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Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World Paperback – February 11, 1989

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this massive biography, winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award, Howard, professor of English at Stanford, scans the public and private events of Chaucer's life for their significance to his humanistic art. "Written in a Chaucerian spirit of inquiry and empathy, this is arguably the best literary biography of Chaucer to date," observed PW. Photos.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

YA Howard has assembled the schol arly research of Chaucer experts, giv ing readers, in one source, the best, or at least the consensus. He presents lit tle new in the way of research, although his book is filled with speculation and filling in between the lines. For this rea son, and for others, this book is a fine vehicle for students who wish to learn of Chaucer and his environment. How ard takes readers through Chaucer's life, telling them of the odd and the ev eryday. Students who wish to research Chaucerian ideas will be better served by going to the original sources, and to more current ones. For those who wish to get an overall impression, Howard's book is the answer, for he brings Chau cer to life, and causes readers to see the man. George F. Hawkins, Episcopal High School, Bellaire
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 676 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (February 11, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0449903419
  • ISBN-13: 978-0449903414
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,876,754 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
Extensively detailed biography of this medieval great poet, of interest to anyone interested in the intricacies of medieval history and literature. Definitely not for the dilettante, though much of it is quite readable.
The book is approximately evenly divided between history and literary analysis. We learn of Chaucer's role as a soldier in the wars with France; of his role as appointed court poet and custom's officer; of the black death; of his travels to Italy; we are given a great deal of detail about his literary influences on the Continent and his major literary works, not limited to the Canterbury Tales. Really more for the literary medieval scholar, though anyone interested in history might like it. We learn that Chaucer was probably in London at the time of the Peasants' Revolt.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Guillelmus on September 1, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is an important introduction to, as the book's title says, the life, times, and works of Geoffrey Chaucer. For those who are thoroughly versed in the 14th century, or who are intimately familiar with Chaucer scholarship, this work will probably be a rehashing of familiar ground. However, as an introduction for a budding scholar or amateur enthusiast in history or literature, this work is second to none. This book is highly readable, even for those with a casual interest in the subject.

I took a class on Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales", and I read this book as a prelude to the course. I feel that this work provided me with crucial context for Chaucer and his world, and enabled me to appreciate reading the "Tales" in their original Middle English at a much greater level. Thank you Dr. Howard!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By manlius on January 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Who would have thought an English professor would write a better history book than a historian? This book is really about Geoffrey Chaucer, but it necessarily includes a description of the times and context in which he lived. It's got a lot of details. It's going to take me 6 months to finish it. The author must have spent years writing it! (I guess the history books I've read tried to be a survey of the complete Middle Ages and basically touched too many topics too superficially. This book is a good, detailed, interesting history of the latter 14th century and how it affected one man's life)
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Format: Hardcover
This provides one of the liveliest narratives on medieval times that I can recall; the added bonus that a leading Chaucerian wrote this just before his death in 1987 adds poignancy, given the final line of the text proper contemplates eternity. Donald R. Howard navigates the difficult path between speaking to his fellow scholars and welcoming a wider audience into the author's works, life, and times. He does this with verve; he shows what Chaucer would have seen and what he did read and where he did travel. He reminds us of how far Chaucer roamed, even if he was a bookworm who preferred staying in London.

The challenge, as Howard admits, is that facts for the Middle Ages are few, and liable to change. For much of this, Howard has to reason on probabilities. For instance, I consulted this wanting more on Dante and Boccaccio, given as a grad school prof (himself a medievalist) asserted Chaucer was likely the first person in England to read the Commedia, as he knew Italian so as to make his diplomatic visit there. Howard supplements this fact with supposition--Chaucer may have met Boccaccio, may have had a quarrel with him, may have therefore not cited him by name in his later literary works, may have rubbed a man twice his age the wrong way. This is all intriguing, but as Howard might have admitted, he has had to fill out much of the bare bones of Chaucer's record with such insights, and so the book turns more a depiction of Chaucer's world and works than his life, and this does fill the book. It is more readable, but it does have to make tangents.

It does, however, with insight. As Howard presented the pilgrim's perspective well in earlier studies, so here.
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