Chaucer, Historiador: Chaucer in Post-Peronist Argentina

by JOSEPH STADOLNIK, with introduction by CANDACE BARRINGTON

BsAsBooksToday’s guest blogger is Joe Stadolknik, a graduate student at Yale University. In his first Global Chaucers post, Joe continue his investigation of Chaucer’s presence in Argentine culture and education. We first learned about his  intriguing work in this area when Joe presented in the Global Chaucers Roundtable at the New Chaucer Society Congress in Reykjavik. There, he looked at the unexpected intersection of Jorge Luis Borges, Chaucer, and women’s magazines. Here, he continues by sharing with us how Chaucer was used to introduce students at the University of Buenos Aires to medieval social history.    

We think you will find Joe’s introduction to  José Luis Romero’s post-Peronist appropriation of Chaucer another fascinating example of what Global Chaucers have to offer. Please share your thoughts with us. –CB

CHAUCER, HISTORIADOR

Chaucer’s General Prologue was required reading for students at the University of Buenos Aires in the sixties, but not as prologue to reading the Canterbury Tales. Rather, students of social history read a Spanish prose translation as an entrée into the study of medieval life. The Prologue was printed as the first installment in a series of texts that wended its way circuitously from Chaucer (#1) through printings of Matthew of Paris (#30), the Play of St. Nicholas (39), Trotsky (51), and an account of the 1378 revolt of Florentine wool carders (54). The course in social history at the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters appears to have nominated Geoffrey the pilgrim, speaking in Spanish, to introduce Argentine university students to the structure and substance of medieval society.

The booklet’s construction and design was thoroughly practical. The paper is thin, and the text rendered in a plain typewriter typeface. A title page credits the prodigious postwar Spanish translator Juan G. de Luaces for the rendering out of Middle English. Beyond that, this ad hoc printing provides little in the way of context for the Prologue. There is no description of the Canterbury Tales themselves, and no biographical information about their author. Its readers were left to make what sense they could of certain details Geoffrey provides about the pilgrims (the Prioress’s Stratford-atte-Bowe accent in French, or the pardoner’s affiliation with St. Mary Roncesvalles) without the aid of explanatory notes.

ChaucerHistoriador1 The pictured copy was printed in 1966, but it appears that printing began as early as 1961. This is the earliest date I could find for any booklets in the series “Textos Para La Enseñaza de la Historia: Historia Social” [Texts for Teaching History: Social History]. Presiding over the facultad throughout that period was the prolific and wide-ranging Argentine historian José Luis Romero. His appointment, first as rector of UBA from 1955-6 and then as dean of the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras from 1963-65, coincided with the depoliticization of the university after the fall of Juan Perón in 1955. This process of desperonización replaced Peronist favorites with a more qualified professoriate (though not an apolitical one, as Romero was a committed Socialist). Romero had trained as a classical historian but wrote extensively on medieval economic history, borrowing methods from the Annales school. At UBA he would found the “cátedra de Historia Social General” in 1957 [the Seminar for General Social History]. By 1959, the department was requiring all of its students to take a course in social history.

ChaucerHistoriador2 Chaucer’s place in Romero’s telling of Western history, then, might explain what exactly the Prologue was doing on the history syllabus at UBA. In two surveys of the medieval period, La Edad Media (1949) and La cultura occidental (1953), Romero marks Chaucer out as a man of his historical moment, keeping company with Boccaccio and Juan Ruiz. Chaucer can’t help but adopt a “new attitude” toward nature, sensuality, and the pleasure of life, in spite of the Church’s best efforts (La cultura occidental, p. 35). He laughs at the imperfections of the clergy with his readers; he speaks for a protohumanistic ‘radical optimism’ that contended with the ‘anguished pathos’ of the danse macabre and Flemish mystics (La Edad Media, 183 and 189). Chaucer figures in Romero’s history as one more witness to, and proof of, the cultural transformations of the late Middle Ages, set in motion by a crisis of socioeconomic order as feudalism made way for commodity capitalism (Edad Media, 72-76; Romero would write two later books on the late-medieval crisis of feudalism). The course reached for the Spanish translation of Chaucer’s Prologue first as a social-historical document, but Dean Romero had also seen in Chaucer a modern bent of mind. Chaucer’s pilgrims seem to have made their way into the classroom at the University of Buenos Aires as diverse glimpses into life during the long autumn of the Middle Ages, realized by a man of that season.

Further Reading

Buchinder, Pablo. Historia de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad de Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires: Eudeba, 1997.

Peter Burke. “Romero, Historiador de Mentalidades.” In José Luis Romero: Vida historica, ciudad y cultura. Eds. José Emilio Burucúa, Fernando Devoto, and Adrián Gorelik. San Martín: UNSAM Edita, 2013: 97-108.

Fernando Devoto and Nora Pagano. Historia de la historiografía argentina. Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 2009. See especially pp. 339-77.

José Luis Romero. La Edad Media. Mexico City: Fonde de Cultura Económica, 1949.

—. La cultura occidental. Buenos Aires: Editorial Columba, 1953.

One thought on “Chaucer, Historiador: Chaucer in Post-Peronist Argentina

  1. Lo, behold! So ignorant I feel now! I humbly represent ca. 200M Brazilian Portuguese readers, yet I know little if nothing of Chaucer! Blame my lacking of curiosity while attending UCSB in the 70’s. My teachers did not excite me a bit, my colleagues rather insolente worms, local women engraced me a lot and I spent my time wondering of them all, walking on the I. V. Beach, finding treasures returned by the sea. That’s that. Too late to recant.

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