Chaucer in Swiss Secondary Education

by Mary Flannery

A while back, we asked Mary Flannery (University of Bern) to explore Chaucer’s appearance in Switzerland’s high-school curricula. As she explained in an email, Chaucer “is most often mentioned by name and much more rarely taught before university–my students very often have heard of (or even studied) Chrétien de Troyes in high school, but have often never heard of Chaucer. But I must say that putting this report together has given me a much clearer picture of how unfamiliar Chaucer is to nearly all of my undergraduate students.”

When she asked the English bookstore in Lausanne about the most recent edition of The Canterbury Tales used for teaching high-school students, they kindly contacted Camille Marshall. From her, they learned that Gymnase de la Cité had used Pearson’s simplified edition, English Readers Level 3: The Canterbury Tales (ISBN 9781405862325).

To our colleagues teaching Chaucer in non-Anglophone contexts: what level of familiarity do your students have when they take your university or college courses? Which editions do your secondary schools use?

For more on Mary Flannery’s thoughts about teaching Chaucer in a non-Anglophone context, see her contribution, “Chaucer the Stranger,” to the New Chaucer Society blog.

The campus of the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the University of Lausanne, at the shores of Lake Geneva.

It’s difficult to paint a coherent picture of the extent to which Chaucer is taught at the high school level because the Swiss education system varies from canton to canton. Each canton has its own school requirements, particularly when it comes to language-­‐focused curricula. Several cantons also have both Swiss high schools (e. g. gymnases in Vaud, but colleges in Geneva) and schools that adhere to international baccalaureate curriculum requirements but offer different programmes of instruction in English. Taking Vaud (the canton in which UNIL is situated) as my example, whereas schools may specify in their plans d’études that students studying French will be introduced to literature originating in periods from the Middle Ages to the present day, they tend to leave the specifics of their English courses to the discretion of individual teachers, who may be more or less inclined to introduce their students to medieval English literature. If they happen to offer any teaching on Chaucer, it is always via modern English abridged versions of his works. As a consequence, it is nearly always the case that a Swiss student intending to major in English at university will encounter Chaucer—and Middle English—for the first time in his or her undergraduate studies.

In support of the above, I can offer some very informal/unscientific data drawn from my two mandatory second-­‐year Chaucer courses, which are offered as two choices among several courses covering medieval English literature (all second-­‐year students must take at least one of these courses in order to fulfill the requirements of the English degree). When I asked my 50 second-­‐year students whether they had ever heard of or read Chaucer before coming to UNIL, only four students raised their hands. The first had come across Chaucer’s name during a one-­‐month stay in Canterbury; the second had come across a reference to Chaucer in a local newspaper. The third and fourth had heard either Chaucer’s name or The Canterbury Tales mentioned in passing during a high school class, but that was the extent of their acquaintance with the author.

Horken, Heksen, and the Dutch Wife of Bath

When Jonathan Hsy and I began the Global Chaucers project in 2012, much of our energy was spent turning over rocks and peering into forgotten crevasses to find examples of Chaucer in non-Anglophone contexts and languages. We relied on internet searches and hunches. Like good detectives, we looked for clues that others had overlooked.

Soon, however, colleagues (some we knew, some we didn’t know) began contacting us with leads. We try to report on them as soon as possible, but too often “scouting reports” end up in a dedicated basket I keep next to my desk. That basket is now overflowing, and I have a small break in my calendar allowing me to report on these wonderful Global Chaucers.

This delightful posting comes from Pamela Wolters, a graduate student at University of Groningen. I met Ms Wolters when I was a guest lecturer (via the marvels of Zoom) at Sebastian Sobecki’s graduate course on Medieval Law and Literature at the university. Over a series of emails, she relayed the following story, slightly edited here. –Candace Barrington

A Guest posting by Pamela Wolters

Peter de Wit cartoon on back cover of Jeffrey Wijnberg’s Horken and Heksen.

Back in 2010, at the literary fair Manuscripta in Amsterdam, I was looking for cartoonist Peter de Wit (one of his cartoons of Sigmund is depicted on the back of the book and here), and was hoping to find him (being a fan of his work) during the interview with Jeffrey Wijnberg, since their collaboration went back a long time.

Quite unfamiliar with psychologist and author Jeffrey Wijnberg at that point, I asked a friendly person standing near the door: ‘Is this the room where the interview with Jeffrey Wijnders will take place?’ He affirmed gracefully. Quite soon it turned out that he in fact was Jeffrey Wijnberg and that he, thankfully, never reproached me for mispronouncing his name. It was a very interesting interview, and his book was about to be published (but had yet to be printed).

