Geoffrey Chaucer, the Critical Heritage

By Derek Brewer | Go to book overview

Introduction

I

The present volume takes up the criticism of Chaucer at the moment when a new accent of ultimately great importance begins to be heard: that of American, more strictly, US, criticism. The first comment is that of Emerson, who immediately strikes a fresh and characteristic note, though there is no sharp break with the preceding tradition. The last comment in this second volume is also by a scholar from the USA. It is taken from the first work of the learned and sympathetic Rosemond Tuve, heralding a new age of professionalism, a new recognition of the intellectual, artistic and social range of Chaucer’s poetry. Her contribution is notably more powerful, and more specialised, than that of her distinguished older contemporaries of that same year, though it maintains something of their gracefulness. The year 1933 was chosen as the terminus ad quem for critical comment because that year seemed to mark the decisive point of change in the balance between the amateur and professional criticism of Chaucer. It marks the point of overlap between the long tradition of the amateur critic—amateur both as lover and as unprofessional—and the beginning of the professional, even scientific criticism in which the concept of the love of an author would too often appear ludicrous. About the early 1930s, too, and doubtless not accidentally, becomes more visible the beginning of the break-up of the long and honourable traditions of Neoclassical and Romantic criticism which were so closely connected with the critic’s status of gentleman-amateur. From the middle 1930s onwards, the professional criticism of Chaucer by salaried academics, not gentlemen (which had of course begun in a small way in the nineteenth century), now dominates. This is not to deny a professional competence, where it is needed, to the

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