Chaucer: A European Life

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TORCH Book at Lunchtime event on Chaucer: A European Life by Professor Marion Turner. Book at Lunchtime is a series of bite-sized book discussions held fortnightly during term-time, with commentators from a range of disciplines.

More than any other canonical English writer, Geoffrey Chaucer lived and worked at the centre of political life-yet his poems are anything but conventional. Edgy, complicated, and often dark, they reflect a conflicted world, and their astonishing diversity and innovative language earned Chaucer renown as the father of English literature. Marion Turner, however, reveals him as a great European writer and thinker. To understand his accomplishment, she reconstructs in unprecedented detail the cosmopolitan world of Chaucer’s adventurous life, focusing on the places and spaces that fired his imagination.

Uncovering important new information about Chaucer’s travels, private life, and the early circulation of his writings, this innovative biography documents a series of vivid episodes, moving from the commercial wharves of London to the frescoed chapels of Florence and the kingdom of Navarre, where Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived side by side. The narrative recounts Chaucer’s experiences as a prisoner of war in France, as a father visiting his daughter’s nunnery, as a member of a chaotic Parliament, and as a diplomat in Milan, where he encountered the writings of Dante and Boccaccio. At the same time, the book offers a comprehensive exploration of Chaucer’s writings, taking the reader to the Troy of Troilus and Criseyde, the gardens of the dream visions, and the peripheries and thresholds of The Canterbury Tales.

By exploring the places Chaucer visited, the buildings he inhabited, the books he read, and the art and objects he saw, this landmark biography tells the extraordinary story of how a wine merchant’s son became the poet of The Canterbury Tales.
Bart van Es is Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford, focusing primarily on Spenser and Shakespeare. Bart is interested in connections between history writing and poetry in early modern England. In recent years his research has focused primarily on Renaissance drama and the material realities of London’s theatre world. The Cut Out Girl, his work of creative non-fiction on World War II in the Netherlands, won the 2018 Costa Book of the Year award.
Marion Turner is Associate Professor and Tutorial Fellow in English at Jesus College, University of Oxford. Marion’s research interests lie in late medieval secular literature and history, and she has published very widely on Chaucer, including two books and many articles. Chaucer: A European Life, was her first foray into biography, and she now teaches life-writing as well as medieval literature. Her next book is going to be a global history – or biography – of the Wife of Bath across time.
Helen Swift is Associate Professor of Medieval French at the University of Oxford. Having focused for several years on fifteenth-century literary defences of women, she now explores more broadly questions of narrative voice and identity in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century French literature. Her second book, Representing the Dead: Epitaph Fictions in Late-Medieval France examines voices and bodies speaking from beyond the grave and was runner-up for the Society for French Studies R. Gapper Book Prize in 2017.
John Watts is Professor of Later Medieval History at the University of Oxford and Chair of the History Faculty Board. John is interested in politics, political culture and political structures in later medieval England and Europe, between the 13th and the early 16th centuries. Most of his published work deals with later medieval English politics and political culture, but he has also written about politics in later medieval Europe.
Elleke Boehmer is Professor of World Literature in English at the University of Oxford, Director of the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing and was the Director of TORCH from 2015 to 17. She is a founding figure in the field of colonial and postcolonial studies, and internationally known for her research in anglophone literatures of empire and anti-empire. She is also a novelist and short story writer, most recently of The Shouting in the Dark.

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