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Feminizing Chaucer

Feminizing Chaucer

Series: Chaucer Studies
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 218
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  • Book Info
    Feminizing Chaucer
    Book Description:

    Women are a major subject of Chaucer's writings, and their place in his work has attracted much recent critical attention. Feminizing Chaucer investigates Chaucer's thinking about women, and re-assesses it in the light of developments in feminist criticism. It explores Chaucer's handling of gender issues, of power roles, of misogynist stereotypes and the writer's responsibility for perpetuating them, and the complex meshing of activity and passivity in human experience. Mann argues that the traditionally 'female' virtues of patience and pity are central to Chaucer's moral ethos, and that this necessitates a reformulation of ideal masculinity. First published (as Geoffrey Chaucer) in the series 'Feminist Readings', this new edition includes a new chapter, 'Wife-Swapping in Medieval Literature'. The references and bibliography have been updated, and a new preface surveys publications in the field over the last decade. JILL MANN is currently Notre Dame Professor of English, University of Notre Dame.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-072-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface to the 2002 Edition
    (pp. vii-xix)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xx-xxi)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxii-xxii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    The polarized nature of medieval attitudes to women is notorious. Eve is set against Mary, the sensual deceiver against maternal purity, rebelliousness against meekness (Blamires, 1992). Yet this ambivalence is not a specifically medieval phenomenon; its roots can be traced back at least to Roman antiquity, where it is already visible in the two authors who contributed largely to the formation of these stereotyped images, and whose influence on Chaucer’s works is readily apparent: Ovid, whose amorous poetry represents women as cunning strategists in the battle of the sexes, yet who is also ready in theHeroidesto see them...

  7. 1 Women and Betrayal
    (pp. 5-38)

    Woman betrayed, woman betraying – these were the alternative images of woman with which Chaucer engaged at the outset of his writing career. The image of woman betrayed was associated first and foremost with the series of examples that make up Ovid’sHeroides, the collection of fictional letters supposedly addressed by the women of classical story and legend to communicate their anguish and despair to the men who had deceived, deserted or simply neglected them. TheHeroides, like other works of Ovid, was read and commented on as a school-text throughout the Middle Ages,¹ and the names of these heroines the...

  8. 2 Antifeminism
    (pp. 39-69)

    And yet, and yet.The Legend of Good Womencan be no more than a provisional response to antifeminism, contradicting but not obliterating it. Created as antifeminism’s mirror-image, it derives the very substance of its being from its antagonist’s power, and relies on that power to justify its own extremism. There thus arises the danger acutely described by Elaine Showalter:

    The [feminist] critique … has a tendency to naturalise women’s victimisation, by making it the inevitable and obsessive topic of discussion … This comes dangerously close to a celebration of the opportunities of victimisation, the seductionofbetrayal. (1979, 28)...

  9. 3 The Surrender of Maistrye
    (pp. 70-99)

    The tale that the Wife of Bath goes on to tell repeats on a larger scale the pattern of surrender and reconciliation which is traced in miniature form at the end of herPrologue. It begins with a manifestation of masculine ‘maistrye’ in its ugliest form: the knight’s casual rape of a young girl. It ends with the rapist’s humble surrender of ‘maistrye’ to the old wife who has been inflicted on him as punishment:

    ‘Thanne have I gete of yow maistrie,’ quod she,

    ‘Syn I may chese and governe as me lest?’

    ‘Ye, certes, wyf,’ quod he, ‘I holde...

  10. 4 Suffering Woman, Suffering God
    (pp. 100-128)

    The marriage that begins theMan of Law’s Taleis not the culmination of a romantic courtship; instead, Constance, its heroine, is the instrument of a politico-religious alliance. Although he has never set eyes on her, the Sultan of Syria falls so passionately in love with her by reputation alone that he engages that he and all his baronage will embrace Christianity if he can have her as his bride. The matter is settled, not by the delicate negotiation of feeling, but ‘by tretys and embassadrie,/And by the popes mediacioun,/And al the chirche, and al the chivalrie’ (233–5) – everyone,...

  11. 5 The Feminized Hero
    (pp. 129-144)

    It is nowadays a commonplace that the meaning of a term is not fixed in isolation, but only in relation to the cultural or linguistic structure of which it forms part. So the value assigned to ‘woman’ or ‘womanhood’ cannot be fully determined without reference to the values invested in the term ‘man’. To make ‘woman’ into a moral positive is not enough, if she becomes thereby merely the ‘silent bearer of ideology’, as Mary Jacobus puts it (1979, 10) – if, that is, her morality acts only as a salving conscience for the men who are left free to practise...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 145-151)

    The preceding chapters have stressed Chaucer’s originality in creating models of both female and male behaviour that erase traditional gender boundaries and dissolve the power-structures on which they rest. But theCanterbury Talesis not entirely lacking in examples of traditional gender roles. We see them above all in the fabliau-tales – in, for example, the miller of theReeve’s Tale, who goes armed to the teeth to impress his ladylike wife with his manly courage.

    Ther dorste no wight clepen hire but ‘dame’;

    Was noon so hardy that wente by the weye

    That with hire dorste rage or ones pleye,...

  13. Excursus: Wife-Swapping in Medieval Literature
    (pp. 152-173)

    The starting-point of this chapter is an article by Felicity Riddy called ‘Engendering Pity in theFranklin’s Tale’ (Evans and Johnson, 1994, 54–71). The argument of this article is that the ‘gentilesse’ which is a key value in the tale ‘has to do with relations between men’ (56); like ‘fredom’, it is class-based and gender-based, and is not a quality that women are expected or indeed allowed to mani-fest. This claim partly depends on a general observation about the role of the ‘gentil’ lover in relation to the lady he loves: his ‘gentilesse’ ‘is defined by his capacity to...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 174-188)
  15. Index
    (pp. 189-194)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 195-196)