Chaucer’s Leading Lady

Marion Turner on our enduring fascination with the Wife of Bath

Colored detail from <em>Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims</em>, an 1810 engraving by William Blake
Colored detail from Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims, an 1810 engraving by William Blake

We first spoke to Marion Turner, an English professor at Oxford University, in 2019, about her award-winning biography of Geoffrey Chaucer. In her latest book, The Wife of Bath: A Biography, Turner paints an unconventional portrait of Chaucer’s most famous—and clearly favorite—character: a bawdy, middle-aged, middle-class woman of multiple marriages. Alison of Bath is but one of the pilgrims Chaucer gathers around the table in his Canterbury Tales, but she is the only one to have inspired everyone from Shakespeare to James Joyce to Zadie Smith—and an equal number of misogynist critics, whether they were writing on vellum or in a 20th-century academic journal. Turner joins us on the podcast to discuss the Wife of Bath in her time and beyond, and why her voice still rings out with such force today.

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Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.

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Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes! Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.

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Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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