Without the enthusiastic help and support of Chaucer’s many living translators, the Global Chaucers project would have had a much narrower scope. From the beginning, the practical insights and experiences of these translators have tempered and shaped our theoretical perspectives.
One of the first translators to share his thoughts about translating the The Canterbury Tales was John Boje of Pretoria, South Africa. Boje began translating the Tales when he was still a schoolboy. In 1989, he published a volume of selected tales–‘n Keur Uit Die Pelgrimsverhale van Geoffrey Chaucer–which made it past the government’s censors and received a surprising number of accolades. Over the next 25 years, he continued to translate until he had completed all the tales. His translation project–worked on during a sixty-year period spanning the time during and after the apartheid regime–provided an unusual device for commenting on the upheaval and injustices around him.
During 2013 and 2014, we had a lively exchange, wherein my “simple” questions (such as “How did you handle metaphors?”) prompted lengthy, lively and thoroughly thoughtful responses from him. Seeing one of his notes in my inbox was always a treat. We learned a great deal from him about translation as well as the peculiar situation of translating from Middle English to Afrikaans, a modern language not too distantly related to Chaucer’s language yet fraught in its relationship to the other languages of South Africa.
Aspects of Boje’s translation and his astute perceptions have made their way into several Global Chaucers essays, articles, and book chapters that Jonathan Hsy and I have written. But until now, few of Boje’s own reflections have made their way into print. This week, I learned that his University of Pretoria doctoral thesis, “‘Save our tonges difference’: Reflections on translating Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales into Afrikaans,” has been accepted by the examining faculty. Finally, Boje’s engaging account of his translation is ready to share.
I read a near-complete draft last June and was impressed by his exploration and assessment (using an auto-ethnographic approach) of the translator’s role and the challenges faced when the “stock value” of the source text seems to be declining. And though he had not made much recourse to translation theory while translating, his thesis demonstrates his trenchant understanding of the various theoretical paradigms and how they allow him to view his project from those perspectives. I was delighted to see that his examiners concurred. Congratulations, John!
The Guardian reported on 12 November 2019 that Zadie Smith (author of White Teeth among other notable novels set in contemporary London) is adapting The Wife of Bath’s Tale (but I suspect they mean her Prologue) for the borough of Brent’s 2020 program marking it as a “borough of culture.” Titled The Wife of Willesden, this first play by Smith will be a monologue performed at Kiln Theatre. The article reported that, per Smith, the piece will “raise questions about the place of women in society and aim to capture the voice of Brent.”
By adapting the Wife as a vehicle for a distinctively localized and contemporary voice, Smith is not alone. Jean “Binta” Breeze’s “The Wife of Bath in Brixton Market” and Patience Agbabi’s “The Wife of Bafa” have adapted the Wife’s monologue for voices associated with the African Diaspora. (See Jonathan Hsy’s posting where he describes how he incorporates their work into his classroom teaching.) In Brazil, Francisco Botelho has adapted his Brazilian-Portuguese translation of The Wife of Bath’s Prologue into a one-woman dramatic monologue.
We’ll keep an eye on updated information on Smith’s Chaucerian play. And for those wanting to see a performance, we will post dates and ticket information as soon as they appear.
We have news of a job posting that will interest Global Chaucerians. The English Department at Yale University seeks to appoint an outstanding scholar at the rank of assistant professor specializing in medieval literature. Scholarship may focus on any area of Medieval Studies, with particular attention to work that expands the reach and engagement of the field.
They are primarily interested in scholars who specialize in later Middle English, though applications from scholars of early Middle English are also welcome. They seek applicants with research interests that might include (though are not confined to) the following areas: the theory and history of sexuality; ecocriticism and environmental studies; the global Middle Ages; digital humanities and media studies; contemporary and historical approaches to literary criticism and theory; Latin intellectual culture; Piers Plowman; manuscript studies; and/or topics addressing diversity in race/ethnicity, gender, and other categories of identity.
The following story by Kendall Teare appeared on the Yale News website, 29 August 2019.
This year at Yale, two new literature classes will push the boundaries — cultural, linguistic, and geographic — of what we talk about when we talk about medieval literature. The aims of the classes are complementary but distinct: One will push against the strict definition of “English literature” in the Middle Ages, while the other will challenge the notion of borders between both the societies and the literary genres of the medieval world.
