Prologue to the Wife of Blah

by cheri block

Joe and I met Tuesday for lunch at a different restaurant, one close to Joe’s doctor’s office.

It was good to back in our routine, slinging around literary opinions loud enough for others to hear.

Joe has a booming voice and he doesn’t give a rat’s ass (to quote Joe) what others think.

Our conversation took many twists and turns, just like the rotini on my plate.

For my essay due in several weeks, I’m thinking of comparing Chaucer’s the Wife of Bath to Dante’s Beatrice. What do you think about that idea? I asked.

Good Lord, Cheri, why subject yourself to that much work?

Well, the topic interests me. I write for myself, not for the professor, I lied. So what if Dr. Soinso is a professor of comparative literature, his specialty being medieval and Renaissance literature and art, I thought.

Joe’s Italian eyes crinkle a bit; his eyebrows merge into a line of amusement. He smiles at my method.

It’s too much. You can’t get there from here. Plus, I don’t want you calling me six times a day this weekend. You will bury yourself. You need to find another person to call when your questions are late at night.

All right Joe.  I will take a  look at the Wife of Bath. After all, I am a wife. And I am married to an older man. Geez. Judge Blah could take a big hit this weekend.

Yes, but the Wife of Bath has a hell of lot more experience than you. And her tale has everything to do with her experience as a wife to five husbands. You’ve only had one husband, Joe observed.

I could have several more if he doesn’t shape up, I thought, strangely channeling the Wife of Bath.

Maybe I should write about sex and the character of the Wife of Bath. Dr. Soinso, a handsome silver-haired Frenchman in his fifties might appreciate the topic, I said loudly, hoping for a reaction by someone.

The dude sitting next to us—too close I might add—looked over at me and winked. I winked back and he immediately looked down. Things were steaming up, just like Joe’s bean soup.

I said, That’s what I love about Chaucer: he humanizes the human experience.

Cheri, Dante is the originator of Renaissance thought. He uses Beatrice to humanize the spiritual experience.

Hell, yes! I cheered, using my sour dough slice to sop up that red sauce.

And Chaucer’s pilgrims, are they capable of redemption without the Almighty? I asked, sounding like my father Hugh, whom I miss in conversations like this one.

Let me repeat myself, Cheri. Chaucer’s characters humanize the human experience.

The Wife of Bath is the real deal. Beatrice is the real ideal, said Joe.

OK. I get it.

Joe got up, more slowly this time, and we walked arm in arm out the door to his shiny black car with the license plate Cent Ani.

Next Monday, I am going to tell you about the time your dad and I went to see The Godfather. Did I ever tell you that story? Joe asked.

About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in On fiction, People and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Prologue to the Wife of Blah

  1. zeusiswatching says:

    “I could have several more if he doesn’t shape up, I thought, strangely channeling the Wife of Bath.”

    You really don’t like that lavender business do you?

  2. Cheri says:


    Since you know the Wife of Bath, you know what she is after, right?

    I am not giving out the answer until everyone weighs in…

  3. andreaskluth says:

    It’s been too long. I’m rusty on the Wife of Bath.

    Dante live a couple of generations before Chaucer, but Dante was Italian, and Italy’s Zeitgeist was ahead of England’s. So in that sense, they might be soul-mates. But the Wife was saucy, whereas Beatrice (I haven’t read Paradiso) was all prim and proper, right?

    Does Judge Blah read this blog?

  4. Cheri says:

    The Wife of Bath was all about dominance over her husbands. She is an amazing character, considering the time. She is, perhaps, the greatest female character in all of English literature, save maybe Tess and Lady Macbeth.

    (At least, that might be my thesis…”)

    Does Judge Blah read these posts?


    But I read them to him after several glasses of wine and he forgives me.

  5. Richard Manchester says:

    I hope I’m not too late with my assignment ma’am.


    It is important now I tell you more
    For much there is of doubt left by those tales
    Of how that worthy, learned Man of Law
    Corrupted by a Wife of Bath – God’s Nails!
    Whose cute eye kills, she sent him off those rails
    By Chinese hands that blasted through a pass-
    With faults no saint could shift: e’en Andreas.

    So do not lightly scan this merrie verse
    Of Constance, harridan and Donegild
    For Chaucer’s view of woman is adverse
    His classic work with cynicism filled,
    Of cunning schemes and wagging tongues unstilled
    Take heed all men (I mean both young and old)
    Watch ever close your honour and your gold.

    He warning gave of that poor Nicholas
    Who when we read the miller’s bawdy yarn
    We find was cruelly branded on his …
    By iron. But yet another Alison
    Stirred up his passion and this act anon.
    So see, there’s manifest another twist
    Each one of them, indeed, is feminist.

    But “Surely though” I hear you meekly say
    “Pure Constance, faithful, moral suff’ring soul
    Did all mens’ bid, ne’er utt’rin g ‘Nay’ –
    Across the seas of fate it took its toll
    Beleaguer’d, slander’d, banish’d…” though it’s drole
    Read closer – see her wiles: “… but to say
    Nothing at all of her in any way”!

