The Poet’s Tale: Chaucer and the Year that Made the Canterbury Tales by Paul Strohm

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “For Geoffrey Chaucer, 1386 was the year that changed everything, transforming him from a middle-aged bureaucrat to a disgraced and penniless exile in Kent. Such a reverseal might have spelled the end of his career; but instead, at the loneliest time of his life, Chaucer made the revolutionary decision to ‘maken vertu of necessitee’ and begin work on a radically new form of poetry which would become The Canterbury Tales.”

REVIEW: This book tells the story of the year 1386 as it was in England, using Chaucer as a case study to focus a wide narrative that looks at how factors out of Chaucer’s control – like his sister-in-law’s affair with John of Gaunt – impacted his life and livelihood and led to his exile in Kent. In exploring the life of Chaucer through this lens, often linking sections of his poetry to contemporary affairs or things that we know Chaucer personally witnessed or experienced, Strohm also gives us a brief overview of what life was like in medieval England. Therefore, although Chaucer is the main focus of this book, which is engagingly written and easy to read, the reader also gains a great deal of information about practical matters in medieval London, such as the impact of marriage, Parliament, lodgings, society, ect. Strohm’s use of Chaucer’s poetry here is also very well done, as it fits seamlessly into the bulk of non-fiction text despite its fictional nature, giving us a much more complete picture of what Chaucer’s tales were actually about and how they fit in to the landscape of medieval England. This book provides much to enjoy for both historians and lovers of literature, serving a dual purpose to those interested in both, and provides a brief but fascinating snapshot into the life of one of England’s most famous writers.

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