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Chaucer and the Late Medieval World by…

Chaucer and the Late Medieval World (1998)

by Lillian M. Bisson

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Uh -- wasn't this supposed to be a book about Chaucer?

To be fair, every chapter of this volume has some tie-ins to England's first truly great writer. But they are often very tenuous. The title says it's about Chaucer and the Late Medieval World, but there is a lot more World than Poet.

Of course, the idea is to put Chaucer in context, but this is far from a complete overview of his situation. There is, for instance, relatively little history -- if you read this casually, you might not even realize that the Hundred Years' War was going on (at least formally) for every single day of Chaucer's life, that he fought in it, that he engaged in diplomacy regarding it, that some of his friends' fortunes were made or broken in it.

Or what about Bastard Feudalism, the social order which arose once there was enough money in circulation to allow alliances between lords, against each other or the crown? We hear about merchants and peasants, but not those who set them against each other. This is the social and economic background of Chaucer -- and while Bisson talks about economics, she completely dissociates it from this political aspect.

The issue of gender roles and relationships also takes up a lot of her time -- but the links to Chaucer in these chapters are surprisingly weak. Chaucer seems to have been something of a revolutionary; by the standards of the time, he had a firm belief in women's rights, or at least in their abilities, plus he clearly believed that they should be granted opportunities and happiness. You would hardly know how unique his viewpoint was from this book.

Most of what is said in this volume is true. But it is not a complete picture. And it seems to me that the lack of completeness -- and the frequent lack of explicit links to Chaucer's writings -- weakens it both as a commentary on Chaucer (which it really is not, and don't buy it if that's what you're looking for) and a commentary on medieval England. ( )
  waltzmn | Nov 27, 2013 |
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For Art,
Oh my beloved,
I live in the fleeting shadow of your wings.
-- "A Gust,"
Rachel Hadas
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Sometimes in reading Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and other medieval texts we experience a comfortingly familiar glimpse into our own origins; at others we sense a disturbing otherness as invisible barriers undercut our attempts at gaining insight.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312224664, Paperback)

Divided between the outer world of affairs and the inner world of poetic insight, Chaucer sought to make sense of his changing, conflicting world. In Chaucer and the Late Medieval World, Lillian M. Bisson examines the societal issues that the poet explored in his work. She focuses on three major areas of medieval life--religion, class/commerce, and gender--all of which were experiencing considerable change in the fourteenth century. The book builds a bridge between an unmediated encounter with Chaucer’s texts and the more specialized discussions found in most contemporary criticism, and provides a detailed analysis of Christian culture.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:47 -0400)

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