Chaucer & Europe: Biennial London Chaucer Conference, 28-29 June 2019

Screen Shot 2019-07-12 at 2.32.21 PM
World Map by Ranulf Higden, British Library, Royal MS. 14 C.IX, ff.1v-2r.

by Candace Barrington

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

Screen Shot 2019-07-12 at 3.08.29 PM.png
Lydia Zeldenrust. Thank you, David Wallace, for posting this photo on FB.

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

IMG_5514
Patience Agbabi

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

* Thanks to David Wallace for this correction.]

Advertisements

Chaucer y España: historia de una reescritura

 

UNAM Mexico City
UNAM’s mezmerizing Central Library

On Monday, April 22, 2019, Prof. Raúl Ariza-Barile delivered the paper “Chaucer y España: historia de una reescrituraat 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

Alfonsine_Prague
A Latin Alfonsine Tables produced in in early 15th century for use in Prague. It updated the 13th-century Castilian Alfonsine Tables, which translated the 11th-century Arabic Toledan Tables. http://aylinmalcolm.com/astro/items/show/13

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.

The Cachoeira Tales, Marilyn Nelson, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize

by Candace Barrington

On 7 May 2019, the Poetry Foundation announced that Marilyn Nelson had won the 2019 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, one of the most prestigious prizes for poetry in the United States. Marilyn-NelsonIn her verse, Nelson vividly records the lived experiences and (too often) overlooked contributions of Black people in America. Repeatedly, her poetry has made us aware of the beauties and horrors of Black lives as they struggle of make this inhospitable place their home. She captures the sense of displacement and dislocation instigated by the African diaspora in her 2005 collection, The Cachoeira Tales and Other Poems. In this account of her journey to “some place sanctified by the Negro soul” (11), CachoeiraTalesNelson re-imagines the pilgrimage structure of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as a suitable vehicle for challenging the “imperialist grand narrative” (David Wallace, “Chaucer’s New Topographies” SAC 29) and, as Kathleen Forni argues in Chaucer’s Afterlife: Adaptations in Recent Popular Culture (2013), as “stylistic testament to the multivocal inclusivity afforded by the musical versatility of Chaucer’s verse and the conceptual versatility of his structural frame” (111). Worth reading in it’s own right, Nelson The Cachoeira Tales also fits well in a Canterbury Tales classroom as a way to interrogate “white” ownership of the Middle Ages.

Recently, as the poet laureate of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, Nelson has shepherded the Maundy Thursday readings of Dante’s Inferno.

For a sampling of her verse, see the Poetry Foundation’s website.

Afterlives!

NewCompanionThe 2nd edition of Peter Brown’s A New Companion to Chaucer is now available.  Featuring 36 alphabetically arranged chapter topics–Afterlives, Auctorite, Biography, Bodies, Bohemia, Chivalry, Comedy, Emotion, Ethnicity, Flemings, France, Genre, Ideology, Italy, Language, London, Love, Narrative, Other Thought-Worlds, Pagan Survivals, Patronage, Personal Identity, Pilgrimage and Travel, Religion, Richard II, Science, The Senses, Sexuality, Sin, Social Structures, Style, Texts, Things, Translation, Visualizing, and Women–the volume is noticeably heftier than the 2002 edition.

Currently the companion’s first chapter is freely available for download. In a nice piece of irony that tickles our hearts, that chapter is the one Jonathan and I contributed. Though our chapter “Afterlives” deals those things that come last chronologically, its title comes first alphabetically, making real the injunction that “the last will be first.”

Our deepest appreciate to Carolyn Collette for suggesting we take up the topic in her stead, and our thanks to Peter Brown for incorporating us into his excellent lineup of scholars.

New Chaucer Society 2020 Congress: Call for papers

Durham cfp4

by Candace Barrington

Durham University is hosting the New Chaucer Society’s 2020 Congress, and there’s still time to submit paper proposals. The deadline is 20 May 2019.