The first, “Multicultural Middle Ages,” a fall-term lecture course taught by Ardis Butterfield, the Marie Borroff Professor of English and professor of French and of music, is described in the Yale course catalog as an “introduction to medieval English literature and culture in its European and Mediterranean context, before it became monolingual, canonical, or author-bound.” The second, “Medieval World Literature, Genres and Geographies,” a spring-term seminar taught by Samuel Hodgkin, assistant professor of comparative literature specializing in Persian and Turkic literatures, is a “comparative survey of classic texts from around the medieval world.”
The 2019 Biennial London Chaucer Conference was held 28-29 June at St Bride’s Foundation, not far from where Wynken de Worde established his Fleet Street press (soon after printing his 1498 The Canterbury Tales in Westminster). The conference’s announced theme, Chaucer and Europe, only hints at the deeply international nature of the presentations, as I think the following summaries of select papers suggest.
David Wallace opened the proceedings with his plenary “Italy Made Me: Chaucer and Europe,” reminding us that the essential anti-Mediterranism at the foundation of Chaucer Studies (see for example Lewis’s “What Chaucer Really Did to Il Filostrato”), with its hard line dividing northern “Germanic” Europe from southern “Latin” Europe, was a useful fiction that does not correlate with the fourteenth-century Europe Chaucer knew.
In the “Chaucer and Boccaccio” panel, Leah Schwabel’s “‘Oon seyde that Omer made lyes’: Chaucer’s Intertexual Poetics” noted that Chaucer’s failure to identify Boccaccio as his source complied with classical translation practices that obscured and distorted sources; therefore, we should reconsider how we identify intertexual resources and look beyond echoes to modes of borrowing. During the Q&A, Kenneth Clarke reminded us that there is only one extant fourteenth-century manuscript of the Teseide, and that one is Boccaccio’s autograph; no one at the time seems to have read more Boccaccio than Chaucer [correction 7/13/2019*]. Clarke’s own presentation, “Medieval Humanism and Vernacular Poetics: Chaucer, Ovid, And Ceffi,” established that the gamma iteration of Fillipo Ceffi’s Italian translation of Ovid’s Heroides was one of the sources for the Legend of a Good Women, further complicating the network of European texts and books that Chaucer responded to.
In the Chaucer and Machaut panel, Juliette Vuille’s “French Kissing and Ménage à Trois: Machaudian influences in Chaucer’s metapoetic Pandarus” considered what Chaucer learned from Machaut regarding poetic voice and the process of invention. David Levinsky’s “European Peripheries: Machaut and the Monk’s Tale” looks to the tale’s four “modern instances” to consider the limits of exemplary and historical writing.
The Global Chaucers round table began with Ana Sáez-Hildago’s presentation on the earliest Spanish translation of Chaucer: a 1914 children’s book based on the British Tales from Chaucer. Preceding by seven years a full translation of The Canterbury Tales into Spanish, the small volume went through five printings across five regimes (1914-1956). Candace Barrington introduced some less-obvious Chaucerian influences in Tomáš Zmeškal’s 2008 Milostny dopis klínovym písmem (Love Letter in Cuneiform, translated by Alex Zucker in 2016), whose narrator was shaped by Chaucerian “misdirection.” Lydia Zeldenrust introduced us to an in-process Frisian translation of
the Tales. Because Frisian is a marginal language seldom written and with a small written literary tradition, Klaas Bruinsma’s project is to create a foundation of translated works on which to elevate a Frisian literary tradition. (Sounds very Chaucerian!) David Wallace kicked off the room discussion with an insightful response that asked us to consider what this reception history reveals about our own readings of the Tales.
The first day wrapped up with Laura Kendrick’s “Chaucer and Deschamps.”
The conference’s second day opened with a fascinating round table discussing the recently published Middle English Travel: A Critical Anthology, edited by Anthony Bale and Sebastian Sobecki. Designed for undergraduate use, the volume includes essays on travel-related topics, an anthology of medieval travel texts, and contextualizing material (such as maps and charts). Together, the entries help reveal the hitherto underestimated capabilities of these travel writers.
