Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
Most of us first encounter Chaucer near the beginning of senior year in high school. At the time I was issued my brick-red copy of Adventures in English Literature, Mrs. Mabel Kane promised us all that something in that book, during the course of the year, would strike us and stay with us. I hoped it would be Wordsworth, which I knew was her personal favorite. So in September of 1977 we plunged into some Anglo-Saxon stuff, which I liked well enough but considered rather alien — maybe the kind of material better suited to the jocks, among the ranks of which one was more liable to find an aficionado of helmets and weaponry. Next was medieval materials, amounting to Chaucer — the General Prologue and some Canterbury Tales. This was great! And it’s still September! What further treasures await? How much better can this keep getting?
Had I known then what I know now, I would have been wowwed by Macbeth and other works in later sections. (Had I known then what I know now, it would have been difficult not railing madly in frustration and rage and being locked up.) Wordsworth was okay, especially being read those Lines Composed Above Tintern Abbey outside by Mrs. Kane. And she gave me a mimeographed copy of a Christina Rossetti poem for no reason one time, unless she apprehended my suicidal mood. But nothing was ever as cool as Chaucer that year.
If I had it all to do over again, I’d have gotten a focus and have started writing my dissertation when I was 15. But I stumbled into grad school willing to gravitate towards whatever was enjoyable. And this turned out to be any class offered by Professor Thomas J. Garbáty, a Chaucerian who had studied under Albert Baugh and who knew all the main Chaucerian T-Rexes, like E. Talbot Donaldson. An extra piece I wrote at the time (the early Reagan years), was solicited twenty years later to honor Professor Garbáty after his retirement. This collection of Middle English literary goofiness, sprinkled with Garbáty’s own quips, can be read here: #7: Medieval Humor.
More to come….