Simms, Norman Books
About the author: Norman Simms, an American and Israeli citizen, has lived and worked in New Zealand for more than thirty years, along with spells teaching in Canada, France and Israel. Trained as a medievalist and eighteenth-century specialist in English Literature (degrees from Alfred and Washington Universities), he has increasingly become interested in the situation of the Crypto-Jews at the end of the Middle Ages and in the early Modern Period. He has published scores of articles and books, the most recent Sir Gawain and the Knight of the Green Chapel (University Press of America) concerning Marrano authors in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Simms is a psycho-historian and founder of the journal Mentalities/ Mentalités.2004 0-7734-6499-92004 0-7734-6318-6
Chaucer has been noted as “the new man”, without connections to the Church or the feudal monarchy. Normative literary history sees him acting as a confidant, special agent, and master of ceremonies for those in power, all qualities which could mark him, however, as a court Jew. Even in his writing, characteristics that seem anomalous—familiarity with many languages, ability to slide from tradition to tradition, witty scepticism and self-deprecating comedy, and insider/outsider perspectives—also point away from the standard assumptions of a normal fourteenth-century Christian in England. By a series of recontextualizations and other forms of rabbinic-style interrogations of the text of the man and his poetry, this book points to a new way of reading Chaucer as a kind of “Fuzzy Jew” even more than as a Marrano or Crypto-Jew, whether he was actually one or not. Focusing mostly on The Wyf of Bath’s Tale, The Prioress’s Tale and The Book of the Duchess, this midrashic reading explores the way Chaucer constructs a performative self that once conceals and reveals itself as other, takes head-on the problem of anti-Jewishness as a mental as well as moral or spiritual disease, and looks at the strategies of the schlemiel persona in classical, medieval and rabbinic contexts. There are new insights into how to apply the techniques of “midrashing” to secular texts and persons, embedding the strategies into a historical examination of the kabbalah that was created in Spain and France just prior to Chaucer’s life and its integration surreptitiously into European literature.