Living in the Future: Sovereignty and Internationalism in the Canterbury Tales
Nationalism, like medieval romance literature, recasts history as a mythologized and seamless image of reality. Living in the Future analyzes how the anachronistic nationalist fantasies in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales create a false sense of England's historical continuity that in turn legitimized contemporary political ambitions. This book spells out the legacy of the Tales that still resonates throughout English literature, and explores the idea of England in literary imaginations. Chaucer makes use of two extant national ideals, sovereignty and domesticity, to introduce the concept of an English nation into the contemporary popular imagination, and then to reinvent an idealized England as a hallowed homeland. For Chaucer, as for other nationalist thinkers, sovereignty governs communities with linguistic, historical, cultural, and religious affinities. Chaucerian sovereignty appears primarily in romantic and household contexts that function as microcosms of the nation, reflecting a pseudo-familial love between sovereign and subjects and relying on a sense of shared ownership and judgment. This notion also has deep affinities with popular and political theories flourishing throughout Europe. Chaucer's internationalism, matched with his artistic use of the vernacular and skillful distortions of both time and space, frames a discrete sovereign English nation within its diverse interconnected world. This book is the first monograph to explore the national importance of Chaucer's ideas regarding English sovereignty, while also critiquing eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and early twentieth-century nationalist visions of Chaucer. It assesses and extends recent investigations of nationalism and transnationalism in medieval English writing, clarifying how postcolonial theories and medieval imaginations of nation resonate with and enlighten each other. It will appeal to scholars of Middle English literature, literary history, the intersection of literature and political theory, postcolonial criticism, and literary transnationalism.