My copy of the beautifully executed translation of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales into Japanese arrived today thanks to Koichi Kano. In addition to new translations of all the tales, the volume includes Ellesmere images of the pilgrims, extensive notes, and an ample bibliography.
I look forward to learning more about the translations, their translators, and their translation strategies very soon.
In celebration of the publication of the first volume of a new edition by Classiques Garnier of Chaucer’s Complete Works translated into French by the general editor and translator Jonathan Fruoco, you are invited to an online launch party.
We sadly note the recent death of Jean “Binta” Breeze, one of Chaucer’s great performing interpreters. Her account of the Wife of Bath’s prologue–“The WIfe of Bath in Brixton Market”–appeared in her 2000 collection, The Arrival of Brighteye and Other Poems and subsequently performed by her on a fabulous video.
In my most recent blog post for the Global Chaucers Project, I promised to talk about how I planned to transform Chaucer back into the original French language that influenced him rather than modernizing everything. And I will get back to that soon, but first I feel the need to say a few words about the process of retranslating Chaucer into French. That is, what does it mean to be not the first but one of many translators who have brought Chaucer’s works to Francophone audiences?
It has not always been easy to find a reliable edition of Chaucer’s work in my native language. I am (obviously) not the first to translate his Middle English, but the existing French editions have made editorial choices that greatly differ from my own vision of how Chaucer could be presented to a Francophone audience. The Canterbury Tales have been translated a few times over the last century for instance, but these attempts have often offered a selection of Tales rather than the whole thing. Some of the translations were in verses, others in prose; some tried to follow Chaucer’s language, others just tried to keep their lines as attuned to modern French conventions as possible. Most were incomplete. None were completely bilingual, with both Chaucer’s Middle English text and the French translation sitting side-by-side. It was just ten years ago that we got our first complete Chaucer in French, thanks to the work of André Crépin and his team. Despite the contributions of this particular edition, translating Chaucer into French still feels like exploring an undiscovered territory.
I want to use this blog posting to show the ways this process of retranslation becomes an essential moment in the history of a work’s reception. When I single-handedly translate the Chaucerian corpus, my retranslation has at its core a paradox absent from the first complete Chaucer into French. Simultaneously, my translation acknowledges the limits of previous translations as a transferential activity, and it contributes to the integration (thanks to the very existence of these successive versions of a work) of the heritage of a foreign language, in this case Middle English, into the receiving language (French). That is, my translation both abandons its predecessors and embraces the linguistic, semantic, and formal legacy they represent. When I started working on this retranslation, I wondered how I ought to deal with this paradox. Should I entirely ignore the work accomplished by former translators, or should I allow the acknowledged voices of my predecessors to appear in my own work? I quickly realized that the particularity of my undertaking was that I am working on my own. If my retranslation were part of a collective effort (such as the one led by Crépin), then it would more naturally participate in the historical chain of translators and their translations. As Yves Chevrel remarks in his Introduction to La Retraduction, such collective tasks seem to reintegrate the translated work into the chain of translations; it recognizes its belonging to a series of translations, to a work in progress whose purpose is to create something closer to the original text than the other translations. It almost stands out in the chain of translations as an academic exercise. Why? Because all members of the team know they are part of a group, of a collective effort. I, on the other hand, am a “lone” translator. Though I of course know my position in the line of Chaucer’s translators, being a lone translator allows me to feel a special connection to the author. I am engaged in a tête-à-tête with an artist whose vision I plan to faithfully reproduce in (an earlier version of) my native language. In a recent interview with Margaret Jull Costa, Veronica Esposito neatly summarizes the lone retranslator’s position:
That’s just what retranslations are about—the arrogance, or maybe the courage, to try and bring a new eye and ear to an author whom we think we know so well. And that’s a great thing about translation: the major texts are so rich that they can sustain the eyes and ears of many, many translators.
So, should I ignore previous translations? Not really. It is because I have access to these attempts that I can continue to adjust our reception of Chaucer (his style, content, and language) in French. He managed to assimilate England’s French heritage, and now the French are trying to digest him back, a rather ironic state of affairs. Anyway, as I keep on translating him, I learn from the successes and stumbles of my predecessors. I follow their leads sometimes, but most of the time I choose my own way. The most important part, as far as I am concerned, is not losing sight of the text, of what Chaucer actually wrote, without surrendering my voice to his genius. As Jean-Yves Masson explains in his paper “Territoire de Babel, Aphorismes, “If the translation respects the original text, it can and must even dialogue with it, face it and oppose it. The dimension of respect does not involve the annihilation of the one respecting his own respect. The translated text is first an offering made to the original text.” What does that mean? Well, even though I try to follow Chaucer as closely as possible and wish to offer some sort of linguistic transfer from Middle English to French via Middle French (I promise I will get back to this point in a later post), I sometimes have to face Chaucer and express what he says in a slightly different way: I have to reorganize some lines to disambiguate meaning or double the length of a sentence to fit a ten- or eight-foot line into its French equivalent. Sometimes I have to confront his twentieth-century editors and change their imposed punctuation (say, turning semicolons into full stops or adding exclamation points) to make the content clearer or dialogues more lively. In the concrete exercise of translation, the translator is systematically confronted with choices, bothered by contradictory imperatives (in my case, turning Chaucer’s poetry in poetical prose) that need to be hierarchized and addressed. That challenge means I must keep the meaning, duplicate the rhythm (if possible), and reproduce the metaphors—all at the same time. As these little assignments pile up as bricks and turn into a labyrinth, I can find my way in it only by following my own voice, remembering all the while that the author’s voice, too, is my guide—and remaining aware that either voice can lead me to an impasse.
