Chaucer's Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury

Overview

A lively microbiography of Chaucer that tells the story of the tumultuous year that led to the creation of The Canterbury Tales

In 1386, Geoffrey Chaucer endured his worst year, but began his best poem. The father of English literature did not enjoy in his lifetime the literary celebrity that he has today—far from it. The middle-aged Chaucer was living in London, working as a midlevel bureaucrat and sometime poet, until a personal and ...

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Chaucer's Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury

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Overview

A lively microbiography of Chaucer that tells the story of the tumultuous year that led to the creation of The Canterbury Tales

In 1386, Geoffrey Chaucer endured his worst year, but began his best poem. The father of English literature did not enjoy in his lifetime the literary celebrity that he has today—far from it. The middle-aged Chaucer was living in London, working as a midlevel bureaucrat and sometime poet, until a personal and professional crisis set him down the road leading to The Canterbury Tales.

In the politically and economically fraught London of the late fourteenth century, Chaucer was swept up against his will in a series of disastrous events that would ultimately leave him jobless, homeless, separated from his wife, exiled from his city, and isolated in the countryside of Kent—with no more audience to hear the poetry he labored over.

At the loneliest time of his life, Chaucer made the revolutionary decision to keep writing, and to write for a national audience, for posterity, and for fame.

Brought expertly to life by Paul Strohm, this is the eye-opening story of the birth one of the most celebrated literary creations of the English language.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
08/18/2014
In 1386, when Geoffrey Chaucer lost his bureaucratic job in wool customs—and the attached housing—the little-known poet left his native London and began his remarkable work, The Canterbury Tales, in exile. Strohm, an emeritus professor of medieval literature at Oxford and Columbia Universities, focuses on this one significant year in Chaucer’s life and covers his Aldgate neighborhood and London political intrigue in minute detail. Strohm relates Chaucer’s themes in specific works to life in London, and uses both a current translation and the Middle English version for each selection, which makes it easy for modern readers to follow. An unforgiving portrait of Chaucer’s royal brother-in-law, John of Gaunt, appears to be based largely on one contemporary source; in fact, Gaunt’s patronage of Chaucer allowed him to live comfortably when his income ebbed, since the writer was either comparatively honest or inept at corruption. Strohm’s well chosen public documents and contextual excerpts from Chaucer’s work offer a glimpse into Chaucer’s personal life and literary ambition as well as insight into the horrible year that launched his greatest work. Strohm really shines at literary criticism, which he saves until the end, but this work is probably best for those who already harbor a deep interest in medieval literature or history. (Nov.)
Paul Strohm
Praise for Chaucer's Tale
“Paul Strohm illuminates how 1386 marked a decisive year for Geoffrey Chaucer, one in which he went from accomplished coterie poet to the popular author of the work of genius for which he is celebrated to this day: The Canterbury Tales. In Chaucer’s Tale, Strohm, one of the finest medievalists of our time, brings this turbulent moment in Chaucer’s England to life, recovering in vivid detail the professional and creative pilgrimage that led Chaucer to compose so memorable a fictional one.”
—James Shapiro, author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare
 
“Strohm uses his analysis of Chaucer’s annus horribilis of 1386 as a jumping-off point for exploring no less a question than who Chaucer was—as a functionary, a resident of London, a member of the King’s circle and of Parliament, and a writer working in the fourteenth century. Strohm’s scholarship is scrupulous; his conclusions fascinating. This is a portrait not just of Chaucer but of the complex and rapidly changing world in which he lived, worked, and wrote—a tale that intrigues at every turn.”
—Charlie Lovett, author of The Bookman’s Tale and First Impressions
Library Journal
06/01/2014
As tumultuous times descended on 14th-century London, cog-in-the-wheel bureaucrat Geoffrey Chaucer found himself without job or home, separated from his wife, and alone in Kent with no one to hear the occasional poetry he penned. Then he decided to write for the ages. From the former J.R.R. Tolkien Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University, who has also taught medieval literature at Columbia.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670026432
  • Publisher: Viking Adult
  • Publication date: 11/13/2014
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,051,180
  • Product dimensions: 5.77 (w) x 8.55 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Strohm has taught medieval literature at Columbia University and was the J. R. R. Tolkien Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University. He and his wife live in New York City and Oxford, England.

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