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The Life and Times of Chaucer by John…

The Life and Times of Chaucer (original 1977; edition 1977)

by John Gardner, J. Wolf (Illustrator)

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483732,963 (4.09)16
A biography of the medieval English author who wrote "The Canterbury Tales," "Troilus and Criseyde," "The Legend of Good Women," and other works.
Title:The Life and Times of Chaucer
Authors:John Gardner
Other authors:J. Wolf (Illustrator)
Info:Alfred A. Knopf (1977), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 328 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:history, biography, poetry, england, 1300s

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The Life and Times of Chaucer by John Gardner (1977)



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John Gardiner has industriously mined the fields of Froissart , and, of course Chaucer himself during his career at several American universities. Ii believe this to be a fine literary biography, given the difficulties of the field. it certainly makes me sad never having had the pleasure of one of Gardiner's lectures. The book has extensive quotations in Middle English,and enough of them to make me more comfortable with it.The writing is of the high quality found in his novels, and therefore one may expect a good time between these covers. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Mar 19, 2018 |
Good discussions of Chaucer's poetry but iffy in some of its history and too speculative on the biography. ( )
  CurrerBell | Oct 30, 2016 |
The Life and Times of Chaucer is a mix of biography, history, and storytelling -- one that I greatly enjoyed once the bits in Middle English became easier to read. After his introductory chapter, Gardner begins with Chaucer's ancestry and some remarks on 14th century England. Then he moves on to Chaucer's early life, including the first wave of the plague and the changes in his family's circumstances due to the deaths of various relatives. While in his teens Chaucer began serving in the court of Prince Lionel and his wife, the Countess of Ulster. It was probably there that he first met John of Gaunt and began his long association with the royal family of Edward III.

Chaucer was well educated for that time and was not just a poet. He participated in military campaigns and diplomatic missions on the Continent and held several important government posts and even became a relative by marriage of John of Gaunt. Most of what is known about Chaucer is from the public records of the time although scholars have tried to deduce his thoughts and feelings from his poetry. Gardner explains what is known from the records and also the various theories that have been put forth by Chaucerian scholars and then tells the reader what he thinks and why.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to those interested in the period from 1340 to 1400. After all one can skip over the quotes in Middle English and still acquire a lot of information and something of the feel of the period, even without them.
  hailelib | May 29, 2015 |
Is there some law somewhere that biographers of Chaucer are obliged to ignore facts?

Other reviewers have commented on what might be called the aesthetic beauty of this biography. But I can't help but wish that I could trust it. Case in point: p. 102: "King Edward, though a small man, was one of the world's greatest jousters." Small man? Best guess is that he was six feet, three inches tall -- at a time when most men were far shorter than today. Nor was Edward III's mother Isabella of France insane at the time Edward III took the throne -- nor, in fact, thereafter. I was constantly chafing as I read the book, with the result that you're reading this review....

The parts about Chaucer himself seem, based on what I can tell from other biographies of the poet, to be slightly more accurate. But I never know what to trust.

All biographies of Chaucer seem to be given to wild flights of imagination -- perhaps because the people inspired to write them are all professors of literature rather than history. But the others I've read (by Pearsall and Howard) at least seem willing to admit facts insofar as they are known. Gardner... doesn't seem to be sure what the word "fact" means.

So enjoy the book -- as the historical fiction it is. ( )
  waltzmn | Jan 19, 2014 |
Although John Gardner is best known as a novelist, he was also a professor of medieval literature at various universities including Oberlin, Northwestern and Bennington, a translator of medieval literature The Complete Works of the Gawain Poet, and a scholar. His biography of Geoffrey Chaucer, published in 1977, is a rich trove of information about not only the poet, but about 14th century English life and the Plantagenet courts of Edward III, Richard II, and, to a lesser extent of Henry IV.

It's a dense piece of chocolate cake for any lover of Chaucer. Gardner explores the poet's relationship with the mercantile life of London into which he was born and made his way; the scholarship and philosophy of the universities whose ideas he mined; the humanism of Petrarch's and Boccaccio's Italy where he went on diplomatic missions; his close friendship with John of Gaunt (more later), kingmaker and son of Edward III; and most importantly, his innovations and inventions of English poetry. Chaucer is undoubtedly, the father of English poetry -- in a century in which English was, after the Norman conquest, finally being recognized as the language of the land.

Gardner's biography is a biography written by a novelist. He speculates about what Chaucer must have thought and how he proceeded in the treacherous world of 14th c. England. Yet his speculations are grounded in serious scholarship and reflections in Chaucer's own writings. There is ample reference to his poetry to support Gardner's assertions about Chaucer's observations and experience.

Perhaps the most interesting personal relationship is that between Chaucer and John of Gaunt. They were close contemporaries -- both born about 1340 (John of Gaunt's birth is recorded, Chaucer's may have been a year or two later). Gaunt died in 1399, Chaucer in 1400.
As Duke of Lancashire, John of Gaunt was the wealthiest baron in England. The two would have met at court, probably in their late teens or early twenties, where Chaucer was in service to John's mother Queen Philippa. Chaucer's Book of the Duchess is an elegy for Gaunt's beloved first wife, Blanche of Lancaster. Eventually the two would become brothers-in-law -- Chaucer marrying Philippa Roet (who may have been Gaunt's mistress) and Gaunt marrying Philippa's sister, Katherine Swynford, his longtime mistress, and matriarch of the Beaufort line -- see Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katherine_Swynford.

At any rate, Chaucer long enjoyed the patronage of the royal courts, serving as poet and reader for entertainments as well as diplomat and overseer of public works and customs. Gardner revels in Chaucer's broad scope. While recognizing him as a conservative royalist and survivor, loyal to any king in power, he definitely asserts that "Chaucer's position is clear and unvarying. He defends one virtue, charity: the good man's willingness to give the benefit of the doubt, to find some nobility in even the wretched and deplorable of men; and though he treats many vices, there is only one that he attacks ferociously, again and again: self-righteousness." ( )
4 vote janeajones | Sep 25, 2013 |
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No poet in the whole English literary tradition, not even Shakespeare, is more appealing, either as a man or as an artist, than Geoffrey Chaucer, or more worthy of biography; and no biography, it seems at first glance, should be easier to write.
One: Chaucer's Ancestry and Some Remarks on Fourteenth-Century English History
Geoffrey Chaucer was born around 1340, possibly early in 1341, and possibly a little earlier than 1340.
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