Global Chaucers is organizing a lightening talk session on the Histories of Chaucer’s non-Anglophone Receptions (session 2). Jonathan and I invite your proposals exploring the histories of Chaucer’s reception beyond the Anglophone reception. Possible topics include the non-Anglophone, multilingual, or cross-cultural histories of textual transmission; translations and editions; Chaucer in the curriculum; and contributions to scholarship.

While you’re at the NCS website, take a look at Jonathan Fruoco’s session on Chaucer in the Non-Anglophone World: Translations and Cultural Appropriations (session 70).
In addition to these two sessions, many of the other sessions invite papers of global interest.

Please note the two-step process for submitting your proposal: first you register online, then you send your abstract to the session organizer(s). 

Many thanks to the program organizers–Elliot Kendall, Robyn Malo, Mary Flannery, Wan-Chuan Kao, Philip Knox, Myra Seaman, Ruth Evans and Tom Goodmann –for the exciting program. The 2020 Congress in Durham promises to match the international breadth of the 2018 Congress in Toronto! Please join us!

 

Chaucer and Notre-Dame de Paris

by Candace Barrington

NotreDame15c
When Geoffrey Chaucer traveled to Paris in the 1370s on diplomatic missions for the English crown, he would have seen the city’s cathedral, Notre-Dame de Paris, situated on the Île de la Cité. Its Gothic renovations complete, the cathedral would have looked much as it does in this 15c miniature. https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b10509064d/f372

Paris does not loom large in Chaucer’s biography.[1] From a cluster of documents (Life-Records 46-61), we know he took the month-long trip from England to Paris (as well as Flanders and Montreuil) multiple times in the 1370s. Part of the ceaseless back-and-forth of merchants, diplomats, soldiers, and pilgrims crossing the channel, Chaucer’s series of trips to France and Flanders were made on behalf of the English crown to negotiate for peace and to broker a marriage between Richard and a French princess. Modern biographies that speculate on Chaucer’s encounters on these trips tend to consider the poets and diplomats he met (or might have met), not what Parisian architecture or music he could have seen or heard.

The paucity of Parisian references in Chaucer’s verse helps contribute to why no scholar has titled an essay “Chaucer in Paris.” Among the Canterbury tales, Paris figures in only The Shipman’s Tale, which three times mentions Paris as where daun John lives and where the merchant borrows money, suggesting that Chaucer knew the city as both a religious and a financial hub, knowledge he could have acquired by its reputation without ever visiting it. More telling evidence of his visits to Paris appears in his description of the House of Fame palace; its row of poets standing on pillars might draw on the royal palace in Paris (HF 1319-1519).[2] The only other cases are interestingly negative: Paris is the source of the sophisticated French that the Prioress does not speak (CT 1.126), and it is the place where Heloise is not the abbess in Jankyn’s Book of Wikked Wyves (CT 3.678).

While Paris is nearly absent in The Canterbury Tales, the city’s cathedral, Notre-Dame de Paris, is completely absent. That absence should not suggest Chaucer was unaware of the legendary cathedral. Though nestled among many other churches sharing the city’s vertical skyline comprising towers, belfries, and high-pitched roofs, the cathedral rose above them all. Its two towers reached over 225 feet—about 16 stories—and were the tallest structures in Paris, making the cathedral visible from throughout the city. As we learn from contemporary travel literature, the cathedral would have been immediately visible to anyone approaching the city, whether from the north or the south. [3] Notre-Dame would not have escaped his notice.

Inside, Chaucer would have marked Notre-Dame’s soaring interior height.  Unlike Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Canterbury Cathedral—three of England’s great churches that emphasized length rather than height—Notre-Dame’s nave vaults rose 108 feet. Its three rose windows would have been in place, each still glowing with its original glass. The original thirteenth-century spire would have still been in place, not to be removed until 1786. He would not have seen, however, the 16 prophets painted on glass beneath the South Rose window; those are Eugène Viollet-le-Duc’s nineteenth-century additions. Nor could he have found there such relics as the Crown of Thorns and part of the True Cross, both in the custody of Sainte Chapelle since the mid-thirteenth century. And he could not have listened to an organ concert; none was yet installed. Nevertheless, despite some different elements, Notre-Dame de Paris would have inspired awe in a fourteenth-century visitor.

