Friday, February 03, 2023

"hir hipes large"

I went to a lecture in Southwark Cathedral's library last night. Marion Turner on her new book, "The Wife of Bath: A Biography." Marion Turner is the J.R.R. Tolkien Professor of English Literature and Language at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall. I am now old enough to see the J.R.R. Tolkien Professor of English Literature and Language is an attractive young woman. There is only upside to this, Years do your worst.

It was good enough for me to buy a copy of the book and have a chat with the author afterwards as she signed it. I told her I didn't previously know that the Wife of Bath's pilgrimages included Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela just like Margery Kempe, and that when I first read of Kempe I thought her great journeys through Europe and the Middle East made her unique. Marion and I could have spoken of women's agency and a specifically female nurturing ethical tradition for hours but the queue was getting restless.

What was less good, were the questions that came from the audience after the formal talk. They were, almost without exception, quite staggeringly pompous and ill informed; about Chaucer's "misogyny" and devoid of even a hint of self awareness.

Here is an example of the type of tomfoolery we had to endure; a woman in the audience asked if the reference in the Prologue to "hir hipes large" was "body shaming" the wife of B? I could hear Professor Turner grinding her molars together in frustration at this idiocy, but all she did was mouth some platitudinous bromide in reply rather than get in a cat fight with this harridan. Here is where the image gets good though. The young lady who was running the event was the person walking round the room handing the microphone to the 'hands-in-the-airs' who wanted to ask questions. After delivering the mike to the next idiot, she would kneel down when the question was being asked so as not to obstruct anybody's view. I mean really kneel down, buttock to the back of the ankle. In a black shift dress, black tights and black flats she looked like a medieval supplicant. I wondered how an image of her prostrating herself before, say, a row of men, as she was now prostrating herself before the woman who was asking the dumb-ass question would go down with the woman herself. Patriarchy anyone?

I did take one mark from our lecturer for a reference to Julian of Norwich as a nun - which she wasn't - rather than an anchoress. On reflection, I am tempted to reinstate it. Imagine LGBTQ+ trans-confusion crisis involved in having to explain to the half wits in the audience that Julian of Norwich was a woman. Was this progressive or regressive in the 15th century? I give up.

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