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Marion Turner

Autor(a) de Chaucer: A European Life

5+ Works 245 Membros 6 Críticas

Obras por Marion Turner

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The Cambridge Companion to The Canterbury Tales (2020) — Contribuidor — 6 exemplares


Conhecimento Comum




In The Wife of Bath, Marion Turner sets out to write a biography of a fictional person: Alison, the eponymous character from the Canterbury Tales who's been entertaining readers with her independent forthrightness since the fourteenth century. In the first half of the book, Turner looks at how women like the active Alison were far from an improbability in the Middle Ages; in the second half, she looks at the Wife's afterlife as she's been referenced and reworked by later writers.

There are some interesting points made here, and I can't say that Turner doesn't know her Chaucer. (I'd recommend having at least a passing familiarity with Canterbury Tales before picking this up, because she does assume that you've read it, too.) But she's sometimes on shakier ground when it comes to her historical analysis. For much of her discussion of the European Marriage Pattern (a slightly more contentious academic argument than she presents it here), the endnotes show that she's relying largely on one book which is about the Netherlands rather than England. There's no excuse for anyone in the 2020s to still be making the mistake of thinking that "Trotula" is the name of a woman rather than of a text.

Reading this was also a reminder for me of why I'm a historian and not a lit scholar. A number of the specific connections she argues for here between texts and authors struck me as tenuous—the Shakespeare one in particular. That said, I did find the last part of the book, where she looks at how Black women writers in particular have drawn on the figure of the Wife of Bath, to be very interesting.

While still written in an academic mode, I think this should be accessible for most general readers—it's dry, but doesn't have much jargon in it.
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siriaeve | 1 outra crítica | Oct 8, 2023 |
Characters in the Canterbury Tales are not meant to be real. The Knight has traveled too far and is too duty-bound. The Parson is too devoted to his moral viewpoint. The Miller is too much the rogue. The Pardoner is too much... well, too much something, even if it's not clear what.

Is Alison, the Wife of Bath, an exception? This book can't prove that Chaucer meant her to be like a real person -- but certainly it proves that a lot of people since Chaucer's time have thought that she is.

Most of those more recent writers, sadly, have been men trying to condemn what Alison was: A woman of independent means who liked sex and liked having her way. Given that those last two items apply to, oh, at least 100% of the men who have criticized her, I think the Wife has a lot more legs to stand on than her critics. The roll of authors who have toned her down (Dryden), tried to get into arguments with her (the scribe of MS. British Library Egerton 2864, who scribbled glosses all over her words as if showing his bigotry somehow made her any less effective a character), rewrote her (Pasolini's movie version of the Tales) is long and depressing. Until recent years, it seems as if only one author (the writer of the repeatedly-suppressed broadside ballad "The Wanton Wife of Bath," which lets Alison into heaven) had any sympathy for her. It's really depressing -- at least for someone who, like author Turner and like me, thinks the Wife is actually someone interesting and worthy in her own right. You don't have to agree with the Wife entirely to understand that she was rebelling against a system that was far worse than the system she wanted to replace it with.

Turner's book has a somewhat chronological pattern: First, an examination of Chaucer's own time, in which women -- although still denied most rights -- were able to exercise an independence largely denied them both before and after. Alison's existence as a woman of independent means was most possible from the time of the Black Death until the coming of the Tudors, and Turner shows how this was so. Then comes the Period of Condemnation, when all those misogynist men try to have their revenge on her (without much luck, since Alison is still around and who knows the names of any of those who condemned her?). Then a sort of era of redemption, as feminists have discovered in Alison a fourteenth century forerunner.

This, sadly, strikes me as a depressingly mixed bag. I think Turner could have done more with Chaucer's feminism -- yes, by today's standards, he was arguably a bit prejudiced against women, but by fourteenth century standards, he might as well have been Gloria Steinem. If Chaucer had lived today, I think he would be a genuine no-reservations-at-all feminist.

