Review: The Canterbury Tales

I am pleased to say I finished reading Canterbury Tales last night and have to say this is an entertaining novel. Click here to read my previous post explaining that I am participating in an online class discussing the novel. I especially enjoyed ‘The Miller’s Tale’ which treads an ambiguous line between the serious and the comic.

Type: Classic, 626 pages, Trade paperback

An illustrated retelling of Geoffrey Chaucer's famous work in which a group of pilgrims in fourteenth-century England tell each other stories as they travel on a pilgrimage to the cathedral at Canterbury.

Like Charles Lamb's edition of Shakespeare, Hastings's loose prose translation of seven of Chaucer's tales is more faithful to the work's plot than to the poet's language. This is not a prudish retelling (even the bawdy Miller's tale is included here) but the vigor of Chaucer's text is considerably tamed. In the original, the pilgrims possess unique voices, but here the tone is uniformly bookish. The colloquial speech of the storyteller is replaced by formal prose; for example, while Cohen (see review above) directly translates Chaucer's ``domb as a stoon'' as ``silent as stones,'' Hastings writes ``in solemn silence.'' Cartwright's startling paintings skillfully suggest the stylized flatness of a medieval canvas, but often without the accompanying richness of detail. Like Punch and Judy puppets, the faces and voices of these pilgrims are generally representative but lack the life and charm of the original text.

I found this anonymous review on BN.COM that is worth sharing.

A subjective review of a seminal masterwork: I was taught Chaucer including the Canterbury Tales at Harpur College State University of New York by Professor Bernard Huppe. Professor Huppe was the most prominent exponent along with Prof.Robertson of the Christian interpretation of Chaucer. In other words the entire Canterbury Tales were seen as the work of a believing Christian whose anti - clerical passages were a true exposure of the faults of a society of sinners. The high comedy and low were according to Prof. Huppe a way of reenforcing this ideal Christian message. For most readers I suspect the pleasure of Chaucer is less however in the ideology than in the realistic and humorous depiction of character. And there are great characters, often drawn only in a few lines in the prologue .The Wife of Bath is perhaps the most outstanding and memorable of these, but the whole cast taken together provide a kind of typological picture of medieval mankind as a whole. The low laughter, the farce of the Miller's tale, the romantic chivalry of the Knight's tale I must admit never really charmed me. But what I loved in Chaucer and I can hear today Prof . Huppe's rich and deep enunciation was the sound of the lyric and the rich poetry .The music of Chaucer, the swift telling of a character and a story in a few lines, the realistic look at human pretension and foible make the work feel true . One reservation and here my claim has been roundly denied by Chaucerian scholars including the formidable Professor Lawrence Besserman is that the Parson Nun's tale does promote the 'blood libel'. Sophisticated readers however contend that I in reading it this way miss the subtlety of Chaucer's broad humanism. Would that they are right. In any case the delight and disaster of much of human life is in this great work.