Friday, August 26, 2011

Chaucer Fuss

I had heard of the British Library's special collections and exhibit marked "Treasures of the British Library" before leaving for England in April. The exhibit was said to be a room full to the brim of sacred texts, historical documents, and beautifully crafted manuscripts. There was no choice. I had to make a visit while in London, as any eager and upcoming librarian would do.

Dimmed lights and cold temperatures greeted E and I as we walked into the controlled archival environment of the exhibit. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop - so much history, so many books, and so much Englishness at my fingertips! E, the more science-minded and daredevil-ish of the two of us, became drawn to da Vinci's work and an old diary containing tales of an expedition to the Arctic gone wrong. I became enraptured in original copies of world renown English literature.

Jane Austen's own handwriting, ancient copies of Beowulf, and Shakespeare are on display at the Library. But, Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales was the first work that grabbed my attention.

I have had a tumultuous relationship with Chaucer. Chaucer was mandatory English Literature fodder for high school students. The seventeen-year old me could not, or would not, appreciate a work from the 1380s for all of its worth. I managed to scribble out a few essays to get my grade, but in the end I was glad to move on. In university I became attracted to the idea of sitting down for the long haul (this book is surprisingly long) and seeing what all the Chaucer fuss was about. Yet, time constraints and project due dates never gave me the chance to read Chaucer's work.

Viewing the honest-to-goodness real copy of The Canterbury Tales changed my mind. How could I say no to such a gorgeously illuminated manuscript? This summer I set out to read Chaucer's work.

I'm sure many of you know the basic premise of The Canterbury Tales. A group of travellers meet at an inn, decide to participate in a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral, and undertake the task of telling tales to pass time and (hopefully) win a dinner for crafting the best tale of all.

I have decided to provide ongoing reviews throughout the next few months for The Canterbury Tales. Now, having read through most of Chaucer's work, I believe that there is a wealth of information, entertainment value, and possibility for analysis in each of the eight tales.

Lets see what this Chaucer fuss is all about.

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