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Chaucer's Host: Up-So-Doun
Date of Review: 
Oct.01.1998
Published Work: 
Reviewer: 
James A. Cox
Source: 
The Midwest Book Review

Like many enduring works of art, The Canterbury Tales has been subjected to new interpretations over the years. Important and respected scholars have dissected and discussed the tales from all sorts of perspectives. In Chaucer's Host, Dolores Cullen offers something new in Chaucer studies. She posits a secret identity for Herry Bailly, the keeper of the Tabard, where the pilgrims are housed. It is he who guides the pilgrims and tale-tellers, who in fact sets the rules for their round-robin of storytelling. This man (known in the book as the Host) is the one character present throughout the book, acting as an emcee and providing continuity. Cullen convincingly proposes that Chaucer's Host is none other than Jesus Christ himself. She supports her thesis in a number of ways: "Host" had a meaning in religious terminology (Eucharistic Host) of the bread-made-divine-flesh. The Host in these tales performs a number of functions parallel to those of Christ: provider of sustenance, guide, protector, sponsor, arbitrator, advocate, and judge. Cullen also points out that for Christ to occupy the place of honor in the lives of all the pilgrims (who represent a cross-section of the society in those times) is an historically accurate reflection of the people of that time. Chaucer's Host also features chapters dealing with the medieval world view and current events of Chaucer's time, extensive notes, and a large bibliography. Written to be immediately accessible to the non-specialist general reader, Cullen's new insight will compel significant reassessment within the scholarly community of Chaucer studies.

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Chaucer's Host

Ms.  Cullen

What a creative and original analysis/interpretation of the Host as a character!

Permit  me to share with you thatI first studied Chaucer in some depth with a Professor John Clark at the University of Minnesota in the 1960's.  With the medieval  "mindset" attuned to  underlying worlds (a real hell and heaven) as real as anything in this "apparent" world, allegory was practically "built into their genes," as the saying goes. 

 Life today, for many people, has become almost too literal, wouldn't you agree, depriving us of the enrichment and greater "possibilities" that were an integral part of the medieval imagination/experience.  Science, our new theology/cosmology, surely accounts in part, don't you think, for this aspect of modern experience.  Science is fascinating but doesn't quite do the "trick" for me in finding my place, if any, in the overall scheme of things.

I once was able to read both Old English and Middle English fairly well (I still have my Old English grammar book as well as several Latin textbooks), but have since allowed these skills to become very "rusty."

With your interest in allegory, you undoubtedly are knowledgeable on C.S. Lewis (Allegory of Love), a fascinating literary giant for both scholarly and fictional works.  Of his many quotable lines, his "We read to know that we are not alone" rings very true for me.  Reading Chaucer, for example, added greatly to my self-awareness and appreciation/understanding of our shared human condition.

 I thought you might be interested in a modern play, recently staged in London and off-Broadway, titled "Freud's Last Session."  As you may already know, the play is basically an imaginary dialogue between C.S. Lewis and Freud during the latter's last days in London.  I was able to get a copy of the play from our metro-area library.  The playwright, Mark St. Germain, apparently draws upon letters and other sources for constructing this dialogue between this odd couple (an avowed atheist and firm believer).  Freud livens things up with humor, which saves the play from being a boring curiosity piece. (Didn't Freud also integrate the phenomenon of humor into his theories?)   With your scholarly credentials, perhaps you are a step ahead of me and  have already read this play.  If not, you might find it interesting reading.

Since Red Room is a literary website, I'm surprised more people haven't written something here in response to your achievements. 

It was good to reminisce about the "old times" and to share a few ideas with  you. 

Be well (as our Minnesota guru, Garrison, says)

Mel Hoke