Home > Uncategorized > Chaucer's rolling in his grave, that rotund fellow

Chaucer's rolling in his grave, that rotund fellow

I just realized that this is my second embarrassing story in like 5 blog posts. Not off to a great start, D. Maybe I think this will make my readers more sympathetic? Wait, what readers?

Seminar papers can be dangerous things. It’s always a gamble. Sometimes they go great–good feedback from the professor, a softball question or two, and then you can settle in for a good 45 minutes of afterglow as the class continues. Sometimes you feel like you’re speaking directly in a blank wall, each word bouncing back at you from the blank eyes of sleepless grad students. And then, naturally, are the grenades: you start reading and think everything’s going great but you finish to realize you’ve just pulled the pin off the top and the whole thing is about to blow-up in your face.

Let me set the stage a little bit: I’m in a Middle English class. We read a lot Chaucer, Margery Kempe, Piers Plowman–essentially most stuff that is barely readable for me. The language can make it slow going, and that’s even if I have a modern translation on hand. Plus, most of the students in the class (of about 20) specialize in the field and have had at least 2 or 3 classes with this professor already. I’m the one showing up to the party 30 minutes before its over with only two familiar faces in sight.

Still, the professor is friendly and has made a point that she wants the class to be inclusive for even non-medievalists. Former students assured me she’s not too tough. So I went into my seminar paper (the first one out of the class) at least passably confident.

And she was nice…in a way. Let’s say she skewered me with a smile. It didn’t take long after I finished that she started pushing some of my arguments, yet she came back with question after question. She wasn’t belligerent, but it soon became obvious that I hadn’t read the poem very well, that my analysis was pretty shaky. I weathered the storm as best I could, but I was still pretty beaten down when it was done. She must’ve noticed because she assured me during the break that “You did really well, really.” I wasn’t fooled. I use that same tone with Dorothy when she tries to make it to the toilet but only ends up peeing her pants.

I can’t blame her by any means: this is a graduate course, you can’t just let anything fly without setting things straight. And my work needed that. Still, it was all frustrating: me feeling marooned trying to talk about a text I could barely understand, surrounded people for who The Legend of Good Women was surely child’s play. I did make a few Inception jokes; at least the professor laughed at those. If those hadn’t gone over well, I probably would’ve excused myself from the room and just kept walking, leaving my Riverside Chaucer for dead on the conference room table.

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