A scholarly celebration of a “global Renaissance” in appreciation of Geoffrey Chaucer as the founding father of a great literary tradition.
In today's world, with English as a near universal language, it is instructive to regard Chaucer as a writer who tried to convince his readers (or listeners) that poetry and science could be explored through a developing, “hybrid tongue.” Wallace (English/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Strong Women: Life, Text, and Territory 1347-1645, 2011, etc.) demonstrates that Chaucer exercised complete freedom to ignore convention, as well as the pre-eminence of Italian and French, invigorating his storytelling through a language, Middle English, whose “paint had not yet dried.” Yet we learn that the well-traveled Chaucer, deeply influenced by Dante and Boccaccio, spoke several languages (Anglo-Norman especially), that he was more “European” than “English” in sensibility, and that his poetry “opens out to Europe, rather than withdraws from it.” Further, Chaucer, ever the experimentalist, let “genre and literary form run wild,” often taking a daring swipe at the prevailing social order. Interestingly, it was because Chaucer was an “adjunct” member of the royal household of Edward III that his life, unlike Shakespeare's, is so well-documented. Showing a solid command of history, Wallace provides fascinating analyses of Chaucer's personal and literary evolution. He is a master of his subject, insightful and provocative throughout. However, if this is an “introduction” to Chaucer, general readers may quake at the thought of a more demanding, advanced work. Wallace presupposes considerable reader familiarity with his academic discipline, not least with the argot of poetics. With endless comparisons to other writers, one can get lost in all the Chaucerian strategies and literary allusions.<
Though chiefly a book for scholars and English majors rather than general readers, there is much to glean from this brief but thorough exploration of a seminal, enduring poet whose influence is still felt today.