chapter  3
Nineteenth-Century Necronationalism and the Chaucerian Uncanny
Pages 13

If suspicions about the burial of Dryden-the Father of Modern Poetry-in Chaucer’s grave led to anxieties about the pollution of Chaucer’s work, late nineteenth-and early twentieth-century commentators became concerned about the possibility that the Father of Ancient Poetry was buried in someone else’s tomb. This inversion of anxieties was accompanied by an inversion of attitudes toward Brigham’s translation. Critics no longer resisted Brigham’s translation as an attempt to appropriate the father for the old religion. Instead they mounted a spirited defense of the reverent nature of Brigham’s translation. The reason for this reversal is that critics increasingly looked to ground the values of English society in the cultural productions of England rather than a Protestant religious consensus. Hence, more and more, Chaucer, the Father of English Poetry, is seen as a repository of “Englishness”—a national quality which differentiates the English from other peoples. Chaucer’s body, standing as it does, at the head of all of the other tombs and monuments in Poets’ Corner, becomes the material locus of what Etienne Balibar calls “an invariant substance”—that national “stuff” which is handed down from the father to succeeding generations.2 His tomb, by extension, becomes a kind of secular shrine-a geographical locus which, as Dean Stanley puts it, binds together London and Canterbury, Commonwealth and religion. Attempts to defend Brigham’s translation of Chaucer, then, resist the idea that Chaucer’s tomb (a metonymy for Chaucer’s body) is not, or at least was not originally, his tomb. Behind this resistance lies a fear of sepulchral instability. For if the tomb, in fact, had some prehistorical identity before it was Chaucer’s tomb-if the boundaries of Chaucer’s tomb prove to be porous-then, analogically, the ability of Chaucer’s body to limn out the boundaries of Englishness is suspect. It gestures toward some body which originally lay in the

tomb, some history before the Father, which is unknown, confused and ultimately discontinous with the idea of England herself.