by cheri block
After spending three weeks with Alisoun of Bath (and indirectly with her marvelous creator, Geoffrey Chaucer) I have a new heroine: the Wife of Bath of The Canterbury Tales.
I love her.
I love Chaucer too, for having the balls to create such a woman who had such respect for the power and weakness of balls.
Alisoun is only in her forties but still sees herself as a highly desirable woman.
She’s “out there.”
Riding astride her horse (not side-saddle) on the way to Canterbury with the other pilgrims, she represents the common woman—a wife—per se, someone’s chattel, someone’s beast of burden, someone’s warm belle chose, a chance to couple when the feeling presents itself.
Somehow, one day, staring up at the ceiling in the middle of an act of passion, Alisoun decides that the pact between Adam and Eve is more than Original Sin. Rather, it is the Original Bargain, that unspoken agreement between a man and his woman.
If I give you what you want, you’ll give me what I want.
What do I want?
The checkbook, the retirement account, the Visa and MasterCard accounts. What we’ll have for dinner, who our friends will be, who your friends will be, what trips we’ll take and where our burial plots will be.
Alisoun endures sermons about Jesus and Abraham. She listens to the educated philosophize about Ptolemy; she reports on the love and legacy of five husbands—three old and two young– all who want the same thing: a warm body to satisfy them in the most rudimentary and wonderful of acts.
Strange that on the way to Canterbury the agents of the church are so interested in Alisoun’s red stockings, her ruddy face, and her supple shoes. The Friar, the Summoner, and the sleazy flim-flam man of the Church—the Pardoner—all cozy up to the Wife of Bath telling her their Tales of Control.
She’s got it down, that girl/woman/old lady.
And to think Geoffrey, dear, you wrote this piece in 1380 C.E.