By analyzing Chaucer’s major poetic works, Robert Burlin succeeds in isolating thematic undercurrents with a bearing on the poet’s process of composition. He is thus able to relate individual poems to Chaucer’s view of himself as a writer, and to assess the internal evidence for a Chaucerian theory of fiction.
Professor Burlin contends that a logic underlies Chaucer’s aesthetic assumptions whose imaginative configuration appears both simple and inevitable in the context of his poetic development. The author first explores possible antecedents for the terms “experience” and auctoritee, and shows that this common antinomy provides the basis for dividing the poems into three groups.
In the “poetic fictions,” Chaucer speculates on the value of poetic activity, on the sources of its affect, and on its validity as a means of apprehension. The “philosophic fictions” concentrate on the epistemological aspect of literary activity. In a final group of poems, termed “psychological fictions,” the poet explores the speaker’s unspoken motives, as well as his pronounced intentions, in telling a tale.
Originally published in 1977.
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