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Chaucer and the Discourse -- Responses

Updated: Dec 26, 2022

Richard Utz, Chaucer and the Discourse of German Philology (Turnhout: Brepols, 2002).


In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, German-speaking scholars played a decisive role in founding and shaping the study of medieval and early modern English language and culture. During this process, aesthetic and literary enthusiasms were gradually replaced, first by broadly comparative and then by increasingly narrow scientistic practices, all confusingly subsumed under the term 'philology'. Towards 1871, German and Austrian Anglicists were successful at imposing-- for about 30 years -- many of their philological discoursive practices on their English-speaking counterparts by focusing on strict textual criticism, chronology, historical linguistics, prosody, and literary history. After World War I, these philological practices were rejected in the U.K. and the United States because they were 'Made in Germany', but have remained essential features of German medieval scholarship until the present day. This book offers a case study of these foundational developments by investigating the reception of Geoffrey Chaucer by eminent scholars such as V.A. Huber, W. Hertzberg, B. ten Brink, J. Zupitza, E. Flügel, and J. Koch. The narrative of their nationalist, scientist, and self-fashioning efforts is complemented by a comprehensive annotated bibliography of German Chaucer criticism between 1793 and 1948.


  • Christa Jansohn, Archiv 243 (2006), 147-49.

  • Jerold Frakes, The Medieval Review (2005).

  • John M. Hill, Medieval Forum 3 (2003).

  • Frank-Rutger Hausmann, Süddeutsche Zeitung (April 23, 2003).

  • Anita Obermeier, Quidditas (2002), 117-20.


"Simply for its overview of German scholarship on Chaucer, [Chaucer and the Discourse of German Philology] is invaluable, a mother-lode of information and a reminder to many of us that Old and Middle English scholarship as we learned it forty or more years ago is deeply indebted to nineteenth-century German academics and school teachers." - John M. Hill, Medieval Forum (2003)

"Richard Utz [...] zeichnet in [Chaucer and the Discourse of German Philology] ein lebendiges Bild von Aufstieg und Niedergang der Englischen Philologie in Deutschland und Österreich [...]. Utz, beileibe kein Anhänger monokausaler Erklärungsmodelle, weist nach, dass sich die vermeintlich objektive Philologie schon früh selbst demontierte, indem sie Chaucer, nicht anders als Shakespeare, als germanischen Autor vereinnahmte. [...] Utz’ kluge, vorzüglich dokumentierte und sprachlich elegante Arbeit liest sich stellenweise wie ein Wissenschaftskrimi und beweist, dass fachgeschichtliche Studien philologische wie hermeneutische Ansprüche in hohem Maße miteinander versöhnen können." - Frank-Rutger Hausmann, Süddeutsche Zeitung (2003)

"This meticulous and fascinating volume comprises in some sense an intellectual biography of the German-speaking academy via its published scholarship on Chaucer. It includes a monographical study of Chaucer scholarship in the German-speaking countries from 1793 (when the first comprehensive study of Chaucer was published in German) to 1948 (1-251), an annotated bibliography of this scholarship (253-396), an epilogue (397-401), and a general bibliography of works cited beyond the parameters of the book's titular subject (403-430). [...] The epilogue is particularly thought provoking on contemporary issues in medieval studies, theory, and old and new philology; that is, the condemnation by 'new' philologists of the stodgy straw man of the old philologist. He notes (401): "A return to late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century philological practices and their nationalist, sexist, and racialist motivations is not at all desirable. However, both these early scholars' more inclusive attention to linguistic, literary, and cultural detail and to the larger political relevance of their work, as well as some of their later colleagues' insistence on historical perspective and the inclusion of observations from the areas of etymology, grammar, and lexicography, might make for a healthy and exciting melange of the supposedly mutually exclusive cognitive enterprises of philology and enthusiasm." The volume is a welcome addition to both intellectual history and Chaucer scholarship." - Jerold Frakes, The Medieval Review (2005)

"Richard Utz argues in Chaucer and the Discourse of German Philology that the German philological impulse was acutely tied to two convictions, the first being that 'philological discourse was a home-grown German product superior to any methodologies in other countries.' Utz’s second point stresses the connection between the institution and the state: 'by practising and exporting this kind of superior methodology [Germany was] contributing, in the academic arena, to [its] rise to importance as a powerful modern nation state' (13). It is in this context that Chaucer makes an appearance in philological debates." - Jill Fitzgerald, Tolkein Studies 6 (2009)

