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Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Curious Case of the Nelis Dutch Village

First, it is enjoyable, and you should go. Second, it is a little bit of a public history anomaly, which might make it more interesting.
Established mid-20th century, the founding of the Nelis Dutch Village is described as a completely rational extension of the tulip farm that the Nelis family owned and run in the first half of the century. As you ramble through the tulip gardens, you are greeted with distinctly dutch looking buildings, attractions and artefacts. It is a celebration of Dutch culture.

But the interesting part is it is a celebration of just Dutch culture, not Dutch American culture (besides the Nelis family history). The mandate of the park seems to be to bring a part of Dutch culture to the United States. But then again, apart from some artefacts like an amazing player organ, they things they are presenting are not Dutch, but in fact just in a Dutch style. Like there are buildings and costumes from different provinces in the Netherlands, but none of them were made in the Netherlands, just in a style that is identifiably Dutch. And it is a bit of a rag tag representation as well, basically what nineteenth century antiquarians collecting people's national character would consider truly 'Dutch.'
For comparison, the closest thing I can compare it to is the Skansen park in Stockholm. In fact, this is, according to Skansen, the model for all of these history parks which present a nineteenth century nationalist view of nationality. And Skansen owns up to this part of its history. But the buildings brought from all over Sweden are just that, actually buildings that are now being preserved by Skansen. The Nelis Dutch village is not preserving artefacts as a result of a nationalist impulse to preserve culture. It has skipped the preservation part and gone right for the nationalist impulse.

Like Skansen, the Nelis Dutch Village also has some turn of the century rides and a park, which I think most health and safety officials would balk at. For instance, they have a sort of small zipline which is unmanned, so it is simply up to parents to keep their kids safe, and I did see one kid tumble off the 4 ft. high platform while I was there.
Perhaps the most interesting thing there is the museum, which houses a collection of dolls with different Dutch costumes, and gives some very patchy information about Dutch culture without much explanation. For instance their exhibit about Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet is controversial when it doesn't need to be, because Zwarte Piet is and should be a controversial thing to American audiences, but an interesting (maybe slightly controversial) part of Dutch culture, that is not being adequately explained here. It is just presented, without comment and without much information, so that all it looks like is that slavery is condoned in Dutch culture, which is totally inaccurate. The museum does not have much, but shows the nationalist impulse that drives the park by showing only old customs and images of the Dutch royal family.
The bottom line is that I am not sure what to make of it. I liked it, I did, but my public history self was also cringing the entire time that I was there, thinking things like 'what is your mandate' and 'where are the safety precautions' and often just 'what?'.
A museum which is not representing anyone or any history in particular, and a theme park without a lot of rides or safety standards, it does educate about folk customs, folk dress, different kinds of architecture and food. The staff put a lot of work into the demonstrations, and they are worth seeing, as is the whole park. But all of it presents an idealistic vision of a general Netherlands, that may have in part still existed when Harry Nelis settled in Holland Michigan, or at least existed as a vision in part formed by turn of the century intellectuals caught up in nationalism before the advent of WWI. What it does represent is a tendency for displaced peoples to romanticize their roots, and hold on to and honour customs, languages and practices that become defunct in the original homeland, and it is perhaps the best example of that that I have ever seen.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Recapping: My second year of the PhD and International Congress of Medieval Studies 2014


Photo: Spring!

This was my first time going to Congress while actually attending Western Michigan University. It is good to have your own apartment. My mother once described the dorm rooms (she came with me the year I decided to go to WMU) as soul crushing. I was just pleased to see the sun on campus. It has been a long, cold winter.

This was possibly the most challenging year of school I have ever undertaken. This is evidenced in the frequency of my blog posts. Next year I start my comps. Ahh. But one person said that actually, it just isn't as hard as having to produce three graduate length seminar papers at the end of a semester. I will see, I guess.

And it looks like I will be able to write my thesis about characterizations of Haraldr hardrada. So that is the plan, though one hates to make such definite statements going into it. But I already researched a bad Victorian poet who writes about the Conquest, and also looked at his characterization in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. So I have done some work on this so far. Not only am I super interested in him, I am hoping it will tie in my English, History and Public History training. In my fantasy dream world I imagine me writing a book that comes out just when they release that movie that is rumoured to be going into production, or that they let me help on the movie set (a career dream of mine, to be an advisor on a movie set) but I am also aware of how unproductive such thoughts are. Helpful hints and suggestions about sources are welcome for now.

This summer is full of all those extra projects that come from working on a PhD. I am attending two conferences, entering essay competitions, and trying (as we are all trying) to make someone publish one of these. The first conference was the International Congress of Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo. I saw a lot of good papers. I apologize if I don't remember what your paper was about, as it is more likely due to paper burnout than poor papers.

Thursday May 8, 2014


1:30 - Session 79: New Voices in Anglo-Saxon Studies I

Portents and the Natural World in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - M. Goodrich, Univ. of Conneticut

I was interested in this paper because I mentioned the portents of 1066 mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in my own paper. I thought it was interesting, though I had a bit of a hard time following it, mostly because my paper was at 3:30. But what I understood was that the portents can be subdivided by type, and that they do correspond with political events, particularly turmoil in the upper echelons of power.

Counting Crows and Crakes: Measuring Norse and English Vocabulary in Minor Names - Eleanor Rye, University of Nottingham

From one of my old alma maters, I could recognize the influence of the Institute for Name-Studies in her work. She was presenting on a section of her PhD project, showing the Norse influence in minor place names in England. Using many lovely graphics, she was able to demonstrate the influence on one of the regions of England, but for the life of me I can't remember which one.

I skipped out on the third presentation, leaving my diet coke behind, because I had to go make copies of my extensive handout.

3:30 - Session 139: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle's Shifting Rhetoric of Danish Ethnicity during the Reigns of Alfred and Edward - Britt Mize, Texas A&M University

My co-presenter in this panel. we thought afterwards since the third presenter wasn't there, we could probably have actually named this session characterizations of Scandinavians in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. This was an excellent paper that showed that during Alfred's reign, immigrant Danes were called Danes when they were an attacking enemy force. However, in times of peace the people of Northumbria lose the epithet of Dane. However, this pattern changes towards Edward's time, as Dane is used as a descriptor even for groups that are not attacking, but that are settled. It is of course used for those literally coming over on a boat from Denmark, but the focus of the study was on the descriptors of people living in England.

The 1066 Norwegian Invasion of England and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - Megan Arnott

I, of course, thought this went quite well. I'm not sure I was good at answering questions, but that is always the hardest part. I had a handout placing the Chronicles next to each other, and a powerpoint, just because I think you should always have a powerpoint to keep people interested in what you are saying. For an earlier version of this paper you can see my blog. It has of course been revised, but the arguments are the same.

A special shout-out to M. Wendy Hennequin from Tennessee State University, who was very friendly and very helpful as the presider of the session.

7:30 - Session 149: Norse Bishops' Sagas and Their European Contexts


The Translated Bishop: The Icelandic Saintly Bishops, (Inter)nationality, and Locality - Ásdís Egilsdóttir, Háskóli Íslands

This was a very interesting paper, showing that some of the miracles performed in the Bishop Sagas have an international flavour in the way that they are presented in the texts. A.k.a. the way the miracle is described has parallels in European tradition, though some are distinctly Icelandic.

Lárentius saga and Social Networks - Erika Sigurdson, Stofnun Árna Magnússonar í íslenskum fræðum

This paper mapped the connections between the characters to show Larentius's international flavours. It showed Larentius as at the centre of the map, but showed that he had ties to a great many people in other places in Europe. It was a great way to visually represent the saga, and it showed many things about the text. The visual mapping is a great tool to show who is at the centre and who isn't.

Friday May 9, 2014


10:00 - Session 219: Social Contracts and Contacts in Old English and Old Norse Literature


The Old English Julianna and the Economy of Debt - Fabienne Michelet, University of Toronto

This demonstrated that Julianna's actions are reacting to a society which monetizes everything, including people. She is offering people an alternative, a life of religion, in direct opposition to this economy, and borrows vocabulary from this economy to make her points more poignant.

I Did Not Convey the Feud: Changing Perceptions of Fæhð in Anglo-Saxon Literature - David DiTucci, University of Western Michigan/State College of Florida

This was a really interesting exploration of feud, tracking the feud from its elevated status in Anglo-Saxon literature, or Germanic culture, and its subsequent descent either with the introduction of Christianity, or at approximately the same time as that, and the shades fo grey in between.

'O Mighty Mud-Dweller' : Non-Sexual Insults in the Saga of Bjorn, Champion of the Hitardal People - Becky Straple, Western Michigan University

A great exploration of the often overlooked non-sexual insults, this paper showed that the contest, while part of a love triangle, is actually more about the relationship between the two men. While it is hard to separate out the non-sexual insults, it is easier to see the relationship between the two men when that subset of insults is focused on. Go Becky!

1:30 - Session 261: Bilingual England: Translation and Beyond


'Forsothe wythoute Lye': The Increased Importance of Truthfulness and Exactness in Two Middle English Romance Adaptations of Old French Sources - Drew Maxwell, University of Edinburgh

This paper compared English Romances with the Old French sources. It compared specific lines to show how the emphasis had been moved to truthfulness.

