Species, Phantasms, and Images

Vision and Medieval Psychology in The Canterbury Tales
Carolyn P. Collette
An interpretation of The Canterbury Tales within the context of medieval thinking about the nature and function of the senses


The Canterbury Tales is one of the landmarks in the history of English literature that evokes an interpretation from all who pass by. Given the sheer age of the text, it is hard to believe a new interpretation is possible. Yet Carolyn P. Collette's study of Chaucer's greatest work is truly innovative. Interpreting the text from a completely new angle, the author examines the stories within the framework of medieval psychology, and makes accessible to the modern reader the ideas about the nature and function of the senses that Chaucer's medieval mind would have taken for granted. Beautifully crafted, easy to read and with a stunning grasp of the medieval psychology, Species, Phantasms, and Images is a brave new foray into an unexplored interpretation of one of the greatest works of the English language.

Carolyn P. Collette is Professor of English, Mount Holyoke College and an Executive Editor of the New Chaucer Society.

Praise / Awards

  • "The rich potentials of Collette's approach,, and her establishment of a persistent thematic that takes on chameleon forms throughout the Tales, make her omissions a bit curious. . . . Such objections, however, are far outweighted by the virtuosity and nuance of Collette's argument, its intellectual and interpretive sweep, its keen insight into the contextual backgrounds until now lacking for many of the Tales' most memorable and enigmatic moments. This very readable book will appeal to both beginner and specialist in the fields of medieval psychology/optics and Chaucer studies, as well as those interested in contemporary discussion of the senses, the gaze, the body, and subjectivity. What finally emerges, quite rightly, in Collette's study of the powers of imagination in Chaucer's last work is the power of Chaucer's imagination."
    ---Jamie C. Fumo, Princeton University, Kritikon Litterarum, Volume 28 (2001)
  • "With this accessible and engaging volume, Collette brings psychology home for medievalists---a necessary critical gesture, especially since recent studies of Chaucerian psychology have regarded his work only through the lenses of psychoanalytic criticism. By recuperating medieval psychology through the sense of sight, Collette's book not only adds brain to the medieval body (theories) but also enriches the field of contemporary criticism with a quite different perspective on psychology."

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Copyright © 2001, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted May 2001.

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 224pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2001
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11161-9

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  • $80.00 U.S.