Stephanie Kelley in Five Books:
Today we’re going to discuss the Canterbury Tales. You’ve just written a biography of Geoffrey Chaucer. What would someone learn from your biography about Chaucer that they might not have known before?
Marion Turner: People who know a bit about Chaucer tend to think of him as the father of English literature—there’s a famous picture of him as an old patriarch, pointing with a rosary—or they think of him as a genial, middle-aged man telling slightly risqué stories in a pub. That’s the popular image of Chaucer. But really, that image came about after his death. In his lifetime, no one thought of him in that way. He wasn’t staid; he wasn’t patriarchal. He had an extraordinary life. That life involved, for instance, being a prisoner of war in France; it involved traveling multiple times to Italy; it involved going to Spain. He was multilingual, and he lived in all kinds of different environments. Chaucer was a great internationalist and a cosmopolitan poet.