"Chaucer's Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury"

Mar 16, 2015

On this installment of ST, getting to know -- as best we can -- the rather mysterious figure (a/k/a "the father of English literature") who wrote "The Canterbury Tales." Our guest is Paul Strohm, who has taught medieval literature at Columbia University, was the J. R. R. Tolkien Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University, and remains a noted scholar of the life and work of Geoffrey Chaucer. Strohm's latest book is a short biography of Chaucer, recently out from Viking: "Chaucer's Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury." That year, as Strohm explains, was probably the worst of Chaucer's life, but it's also when he began his best-known poem. As was noted of this book by Kirkus Reviews: "Strohm brings his authority as a medievalist to this lively biography.... With vibrant portraits of Chaucer's contemporaries -- including the imperious John of Gaunt and the shifty London mayor Nicholas Brembre -- Strohm's focus on one year in Chaucer's life offers an expansive view of medieval England." And further, per Publishers Weekly: "Strohm's well-chosen public documents and contextual excerpts from Chaucer's work offer a glimpse into Chaucer's personal life and literary ambition as well as insight into the horrible year that launched his greatest work. Strohm really shines at literary criticism."