By Betsy Bowden
This collection of 32 modernised versions of The Canterbury Taleswhich appeared in the 18th century offers basic material for studyingthe history of attitudes to Chaucer, and Chaucer scholarship, duringthe period. Reception data so preciseand extensive is available onlyfor Chaucer among English authors. At least seventeen known and anonymous writers produced thirty-two modernised Canterbury tales during the century, plus tale links and adaptations of each other's work. The present collection contains only modernisations that have not seen print since 1796, thus excluding those by Pope and Dryden. Although most works in this collection may be examined furtherin several British and American libraries, others cannot. Apparentlyonly one copy has survived of an anonymous Miller's Tale (1791) with a thoughtful preface justifying the tale's overt sexuality published just as WilliamLipscomb was completing his 1795 edition that, in its preface, justifies exclusion from the pilgrimage of the notorious tales of Miller and Reeve. Such contrasting attitudes illustrate the dangers of generalisation about the usual reception or interpretation of Chaucer during this or any other socio-historic period; instead, the collection provides an untapped reservoir of material with which to investigate anew the rich complexity of his poetry and its enduring appeal. BETSY BOWDEN is Professor of English at Rutgers University,New Jersey.
- Rochester, NY