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.

ChineseRecept

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.

Chaucer, the Huntington, and the 2020 Rose Bowl Parade

by Candace Barrington

Rose-Parade-Float-1969-1
1969 Rose Bowl Parade. Huntington Library Entry.

Fifty years after it’s 1969 appearance in the Rose Bowl Parade with a giant replica of the Ellesmere Chaucer, the Huntington Library marked its centennial with another flower-studded entry in Pasadena’s 2020 Tournament of Roses Parade. Again, the Ellesmere Chaucer was prominently featured.

 

RoseBowlDrawing
Artist’s rendering of The Huntington’s 2020 entry in the Rose Parade®, designed by Phoenix Decorating Company.

Though I have yet to find a photo of the finished float at the parade, here are three links to articles with images of the float in development: Sierra Madre Weekly, Pasadena Now, and a Princeton University newsletter.

 

 

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.

 

Speaking Internationally: Women’s Literary Culture and the Canon in the Global Middle Ages

DidoThis summer, Bangor University (Bangor, Wales) hosts “Speaking Internationally: Women’s Literary Culture and the Canon in the Global Middle Ages” from 26 to 28 June 2019. Part of the Women’s Literary Culture and the Medieval Canon project, the conference will examine how a more global perspective might enlarge our understanding of medieval European women writers and the literary canon. The topics and proposals will interest anyone in the Global Chaucers orbit. Thanks to Liz Herbert McAvoy and Sue Niebrzydowski for putting together a fabulous slate of panels and speakers.

The conference’s keynote speakers are

  • Jonathan Hsy, The George Washington University,
  • Shazia Jagot, The University of Surrey,
  • Elaine Treharne, Stanford University.

For more about the conference (including the program and registration information), please see their conference website .

 

We hope to see you there!

Medievalists of Color

We want to make certain you know about the important interventions being made on

Maurice.Magdeburg
St. Maurice, Magdeburg Cathedral (13th century)

the behalf of medievalists everywhere by Medievalists of Color (“a professional organization of a diverse group of scholars working across the disciplines in Medieval Studies“).

 

Global Chaucers and Medievalists of Color not only share many members but also uphold the same values. Along with MoC, we acknowledge that “enduring patterns of harassment and racism make academic freedom a mere myth for some” and affirm that “positions of misogyny, ethnonationalism, xenophobia, homo- and transphobia, and other biases are not legitimate positions in any conversation because they make freedom for all within the conversation impossible.” Together, we will work toward making “our old field be the ideal home for those recognitions, one that rejuvenates their force.”

Check out their website for their invaluable Whiteness Workshops, Statements, Resources, and Public Resource blog, including the most recent post by Nahir I. Otaño Gracia, “Lost in Our Field: Racism and the International Congress on Medieval Studies .”

 

First Global Chaucers publication! (special issue of Literature Compass)

Chaucer's Global Compaignye, Literature Compass Volume 15, Issue 6 (June 2018)

We are very pleased to officially announce the publication of the first Global Chaucers essay collection!

“Chaucer’s Global Compaignye,” special issue of Literature Compass 15.6 (June 2018), marks the most recent installment of the Global Circulation Project. The entire special issue (with table of contents and bilingual abstracts for each article, as appropriate) is available on the publisher’s website.

This inaugural Global Chaucers publication features contributions by Alireza Mahdipour (Iran), José Francisco Botelho (Brazil), Raúl Ariza Barile (Mexico), Koichi Kano (Japan), Ebbe Klitgård (Denmark), Carol Robinson (US), Nazmi Ağıl (Turkey), and Patience Agbabi (UK), along with Laura Doyle’s “Foreword: Rechanneling Chaucer, Decentering Circulation” and Michelle R. Warren’s “Afterword: Chaucer and the Future of World Literature.” As you will witness, each article opens up new vistas for our understanding of Chaucer’s reception.

This collection has been a true labor of love by the co-editors Candace Barrington and Jonathan Hsy. We appreciate the efforts by many people (including the contributors, journal editors, and production staff) to bring this convivial community of writers to press.

