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Buoyantly blending biography with history and literary criticism, this engaging new life of Geoffrey Chaucer follows the career of a man whose courtly offices situated him at the center of cultural and political activity in medieval London and whose poetry, especially the masterwork The Canterbury Tales, became a primary force in the evolution of modern English.
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Richard West is a journalist and writer who contributes regularly to The Times Literary Supplement and the Spectator. He has written many books, including a much-admired biography of Daniel Defoe, and is married to the writer Mary Kenny.From Booklist:
West's biography of the first great English poet whose name we know quite resembles his Life and Strange, Surprising Adventures of Daniel Defoe (1998). Its overall strategy is to discuss the history surrounding its subject's achievements and those achievements in tandem with tracing the events of his life. It differs markedly, though, from West's account of the first modern English novelist, because, at the distance of 600 years from Chaucer's death, nearly no records exist of any strange, surprising adventures on his part. Undismayed, West raids the historical and critical literature and polishes his own sensible opinions about Chaucer's writings to produce a book every bit as readable and fascinating as his life of Defoe. Individual chapters take up such matters as the Black Death's impact on the anti-Semitism evident in the Prioress's Tale ; why Europe quickly forgot the Black Death; how the thirteenth-century French poem Roman de la Rose and the great Florentine poets Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio influenced Chaucer; the impact of the great English Peasants' Revolt of 1381 on Chaucer's worldview; how Troilus and Criseyde anticipates the modern novel; how to read the lengthy Knight's Tale , the boring bane of generations of students, as a satire; and the interpretation of the Wife of Bath as a feminist. A treat for English history and literature buffs who prefer journalistically vital prose to the stodgy varieties usually used to rebury England's liveliest bard. Ray Olson
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