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The Canterbury Tales (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – May 15, 2008

3.7 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Geoffrey Chaucer was an English author, poet, philosopher, bureaucrat (courtier), and diplomat. He is often referred to as the Father of English Literature.

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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford World's Classics
  • Paperback: 412 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Oxford World's Classics edition (May 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199535620
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199535620
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 1.4 x 5.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #173,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The canterbury Tales, translated by David Wright.
This is the best translation yet of the famous medieval work. I own the Coghill translation (Penguin), as well as the Norton Edition which is glossed and annotated. And the Oxford by Wright, an older version that is exactly the one reviewed here: same number of pages, same introduction, different cover artwork. To the issue at hand: Chaucer's poetry in the Canterbury Tales was direct, earthy, and sensual whenever his characters were thus, so it really betrays the poetry and the poet to translate his work as some sort of tea party where all the participants, including the Miller and the Wife of Bath, were prone to use euphemisms when the conversation got raunchy. But the Middle Ages were far raunchier than many of us think, and Chaucer was a man of his times, only more so. That is why I like this translation by Wright. His modern version flows quite naturally and the characters use words that do fit their personalities. However, the much-praised, but mediocre translation by Coghill does this with the Wife of Bath (Penguin, page 267):

Be sure, old dotard, if you call the bluff,
You'll get your evening rations right enough.

This is euphemism pure and simple, and euphemism of the bad kind, because in the original Chaucer NEVER mentions "evening rations." This "evening rations" nonsense is a term that Coghill put there because he could not bring himself to write the exact, modern term for the original "queynte." (And, no, contrary to some opinions, queynte does not mean "pretty little thing" or belle chose.) I don't blame him, since it would have been probably censored --I'm pretty sure Amazon would censor that word if I were to write it here.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
(Please note that I've given this book 5 stars because Amazon forces a star rating for reviews, and David Wright's translation itself deserves no fewer than 5 stars.)

Warning, would-be Kindle readers of the David Wright translation (Oxford World Classics): after the translator's introduction, the majority of the text in this book is stored as images, scanned from the print version! This causes several problems:

* The Kindle's dictionary can't be used.
* Text-to-speech can't be used.
* Text can't be annotated.
* Alternative text sizes can't be selected.
* Text size varies wildly as larger images are resized to fit my Kindle's 6" screen.
* Some of the image resizing renders text too small to be read comfortably on my Kindle's 6" screen.
* The book is a whopping 4.2 Mb for a mere 412 pages! That's more than ten times the size it would be if the text were stored properly in the Kindle's text format.
* The obscene file size, and constantly having to render images, are a drain on Kindle's battery.

It's disappointing and baffling that OUP chose not to produce a proper Kindle version of this excellent translation.
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Format: Paperback
Before I get to the meat of the review, a note: if you're interested in reading The Canterbury Tales, I can't emphasize enough how wonderful the David Wright translation is (it's in the Oxford World's Classics version). Modernized but accurate, understandable but poetic, Wright balances a love of the language with a firm desire to tell the tales, and the result really allows you to savor the tales easily. As for the tales themselves - what could I possibly add? From the opening lines of prologue - which gives about as sprawling and detailed a glimpse into medieval life as you'll ever get - to a closing note written by an older (and somewhat more penitent) Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales are a marvelous set of stories. With tales ranging from dueling lovers to divided farts, from the lives of saints to hot pokers in asses, The Canterbury Tales show that there was a far greater richness, humor, and even baseness to life than we often get from history books. But none of that would matter if the tales and characters weren't as rich and wonderful as they are. The comedies are hilarious, the tragedies moving - but it all comes back to those pilgrims, a group whose richness lingers long after you finish the story. I really love this translation, and I wish it could get more recognition, as I think people would really enjoy reading the tales; whether you're an English major or just a reader, they're really a lot of fun.
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Format: Paperback
Canterbury Tales seems to have a place in English literature akin to, say, Pilgrim's Progress: it's understood as important but it's not something you'd really read on your own. It's got a musty reputation and its survival largely depends on teachers assigning excerpts. This is a pity because the Tales are a lot of fun.

That's probably an odd thing to say about a classic work of fiction. Typically the classics are beautiful, insightful, inspiring, etc. etc. but rarely do we call them `fun', a term that seems to be the only possible excuse for the existence of so many crummy genre novels. And I'm sure that there are literature professors who read deep meaning into the Tales, some blah blah blah about how they display a deep understanding about the human condition and that they have some sort of life lesson for us, but really!

These stories are fun because of the sheer vitality of Chaucer's characters, a healthy antidote to the dominant image of the Middle Ages as somehow ponderous and solemn (cue the Gregorian chants, show an image of a chillingly earnest priest, cut to the Black Death). The characters of the Tales seem incredibly alive, and except for some recurrent themes (particularly virginity and adultery), they're radically different from each other --- from the shockingly vulgar to the smugly righteous ---- and are all exuberantly drawn. The wife of Bath in particular is a pistol. (Speaking of anachronisms, the knight's tale has some accidental hilarity in that it's supposed to be set in ancient Greece but the characters are clearly medieval English in all but name. Imagine Washington crossing the Delaware. . . in a speedboat.) The one truly nasty piece of work is the prioress, whose story is disgustingly anti-Semitic.
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