A Failure to Communicate: The Implications of Trilingual Identity in the Auchinleck of Arthour and of Merlin - Patrick Butler, University of Conneticut

Looking at romances to also help understand the history, this paper was showing a progression of the way people understood and accepted each other after the Conquest. For instance, the issues that manifested early in English - Norman interaction were lessened over time. The romance shows an interestingly complex implication for trilingual identity in the Romance.

Storming the Castle: Eros and Allegory in Spiritual Discourse - Claire Snow, University of Denver

The allegory of castle storming is very clearly a sexual one, with the castle standing for the female body. The paper demonstrated this. However, in spiritual discourse, the allegory becomes more nuanced, and is not necessarily about actual sex, but the overcoming of defenses, etc. important to spiritual allegory.

This whole panel is less in my field, so was a little harder for me to follow, but very interesting.

Saturday May 10, 2014


10:00 - Session 374: Old English and Old Norse Connections


Wandering Exploration, and Dependence in Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian Comitatus Relationships - Scott Douglas Reu, University of Cambridge

This paper looked at the importance of the comitatus relationship, and the idea of exile from it. It looked at how this seems to differ in different places, as in Iceland people are evidencing much more independence in the sagas, and exile is not the burden that it is in the Anglo-Saxon literature.

Treason at the Gifstōl: Beowulf lines 168-170, Genesis B, and the Stōll in Old Norse Sagas - Mary Helen Galluch, Western Michigan University

I recognize this in part from our Beowulf and its Old Norse sources seminar. This paper looked at these very difficult to translate lines, and traced why they are often thought to have religious overtones, by comparing the idea of the stoll in other Anglo-Saxon literature and Old Norse literature as well.

The Dead Speak: Soul and Body in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse Literatures - Ilse Schweitzer VanDonkelaar - Western Michigan University

This paper demonstrated the intimate connection between soul and body in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse literature, looking also at word choice.

1:30 pm - Session 421: Scandinavian Studies


Being a Poet: Snorri's Mead Myth as an Esoteric Guide to Poetic Craft - Eirik Westcoat, Independent Scholar

I was very interested in this because of the work I did on Icelandic Mead this semester. This was about the way that the mead myth was in many ways allegorical for the production of poetry, including the association of poetry with something sweet.

Agency and Social Constraint in Laxdaela saga - Melissa Mayus, University of Notre Dame

Looking at the interactions between the characters the social constraints, that of having to avenge oneself for insult or injury, are so strong that they take away characters' agency. Compare this to Njals Saga, where the characters can maintain good ties between two families, despite feuding wives. This is not the case in Laxdaela Saga.

Unraveling Narratives: Contexts of the Scandinavian Conversion in Adam of Bremen - Matthew Delvaux, Boston College

Adam of Bremen's concerns, and motivations, are outlined here in this paper. It is showing that Adam had certain local political concerns for his account of the Scandinavian conversion.

3:30 - Session 451: The Medievalism of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Volumes


A Better Band of Hall-Thanes: Harry Potter and the Comitatus Bond - M. Wendy Hennequin, Tennessee State University

I am convinced that the organizations in Harry Potter are reflective of a comitatus band, such as the Order of the Pheonix, Dumbledore's Army, and even the Death Eaters. However, it is also convincing that while the bond is important, after the influence of WWII, you can't just follow blindly your lord, as you would in Anglo-Saxon literature. You must be loyal, but also on the side of good. Voldemort is a terrible lord because he forgot the reciprocal part of the bargain.

Reappropriating the 'Sword in the Stone' and 'Broken Sword' Motifs in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter - Alexandra Garner, Independent Scholar

Harry, Ron and Neville both find swords, and break 'swords' (wands), indicating that they are the inheritors of an Arthurian tradition. The found sword (of Gryffindor) signifies their righteousness and conveys authority, while the broken sword (wand) indicates difficulty in acting (though, for Ron and Neville it is because the wand wasn't their wand, and for Harry, since it is his wand, he gets it back in the end). That Harry chooses his own wand, and not the elder wand, shows a breaking with the Arthurian tradition, that Harry is not Arthur, as he will not be king.

Harry Potter and the Feast of All Saints - Susan Yager, Iowa State University

The saintly nature of many of the characters, especially the reverence due to them, and their acts of martyrdom, is evidence, and is drawn attention to by Rowling, who starts events on All-Saints Day.

Harry and the Theologians: Medieval Representations of Evil in Harry Potter - Joshua Fullman, Faulkner University and Maegan Detlefs, Independent Scholar

This was perhaps a little harder to follow, but the essence of it was that evil in Harry Potter is not absolute, but can be based in Augustinian ideas of good and evil.

Sunday May 11, 2014


10:00 - Session 543: Viking Age Iceland


Viking Archaeology in Iceland: The Mosfell Archeological Project - Jesse Byock, University of California - Los Angeles

Updating us on the project, Jesse Byock demonstrated where the harbour was in the Mosfell valley, and also some of the Hinterland farmland. It was very interesting, using a lot of great visuals to tell the story.

Social Space and Social Status at Viking Age Hrísbrú, Mosfellsdalur, Iceland: Interpretations Based on Integrated Geoarchaeological and Microrefuse Analyses - Karen Milek, University of Aberdeen

This was complimentary to the first presentation, going into detail about how in some finds you can establish the extent of the power relations, but how at the site that they are working on, it is harder due to the smaller scale of the finds.

The Viking Age Settlements of Western Norway - Søren Diinhoff, Universitetsmuseet i Bergen, Univ. i Bergen

While I didn't find anything here inflammatory (though I am not an archaeologist) this presenter presented his findings as if they were going to be inflammatory, so may be they were. He did keep looking at Jesse Byock. But the argument here is that there is no link between the buildings of Western Norway and the ones built in Iceland. It wasn't a style they brought over, but the style of turf buildings that are in the North Atlantic were dictated by materials, not the preferences or traditions of the settlers from Norway.

There was no time for questions, since all three presentations went long. Good thing the fourth one didn't show up. But very interesting.

Photo: How I spent last weekend. Listening to talks, like this one by Jesse Byock.
Jesse Byock and Magdalena Schmid.
At the end of the conference I also got some great deals on three books: Every Inch a King: Coparative Studies on Kings and Kingship in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds edited by Lynette Mitchell and Charles Melville; The Partisan Muse in The Early Icelandic Sagas (1200-1250) by Theodore M. Andersson; The Growth of the Medieval Icelandic Sagas (1180-1280) also by Theodore M. Andersson. 

All in all successful Congress. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

“Looking for a muse in an old castle”: Medievalism in Ann Radcliffe's The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne and Gaston be Blondeville

[a seminar paper for Fall semester 2013 at WMU]
These picturesque visions, in which the imagination so much delights, and every discovery, however remote, awaken a peculiar kind of interest, and of sentiment no less delightful, which render antiquity, of all studies, the least liable to the epithet of dry, though dull and dry people so liberally bestow it. Antiquity is one of the favourite regions of poetry.’
‘Nay,’ said Mr. Simpson, ‘your woods and your meadows are the reign for that. Who ever thought of looking for a muse in an old castle?’ (Radcliffe Gaston de Blondeville 47)

Though part of a scholarly trend that has tended to be dismissive of the works of ‘Mrs. Radcliffe,’ David Durant has accurately stated that “aspects of the novels of almost every member of the Gothic clan emerge again in Mrs. Radcliffe’s six novels; to study her work has been to study the genre” (Durant 4). Ann Radcliffe, in part responsible for popularizing the Gothic in the 1790s, wrote a total of six extant novels in her lifetime. Five of these novels were published between 1789 and 1798. The last, Gaston de Blondeville, was written in 1802, but was not published until 1827, after her death (Radcliffe Gaston de Blondeville ii). Many reasons have been given for why Radcliffe left off publishing, but all of them are necessarily speculative. Standing apart from her other novels in many, Gaston de Blondeville, in a genre that relies on a medieval setting, is the most insistently ‘medieval’ an eighteenth/nineteenth century novel could be. In the above extract, Willoughton and Simpson, two characters who are wandering from Coventry to Warwick, stop to see the ruins of Kenilworth castle in the Arden forest. What follows is an unrelenting exploration of the role of the past in works of ‘fiction.’ Durant has criticized the work for being too bogged down in the rituals of the past to be good fiction. Radcliffe’s insistence on the past, her construction of a history, brings to the forefront a sense of lost. Elizabeth Fay, in Romantic Medievalisms argues that this idea of loss is “a concept peculiarly suited to the sentimental.” (Fay 49) Clare Simmons, in Popular Medievalisms in Romantic Era Britain, has also noted this sense of loss: “the present has lost something, generally something value-related that the past once had” (Simmons 7). But while the English medieval past is forefront, Radcliffe does not forget her present. As Simmons has noted, “medievalism is persistently comparative, compelling some level of conscious contrast between the reader’s (or observer’s) present and the recreated medieval past” (Simmons 12). Radcliffe is using the past as a meaningful mode of expression, literally finding her muse in the old castle.
                Of all her other works, Gaston de Blondeville contrasts nicely in its use of the medieval with her first novel, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne. While Gaston de Blondeville insists on a separation of the present and the past, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne collapses the two like a telescope. On either side of her body of work, these may be the two most dissimilar texts, and yet both are set in the Middle Ages on British soil, while her other works are usually set in Mediterranean, Catholic countries on the cusp of the medieval and the modern. In addition, they are the only two works that are not about daughters who are searching for mothers or clashing with father figures (Miles 4,18). They also go together as her least well received works. Durant says that her “most obvious borrowings are in her worst novels – in The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne and in Gaston de Blondeville” (Durant 11). Robert Miles, rescuing Radcliffe’s reputation, says that The Castles are both the shortest of her works, but also a little ‘thin’ (73). In his book Ann Radcliffe: The Great Enchantress Miles doesn’t even talk about Gaston de Blondeville because his interest is in the works she was best known for, a.k.a. those published in her lifetime.
The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne and Gaston de Blondeville buttress Radcliffe’s work with two medieval turrets. While both texts represent the medieval differently, they both comment on the power of ancient privilege to oppress those in the here and now. This paper will first examine why the Middle Ages was particularly appropriate for Radcliffe’s work, and then will examine the use of it in both texts, before showing how both texts use the medieval as a setting which confirms the oppression of ancient privilege, although in neither case very simply.

