Geoffrey and the American Flapper

  • Candace Barrington
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Until the past fifty years it has been easy to ignore women’s roles disseminating Chaucer in America. To recognize women’s invisibility, consider the mural depicting the development of the written word on the portico outside the New York Public Library’s third floor reading rooms. As the floor sign tells curious observers, the four panels begin with Moses, continue to the medieval scribe, move to Gutenberg, and end with the linotypographer. The mural tells a story in which the written word is a work of labor that rightly belongs in the hands of men. It tells a story, too, of how writing and learning have filtered down from the highest orders, from the ruling and priestly class, to the merchant class, and then to the laborers, leaving women out of the equation. For Chaucerians accustomed to thinking of men and male scholars as the primary distributors of Chaucer until the middle of the twentieth century, the four large panels easily metamorphose into a familiar history: Chaucer was the inspired conduit of “good English verse,” scribes (such as Hoccleve) preserved his texts, Caxton first printed his text, and twentieth—century printers provided scholars with abundant, relatively inexpensive authoritative texts.


American Woman Cultural Capital Adult Education English Verse Male Scholar 
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© Candace Barrington 2007

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  • Candace Barrington

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