Here’s a story of international sleuthing and collaboration uniting scholars and librarians across the US and in China.
For the past three months, Jonathan and I have been corresponding with Lian Zhang (张炼), a PhD student in the Foreign Studies College of the Hunan Normal University (Changsha, Hunan) in the People’s Republic of China. Lian is researching Chaucer’s reception in China. She has uncovered several instances of Chinese Chaucers previously unknown to us. We have been able to help her work by tracking down the sources used by the translators. Most recently, she described finding a set of seven translations published by different translators in varying combinations in 1913, 1924, and 1935. Because the three provided very rudimentary versions of the seven tales, our Chinese friend suspected they all used the same modern English source. We suggested several editions for children, including Charles Cowden Clarke’s early-nineteenth-century edition designed for children, Tales from Chaucer in Prose.
None of these were right.
Then she sent us the titles of the seven tales:
“The Patience of Griselda”
“The Fox Repaid in His Own Coin”
“The Strange Adventures of a Princess”
“The Men Who Went to Kill Death”
“The Romance of the Lady Emelye”
“The Knight and the Ugly Old Woman”
“The Dead Boy Who Sang a Hymn”.
The unusual title for The Nun’s Priest’s Tale stood out, so I tried googling it. Up popped up a guide to the Grolier’s The Children’s Encyclopedia. A bit more digging around revealed that the tales were retold by John Alexander Hammerton and published in Arthur Mee’s The Children’s Encyclopedia. Published in 1908 and widely distributed, the encyclopedia included these 7 tales from Chaucer.
Though the encyclopedia has not been digitized, I was able to determine that the Special Collections and Rare Book Department of Dwight B. Waldo Library at Western Michigan University had a copy. And because I was headed to WMU the next day for the International Congress of Medieval Studies–Kzoo–I arranged to have a peek at the volume.
Sure enough, the tales were there, and the library staff email photos of the pages to China.
Meanwhile, Lian had located the Chinese translation of The Children’s Encyclopedia. She reported that “Now I found out that the WHOLE book [of] Children’s Encyclopedia by Arthur Mee was probably translated into Chinese in 1924, and the title of the translation is 少年百科丛书. The part of “The Story of Famous Books” by John Alexander Hammerton in the Encyclopedia was translated as 欧美名著节本 by Wang Changmo(王昌漠) et al. The seven tales were included in 欧美名著节本.”
So it appears that Chaucer first made his way into China via a simplified version prepared for children.
If you’ve visited recently, you may have noticed a few changes to the Global Chaucers website. We’re trying out a new look at the moment, but all the web content remains the same. The master list of modern Chaucer translations and adaptations (last updated in February 2015) has just now been updated with the addition of a hundred new items.
Newly identified items have been added for the following countries/languages:
Czech Republic/Czech [incl. former Czechoslovakia]
United Kingdom: England/English
United Kingdom: Scotland/Scots
As I sit in my office this morning writing this blog post, the Pope is addressing a joint session of the US Congress on the other side of town (follow the live-streaming of the speech here). After concluding this visit, the Pope will continue on a busy itinerary through Philadelphia and New York.
To mark this occasion, check out Caroline Bergvall’s Chaucerian/BBC mashup about a previous (2006) papal visit: “The Summer Tale (Deus Hic, 1).” Both the text and a voice recording can be accessed at PennSound.
(For more information on the papal visit and DC-area sites relevant for papal history and Franciscan culture, see my blog post at In The Middle.)
Other topical items of interest:
A blog posting about medievalist responses to the global refugee crisis, with a nod to Chaucer pedagogy (with a passing reference to Bergvall’s work Drift, which evocatively refracts the current refugee crisis by way of the Old English poem The Seafarer).
Chaucer biography is much in the news these days! A few recent items of note:
Candace Barrington has just published an attentive review of Paul Strohm’s new biography of Chaucer, Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury (New York: Viking, 2014). Read the review in the open-access journal The Medieval Review.
In the most recent issue of The London Review of Books (27 August 2015), Ardis Butterfield notes the current flurry of interest in the muck and olfactory sensorium of medieval London, and she reflects on the unflattering portrayal of Chaucer that emerges through Bruce Holsinger’s vivid fictional fiction about John Gower. [For more on the complications of voicing medieval poets and creating a “soundscapes” for narrative, read (or listen to!) this March 2014 interview between Holsinger and audiobook narrator Simon Vance in The Slate Book Review.]
Butterfield’s essay in The London Review of Books ponders some of the difficulties of writing in the genre of biography. How does a writer transform a historical archive into a life story?
Read Butterfield’s “Diary: Who Was Chaucer?” at the LRB website; if you can’t access the full essay there, try this link (provided by via Rachel Kennedy on twitter).
Global Chaucers is sponsoring another roundtable at the next New Chaucer Society Congress. Titled “Translating Global Chaucers,” the roundtable will continues the Global Chaucers conversation begun at the 2014 Congress. The focus will be on translations of Chaucerian texts into languages other than standard Present Day English. Participants include translators, scholars, and teachers outside the Anglophone inner circle (UK, US, Canada, Australia, and NZ). Their presentations consider the ways translations
reflect the particular linguistic, cultural, or social context in which they appeared;
reveal understandings of Chaucer’s texts unavailable to an Anglophone reader; and
take advantage of verse or prose forms (or other stylistic conventions) available in the receiving literary culture but not in English.
The five participants are
Stephanie Downes, University of Melbourne, Australia, “Vilains mots! Nineteenth-Century French Translations of The Canterbury Tales”
Marcin Ciura, Independent Translator, “In the Margins of the Polish Parlement of Foules”
Züleyha Çetiner-Ōktem, Ege University, “Reinventing Chaucer’s Sir Thopas from a Turkish Perspective”
Denise Ming-yueh Wang, National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan, “When Global Chaucers Go Local: Reading Chaucer in Taiwan”
José Francisco Botelho, Independent Translator, “Contos da Cantuária: Chaucer in Brazil”
We’re super excited about the international panel, with its mix of translators and scholars!
We’re excited to announce that our article, “Global Chaucers: Reflections on Collaboration and Digital Futures,” appears in the latest issue of Accessus. In it, we consider what Global Chaucers can teach us about Chaucer, digital humanities, medievalism, and collaboration. A lot has happened with GlCh in less that three years, and we value getting to share what we’ve learned from the thrilling experience. Our deepest gratitude to Eve Salisbury and Georgiana Donavin, Accessus‘s editors.