Jan 11: Chaucer’s life

Consider the two biographical texts you read for Thursday (the first two items on the schedule: one a section of the introduction to the Broadview Canterbury Tales, the other by Holsinger in the Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales). What do you think is the larger purpose of each text? How does that purpose influence the style and method of each text? And in the end, how does each text encourage you to think about its subject, Geoffrey Chaucer?

7 thoughts on “Jan 11: Chaucer’s life

  1. The Introduction to the Broadview Canterbury Tales seems to go into greater detail than the other reading by Holsinger. It focuses of the numerous positions that Chaucer was thought to have held throughout his life. I thought it was interesting that both texts highlighted the “raptus” allegations, yet carried slightly different opinions about it. The text by Boenig and Taylor tries to be as unbiased as possible, citing again and again the lack of definitive evidence in this situation and many others pertaining to Chaucer’s life. The situation revealed to the two authors that Chaucer was clearly “well connected” because he was never definitively convicted of the crime (12). In the Holsinger text, the “raptus” situation carried negative moral implications because the incident was serious enough to be documented and warrant a payment to the woman that the crime was allegedly committed against. These specific sections speak to the author’s style. In the Introduction to the Broadview Canterbury Tales, there is a greater emphasis on portraying all sides of the possible events or situations in Chaucer’s life. There is little certainty that scholars can ascertain, and the text strove to reflect that sentiment. It came off as a chapter one would find in a Chaucer biography textbook, filled with names and dates. In the Holsinger text, the emphasis was not so much placed upon unbiased information, but rather upon who Chaucer was as a person and a writer. As a result, this text was easily read and absorbed by the reader. It gave readers a greater insight into the inner life of Chaucer, despite depicting the same information as the previous passage.

  2. Reading the first biography gave a much better idea of what Chaucer’s life was like, and certainly went into much more detail while being a textbook example of a biography. Yet, the Access Source was more original, starting off with the unnamed poet who was ‘a bicycle messenger, a soldier and prisoner of war, and an ambassador; a scrap yard supervisor, a TSA inspector, and a construction boss’ which follows Chaucer’s own various careers in modern terms (Holsinger). It was more fun to read the Access Source biography after the more traditional Broadview biography because you do have that previous information of how the introduction coincided with Chaucer’s life. By starting the biography with this imaginative take gives the reader the ability to distance the name Chaucer from the man Chaucer, which would give a reader a better understanding of the detective work a scholar would have in trying to piece together some for of who Chaucer was as a person.
    This is even more interesting with the accusation of raptus, which, as both text stated, was a word with mixed meanings. The fact we don’t know if Chaucer was having an affair with, raped, or abducted the baker’s daughter because of this confused medieval term is incredibly interesting, especially with so few personal biographical statements and the cost that Chaucer had to pay to get out of it.

  3. Though both texts give a brief biographical view of Chaucer’s life, they give a different tone to the content. The Broadview text is much more focused on just giving us the major events of Chaucer’s life, while Holsinger seems more determined to separate Chaucer’s life from his poetry. He acknowledges that his life likely played a role in what he chose to write about, but this does not define the writer. He addresses the difficulty of understanding the writing as Chaucer meant it to be interpreted when the only information modern scholars have is about his work and relationships. The Broadview looked more at different jobs Chaucer held and his standing in society. This shows us how Chaucer was able to be a writer and the people he was associating himself with. Holsinger focuses more on the inspirations Chaucer likely had for his writing and things more directly related to his writing. The two brief biographies give us a glimpse at Chaucer the man and Chaucer the poet. Due to these differences we see the style of writing differ some. The Broadview chose to dwell on Chaucer’s relations to the monarchs and aristocrats of the time. We see Chaucer in relation to others, who may have been more renowned at the time. Holsinger gives us a more brief display of his life that seems more willing to acknowledge the unknown and even give some speculation. These two texts combined make me think of Chaucer as more than just the poet. He was a complex person and probably not the best person either. He lived a full life that could be a story unto itself. I think seeing him as a complex person gives a reader more to analyze and think about when reading his works as well.