    On second view, our lawyer he is well advised,
    Of honour’d judgment and he’s strong.
    The Wife of Bath is least despised
    Of all the women in the pilgrim’s song
    We all will see before the day is long
    That she spoke not about her deeds, but thoughts.
    A lusty, loyal, honest wife he sports!

    • Cheri says:

      Your verse rivals all who comment on this blog,
      She’s grateful for the intellect (without the grog),
      Please stay on deck in case Joe is fast asleep,
      The Wife of Bath, she digs where things are deep,
      In hopes that her men will agree to her contract,
      She’d rather be in control than on her back.


      Richard, you are brilliant.

      • Richard Manchester says:

        Yet see how easy it is for a talentless nobody to fool the truly talented:

        In 1794 Dr Johnson fell on his knees and kissed “The relics”, manuscripts of newly discovered plays purportedly by William Shakespeare. They turned out to be forgeries by a solicitor’s articled clerk, William Henry Ireland.

        Not that my doggerel even remotely compares to those fakes!

  6. Cheri says:

    Well, you are too modest (which is typical of the truly talented) and I too confident (which is typical of the talentless nobody) but for the record (Judge Blah loves that phrase), I thought your doggerel was better than the relic at Canterbury. I understand Thomas a Becket’s underwear is there, preserved. Is that true?

    P.S. My dog Dinah liked your doggerel too.

    • Cheri says:

      All Right, Richard.

      I have now studied The Blogger’s Tale in a warm-up to writing my essay on The Wife of Bath.

      Who is lusty, loyal, and honest? I’m just wondering.

      • Richard Manchester says:

        I wondered if it might be a louse in a hair shirt – but that was someone else.

        That kiss of Dr Johnson’s must have been something – Wiki tells me he died in 1784.

        Back to the grog…

    • Richard Manchester says:

      Keep that dog on a lead! It could cost an arm and a leg.

  7. Phil says:

    “…….The Wife of Bath is the real deal. Beatrice is the real ideal……..”

    Could this be because both (I assume) were women, who, as such, would have had more common sense (well, mostly) than men?

    This notion has resonated with me because I’m doing a series on posts about language-change in history.

    What has struck me is that the further back the history – which is told to us mostly by male historians – the more language-change doesn’t accord with how people actually behave language-wise.

    The more recent the history – which is more reliable because record-keeping since the Dark Ages was much improved – the more language- change accords with common sense ie with how people actually behave language-wise.

    Ergo, if we want to know the truth about language-change in the Dark Ages and before, it’s best to use our common-sense rather than swallow everything the overwhelmingly male historians have told us.

    A problem with history as purveyed to us (mainly by men) is that it is mainly about the rulers (mainly men) and the ruling classes, and their wars and conquests. This makes history seem more exciting than it actually was.

    Actual history – the history of the common people, who make up 90% and more of humanity through nearly all of recorded history, and who were almost all poor and illiterate, and lived unchanging lives from generation to generation – is quite prosaic.

    • Cheri says:

      Hi Phil,
      I have been following your posts on language change.

      Perhaps a common thread in all of human history is how much humans have suffered.

      Your theories seem plausible.

      Alisoun, the Wife of Bath, is a lusty and bawdy woman who has been married 5 times. She wants to dominate men and will use sex to do it.

      Beatrice is Dante’s ideal, a woman he met only several times but who is the source of his spiritual quest.

  8. Lichanos says:

    Since you are reading Chaucer, and are otherwise so involved in English (and other) literature, I cannot recommend to you too highly the book of pastiches, The Holy Tango of Literature. There is a link to it at the bottom of this post, as well as his hilarious parody of Geoffrey’s style:

  9. Cheri says:

    Hi Licanos,

    Thank you! When I finish trying to figure out Chaucer’s real style 🙂 , then I will follow your link.

    I will also check out The Holy Tango of Literature.

  10. Richard Manchester says:

    Woman has all men inside her, not just five. She has formed them all. They are her. She knows them better than they know themselves. She is the source of all their glory and distress.

    She brings them into the world. They have no choice. She only knows why.

    She knows their waywardness. That is why she keeps to herself the secret of life. She can draw them back at any time with the thread of curiosity, which she herself has created.

    Perplexed and foolish he wanders through the forest in fear of his life. His shattered vision sees many women, reflections of one woman: his mother. She only can save him, though he is disdainful. There is another side to her:

    With horny hand on crooked stick
    She shuffles in my way.
    “A thousand curses lie upon your head
    Before the day is done!”

    So, beware the Ides of March. Nonetheless she saves him from himself. In the end, he finds in her his bride and the source of all his joy and that of generations to come. It is the wise man who submits, and she knows it. She destroys those who do not, or dies herself.

    Why does she bother? Because he is her and she is him. The two are one.

    And Chaucer delivers all this, and more, with a wry, timeless chuckle at everyday life. He is wise enough to have the Bride of Bath describe all men and tell the tale herself.

  11. Cheri says:

    Your interpretation is compelling but I am not fully convinced.

