Express Yourself—Great Opening Lines

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Express Oct

I just did a similar post on 30 July for Top Ten Tuesday, but I don’t mind revisiting it.

1. The Tao Te Ching, “The Tao that can be told is not the Eternal Tao.” One of the best, most memorable opening lines of all time.

2.  Fragments of Isabella, by the late Isabella Leitner, née Katz. “Yesterday, what happened yesterday?”

3.  Dancing on the Bridge of Avignon, by the late Ida Vos. “Rosa de Jong dreams during the daytime.” Though her books would be classified MG in today’s market, I’ve always loved her writing. It appeals to both adults and people of the intended age bracket, for different reasons. Her books are also among the most unforgettable I’ve ever read, able to recall so many details years later.

4.  Volume II of The GULAG Archipelago, “Rosy-fingered Eos, mentioned so often in Homer and called Aurora by the Romans, caressed, too, with those fingers the first early morning of the Archipelago.”

5.  The Divine Comedy!

Midway life’s journey I was made aware
That I had strayed into a dark forest,
And the right path appeared not anywhere.
Ah, tongue cannot describe how it oppressed,
This wood, so harsh, dismal, and wild, that fear
At thought of it strikes now into my breast.
So bitter it is, death is scarce bitterer.
But, for the good it was my hap to find,
I speak of the other things that I saw there.
I cannot remember well in my mind
How I came thither, so was I immersed
In sleep, when the true way I left behind.

6.  The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio. “To have compassion for those who suffer is a human quality which everyone should possess, especially those who have required comfort themselves in the past and have managed to find it in others.”

Top Ten Tuesday—Books That Should Be Required Reading

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Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature of The Broke and the Bookish. A full list of instructions and future themes can be found here. This week’s theme is top ten contemporary books you’d pair with a “required reading” or books which should be required reading. Since I’m pretty out of the loop on contemporary books, I’m going with the latter topic.

1. The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio

Absolute classic of world literature, Italian literature, Medieval literature. The overwhelming majority of the stories feel so fresh and undated, with just as relevant themes and concerns. Most of the women aren’t the chained, repressed little flowers one often thinks of Medieval or Antiquity women as. They know very well how to get what they want, even if they have to be surreptitious about it. Only a few stories are badly-dated (Cimone and Nastagio, I’m looking at you!).

I practically know my two favouritest stories by heart, the 10th story of the third day (the famously most raunchy story) and the second story of the fourth day. They always make me laugh so much.

2. The Tao Te Ching, by Lao-Tzu

I’ve read this book so many times since I discovered it in January ’96, at age 16. It’s meant so much to me over the years. It’s important to have familiarity with Chinese philosophy, since it influenced so much of the ancient world and reverberates even today.

3. Narcissus and Goldmund, by Hermann Hesse

My second-favourite writer wrote so many awesome books, but if I had to choose just one as required reading, I’d pick this one. It’s probably his strongest, best novel. I’ve always remembered the scene where Goldmund sees a woman in childbirth during his travels across Medieval Germany, and is struck by the similarity between agony and ecstasy. The two feelings are conjoined twins.

4. The First Circle, by Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, may his memory be a blessing

It’s also a hard choice to pick something by my favouritest writer (who’s also one of my heroes), but I’d pick this one for required reading. The book typically chosen as required reading in world literature classes, the much-shorter One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, really isn’t his best book or representative of his typical scope. You have to read one of his long novels to get a feel for his voice and style. This book introduced me to GULAG, a subject sadly rarely-taught in U.S. schools. I eventually want my Ph.D. in Russian history, with a specialty in GULAG and the Great Terror.

5. The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, by Franz Werfel

I feel bad that I didn’t finish reading this epic novel, and that the bookmark, made of ransom letter font, screams, “Help! Help! It’s dark in here and I can’t move! Please read more. It gets boring stuck between the same pages.” It tells the real-life story of how a brave group of Armenians defended themselves against the Turks during the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Please be aware that I have zero tolerance for Armenian Genocide denial. I will delete any comments mocking, denying, or seriously downplaying this well-documented historical event. I was horrified enough when I had a professor, whose speciality is Azeri history, who went along with the Turkish and Azeri party line that it never happened.

6. Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, by Margaret Sidney

As many issues as I have with Ms. Sidney’s writing shortcomings, and this series in general, I have to give it respect as one of the first children’s books as written specifically for children. This would be a valuable addition to a children’s lit course, esp. in the historical/origins unit. It could be compared with any contemporary offering as for how far children’s books and society have come.

