Dr.William Storm Presents on “The Wife of Bath”

When people think of a 400-year-old text, not many people would think that it connects to a modern day dilemma such as sexual assaults on college campuses. However, Dr. William Storm, an Eastern English professor, makes just that connection. In a paper Dr. Storm is presenting to the New Chaucer Society, he claims in his abstract that “as sexual assault and harassment becomes more prevalent on college campuses, literature becomes not simply an object of study but a site of conflict through which future and past traumas manifest for students.” Through the literary text of “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale,” he plans to explore how this text can shed light on a plethora of topics such as the value of female voice in the light of male violence, specifically the rape of the unnamed maiden at the hands of the knight, a knight who ultimately benefits from such action through his renunciation of mastery. Dr. Storm also analyzes the correlation between the handmaid’s lack of voice and the silencing of victims, and students being able to see the benefits of societal protection through Guinevere and the other noble ladies, as well as if the ladies can properly act as a bridge to communicate the maiden’s experiences. Dr. Storm’s main question is this: does this text reflect the modern day issue of sexual assaults on campuses? Do we still find ourselves silencing victims? Or are there policies that have been instituted that allow women the right to seek protection for themselves, and ultimately justice?

Just before Thanksgiving break, I had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Storm to not only talk about the background of how he came to write this piece and the process of preparing it, but also to engage in a very in-depth conversation about the systemic issues that we face as a society regarding issues of sexual assault, and more particularly, the rising epidemic of sexual assaults that continue to occur on college campuses. First, I gained some background on the New Chaucer Society and how they function. The New Chaucer Society meets every other summer; in the summer prior, the conference was in London, and this summer, they will be meeting in Toronto. Typically, there would be a “call for papers” where the society will request essays on certain topics, and interested members can respond with a proposal. This conference is a little bit different however, because there will be three or four people presenting papers at a time. This upcoming conference is streamlined because they want to be able to hear more papers representing a wider range of voices, so in total there will be around seven to eight papers with people presenting them. After gaining some general knowledge of the event and process, I asked Dr. Storm what inspired him to look more into women’s voice in this particular work of literature.

He went on to discuss how “The Wife of Bath” is often presented as having a unique female voice in literature. In fact, in “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue,” she talks about the need for female voices to be heard and touches upon various scriptures, husbands, and discourses saying women shouldn’t be heard and that their experiences and their ideas are less important than larger cultural ideas.

However, he went on to state, “One of things that we know as readers and writers of this piece, is that it’s not actually a woman saying it. It is a man having her say these things. I am very interested in this notion of what to do in a text that is very much about women’s experiences, women’s agency, women’s voices and how to then make sense of the fact that there is a woman who is sexually assaulted and then is never heard from or named. I think with everything going on in society more broadly right now and on college campuses, these are conversations that we need to be having and need to be thinking about well. What are we doing for victims of sexual assault and harassment? And what are we doing so, if those voices want to be heard, they can be heard?”

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