Too, I think Turner tries much, much too hard to link Chaucer to Shakespeare. Of course Shakespeare knew Chaucer 's writings-- he based two plays (Troilus and Cressida and The Two Noble Kinsmen) directly on Chaucer stories. Chaucer was probably Shakespeare's most important literary source (as opposed to pseudo-historical sources like Holinshed). But Shakespeare did not really use Chaucer well -- both Shakespeare plays based on Chaucer are clearly inferior to their sources, and can you think of a single other instance where Shakespeare is inferior to his source?

Also, while it is perhaps relevant that moderns are trying to bring the Wife of Bath into our world, I just don't think it works. Alison is a medieval woman, and there is nothing wrong with that. A modern woman is not -- cannot be -- the Wife of Bath. She might be inspired by the Wife, she might admire the Wife, but she is not the Wife. Maybe I'm prejudiced in my own way, but I'd rather hear Alison tell her own story than hear about these modern retellings. This is a good work of documenting Alison's history. But, in the end, I don't feel as if I know Alison any better. And it is Alison I want to know, not her modern reflections.
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waltzmn | 1 outra crítica | Mar 12, 2023 |
9. Chaucer: A European Life by Marion Turner
published: 2019
format: 508-page paperback
acquired: 2020 read: Jan 16 – Feb 6 time reading: 30:30, 3.6 mpp
rating: 3
genre/style: biography theme: Chaucer
locations: Chaucer (~1342 – 1400) lived mostly in London and later in Kent, near London, but traveled extensively in England, France, Spain, Italy, and elsewhere.
about the author: born 1976. A Professor of English Literature at Jesus College, Oxford.

A book full of details of the era, that ebbs and flows on these details. I learned a lot about the times, about the known details of Chaucer's life, about Edward III, and a surprising rich amount about Richard II, who became king in 1377 at age ten, and ruled until he was deposed in 1399. His reign was characterized by famous and very powerful parliaments, lots of executions, and a complicated peasants' revolt, the uprising of 1381. The book was not really what I was looking for, however. I was looking for an introduction to Chaucer, and this isn't ideal for that. Chaucer himself is actually spread a little thin through the book, lost in the details Turner tells of the era. And I was also hoping to learn about the influence of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio on Chaucer, who visited Italy and wrote his two major works under the influence of these writers. [Troilus and Criseyde] is a reinterpretation of Boccaccio's [Filostrato]. [The Canterbury Tales] are a variation on Boccaccio's [Decameron], and a kind of response to Dante's [Divine Comedy]. But this book is oddly weak on exploring these connections. Turner does have interesting things to say about Chaucer's writing, but this book is a bit hit and miss when it comes to getting to the heart of Chaucer's works. The book ends with five very good extended essays on the Canterbury tales - with chapters names like Peripheries, What Lies Beneath & threshold, but the essays are as peripheral as the titles, if also as interesting. What's missing is the center of the Tales. (Lerer, in contrast, went straight to the heart in his lectures.)

Geoffrey Chaucer was born in 1342 in the Vintry Ward, a then immigrant-rich section of London, on the Thames. He was born to a family of merchants. His parents were in Southhampton when the plague struck in 1348-49, wiping out his entire London extended family, and leaving his parents as unexpectedly very wealthy inheritors. He would spend much of his life in the service of English higher nobility and rulers, connected especially to John of Gaunt, Richard II's uncle and regent, and eventually the husband of Chaucer's own sister-in-law. This made Chaucer well placed, and he was trusted with various clerk and diplomatic tasks. His wife, Philipa, was also well placed, serving a royal family. From 1374 to 1385 Chaucer worked as a clerk in London, living on the town wall in Aldgate. Turner feels (as do others) that Chaucer's living alone in London, while his wife travelled with the family she served, implies he had a very lonely if not failed marriage. There were three kids. But Chaucer was also sued over an affair and was accused of rape. Philipa died in 1387. Chaucer left London for the Kent countryside in (probably) 1385. He was active, taking a position in parliament, he still had young son to raise, but it seems he may have intentionally secluded himself, and this is when he wrote most of The Canterbury Tales. He passed away on October 25, 1400, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

