CFP for session Roundtable at Kalamazoo/International Congress on Medieval Studies, May 9-12 2019, Western Michigan University: Father Chaucer and the Critics: The Problems of Chaucerian Biography in the 21st Century
Organisers: Sarah Baechle and Carissa Harris
The 1380 document, enrolled in the Chancery by Cecily Chaumpaigne and releasing Geoffrey Chaucer from all charges “de raptu meo” [relating to my rape], has long been a thorn in the side of Chaucer scholars looking for ways to explain Chaucer’s actions. Chaucer has been imagined to have perpetrated various lesser offenses, including the termination of a love affair, an ill-advised youthful seduction, or an attempt to remedy “the heat of passion or exasperation [in which] he may indeed have raped her” (Howard, Chaucer: His Life, His Work, His World 319). Chaucer’s oeuvre poses similar challenges: scholarship on the Reeve’s Tale seeks ways to understand the clerks John and Aleyn’s actions toward the Miller’s wife and daughter outside the rubric of sexual violence, while the antisemitism of the Prioress’ Tale is varyingly blamed on other figures—The Prioress, Chaucer’s fictional pilgrim self—rather than the author, or even removed from conversation altogether as anachronism (Blurton and Johnson, The Critics and the Prioress 4).
This roundtable seeks to interrogate the ways in which current scholarship responds to ethical difficulties in Chaucer’s life records and in his literature. We invite short five-to-seven-minute talks investigating the areas in which Chaucer scholarship continues to fear to (metaphorically) tread. Panelists might consider new or unexpected biographical details or Chaucerian attitudes which scholars continue to excuse; they can explore the rhetorical strategies that scholarship uses to deflect unsavory interpretations of Chaucer and his life records; or they might read Chaucer’s biographical shortcomings alongside the complexities of his controversial texts. We particularly welcome talks which address the assumptions about Chaucer, the canon, and authorship that attempt to reinscribe the poet as a figure above reproach; talks considering what modern readers imagine to be at stake in calling Chaucer a rapist, a racist, or an anti-Semite; and talks which take intersectional approaches, considering the problems of Chaucerian racism and rape as they inform one another.
In exploring Chaucerian scholarship’s discomfort with the Chaumpaigne release and the Prioress’ Tale’s antisemitism, this panel extends the work of scholars like Susan Morrison, Heather Blurton, and Hannah Johnson. We seek to respond to and advance their efforts to suggest new interventions in Chaucer criticism that accommodate a more complex picture of the poet and his work.