Chaucer: Ackroyd's Brief Lives
Nan A. Talese, 2005 (2004)
Hardcover, Paperback, CD
Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke
eter Ackroyd begins his
Chaucer is the first of a new series of short biographies which I am writing with the purpose of bringing to life some of the most important men and women in the history of the world.
' Geoffrey Chaucer began writing in the 1360s, and is known as '
the father of English poetry
'. He is especially remembered for
, a pilgrimage encompassing a variety of characters, including
The Knight's Tale
The Miller's Tale
The Second Nun's Tale
(the life of St. Cecile).
t the beginning of his poetic career, Chaucer wrote '
complaints and roundelays, ballades and envoys, on the theme of love and passion
It is the Romance of the Rose, / In which al the art of love I close.
' ) Familiar titles include
The Legend of Good Women
(a poem dedicated to Queen Anne), the notable
Troilus and Criseyde
The Parliament of Fowls
. Through his wife, Philippa Roet, Chaucer won the patronage of John of Gaunt and a post at England's court. Their marriage was considered '
a career marriage
' by the social standards of the era. Though there are not substantial records, it seems that Chaucer's firstborn was a daughter Elizabeth, who perhaps went into seclusion. More is known of his son Thomas born in 1367. The author gives a perspective on where Geoffrey Chaucer was born (between 1341 and 1343) and raised. Geoffrey's father, John Chaucer, was a reputable wine merchant, and his mother, Agnes de Copton, was an heiress.
rom the age of fourteen until his death in 1400, Chaucer was engaged in '
' for three kings and two princes. As well as a poet, Chaucer was a diplomat, supervisor of building works, judge, Member of Parliament, and a controller of exports and imports. Ackroyd refers to Chaucer as '
the poet of sunrise rather than of sunset
', and a '
thoroughly native genius
'. Of Chaucer's career, the author says, '
He was not a poet who happened to be a diplomat and government official; he was a government official and diplomat who, in his spare time happened to write poetry.
' Chaucer could move from tragedy to comedy in the '
space of a phrase
', and introduced new styles in meter, rhyme, and narrative. I appreciated a reference to the treatment of books in Chaucer's day: '
Books were considered so valuable, in fact, that in libraries they were chained to the shelves and could only be loaned on the security of a significant deposit.
eter Ackroyd is an acclaimed writer, whose new biographical series includes
Shakespeare, The Biography
. He also wrote the award-winning
Life of Thomas More
, and the 2004 novel,
The Clerkenwell Tales
. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Ackroyd's very palatable rendition of
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