                Radcliffe herself wouldn’t have considered her works to deal with the ‘medieval.’ The first recorded use in English was actually the same year that Gaston was published, and so after Radcliffe’s death (Alexander xxv). Michael Alexander identifies the 1830s as the period when the word ‘Gothic’ came to be replaced with ‘medieval’ (Alexander xx). It is not a straight word for word substitution however, as Gothic did have negative undertones (Alexander xx). The Goths were known for overthrowing classical structures, though they were also thought of as ancestors to the English (Simmons 146). Trying to link the word to the movement of Gothic literature Miles posits:
Where, then, did the Gothic romance stand regarding the ideological meaning of ‘Gothic’ there is no set answer to this for the basic reason that the figure of the Goth is ideologically overdetermined: one encounters a number of conflicting positions crowding around it (Miles 69).
Gothic as a period term came to refer strictly to architecture but also, as we have seen, as whole genre of fiction that ultimately did not have to relate directly to the Middle Ages (Alexander xxv-i). Therefore for this paper medieval is a better descriptor than Gothic, since the current conceptual understanding of the time period that is being referred to in these texts is defined by medieval rather than Gothic. Nor does thinking of the use of the period with negative undertones necessarily help to understand the way that Radcliffe uses the past. Radcliffe made use of medievalisms by intentionally referring to that part of the past, though she would use different terms.  
                The interest in the Middle Ages – literature and history, had been building through the eighteenth century. Alexander identifies the 1760s as the beginning of what he calls the ‘Medieval Revival (Alexander 8). Part of the movement was that, searching for a literary past, the Middle Ages offered literature, like romances, that were available to audiences, larger than just those who could read the classics. Trying to define Englishness, England looked back to medieval history and literature. Miles also sees an increased interest developing throughout the eighteenth century that led on a trajectory to Ann Radcliffe:

It was a nationalist movement in that ‘Gothic’ designated, not just the ‘Middle Ages’, but the racial past that gave birth to Englishness. According to the outlook of the later eighteenth century, the Middle Ages came to an end with the death of Queen Elizabeth ; Shakespeare and Spenser were ‘Gothic’ (i.e. English) writers uniquely expressing the national genius (Miles 30).

In addition, more women could read Shakespeare than Virgil, giving the movement impetus from that group of readers and writers (Miles 30). Interest in the medieval was generated by recovery of material from that time period and people’s interested in using the materials they found there (Alexander xxii). Amongst those who borrowed forms or subject matter from the Middle Ages in the Romantic era, Fay has identified a chivalric and troubadour medievalisms, sometimes complimentary and sometimes adversarial (Fay 4). Writers were now finding lively and particularly engaging what had been sneered at only a generation before (Alexander xxiv)
Horace Walpole wrote The Castle of Otranto (1765) in the climate of this Medieval Revival. The genre is now called ‘Gothic’ because his second preface called it “A Gothic story.” As Alexander notes:
In style and incident, The Castle of Otranto is an eclectic medley of elements supposedly found in medieval romances. It is made up of five chapters, mirroring the five acts of a play. It is a hybrid of various genres, both a precious pastiche and a fantastic spoof (Alexander 5).
The first preface to the tale said that it was a manuscript, found and transcribed from the ‘actual’ Middle Ages. For Walpole, Simmons notes that he uses the medieval in two ways. He sets his tale in the Middle Ages, in the Gothic era, because he needed structures of oppression, and a society that was imagined to be quite oppressive (Simmons 142). However, his use of the medieval also contained “a self-ironizing awareness of the aesthetic and social appeal of the Middle Ages” (Simmons 143). Therefore, he has it both ways; Walpole chooses the medieval as both a repulsive and appealing setting for his ‘romance.’
While twenty four years separate Otranto from Castles, Radcliffe makes obvious references to that medievalist work. Miles makes a case for Radcliffe’s involvement in propagating the Gothic genre that Walpole starts (Miles 2). Whatever Walpole’s use of the medieval in his texts, much of that spills over in Radcliffe’s work. That her first work also contains ‘Castle’ in the title is but one of the clues that show the similarities (Durant 22). Gaston de Blondeville also picks up on themes directly out of Otranto, although usually very different ones from The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne. For instance, The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne has Otranto’s underground passages, has the same dithering servants, has a similar style and is also about forcing women to marry men they do not love. Gaston de Blondeville contains the text of a ‘found’ manuscript, has underground passages that specifically connect a castle with a Priory, and takes up the plot of a man who cannot prove he is innocent, despite the fact that he is factually so, because of the prejudices of his royal judge.
In The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne and Gaston de Blondeville Radcliffe uses both this medievalized form of the romance from the Walpole tradition, as well as the medieval setting, characters and ideologies. Even if scholars like Durant find, possibly justifiably so, these two works by Ann Radcliffe derivative of sources like Otranto, this does not negate the interesting features of Radcliffe’s unique use of these themes, including the Middle Ages. Miles puts succinctly the historical, literary and social advantages Radcliffe found in Gothic literature: 

Radcliffe’s preferred wing of the house of fiction accommodated her practice of this ‘peculiar art’. By choosing new, Walpolian romance (recently made respectable by Clara Reeve, Charlotte Smith and Sophia Lee), Radcliffe ostensible avoided the political controversy endemic in the novel’s realistic depiction of modern manners; and yet, subtextually, there was ideological advantage to be had from the myth of the Goth. The sublime and the picturesque codified conservative values, but by the same token these values were now placed within the unstable realm of representation, where interpretation becomes ungovernable (Miles 55-6).
Radcliffe was both part of and a propagator of this intellectual rebranding of the Middle Ages that made peculiar use of the old branding. Gothic literature allowed her to pursue themes of oppression and to engage with an aesthetic that had popular appeal, while the specific use of the Middle Ages allowed her to cast social, domestic and legal oppression into the language of ‘ancient privilege.’ The advantages of this, as will be seen, is that it gives a realism to the type of oppression short of drawing on real instances, which heightens the effect. It also allows her to be simultaneously conservative and subversive. The condemnations of the oppressive, patriarchal society are mitigated by placing it in a geographical and temporal remove. The condemnations seem subversive, but have conservative tones because of their setting. Conversely, the solutions to the problems imposed by the oppressive society seem conservative because they restore a normal, conservative world order. However, the setting of the past likewise tempers this with a subversive undertone, by suggesting that these solutions represent the only way these problems could be resolved in such ‘times,’ times we no longer live in.
                 Of course, in The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne this is not abundantly clear. The text has quite a few signifiers of the medieval, not least of which is that it is written in the style of The Castle of Otranto, recalling for readers that setting. The text opens: “On the north-east coast of Scotland, in the most romantic part of the Highlands, stood the Castle of Athlin; an edifice built on the summit of a rock, whose base was in the sea. This pile was venerable from its antiquity, and from its Gothic structure; but more venerable from the virtues which it enclosed (721). Radcliffe describes both castles several times in terms of the ‘Gothic’:  “the edifice was built with Gothic magnificence, upon a high and dangerous rock. Its lofty towers still frowned in proud sublimity, and the immensity of the pile stood a record of the ancient consequence of its possessors.” (725)There is also the ruined abbey that Count Santmorin uses as a hideout when he abducts Mary. The medieval makes its present felt on the landscape of the novel. However, as Miles notes, the presence of these structures is not necessarily medieval, especially not such edifices as a ruined abbey, since presumably (though not necessarily) it would be new in that time period (Miles 78). The description of the ruined abbey confirms the ‘ruin’ of the medieval signifiers in the test:
the ruins of an abbey, whose broken arches and lonely towers arose in gloomy grandeur through the obscurity of evening. It stood the solitary inhabitant of the wastes, - a monument of mortality and of ancient superstition, and the frowning majesty of its aspect seemed to command silence and veneration (759).

