I'm Dolores Cullen and my passion for Chaucer began when I was a
middle-aged undergraduate--an English major taking the "required"
Chaucer course. At first the Middle English scared me. Then something
clicked; the vocabulary became stimulating; the images, challenging.
me, especially concerning the ambiguities and the make-up of the
and their descriptions--a hired cook with a running sore? a man with
nostrils? When I’d draw attention to what seemed oddities, I was told,
just the way it was." That didn’t help. The Canterbury pilgrims passed
in unending review before my mind's eye. Then, one evening, I suddenly
answer. What a perfect topic for my term paper, I thought.
I asked my Chaucer
professor how to go about organizing these multilevel images, he asked
if I meant
an allegory. “Yes!” With an indulgent smile, he cut short our
stating Chaucer did not write allegories. But medieval readers had
in the challenge of a double meaning! I had to tell someone what was in
or I'd burst. Another Chaucer professor, at first, appeared intrigued.
I got to the pilgrim identities, he cautioned, "Mind your humility."
two professors, I took stock. I wasn’t discouraged. Far from it. I was
enthralled by Chaucer. [Besides, I was not in awe of professors. I’d
married to one for years. Many of my friends were professors. I knew
human, perhaps even fallible.] I went to work on my own, guided by a
on literary research that approved of “skepticism” of long-venerated
pursued all things
medieval. The religious aura of many alternate images added a new
the Tales, but I had misgivings. Would my research damage Chaucer's
The college chaplain gave me the words that continue to guide me:
fear the truth.”
a truly wonderful
thing happened. Virginia Hamilton Adair, now a recognized poet, was the
of the bibliography course that facilitated work on the Senior Project.
3x5 card she handed me, I wrote that reading Chaucer caused double
for me. I wanted to understand the secondary images. On the bottom of
she wrote "Fascinating!"
was completed, the project advisor wrote a long letter attempting to
from continuing my pursuits. Professor Adair asked to read the finished
and her reaction brought me hope--it was the most original thing she'd
ages. She advised I get a Ph.D. My unhesitating reply, "No." Undaunted,
she offered Plan B: organize articles for journals. If my name was seen
frequently, “they” would
have to take me seriously. I set right to it.
neat little piece
about Chaunticleer, the rooster, was accepted. Then I explained a
Sir Thopas; it was also published. Next, I tried a more complicated
explication of a second meaning in Chaucer's “Litel Jape" (little
joke). The "joke" didn't make it; a hidden meaning wasn't valued. For
another article I was advised to reduce the content to a "'glossary' of
obscenity," which wasn’t what I had in mind.
entered a Master's
Program and responded to a "call for papers" from a Christian literary
group. I was eager to introduce the concealed image within Chaucer’s
guide of the pilgrims. The paper was accepted. I had to be certain that
the word “host” would
bring an image of Christ to the fourteenth-century mind. I discovered
Feast of Corpus Christi, celebrating the presence of Christ in the
Host, was the most elaborate of medieval feast days—grander than
or Easter. Enough said.
Professor Adair advised me to send my paper to the journal of the
society immediately. I did just that. One reviewer said the paper could
in a revolution of Chaucer studies. Another recommended the journal
touch [this] with a hundred foot pole." The hundred foot pole won. That
convinced me that 12-15 pages could not make a proper case. I would
have to write
have tried to save me from my own enthusiasm. Others have worked to
maintain the status quo. But through the years Virginia Adair has been
an inspiration. (I once told her that if someone would just prove to me
that I was wrong, it would save me a lot of work. She found the
statement foolish--she was right.) She has shared the excitement of the
quest, the discoveries, and the desire to give what I see to others.
Pursuing Chaucer is a captivating game; his carefully chosen words are
the source of the captivation.
while trying to find a publisher, I received a letter that read, "I
[my brother] had lived to read your book." John Daniel (of Daniel
had understood. His late brother was a medievalist. Three Chaucer books
John continues to be my publisher.
much. I still talk about Chaucer at any opportunity. I rate the thrill
Saint-Saens' Organ Symphony for the first time, or hiking the Grand
to Chaucer. He is the most exciting intellectual adventure of my life.
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