Horken en Heksen, derogatory terms for, respectively, men and women (but used here in a funny way), focuses on interactions and relationships between men and women. (Wijnberg works as a psychologist in Groningen and offers relationship therapy as well as individual therapy. He is known for his humour and provocative method.) Every chapter in Horken en Heksen starts with ‘Women are always right, and men find this difficult’ (in Dutch).

His answers during the interview strongly reminded me of Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale, and I got a chance to talk to Jeffrey Wijnberg and tell him so afterwards. He seemed immediately interested, but at that point I thought he was just being polite. Then he asked me to email him some quotes from Chaucer’s Tale, which I did. Some time after that, I received a copy of Horken en Heksen with a translation of one of the quotes that I had sent him on one of the first pages of the book, and my name added to it. I’m still very thankful for this experience, and a bit proud that – by a twist of fate – I managed to get a Chaucer quote in somebody else’s book. 

“Dear Pamela, thanks for your literary contribution”
Maar op het laatst, na menig heftig woord,
Kwamen wij samen toch nog tot akkoord.
Hij gaf mij alle teugels in de handen
En dus was ik de baas in huis en landen
Alsook over zijn lippen en zijn handen,
Ik liet hem 't boek onmiddellijk verbranden.
Mijn macht in huis was dra daarop een feit,
'k Had absolute soevereiniteit.
Hij zei:  'Mijn eigen en zo trouwe vrouw,
Doe in je leven wat je altijd wou,
Bewaak alleen jouw eer en ook mijn stand!'
En nadien was er nooit meer trammelant.

--De proloog van de vrouw uit Bath. De Canterbury-verhalen, 
Geoffrey Chaucer. Berijmde vertaling: Ernst van Altena. Amsterdam: 
Ambo, 2004. (p.207/4.6429-6440). Met dank aan Pamela Wolters 
voor het vinden van dit toepasselijke citaat. 
We fille acorded by us selven two.
He yaf me al the bridel in myn hond,
To han the goverance of hous and long,
And of his tonge, and of his hond also;
And made hym brenne his book anon right tho.
And whan that I hadde geten unto me,
By maistrie, al the soveraynetee,
And that he seyde, 'Myn owene trewe wify,
Do as thee lust the terme of al thy lyf;
Keep thyn honour, and keep eek myn estaat'--
After that day we hadden never debaat. (III.812-822)

Alisoun Sings!

Caroline Bergvall continues her exciting and longstanding engagement with Chaucer’s Middle English and tales with her latest publications, Alisoun Sings.

If, like us, you’re a fan of Bergvall’s work, you’ll also want to take note of her project, “Conference of the Birds (Attar).” Though the title might ring a bell, this collaborative project is based on a poem by the medieval Persian poet, Attar of Nishapur. For more on the resonances between Chaucer’s ouevre and Attar’s Mantiq-Ut-Tayr, see Alireza Mahdipour’s article, “The Translator Writes Back,” in Chaucer’s Global Compaignye: Reading The Canterbury Tales in Translation, special issue of the Global Circulation Project at Literatuare Compass 15.6 (2018).

Digital Resources for teaching and research

Looking for online resources for conducting research? Wanting to learn about a new area of Medieval Studies?

For our readers who teach and learn about Chaucer and other medieval literature, we’ve added some useful links to our Resources page, including

Our many thanks to the individuals and organizations making these resources easily available to readers, students, teachers and scholars throughout the world.

Semih Lim’s Turkish translations, Troilus ile Cressida + İyi Kadınlar Efsanesi

by Candace Barrington

We’re pleased to share the news of Semih Lim’s recent Turkish translations of two Chaucerian works: Troilus ile Cressida [Troilus and Criseyde] (2016) and İyi Kadınlar Efsanesi [Legend of Good Women] (2018).

Both published by İmge Kitabevi, they continue the translation projects begun by Nazmi Ağıl and Burçin Erol to make Chaucer’s works available to Turkish readers.

Astonishingly, I was able to purchase T&C online. I’ve yet to find a source of LGW for shipment to the US.

Here’s a selection from Troilus ile Cressida, where the narrator reminds us that “in forme of speche is chaunge,” and that to succeed in love “in sondry ages, / In sondry londes, sondry ben usages” (T&C 2.22-28).