How, in the context of this text, is the abbey a monument to ‘ancient superstition,’ when presumably it is set in the Middle Ages, when there was only one Church.
                The medieval structures that dominate the landscape, while invoking a sense of the past, would not be enough to show that Radcliffe deliberately set the text in the Middle Ages. Instead, it is joined with several other details. First, as Miles notes, the only law seems to be that of feudal might, as the Earl of Athlin and the Baron of Dunbayne are constantly conducting raids on each other’s castles (Miles 78).
The descriptions of warfare also appears to be deliberately medieval: “the archers who had been planted behind the walls, now discovered themselves, and discharged a shower of arrows; at the same time every part of the castle appeared thronged with the soldiers of the Earl, who hurled on the heads of the astonished besiegers lances and other missile weapons with unceasing rapidity” (753). Laura is described as being particularly fond of the lute, which is a medieval instrument which, like the castles, did persist into a later time, but with the other details is a signifier of a medieval setting. Therefore, this text is intentionally medieval, or ‘Gothic,’ in its setting, but it has collapsed the concept of time, giving the reader no clear indication that they are in the past, but a definitely feeling that that is where they are.
                Durant’s major criticism of The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne is its reliance on sentimental moralisms to define actions, instead of character development (Durant 203). Instead, it may help to understand the plot as dependent on Radcliffe’s construction of an old, sometimes chivalric, code that imposes ideals on the characters. Radcliffe is placing this code on the characters, which she has tentatively placed in the Middle Ages.
We can argue that it is a chivalric code because it does involve ideals for knights and for those in a martial context:
in the morning were performed the martial exercises, in which emulation was excited by the honourary rewards bestowed on excellence. The Countess and her lovely daughter beheld from the ramparts of the castle, the feats performed on the plains below. Their attention was engaged, and their curiosity excited, by the appearance of a stranger, who managed the lance and the how with such exquisite dexterity, as to bear off each prize of chivalry (723).
Alleyn, one of our heroes, is the stranger. He is shown to be worthy for his deference to these ideals. He is fiercely loyal to Osbert, his earl and feudal superior. Even when he is torn between love of Mary and loyalty to Osbert and his family, his loyalty and sense of duty trumps his sentiments of love. Both Osbert and Alleyn show a desire to fight for the honour of their names, with Alleyn also fighting for the honour of his lord and Osbert fighting to revenge his father. Radcliffe constructs a narrative where the characters are motivated by adherence to such chivalric ideals.
                However, this is also a source of tension in the novel, since there are implications of honour not just on the battlefield, but in marriage alliances as well. This is how women are pulled into the chivalric ideal. There will be loss of honour to the family if Mary is forced to marry the Baron of Dunbayne to ransom Osbert, her brother. There will also be loss of honour if she is allowed to marry Alleyn, who is below her in station. If Alleyn and Osbert’s sense of honour and martial prowess will allow them to overcome the Baron of Dunbayne, their same sense of honour will be a source of oppression almost harder to deal with than the Baron, because there is no solution. They must do the impossible, which is to keep the two from loving each other:
The Countess admired with warmest gratitude the noble and inspiring virtues of the young Highlander, but the proud nobility of her soul repelled with quick vivacity every idea of union with a youth of such ignoble birth: she regarded the present attachment as the passing impression of youthful fancy, and believed that gentle reasoning, aided by time and endeavor, would conquer the enthusiasm of love (734-5).

Radcliffe sets in opposition meritocracy and a chivalric system. The whole family is tormented that Alleyn cannot have what he clearly merits: “all these circumstances arose in strong reflection to the mind of Osbert; but the darkness of prejudice and ancient pride opposed their influence, and weakened their effect” (762). Mary tries to be strong but “his disinterested and noble conduct excited emotions dangerous to her fortitude, and which rendered yet more poignant the tortures of the approaching sacrifice” (746). Her mother tells her “you do well to remember the dignity of your sex and of your rank; though I must lament with you that worth like Alleyn’s is not empowered by fortune to take its standard with nobility” (752). Osbert is tortured by the puzzle and laments “O! that I could remove that obstacle which withholds you from your just reward!” (762). It is not just that Radcliffe touches on this opposition, but she returns over and over to the injustice of it.
                Even though Radcliffe returns the status quo at the end, and shows that Alleyn has been the rightful Baron of Dunbayne all along, this doesn’t negate the injustice that Radcliffe has harped on throughout the ordeal of the characters. In the system that Radcliffe is describing there is no other way to bring about a solution that would bring Alleyn and Mary together at the end. While it would seem that Radcliffe is using a construction of a chivalric code in a conservative way, in fact it also shows how the ‘ancient pride’ and prejudices inherent in this code are oppressive. Mary herself is oppressed on all sides by this societal structure. She cannot adopt the martial part of the code, and so can only honour the family by making marriage alliances. The Baron of Dunbayne can demand her hand because of the victories he has won over Osbert in battle. When that threat is removed, she cannot rely on love to decide whom she will marry. Indeed, like the castles and the abbeys that are in part ruined, these oppressive systems are, as Miles terms it, parasitic parts of the past preying on the present (Miles 78). The phrase ‘ancient pride’ really drives this home. The very loose delineation of time period for the setting helps to make this point relevant to Radcliffe’s readers. The ‘ancient pride’ which leads to oppression is meant to resonate with her audience.

                If The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne is suggestive of medieval history, ideals and literature, Gaston de Blondeville is insistent upon it. The whole title, Gaston de Blondeville or The Court of Henry III: Keeping Festival in Ardenne: A Romance, makes this point very well. We have the name of our anti hero attached to a specific historical figure, attached to a specific medieval practice, with a mention also of the specifically medieval form of literature that is being used. In this text Radcliffe is intentionally engaging in two kind of medievalism trends of the eighteenth century. Alexander has noted that correctitude was highly prized, so that “it was usual to correct older texts when reprinting them” (Alexander 18). Willoughton, the antiquarian who frames the narrative of the text, is shown to be reproducing the text by changing the letters from black face and updating some of the words so we can read it. However, Alexander also says that “the outbreak of medievalism in the 1760s was in part simply the result of the melting away of the prestige attached by neo-classical literary theory to notions of correctitude” (Alexander 20). Sometimes we see interiority of Willoughton, such as in those instances, although his narrative, as well as that of the text, is told in third person. The issue of narrator is extremely complex, since we presumably have a manuscript, transcribed by Willoughton, although we also have a third person narrator who is also telling us Willoughton’s story. In addition, within the ‘manuscript’ the narrator of that tale sometimes gives us asides to indicate his status as someone who is telling the tale in a wholly other time period than either King Henry III’s or Willoughton’s:
but what would such have said, had they lived now, in our King Richard’s days; who, the second of his name, is first in every kind of new extravagance, the like of which was never seen afore, and what it may end in, there is no one that dare yet say (30).
This narrator’s identity as a monk is confirmed by statements by the narrator such as “and over all she wore the veil of a sister, and pity it was, that so fair a vestal should be relinquished to this world, instead of being retained in the community, which had once looked to have her their own,” which praises convent life, instead of calling it ‘ancient superstition,’ as was implied in The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (II.8). The narrators themselves are very concerned with the idea of correctitude themselves, but their interesting relation to each other compromises the very notion of correctitude. The complexity of the narration as well as the fact that this is a story about ghosts, the only one of Radcliffe’s novels to make use of actual supernatural events, complicates the idea of correctitude that is invoked by the authority of Willoughton as a source and the manuscript and by the long lists of well described medieval details such as armour, tapestries, decorations, historical battles, tournaments and feasting.
                The verification of historical details becomes a predominant theme of the text. Part of this comes from Willoughton, who ironically always is correcting the facts of those around him. When a local comes to give Willoughton and Simpson a tour he describes part of the castle: “‘It was just opposite the Pleasant, yonder,’ said the aged historian. Willoughton retorts “‘The Pleasant!’” to draw attention to the mistake: “‘Yes, Sir; if you look this way, I will tell you where it stood: it was a banqueting-house on the lake.’” Willoughton can not help but reply “‘O! the Plaisance!’”(27). Willoughton questions the ‘aged historian’ as a source, and the veracity of the text. In the main narrative the merchant Woodreve accuses the Baron Gaston de Blondeville of murdering his (the merchant’s) kinsman in a robbery. It is later discovered that the Prior was part of that murderous gang. They keep trying to get Woodreve to change his story, and Woodreve must insist on the details “The four! I saw but three,’ said Woodreeve, eagerly” (II. 168).
                Ultimately, this parade of sources, of facts and of the medieval is used ironically in Gaston de Blondeville because it is a text about stories that will not be believed. Woodreve has the facts on his side, but there is literally nothing that he can produce that will corroborate his story since he has to compete against the prejudice of the King against him. Unlike Manfred in The Castle of Otranto, King Henry is not trying to suppress the truth, but does so unintentionally through his prejudices. Woodreve’s eye witness account is not believed because of how dark it was, so he cannot provide demonstrable proofs. Likewise, when the supernatural intervene on his behalf, every instance is construed by Henry, at the instigation of the Prior, as the work of witchcraft by Woodreve. As evidence is piled in Woodreve’s favour, everything that could clear him is used to condemn him.
                Willoughton mirrors Woodreve in his insistence on the facts, but ultimately he mirrors King Henry who has already made up his mind, despite what the evidence tells him:
But at whatsoever period this ‘Trew Chronique’ had been written, or by whomsoever, Willoughton was so willing to think he had met with a specimen of elder times, that he refused to dwell on the evidence, which went against its stated origin, or to doubt the old man’s story of the way in which it had been found (III. 53-4).
In this text there is an interest in what is medieval, of what can be found out about the Middle Ages, but there is also an undercutting of stories that rely too heavily on antiquarian material. The text both presents details from the Middle Ages as facts and also comments on the impossibility of truly knowing what has happened in the past.
                In this text history is a ghost, which haunts the present. This is no doubt why it is also the only text that has a real ghost, possibly more than one. The aged historian says that Queen Elizabeth is haunting the ruins of Kenilworth, although this is not verified by Willoughton or Simpson. She has, however, clearly left her mark on the castle, so even if she is not really haunting it, the castle brings up the memory for the local villagers, who are haunted by the history of when Queen Elizabeth came to stay. On the walls of the castle hangs tapestries that depict the story of Troy and the story of Richard the Lion-Heart, both of which shape the way that the King and the court think of themselves. In the main narrative the wicked murder of Reginald de Folville literally comes back to haunt Gaston de Blondeville. Reginald and his lady (who is still alive, though that does not stop her spirit from visiting Kenilworth) not only hint at the truth of Woodreve’s story, but forcefully intervene in the narrative. Reginald de Folville’s ghost kills Gaston de Blondeville at the tournament and the Prior in his bed. Ghosts in the narrative cannot be fully reclaimed by the present, but they haunt the present with real consequences.
                Even though it exists in ghost form, or ruin form in the case of Kenilworth castle, the past cannot really be reclaimed, creating the sense of loss Fay and Simmons indicate is an important part of such clear medievalisms. Reginald’s loss is still greatly felt by Woodreve. King Henry will never come back to Kenilworth after the events that transpire there. In the ballad that Pierre the minstrel sings to Barbara on the eve of her wedding to Gaston de Blondeville, he recalls the detail “Faint on the arras’d walls were shown/ The heroes of some antient story,/ Now faded, like their mortal glory” (164). For Willoughton, his engagement with ruins and the medieval brings home for him his own mortality:
Those walls, where gorgeous tapestry had hung, showed only the remains of door-ways and of beautiful gothic windows, that had admitted the light of the same sun, which at this moment sent the last gleam of another day upon Willoughton, and warned him, that another portion of his life too was departing (20).
The people of the narrative are both oppressed by their past and oppressed by the loss of it. This is why the text is so insistent to make that past real for the reader.
Durant is incorrect when he states that “the sources betray Mrs. Radcliffe’s historicist bias: they contain no description of the broad sweep of historical events, nor the deeds of heroes, not the politics of nations; they concentrate on everyday rituals” (Durant 191-2). First because the deeds of heroes, sweep of historical events and politics are mentioned, if in somewhat less detail than the rituals of dress or food. But second because of what Miles has noted about the difference between Radcliffe’s surface narrative and the subtext (Miles 176). Comparing it to The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, it is easier to see again the focus on the place of a meritocracy in a system that oppresses it. Woodreve, who is continuously referred to as ‘the merchant’ throughout the text, is the most upstanding character. He continuously is reassured that despite his suffering he is doing the right thing:
yet did he not repent the effort he had made, so honest was his grief for the fate of his kinsman; so much was his mind possessed with the notion, that he has accused his very murderer; so confident was he that he was performing a duty; and, what is more, so sure was he, that to perform his duty in this world is the wisest, the most truly cunning thing a man can contrive to do (I.182).
Prince Edward and the Archbishop of York are also cast in a good light by believing him, making the merchant (and the ghost) the focal points of honour in the text. While the rank that one holds is important in the text, it is not as important as being able to see the truth, yet Woodreve is still oppressed by a social system that favours the opinion of people with a high rank.

