TESTING THE LIMITS OF LIBERAL EDUCATION
Chaucer scholar Dolores Cullen has found that new ideas arent always welcome in the Academic Establishment.
Dolores Cullen first encountered Geoffrey Chaucer as a middle-aged college student at California State Polytechnic University. The wife of a math professor and the mother of four grown children, she had put off having a college education for decades, but when she enrolled in the English Department at California State Polytechnic College, she entered the academic world with both feet, eager to learn.
What she learned was a passion for a whole newactually a whole oldlanguage, Middle English. And she found joy in the stories told by Geoffrey Chaucer, one of the first and most beloved poets and storytellers in that language.
Another thing Dolores Cullen learned was the thrill of discovering new ways of understanding Chaucers tales. These new interpretations thrilled her. They did not thrill her professors and advisors, who pointed out that these ideas had never been noted before by established scholars, and therefore must be wrong. Cullens new ideas were consistent with the theology and cosmology of Chaucers medieval society; but since they didnt come from within the club, they werent worthy of academic respect.
Undaunted, Cullen developed her ideas and eventually wrote and published three groundbreaking books positing (for example) that the Host in The Canterbury Tales, who is the leader of the pilgrimage, is Christ himself; that The Tale of Sir Thopas, told by the Pilgrim Chaucer, is a disguised (and bawdy) apology for Chaucers sexual exploits; and that the whole troupe of Pilgrims are allegorical representations for the heavenly bodies and constellations so important to medieval astrology.
In her newest book, Ensnared by His Words: My Chaucer Obsession, Dolores Cullen tells the story of her academic odyssey, with all its rewards and all its frustrations. It is also a very human memoir of a long and well-lived life. And it delivers important messages, including: enjoy your education, stand up for your ideas, and (her own motto) Celebrate Chaucer!
Dolores L. Cullen is the author of three books offering a bold, new approach to the study of Chaucers The Canterbury Tales, as well as Whos Afraid of Middle English: A Booke of Lystes. She lives and writes in Claremont, California