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Richard Utz (Kalamazoo)

Eminent Chaucerians?
Early Women Scholars and the History of Reading Chaucer


Most existing histories of Chaucer studies display a narrow focus on what might be considered foundational nineteenth- and early twentieth-century scholarship, i.e., philological editing, literary history, and published work in general. Such narrow definitions tend to exclude the various other possible forms of the reception of Chaucer's texts, especially those traditionally open to women: teaching, illustration, children's literature, and the various other tasks often meant to assist male Chaucerians with their publication projects.

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This special edition of Philologie im Netz, based on contributions originally made to a panel at the 2002 Conference of the New Chaucer Society at the University of Glasgow, intends to challenge existing notions of what constitutes "eminent scholarship" and to thicken the history of medieval studies through a fresh and international look at the roles of women in the history of reading Chaucer.

Margaret Connolly's essay on Mary Eliza Haweis (1848–98) is a case study of an early Chaucerian working at the intersection of 'serious' philological scholarship and artistic and aesthetic appreciation.

The daughter of the painter Thomas Musgrave Joy (1812–66) and wife to the preacher and author Hugh Reginald Haweis (1838–1901), she published a number of books, including a suffragistic novel and manuals on domestic décor and home management. She illustrated both her own books and those of her husband, skillfully combining her widespread interest in art, fashion, history, and literature. In her work as a Chaucerian, she popularized a number of Chaucer's stories from the Canterbury Tales and some of the shorter poems in anthologies designed for children and for adult non-scholarly readers. Fascinatingly, she not only provided modernized translations and Pre-Raphaelite illustrations of key scenes from the tales, but also included the type of critical apparatus otherwise only available in the contemporary scholarly editions published by Frederick James Furnivall, Walter W. Skeat, and Richard Morris. Writing to supplement the household income, her adaptations clearly played a role in widening general access to Chaucer's poetry and in promoting the reading of Middle English verse in its original among British readers.

If Mary Haweis's educational and social circumstances obliged her to find a creative niche between that of the full-time scholar and the mere enthusiast, Hermiene Frederica Ulrich's (1885–1956) biography presents the case of a Chaucerian whose foundational contribution to the field has remained undocumented because she excelled in the area of pedagogy. As Louise D'Arcens demonstrates, Ulrich's record as the first person, male or female, to be employed to teach English at the University of Queensland, Australia, and as a successful teacher and deviser of a curriculum, has been completely obscured by those historians of the discipline who measure academic significance or eminence exclusively in terms of published scholarship. D'Arcens teases out Ulrich's impact as a non-researching teacher on an entire generation of Australian teachers in Early English and Chaucer studies from curriculum and examination records, lecture scripts from the Queensland branch of the Worker's Educational Association, her participation on the Brisbane public-speaking circuit, and entries in journals.

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William Snell's findings on U.S. medievalist Edith Rickert (1871–1938) underline D'Arcens's results. Rickert's name is inextricably linked to that of John M. Manly (1865–1940), her colleague and close collaborator for some 40 years at the University of Chicago, where they worked jointly on several major and foundational projects concerning Chaucer, especially the Chaucer Life –Records and Text of the Canterbury Tales (1940). However, while Manly received ample posthumous recognition in Chaucer studies, for example through the awarding of the Medieval Academy of America's prestigious Haskins Medal, Rickert has remained unrecognized. Following the prior work done by Sylvia Tomasch and Elizabeth Scala, Snell focuses on Rickert's particular strengths and the collaborative aspect of Rickert and Manly's achievements.

In the final essay for this collection, Juliette Dor discusses the career of Caroline Spurgeon (1869–1942), author of the landmark three-volume Five Hundred Years of Chaucer Criticism and Allusion 1357–1900 (1925). While Spurgeon received considerably more recognition than Hermiene Ulrich, Ramona Bressie, and Mary Haweis because she worked as a full-time researching teacher/scholar, the obstacles she had to overcome to be appointed first woman professor of English in England were considerable. Only smart networking, in the British Federation of University Women and with female counterparts in the more progressive United States, and female lobbying helped her gain leadership positions in the restructuring of English studies in Britain (e.g., the English Association) as well as in the launching of the English literature curriculum at the University of London.

The four essays brought together for this cluster leave no doubt about the continued necessity for investigating some of the less commonly traveled territories in the history of academic medievalism. The quickly growing work on nineteenth- and twentieth-century Chaucer reception needs to extend the traditional gendered definitions of what constitutes "eminence" and "scholarship" to present a truly comprehensive reception history. This essay collection, with its welcome focus on new archival and biographical material, contributes to this still evolving picture.