Although Literature Compass is available through subscription, the editors’ introduction (by Barrington and Hsy) entitled “Chaucer’s Global Orbits and Global Communities” is available as an open access download.

P.S. For two recent publications which appeared after the content for this special issue was completed but very much in the spirit of this project, see Sierra Lomuto’s “Chaucer and Humanitarian Activism” (Public Books) and Pamela Troyer’s “Canterbury Trails” (Once and Future Classroom: Resources for Teaching the Middle Ages).

Following Dante and Chaucer into Hell

DSC_2463
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine before Stripping of the Altars.

Thow oon and two and thre, eterne on lyve,

That regnest ay in thre and two and oon,

Uncircumscript, and al maist circumscrive,

Us from visible and invisible foon

Defende, and to thy mercye everichon,

So make us Jhesus, for thi mercy digne,

For love of mayde and moder thyn benigne. Amen.

(Troilus and Criseyde V.1863-1869)

For the twenty-fifth year, New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine followed Maundy Thursday’s washing of feet and stripping of the altar with a host of poets reading from Dante’s Inferno as well as his Paradiso’s final, hopeful canto. The 2018 gathering, overseen by the cathedral’s current poet-in-residence, Marilyn Nelson (known to Chaucerians for The Cachoeira Tales [2005]), featured 29 poets (including my CCSU colleague, Leslie McGrath), translators, and other Danteazzi successively reading half cantos in the darkened, spare cathedral as Maundy Thursday night turned to Good Friday morning.

The fabulously unfinished cathedral, “chartered as a house of prayer for all people and a unifying center of intellectual light and leadership,” provided the perfect atmospherics. Overwhelmingly large yet gratifyingly peaceful and welcoming, the cathedral transformed everyone there, reducing everyone there to tiny specks and essential parts a larger communion.  The vaulted, elongated space meant each reader’s voice reacted differently to the sanctuary’s acoustics, some distorted and muffled by the reverberations, others ringing crystal clear. In these conditions, I found that the readings allowed—maybe forced—me to turn away from Dante’s underlying theology and politics, to surrender to the verse’s imagery.

Three or four half cantos were read in Italians.  The rest came from wide range of translators, including Dorothy Sayers, Mark Musa, Steve Ellis, Robert Pinsky, Michael Palma, and Mary Jo Bang. A few read their own translators. Others did not announce their source. I would love to compile an accurate list because hearing the lines made me think differently about some of the translations and some of the cantos than reading the lines.

The cantos chosen from the reading include some of the most poignant in the Inferno, where we watch Dante losing his way, encounter Virgil, approach the gates of Hell (a canto read in Italian, so I missed hearing “Abandon All Hope”), witness Francesca and Paolo blowing in the whirlwinds of desire, listen to the forest of suicides, stumble onto his former teacher, interrogate Ugolino, and absorb the horror of treachery.  After the deep darkness ending the Inferno, it was an inspired decision to counter it with the bright light overwhelming Dante at the end of Paradiso.

The event concluded with an organ “meditation” that was anything but quiet and inward. Its sound was massive, insisting on being heard and cancelling out all other thoughts. By this time, early morning had overtaken the night, and I faced a three-hour trip home. I was simultaneously overwhelmed and drained.

The evening made me think about the conditions under which Chaucer first encountered Dante’s Commedia.  Did he read it privately? Or did he hear it read aloud? Was it in a small gathering? Or was a situation akin to the public lectures Boccaccio delivered to Dante’s Florentine admirers, communal, learned, and rapturous? If the latter, then those gathered at St. John the Divine on Maundy Thursday drank from the same cup 650 years later.

 

More Patience….

Agbabi.Vassar

Patience Agbabi’s East Coast speaking tour has an additional date and locale: Monday, 13 November 2017, at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York. If you’re in the vicinity, we highly recommend you make the effort to attend–and bring your students.

Patience never disappoints.

