Ever since her triumphant debut in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath, arguably the first recognizably real woman in English literature, has obsessed readers—from Shakespeare to James Joyce, Voltaire to Pasolini, Dryden to Zadie Smith. Few literary characters have led such a colorful life or matched her influence or capacity for reinvention in poetry, drama, fiction, and film.
A sexually active and funny working woman, the Wife of Bath, also known as Alison, talks explicitly about sexual pleasure. She is also a victim of domestic abuse who tells a story of rape and redemption. Formed from misogynist sources, she plays with stereotypes.
In an entertaining and enlightening talk, professor of English literature at the University of Oxford, Marion Turner tells the fascinating story of the origin of Chaucer’s favorite character, how she related to contemporary real women, and how she has been represented since the 14th century, both in literature, from Falstaff and Molly Bloom, to real social movements, such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter.
Turner’s book The Wife of Bath: A Biography (Princeton University Press), is available for purchase.
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