7. Lost Names, by Richard Kim

This was one of the required books in my awesome Japanese History course I took at university my senior year. I’m so glad I chose that class as my required Asian history credits. It tells the story of a young Korean boy and his family living under Japanese occupation during World War II. I’ve long felt there should be more attention paid to WWII books set outside of Europe and the U.S. Asia and North Africa were involved too!

8. The Ramayana

It’s a shame one of India’s great national epics isn’t better-known in the Western world. History and literature courses in the West are sadly North American and Eurocentric.

9. We, by Yevgeniy Ivanovich Zamyatin

I first read this criminally underrated dystopia in my Modern Russian Literature class my junior year of university. I always tell people whom I recommend it to that it’s also notable as perhaps the most un-Russian Russian novel ever. Not only is is very short, but there are only a few very vague hints as to where it might be set. The characters don’t even have Russian names, and are called by letters with numbers. It’s also quite similar to Brave New World.

10. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez

This classic antiwar novel, which spawned a blockbuster film in 1921, is sadly little-known today. It was written by Spain’s great national novelist, who also wrote several other books which were turned into films. World War I isn’t well-represented in literature and film anymore, and this book is just the perfect choice to inspire interest in the era.

Top Ten Favorite Beginnings/Endings In Books

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Top 10 Tuesday

Top 10 Tuesday is a weekly feature of The Broke and the Bookish. A full list of instructions and future themes can be found here. This week’s theme is Top Ten Best Beginnings and Endings. I’ve done half and half, with an honourable mention for each.

Openings

1. The Tao Te Ching, “The Tao that can be told is not the Eternal Tao.” One of the best, most memorable opening lines of all time.

2.  Fragments of Isabella, by the late Isabella Leitner, née Katz. “Yesterday, what happened yesterday?”

3.  Dancing on the Bridge of Avignon, by the late Ida Vos. “Rosa de Jong dreams during the daytime.” Though her books would be classified MG in today’s market, I’ve always loved her writing. It appeals to both adults and people of the intended age bracket, for different reasons. Her books are also among the most unforgettable I’ve ever read, able to recall so many details years later.

4.  Volume II of The GULAG Archipelago, “Rosy-fingered Eos, mentioned so often in Homer and called Aurora by the Romans, caressed, too, with those fingers the first early morning of the Archipelago.”

5.  The Divine Comedy!

Midway life’s journey I was made aware
That I had strayed into a dark forest,
And the right path appeared not anywhere.
Ah, tongue cannot describe how it oppressed,
This wood, so harsh, dismal, and wild, that fear
At thought of it strikes now into my breast.
So bitter it is, death is scarce bitterer.
But, for the good it was my hap to find,
I speak of the other things that I saw there.
I cannot remember well in my mind
How I came thither, so was I immersed
In sleep, when the true way I left behind.

Honorable Mention:

The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio. “To have compassion for those who suffer is a human quality which everyone should possess, especially those who have required comfort themselves in the past and have managed to find it in others.”

Endings

1.  Steppenwolf, “Pablo would be waiting for me, and Mozart too.” Hermann Hesse was a master at great opening and closing lines, but this one is my favorite. Steppenwolf is the book that most changed my life.

2.  The Painted Bird, by Jerzy Kosinski. Anyone who reads this book will never forget it. I read it over a decade ago, and still vividly remember so much of it in raw detail. I won’t give away the ending, since that would mean giving away the pivotal midway point of the book as well. Unlike a certain other writer, I don’t believe in giving away a book’s ending or pivotal plot points while smirking about it and patting myself on the back for being so clever (coughthebookthiefcough).

3.  Cancer Ward, by my late favorite writer Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn. “Just like that…” Just seeing or hearing that line, in any context, has given me chills and made me think of the book ever since.

4.  Fragments of Isabella again. When Fragments was combined with the sequel Saving the Fragments and had some new material added to create Isabella:  From Auschwitz to Freedom, several very emotional lines and passages were inexplicably left out or altered. The last line of the original first volume was among those on the chopping block. “Mama, I make this vow to you:  I will teach my sons to love life, respect man, and hate only one thing—WAR.”

5.  The Divine Comedy again!

To the high force imagination now failed;
But like to a wheel whose circling nothing jars
Already on my desire and will prevailed
The Love that moves the Sun and the other stars.

