Chaucer Biography Now: News and Reviews

Cover of Strohm Chaucer's Tale (Viking, 2014), reissued as The Poet's Tale (Profile, 2015)
Paul Strohm, Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury (New York: Viking, 2014); also published in the UK as The Poet’s Tale: Chaucer and the Year that Made The Canterbury Tales (London: Profile Books, 2014).

Chaucer biography is much in the news these days! A few recent items of note:

  • Candace Barrington has just published an attentive review of Paul Strohm’s new biography of Chaucer, Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury (New York: Viking, 2014). Read the review in the open-access journal The Medieval Review.
  • Jenna Mead offered her own engaging perspective on Strohm’s book in the group medieval studies blog In the Middle earlier this summer.

In the most recent issue of The London Review of Books (27 August 2015), Ardis Butterfield notes the current flurry of interest in the muck and olfactory sensorium of medieval London, and she reflects on the unflattering portrayal of Chaucer that emerges through Bruce Holsinger’s vivid fictional fiction about John Gower. [For more on the complications of voicing medieval poets and creating a “soundscapes” for narrative, read (or listen to!) this March 2014 interview between Holsinger and audiobook narrator Simon Vance in The Slate Book Review.]

Butterfield’s essay in The London Review of Books ponders some of the difficulties of writing in the genre of biography. How does a writer transform a historical archive into a life story?

  • Read Butterfield’s “Diary: Who Was Chaucer?” at the LRB website; if you can’t access the full essay there, try this link (provided by via Rachel Kennedy on twitter).

P.S. [ADDED AUGUST 29, 2015] Not quite a “news item” but relevant. Check out this new collection of essays by historians (each chapter focuses on one of Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims): Historians on Chaucer: The ‘General Prologue’ to The Canterbury Tales, ed. Steven Rigby, with assistance of Alastair Minnis (Oxford University Press, 2014).

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