Spiritual Life: Shock at the 'ditching' of Chaucer

Rev Ian Monks. Photo: Ian Monks

Rev Ian Monks says it is important that Chaucer continues to be taught in universities - Credit: Ina Monks

I was shocked to read that a university English department was ditching Chaucer to teach “courses which the students expect”.

English developed by combining Norman French with Anglo Saxon, just as “The English Nation” is, over time, forged from many peoples. Chaucer was both a milestone, and a new beginning as the first author to write in English.

Suddenly, I realised I was writing on Holocaust Memorial Day. Just how did a cultured and educated nation perpetrate and permit such acts of unspeakable, mindless cruelty? A sense of grievance, perhaps, but also by focusing on differences rather than our common humanity, on what separates us from fellow human beings and not on what we have in common.

Fear and brutalisation played a part too. Newly trained dog handlers, for example, having worked with their dog for months, would be ordered to “strangle your dog” on the day training ended. And so a start was made……

Similarly, I remember listening to a police talk, for teenagers, explaining that rape is usually the end of a sequence building up from voyeurism to groping, various types of sexual assault….. then rape. Dealing with the first offences to prevent the most serious happening, was what motivated the police.


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Two things worry me about abandoning Chaucer. He wrote in the years following the Black Death, so there are parallels with the Covid world we inhabit. More importantly, universities are there to open minds and broaden horizons, and not to assist students in limiting their own perspectives and strengthen their own prejudices.

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