                Both The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne and Gaston de Blondeville phrase the oppression in the novels as products of the ‘times,’ of the medieval period that is being depicted. The Castles refers to the oppression as the result of “the darkness of prejudice and ancient pride” (762). Gaston is more insistent on the effects of the period: “Nor was that so wonderful in times, when lawless violence had almost overrun the whole land” (II. 256). However, both bring that oppression into the present, though in very different ways. The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne collapse the medieval and the present together. Gaston de Blondeville shows how the past actively haunts, with active consequences, the realm of the present. Simmons calls this “the true medievalist moment: a supposed medieval air and historical incident provide the means of commenting on current oppression” (Simmons 72). The air of the medieval is important to both texts in different ways, but ultimately the past gives to both novels a sense of oppression, one that puts those whose only claim to honour is merit underfoot of those unjustly given privileges.
                Paralleling the two medievalisms Alexander mentions, Fay says that there is “medievalism as an anachronism – as a vaguely past state that encompasses everything up to the Enlightenment initiation into modernity” in addition to the medievalism of antiquarianism, as represented by the character Willoughton (Fay 13). According to Fay:
the conflict between anachronism – the disruption of temporal sequence – and antiquarianism – its preservation – can be seen in the difference between Horace Walpole’s antiquarianism, which leads to the creation of the Gothic, and Walter Scott’s antiquarianism, which leads to the creation of the historical novel. The Gothic is an Enlightenment revision of medieval superstition and fantasy; the historical novel is a Romantic revision of antiquarian collection that makes use of history to create a temporal identity rather than fabricating it for mere escapism (Fay 13).

The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne clearly fit into this category of anachronism. However, Gaston de Blondeville fits neatly into neither, straddling the two. Gaston represents the impulse to gather the nationalistic details of English history, while also exploiting it for that sense of the past as an oppressive structure on the individual psyche. Gaston be Blondeville is an historical novel in the style of Sir Walter Scott, as well as a Gothic novel in the style of, well, Ann Radcliffe, or perhaps we should say Horace Walpole. Durant says that “it is usual to think of the Gothic as an intermediary step towards Scott’s novels,” though this is not fair on the Gothic (Durant 212). Radcliffe self-reflexively brings the two genres together, showing that history is an effective and disturbing ghost. Radcliffe is intentionally reflecting on both genres when her manuscript narrator says:
We vouch not for the truth of all here told; we only repeat what others have said and their selves credited; but in these days what is there of strange and wonderful, which does not pass as current as the coin of the land; and what will they not tell in hall, or chamber, seated by night over blazing logs, as if their greatest pleasure were to fear? (II. 257).

Radcliffe’s use of the medieval is very intentional, even in The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, as she brings home for their readers just what it is about the past we have to fear.

Bibliography

Alexander, Michael. Medievalism: The Middle Ages in Modern England. London: Yale University Press, 2007. Print.
Durant, David S. Ann Radcliffe's novels: experiments in setting. New York: Arno Press, 1980. Print.
Fay, Elizabeth. Romantic Medievalism. New York: Palgrave, 2002. Print.
Miles, Robert. Ann Radcliffe: The Great Enchantress. New York: Manchester University Press, 1995. Print.
Radcliffe, Ann. Gaston de Blondeville of The Court of Henry III Keeping Festival in Ardenne. Vols. I,II. New York: Arno Press, 1972. Print.
Radcliffe, Ann. "The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne." Ann Radliffe: THe Novels, Complete in One Volume. New York: Georg Olms Verlag Hildesheim, 1974. 720-64. Print.
Simmons, Clare. Popular Medievalisms in Romantic Era Britain. New York: Palgrave and Macmillan, 2011. Print.



Monday, May 5, 2014

A Warning against Reductive Interpretation of Ancient Auctoritas : Interpretation of Sources in Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women

[written as a seminar paper for Fall semester 2013 at WMU]

            It matters aesthetically and historically, therefore, to grasp the ambivalent and
            multiply nuanced Chaucerian attitude toward women, its distance from a 
            simplistic or essentialist misogyny that would portray women - "Woman"
            as inherently passive or inherently wicked (Delaney 188).

