money to what women during Feudalism with the baring of children. Not only does fink show the transition of women from Feudalism to Capitalism but she parallels it to the transitions occurring in the Wife of Bath’s tale. Such as how the knight went from being a rapist to the ideal husband and treating women as equal. The ugly hag is transformed into a beautiful, loyal wife. The act of rape is seen as a game and an opportunity for a scavenger hunt. The tale seems to mystifiy sexual violence and makes excuses, almost justifying seeing it as less bad. It seems as though Finke believes that not only is Capitalism starting to cover up Feudalism but that the Wife of Bath’s Tale is covering and hiding something itself, but those things being hidden can not be seen as progression like the transition from Feudalism to Capitalism.
When it was first brought up in class that we would be looking at a work from the Marxist point of view, I had to try to not roll my eyes. I haven’t really had good experiences with Marxist analysis. A friend of mine wrote a Marxist essay about Pokemon for an English class sophomore year of high school, which was awesome and hilarious to us at first. Then, once my friend started analyzing everything from a Marxist perspective, it made me start to throw up a little every time anyone mentioned Marxism. I’m not sure whether or not it was the mixture of Marxism and feminism, but I actually enjoyed her analysis of The Wife of Bath.
It really tripped me out with a completely new interpretations of events and of Alisoun herself. It’s interesting to think of her as a capitalist entrepreneur instead of someone just seeking power in the relationship. Now that I think of it, it’s helpful to put my mind in a certain type of study when analyzing. I might want to attempt to do a purely Marxist or formalist analysis on a work that I don’t fully understand as an exercise in forcing myself to look at a work differently, though doing a Marxist interpretation seems like a daunting task, seeing as I am not someone who thinks in terms of how the economy or government is reflecting in something.
I did find this interesting, though somewhat hard to understand, just because I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard the word “feudal,” today included. Overall, I thought it was a good introduction to Marxist point of view that doesn’t make me want to punch someone.
I’m aware this is rather past the time of the due date for posts, but I’m not one to be solely motivated by grades so I’d like to throw some thoughts out on this past week anyway.
I liked the focus on both the reader and the process of reading in our readings. Eek, can I use a form of reading any more in one sentence? I’ve always found the basic mental process of linguistics to be interesting, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten the chance to study it in class before so that was fun for me. I loved the metonymy/metaphor bit, and it reminded me of the connaitre/savoir conversation of a few weeks ago. These are not directly related terms, but I think they are at the very least comparable.
Studying the reader-response theory helped me solidify my mental picture of the best way to approach the issue of authority in literature. I think very visually, so the way it makes most sense to me is to see authority as a three-sided pyramid, with each base corner being author, text, and reader. Combined, this triangle (the strongest geometric shape) points to a common peak of truth– that the authority is shared, that the most truth can be obtained by understanding each component to have a strong role in the upstanding structure. It is helpful to focus on only one or two sides of the pyramid but you cannot stop there. Putting the pieces together is the only way to have a full grasp of a work.
As far as the Wife of Bath, I simply adore that crazy old woman. Her rambling, tangent-heavy voice is so strong even when she is telling her tale. It is easy for me to forget that the tales in the Canterbury Tales are being told, not solely by Chaucer, but by a character of Chaucer, but with the Wife, her voice is so distinct I do not have that problem. It makes me chuckle to imagine the old woman in the tale lecturing wisely about the moral merit of poverty because I see that as how the Wife wants to, or thinks she is, perceived when she lectures about marriage and sexuality earlier. It’s amusing because she is telling the tale, so she IS capable of successful wisdom, but only indirectly.
In Professor Seaman’s preview of this week, one question seemed to stick out in my mind as being extremely thought-provoking. I think it is intriguing to notice how the Wife of Bath’s prologue concludes in relation to her actual story’s resolution. She asks for permission to commence her story instead of presuming authority to simply begin as she wishes. However, in her tale, the female character is given total authority to do as she pleases when the knight says, “put me in your wise governance” (85).
One must consider that in her history, her husband too gives her free reign, saying she can “do as [she] [wish]” (72). In this case, the two endings are extremely similar and promote the action of giving women freedom. However, in each scenario the discretion for each woman must be given by a man and cannot really be taken by the woman herself unless it is offered first. The Wife of Bath’s tale ends with a peculiar quote that might combat this statement, though: “I pray Jhesu shorte hir lives/That wol not be governed by hir wives” (85). This means that the governance by one’s wife should be seen as preferable and as the most agreeable situation that can lead to a lasting marriage and life.
