Monday, 28 July 2008

Books Are Alot Like

Books are an awful lot like the Irish. You just never know where they're going to turn up. I was down in Ennis visiting the in-laws at the weekend and I popped in to a small second-hand bookshop in The Market called Scéal Eile Books. The stock is pretty good quality actually, clearly someone who has a broad range of interests and can spot good books. As I was browsing through the books what did I find only Aubrey Attwater, Pembroke College Cambridge: A Short History, ed. with an intro. and a postscript by S. C. Roberts (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1936). I think that is mad, to find such a thing is a very small rural town in the west of Ireland. I had to buy it. It was meant to be bought by me. The other thing was T. P. Dunning, Piers Plowman: An Interpretation of The A Text, second edition, revised and edited by T. P. Dolan (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), with a nice dedicated on the inside flyleaf by the editor and a little memorial card inside for Fr Dunning. This was originally published in 1937 and for an analysis of the A-Text, it remains an important publication. I am very glad to have it. For lots of reasons.

At the moment I am reading Francis Stonor Saunders, Hawkwood: Diabolical Englishman (Faber, 2004). I am enjoying it, I suppose, but I do find it a little sensational. I know that there was lots of guts and gore and all the rest but, well, it sometimes feels in this book like there wasn't much else. And that is despite the fact that Saunders reflects on this and recognizes it. I am a little uncomfortable with the breezy way in which she talks about what Chaucer must have made of the Visconti wedding in 1368, and how he must have been closely watching the great Petrarch, who was also a guest at the wedding. There is a record of Chaucer 'passing at Dover' in 1368, and yes, he was granted enough expenses to get him to Italy. But we have no evidence of where he went. And I mean none. Modern scholars are generally rather cautious about saying Chaucer was in Italy at this time, and Saunders cited a single article, by Hutton in the Anglo-Italian Review in 1918 which probably led her to this. But there are many interesting things in the book and Hawkwood is a remarkable figure. I might read her book on the CIA, which got a few mentions in the Clash of the Titans session at the New Chaucer Society in Swansea.


Anonymous said...

FWIW: My old college Chaucer text (and I do mean old--Baugh, Chaucer's Major Poetry, with a pub. date of 1963 although I purchased it new c. 1978) talks about two known Italian journeys, one in 1372 and one in 1378. On the first one, he may have met Petrarch, but Baugh doubts it because Petrarch had a way of mentioning those sort of meetings in his letters, but doesn't mention meeting Chaucer, while on the second one he met Hawkwood--Baugh mentions it in a way that suggests there was documentary evidence on this point. The 1368 trip is mentioned as one made to an unspecified destination.

Miglior acque said...

Thanks kishnavi, appreciate the comment. Yes, the 1368 trip actually only refers to him 'passing at Dover'. Petrarch and Chaucer may have met in 1372, yes, and Petrarch being silent on the matter might not mean that it didn't happen: Petrarch may not have been too impressed, and he did have some sorry things to say about barbarous England. Hawkwood and Chaucer did meet in 1378 and it was this that led Terry Jones to suggest that Hawkwood was the model for the portrait of the Knight. Such a view is untenable and no serious Chaucerian holds that view any more. However, it certainly did provide Chaucer with what must have been a fascinating opportunity to watch northern Italian politics being played out in an extraordinary period of change and upheaval. William Caferro's book on Hawkwood, which I've only skimmed, looks very good. And if you're interested: R.A. Pratt has a little article, 'Geoffrey Chaucer, Esq., and Sir John Hawkwood', ELH 16 (1949), 188-193.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...