A copious account of Geoffrey Chaucer's life, work, and historical context by Stanford Univ. English Professor Donald Howard, author of The Idea of The Canterbury Tales (1976). The actual documentary evidence relating to Chaucer's personal life is slim (even the date of his birth is unclear), and what scholars do know for certain is largely derived from legal documents that don't necessarily reflect major events in the poet's life. let alone permit psychological insights into his work. However, Howard has done an admirable job of piecing together a general picture based on the historical record and a critical reading of Chaucer's verse from the minor poems straight through to The Canterbury Tales. This is partly the story of how a vintner's son jockeyed and married his way into the right court circles, and we get a glimpse at some of the major influences operating on England's first major poet: the courts of Edward Ill and Richard II; the traditions of courtly love and chivalry; French and Italian literary models; and the devastating effects of the Plague. Howard's study may well become the reigning standard text for background reading on the subject, though readers are likely to be a little surprised as to why a work devoted to a 14th-century public figure whose major work is framed around a pilgrimage to Canterbury has so little to say about Chaucer's religious context. Not so much a biography as a compilation of known biographical facts generously interwoven with defensible conjecture and a reliable interpretation of the poet's major work. Carefully researched, authoritative, and mercifully well written.