Hem sonra, malumdur, değişir ifade biçimleri
Zamanla ve bugün bize tuhaf gelebilen,
Hatta yapmacık görünen bazı sözleri
Pekâlâ, saygıyla kullanırdı insanlar çok eskiden
Ve böylece, tıpkı bugün olduğu gibi, bunları sarf eden
Erişebilirdi aşkın ödülüne. Yani, değişik çağlar
Ve ülkelerde değişir bizi oraya götüren yollar. (Kitap II.stanza 4, page 75)

Congratulations to Alireza Mahdipour!

by Candace Barrington

Isfahan, Iran

On 5 September, Alireza Mahdipour successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis, “Chaucerian Economies: Reading The Canterbury Tales through New Economic Criticism,” at University of Isfahan, Iran. The topic was a fitting one for Dr. Mahdipour to tackle. Not only has he given us the only Farsi translation of The Canterbury Tales, but Isfahan sits on the Silk Road where it has been a major trading center for centuries. This background certainly shaped why he chose to think about Chaucer’s pilgrims and their tales through an economic lens.

I had hoped to attend his defense via video-conferencing (at 1:30am Eastern Time!), but last-minute technological snafus made my virtual presence impossible. In any case, it’s exciting to have a newly credentialed Chaucerian (with long-standing expertise) in Iran.

Highlighting the Autolithographic Soviet Chaucer

Today’s guest blogger is Grace Skidmore, a graduate student at University of Virginia. In her first Global Chaucers post, Grace provides a sensitive reading of the autolithographs illustrating a late-Soviet edition of Russian Chaucer. As you’ll see, her scholarship draws on the work of another Global Chaucerian, Lian Zhang, whose study of Chinese Chaucers has revealed the deep influences of Soviet literary scholars. In her turn, Grace helps us understand how Chaucer could be translated in an authorized edition that also used its illustrations to forcefully critique the regime.

Don’t forget to clink on the links to Sergey Barkhin’s dramatic illustrations. We think you’ll see that they provide a illuminating contrast to illustrations we find elsewhere in the 1980s. Please share your thoughts with us. –CB

by Grace Skidmore

Illustrations of Global Chaucers have emerged as both independent and supplemental adaptations of his work for centuries across cultures. One version of the Soviet Chaucer that combines translation with illustration is the 1980 edition of Ivan Kashkin and Osip Rumer’s Russian translation of Kenterberijskie rasskazy.[1] As the authoritative Soviet translation from Middle English to modern Russian,[2] Rumer and Kashkin translated the majority of the original Canterbury Tales which were well-received by Russian readers.[3] The 1980 edition features notes by Shakespeare scholar Alexandr Anikst, as well as a series of autolithographs (etchings on charcoal plates) from the artist Sergey Barkhin. Of Chaucer’s original twenty-four tales, only seventeen appear in Kenterberijskie rasskazy, and each of these seventeen tales is illustrated by at least one of Barkhin’s autolithographs. The remaining seven tales were not translated for a Russian audience until 2007, when Tamara Popova’s edition completed the Tales. (See links below to seven of the images available on Barkhin’s website.)

For almost a century, the arm of the USSR’s censorship bureau known as Glavlit stymied Soviet audiences’ contact with foreign literature and restricted these to a few texts, aside from samizdat (or underground publications). In spite of this generalized wariness of outside influence on the communist experiment, Shakespeare and Chaucer studies still experienced a high level of scholarly interest and exposure in Soviet literary studies. Lian Zhang has noted in her work on Chaucer reception in China that the Soviet literary interest relies on the perception that these authors focalized stories through workers and peasants, rather than royalty, bringing forth qualities of a national literature.[4]

Much of the artistic work depicting The Canterbury Tales conforms to realism or romantic styles, throwing Barkhin’s turn to the abstract into sharp relief.[5] Honored as the People’s Artist of Russia in 1998 for outstanding achievements in multiple art forms, Barkhin’s connection to architecture and theater is evident in the drawings’ awareness of light and space, with the moment he highlights seeming at once everywhere and nowhere. He explains his purpose in illustrating is to allow the reader a fixed second in time, and “not insert into it complicated and confused ideas about the entire world.”[6] In spite of this commitment, complicated ideas of the world nevertheless creep into his artistic reimaginings of The Canterbury Tales. Barkhin remediates each tale by capturing the story in a single frame with a focus on place that strips away much of the lightheartedness in Chaucer’s stories by giving voice to the pilgrims’ anxieties projected into events of bloodshed, incest, betrayal, and murder. Each second of each story portrays a deep anxiety in the darkness in the pilgrims’ stories and emphasizes the elements of uncertainty lurking along Pilgrim’s Way, a vision capsulized in the Flemish friends’ death by debauchery in Barkhin’s illustration of The Pardoner’s Tale.  

As products of their own political environment in Soviet culture, the illustrations seem to echo the Soviet ideological reshaping of human life with the illustrations’ shared sense of night and distortions of the land and people. With the USSR of 1980 fraught with economic and political reforms, a new edition of Chaucer was also being published, and Barkhin echoes the uncertainties of the future and a sense of haunted awareness of the past that recalls a disregard for human suffering. Barkhin’s adaptations of Chaucer’s stories translate these experiences into art by tapping into non-traditional modes of depicting medieval England.

