The April 2019 issue of Speculum includes my review of David Wallace’s Geoffrey Chaucer: A New Introduction (Oxford UP, 2017), a lucid, witty presentation of Chaucer’s life, works, and influence.
Part of an ongoing promotion of Chaucer’s “promiscuous topographies,” A New Introduction continues Wallace’s twofold scholarly enterprise: to show not only that Chaucer’s verse embraces all the world known to educated fourteenth-century Europeans, but also that Chaucer’s subsequent influence has extended beyond the poets of Britain to make an impact on every hemisphere.
Wallace advertises this paradigm shift with his first sentence: “Geoffrey Chaucer is a medieval poet enjoying a global renaissance” (1). And it punctuates my review’s final sentence: the New Introduction‘s major contribution “has been to normalize Chaucer’s status as a global poet” (600).
For those already in the Global Chaucers vortex, David Wallace’s introduction confirms why we find this field of research so rich and exciting. For those who are Global Chaucers curious, Wallace provides the roadmap for following Chaucer’s off-island journeys.
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.
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).
An early contributor to the Global Chaucers blog, Ebbe Klitgård, published his one-of-a-kind study, Chaucer in Denmark, in 2013. I had the opportunity to review it for Medievally Speaking. Without reprinting the entire review, I draw your attention to my final admonition:
With the commendable precedent for the study of Chaucer’s non-Anglophone reception now in place, Chaucerians and medievalists should encourage similar studies by our colleagues in predominately non-Anglophone universities and cultures. Such work enriches the study of Chaucer in important ways, yet its survival is not necessarily ensured. Because we know first-hand the difficulties of maintaining medievalist lines in English departments where we serve an English-speaking student population, we should be sympathetic to the even more precarious situations of Chaucerians housed in foreign-language departments. By attending to what they can tell us, ordering their books for our campus libraries, and by incorporating their research and translations into our own studies, we can support their important work and their careers. We have just begun to listen to them; it would be shameful to lose their voices now.
Ebbe will be at the NCS Congress in Reykjavik this summer and one of the panelists on the Global Chaucers Roundtable, where his topic will be “Chaucer in Denmark since 1945: A Discussion of Some Adaptations and Translations, with a Focus on Illustrations”