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The Essential Chaucer is a guide to twentieth-century Chaucer studies, intended primarily as a research tool for students, but also as convenient reference for scholars and critics. It includes 925 studies of Chaucer written between 1900 and 1984, selected for their value in helping us to understand Chaucer and his works, and annotated to identify their content and methodologies.
Each entry is classified once, alphabetically, under an appropriate topic heading or under the title of the Chaucerian work it discusses most directly. These topics and titles, arranged in approximate order of importance, are further sub-divided by subject. See the Table of Contents for the complete classification.
Cross-referencing augments the classification system. Within the annotations, cross-references point to parallel studies or critical disagreements. The lists of cross-references which appear at the end of most categories refer to entries on related subjects, serving as something of a subject index.
The annotations are informative rather than critical since the selection process itself was evaluative. They provide bibliographic information, identify the primary focus of the item annotated, and summarize its contents--all with an eye to clarifying the work's contribution to the study of Chaucer. Choosing from the vast field of Chaucer scholarship and criticism was difficult. We hope that it had led to a selection of books and essays which, built on time-tested methods, explicate unfamiliar details of Chaucer's language and style, place his works in their literary and historical contexts, and interpret these works in the ways that have proved most fruitful.
The selection is, in a word, conservative, emphasizing traditional approaches and including items readily accessible in college and university libraries and through interlibrary loan services. The majority of the entries have been published in the last twenty-five years, superseding earlier works by being built upon them. Works that address specific topics outnumber more global studies; what they lack in range, they gain in focus, enabling users to identify more clearly the important issues. The general studies included are notable for their influence and good sense.
The bibliography in the seventh printing of John Fisher's The Complete Poetry and Prose of Geoffrey Chaucer (entry 15) formed the basis of this selection. Its sixteen hundred items, selected from among studies written before 1979, were winnowed and updated to 1984 by Mark Allen. In both stages of this process, effort was made to include representative studies of all of Chaucer's works. The number of entries is in ratio to the importance of the work. For example, thirty-five items are listed for the Wife of Bath's Tale, eight for the Manciple's Tale, and one apiece for the Cook's fragment and Boece. Yet, there are some imbalances: although the Miller's Tale is certainly more important than the Physician's Tale, it has fewer entries. This is rectified in part by the cross-referencing. Because the Miller's Tale is treated so much more often than the Physician's Tale in other essays (in general studies of the fabliaux, for example), it is cross-referenced many more times, so that its total of citations if greater. The length of the annotations depends in part upon the length of the annotated item but also in part upon its importance. So the more important works by Chaucer are distinguished by some combination of more annotations, more cross-references, and longer annotations. Collections of critical essays are not included because the important essays from such collections are annotated individually. Dissertations and book reviews are not included either, and with one exception (Koch, entry 17), entries are restricted to works written in English or available in translation.
Selection, arrangement, cross-referencing, and indexing are intended to be convenient and, above all, useful. Students, we hope, will find the work a reliable handbook to Chaucerian study, guiding their reading for both discussion and research. Experienced Chaucerians will, no doubt, disagree with some of the inclusions and miss some omissions, but the information provided will, we hope, prove helpful to them in recalling the outlines of familiar books and articles.
The staff of the library and the interlibrary loan service at the University of Texas at San Antonio deserve special thanks for their contributions to the completion of this book, particularly Anita Brown, Leonard De Leon, David Garcia, Maggi Joseph, Kathy McCabe, and especially, Sue McCray. The project was aided by financial support from the UTSA which helped to defray the costs of copying and travel. For this, too, we are grateful.
The University of Texas at San Antonio
San Antonio, Texas
John H. Fisher
The University of Tennessee