In the following session entitled “Senses and Emotions,” Eleanor Myerson’s “Mamlūk Spices and Medieval Digestion” stood out for its identification of connections between Chaucer’s family and the spice trade, connections which help elucidate his textual references to the remedial properties of spices.
After lunch, Patience Agbabi framed her readings from Telling Tales and The Refugee
Tales with a discussion of the importance of both celebrating verse as well as acknowledging storytelling’s therapeutic effect as a validator of traumatic experiences.
In one of the two final concurrent sessions, “European Afterlives,” Lotte Reinbold’s “A Diluted Drink: Dreaming Troilus and Criseyde” examined how Kynaston’s 1635 Latin translation removes ambiguity in Troilus’ dream of the eagle removing his heart, thereby rendering the text more tragic and suitable to his audience’s tastes. On the same panel, Sarah Salih returned to The Refugee Tales, which indirectly argue that we should be more like our medieval predecessors, making the collection an outlier in the work that the medieval does in the present day. The Refugee Tales is able to make this argument by reimagining the medieval past as a tolerant, multicultural one we’d like to emulate. As Salih makes clear, this sort of recreation doesn’t need to be condemned, but it does need to be correctly contextualized.
Marion Turner closed the conference with “Chaucer’s European Life.” Chaucer’s diplomatic journeys would have given him a close-up view of more tolerant, multicultural societies such as Naverre. And his bureaucratic jobs in London would have shown him how tightly connected English politics and economics were tied to those on the continent.
Many thanks to Alastair Bennett and Hetta Howes for putting together an engaging conference that examined Chaucer from a more European perspective. It was a fabulous conference!
[These summaries are from my jet-lagged notetaking at the conference. If I have misrepresented anything, please contact me. I will make the necessary corrections or clarifications.–CB
In a 3 June 2019 article for The Irish Times, Marion Turner reminds us that
Geoffrey Chaucer, often termed the father of English literature, began his career in an Irish household. And, while Chaucer had to work hard to establish English as a literary language in a context in which French and Latin were the prestigious tongues, his employer, Lionel, governor of Ireland, implemented the Statutes of Kilkenny, laws that established a linguistic hierarchy in Ireland – with English very much on top.
On Monday, April 22, 2019, Prof. Raúl Ariza-Barile delivered the paper “Chaucer y España: historia de una reescritura” at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City. Raúl’s paper is part of a growing, valuable, and relatively recent scholarly trend investigating the Spanish influence and contexts in Chaucer’s work. Critics studying Spanish Chaucer have focused on the author’s well-known mission to Navarre and the subsequent literary response in the Monk’s Tale via the brief segment on King Pedro I. Raúl’s paper mentioned this important reference, but argues, in particular, that Chaucer’s (untold) Spanish history might have begun earlier, with the translation and dissemination of scientific texts in Toledo in the twelfth century.
After providing the audience with an historicized overview of the extant scholarship on Chaucer and/in Spain, Raúl suggested that astronomy should be a driving, central aspect when scholars try to reconstruct Chaucer’s Spanish puzzle. A number of Chaucer’s references to astronomy in The Canterbury Tales, for instance, reveal knowledge of texts translated or rewritten in Spain, such as the two versions of the Toledo tables which Chaucer calls “tables Tolletanes” (The Franklin’s Tale, V.1273). Of perhaps greatest
importance, however, is the textual history contained within A Treatise on the Astrolabe, which Chaucer could not have composed without the existence of treatises originating in Spain. Despite these possible links, Raúl’s talk reminded scholars to proceed cautiously: after all, unearthing the Spanish influence in Chaucer amounts, in many ways, to a work of literary archaeology, simply because Chaucer barely credits Spanish authors or translators in his work. (An exception is his mention of the Toledan astronomer Arzakel, “Arsechieles,” in his Astrolabe 2.45.2)
Raúl concluded his talk by saying that Spain must feature more prominently in Chaucer’s European puzzle, and although we do have excellent (and recent) scholarship that documents Chaucer’s stay in Spain (such as Marion Turner’s Chaucer: A European Life), the time has come for Spanish astronomy to emerge more prominently in this discussion.