An interesting aspect I picked up from this are the Chaucer had a strong dislike of absolute power expressed through his work, and that this seems to play into how intentionally unstructured The Canterbury Tales are. I haven't read these tales, but they are bawdy, and defy control, with various members interrupting and taking over the narrative with their own tales, squashing any authority over the tales. They undermine efforts for structure, or moral, or even a clear point and this seems to be by design. As Turner puts it, "The very structure of the Canterbury Tales privileges digression over progression, the pleasure of the text over a final determined meaning, the means over the end." Turner puts this in the context of Chaucer's experiences as a diplomate in Lombardy, then ruled by the Visconti, notorious repressive, cruel tyrants, and also promoters of the arts and an impressive library. They patronized Petrarch, and imaginatively tortured enemies. Dante, who lived before these Visconti, was a fervent promoter of empire (verse the pope), and also wrote a masterpiece of structure in his Comedy, with an extreme moral clarity, where all the moral equations add up to afterlife consequences. The Canterbury Tales are, in a way, an anti-Divine Comedy, and subversive towards the idea of absolute authority or absolute anything.

A messy review. This book would have benefited if I had held off and waited until after I read Chaucer. It's additive, instead of introductory or foundation setting, despite its massive amount of orienting factual detail. But it does me no harm. I'll gladly keep it in mind as I move along through Chaucer's works.

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dchaikin | 3 outras críticas | Feb 16, 2023 |
Middle English was a language very much in flux when Geoffrey Chaucer came and reshaped the language. So maybe, by "biography," Marion Turner meant "geography."

As in, this is a "Life" of Chaucer largely organized by places, not by events -- the chapters range from "Vintry Ward, London" to "Lancaster," "Genua and Florence," "Milky Way" (!), "South of the Thames," to the final "Tomb." It's an impressive way to show all the places Chaucer went, and all the areas his mind explored. As Turner says in the very last sentence, "I've written about many of Chaucer's places in this book -- one of those places being the here and the now." Hard to deny, of the person who gave English its first great work, who wrote what are still the greatest romances extant in the language, who, for pity's sake, brought iambic pentameter into English!

This is a masterful view of Chaucer's world; I learned a tremendous amount.

The only question is... did I learn about Chaucer? Turner explicitly denies trying to understand Chaucer, because (as she correctly points out) we have no real contact with Chaucer the person; we have his writings (some of them; some, such as the Book of the Lion, have been lost) and we have various references to activities, but we don't have direct statements about who he was.

And yet, the writings do tell us something; it is clear that Chaucer was extremely clever, quite knowledgeable, generally open-minded, inventive, and humorous. He was also, probably, cautious and sometimes a bit of a worry-wart. And, I think, he sometimes made social assumptions that were not correct. This fact might throw light on such things as the charge of raptus against him (which does not automatically mean "rape"; it might mean that he went off with a girl, even helping her escape an abusive situation. Which might make some sense for the most feminist writer of the English Middle Ages).

I also think that Turner makes occasional gratuitous assumptions. The most obvious one being that Chaucer wrote the end of the Canterbury Tales "at the end" -- i.e. that it was the last thing written. I am not saying this is definitely wrong -- but there is certainly an alternative. I, for instance, don't write linearly; I write by transitions. That is, I have various things I want to say, and the whole is assembled by realizing that I can connect this item to that, and that item to a third, and gradually all the pieces come together. This is certainly what the Canterbury Tales looks like; it would explain why there are so many fragments of three or four tales, and why one fragment (the Cook's Tale) ends in the middle. In such a case, it is quite possible that the beginning and the end were almost the first thing written, and the middle gradually filled in -- just as, with a jigsaw puzzle, one usually starts by assembling the edges, and then fill in the center. repeat, I am not sure this is the case -- but it feels right to me, and it offers a different perspective on a few of Turner's ideas.

I don't say that to imply that this is a bad book (although it can be a little heavy at times). It is a very good book. But it's not exactly a Life, and sometimes there are alternatives to what it says. So read it while trying to find other ways of viewing things.

That, after all, is one thing we know Geoffrey Chaucer did.
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waltzmn | 3 outras críticas | Aug 23, 2022 |



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