 

A Postcard from the Beneicke’s Takamiya Collection

For a long while I’ve been intrigued by the large concentration of important Chaucerians in Japan.  Japanese scholars present at Anglophone medievalist conferences around the world, and their work appears regularly in monographs, collections, and journals.  No other non-Anglophone country produces more first-rate TakamiyaChaucerians. Where did their passionate interest in medieval European literature (in general) and Chaucer (in particular), originate? A forthcoming article by Koichi Kano traces the somewhat dispiriting publication history of the first Japanese translation of The Canterbury Tales in 1917; bringing Chaucer to a Japanese audience through prose translation was certainly an important step. I have my own ideas about the role played by Lafcadio Hearn, a Greco-American scholar, author, and translator at the end of the nineteenth-century. Perhaps, though, the best explanation for what I’ve observed during my own twenty-five-year career can be explained by the extraordinary influence of Professor Toshiyuki Takamiya.

Over a period of fifty years, Professor Takamiya became one of the preeminent private collectors of Middle English manuscripts. His passion for collecting Western books was sparked when he handled one with its thick pages and sturdy binding, creating a heft noticeably different from the Japanese books he knew growing up in post-war Japan.  This son and grandson of prosperous traders had recently received two degrees (in Economics and in English) from Keio University, and he soon became a knowledgeable scholar of medieval literature. With familial resources and deep knowledge, he transmuted his bibliophilic passion into shrewd manuscript purchases.

Two historical and academic circumstances allowed him to amass his distinctive collection. First, when he began purchasing manuscripts in the 1970s, many landed British families were divesting their book and art holdings in order to pay property taxes.  In this sense, the Takamiya collection’s shape (like that of any other collection) was determined by availability.  Moreover, the restrictions were looser for exporting these items, items that would eventually be covered by the Garvey Clause and prohibited from leaving the U.K. Thus, not only were the manuscripts on the market, but they could be removed from the U.K., a pair of historical circumstances not likely to be repeated.  This means that Takamiya’s 1970s purchases were the necessary route for a non-U.K. institution (such as Yale’s Beinecke Library) to acquire significant manuscripts in the 2010s.

Anyone with the necessary financial ability and bibiographic acumen could have taken advantage of these circumstances and purchased the manuscripts now comprising the Takamiya Collection. One reason Takamiya was able to acquire these manuscripts with little competition can be understood as the consequence of mid-twentieth-century academic fashions. At that time, institutional collections (the competitors who could match his resources) such as the Folger Library, the Huntington Library, and research university libraries were primarily attracted to illuminated deluxe manuscripts, most often Italian humanist and other Latin texts. These collectors passed on the more modest Middle English codices, rolls, and fragments with minimal ornamentation that Takamiya quietly slipped into his library and generously shared with colleagues and students around the world.

His three Canterbury Tales manuscripts, however, take advantage of an academic fashion peculiar to Chaucer Studies. When Takamiya purchased the Devonshire and Delamere manuscripts, codicological studies focused on a handful of essential texts. Chaucerians sought to recreate a text that matched medieval author’s intention by identifying the earliest examples. Two manuscripts, the Ellesmere and the Hengwrt, were identified as the earliest sources and thus the texts that should form the basis of Chaucer scholarship. Once scholars had noted the gaps, textual variants, and idiosyncratic ordering of the tales found in the other manuscripts, Chaucerians generally overlooked these “lesser” manuscripts.  With libraries and museums not interested in them for their aesthetic beauty, and university research libraries not interested in them for their contents, these seemingly prosaic, even debased, manuscripts were available to the young Japanese bibliophile with the foresight to see what others overlooked.

For decades, Takamiya’s medieval library was a resource to scholars, whether they studied in his class at Keio University, made a pilgrimage to Tokyo, or participated in conferences from around the world. His carefully curated collection—filled with texts chosen to satisfy both the collector’s enthusiasms and the pedagogue’s and scholar’s needs—provides an epitome of the period’s extant text. The quality of the Takamiya collection resides in the collector’s drive towards completion, his financial resources, his knowledge of medieval texts, and his intuition about which manuscripts were currently undervalued.