Honorable Mention:

November 1916, the second door-stopper in Aleksandr Isayevich’s Red Wheel cycle, four novels showing the unfolding of Russian history during WWI and the Revolution, August 1914-April 1917. This particular book ends with a young lady, Zina, going to Confession during a very dark time. The priest reassures her that there’s nothing wrong with how she loved her bastard son or his father, since:

“….You can rarely decide for another that he or she should not do this or that. How can anyone forbid you to love when Christ said that there is nothing higher than love? And he made no exceptions, for love of any kind whatsoever.”

The Canterbury Tales review

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Another book review from my old Angelfire site, probably written sometime in 2004. Yes, I am quite well aware that people in Medieval England had quite different religious views than the average modern person. That doesn’t mean I can’t be deeply offended by blatant anti-Semitism and Islamophobia instead of just shrugging and saying “That was just how things were then.” It’s just like with the repugnant Birth of a Nation; of course many Americans held less than enlightened views on race relations in those days. That didn’t mean most of them expressed it through applauding the Klan and depicting African-Americans as lazy porch monkeys who rape white women and eat fried chicken and go barefoot in the Senate. You have a really thick skin if you can just accept all cringe-worthy depictions of women, African-Americans, Jews, Catholics, Native Americans, etc., in old books and movies without flinching. It’s not at all about being “too PC,” it’s about being honestly shocked and offended.

***

Like The Decameron, this Medieval masterpiece too was intended to have a hundred stories, only unlike Boccaccio’s work, Chaucer only completed a bit over twenty stories, to have been told by thirty-one pilgrims going to the shrine of Thomas à Becket in Canterbury, England, one story on the way there and another on the way back, told by each pilgrim, including himself and the innkeeper.

The innkeeper suggested they tell stories to pass the time, and whomever told the best story would get a dinner when they returned to his inn. Sadly, things don’t get that far, and we don’t get to find out who won the dinner. Think of the modern-day possibilities, of someone writing the second half of this book, with the stories told on the way back and finally letting us in on who told the best story!

Off they go. After drawing straws to see who’ll start them off, the Knight begins with a lovely story about cousins in ancient Greece, who fall in love with the same woman while they’re in gaol, then fight over her once they’ve gotten out of gaol (one by pardon, the other by breaking out) until tragedy results, but in the end ultimately happiness. The people who tell the rest of the tales are from all walks of life—Pardoner (we read his tale along with the Prologue in my tenth grade English class), priests, friar, monk, cook, miller, reeve, lawyer, prioress, squire, you name it.

Many of the tales are very raunchy, as raunchy as some of the stuff in The Decameron, in particular the stories told by the miller and the reeve. They even have the c word in them, and other Anglo-Saxon profanities. The Reeve’s Tale is rather similar to one in The Decameron, about two young men who spend the night at the house of a couple with an older unmarried daughter and a baby boy in a cradle. During the night, one of the men, Alan, gets up and sleeps with the daughter, and the second man, John, has to get up to urinate, but finds the cradle in his way.

He pushes it over, and when the wife gets up and feels the cradle gone from its usual spot, she gets into the guests’ bed, thinking she almost made a horrible, foolish mistake. John proceeds to sleep with her. Then Alan gets up and gets into his host’s bed, thinking it’s his bed because the cradle isn’t there, and brags to him about how he slept with his daughter.

The host, Simon (Simkin), is furious, and the wife wakes up and screams for her husband, saying there’s someone on top of her. In the ensuing commotion, poor old Simkin (who deserved it anyway, the way he tried to steal flour from them earlier) gets banged over the head and the men flee from the house, getting back their stolen flour, which has since been baked into beautiful cakes.

In Boccaccio’s story, the wife realises what’s happened and lies to her husband that he too shouts out strange and impossible things when he’s dreaming, and the guest whom she accidentally slept with agrees, telling his friend to stop sleeptalking and to come back to bed, adding he told him he’d get into trouble one of these days over this problem. He begins shouting out nonsense to make the host believe he really was dreaming, and he laughs hysterically. Everyone is reconciled and happy.

The Prioress’s Tale is pure anti-Semitic tripe and libel, the stuff that was commonplace in the Middle Ages. Some young boy who loves to sing Catholic songs he wasn’t scheduled to learn yet is walking through the ghetto singing when Satan convinces the downtrodden people forced into this hellhole (described by the Prioress as deserved, since we’re so “satanic” and undeserving to live among other people in a free environment) to murder him, since he’s goading them with this song.

