Medievalist and writer Mary Flannery ’98, PhD was recently on the BBC podcast The Forum discussing 14th century poet Geoffrey Chaucer: “One of the reasons Chaucer’s been called the father of English poetry is because of what he did for English, or what he was perceived to have done for English. That is, he elevated it to the level of other literary languages like French or Italian. He did for English what Homer did for ancient Greek or what Virgil and Ovid did for Latin.”
As a Professor of Medieval English Studies at Bern University, Mary recently received a 5-year grant from the Swiss government to continue her research on the censorship of Chaucer's works over the centuries. Her research concentrates on the connections between literature, reputation, and emotion.
In The Canterbury Tales,
Mary explains “Perhaps the most fundamental 14th century issue that Chaucer's work deals with is the issue of representation, that is the question of who gets to have a voice. This was a major issue near the end of the 14th century when parliament was becoming the focal point for political power struggles. I think it’s one of the main reasons why Chaucer is so interested in depicting lots of different voices and especially non-aristocratic voices that are all clamoring to be heard.” Click here
to listen to the BBC podcast.
“If Chaucer were living and writing today, I think he’d be having the time of his life. He wrote during a period of English history that was just as turbulent as the times we’re currently living through, if not more so. England was at war with France, there was panic about heresy in England, the plague kept coming back to wreak havoc, and at the very end of Chaucer’s life he saw his king deposed, murdered, and replaced. I think he would have found a lot of inspiration in today’s current events, particularly for satirical writing. I can definitely imagine him writing a modern-day version of The Canterbury Tales
as a kind of ‘lockdown literature’ (which his chief inspiration, Boccaccio’s Decameron
, basically was!).
“I think P. G. Wodehouse is probably the writer I enjoy most thoroughly, and whose work I turn to the most for comfort reading. He’s both incredibly learned and incredibly funny, both at the level of plotting and at the level of language. Most people prefer his Jeeves and Wooster books, but I personally prefer the Blandings universe (I recommend starting with Full Moon or Leave it to Psmith), where I think we see Wodehouse at his very best. He has a remarkable ability to poke fun at the champagne problems of the British upper crust while also getting you to care about these ridiculous characters.”
Mary has authored two books: John Lydgate and the Poetics of Fame (Boydell & Brewer, 2012), and Practising Shame: Female Honour in Later Medieval England (Manchester University Press, 2019). The latter examines how medieval texts encouraged women to cultivate vigilance against shame in order to secure their good reputation. In 2018 and 2019 Mary was a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, where she investigated the transmission and reception of obscenity in premodern copies of The Canterbury Tales.
At Webb, Mary was a day student and served on the Honor Cabinet. She exceled both inside and outside the classroom earning recognition with the Rick Whyte Managerial Award; Excellence in Foreign Language Award for Spanish; Choral Director's Award; National Merit Scholar and VWS valedictorian.
Mary received her B.A. in Literature and History at Claremont McKenna College and her M.Phil. of Philosophy and Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge. She has held posts at the University of Oxford, University of Lausanne, Queen Mary, University of London, and at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where she co-curated a 2009 exhibition entitled Temptation and Salvation: The Psalms of King David
. You can read more about her work on her website
or follow her Twitter account