 Chaucer, Geoffrey, Les Contes de Canterbury et autres œuvres, trans. André Crépin, et al. Paris: Robert Laffont, 2010.
 Jean-Jacques Blanchot, Florence Bourgne, Guy Bourquin, D.S. Brewer, Hélène Dauby, Juliette Dor, Emmanuel Poulle, and James I. Wimsatt.
 “Introduction”, La Retraduction, ed. Robert Kahn and Catriona Seth. Rouen: Publication des universités de Rouen et du Havre, 2010, p. 15.
 “Si la traduction respecte l’original, elle peut et doit même dialoguer avec lui, lui faire face, et lui tenir tête. La dimension du respect ne comprend pas l’anéantissement de celui qui respecte son propre respect. Le texte traduit est d’abord une offrande faite au texte original.”
J.-Y. Masson, “Territoire de Babel. Aphorismes.”, Corps écrit, 36, 1990, p. 158.
It all started a while back in Toronto, during the last congress of the New Chaucer Society–well before the familiar world ended. Sometimes during the congress, it was mentioned by Ruth Evans how the NCS ought to find ways to get closer to non-Anglophone Chaucerians, and France was mentioned at some point. That had me reacting for obvious reasons, as I had noticed the absence of French medievalists in the last few congresses. I knew the state of Chaucerian studies in France, but I had no idea so few of us actually moved around in international academic events. That is a strange state of affairs, especially for a poet like Chaucer whose writing is marked by internationalism and European culture, but who is at the same time “vraiment nôtre par filiation”, as Émile Legouis wrote one hundred years ago.
Yet, we have to recognize here an unpleasant truth: Chaucer is fading away in the Francophone world and has been doing so for a while. As Frenchified as he was, he had the idea of writing in English; that is a crime the French cannot forgive. Not only because we are rubbish in English (think about John Cleese as a French soldier taunting King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of where we’re at), but because we have gradually stopped showing interest to our medieval past. There are no medievalists available to teach medieval English literature in France because universities have cut down those jobs: the fewer teachers you have in a discipline, the fewer students can learn about it and later on become teachers themselves. As a result, no university is now willing to create a teaching position in this field: correct me if I’m wrong but Sorbonne Université is probably the only one in France offering an introduction to medieval English literature and languages in its optional–but quite popular!–“Histoire de la langue” classes for third-year students. The situation seems just as complicated in other Francophone countries. Mary Flannery, for instance, recently discussed on this blog Chaucer’s appearance in Switzerland’s high-school curricula and explained that he “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.” Indeed, according to my estimation, more than 60% of the Francophone population has never heard of Chaucer, while 92% of them know who Dante is, and 75% know Chrétien de Troyes! Sadly, things are not getting better, and medieval literature as a whole is disappearing. One of the latest reforms of the French educative system has even put the kibosh on the presence of medieval literature in the CAPES Lettres, the competitive examination for the selection of secondary school teacher.
Something must be done. It was accordingly decided in Toronto during a meeting that turned into a dinner to propose a new edition of Chaucer’s poetry in French: the NCS and the Global Chaucers Project would support and encourage the endeavor, and I would be in charge of putting it together. I decided quite early on that the best way to introduce students (in high schools and universities) to Chaucer would be by producing a bilingual edition with a brand-new prose translation done by one single translator. Since no one in their right mind would agree to translate all of Chaucer’s work on their own, I thought I would do it. Mainly because I had a very specific vision of what I wanted to produce–something that might have been impossible to force on my fellow translators. It’s not that I had a clearly defined theory of translation, but I wanted to translate Chaucer in poetical prose, and I had a notion of how my own French could mimic Chaucer’s Middle English. The idea would be to almost transform Chaucer back in the original language that influenced him rather than modernizing everything. I will come back on this soon in a new blog post.
However, as I wanted to (re)introduce Chaucer in French, I tried to stay in touch with the real world: my edition would not only need to be bilingual but also instructive and affordable (otherwise what would be the point?). I was therefore delighted to work with a publisher as respected as Classiques Garnier who instantly accepted my offer of a complete bilingual Chaucer and offered me a contract for as many volumes as necessary. The texts themselves, of course, would not be enough to (re)introduce Chaucer, and I, therefore, commissioned a series of introductions. I would write the general introduction but then ask a dream team of Chaucerians to introduce each poem to a brand-new audience. I’m incredibly proud to present here, for the first time, the outline of this edition and the names of the scholars who accepted my invitation.
Le Livre de la Duchesse : Ardis Butterfield
La demeure de Renommée : David Wallace
Anelida et Arcite : Candace Barrington
Le parlement des oiseaux : Susan Crane
Troilus et Criseyde : Barry Windeatt
Lalégende des dames vertueuses :Rosemarie McGerr
Poésies diverses : Anthony Bale
Les Contes de Canterbury : Helen Cooper
Boece : Tim Machan
Le Traité de l’astrolabe : Yoshiyuki Nakao
Volume 1 will be published in 2021 in Garnier’s “Textes du Moyen Age” series. The other volumes will then follow in the years to come. I would like to thank the New Chaucer Society, Global Chaucers, Classiques Garnier (especially Richard Trachsler) and all the scholars who have contributed, for their support.
I look forward to sharing with you all my reflections on this amazing project in future blog posts!
 Legouis, Émile, Geoffrey Chaucer, Paris, Bloud, 1910, p. v.
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
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).
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)