Chaucer: A European Life

A groundbreaking biography that recreates the cosmopolitan world in which a wine merchant’s son became one of the most celebrated of all English poets


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Apr 9, 2019
19 color + 2 b/w illus. 3 maps
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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. Edgy, complicated, and often dark, they reflect a conflicted world, and their astonishing diversity and innovative language earned Chaucer renown as the father of English literature. Marion Turner, however, reveals him as a great European writer and thinker. To understand his accomplishment, she reconstructs in unprecedented detail the cosmopolitan world of Chaucer’s adventurous life, focusing on the places and spaces that fired his imagination.

Uncovering important new information about Chaucer’s travels, private life, and the early circulation of his writings, this innovative biography documents a series of vivid episodes, moving from the commercial wharves of London to the frescoed chapels of Florence and the kingdom of Navarre, where Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived side by side. The narrative recounts Chaucer’s experiences as a prisoner of war in France, as a father visiting his daughter’s nunnery, as a member of a chaotic Parliament, and as a diplomat in Milan, where he encountered the writings of Dante and Boccaccio. At the same time, the book offers a comprehensive exploration of Chaucer’s writings, taking the reader to the Troy of Troilus and Criseyde, the gardens of the dream visions, and the peripheries and thresholds of The Canterbury Tales.

By exploring the places Chaucer visited, the buildings he inhabited, the books he read, and the art and objects he saw, this landmark biography tells the extraordinary story of how a wine merchant’s son became the poet of The Canterbury Tales.

Awards and Recognition

  • Winner of the Otto Gründler Book Prize, The Medieval Institute at Western Michigan University
  • Winner of the Beatrice White Prize, The English Association, University of Leicester
  • Winner of the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize, The British Academy
  • Shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize, The Wolfson Foundation
  • Longlisted for the HWA Non-Fiction Crown, Historical Writers’ Association
  • Finalist for the PROSE Award in Biography and Autobiography, Association of American Publishers
  • One of The Times' Best Literary Non-Fiction Books of 2019
  • One of the Times Literary Supplement's Books of the Year 2019
  • One of the Sunday Times' Best Literary Books of 2019
  • A Choice Outstanding Academic Title of the Year
  • One of New Statesman's Books of the Year 2020