Originally writing over 600 years ago, Geoffrey Chaucer is today enjoying a global renaissance. Why do poets, translators, and audiences from so many cultures, from the mountains of Iran to the islands of Japan, find Chaucer so inspiring? In part this is down to the character and sheer inventiveness of Chaucer's work.
At the time Chaucer's writings were not just literary adventures, but also a means of convincing the world that poetry and science, tragedy and astrology, could all be explored through the English language. French was still England's aristocratic language of choice when Chaucer was born; Latin was used for university education, theological discussion, and for burying the dead. Could a hybrid tongue such as English ever generate great writing to compare with French and Latin? Chaucer, miraculously, believed that it could, through gradual expansion of expressiveness and scientific precision. He was never paid to do this; he was valued, rather, as a capable civil servant, regulating the export of wool and the building of seating for royal tournaments. Such experiences, however, fed his writing, leading him to achieve a range of social registers, from noble tragedy to barnyard farce, unrivalled for centuries. His tale-telling geography is vast, his fascination with varieties of religious belief endless, and his desire to voice female experience especially remarkable. Many Chaucerian poets and performers, today, are women. In this Very Short Introduction David Wallace introduces the life, performance, and poetry of Chaucer, and analyses his astonishing and enduring appeal.
Previously published in hardback as Geoffrey Chaucer: A New Introduction
ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are thE perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
Review from previous edition Prof. Wallace has produced a superb introduction: an adroit, authoritative, fresh, energetic delight. * The New English Review *
This is a book which shows up everything you thought you knew about Chaucer, but didn't, and has a knack of making you want to find out even more. * Sandra Callard, On: Magazine *
This smart and attractive little book is a very quick read, and Wallace's conversational style has warm appeal. * Laura Ashe, Times Literary Supplement *
Showing a solid command of history, Wallace provides fascinating analyses of Chaucer's personal and literary evolution. He is a master of his subject, insightful and provocative throughout. * Kirkus Review *
A thoroughly fresh engagement...which gives us Chaucer as a writer of his moment wide open to the future and the world. * Paul Strohm, author of The Poet's Tale *
Along with its other mind-broadening features, this introduction offers a timely reminder that Chaucer benefited from a Europe-wide perspective and continues to evoke creative responses across cultures and borders. * Nicholas Havely, University of York *
2: Schoolrooms, science, female intuition
3: A life in poetry
4: Poetry at last: Troilus and Criseyde
5: Organizing, disorganizing: The Canterbury Tales
6: Something to believe in
7: Performance and new Chaucers
Timeline: a well-documented life