The grandfather of English literature is strong patriot as Victorian writers saw him as indicative of an Englishness they wished to recapture, modern day journalists describe Brexiters as Chaucerian.
Chaucer had a foreign wife and was mostly dependent on contemporary continental literature to inspire his own.
Chaucer was a writer fro 1343-1400 who Shakespeare after him, gives the impression of speaking both for the whole world and directly to individual
Marion Turner is the first biographer of Chaucer , tells us that people started co-opting him for their politics half a millennium ago, when “Catholics and Protestants competed to claim him as a fellow traveller.”
A European Life concentrates its subject’s cosmopolitanism placing the poet of The Cantrebury Tales in an international English origin story.
In England Genoese merchants were blamed for the Black death, Florentines were blamed for rising taxes a cause for 1381’s peasants revolt that saw foreigners in London slaughtered ”indiscriminately”.
Chaucerwas not the first poet to write in middle English – a blend of the Anglo-Saxon spoken before 1066 and the French brought over by the Norman aristocracy, although he was the first to transpose into it prestigious French forms that placed emphasis on courtly love and allergy by coining new words and voiced an egalitarian range of speakers from millers and carpenters to nuns and knights.
Turner an academic at Jesus College, Oxford reveals the record that shows what Chaucer earned ( £10 a year from one noble)the same from another, a tun of wine from the king.), where he appeared and who sued him but little else.
Chaucer’s contrariness, his mimicry of different people with different views the very “heterogeneity and diversity” regardless of class .
Turner’s biography recreates the cosmopolitan world in which a wine merchant’s son become one of the most celebrated of all English poets more than any other canonical English writer , Geoffrey Chaucer lived and worked at the centre of political life – yet his poems are anything but conventional.
Chaucer A European Life by Marian Turner, Princeton £30, 624 pages.