ENGLAND IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER by William Woods

ENGLAND IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A brief survey of 14th-century England, marked by a likable sense of relish and involvement but also awash in trivial ""color"" and brash generalizations. Woods' intent is to trace the impact of major social changes on the lives of everyday people--from the limited manorial economy with a labor supply tied to the land, to a world bafflingly reshaped by the French wars and the plague. Wat Tyler's rebellion is the climax of his story, seen in the context of frightening inflation (a legacy of the post-plague labor shortage), the entry of cash transactions into manorial relationships, the growing financial needs of the Crown, the rise of a rootless urban population. None of this is especially new material, and Woods' economic vocabulary is on the meager side (he is quite content to call the rising mercantile system ""capitalism""). His attention to the everyday particulars beneath great events often wanders into patronizing atmospheric fiddlefaddle: ""the barefooted, dusty girl with a pitcher on her hip, who stops to talk to someone driving a flock of hissing geese in the lane. . . ."" Perhaps the best materials here are the abundant garnerings from Piers Plowman--despite the title, this is more the England of William Langland than of the urbane Chaucer. Woods' sympathy for the ""field of folk. . . working and wandering"" is more sharply realized when he is examining the fierce, unruly words of ""Long Will"" than when he is summing up medieval medicine or theology in a few armchair-tourist sentences. Pleasant, well-intentioned, not particularly acute.

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 1976
Publisher: Stein & Day