That's it for another NCS Congress. It has been an exhausting five days but they have been of great vitality and interest and immensely enjoyable. Quite apart from the wonderful setting (and the new building in which the conference itself took place was gratefully equipped with air-conditioning), the meeting this time was in great form. I met lots of people, made new friends and caught up with old friends. We were fed and watered with care and attention. The conference dinner, at the Tenuta di Monaciano was one of the best I've ever had, in an exquisite setting. The company was delightful.
At the end of the Congress several scholars who are not Chaucerians gave a perspective on their own experiences attending: it was interesting to hear this, especially as three were from modern language departments. I wouldn't have minded a few Chaucerians talking about their own conference highlights, but this did not happen at this forum. It was the end of the conference and everyone was tired, perhaps talked out. I humbly offer some of my own initial thoughts. While there were Chaucer and Italy threads at the conference, I did think that Chaucer and Italy was not quite as well represented as it could have been, in terms of sessions and how they were scheduled and put together. For example, there was a session called 'The French of Italy', lovely. Why not the vernaculars of Italy? Looking at Tuscan dialects, Genoese, Milanese? (Joseph Grossi gave a paper in my own session on L'Anonimo Genovese, complete with very successful readings in dialect!). This was a missed opportunity, I felt. And I recognize that the opportunity is now passed, and there not much point in complaining now.
There was too the egregious absence of the man of grete auctoritee, the one who has done so much for Chaucer and Italy, who did not have that far to travel. That needs explaining.
There were some rather excellent papers. These included those in the session 'Image Trouble, 1380-1538: The Secular Image': Alastair Minnis, 'Image Trouble in Vernacular Commentary: The Glossing of Evrart de Conty and Francesco da Barberino', Kathryn Starkey, 'An Iconography of the Secular in Der Welscher Gast', and Barbara Newman, 'René of Anjou and the Heart's Two Quests'. I really enjoyed the papers in the 'Italian Encounters' session, Nick Havely, 'An English Reader of Dante in Papal Avignon' [sic Adam Easton], William Robins, 'Did Chaucer Meet Sercambi', and Carolyn Collette, 'Richard de Bury, Petrarch, and Avignon'. Robins argued that Chaucer might well have visited Lucca (and therefore possibly come into contact with Sercambi, and that the exchange might not have been all one way). He did so by outlining the travel itineraries possible in late fourteenth-century Italy while also recognizing the speculative nature of his paper. It was, for all that, a fascinating paper. There were some other good sessions on MSS, Michael Hanly on Jacopo Rapondi of Lucca, for example. And a good session on humanism and the House of Fame. There were some excellent papers in a session on the French of Italy (especially a beautifully detailed and linguistically sensitive paper by Charmaine Lee), and it was an important opportunity to think about just how linguistically complex the scene is for Chaucer in Italy. Other highlights included Glenn Burger's paper on performative reading and manuscript studies, and Martha Rust on paper and parchment and the Middle English verse love epistle, a beautiful piece of work. The plenaries were powerful, chief among them Aranye Fradenburg's. Moving, compelling, enjoyable. And it was great to see Griselda stepping out in style with Richard Firth Green.
But the highlight of the conference, and certainly among the conference's most important papers, was one that was never mentioned again. This is most curious considering how much time we spent talking about manuscripts, theorizing about manuscripts, salivating over manuscript illuminations. Estelle Stubbs gave a paper on the morning of the first day in which she identified the famous 'Scribe D' as John Marchant. The importance of this scribe in copying work by Chaucer has always been recognized, but his identification now allows us to place this copying in a much more specific context (and Stubbs threw the Guildhall into relief in this respect). It was a groundbreaking piece of work, compellingly and elegantly presented, and should have been the talk of the conference.
It was an enormously successful conference.