News & Events

IN MEMORIAM: LAWRENCE L. BESSERMAN (1945-2017)

Lawrence L. Besserman, Professor of English emeritus at Hebrew University died peacefully on 17 July, 2017 in Jerusalem. A summa cum laude graduate of Columbia University and elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year, Besserman received his Ph.D. from Harvard University. His dissertation, “The Story of Job: A Survey of Its Literary History, with Special Reference to Medieval English” was written under the direction of Morton W. Bloomfield and Larry D. Benson. It became his first book, published in 1979 by Harvard University Press, and defined the area of his life-long work. Other books followed from his hand: Chaucer and the Bible: A Critical Review of Research, Indexes, and Bibliography (Garland, 1988); Chaucer’s Biblical Poetics (University of Oklahoma, 1998); Biblical Paradigms in Medieval English Literature: From Caedmon to Malory (Routledge, 2011). In addition to 35 articles and chapters, many reviews and lectures, he edited The Challenge of Periodization: Old Paradigms and New Perspectives (Garland, 1996) and Sacred and Secular in Medieval and Early-Modern Cultures: New Essays (Palgrave, 2006).

A scholar’s scholar, fluently at home in Old and Middle English, Old French, Latin, Hebrew, able to find his way as well through Old Norse prose and Koiné Greek, Larry epitomized the learned life well lived, of a kind and to a degree grown increasingly rare in later times. Always a gentleman, he epitomized that too, in the best sense: ever thoughtful of others’ needs, generous with his time and his knowledge, committed to women’s equality both in his scholarship and teaching and in the Jewish congregation to which he was devoted, forbearant when forbearance was called for, he would nonetheless rise in a flash to oppose injustice wherever he found it. His students at Hebrew University, where he taught from 1977 until his retirement in 2010, and at Columbia, where he taught in the summers, knew him to set a high bar, but—ever willing to help—he would invariably find ways to see the slow-if-serious scramble over it. If his erudition, lightly borne but ever-present, earned their respect, no less than that of his colleagues, it was yet his kindness that won their hearts.

Or else it was his legendary sense of humor: few have been fonder of a good laugh than Larry Besserman, and even fewer, especially now, when the sidewise one-liner seems the hallmark of high humor, could unspool a joke or a shaggy dog tale with his flawless timing and exquisite choice of detail. His stock of funny stories and razor-keen witticisms was vast, seemingly collected over many years and in many places, and carefully collated according to some arcane mental system to facilitate instant recall. When he encountered a kindred spirit, little delighted him more than to “trade licks,” swapping story-for-story, first in one vein, then in another. If good food and a good bottle were present to share, so much the better.

Above all, Larry was a man who loved deeply. He loved his subject, the multi-lingual literatures of the Middle Ages; his many friends, to whom, once given, his commitment was absolute; his two countries—the United States, the place of his birth, and Israel, in defense of whose cause he could be fierce; and Judith foremost, his wife of many years. By all who knew him, learned from him, laughed with him, he will be greatly missed.

R. F. Yeager, University of West Florida
August 22, 2017

Sad News: Professor Larry Besserman

​​Dear Member

I report with deep sadness the death yesterday of Professor Lawrence Besserman, a distinguished Chaucerian and a friend of many of us in NCS. He was 72. Since 1977, he taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Larry Besserman was the author of numerous articles and books on Chaucer and medieval subjects, including  The Legend of Job in the Middle Ages (Harvard, 1979), Chaucer and the Bible (Garland, 1988), Chaucer's Biblical Poetics (Univ. of Oklahoma, 1998), and Biblical Paradigms in Medieval English Literature: From Cædmon to Malory (Routledge, 2012). He has edited several collections of essays, including The Challenge of Periodization: Old Paradigms and New Perspectives (Garland, 1996) and Sacred and Secular in Medieval and Early Modern Cultures: New Essays (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2006).

The funeral will be  held ​on Wednesday, July 19, at 15:00, at Har HaMenuchot Cemetery, Givat Shaul, Jerusalem, starting with the service at Beit Hahesped of Kehilat Yerushalayim. The shiva will be held at Larry and Judy's apartment, 4/1 Hanahal, The French Hill, Jerusalem, in the hours 10-13:00 and 16:00-21:00.