Chaucer wrote the unfinished Legend of Good Women in approximately 1386, after Troilus and Criseyde but before the Canterbury Tales (Delaney 34). The style is rather like that of hagiography, not only because it is a list of women that fit an ideal, but because these women have been martyred, not for religion, but for the ideals of love (Delaney 60). The tales of Cleopatra, Thisbe, Dido, Lucretia/Lucrece, Hypsipyle and Madea, Ariadne, Philomela, Phyllis and Hypermnestra are paraded out and altered to demonstrate how these sources can foster an understanding of how faithless men are and how many women have been martyred for love. As Sheila Delaney, author of The Naked Text: Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women, has noted above, this text presents a complicated image of women, despite its title and the mandate given to the narrator in the Prologue to present only good women. While it is a text about women, it is also a text about texts. In fact, while his characterization of women is important, often the women are metaphors for texts. Truly, the Legend is a text about sources, or about the works that Chaucer adapts to convey truths to his audience. The Riverside Chaucer, in the introduction to Troilus and Criseyde, calls Chaucer a kind of historiographer, presenting the pre-existing Troilus and Criseyde legend to his English audience (471). In the Legend of Good Women Chaucer is dealing with fallout from that distinction. Jamie Fumo has described Troilus and Criseyde as ‘haunting’ at least the Legend of Good Women’s Prologue (Fumo 167). Lisa Kiser, author of Telling Classical Tales: Chaucer and the Legend of Good Women, states that ultimately, Chaucer, “in actually producing the stories in the legendary, … succeeds in parodying some of the ways in which classical fiction was commonly ‘modernized’ to conform to fourteenth-century tastes” (Kiser 93). The stories themselves are altered substantially from their original forms, so that they could be characterized as unfaithful representations, and they emphasize the theme of ‘misreading’ taken up from the Prologue. However, the repeated emphasis on the sources for the story, and drawing attention to the place of the narrator in constructing the stories, as well as being able to compile stories that do contain women devastated in love, does show the value in using these ancient sources to frame discussions about topical concerns, such as love or honor. Just as women are neither wholly wicked or wholly good, even in a collection of stories about ‘good women,’ the interpretation of ancient sources to tell modern tales is useful, while being fraught with pitfalls for those who seek to be too reductive in their interpretations.
As James Dean, looking at Chaucer’s use of the past, has noted:
There can be no doubt that the English fourteenth century possessed a strong sense of the past, a feeling for history and its bearing on the present. … Chaucer in his works concerned himself with history, mutability, and changes in customs from pagan antiquity to the Christian era and his own times (Dean 401).
Since Chaucer is not the only one who is concerned with how classical precedents affect current proceedings, choosing classical tales for the legendary is particularly appropriate. Classical sources are well known, and so are used as exempla often. Biblical sources would seem an obvious choice if you are going to make a legend about good women, but not if you are going to critique the way that the sources can be interpreted. The same impulse may account for Chaucer’s tendency to stays away from overtly referring to contentious contemporary subjects, such as the uprising of 1381, and possibly, in this context, contemporary women (Philips 101). Chaucer, in works like Troilus and Criseyde, is clearly interested in how these classical sources can be made relevant for modern audiences and how they can be used to express his truths and read for the truths they contain. But they are also appropriate subject matter for this legendary because of the way that they could, and no doubt had, been interpreted or reduced by his contemporaries and their pre-existing position in a learned tradition: Kiser says that “the medieval urge to alter, gloss, allegorize, and edit classical narrative – in other words, the desire to intervene between it and its readers to clarify its usefulness – is rejected by Chaucer in favor of respectful preservation of the ‘doctrine of these olde wyse’” (Kiser 146).
                Ironically, in a text about how authoritative sources can be, there is not necessarily an authoritative, definitive version of the Legend. The Prologue has two variants. G exists in one manuscript, while F exists in several (Delaney 34). Much of the earlier criticism was about what relation the Prologues had to each other (Delaney 35). It is generally accepted that F has priority, though that doesn’t mean that one or the other has more authority (Quinn 2). They are printed side by side in all three ‘Cambridge Editions’ with F given priority by being placed on the left (Quinn 28). They are both “famously, concerned with auctoritas and the textual tradition of ‘olde approved stories’ (F 21),” though the different texts do present different ways of understanding the relationship of sources to people who interpret them (Warren 83).
Both Prologues opens with an epistemological discussion of how we know what we do about heaven and hell (Delaney 44). Since no man of this ‘countre’ has seen it, the divine is revealed to us through authorities and “For by assay ther may no man it preve/ But God forbade but men shulde leve/ Wel more thing then men men han seen with ye!”(F 9-11, G 9-11). This is phrased in terms of religion; it is evident to Chaucer’s audience that, unless we are privee to divine revelation ourselves, we must rely on ancient authorities in matters of religion. However, in this context ‘countre’ (or ‘countree’ in Prologue F) also refers to Chaucer’s England. Delaney shows us that this is not the only reference to the English audience, referring to daisies and Wycliff and other in text clues (Delaney 230). The Legend of Good Women contains tales ancient stories that are removed from Chaucer and his audience by time and by geography. There is no way to know the truth of these tales than through the authorities who pass them on. This is common to both Prologues.
In Prologue F book learning is set up in opposition to direct experience. When Chaucer wearies of his books he must go out into the world and experience it: “though he realized the lasting value of authoritative statements made by poets of the past, he, like all artists, also wanted to make his poetry speak with the voice of experiential truth” (Kiser 30). By looking at the daisy he can see, through direct experience, its truth. However, he understands the truth even more fully by listening to authorities speak about the daisy, a.k.a. the ‘foules’ who sing its praises. He also calls on Etik (Horace) to understand what the daisy is signifying about innocence and virtue. In the Prologue Chaucer is praising authorities who make truths available to their readers.
Chaucer then passes into the dream world where he is subject to the judgment of the God of Love and Alceste, the God of Love’s Queen. Alceste is so beautiful that Chaucer the narrator feels compelled to express her loveliness in a ballad. To express the truth of her loveliness he compares Alceste to lists of legendary beauties. When he finishes he laments that it may not be sufficient for her praises: “For certeynly al thise mowe nat suffise/ To apperen wyth my lady in no wyse” (F 272-3). According to Kiser, Chaucer recognizes “that earthly poets like himself may not always succeed in making their doctrines clear, especially to readers who are unfit to receive literature’s highest gifts” (Kiser 154). The issue is not with the sources that are being used, or with Alceste’s loveliness, but whether or not Chaucer has used them justly and that the meaning is conveyed to his audience.
Chaucer the narrator is kneeling by his daisy when the ladies who are in the God of Love’s train meet up with him. They and Chaucer together are paying homage to the daisy, who is clearly worthy of praise, as can be perceived by observation. However, the God of Love reproaches Chaucer for kneeling at his flower, reprimanding Chaucer for his depiction of women in Troilus and Criseyde and the Romaunce of the Rose. His charge is that in those texts there were false women. His charge is short compared with Alceste’s defense. The God of Love’s charge is short because he has taken a limited view of Chaucer’s work, seeing only the negative, and hence a limited view of Chaucer. He is misreading the texts, which is represented by misreading Chaucer. Kiser argues that “as a character whose metaphorical attributes do not add up to a clear representation of any real truth, and thus as a character who can survive only in a dream visions and not in descriptions of life, the God of Love is a parody of the kind of poetic artifice that Chaucer wished to reject” (Kiser 65). The God of Love has taken the narrow view that only stories of ‘good’ people can accomplish good ends, a statement that Chaucer rejects (Kiser 77).
Alceste tries to show the God of Love his mistake, saying first that one should never listen to only one side, but take in all of the evidence, before a man (text) is condemned: “For, syr, yt is no maistrye for a lord/To dampen a man without answere of word” (F400-1). She points out that while Chaucer’s previous works may have done harm to women in love, they have also done them a service by educating people in these original stories “yet hath he maked lewed folk delyte/ To serve yow, in preysinge of your name” (F 415-6). This comes back to the original point that opened the Prologue, that authorities are important to fostering understanding of the world.
Chaucer is then allowed to make the point that whatever faults can be found in Criseyde or the Rose were not put there by him, but were a result of his sources, since he thoroughly meant to be true to and cherish the concepts of love:
For that I of Creseyde wroot or tolde,
Or of the Rose; what so myn auctour mente.
Algate, god woot, yt was myn entente
To forthren trouthe in love and yt cheryce,
And to ben war fro falsnesse and fro vice
By swich ensample; this was my menynge (F 469-74).

Chaucer then is caught between the ability of authorities and ancient sources to help him express truths about love (or divinity, as is his first example), and how reference to authorities can cause you to fall short of the truth you are trying to express. Chaucer the narrator found authorities and comparisons with other ancient women insufficient for expressing Alceste’s beauty and found that the intentions inherent in his original sources may be counteracting his professed authorial intent in his own works. In both those cases it is not the truth of the ancient sources that are at fault but Chaucer’s own reworking of them. He, like the God of Love, is being accused of misreading, and mistranslating with translating here meaning taking material and ‘translating’ it into something new that is supposedly more accessible for readers.
                The God of Love is misreading Chaucer as Chaucer is accused of misreading his sources. The God of Love is guiltier, since he is, as Alceste says, not weighing both sides equally, or is being too reductive in his reading. Kiser says that he is “confusing the ethical purpose of a literary work with the traits he perceives in its individual characters, a massive confusion, indeed” (Kiser 77). Ironically, Alceste is the one that asks Chaucer to appease the God of Love by scanning ancient sources and reducing them to a single point of view. She is asking Chaucer to condemn the men of ancient sources by showing them only as faithless towards women. She is asking Chaucer the narrator to wilfully misread the texts, but it is not necessarily a shift in her character, since she is asking Chaucer to use the sources to express an essential truth. In addition, while the stories that are to be chosen for the Legend are often reduced to the point of changing the truth of the original source, they do all portray women who are unlucky in love, and so are martyrs in Love’s cause.
                The God of Love asks Chaucer the narrator if he has recognized Alceste. Chaucer the narrator replies: “Nay, sire, so have I blys,/ No moore but that I see wel she is good” (F 504-5). Alceste is identified with the ultimate martyr for love. She died for love of her husband. She is identified with the daisy and with a pure form of a loving woman. Kiser argues that Alceste operates literally and as an allegorical figure who represents experiential learning, as the daisy, but also textual authority since hers is also an ancient tale (Kiser 139). This is much stronger in Prologue F than it is in G. The God of Love charges Chaucer to write her story and do her justice as he hasn’t yet in any of his texts. Alceste then represents Chaucer’s task to do justice to the ideal of loving women, as well as to Alceste’s story. Alceste represents the truth to be found in ancient sources, but she also represents the ancient sources themselves. Chaucer the narrator is being charged with the nigh impossible task of representing a single truth of the story while doing justice to the original source.
Prologue G maintains many of these themes from Prologue F, but emphasizes even more the role that ‘authorities’ play in our understanding of truths, downplaying the truths themselves. Delaney observes that G “strikes one as a work on the whole less subjective than F, less insistent on art in general, and more modest in its presentation of the Narrator as poet” (Delaney 36). The opposition between book learning and direct experience is downplayed. Helen Philips sees an “increased emphasis on the interpretation of texts, authorial intentionality, and translation” (Philips 109). We still have the opening lines showing the role ancient authorities play in how we know things we cannot experience, however our narrator does not go out and experience nature in the same way as he does in Prologue F. The daisy is one of two nature metaphors that are being used to talk about sources. Chaucer the narrator does not experience the nature of the daisy to the same extent, though it still is his favorite flower and still represents Alceste. The other metaphor of corn, which is mentioned in Prologue F, is more fully developed in G. Both texts state:
                For wel I wot that folk han here-beforn
                Of making ropen, and lad awey the corn;
                And I come after, glenynge here and there,
And am ful glad if I may fynde an ere (G 61-4; F 73-6)