One Jewish man hides in the bushes, murders him (the old blood libels), throws him into a privy, and shortly thereafter he’s found with his throat slit, yet still singing that stupid song. Of course this gives the excuse for a murder-spree and pogrom, and the boy is revered as a saint and hero. Mention is also given to Hugh of Lincoln, another young boy of the era whose disappearance and murder was blamed on the area Jews.

Like this awful nun would’ve ever had any contact with Jews anyway, seeing as how they were all driven out of England in 1290. It’s scary that the blood libels survived into the twentieth century, with people who actually believed this anti-Semitic bullshit was true instead of manufactured lies used as excuses to have pogroms at Eastertime, or just to be mean and hateful.

The Sergeant-at-Law (i.e., lawyer)’s Tale is also very Christocentric. Young pretty Princess Constance is sighted by a group of Syrian Muslims, who fight among themselves over who shall have her. The guy who’s chosen says her father will never let her marry a Muslim (the insulting, dated, and offensive word “heathen” is used throughout), so he, the sultan, and all their friends and subjects convert to Christianity. Yeah, right.

The sultan’s mother is understandably furious over this abandonment of their ancestral religion, and has everyone at the wedding banquet except Constance murdered. Constance gets on a ship going towards the British Isles, and is taken in by a nice governer and his wife Hermengyld, and, wouldn’t you know it, Hermengyld is so taken with her devoted servant she too abandons Islam, and so does an old Briton they come across some time later!

A jealous knight murders Hermengyld and places the bloody knife beside Constance in their bed, and everyone feels she’s wrongly accused. At the trial, she prays for a miracle to happen to prove she isn’t guilty, and the knight is struck down by an otherworldly blow. And, surprise, surprise, the king and many of his subjects are so wowed by this that they too become Christians! What Medieval fantasy, people abandoning their own religions in favour of one that won’t leave them alone until they become members. Would these people have been very happy at a story where a young prince and all his subjects converted to Islam or Judaism en masse to win a beautiful princess, abandoning Christianity, the religion they’d lovingly been raised with?

Constance has some more misfortunes after that (but with a happy ending), and thankfully there aren’t anymore magickal wishful thinking fantasy conversions that only the Medieval mind could’ve imagined were realistic and true.

The Oxford Scholar’s Tale is also very similar to another Decameron story, the final story in that book. A Marquis is pressured to take a wife, and finally he gives in and decides to marry a poor girl named Griselda (the name is the same in both stories). He loves her very much, and his subjects are soon won over to the wonderful woman he’s married. But Walter wants to test her.

First he sends away their beloved daughter, saying the people are unhappy because they had a girl, and then a number of years later sends away their son, claiming the people are unhappy over the prospect of one day being ruled by a poor woman’s son. He says both have been killed. Finally he sends her away too, in nothing more than her shift, to her family, who always thought he’d do that one day.

To see if she’s borne these ordeals patiently, Walter soon brings her back, claiming he’s going to marry another woman, a 12-year-old girl. (He already presented her with a fake Papal bull of divorce when he drove her away.) And, wonder of wonders, it turns out that the girl is none other than their daughter. He also brings back their son, and holds her as his most dear wife, since she’s patiently borne these indignities.

Of course, to the modern mind, both of these stories are hard to believe, that any woman (or man, for that matter) in her right mind would agree to reconcile with a man who treated her so terribly and then years later just said he only ever did any of it to see how virtuous and patient she truly was.

The Wife of Bath rocks. She’s an intelligent liberated woman, married five times so far, loves sex, says that if women were writing the history, philosophy, and theology books, men would be the ones castigated and called evil, isn’t afraid to take lovers and to slap her husbands around when they get out of line, and has a very raunchy tongue. Like Alison in the Miller’s Tale, she demands, finds, and takes her own pleasure if her husband isn’t willing or able to properly give it to her, and always has a witty and clever way to get out of being accused of adultery or misbehaving.

The Merchant’s Tale ends in a similar way to another of Boccaccio’s stories. In Chaucer’s tale, an old knight named January finally decides he’d better get married, and picks a very young woman named May. January’s got a squire named Damian, who’s passionately in love with May. Eventually they work out a plan to get together, after January goes blind.

While out in the garden one day, Damian hides in a pear tree, where May is to climb up and meet him. Pluto and his wife Proserpina are watching, and Pluto is so mad that January is about to be cuckolded that he says he’ll give him his sight back to catch them in the act. Proserpina shoots back, saying she’ll give May the perfect response to deflect January’s suspicions.