Best wishes

Ruth​

Barrie Ruth Straus

Very belatedly, I would like to report with sadness the death of former NCS member Professor Barrie Ruth Straus on September 17, 2014. Notice of this has only recently come to my attention. Professor Straus was a member of NCS and attended NCS congresses (she presented at the 2000 Congress in London). Some members will be familiar with her pioneering work on Chaucer. Her essay "The Subversive Discourse of the Wife of Bath: Phallocentric Discourse and the Imprisonment of Criticism appeared in ELH​, ​vol. 55, no. 3 (1988), pp. 527-554, and was reprinted in ​Chaucer​: Contemporary Critical Essays​, edited by Valerie Allen and Ares Axiotis, Palgrave, 1997.​ Another essay, "Reframing the Violence of the Father: Reverse Oedipal Fantasies in Chaucer's Clerk's, Man of Law's, and Prioress's Tales," appeared in Domestic Violence in Medieval Texts, edited by Eve Salisbury, Georgiana Donavin, and Merrall Llewelyn Price, UP of Florida, 2002, pp. 122-138.

Below is the notice of her death by her colleague Suzanne Matheson at the University of Windsor, Canada.
Best wishes
Ruth
_____________________________________________

A note from Suzanne Matheson on former colleague Barrie Ruth Straus 

(Originally published on: Tue, 10/07/2014)

Barrie Ruth Straus, who taught Medieval literature and Women’s Studies at the University of Windsor from 1990 to 2006, was known for her pioneering work on Chaucer, feminism and psychoanalysis. She was born in Winnipeg in 1943 and took her BA at the University of Oregon and PhD at the University of Iowa. She taught for many years in the English department at the University of Florida before relocating to Windsor and Detroit. She was involved in building Women’s Studies programs at both institutions, and parlayed her interest in critical theory and gender into important articles on the feminine voice in Middle English literature. Barrie Ruth’s work on the Canterbury Tales and Margery Kempe helped shape feminist analysis of the period and continues to be much cited, discussed and anthologized. She was a rigorous, intelligent critic with the best kind of skepticism: a wariness concerning entrenched ideas and established forms of power, tempered by compassion for the complexities of real people. As my friend she was intensely loyal, kind and generous—a strong, supportive colleague, a mentor, an honorary aunt to my children, a confidante. She bore years of serious ill-health with resolution and optimism, passing away peacefully in hospital on Sept.17th. She had told me with characteristic bravery she was ready.

“Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimmages,
And palmeres for to seeken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, couthe in sundry londes”

C. Suzanne Matheson

http://www1.uwindsor.ca/english/a-note-from-suzanne-matheson-on-former-colleague-barrie-ruth-straus

In Memoriam: Anne L. Middleton (18 July 1940–23 November 2016)

Anne L. Middleton, Florence Green Bixby Professor Emerita of English at the University of California, Berkeley, died in her sleep on November 23, 2016, one month after receiving a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia.

Middleton was a titanic figure in Middle English literary studies—indeed a large figure in every way. Her physical frame was commanding, and she piloted it with an energy that seemed inexhaustible and effortlessly disciplined. She spoke off the cuff in intricate and subordinated but relentlessly (sometimes coarsely) lucid sentences. These terrified colleagues in department meetings. Her essays, too, could overawe. Beginning with “Two Infinites” (1972), they tore into the insoluble with cool confidence in the power of learning and thought. (“Busted another crux,” she said as she handed me the typescript of one.) During her great period of production, through “Acts of Vagrancy” (1997) and “Thomas Usk’s Perdurable Letters” (1998), they grew denser, more ambitious, and very much longer. Drafts could reach a hundred pages. (“Another ‘Fidel Castro Memorial Lecture,’” she said, handing me another. Castro was, of course, not dead at that point.) The Penn Commentary on Piers Plowman, for which she spent the last twenty-five years preparing the volume on the third vision, became the fit form for her style of criticism, which could move from the minutely philological to the trenchantly theoretical and back again without breaking a sweat. This volume, her “life work”—to adapt her dense joke about Piers Plowman—was finally nearing completion when she died.

Her contributions to Chaucer criticism came from her refusal to be a Chaucerian. It seemed to some that she was out to diminish him. “The Idea of Public Poetry in the Age of Richard II” began with the poker-faced assertion that one could best capture the literary history and the literary greatness of Chaucer’s age by leaving Chaucer out; so captured, it proved to be a thing of intellectual and moral beauty, but it also helped set off what Chaucer had in fact done. In essays both early and late (e.g., “Chaucer’s ‘New Men’ and the Good of Literature in the Canterbury Tales, 1980; “Commentary on an Unacknowledged Text,” tardily published in 2012), she traced how Chaucer constructed a poetic identity on the fly and then treated it as something that had waited for him to occupy. The upshot of these arguments was indeed that Chaucer did not hold his position in literary history by right of nature; but the upshot of that was that he held it by right of invention.

