Friday, January 04, 2008

Wade's Boat, Summer in Melbourne, and Four White Flowers

Another burning hot day in Melbourne. I spent a pleasant few hours this morning, though, in the State Library, comparing three — count them, 3! — copies of Thomas Speght's 1598 edition of the works of Chaucer (from 1598, 1602, and 1687); and for good measure, John Urry's dreadful but lavish edition of 1721. The Library has an excellent range of early Chaucer editions: a page of Caxton's 1478 Canterbury Tales, and six other sixteenth-century editions of the Works. I'm writing up a discussion of Speght's annotation to the mention of "Wade's bote" in the Merchant's Tale, and so I'm not really looking at the pre-1598 editions. The Baillieu Library at the University has another two copies of the 1598 imprint for comparison, too.

It's a lovely annotation. Chaucer's rich old man January determines to marry, but won't take any older woman.

I wol no womman thritty yeer of age;
It is but bene-straw and greet forage.
And eek thise olde wydwes, God it woot,
They konne so muchel craft on Wades boot,
So muchel broken harm, whan that hem leste,
That with hem sholde I never lyve in reste.

Speght comments: “Concerning Wade and his bote called Guingelot, as also his strange exploits in the same, because the matter is long and fabulous, I passe it over.”

In the paper I gave at the London Chaucer conference last year, and again in my response to Carolyn Dinshaw in Hobart in December, I looked at the responses to this annotation, particularly the vexation of commentators who cannot help reveal their frustration at Speght, so much closer to Chaucer than we are, but unwilling — or unable — to fill in this unknown gap. Robinson said, "it has often been called the most exasperating note ever written on Chaucer”. Various scholars have explored traces of the story of Wade, but the Merchant's meaning here remains relatively obscure. I myself think that's part of the point: I read the Merchant as alluding to women's knowledge, lost beyond all traces of official (written, scholarly) culture.

I am writing up this part of the two papers, which are both really more about multiple temporalities and the relations between medieval studies and medievalism, for the La Trobe Journal of the Library, so I am really focussing on Speght's edition and the kinds of knowledge it presents about Chaucer.

How lovely that these books are only a bike ride away (well, they would be if I could get around to fixing my puncture).

I got home early afternoon, to find Joel still in his pyjamas, playing his gameboy with Holst's Planets Suite roaring away at top volume.

Paul came home soon after, regaling us with the Kafka-esque tale of the day he had spent at the Customs Office, the Quarantine Office, and the Ports office, filling out a thousand forms, and commissioning an agent in Queensland to fax the forms back and forth, to take delivery of the large egg-shell laquer panels he had bought in Vietnam. Here's a glimpse of a lotus flower:



The sun is still really hot, as I'm writing at 6.30; and it's still about 34 degrees outside. I took these photos just a half an hour ago: here's a pile of white table linen, bleached and soaked and sun-brightened after the Christmas and New Year festivities, awaiting the iron.



These range from the long rayon cloth that I think was part of my mother's trousseau; the length of damask she bought at the Victoria market and hemmed up for me; and the round cloth she embroidered with white flowers for my 21st birthday. This photo was taken inside, but you can get a glimpse of the bright sun in that line of light along the floor.

Outside the garden is struggling, and I'm amazed to see the gardenias are still able to put forth their flowers. They last about a day each, flaring up in the intense heat and light of the day, and softening into a heady perfume at night:



And finally, the crowning glory (etymological joke): the stephanotis plant we put in last year has just started flowering.

Again, you can see how harsh the sun is, but these flowers have been out for several days now. Their fragrance is more delicate than the gardenias, but I have always wanted to grow these, ever since my father told me I was named after the Greek ho stephanos, "crown, garland". And there's the link to Pavlov's Cat: Y is it so? Naming Australia's women, 1950-1955. Yeah, she says I'm out of her chronological range, but I still want to play.

7 comments:

Pavlov's Cat said...

Stephanie, that is uncanny -- there are (as yet only in the camera) photos of my hot-sun-dried washing (bath towels, rough and warm and tinder-dry) taken earlier today for a 'simple summer pleasures' type post which I might write anyway. Eventually.

You are only a few years out of my age range. And it's not, you know, an exact science or anything. Trends and influences, as we know, linger.

The stephanotis, what a lovely thought. And look at it.

Sarah Randles said...

Hi Stephanie,

Not a legitimate reading, I know, but the first time I read 'Wade's boat' I thought of it as a relative to 'Shank's pony', that is as the boat you have when you don't have a boat, and have to wade.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Bingo, Sarah! I've just found an essay that suggests Wade is a giant in coastal traditions in Northern England, with a possible origin in '"a Neptune-figure", causing tides and tempests as he strolled through the waters. ... [so that] Wade's boat is his own person. "Wades boot" could then constitute a metaphor (functioning in much the same way as a kenning) for the male body". So, yeah... what you said!!

meli said...

Beautiful post Stephanie. I just arrived back in the UK and I miss that sunlight dearly.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Thanks, Meli. Another scorcher today; up to 41 today and down to only 30 overnight. You know... the kind of day when you have to put an old sheet over the hydrangeas. And another tomorrow, too, though with a thundery change promised for later in the day. Enjoy the chill!

lucy tartan said...

My partner brought home a bunch of flowers yesterday and we were wondering what their name was. Stephanotis!

Stephanie Trigg said...

Goodness me. Lucky you!