12 November 2013

(Anti)feminism in the Wife of Bath's Tale

I assumed, as I prepared to blog this week, that I would be writing about the Friar's Tale or the Summoner's Tale, despite my love for (and the general gendery goodness of) the Wife of Bath's Tale. Because everyone would be writing about the Wife of Bath, right? You've got to show some love to the others, right?

Well, imagine my surprise when I saw the blog posts coming in—a little-known benefit of being quite delayed in my blogging this week, I suppose—and noticed that almost everyone was writing about the Friar and the Summoner. No love for Alysoun!

Alas, I couldn't let her story go undiscussed. The Wife of Bath has been one of my favorites for years, in large part because of Alysoun's sass. It seems that most people focus on the anti-feminist bent of this tale; between Alysoun's prologue, which (at least purportedly) demonstrates how a woman should be a good wife by using Alysoun as an example of how she shouldn't act. But frankly, this reading seems a little bit boring at this point in time.

Since I'm currently working on a paper about The Book of the Duchess, I couldn't help but think about the differing portrayals of women in these two works. I think it's interesting that there is so much focus in scholarship on whether or not (or to what extent) the Wife of Bath's tale and prologue are antifeminist. However, it's really the pairing of the prologue with the tale that brings this idea to the fore. The tale itself is not an original work, with analogues in early Irish myths and in the Marriage of Sir Gawain. Similar to The Book of the Duchess, the tale itself isn't about women so much as about the men who interact with them and how they do so. This is already super late, so I am actually going to leave this in a pathetic state of unfinished-ness. However, I'd like to look more in depth at the tale on its on vis-à-vis in concert with the prologue, and how it might develop our readings of the text beyond the "is it antifeminist" rhetoric.

1 comment :

  1. My own take on WBT is that the Wife is one of the most profoundly hopeful about marriage of all the pilgrims. I too love her sass. For me, she is like the mathematician at the blackboard in a complex proof on a t shirt I used to have: in the middle it says 'and then a miracle occurs' and on either side you have proposition and resulting proof. She can't demonstrate how an ideal marriage might work, exactly, but she still wants to say it's possible....