In 2013, the collection’s residency in Tokyo came to an end but not its availability to scholars, for its transfer to Yale’s Beinecke Library ensured a safe and accessible repository.

When the crates of medieval manuscripts began arriving in New Haven from Tokyo, they held of one the most significant acquisitions by a North American library in half a century. As the 143 codices, roles, and fragments were unpacked, cataloged and made ready for their new home in New Haven, Connecticut, the staff noticed that, here and there, Professor Takamiya had inserted used envelopes and business cards, marking both his place and (it turns out) his temporary custodianship of the books.  Beyond the assigned accession numbers prefixed with “Takamiya ms,” nothing else about the books seems to betray the five decades they spent in his care, both in the temperature-controlled library of his Tokyo home and his international travels when he gleefully pulled from his bag a valuable manuscript that formed the cornerstone of his talk’s analysis.

Among the 143 manuscripts in the Takamiya Collection are Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe as well as three containing The Canterbury Tales, including the Delamere Chaucer and the Devonshire Chaucer.  Before acquiring these manuscripts, the Beinecke had no manuscript copy of the Tales; now it has three as well as the Treatise ms, Takamiya ms 9, 22, 24, and 32.  With their travels from England to Japan and now to the U.S., these four manuscripts add a new dimension to the term “Global Chaucers.”

The Beinecke celebrated its acquisition of this transformative collection with Making the English Book, an intimate conference featuring eminent scholars of medieval manuscripts, book collectors associated with Toshi Takamiya, and Professor Takamiya himself. In all ways, the conference reflected Takamiya’s generous spirit, his warm sense of friendship, and his passion for collecting Middle English manuscripts.  I attended the conference not only as a medievalist fascinated by the manuscripts themselves but also as a Chaucerian curious about what it means that such a significant mss collection (with 4 Chaucerian mss) was amassed in Japan: what it tells us about Chaucer Studies in Japan, what it tells us about ourselves, and what it tells us about Chaucer and his works that we might otherwise overlook.

I came closer to some answers. Some Japanese medievalists at the conference see a commonality between European feudalism and Japanese feudalism, and hence Japanese scholars have a natural interest in that European period.  They also credited Japanese interest in Chaucer to the three good translations now available.  They explained the nature of Japanese scholarship, with its intense emphasis on phonology and textual variants, as a function of the way English is taught in Japanese schools; Middle English is part of the teaching of English, since their approach includes the language’s history. They tend toward that approach because, as one scholar wryly admitted, that approach was most likely to receive (grant) funding. Takamiya’s collection, with its wide range of Middle English texts helped to feed those interests.

Repeatedly, the conference presentations reminded us that the provenance of a manuscript is important, reminding how ownership shapes the reception and how reception shapes ownership.  Ownership marks are carefully preserved and noted in all discussions of the manuscripts.  That fact that Prof. Takamiya seems to have left no similar marks recording his possession of this significant collection seems out of step with the delight he and other bibliophiles take in tracing provenance.  His apparent failure to leave his mark in his books reminded me of certain attitudes towards conservation I observed in Japan. At many shrines and pilgrimage routes, “conservation” did not mean “restoration.” Instead, “conservation” meant careful, respectful, and continued use of an object or place, leaving as little trace of one’s presence as possible, neither mourning when use wore away a stone step nor replacing a wooden beam deteriorated by weather.  I see something akin to this in Takamiya’s habits as an academic collector who did not see himself as an owner but as a guardian: he cared for the manuscripts without turning them into museum objects. He used them as a scholar and teacher who left the faintest trace, just a stray envelope or extra business card left behind, waiting for his return. Nevertheless, his name is permanently associated with these manuscripts, if not with owner’s marks on the flyleaf or doodles in the end pages or annotations in the margins, then with their accession number.

Perhaps, though, he had a bit more in common with many of the books’ previous owners because, after confessing that he never inserted the bookplates he had had specially designed for his collection, he whispered that there might be some very small TTs penciled in the gutters.  With this tantalizing clue, we should all keep a watchful eye open for these hidden monograms whenever we open a Takamiya manuscript.