Middleton received her PhD in 1966 under Morton Bloomfield, who recognized her promise and cultivated her career. He forbade a dissertation on Piers Plowman: too many careers plunged into that poem and never emerged again. That is how she came to write a remarkable dissertation on the prose style of Ælfric’s lives of St. Martin. But it was Reuben Brower who supplied the shape and vocabulary for her critical instincts. Later, in the 1980s and 1990s, her close attention to the imaginative and intellectual shape of laws and institutions made her look like a new historicist; later still, her attention to the foundation of distinctly literary effects made her seem to some the first new formalist. But these two interests emerged from a single conviction, that both poems and institutions are significant because they are things composed, works of the speculative and practical reason realized in different media but on the basis of principles that guide all intentional actions perforce. Ralph Hanna recalled to me recently her revelatory capacity to find conceptual "legs" in the driest of empirical scholarship "and move it into an implementing context." In this she was deploying and radically extending the style of interpretation (the formalist style, if you like, and if your standards of precision are not high) that she learned from Brower.

In that one important way, her time at Harvard was defining. In every other way it was an exception. The rest of her life was spent in public education—the Detroit school system, the University of Michigan, and Berkeley, where she taught until she retired in 2006. She spoke with cheerful contempt of the private schools and their ways; recruiting me to Berkeley and explaining that it worked to make every hire tenurable and to tenure every hire, she called the alternative “the east-coast system.” She believed in public universities as public goods. As teacher, department chair, and very active member of the Academic Senate, she worked with fierce energy to ensure that Berkeley would oustrip all competitors in intellectual distinction and would make it broadly available to the citizens of the state.

Her intelligence was never gentle, but it was generous. She threw her whole mind into every conversation; Lee Patterson once mused that, merely talking to Anne, one found that one grew smarter. She threw it into action when colleagues needed help: she would drop everything to work through an argument if someone was facing a deadline, or to hound the administration if she felt an injustice had been done. She threw it into the social life of a colleague and teacher. The house she and her husband Gene Rochlin shared on Derby Street was the most unostentatiously hospitable place I’ve ever known; when she was at the height of her powers, a late-afternoon visit would often land you among other of Anne’s and Gene’s colleagues and students and the clamor of their conversation. Most of all she threw it into her graduate students, who now number many distinguished figures in the field. I will not list them, but she proudly did, twice in my hearing, the second time with the comment: “No one has produced students like mine.”

Steven Justice, UC Berkeley  

SAINT LOUIS UNIVERSITY and NEW CHAUCER SOCIETY POSTDOCTORAL FELLOWSHIP 2017-18

The New Chaucer Society and the Department of English at Saint Louis University, a Catholic Jesuit institution dedicated to student learning, research, healthcare, and service, are now accepting applications for a one-year residential postdoctoral fellowship for 2017-18, to be held at Saint Louis University. Candidates for the New Chaucer Society Fellowship must have received their Ph.D. degree between January 1, 2015 and January 1, 2017, and should have a research project for 2017-18 in the Society’s areas of interest, namely Chaucer and his age. The successful candidate’s main responsibility will be to work on her/his/their research project. The Fellow will teach one undergraduate course for the Department of English in the spring semester. In addition, the Fellow may be invited to offer an occasional workshop, lecture, or seminar on her/his/their area of research.

The term of appointment is nine months, from September 1, 2017 through May 31, 2018.

Fellows are required to be in residence at SLU during this time. The fellowship carries a stipend of $50,000 plus benefits, health insurance, and a budget of up to $1,000 towards moving expenses. Fellows will be provided with an office and computer, and full library privileges.

Applications should be made by email attachment to Prof. Ruth Evans revans19@slu.edu, or by post to Ruth Evans, NCS Executive Director, Department of English, Saint Louis University, Adorjan Hall, 3800 Lindell Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63108.

Applications, consisting of a single PDF file, must include a curriculum vitae (no more than 3 US-letter-size pages), cover letter (no more than 2 US- letter-size pages), statement of research plans (no more than 1 US-letter-size page), and a writing sample of 20-25 (max.) pages. Please ask for two letters of recommendation that comment specifically on the candidate’s research plans for 2017-18 to be sent by email to Prof. Ruth Evans revans19@slu.edu, or by mail to her at the Department of English, Saint Louis University, Adorjan Hall, 3800 Lindell Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63108 by February 10, 2016.

