One of the highlights of my first year on the York MA in 2020 was being introduced to The House of Fame by Chaucer. I just found it such a revelation – completely original, hilarious in parts, very relevant to current ‘celebrity’ culture, and kind of bizarre. My only previous encounter with Chaucer was at school when we had to look at the General Prologue and the Nun’s Priest’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales. So not even the funny bits!
When I recently came across a review of a biography by Marion Turner, Chaucer, A European Life (Princeton University Press, 2019) I bought it, and found I couldn’t put it down. Rather than tell the story of his life chronologically, Turner goes for thematic chapter headings (“Great Household”, “Milky Way”, “Inn”) that are intriguing, and that explain the historical and cultural contexts vividly. I loved it.
My current project is reading The Canterbury Tales (albeit in modern English, I admit – Nevill Coghill’s translation for Penguin Classics) So far I’ve only skipped the Monk’s Tale, which looked particularly heavy going, and in fact the ‘Host’ tells us afterwards that it practically sent him to sleep with boredom, so maybe that was a good call.