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