So they’re up in the tree having sex when January looks up mortified, unable to believe his eyes. May tells him she’s trying to help him get his sight back and it’s not what he thinks, and that naturally he won’t be able to judge things correctly after having just gotten his sight back. He buys it, blissfully unaware he’s just been lied to.

In Boccaccio’s tale, Lidia, the wife of Nicostrato, is in love with Nicostrato’s favourite servant Pirro. Pirro gives her three tasks to do to see if her love is true, all of which she does. Finally, when Lidia is sick and lying under a pear tree, she orders Pirro up into the tree to get her some pears, and once up there he claims to see Nicostrato banging Lidia rotten.

Nicostrato goes up to see what’s going on, and Pirro and Lidia start to have sex. He’s furious, accusing his wife and most trusted servant of betraying him, and both deny this wholeheartedly; Lidia points out that if she really wanted to be unfaithful, she’d never be so foolish as to do it right in front of him. In consequence the tree is chopped down, so it won’t cast doubt on the honour of any other woman.

Most of the tales told reflect the social origins of the storytellers; some are even told in response to a tale that made their profession look bad. The miller tells his raunchy tale about an old carpenter who’s cuckolded by his much-younger wife, and the reeve, who’s also a carpenter, is so mad he in turns tells the story about the sleazy miller Simkin. Later on, the friar tells a story about a corrupt summoner, and this prompts the summoner to tell a tale about a sleazy friar who gets a rather vulgar comeuppance.

The Franklin’s Tale too is similar to a story in The Decameron; in Chaucer’s version, the lovely young wife Dorigen, while pining for her husband off on a voyage, is confronted with the squire Aurelius, who’s passionately in love with her. She tells him she’ll be his if he can clear the coast of Brittany of all its rocks, so one can sail along unimpeded. She thinks it’s an impossible task, so she doesn’t think anything will ever come of it.

In Boccaccio’s version, Dianora too is bothered by a suitor, and she tells him she’ll be his if he can make her a garden that’s just as beautiful in January as in May. Both men do these impossible tasks by the aide of magicians, and when they confess to their respective husbands, they’re told they must honour their word and sleep with them. Both suitors are so moved by this generosity that they release the women from this promise, and both magicians are in turn so moved they release the men from paying for their services.

As has been mentioned, these stories do take more than just a bit from Boccaccio instead of being all stories independently thought up. The Decameron rocks, but did you have to take so much from it? It also would’ve been nice, in my version, to have had the Middle English and the translation on opposing pages. There are some jarring differences, but Middle English isn’t that hard to read, esp. in comparison to Old English. I’ve read the Our Father and a bit of Beowolf in Old English (in a history and English class, respectively), and we could barely read any of it, so different are Modern and Old English.

There’s also a lot of Christocentrism, not to mention the anti-Semitic Prioress’s Tale (as well as an anti-Semitic jab made at the beginning of the Pardoner’s Tale); Christianity is obviously important in many of Boccaccio’s tales too, but it’s expressed through holy (but more often than not sleazy and corrupt) clergy, monks, friars, and nuns, not through constantly talking about Jesus, his blood, and trying to convert people who aren’t interested.

The few Jews in Boccaccio’s tales (Abraham, who converts to Christianity, and Melchisedek, who protects his money from a trap laid by Saladin) are treated more respectfully, as well as the Muslims in his stories. Saladin may be trying to steal Melchisedek’s money in the first story he appears in, but in the second story, told during the tenth and final day, he’s one of the two heroes, and is treated very respectfully, like a virtuous ruler, friend, and human being instead of some “heathen” who needs to be converted or killed asap.

My version also only gave a synopsis of the second of the two tales Chaucer himself tells, the Tale of Melibeus, and the final story, the Parson’s Tale, claiming that they’re very long, told in prose instead of poetry, and wouldn’t be of interest to the general reader. Maybe so, but can’t you at least provide them so the general reader can make up his or her own mind on the matter?

And let’s keep in mind here that this is only about half (at most) of what Chaucer envisioned; the book remains unfinished, so we’re denied all the rest of the tales that were supposed to be told, as well as the most important part, the ending and finding out who told the best tale!

But all in all, these are great stories (except the one told by the nasty Prioress) that have stood the test of time for a reason. And it was the first major work of literature written in the English language, the same way Dante chose to write in Italian instead of Latin to express his universal thoughts and ideas, to bring them to the common people instead of just the educated few.