There has been some discussion so far as to whether or not the Wife of Bath is an admirable female figure to look up to, whether she promotes a feminist way of thinking, or whether the women in her story (herself included) are empowered. Now the first question can be debated depending on what qualities you think are admirable or ‘good,’ but I personally thought that the Wife’s voice was strong and that her stories did bring a sense of empowerment to women. She found a way in which to gain power in a world where women were thought of as their father’s or husband’s possessions. By today’s standards, I realize that most would not regard her ideas about controlling and manipulating men with her sexuality (as she does in her personal life with her first three husbands, and attempted to do with her fourth and fifth) is a far cry from the feminist ideals of equality; however, the tale that the wife tells exemplifies a way in which a woman can gain power without her sexuality or beauty.
She uses her tale to continue this thought process and show that women can have power. Arthur’s queen and her ladies of the court had power over the king and the court when they overturned the decision to have the knight put to death and then had power over the knight by presenting him with his quest. This showed the sovereignty the queen already had over the king. The hag also gained sovereignty over the knight in the end through the authority she had in her speech about nobleness and poverty. The hag didn’t use her sexuality over the knight, but her mind. I believe that this was something the Wife of Bath wished she had herself because then she would have had sovereignty over the only man she truly loved, her fifth husband, since she could not gain power over him through her sexuality.
When examining the Wife of Bath’s prologue and tale, I beg to differ in finding support to take a feminist stance. In general the term feminism refers to the belief that women should have equal rights with men. One of the earliest feminist, Mary Astell, proposes this notion with her text, Some Reflections upon Marriage, in which she advocates equality within the home. If the monarchy shall not exist, then the patriarchy must be removed as well. With the truest form of equality there can appear no paradoxes; however, within The Wife of Bath there seems to exist plenty of contradicting elements. Usually a knight is perceived as noble, but the knight that readers meet in The Wife of Bath’s Tale has failed in our chivalric expectations as he enters onto the scene as a rapist. The Wife of Bath, herself, does not lead a noble life either with her record of five husbands. In my opinion, she nor the woman who marries the knight do not exemplify the “model woman”. I think women who identify themselves as true feminists are strong-willed; they do not compromise or exploit themselves to men, while at the same time still possess class and grace. We do not find this kind of woman in the tale, but instead the traits of manipulation and insecurity resonate throughout the text as they are ill-attributed to women. Apparently, “wommen desire to have sovereynetee as well over her housbond as her love” (lines 1038-1039). But, I think in actuality a woman seeks respect. Manipulation is not equality, but a cheap route to take regardless of gender. As a result, I do not see how such a figure as the Wife of Bath can symbolize that aforementioned concept of the “model woman”. To truly be an empowering text for women, a better figurehead than the Wife of Bath is needed. The conclusion of a “happily ever after for a rapist” is not desirable with the knight getting all the goods of a beautiful and faithful lady. The woman married to the knight does not have freedom, but is actually enslaved. Beauty is not everlasting, and although the knight tells her to decide what she shall be – if he truly loved her he would’ve answered with, “I’ll take you as you are.” Being faithful is admirable, but the allure of beauty is superficial (not that I wouldn’t mind) that ultimately reflects a man’s world as she fulfills his every desire.
I’m writing this as I’m watching updates on the Troy Davis execution, so excuse me if I seem angry.
What I find most interesting about the Wife of Bath is how she is seen as a feminist leader by many. Yes, she is a strong woman in a time where women are practically considered less than human, but does that strength alone make her a feminist? It seems sometimes that the Wife of Bath is the horrible archetype of a feminist. She wants women to have power over men instead of equality. Most feminists would agree that we don’t want to have power over men. I would hope that most feminist wouldn’t agree, in all seriousness, with the abuse that the Wife of Bath doles on her first four husbands. She manipulates men using her sexuality. Does that mean that she is independent, or does that mean that she is simply using one of the powers that she has realized against men for her own benefits?
After she takes such pride in her strength, she does not fight against her fifth husband, who abuses her. She says that she loves her husband, and it seems to be true since she blesses his soul and she stays with him despite the fact that he is penniless and station-less and a generally a abusive jerk. He is just a clerk, and one that doesn’t seem to appreciate or respect women too much, even though he’s being provided for by the Wife of Bath.
That one goddamn book that he keeps reading is just about the most offensive book a husband can read to his wife. How long does it take before the Wife of Bath actually does something against her husband? She’s illiterate, but is able to recite tales from the Books of Wicked Wives. That makes me think that she’s heard these stories many many times before, enough to memorize them. Even the way that she responds is so destructive and abusive. This shouldn’t be what we consider a feminist; this is what we should consider a woman scorned against society, or, as we find out, a woman taught by her mother to manipulate. I really question her motives as to why she fights and tries to abuse her husbands. She seems really hedonistic in general. Is it just because she doesn’t allow a man to abuse and mistreat her that we say that she’s a feminist? How do her actions and motivations support that notion? In my opinion, they don’t seem to. I wouldn’t say she’s an anti-feminist, but this isn’t a case of “either-or”.