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The Canterbury Tales Paperback – February 4, 2003
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About the Author
Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London, the son of a wine-merchant, in about 1342, and as he spent his life in royal government service his career happens to be unusually well documented. By 1357 Chaucer was a page to the wife of Prince Lionel, second son of Edward III, and it was while in the prince's service that Chaucer was ransomed when captured during the English campaign in France in 1359-60. Chaucer's wife Philippa, whom he married c. 1365, was the sister of Katherine Swynford, the mistress (c. 1370) and third wife (1396) of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, whose first wife Blanche (d. 1368) is commemorated in Chaucer's ealrist major poem, The Book of the Duchess.
From 1374 Chaucer worked as controller of customs on wool in the port of London, but between 1366 and 1378 he made a number of trips abroad on official business, including two trips to Italy in 1372-3 and 1378. The influence of Chaucer's encounter with Italian literature is felt in the poems he wrote in the late 1370's and early 1380s – The House of Fame, The Parliament of Fowls and a version of The Knight's Tale – and finds its fullest expression in Troilus and Criseyde.
In 1386 Chaucer was member of parliament for Kent, but in the same year he resigned his customs post, although in 1389 he was appointed Clerk of the King's Works (resigning in 1391). After finishing Troilus and his translation into English prose of Boethius' De consolatione philosophiae, Chaucer started his Legend of Good Women. In the 1390s he worked on his most ambitious project, The Canterbury Tales, which remained unfinished at his death. In 1399 Chaucer leased a house in the precincts of Westminster Abbey but died in 1400 and was buried in the Abbey.
Nevill Coghill (1899–1980) held many appointments at Oxford University. His translation of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde is also published by Penguin Classics.
Top customer reviews
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Rather than the review the whole sprawling book, I am going to limit myself to what might seem unpromising material: The Prioress's Tale.
We meet this dame in the General Prologue, and if you read superficially, you may just classify her as a "good woman of religion," but if you read a bit more carefully, and have some knowledge of human nature, you are like to shudder a little. In particular, Chaucer's description of her table manners -- never spills a single drop, completely elegant, never stains her immaculate blouse -- is so uncannily precise that I remember seeing a similar woman dining in Bangkok, Thailand: the most "elegant" table manners imaginable, well-slathered in makeup, and wearing a completely artificial smile which was returned by her female companions at lunch that day. At the time, it was one of the strangest spectacles I had ever seen, this sort of affected, upwardly-striving, totally fake elegance: and in fact, it made me shudder and clear out of the place as soon as I could. These women were ALL affected hypocrites, and all ACCEPTING one another's show of affected elegance, and it made my hair stand on end a bit --- "a nest of vipers" came to my mind.
The Prioress is cut from the same cloth, an affected lady who actually aspires to the aristocracy, not to any religious accomplishments. She has little pet dogs whom she spoils, feeding them food more suitable for human infants (there might be a reference to Matthew 15:26 there), and, fatally, wears a bracelet reading "Amor Vincit Omnia" ("Love Conquers All") --- which might be carelessly taken for a Christian motto but is nothing of the kind.
And then she launches into her "tale," which is a short, horrific, and pointless tale of an "innocent Christian boy" who is foully murdered by the foul Jews for practicing his Christian hymns as he went to school through their neighborhood. Oh, those Jews: they slit his throat and threw him in the privy. Later, some Divine Agency brought him back to life, and killed all those nasty, nasty Jews.
Behind the affected elegance of the Prioress lurks a person who really knows how to hate.
So, Chaucer surely knew how to create a devastating portrait of religious decadence and hypocrisy, in a few short pages. How many modern writers can do that?
The book as a whole could not be more highly recommended!
The reason this book is a 4 and not a 5 is because of the physicality of the book. It is the size of a small brick, which is fine, but it is not made out of materials that are particularly durable. I am careful with my possessions, but ripped the cover on the first day. I am afraid that since it has so many pages but is not bound well or with a more durable softcover that it will get really beaten up. Still, the pages are thicker than ultra thin "Bible pages" so I am at least not worried about ripping them.
I would highly recommend purchasing this edition over other versions of Canterbury Tales, but be aware that is a particularly fragile softcover.