What constitutes obscenity? Who decides what is obscene, and why? What uses does obscenity have, and how does obscenity shape our attitudes to ‘classic’ texts? How do we handle the legacy of a poet like Geoffrey Chaucer, who is credited with being both a ‘Great Author’ and a writer of dirty jokes?

Our project investigates the dissemination and reception history of The Canterbury Tales in order to uncover answers to these questions in the origins of Chaucer’s modern fame as both canonical English author and a writer of obscene stories (i.e. stories that feature bawdy references to sex, bodily functions, or scatological language and content). Through our work on modern textual censorship and adaptation (1700-2020), we aim to reveal how Chaucerian obscenity has both complicated and reinforced the shape of the English literary canon both in the past and in the present.

Our work is collaborative, but divided into three distinct branches:

  • Prof. Dr. Mary Flannery looks at ‘Chaucerian Canonicity and Chaucerian Obscenity’, and is particularly interested in editorial and publication history.
  • Dr Lucy Fleming (joined project January 2024) explores what happens to Chaucerian obscenity in children’s adaptations of The Canterbury Tales
  • Ms Kristen Haas Curtis examines the relationship between obscenity and gender in her doctoral project on ‘Chaucerian Obscenity and the Wife of Bath’.
  • Dr A.E. Brown (departed project in 2023) looked at ‘Fabliau Obscenity and Modern Chaucer(s)’, and is particularly interested in modernisations and adaptations.

We are privileged to consult with an Advisory Board of leading scholars in the fields of book history, Chaucer studies, and obscenity studies:

  • Associate Professor Carissa Harris (Temple University)
  • Associate Professor Simone Marshall (University of Otago)
  • Professor Stephanie Trigg (University of Melbourne)
  • Professor Daniel Wakelin (St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford)
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