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Chaucer at Large

Chaucer at Large: The Poet in the Modern Imagination

Steve Ellis
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Chaucer at Large
    Book Description:

    In this learned, lively, and wide-ranging book, Steve Ellis conducts us on a tour of the appearances that the greatest writer of Middle English has made throughout English-speaking culture in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Surveying the uses to which Chaucer has been put in modern times, Ellis presents a compelling picture that goes beyond the figure and work of this eminent writer to show us the reach of his imaginative power. “An attractively lucid book, highly intelligent, perceptive, wide-ranging, but also modestly written. The story Ellis has to tell is often quite extraordinary, and it has not been told before.”_x000B_-Derek Pearsall, Gurney Professor of English, Emeritus, Harvard University

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5278-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xiv)

    This book is an attempt to trace Chaucer’s various manifestations in modern culture outside the academic arena. My concentration on the twentieth century represents the first occasion that the relevant material has been treated in any sustained manner, since although much has been written on different aspects of Chaucer’s reception in later historical periods, attention has been largely confined to pre-twentieth-century responses to his work, and to the Middle Ages more generally. The reasons for this relative absence of attention will be amply treated in what follows, but one obvious difficulty in getting any kind of overview of the modern...

  5. 1 Kelmscott Chaucer
    (pp. 1-16)

    The most celebrated Chaucerian product of the nineteenth century is also, it has been argued, one of the least typical: Derek Brewer has spoken of the “isolation” of the Kelmscott Chaucer, and of how the “Romantic medievalising” it signifies is at odds with the predominant interest in Chaucer’s humor and realism that characterizes Victorian responses.¹ William S. Peterson has noted more particularly how the Chaucer of Edward Burne-Jones’s illustrations is “more gaunt and solitary, more inward-looking . . . and more visionary” than the common image of the portly and worldly Chaucer that derives from portraits in the Ellesmere manuscript...

  6. 2 Popular Chaucer
    (pp. 17-31)

    In the opening chapter we looked at the gentleman-aesthete profile attached to Chaucer in the Pre-Raphaelite response to him and at the resulting Kelmscott volume that only his modern equivalent might indeed be able to afford, but we now turn to a consideration of Chaucer’s broader currency outside the academy in the modern period and to more popular images that attach to him and his work. In the late nineteenth century and the earlier part of the twentieth century there is some difficulty in distinguishing between an academic interest in Chaucer and that represented by a more general readership, whereas...

  7. 3 Spoken Chaucer
    (pp. 32-45)

    Several issues raised in the first two chapters come together in discussing W. B. Yeats’s response to Chaucer, a response stimulated by his acquisition of the Kelmscott Chaucer in 1905. The volume, however, took Yeats in a direction contrary to Morris’s own, wherein he acclaimed Chaucer as the model of a poet speaking directly to his audience in a populist vein, at a time when Yeats himself was in search of a new “common idiom.” The part played in this by the Kelmscott Chaucer, which was a fortieth-birthday present to Yeats from Lady Gregory and other friends, is apparent from...

  8. 4 Children’s Chaucer
    (pp. 46-57)

    The golden age of editions of Chaucer aimed at children is the first decade and a half of the twentieth century: between 1903 and 1914, selections from theCanterbury Talesretold for children by various authors appear practically at the rate of one a year, with many of these reissued in the 1920s and 1930s, after which there is a marked decline in their frequency. In this chapter I am not looking at the standard secondary classroom editions of Chaucer, often of a single tale with notes and commentary, such as the much used and reprinted Macmillan’s English Classics series...

  9. 5 English Chaucer
    (pp. 58-79)

    At points in chapter 2 we touched on the idea, common to several writers, that Chaucer and his works are an embodiment and even prototype of “Englishness,” a theme that is pervasive enough in the popularizing dissemination of Chaucer to warrant a chapter by itself. The period when this nationalistic interest in him is most evident runs from later Victorian times to World War II, though across this span there are interesting and manifold changes in emphasis that reflect the waning of imperialistic mission. Thus one of the most resoundingly patriotic celebrations of Chaucer occurs at the height of such...

  10. 6 Writers’ Chaucer
    (pp. 80-97)

    Although most of the material considered thus far has received very little attention from critics and scholars, the same cannot be said about the question of Chaucer’s influence on modern canonical writers. In this chapter, we shall review the critical industry that has attempted to establish this influence, an industry headed not so much by Chaucer scholars but by those researching modern literature and anxious to throw up new angles of explication. The subject might seem to promise a corrective to my points hitherto about the limited impact of Chaucer’s work outside the academy, yet in many cases in what...

  11. 7 Translated Chaucer
    (pp. 98-120)

    Translations of Chaucer constitute, of course, one of the main channels for the wider dissemination of his work outside the academy, though the fact that no major authors in the twentieth century have put their hand to translating that work arguably signals once more the rather limited engagement with Chaucer that characterizes modern literature. In earlier periods poets like Dryden, Pope, Wordsworth, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning all produced modernizations, whereas more recently Chaucer translation has been left in the hands of writers with negligible reputations as poets, like Nevill Coghill, Frank Ernest Hill, and David Wright. This lack of reputation...

  12. 8 Performance Chaucer
    (pp. 121-140)

    Although the translators whose work we looked at in the previous chapter are obviously bidding for a wider audience for Chaucer, it is via modern media like radio and television that such an audience is most instantly reached. As we have seen, Coghill’s translation originated in a BBC radio commission in 1946, and it was Coghill who led the way in the genre of performance with his work on the musical of theCanterbury Tales(1968), cowritten with Martin Starkie, and, with the same collaborator, his television adaptation of 1969, a major BBC investment that harnessed the efforts of “one...

  13. 9 Novel Chaucer
    (pp. 141-152)

    The historical novel that centers on Chaucer’s life or times is arguably a more ephemeral and obscure discourse than any considered hitherto in this book, and the fact that such works are rarely if ever reprinted perhaps testifies to the difficulty of writing Chaucer as the standard novelistic hero, as we shall see. On the other hand, novels in which Chaucer is a more marginal figure and the “romance” of fourteenth-century life is able to dominate proceedings have sometimes enjoyed great vogue, as in Anya Seton’s much reprintedKatherine(1954), which details the titanic love of Katherine Swynford and John...

  14. 10 Concluding Chaucer
    (pp. 153-166)

    In Hugh Holman’s murder mysteryUp This Crooked Way(1946), its title taken from the “Pardoner’s Tale” (V1.761), the “big, quiet, uncouth . . . almost illiterate” detective on the case, Sheriff Macready, startles a college class on Chaucer that he participates in during the course of his investigations by suddenly declaiming in Middle English the description of the Summoner from the “General Prologue.”¹ Thus established as a self-declared but unlikely “lover of Chaucer” (132), Macready proceeds through the rest of the book without mentioning Chaucer again, nor does his enthusiasm figure in any of the other books by Holman...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 167-198)
  16. Index
    (pp. 199-204)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 205-205)