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REVIEWS Similarfelicitous summaries can be found in all seven of the book'schapters ("Chaucer's Life," "Medieval Theories of Poetry," "The Continental Back­ ground: Chaucer's Literary Sources and Influences," "Chaucer's Versifica­ tion," "Chaucer's Dream Poems," "Troilus and Criseyde," and "Canterbury Tales"), and they are quite helpful, especially those in the chapters on versification and The Canterbury Tales, where Payne is at his best. But the summaries and the insights they represent remain compromised by various irresponsible statements and decisions which also determine the nature and the contents of the book. We have, as a result, a mixed and flawed product. And if finally we accept this, it is because we know that Robert Payne also knows it is a mixed and flawed product: "What Chan­ tecleer shows us, finally, is that all interpretations are made by interpreters, usually for their own purposes, and usually in some kind of ultimate ignorance" (p. 134). Because we know that Payne would be the first to apply this Chaucerian wisdom, which he articulates so well, to himself, we interpret his interpretations with a "mature mixture of sympathetic under­ standing and evaluative objectivity." R. A. SHOAF University of Florida DEREK PEARSALL. The Canterbury Tales. Unwin Critical Library. London, Boston, and Sydney: George Allen & Unwin, 1985. Pp. xiv, 380. $35.00. It is no accident that the cover of Derek Pearsall's substantial study of The Canterbury Tales reproduces a leaf from the Hengwrt (Hg) manuscript. As Hg-better in text, but less coherent in order, than long-favoredEllesmere (El)- has risen in scholarly estimation during the last decade, there has been a corresponding increase in skepticism about El's presentation of CT as a unified poem with a carefully articulated framing fiction. Pearsall, sharing that skepticism, locates the main achievement of CT in Chaucer's deployment and manipulation of inherited story types in individual tales: In taking over the different genres ofnarrative that were traditionally current in the Middle Ages, [Chaucer] is able, through the fiction ofthe tale-telling, to exploit, challenge, and often defy the expectations that they carry of the relationship 249 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER between fiction and reality. Instead of contenting his readers with replications of kinds of literary experience that they are used to, he constantly creates questions and disturbances, so that readers are jolted into re-examining their customary assumptions. [P. xiii] The organization of Pearsall's study follows inevitably from these prem­ ises. He distributes the tales (plus The General Prologue) into four large generic groupings and devotes a chapter to each, after two initial chapters on matters concerning CTas a whole. A final chapter on critical responses through the ages and two useful appendices listing manuscripts and prin­ cipal editions of CT round out the book. Chapter 1, "Date and Manuscripts," examines the evidence ofthe extant manuscripts concerning the text and ordering of CT. To Pearsall, Hg "is..., from every point of view, the best ms of CT" (p. 12).He does not adopt N. F. Blake's position that any part of CT not in Hg is spurious, hypothesizing instead that "when El was made, a few years later, ...there was more time for a leisured scrutiny of the papers, and a more reasoned ordering ofthem, and a chance too to incorporate extra material that had subsequently come to light" (p.13). It follows that El's ordering ofthe CT fragments is merely hypothetical, an editorial arrangement designed (like the famous portraits and sometimesoverzealousemendation ofthe text) to enhance the dignity ofthe last work of a great poet. The great virtue ofthis discussion, especially for students, is its warning againstoverlookingthe doubts and uncertainties that lie behind editions of CT, from El to Robinson and Fisher. Unfortunately, Pearsall does not systematically rebut (orevendiscuss, though hementions in a footnote)the scholars-most recently LarryBenson (SAC 3 (1981])-who argue that El's ordering of the tales is Chaucer's own. In Chapter 2, "Plan and Order," Pearsallpresents his views about Chau­ cer's intention in creating CTand about the work's nature and virtues. The frame is Chaucer's biginnovation,and he chose it, Pearsallargues, not as an occasionfor "realism" but fortwothingshevalued more: variety and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 249-253
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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