In both texts it is standing in for finding something worthwhile in other works, however G continues the metaphor and makes it more explicit, when Love tells Chaucer the narrator “Let be the chaf, and writ well the corn” (G 529). Prologue G plays down the narrator’s direct knowledge of the daisy, and plays up the art of creating based on original sources.
                Prologue G emphasizes Chaucer the author’s role as author who uses ancient sources by having the God of Love elongate the charges against the narrator:
                Yis, God wot, sixty bokes olde and newe
                Hast thow thyself, alle ful of storyes grete,
                That both Romayns and ek Grekes trete
                Of sundry women, which lyf that they ladde,
                And evere an hundred goode ageyn oon badde (G 272-7).
The God of Love criticizes the deliberate interpretive choices made by Chaucer the author in his previous works, saying that he has so many books to choose from, and that even though there are more ‘sundry’ choices than ‘good’ ones, it is up to him as ‘translator’ to choose the ones that will best fit Love’s ideal. For the God of Love “all literature is exemplary in function; he cannot conceive of literary meaning other than that which might arise from these prerequisite moral categories” (Kiser 80). The God of Love of Prologue G is even more deliberately reductive than Love in F.
                Prologue G puts the ‘Balade’ about Alceste’s beauty in the mouths of the God of Love’s train of women. They make the appropriate authoritative comparisons and there is no second guessing of whether the description using ancient sources falls short of the actual thing being described. The effect of this is that there is less emphasis on the Chaucer narrator’s concern over whether or not he can do a good job. With the exception of when he is allowed, through Alceste’s intercession, to defend himself to the God of Love, an episode in both Prologues, the problem is in G is solely whether or not Chaucer’s (narrator and author) work holds up to the reductive ideals prescribed by the God of Love. The defense that he didn’t know “what so myn auctor mente” has much less bite in G than F, as it sounds like our narrator is saying whatever will get him out of a jam in G, whereas in F the sentiment was backed up by Chaucer the narrator’s own doubts about his ability to use authorities to express what needed to be expressed.
While Prologue F emphasizes the truth that can be described by known authorities, Prologue G maintains this theme, shifting the emphasis away from the truth that needs to be expressed to the ability of poets to properly present those stories to their audiences. Prologue G, however, leaves Chaucer the narrator with the same task, of presenting only good women and not ‘sundry’ ones, or reducing women, texts and authorities to one dimension so that audiences have no doubt how they will interpret them. The God of Love says presenting the Romance of the Rose “in pleyn text, withouten to glose” was “an heresye ayeins my lawe” (F 328-30; G 254-6). Laura Getty has shown how “glossing, … consistently represents deception in Chaucer’s works. To follow the God of Love’s commands, the narrator must gloss (i.e., misrepresent) the stories, rather than telling the “verray sooth” of their tales” (Getty 53). Although the God of Love is emphasizing how dangerous it is not to give readers the gloss, or proper conclusions to take from the text, Chaucer parodies this in the Legend by attempting to do so, and then undercutting his tales and parodying the reduction of women and lists of women to one interpretation.  
Either Prologue sets us up to read the legends, which have been distilled to a truth, that of the persecution of women in love. As the God of Love misreads Chaucer, the women in the legends often misread the men who will eventually do them harm. This mimics the misreading of these sources happening in the Legend. The theme of misreading recurs throughout the legends, indicating, as was shown in the Prologue, that there is unreliability in the way sources are interpreted. This does not efface the truth we can glean from these authorities (these women were persecuted in love) but the text is nevertheless a critique of readers and writers who are reductive to the point of obscurity.
In the introduction to her collection of essays on the Legend Carolyn Collette states that “the victimization of loyal women at the hands of crafty and duplicitous men is the central thematic point Alceste insists upon in her directive …, and Chaucer seems to follow her direction slavishly” (Collette ix). Nor is this meant as a compliment. The stories are brief and much has been cut from the originals. In fact, Kiser states that “brevitas turns into something more like lying, for Chaucer is forced to employ it as a device to mask those details in his sources which would complicate our moral judgments of these women and their deeds and would render the narratives useless as exempla” (Kiser 100). We will see that there are details in many of these examples that were not included, because they did not fit the mold of the exemplum, which is the source of much of the comedy and irony (Kiser 98). Delaney sees those original traditions “break through again and again in the legends, swamping the simplistic demands of Eros and Alceste” (Delaney 193).
The first is the Legend of Cleopatra. It is no coincidence that this is both the most authoritative story and that it occurs first. While there is not as great a division between mythology and history in Chaucer’s idea of the past, since both offer truths from authorities for modern audiences, Chaucer does make the distinction that Cleopatra is a woman who really lived: “And this is storyal soth, it is no fable” (702). Kiser states that it is the most faithful retelling of a classical source in the whole collection (Kiser 102). But already it is undercutting the proposed plans of Alceste and the God of Love since, as Delaney argues, Cleopatra would hardly be considered a ‘good’ woman (Delaney 173). William Sayers argues that the description of the Battle of Actium is from Vegetius, an authoritative source itself, and that the naval battle seems real (Sayers 85). The point is then to bring the learned audience to feel the truth of the story. Chaucer has used many devices to ground this tale as a real episode in the imagination of his readers. Cleopatra’s status as a ‘real’ suffering woman is meant to instill in the readers how ‘true’ the suffering of the ensuing women is. Getty, however, offers an alternative view of the inclusion of the long description of the Battle of Actium:
The battle mirrors the process that Chaucer has gone through to write this piece of history/legend: it is a mess. The story must literally be ripped into pieces, like the ships, in order to conform to the God of Love’s expectations, as all of the stories will be (Getty 57-8).

Getty is scanning the legends for metaphors of misreading, and her argument is that while the veracity of the story is made present to the reader, the story itself has been cut short to show only the battle and Cleopatra’s suicide. In addition to Cleopatra’s misreading of Antony, the text misreads Antony, casting him in with faithless men, when that is not the reason he commits suicide himself: “thus we see that the Chaucer who is so faithful to the women in this legendary is at the same time the faithless betrayal of its men” (Kiser 125). Therefore, the text seems grounded in the authorities that were discussed in the Prologue, but the text has been altered, so that it is not faithful to the original, nor can it be said to represent a wholly good woman. The sources are useful to creating an image of Cleopatra, and yet they cannot be used effectively if they are reduced so viciously.
                If Cleopatra is not necessarily a good woman, Thisbe is not really oppressed by a faithless man. Antony does not deserve all the aspersion cast on him in the text, but Piramus simply misread the situation and tried to himself become a martyr for love: “Chaucer has to moralize this narrative awkwardly after he has told it, in hopes of making it appropriate to his project” (Kiser 118). Both Antony and Piramus are at fault, Antony for his suicide and Piramus for his stupidity, but they are not the ‘faithless’ men that Alceste prescribed. Cleopatra didn’t overtly treat on its sources, mentioning just the fact that it is history and presenting a convincing naval battle. In Thisbe, Maggie Burns has shown that the depiction is largely derived specifically from Ovid, but we also have a first mention of an authority: “Naso seyth thus” (Burns 637; 725). We are also drawn back to the fact that the narrator is constructing his legendary from sources: “Of trewe men I fynde but fewe mo/ In alle my bokes, save this Piramus, / And therefore have I spoken of hym thus” (917-9). Clearly sources have been useful to construct this tale, but the whole thing is undercut by its deviance again from the directions of the God of Love, and by the metaphors of misreading, which are stronger than in Cleopatra.
                In the Legend of Dido, Chaucer the narrator reminds us that he is writing under a directive: “But nat to purpose for to speke of here,/ For it acordeth nat to my matere” (954-5). Both the reference to sources and references to the interceding hands of the narrator are exponentially increasing. In fact this tale starts specifically with references to both:
 Glorye and honour, Virgil Mantoan,
Be to thy name! and I shal, as I can,
Folwe thy lantern, as thow gost byforn,
How Eneas to Dido was forsworn.
In thyn Eneyde and Naso wol I take
The tenor, and the grete effects make (924-929).

