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REVIEWS writing; we are also indebted to the University ofCalifornia Press for giving us a magnificent book-object worthy of their enterprise. RUPERT T. PICKENS University of Kentucky ROBERT 0. PAYNE. Geoffrey Chaucer, Second Edition. Twayne's English Authors Series, vol. 1. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., Twayne Publishers, 1986. Pp. ix, 153. $14.95. "The general perspective of the poem [ Trot/us and Criseyde] . . .has some­ times been characterized as 'middle-aged,' the outlook of a somewhat scarred survivor of youth and love who can look back on it with a mature mixture ofsympathetic understanding and evaluative objectivity" (p. 83). The same judgment, mutatis mutandis, can be applied to the book under review. The general perspective of Payne's book can be characterized as "middle-aged," the outlook of a somewhat scarred survivor of thirty-odd years ofChaucer criticism who can look back on it with a mature mixture of sympathetic understanding and evaluative objectivity. Those of us who entered the academic profession in the 1960s with an interest in Chaucer quicklylearneda handful ofprominentnames. Among them, though much less flung about as a label or a brand in the "critical wars," was that of Robert 0. Payne. There was, as I say, no "Paynesian" to join "Kittredgean," "Donaldsonian," or "Robertsonian," but The Key of Remembrance: A Study of Chaucer's Poetics (1963) was still one of the books we knew we had to read and one of the books we were glad we had read. The book evaded scholarly evangelism and tried, seriously and elegantly, to read Chaucer's poems on theirown terms. Sosuccessfulwas the effort that whether we agreed or disagreed with the various readings (I remember assenting to about half of them) we always felt we had learned something- had not wasted our time. Much the same judgment holds true of Geoffrey Chaucer, Second Edi­ tion. The book is worth reading, although there is a lot to question, a good deal to disagree with. Chiefamong the items to question is the bibliogra­ phy. For a book published in 1986, it cites only one study later than 1979 (a book published in 1980); it is difficult, even for someone ofPayne's stature, 247 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER to justify ignoring the past six years of scholarship and criticism on Chaucer, with (to take just one example) all that they have taught us about the poet's relation to his Italian precursors. To be sure, Payne tries to justify his decision: There is nearly nothing in this book for which I am not indebted, either directly or indirectly, to the workofotherreaders ofChaucerovermost ofthe six hundredyears since his death. Most of this debt I have not tried to acknowledge, because the audience Ianticipate does not want to be buried under a mass offootnotes and book lists. I have also tried to avoid initiating or continuing battles with colleagues and predecessors with whom, althoughI may havelearned much from them, I disagree. [P. v) But though this is all very urbane, I still find it unacceptable to refuse to engage some of the more crucial questions being debated today about Chaucer's poetry. In this regard the book is indeed "middle-aged" (now in a pejorative sense), and no one will come away from it, for example, the better able to assess just what Chaucer's relation to Dante or Boccaccio or Petrarch really is. In fact, most readers, I predict, will be very disappointed on this issue. On page 26, for example, Payne claims that Chaucer knew Dante's work "thoroughly"; then, on page 44, he asserts that "Chaucer did little extensive borrowing from Dante,...and...no one has ever seen much in Chaucer's poetry that could rightly be called Dantean." These statements are at best confusing, at worst irresponsible, and they certainly will not help "begin­ ners in the close and careful study of Chaucer's poetry" (p. ii). As harsh as this judgment is and as necessary as it is, at the same time it is also necessary to praise the book for its occasional excellent summary statements about Chaucer and his art. To cite just one example here: ...Chaucer consistently reflected three dominant concerns, three nuclei...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 247-249
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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