A Maiden’s Untold Canterbury Tale
Age Rating: 13 +
Two days after my sixteenth birthday on a blistering hot Harvest Moon day, a devastating grass fire spread across my village brutally killing my parents and my siblings. With nowhere else to go, I became employed at the ‘House of Ale’ as a servant where I encountered violence, crudeness, and prostitution. It had been a year since their death, and Friar Harry, who had known me since infancy, recognized my desperation for a change in lifestyle and advised me to join the pilgrimage headed for Canterbury that had stopped in our village to rest for a few nights. I would then settle at that destination upon arrival.
There, I would join the convent and end my misery. I knew the real reason for the Friar’s rash suggestion: the townsfolk had begun whispering of the orphan spinster working at the ‘House of Ale’. He knew this image would bother me, and finding a husband to take my baggage and I would be difficult. Thus, I’ve met with the Host of this expedition to discuss preparation for departure.
The Host explained the disposition of each individual whom I would be embarking on this journey with. Later, he suggested that I choose a suitable partner to accompany me. With the exception of the kind Parson, the men of this raunchy group, all seemingly vulgar in their own vile way, did not appeal to me. Knowing my future, I decided to have a last and final bit of fun before surrendering myself to the land of the holy. Therefore, I decided the Prioress or the Parson just could not help me accomplish this goal. That left one person, the Wife of Bath.
I knew full well what I had gotten myself into when choosing her. The Wifey, which she affectionately allowed me to address her as, did not possess the typical attributes of an older, married woman. On the contrary, she was boisterous, full of life, and filled with a passion for teaching young women like myself her wealth of knowledge and for sharing her experiences…in many fields. “[She] knew the remedies for love’s mischances, an art in which she knew the oldest dances “ (General Prologue 485-486).
At first glance, I noticed the Wifey’s beautiful wardrobe made of the finest cloth and stitched together so meticulously that even the keenest eyes could not have seen the seams. She told me “In making cloth she showed so great a bent” (General Prologue 457). “Bold was her face, handsome, and red in hue” (General Prologue 468).“She’d had five husbands, all at the church door” (General Prologue 470), and all five had brought her happiness and pain, and as she told me her life’s story, I began to tell her mine.
She was “somewhat deaf” (General Prologue 456), but she eagerly tried as best she could to listen to my tale of sorrow. After I had exhaled my last breath of anguished speech, she sat in silence and pondered for a moment. “I’ve traveled West and East, North and South,” “seen many strange rivers and passed over them” (General Prologue 474), “and never have I seen such a case of a youthful female life gone to waste,” she insulted.
Naturally, peeved at her remark, I tried to conjure up a comeback of the same essence, but failed to do so. So I began to think if my choice to join the convent had been the correct choice after all. My agreement with the Friar had come out of desperation of course, but I started to question my judgment. Hearing Wifey carry on about the possibilities in marriage and love provoked my sourness towards joining the convent. Doing so, I would give up those special pleasures that the Wifey spoke so pleasingly about, as the fruit of marriage had been her true love.
“I will strike a bargain with you, poor girl. If by the end of this pilgrimage you have not found your first husband, you may join the convent when we reach Canterbury. However, if you do find a man, handsome enough to suit your needs, and wise enough to carry on a rough conversation, you will wed and settle in that village until you grow tired and restless,” she compromised.
In agreement, she began to pass down her controversial philosophies concerning marriage and the power of women as we rode the rugged path to Canterbury. She exclaimed with vigor, “Refusal is by far one of the best ways to achieve your goals in a relationship. Many a time I have let my husbands lie alone until they provided me with the desires I felt they needed to fulfill.”
After a long day’s ride, we ached in places unknown and craved a meal and rest. We stopped in a village about halfway to Canterbury where we requested rooms at the inn and prepared to board for the night. As we unloaded the horses and I struggled to reach for my saddlebag, the stable hand placed his hand on mine and lifted the bag off the horse. The frost that I thought had made permanent residence on my heart began to melt away and my thoughts faded as I looked into his crystalline, azure eyes. His aurous blonde hair blew in the nighttime breeze, and I immediately saw that the clever Wifey had won this bargain. As quick as I had joined the pilgrimage, that journey would end for me, and on the morrow they would leave without their pitiful young maiden. On that night, Wifey gave me one last lesson.
"Tell me also, to what conclusion were members made of generation, and of so perfect wise a wright y-wrought? Trusteth me well, they were not made for nought” (Prologue to the Wife of Bath’s Tale 115-118) and “I will bestow the flower of all mine age in the acts and fruit of marriage” (Prologue to the Wife of Bath’s Tale 113-114). She needn’t have said more, because with that, I felt I had all the education I needed to commence on my next pilgrimage: marital bliss!