"Richard Utz tackles head on the thorny topic of philology, a term that never has translated well from German into English, in Chaucer and the Discourse of German Philology: A History of Reception and an Annotated Bibliography of Studies, 1793–1948. The volume has been heralded by some earlier publications (last year, reviewed below, and YWES 79[2000] 201) but here the material is collected and expanded. Utz begins his analysis by considering how the cool reception by philologists of Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy even then betrayed the discipline's self-conscious seriousness and embarrassment with the enthusiasms of poetry. Yet despite the sorry reputation Chaucerphilologie has acquired as drudgery or, worse, covert right-wing nationalism, Utz claims its centrality and relevance, and calls for its inclusion in the pluralist canons of literary theory. Bluntly put, his question to medievalists is why Latin and Old French should be considered linguistic professional requirements, and German merely optional. For those of us whose German remains plodding, the volume contains many critical passages translated for the first time into English from or about the giants of the discipline: Jacob Grimm, Karl Lachmann, Julius Zupitza, and the overlooked John Koch. Utz's immersion in the critical literature enables a telling of the story of Chaucerphilologie in all its nuances, including its ties to Prussian supremacism, and the foibles of its doyens (a chapter on Zupitza and ten Brink is highly readable). Much has recently been written about the English Chaucerians who mapped the texts and manuscripts—Henry Bradshaw, Frederick Furnivall, and W.W. Skeat—but this worthy tome supplies the German background and context to the scholarship that we usually take as our terminus a quo. An annotated bibliography of nearly 150 pages offers a valuable digest of Chaucer scholarship published in German throughout the nineteenth and earlier part of the twentieth centuries. Utz concludes the volume by suggesting continuities between the fuss about Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy and recent debates about ‘new’ philology and the divide between philology and theory; in this, Utz implies, philology then as now remains intrinsic to our subject." - Valerie Allen and Margaret Connolly, Year's Work in English Studies 83.1 (2004)

"Perhaps my biggest debt of gratitude goes to Professor Richard Utz [...] whose rather prickly review of my Chaucer A to Z not only made me want to write a better book, but provided me a priceless guide to doing so. Professor Utz's deep knowledge of the Germanic contribution to Chaucer Studies, a contribution that has been largely overlooked by modern and contemporary Anglo-American scholars, helped me locate essential data about German Chaucerians, such as John Koch, which I have included here." Rosalyn Rossignol, Chaucer. A Literary Reference to His Life and Work (2006)

“'Chaucer studies never really flourished in Germany', äußerte A. C. Baugh in seinem Artikel 'Fifty Years of Chaucer Scholarship' (Speculum, 26 [1951], 659–72, S. 659). Diese Bemerkung kann Richard Utz in seiner gründlich recherchierten Fachgeschichtsschreibung ebenso korrigieren wie die andere extreme Haltung, die von einer überwältigenden Dominanz deutscher Chaucerianer im internationalen Wissenschaftsbetrieb spricht (vgl. S. 19, Anm. 33). Die Korrektur gelingt dem Verfasser einerseits durch eine annotierte Bibliographie am Ende seiner Arbeit (S. 253–396), die analog dem Haupttext chronologisch in vier Phasen eingeteilt ist und seit Catherine Spurgeons verdienstvoller Auswahlbibliographie in Five Hundred Years of Chaucer Criticism and Allusion (London, 1925, S. 126–152) die erste auf Vollständigkeit angelegte annotierte Bibliographie für die Jahre 1793–1948 darstellt.' - Christa Jansohn, Archiv 243 (2006)

"It might be considered a mistake to read a review of a book before writing one’s own evaluation. Die Süddeutsche Zeitung has called Richard Utz’s comprehensive and impressive work a Wissenschaftskrimi (an academic thriller), and I wholeheartedly agree. Utz meticulously researched and eloquently chronicled the development of Chaucer studies in Germany and their intriguing connections to philology and politics." - Anita Obermeier, Quidditas 23 (2002)

Geoffrey Chaucer, late medieval English literature and culture, reception history, medievalism, Mittelalter-Rezeption, médiévalisme, philology, history of academic study, history of science, science and literature



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