Riding with Chaucer into the New Year

Monday – New Year’s Day

If you’re looking for a novel take on New Year’s resolutions, check out Charlotte Ahlin’s delightful suggestion that we plumb our favorite literary characters for ideas. The characters she proposes have some characteristics to emulate and others to avoid. Here’s a sampling:

Jay Gatsby – Move On

Jay. Buddy. Pal. It’s time to move the heck on. If you’re going into the new year with a broken heart, or a list of petty resentments against all your old money neighbors, don’t be a Gatsby about it. Find a way to let it go. Stop creeping on your ex’s new girlfriend’s Instagram. Don’t throw parties just to impress a cutie who is now married to a racist. Taking time to recover from a break-up or a disappointment is fine, but at a certain point, you can’t repeat the past, no matter how big your mansion.

Jane Eyre – Spend some quality time with yourself

On the one hand, Jane Eyre is a torrid romance between Jane and a gross imperialist dude who keeps his mentally ill first wife locked in an attic. But on the other hand, Jane Eyre is one of the first novels by a woman to have the resounding message: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love anybody else?” Jane only marries Rochester once she’s mentally, emotionally, and financially independent and equal to him. So spend some quality time getting to know yourself this year (and avoid guys with attic wives).

Hermione Granger – Keep Resisting

It’s easy to feel burnt out about politics right now. But Hermione Granger wouldn’t let you give up. Hermione Granger would tell you to keep calling your representatives. Hermione Granger would drag you to the library to read up on your rights as a private citizen, then knit a couple of hats for house-elves, and then top it all off by punching a Death Eater in the face. Follow Hermione’s lead, and don’t let yourself become complacent in the face of evil.

What does it say about me that my favorite characters include Tom Jones and the Wife of Bath? Both live life with a full heart, and as I enter my retirement year, I can take inspiration from the Wife’s declaration that she will make the most of what resources remain to her. She is not about to let age keep her from being merry:

But age, allas, that al wole envenyme,
But age, alas, that all will poison,
Hath me biraft my beautee and my pith.
Has deprived me of my beauty and my vigor.
Lat go. Farewel! The devel go therwith!
Let it go. Farewell! The devil go with it!
The flour is goon; ther is namoore to telle;
The flour is gone; there is no more to tell;
The bren, as I best kan, now moste I selle;
The bran, as I best can, now I must sell;
But yet to be right myrie wol I fonde.
But yet I will try to be right merry.

So my resolution is to enjoy to the fullest the colleagues, friends and students that I will be leaving in June and then to enter fully into my new life in Sewanee, Tennessee. Happy New Year.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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