Pilgrimage to success

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First Posted: 10/30/2014

Actor, James Dean once said: “If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live after he’s died, then maybe he was a great man. Immortality is the only true success.” While certainly not Dean’s contemporary, one of the greatest of poets, Geoffrey Chaucer, demonstrates that the best success is not always a happenstance in our lifetime. In Paul Strohm’s book, “Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury,” he depicts how one becomes triumphant only when their message continues to live on past their own existence.

Ask any English literature major about Chaucer and I guarantee that you will experience a range of sentiments from scholarly excitement to misinterpretation. The latter group never attempting to know the genius that was such a humble and wry personality as Chaucer. Strohm, a J.R.R. Tolkien professor of English at Oxford University showcases the turning point for Chaucer in his latest work. While Chaucer would leave the mortal world at the end of the 14th century, it is believed that 1386 marked the year his success, a time when his magnum opus — “The Canterbury Tales” — in addition to major works, “Parlement of Foules” and “Troilus and Criseyde” would come to be.

Chaucer, perhaps best known for his title, Father of English Poetry, and his summative works, often employed bawdy and satirical undertones. With an ear for exquisite lyrical metrics and a seemingly never-ending capacity for wit, Chaucer became an integral part of the literary canon that we know today. Of course, his path to success was never clear as he was met by both harsh criticism and turbulence along the way. Strohm’s work, which is divided into seven substantial chapters, details Chaucer’s life from the very beginning of his writing career to his death.

While Chaucer received small authorial success in the later years of his life, his posthumous career became the time at which his success rose. As Strohm notes, “[Chaucer] was unused to the limelight and constitutionally hesitant in seeking it.” Readers come to find the multifaceted nature of Chaucer as husband, politician, critic, and eventually, laureate.

In addition to both a glossary and list of historical figures, Strohm’s work offers illustrations associated with the Chaucerian timeframe, stemming from King Richard II’s reign to posthumous illuminations of the poet’s work. Strohm is currently touring across the United States and scheduled to appear at the University of Pennsylvania at noon on Nov. 14.