Chute’s intent in Geoffrey Chaucer of England was to make Chaucer and his work more accessible to the twentieth century reader, especially because Middle English, the language in which Chaucer originally wrote, can be very intimidating. Thematically, Chute focuses upon Chaucer as a humorist and a kindly observer of human nature, a gentle satirist. She also emphasizes his role as a poetic innovator, as the individual who may have invented the iambic pentameter couplet, and certainly as the poet whose choice of English over French or Latin for his poetry was profoundly influential in the acceptance of English as a language suitable for the artistic expression of a culture.
Because Chute’s method was to flesh out the facts of Chaucer’s life with extensive forays into cultural history, the period itself evokes a theme. Chute sees the fourteenth century as strikingly like the twentieth century in many respects, “a thrusting, excitable, anxious century, racked by wars and labor disputes and high taxes and dangerous new ideas.” She emphasizes the resemblances between the Middle Ages and modern times without distorting the essential otherness of that era.
Although this book was originally intended for an adult audience and initially enjoyed its greatest success among adults, Chute is also a children’s author. Her readable style and, possibly, the familiarity of her name to children have increasingly drawn a young adult audience to this book. For generations, it has introduced many teenagers to Chaucer, his poetry, and the Middle Ages. The person who has never read anything about either Chaucer or the medieval period can enjoy this book with a specialist’s...
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Although Geoffrey Chaucer of England was published in 1946, there is as yet no equivalent popular biography of Chaucer for the general reader. There are several scholarly biographies intended for a specialist audience, but those lack the unpretentious, easily comprehended prose style of Chute. Yet this fact by no means implies that Chute brought no scholarship to the writing of her text. She worked only with secondary source materials (books and articles by Chaucer scholars), but what she read was fully digested and forms a very solid scholarly basis for this book. Chute also did not accept her sources uncritically. She rejected attempts to identify certain characters in the poems with real people of Chaucer’s acquaintance, sensibly asserting that such a practice is “risky” six centuries after the fact. Despite the ways in which the modern understanding of Chaucer’s life and writings may have changed since the 1940’s, Chute’s work endures. Her goal was to inspire a liking for the man and his material that might draw the reader into a personal acquaintance with them. In this endeavor, she succeeded very well.