  4. The different accounts of Chaucer’s life encourage the reader to understand Chaucer as a person separate from his title as author, and to recognize that, even though there is a substantial amount of information about Chaucer and his life events, we are still left to assume things about him. Chaucer’s involvement in the “raptus” of a woman is a highly debated topic in both of the articles, with Holsinger depicting scholars as “ben[ding] over backwards to untangle the poet from the clear implications of sexual violence entailed”. The impossibility of being able to confirm much about Chaucer’s life with absolute certainty is again shown in both texts in their respective blurbs about Chaucer’s marriage to Philippa, a lady-in-waiting to the Queen and clearly of high respect and class. Both texts assume that Chaucer’s relationship with her and varying nobility influenced the respectable political appointments he was given. However, Chaucer’s life account in the Introduction to the Canterbury Tales delved more consideration into the finer details of Chaucer’s life events, therefore giving the impression of breaking down the mystery that is surrounds Chaucer. Whereas from the Holsinger account, the lack of expansive detail that is shown in the other text instead supports a tone of mystery to surround the author, depicting him still as “mysterious, elusive, cagey”.

  5. The first text, Chaucer’s Life and Times, as others have suggested, reads much more as a straight biography, illuminating Chaucer during various moments of his life in chronological order. This text does not seem concerned with attempting to draw comparisons between Chaucer the man and Chaucer the writer, and serves more to provide context minus interpretation. Holsinger’s article, on the other hand, concerns itself with establishing a tangible link between Chaucer’s personal life and his literary endeavors. The anachronistic imagining of Chaucer as a struggling artist in New York is particularly resonant – not only because it is easier to conceptualize than a moment over 600 years in the past, but because the life of a writer really has not changed terribly much – the day job is a timeless institution. I personally preferred the straight biographical take on Chaucer’s life, because I am of the persuasion that one’s personal life does not have to be the motivation for their writing. Which is not to say that one’s personal life has no influence on their writing, but I believe a piece of writing need not be contextualized by the life of the person who wrote it. What both readings do draw attention to is the fact that Chaucer was, like anybody, not a monolith. The complexity of a person’s life has a way of being whittled down over long periods of time, especially when their name is so readily associated with only one aspect of their life, and these texts manage to affirm that Chaucer was undoubtedly human.

  6. The broadview biography description provides thorough details about the earlier and later parts of Chaucer’s home and political life. Before reading the broadview reading, I was not familiar with all of the political occupations that Chaucer was involved with in various different settings. The large amount of eclective occupations that Chaucer dealt with is deeply embedded and quite apparent in his literature. The correlations between his life as a government official and as a poet are seen much clearer if an individual understands the chronological order of events in Chaucer’s life. One distinct difference in the Holsinger biography was the call to question of many of the uncertain details about Chaucer’s life as an author and poet. One quote that I feel describes the overall purpose of this work would be when Holsinger says “These known facts of Chaucer’s public duties and obligations (and there are dozens more) give little sense of his life as a poet, an aspect of his biography that must be gleaned from his writings themselves—a task fraught with difficulty”(Holsinger). In the later portion of this work, Holsinger quotes Derek Pearsall’s description of the mysterious chronological order of Chaucer’s work as a “Spider’s web of hypothesis.” After reading the broadview and Holsinger’s writing I would have to say that I agree with Derek Pearsall’s perspective about Chaucer’s chronology.

  7. The Broadview introduction provides a concise summary of Chaucer’s career path; one that paints him with the traits of “prudence, moderation, and openness to conflicting views” (13). This introduction states that Chaucer has been criticized and praised for these qualities, but the author’s writing certainly leans towards the latter. In a historical sense, the Middle Ages were full of social and political rigidity, but also uncertainty. I found it most interesting that Chaucer is suggested to have avoided the conflict over leadership (and the riots leading to executions) by moving to the countryside, where he is believed to have written much of his work.

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