Least-favorite Decameron stories, Part II

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4. Ninth story of the ninth day. “Two young men ask advice from Solomon, one of them as to what he must do to be loved, the other as to how he should punish his stubborn wife; Solomon tells the first man to love and the other to go to the Goose Bridge.” This story makes me want to vomit, even more so than the tale of Nastagio scaring and bullying his decidedly non-mutual crush into marrying him by taunting her with a horrific ghostly apparition.

The ninth day, under the rule of Emilia, is a free-for-all, with everyone allowed to tell stories on whatever topic they’d like. Emilia, who tells this repugnant story, has been called out by many commentators and scholars over the years as being rather anti-feminist and not very friendly towards her own sex. This story proves it in spades. Giosefo, the man with the “misbehaving” wife who dares not obey his every last word and never assert herself, sees a man beating his stubborn mule on the Goose Bridge, and gets the brilliant idea to beat the shit out of his wife so she’ll have her spirit completely broken.

The moral of the story is to learn to beat your wife so she’ll never step out of line, assert herself, or go against anything her asshole husband demands. Since, you know, God forbid women have rights or even a voice. They don’t get a say in anything because they weren’t born with a penis. It’s nauseating to think about how it was not only legal, but considered perfectly normal and socially acceptable, to beat one’s wife until relatively recently in human history. The charming Emilia also thinks women who assert themselves and don’t go along with everything their husbands think or say are a complete disgrace to all women. Yeah, Emilia, if you were real, I’m sure you’d just love getting beaten black and blue by some brute on a whim!

5. Third story of the eighth day. “Calandrino, Bruno, and Buffalmacco go down to the Mugnone River in search of heliotrope, and Calandrino thinks he has found it; he returns home loaded with stones; his wife scolds him, and he, losing his temper, beats her up, and tells his companions what they already know better than he.”

Another charming story culminating in spousal abuse and anti-woman violence. Calandrino figures in several Decameron stories, always playing the same town idiot whom everyone makes fun of without him realizing it. Picture a Medieval Italian version of someone like Homer Simpson, only without any charming, redeeming qualities. That’s Calandrino, the rube of all Florence.

Calandrino is led to believe by his so-called friends that there’s Magickal heliotrope in the river that’ll make him invisible. His supposed buddies make believe they can’t see him, and throw stones at him all the way back home, pretending they’re unable to see him and not aiming right at him on purpose. They let the customs guards in on the joke, so Calandrino is able to pass still believing he’s invisible. And as they’re coming home, there are very few people in the streets, since it’s dinnertime.

The joke is up when this moron comes home, and his wife Tessa berates him for being late. Calandrino is furious, believing she spoilt his “magic” because women always ruin everything. He beats her to a pulp, covering her in bruises and almost breaking her bones. I had absolutely no sympathy for this wife-beating asshole in any of the other stories he was featured in after this. But then again, wives were property in this era, a love match was almost unheard of, and most men thought they had the right to do whatever they wanted simply because they’d been born with a penis. Ugh.

6. Tenth story of the tenth day. “The Marquis of Sanluzzo is urged by the requests of his vassals to take a wife, and in order to have his own way in the matter, he chooses the daughter of a peasant and by her he has two children, whom he pretends to have put to death. Then, under the pretense that she has displeased him, he pretends to have taken another wife, and has their own daughter brought into the house as if she were his new wife, having driven out his real wife in nothing more than her shift. Having found that she has patiently endured all this, he brings her back home, more beloved than ever, shows their grown children to her, honors her, and has others honor her, as the Marchioness.”

Gualtieri wants to stick it to his vassals, so he marries a peasant, Griselda, whose looks and manners he’s been very impressed with. But he’s an asshole on a power trip, so he gets off on “testing” her in the most cruel ways. He presents a fake Papal bull of divorce, claiming his subjects are pissed he didn’t produce a child with a penis on the first try, pretends to have their kids killed, drives her out of their home in nothing but a slip, and then pretends he’s marrying a 12-year-old girl who’s really their daughter. What a vile, repugnant human being.

No woman in her right mind would patiently bear all these horrific insults, and no man who really loves his wife would put her through all this just to “test” her and because he doesn’t trust any women anyway. What a complete controlling asshole. Griselda patiently bears all these horrific things, and when this clown finally realizes what a true blue woman she is, he comes to his senses and brings her back as his wife. Ugh. The Oxford Scholar’s Tale in The Canterbury Tales is admittedly a practically word-by-word retelling of this charming tale of a controlling, suspicious husband and his unrealistically patient, loving wife.