    The Wife of Bath does not seem to me to be that Mother of Men, just as the Knight in her tale does not seem to be looking for his mother.

    Perhaps I reject Freud here.

    The Bride of Bath describes men in the most unflattering terms. In doing so, she herself becomes the dominant shrew in the most manipulative of realms: the bed.

    I don’t see her as Earth Mother.

    But I will consider your point of view and the lovely way you express it all.

    • Richard Manchester says:

      I submit and I submit. I await my grade in trepidation.

      • Cheri says:

        No grade, Sir Richard.

        Your rubies and gold I accept with grace.

        Let’s see what grade I receive when this damn essay, albeit far from finished, the Pardoner reads.

        You will have a tiny piece of that grade, Sir.

  12. Man of Roma says:

    @Cheri & Richard

    Ah, now that we know more about you- some similarities with Alisoun – that was a bad trick of yours you bad girl wasn’t it 😉

    I read Chaucer many times rendered splendidly into modern English by J.U. Nicholson, but this alas occurred 25 years ago I forgot so much.

    I was fascinated by Richard’s inspired ‘Mother of Men’ tale which is part of every man’s psyche – Freud, I don’t give a rat’s ass, let me use Joe’s phrase I have written in my little book :-)…

    (and by his poem! Gosh Richard I’ll wake you up too in the middle of the night for counsel about English literature and Britannia!)

    So I’m sorry to disagree with Richard. No Mother here I believe, but I disagree with you as well. Alisoun was not a dominant shrewd – if I recall well– as you say. In my view she is modern, in the usual historical sense of ‘set against the dark ages’, an era when a mainly negative view of the woman as devil, temptress (Eve), witch etc was prevalent – mind I am no feminist, I am neutral.

    [Dante, Boccaccio and later Petrarch, who coined the dark ages concept itself, are full of ‘modern’ ideas and figures set against the dark ages, and Chaucer couldn’t be but part of this general this zeitgeist.]

    In the ‘longer than the tale’ prologue (where the solid philosophical stuff is) she in fact says (I might be imprecise): Why THE HELL Solomon could have many wives and I, a woman, not?

    Or when she asserts the role of the genitals, not only for urine or for distinguishing a man from a woman … and so on.

    I mean, one has to read not Boccaccio or Dante (where the woman is ennobled …) but a guy like the Italian Franco Sacchetti (c. 1335 – c. 1400), I have to find this novel, where there’s a wife who doesn’t behave, so her husband waiting the right day the village is less peopled he closes carefully all the windows starts beating her like like an animal.

    I’ll get back this evening for the comparison with Alisoun – Beatrice, a tough one, I agree with Joe.

    Ciao magnifica

  13. Cheri says:

    Between the wise literary counsel of Sir Richard and my literary Italian scholar Man of Roma, I am a very lucky little bloggette, no?

    Fun to have an opportunity to respond here!

    I have spent 2 weeks with my lusty and riotous friend Alisoun of Bath. My treatise about her nature is due tonight at 7:00 pm.

    Joe is back in the hospital, so I have been spending time with him and we have been talking all about Alisoun, as well as Paradise Lost (reading due tonight). Joe did his graduate work in English at Berkeley in the 1950’s on Milton.

    Some ironies in that paragraph.

    Back to Alisoun. My essay contends that Alisoun is not a feminist (in the modern sense of the term) because she did not want equality between the sexes, but rather she wanted total domination.

    I loved writing this essay because I wrote it as a sexual act with an undressing, foreplay (lots of it), a climax, and a denouement. Also incorporated into the paper are the functions of plot and story—character, rising action, conflict, climax…you get the picture.

    I wanted to compare Alisoun and Beatrice but didn’t have the guts…I know you will enlighten us.

    I have not read The Decameron but the professor read selections to us in class.

    Aside from all this literary talk, I find myself without words to write these days.

  14. Cheri and MoR I’m afraid you’ll both find RM’s literary counsel shallow, he’s ashamed to say. He continues to be educated by you.

  15. Cheri says:

    Nice new picture, Sir Richard.

    I respect modesty almost as much as I respect bravery and soldiers.

  16. Man of Roma says:


    So that is your blog, Richard. So nice to know I have a place to go ask to instead of calling you are 3 am!!

  17. Man of Roma says:

    I am writing a comment on the Beatrice and Alisoun stuff … I have a couple of phone calls before tho.

    Ciao bella bambina
    nordica dolce
    e tanto sibillina …

  18. Man of Roma says:

    Harder than I thought .. so much time has passed … do not dispair tho lol 🙂

    • Cheri says:

      Hi Man of Roma,

      Love your Italian salutation. (Blush)

      No rush, please. I am so swamped with my own student papers, I must turn away from my blog and get my work done…

  19. Man of Roma says:

    Good that I don’t have to rush. 1) I always try to write the divine comedy at each line I write ah ah ah 2) most of all, my daughter just got a one year (better than nothing) post in the biggest company for marketing ever, we HAVE TO TOAST!

    And Cheri, let me say it, you are a blessing, you make us think, work for you, you are an inspiring Muse!

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