In this way, Barkhin’s depictions add an edge to Kashkin and Rumer’s Chaucer translation by taking root in the USSR’s various movements of modernism after decades of censorship. In this way, the 1980 Kenterberijskie rasskazy constructs new artistic contexts for Russian audiences of Chaucer in Russia and beyond, resonating with the conflicted and even violent pasts of medieval England and of the Soviet people.

[i] Geoffrey Chaucer.[Джеффри Чосер] Kenterberijskie rasskazy. [Кентерберийские рассказы] Vstupitelʹnaia stat’ia, sostavlenie, primechaniia А. Abramovicha Aniksta; perevod s angliĭskovo I. Kashkina, O. Borisovich Rumera ; khudozhnik C. Barkhin. [вступительная статья, составление, примечания А. Аникста; перевод с английского И. Кашкина, О. Румера ; художник С. Бархин] 1980.

[ii] Inna Starostina. “Chaucer in Russia: Some Aspects of the History of Chaucer Studies in the Russian Tradition,” The New Chaucer Society, Aug 29, 2017,

[iii] Alec Brown, “Review: Chaucer in Russian by Ivan Kashkin,” The Slavic and East European Review 25, no. 65 (1947): 586.

[iv] Lian Zhang, “Chaucer in China: A History of Reception and Translation,” The Chaucer Review 55, no. 1 (2020): 10.

[v] Chaucer Editions website compiles illustrations through 1920.

[vi] All autolithographs from website “Sergei Barkhin– Illiustratsii.” [Сергей Бархин – Иллюстрации]


The Pardoner’s Tale:

The Wife of Bath’s Tale:

The Physician’s Tale I:

The Physician’s Tale II:

The Nun’s Priest’s Tale I:

The Nun’s Priest’s Tale II:

The Reeve’s Tale:

Lian ZHANG in Chaucer Review

by Candace Barrington

Congratulations to Lian ZHANG on the publication of her essay, “Chaucer in China: A History of Reception and Translation” in Chaucer Review 55.1 (2020), available online through Project Muse.


Here’s the abstract.

Arranged chronologically, this article presents a general picture of Chaucer reception and translation in China, and examines the development of criticism and the interaction of readers with both the original texts and their Chinese translations. By using indicators like university curricula, editions of translations and reprints, criti- cal analyses, adaptations, and popularizations, this study shows that there have been increasing readership in medieval literature and rising admiration for the poet through- out the reception history, with occasional sharp changes. This reception pattern is deter- mined by a combination of factors such as the intrinsic qualities of the texts, readers’ concern over contemporary social issues and their own literary past, and the political and intellectual context of the nation as a whole, as well as of interaction with the outside world.

Updated Update: Zadie Smith’s Wife of Willesden

by Candace Barrington


The premiere of Zadie Smith’s The Wife of Willesden at Kiln Theatre in Kilburn London has been postponed. However, Penguin Books has announced a February 2021 publication date of the play. So far, we’ve only located announcements in Australia and New Zealand.

Brent 2020 has set 10 September 2020 for the premiere of Zadie Smith’s Wife of Willesden. Directed by Indhu Rubasingham and designed by Robert Jones, the play is scheduled to run 10 September – 31 October 2020 at London’s Kiln Theatre.

‘Married five times. Mother. Lover. Aunt. Friend.
She plays many roles round here. And never
Scared to tell the whole of her truth, whether
Or not anyone wants to hear it. Wife
Of Willesden: pissed enough to tell her life
Story to whoever has ears and eyes…’

For ticket information, go to .

Pardoner’s Tale at Oxford’s Creation Theatre

by  Candace Barrington

In late fall 2019, Creation Theatre (Oxford, UK) presented its adaptation of The Pardoner’s Tale to local audiences. Because the company sees the entire city as a

Creation Theater PardT
The Pardoner’s Tale at James Street Tavern, Oxford. Photo from Creation Theatre website.

potential stage, this production was performed in multiple venues, including the Covered Market, Blackwell’s Bookshop, and the James Street Tavern’s beer garden where “spectators, huddled together under blankets and patio heaters.”  In addition to a comic rendition of the Tale itself (as the company’s blog explained), audience members were also given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase “sacred relics.”

Did you see this production? If so, drop us a note and tell us what you thought.


The production was announced as a prelude to developing the entire Canterbury Tales. For more about the company and its mission to tell “classic stories in new ways,” see their website.