The pinnacle of Gardner’s medieval scholarship: a fascinating re-creation of the world of one of history’s greatest writers
In this exquisite biography, John Gardner brings to life Geoffrey Chaucer, illuminating his writings and their inspiration like never before. Through exhaustive research and expert storytelling, Gardner takes readers through Chaucer’s varied career - from writing The Canterbury Tales to performing diplomatic work at the Parliament - and creates a fully realized portrait of an author whose work would remake the English language forever.
Written with passion and insight, this a must-listen for those interested in Chaucer and the medieval time period.
©1977 John Gardner (P)2014 Audible, Inc.
One of two things comes to mind when I think of John Gardner: serious literary fiction and amusingly opinionated writing guides. This book is neither of those. Rather, it's a straightforward historical biography.
Personally, I found this book a bit dull. I was only mildly curious about Chaucer, and Gardner wrote this on a highly academic level. Much of the book is spent either resolving questions most people would find pedantic, or toeing the line between inference and speculation. "Life And Times" was most interesting for me when it moved away from its subject and explored the world around him. If you're a dedicated Chaucer-fan, or a Medievalist, then four stars all around. If you aren't part of the intended audience, I can't recommend it.
Finally, the book contains several passages in Old English. Malcolm reads it as well as he can, but language that I have to go over slowly in print was near indecipherable to me in sound. The rewind button was much pressed.
author of Lowcountry Legend's series
I enjoy a biography of an author that doesn't take all observations about the writer from their work but their life and times, that is what this one does rather than decipher a personality from prose. You won't regret this one.....
Love books! Classics and lighter fiction, mysteries (not too violent please :-). And selective non-fiction--whatever takes my fancy.
This was a very interesting book. I have long been interested in Chaucer as well as that entire period in history. I have only an average person's knowledge about the times, but very much wanted to hear more. John Gardner has written a great book--I listened at a leisurely pace over two nights--hearing about who Chaucer was, how involved he was in government, how he was cared about by others, and his place in literary history. There is a lot of insight into his writings and details of his life I found fascinating.
I want to emphasize that this is a truly good book--one that is worth the read. But if you are hoping to hear the excerpts of Chaucer's written works in the way you might have read them yourself as modernized translations, you'll have to be fluent in the Old English language instead. That was lovely and melodic, I tried very hard to understand what I could take in between just listening and my knowledge of the works of Chaucer (in modern English).
But at some point in the book, early on, there was a comment by the author that there was a glossary at the end of the book that translated the unfamiliar OE words into modern English. I felt a loss that Audible did not (to my knowledge) do anything to provide a link to a site somewhere where we could do that. I still think the book is worth 5 stars--it was well-written by a man who has a treasure's worth of information, and the narration was lovely--I really enjoyed the sounds of the Old English, and tried to use my limited knowledge of Chaucer's works to fill in what I could. What I was not able to understand (of the passages he quoted) I enjoyed, simply because the sounds were lovely. And I think that it was worth it, not having full understanding--I got to listen in a different way. Just wish Audible had made that part clear (or else this book might have been written for people the author assumed were more familiar with the Old English versions. But I don't think so, since it mentioned a glossary). Hopefully Audible can correct this--give us access to the glossary somewhere? I still recommend this as a lovely listen (to the Old English passages, just as they are) and information about Chaucer himself.
No - to much extraneous material
As other commenters have said, the olde English passages are useless and I know a bit of olde English. I suspect many readers would be able to follow the written version because many the words are close to modern English; however, even those words become obscure when spoken with Chaucerian dialect. However, that being said, the other issue is that these passages are used to support ideas about Chaucer the real person and I DOUBT VERY MUCH that Chaucer even had the thought to use his poetry to express HIMSELF. This is modern literature scholarship rubbish. As Gardner admits - there is very little record on which to base any of this book - should be in fiction section.
The first thing you need to know is that the underlying story is very good and very interesting. The way the author brings you back to Chaucer's time and the thinking of the time is very well done. Here is the problem -- throughout the book the author quotes from Chaucer's work in old english. And not just as an aside. It would be something like: "and here is how Chaucer felt about X as he set out in Y: quote in old english." I love to hear the old english spoken, but without a subsequent translation it is very confusing and causes you to miss some of the meaning in the book. I don't know if the meaning if clear if you are looking at the text or if there is an index/appendix in the physical book -- but that really took away some of the meaning in the otherwise very good book. And I thought the narrator did a very good job -- hearing old english spoken is awesome.
I loved the author's capacity to make an ancient time come to life. The vividness of each character and the adroitness of interactions in this volatile time felt fully comprehensible, although conditions and circumstances differ from ours.
I find it inspiring to read about someone who was humane, capable and able to reshape his work to critique any regime while still remaining in court favor.
His final chapter about Chaucer's last thoughts was deeply moving… truly masterful. It will stay with me for a long time, as a lovely meditation on a great poet and a great biographer who's no longer with us.
I remember reading a review complaining about the length of the sentences. Just wanted to report that this in no way interfered with the pleasure of hearing the book narrated. The narrator 'holds' the meaning of each thought and conveys it admirably.
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