Saint Louis University is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity employer (AA/EOE) and encourages nominations of and applications from women and minorities.

The deadline for applications is February 10, 2017. For further information, please email revans19@slu.edu

NCS mourns the loss of Anne Middleton

It is with great sadness that NCS reports that Anne Middleton, a long-time member of the Society, passed away in her sleep yesterday (23 Nov 2016). She was a powerful presence in the English department at Berkeley, on the campus, and in medieval studies across the world. It's a great loss to Berkeley and medieval studies.

The 2016 Leonard Boyle Dissertation Prize

The competition for The 2016 Leonard Boyle Dissertation Prize for Medieval Studies is currently open. This prize will be awarded to an outstanding dissertation in any field of medieval studies. The dissertation must be written by a Canadian or by someone resident in Canada. Entries are adjudicated by the Dissertation Prize Committee, a subcommittee of the Canadian Society of Medievalists (CSM). The prize consists of a cash award as well as a membership in the CSM for three years. Members automatically receive copies of the journal Florilegium and the CSM's newsletter “Scrinium.”

For the current competition, new PhD holders who defended their dissertations in 2016[1]  are invited to submit their work. For consideration in the competition, an applicant should submit the following documents by January 15, 2017, to the Chair of the Committee: (a) one paper copy of the dissertation, (b) one electronic copy of the dissertation, (c) a letter or report from the supervisor, and (d) either (i) an external report or (ii) a letter from an additional member of the dissertation committee. Canadians who completed their dissertations at foreign institutions must also provide proof of citizenship, such as a photocopy or digital scan of a passport.

Please address inquiries and applications to this year's Chair of the Committee:

Dr. Lynn Arner
Dept. of English
1812 Sir Isaac Brock Way
Brock University
St. Catharines, Ontario L2S 3A1
Canada

larner@brocku.ca

[1] The current competition is the transitional year regarding the date parameters for this prize. Henceforth, the year of the award will be announced in the prize title, and the dissertation must have been defended in the stated year. For this competition only, the committee will accept dissertations defended late in 2015 if the PhD was officially conferred in 2016. (However, no dissertation entered in last year’s competition can be re-entered this year.)

New Chaucer Society Early Career Essay Prize

The New Chaucer Society announces a new venture: an Early Career Essay Prize, worth $2,000, to be awarded every two years to the best essay published by an early career scholar in Studies in the Age of Chaucer. The prize will be awarded after publication in SAC, and will be given out at the biennial congress.

The prize is open to any graduate student OR to any scholar within 6 years of their PhD being granted at the time of submission of the essay. Beginning with those already accepted for publication in SAC 38, we will ask for eligible essays to be identified on submission, following which they will automatically be considered for the prize. The first award will be given in 2018 at the Toronto Congress.

Search for New NCS Executive Director/home

The New Chaucer Society, a growing international scholarly organization, seeks an Executive Director and an institutional home, to begin in August 2018.

The Executive Director (ED) is fully responsible for the administrative and financial affairs of the Society. Duties include: recommending and handling membership dues; taking a leadership and liaison role in the organization of biennial international congresses; liaising with the Chaucer Bibliographer and with the Editor and Book Reviews Editor of SAC. The ED acts as Secretary and Treasurer of the Society; serves as Returning Officer for all elections; maintains the website; supervises student assistant/s and any other staff. The term of appointment is normally 5 years, ordinarily renewable once. However, we will also consider bids for 3 years, renewable once.

Ideally, the institutional home will provide support for the Society through provision of office space, office expenses and staff help (which might, for example, include student assistantships), and research and travel support for the ED. Major responsibilities of the office will include web support, dues processing, newsletter editing, administrative assistance with budget management, and administrative support of the Biennial Congress Program Committee. 

All initial inquiries should be sent to Professor Ardis Butterfield, President of the Society and Chair of the Search Committee (ardis.butterfield@yale.edu), who will offer advice on the details that will be required for a formal bid. Individuals and institutions are also encouraged to consult with the current ED, Professor Ruth Evans, for help in shaping bids (revans19@slu.edu). Completed applications should be sent via email to the President. They will be reviewed from 27 March 2017, continuing until a new ED and home are found.