Chaucer's Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury

Paul Strohm (Author)
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A lively, concise biography of the father of English literature and the tumultuous year that led to The Canterbury Tales

At the beginning of 1386, Geoffrey Chaucer--lauded today as the father of English literature--was a middle-aged Londoner with a modest bureaucratic post; his literary successes had been confined to a small audience of intimate friends. But by year's end, he was swept up in a series of disastrous events that would ultimately leave him jobless, homeless, separated from his wife, and exiled in the countryside of Kent. Unbroken by these worldly reversals, Chaucer pursued a new life in art.

In this highly accessible social history, Paul Strohm, one of the finest medievalists of our time, vividly recreates the bustle of everyday life in fourteenth-century London while he unveils the fascinating story behind Chaucer's journey from personal crisis to rebirth as the immortal poet of The Canterbury Tales.

Product Details

Penguin Books
Publish Date
October 27, 2015
5.3 X 8.0 X 0.9 inches | 0.5 pounds

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About the Author

Paul Strohm has taught medieval literature at Columbia University and was the J. R. R. Tolkien Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University. He and his wife live in New York City and Oxford, England.


Praise for Chaucer's Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury

"Strohm's victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat account is touching, but the real thrill is his portrait of Chaucer's London, one square mile of church bells pealing, neighbors gossiping, politicians conniving, severed heads rotting on spikes (quite near Chaucer's windows), and poetry rising out of all this."
--The New Yorker

"Paul Strohm illuminates how 1386 marked a decisive year for Geoffrey Chaucer, one in which he went from accomplished coterie poet to the popular author of the work of genius for which he is celebrated to this day: The Canterbury Tales. In Chaucer's Tale, Strohm, one of the finest medievalists of our time, brings this turbulent moment in Chaucer's England to life, recovering in vivid detail the professional and creative pilgrimage that led Chaucer to compose so memorable a fictional one."
--James Shapiro, author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare

"Strohm uses his analysis of Chaucer's annus horribilis of 1386 as a jumping-off point for exploring no less a question than who Chaucer was--as a functionary, a resident of London, a member of the King's circle and of Parliament, and a writer working in the fourteenth century. Strohm's scholarship is scrupulous; his conclusions fascinating. This is a portrait not just of Chaucer but of the complex and rapidly changing world in which he lived, worked, and wrote--a tale that intrigues at every turn."
--Charlie Lovett, author of The Bookman's Tale and First Impressions

"In this thrilling book, Paul Strohm lets us in on little-known secrets of living life in London in the fourteenth century. He fearlessly dives into the nitty-gritty about the wool trade, and comes to the conclusion that Chaucer, having been banished to Kent, invents his own audience in teh figures of the Canterbury Pilgrims. This is an imaginative re-creation of everything you ever wanted to know about Chaucer."
--Terry Jones, author of Who Murdered Chaucer?

"Inspired by Paul Strohm's excellent Chaucer's Tale, a new book about a terrible year in Chaucer's life, I dug around in Chaucer's biography and learned that his time on earth was a mix of Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones."

"Remarkable . . . The unearthing of a real-life tale as fascinating as any of Chaucer's own making."
--Booklist (Starred Review)

"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."
--Kirkus Reviews

"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..."
--Publishers Weekly