If Chaucer had traveled as extensively as his fictional Wife of Bath, he might have heard about the stained-glass windows and “gothic” arches at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, an eleventh-century mosque that was also damaged by fire on 15 April 2019.  Elsewhere in the Levant, he would have witnessed other Muslim and Middle Eastern innovations, such as the twin towers, the ribbed vaulting, and spires—all of which had been incorporated into Notre-Dame de Paris (as well as Europe’s other grand church buildings).

If he could had peered 650 years into the future, Chaucer would not have been surprised by the Holy Week 2019 fire that destroyed the roof of Notre-Dame de Paris. In England, the Canterbury Cathedral received its Gothic look after a 1174 fire required the choir to be rebuilt. In Chaucer’s lifetime, it had been damaged in 1382 by an earthquake. Even today, Canterbury Cathedral’s lead roof is held up by an intricate latticework of wooden beams similar to those that held up Notre-Dame’s roof. These extravagant buildings that took centuries to build have always been and remain vulnerable to destruction, whether by forces natural or those man-made.

Nor would Chaucer have been surprised by the rush of wealthy individuals and global conglomerates pledging to restore the cathedral by promising $1 billion within a week of the fire. We have Erasmus’s story that when he visited Thomas á Becket’s shrine at Canterbury Cathedral in the 1510s, the prior opened, with great theatrical flourish, the box containing Becket’s remains as well as jewels, with each jewel’s monetary value and donating monarch carefully enumerated for the gathered crowd. Attaching one’s name and future to glorious religious foundations has long been the sport of the rich.

Chaucer probably would have been surprised, however, by calls to restore the cathedral to its “original condition.” In the fourteenth century, fires and other calamities were opportunities to upgrade and modernize. In his frequent trips through Canterbury on his continental travels, he would have witnessed how that cathedral was being rebuilt to conform to the more au courant Gothic style, with large portions of the original Romanesque elements removed and replaced. Most likely, his visits to French Gothic cathedrals such as Notre-Dame de Paris would have given him a sense how Canterbury Cathedral would look and feel after its renovations were completed in 1400. Recreating what had already failed might have seemed a curious enterprise to him.

At the same time, Chaucer would have understood our collective grief. He repeatedly returns to images of the walled city of Troy, burned and forever lost, as inciting great sorrow and mourning.[4]  As he well knew, powerful kingdoms, even empires, might be built by those who escape the ashes, yet remembrance of the loss always provokes “tendre wepyng for pitee” (CT 2.292).

 

[1] See, for instance, Marion Turner’s 2019 Chaucer: A European Life.

[2] Derek Pearsall, The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, page 117, citing Laura Kendrick’s 1984 Studies in the Age of Chaucer article.

[3]Stephen G. Nichols, “Paris,” in Europe, A Literary History, edited by David Wallace, 1.22.

[4] Most poignantly, HF 151-211.

David Wallace’s Geoffrey Chaucer: A New Introduction

Candace Barrington

Wallacebook

The April 2019 issue of Speculum includes my review of David Wallace’s Geoffrey Chaucer: A New Introduction (Oxford UP, 2017), a lucid, witty presentation of Chaucer’s life, works, and influence.

Part of an ongoing promotion of Chaucer’s “promiscuous topographies,” A New Introduction continues Wallace’s twofold scholarly enterprise: to show not only that Chaucer’s verse embraces all the world known to educated fourteenth-century Europeans, but also that Chaucer’s subsequent influence has extended beyond the poets of Britain to make an impact on every hemisphere.

Wallace advertises this paradigm shift with his first sentence: “Geoffrey Chaucer is a medieval poet enjoying a global renaissance” (1). And it punctuates my review’s final sentence: the New Introduction‘s major contribution “has been to normalize Chaucer’s status as a global poet” (600).

For those already in the Global Chaucers vortex, David Wallace’s introduction confirms why we find this field of research so rich and exciting. For those who are Global Chaucers curious, Wallace provides the roadmap for following Chaucer’s off-island journeys.