There is a great emphasis in Dido on the inability of Chaucer the narrator to do justice to either source, or to write it in a way that will be as compelling as their versions. The narrator says “I coude folwe, word for word, Virgile,/ But it wolde lasten al to longe while” (1002-3) as well as “But who wol al this letter have in mynde,/ Rede Ovyde, and in hym he shal it fynde” (1366-7), which are parallel statements that invite the reader to go back to the original sources. The Legend of Dido contains a lot of praise for the sources of Dido, but constantly undermines its own ability to properly interpret them. It makes of itself an unreliable narrator, although it does contain a condensed version of the story.
The Legend of Hipsipyle and Medea is a bit of a misnomer since the reason these two stories go together is that both women are duped by Jason, so that it is really the legend of Jason. Getty takes this as evidence that “the project is slipping out of his grasp, [since] the body that is misread is Jason’s” (Getty 61). Dido somewhat misread the character of Aeneas, but Hipsipyle and Medea are grossly misreading the character of Jason, although the text makes him even more despicable than he appeared in sources. The narrator’s direction to the reader, that they should go back and read the original, is again present: “Lat hym go rede Argonautycon, / For he wole telle a tale long ynogh” (1456-8). One of those statements comes at the end of Hipsipyle’s tale, saying that the rest of the letter she was writing can be found in the source material “Wel can Ovyde hire letter in vers endyte,/ Which were as now to long for me to wryte” (1678-9). In this case, both of the women’s tales are not finished. Hipsipyle’s letter is left hanging, and Medea, like Cleopatra, is a woman who, if you know the whole story, it is hard to see as among the ‘good’ ones. The tale ends before Medea takes her revenge on Jason by killing their children and Jason’s new bride. Such an omission clearly alters the nature of both Medea and her story, and so does not do justice to the original tale. The sources are emphasized by the author as useful, but the decisions made in the editing of the text undercut the ability of the text to represent either the proposed purpose of the legend, or the original sources.
The whole reason that Lucrece dies is because she is afraid of being misread, of being at all complicit in the Tarquinius’s violence (Getty 63).  The opening lines of the Legend of Lucrece deal with the sources and treats on how the material is going to be treated:
Now mot I seyn the exilynge of kynges
Of Rome, for here horrible doings,
And of the laste kynge Tarquinius,
As seyth Ovyde and Titus Lyvius.
But for that cause telle I mat this storye,
But for to preyse and drawe to memorye
The verray wif, the verray trewe Lucresse,
That for hyre wifhood and hire stedfastnesse
Nat only that these payens hire comende,
But he that cleped is in our legend
The grete Austyn hath gret compassioun
Of this Lucresse, that starf at Rome toun;
And in what wise, I wol but shortly trete,
And of this thing I touché byt the grete (1680-93).

The narrator references Ovid and Titus Livius as sources, but also draws readers to the interpretation of the tale by St. Augustine. He finishes his introduction by stating that he himself will only treat on it a little. Placing the sources in the context of other famous interpretations he is bringing the readers’ attention to the tradition of interpreting the material. He then reminds the reader that he is interpreting it himself, which is contrasted with the original sources.
Although Lucrece was avoiding being the object of misreading, Ariadne, like Medea, Hipsipyle and Dido, is the subject, misreading the character of Theseus. She is, however, the object of Theseus’s wiles, as the other women are the object of the viciousness of their respective men.  Delaney has observed that Ariadne continues in her misreading right until the end of the legend (Delaney 212). Ariadne constructs her own version of events, just as she can translate the labyrinth for Theseus so that he can understand it (Getty 64). Nancy Warren sees Ariadne as asserting her will, almost Amazon like, more than any of the other women in the legendary (Warren 85). The result is that she comes off as ambitious, and in the end she is incorrect in her assessment of events. In her betrayal of her kingdom and father and her portrayal as ambitious, she may not fit the category of ‘good’ either. Also, the changes to this legend make her situation more tragic than it was, as Ariadne is eventually rescued from the island, in some traditions by Dionysius. The alteration of the story makes the moral derived from it untrue to the nature of the original. Again the source is mentioned, “In hire Epistel Naso telleth al” (2220). Again the reader’s attention is brought back to the narrator’s role as interpreter: “But that tale were to long as now for me” (1921).
Delaney has noted that the Legend of Philomela differs from the other “in its lack of obscenity, wordplay, or other evidently ironic devices” (Delaney 213). Delaney also notes how many things are left out of the text from the original story. Philomela, Phyllis and Hypermnestra differ from the others in that there is less emphasis on the source material they are drawn from, though they still have a lot of narratorial interjections. The effect of this is that there has been a degradation of the source material from Cleopatra to the last three texts. Cleopatra, the text says, was a tale grounded in history. The intervening legends bring readers back to the original sources. The legends of Philomela, Phyllis and Hypermnestra do not remind the reader of the source, and offer no way for the reader to check Chaucer’s facts.  Like Ariadne, Philomela is a writer of text; she weaves her own tapestries to tell Procne the terrible tale of her fate at the hand of Tereus. This is continued in the Phyllis and Hypermnestra; Phyllis writes her own letter and Hypermnestra, while she cannot prevent Lyno from leaving her, does not kill him, controlling, in part, her own narrative. Therefore, the texts are degraded from removal from the sources, but they also redeem themselves by showing the creation of texts within the narrative. They are themselves source material, with Philomela’s tapestry, as well as Phyllis’s letter, being the true interpretations of that source.
The most interesting interjections by the narrator, reminding us both of his purpose and of his unreliability, occur in the Legend of Phyllis. The legend starts “By preve as well as by autorite,/ That wiked fruit cometh of a wiked tre,/ That may ye fynde, if that it like yow” (2394-6). This brings us back to the idea expressed in the prologue that some things can only be known by ‘autorite.’ This is elaborated on more explicitly later:
To wryte of hem that ben in love forsworn,
And ek to haste me in my legend,
(Which to performe God me grace sende)
Therefore I passe shortly in this wyse (2455-8).

The passage notes his specific purpose, in case we as readers forgot, and reminds us that he is making editorial decisions. Most interesting is the final lines of the tale: “Be war, ye wemen, of your subtyl fo,/ Syn yit this day men may ensaumple se;/ And trusteth, as in love, no man but me” (2559-61). The narrator casts himself into the group of men. Even though he is meant to be a contrast, the irony is that the editorial decisions he has made mean that we cannot trust him.
In the final, unfinished Legend of Hypermnestra (though there were meant to be at least nineteen) our narrator reminds us again that he has told these tales, “And shortly, lest this tale be to long” (2675-8). Getty has shown how it is drastically altered from the source material: “if Hypermnestra is interchangeable with her forty-nine sisters, and her father’s and uncle’s names are just as exchangeable, does anything have solid meaning?” (Getty 68). It is least effective in showing the God of Love and Alceste’s purpose, being so different from the other texts. Her father is more of an oppressor than her lover. It is also the least faithful to its source.
                The women of the legends wilfully misread the men in their lives. When they don’t, they are being misread by the men. This theme is prominent in each of the tales. In addition, each tale has undergone a very severe selection process, whereby scholars and likely learned readers of Chaucer’s time, notice the absences as much as they notice what has been included. Chaucer has convincingly, as per Alceste and the God of Love’s request, made a collection which demonstrates the martyrdom of good women to the cause of love. However, in the process the original sources have been mangled and altered to fit his purpose. They are carefully located in the context of their original sources and historical context, making them seem more authoritative, which is then undercut by the aforementioned mangling (Getty 56). This is an unreliable representation of the original material, which also exults in the truth that can be found there. Readers take away from the Legend of Good Women both the importance of ancient sources for creating works such as this which can tell us truths, but also a warning about misreading the original texts and about being too reductive of ancient tales and books.
                This has implications for the lists of women that appear in Chaucer’s later, also unfinished work, the Canterbury Tales. The theme of misreading comes up often. Fumo has noted that the ‘Retraction’ that occurs at the end of the Tales demonstrates an ongoing concern for being misread (Fumo 175). Dean has noted the obsession in the tales with sources and proof, such as is explored by Prudence in The Tale of Melibee (Dean 402-3). However, the greatest implications may be reserved for reading the frequent appearance of lists of women, such as appear in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale. Delaney argues that there is a parallel in the search for ‘preve’ in the Legend and the Wife of Bath’s Prologue (Delaney 222). In that Prologue Alisoun, the Wife of Bath, describes her husband’s habit of reading from a certain list of women: “Whan he hadde leyser and vacacioun/ From oother worldly occupacioun,/ To redden on this book of wikked wyves” (685-7). She takes action and even rips pages out of the book (and possibly does away with her husband, depending on the reading of the text). She re-enforces this idea from the Legend of Good Women, that the truth of original sources often depends on who is doing the interpretation:
By God, if women hadde written stories,
As clerkes han withinne hire oratories,
They wolde han written of men moore wikkednesse
Than al the mark of Adam may redresse (693-6).

The Legend of Good Women, read in conjunction with this episode, echoes Alisoun in condemning such a reduction of texts and of women to one single wicked truth. It also confirms the reading of the Wife of Bath’s character as neither wholly bad or wholly good, as the Legend, by being tongue and cheek-edly reductive, is anti-reductive interpretation, especially of women.
                The Legend of Good Women has been less well received critically, Kiser suggests because it is harder to unweave the “tangled web of irony” to get at the criticism that Chaucer is making about reductive interpretations (Kiser 20). Nevertheless, while he is comedic he is also making a serious point (Kiser 48). Chaucer walks the line between ironic and serious, with both intents existing in the text at the same time. Throughout both Prologues, Chaucer is emphasizing how we use our sources to create truth for ourselves and for our audiences. Chaucer the narrator’s interactions with Alceste and the God of Love make it clear, however, that Chaucer is negotiating how that process works, and what kind of truths can be ‘gleaned’ from that ‘corn.’ He wishes to mine the works for the truth that he sees there, but doesn’t want to be misunderstood or misrepresent those sources. By inserting himself and his own works in the text the reader understands the Legend as a negotiation of the place ancient sources have in Chaucer’s work.



















Bibliography

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