Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Chaucer, Ethics, and Gender

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Chaucer, Ethics, and Gender

Article excerpt

Alcuin Blamires, Chaucer, Ethics, and Gender (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006). xv + 263 pp. ISBN 0-19-924867-2. £50.00.

It is perhaps unsurprising that, with this book, Alcuin Blamires should have made such a significant contribution to ethical discourse in Chaucer Studies. After all, he has steeped himself in issues of gender and feminism, and feminism, as Terry Eagleton has recently reminded us, has become the model of morality for our time. This is where ethical discourse went in the heady days of deconstruction (understood as utterly relativistic play) and pragmatism (understood as an endless series of soothing bromides). Simon Critchley announced the ethical turn in those quarters a decade ago by reminding readers of philosophy and literature alike of the ethics of deconstruction. Blamires doesn't have lofty theorizing in view in this book, at least not explicitly, but that hardly matters. For, as I've said before in the pages of this journal (regarding Louise Fradenburg's excellent book on psychoanalysis and Chaucer), virtually all theorizing is classicizing, and Blamires certainly classicizes.

The central term of his tide suggests his leanings. Blamires distinguishes between ethics and morality, following the ever useful David Burnley in reserving the former term for 'that part of the behavioural code that was inherited from antiquity' (p. 7), and using the latter to refer to the Christian schema which 'systematically sought to subsume antique ethics' (p. 8). What Chaucer does especially well is to scrutinize 'the awkwardness of the medieval patching together of ethical teaching and Christian morality' (p. 8), always with an eye for gendered inflections. Thankfully, Blamires does not 'scruple to ascribe certain perspectives to "Chaucer" ' (p. 2), a fortitude that has led him in the past to produce such exemplary readings as his recent study of the General Prologue. He gently stresses the point that Chaucer's levity is never that of moral indifference. Blamires's approach is theme based, his aim to produce readings of texts and passages emerging from moral/ethical issues, and his incorporation of gendering persistent yet fluid, depending on the extent to which the gendering of those issues can be determined. …

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