Canterbury Tales: translations

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Canterbury Tales: translations

1scholasticus
Mayo 20, 2014, 5:13pm

I'm interested in finding a LEC copy of The Canterbury Tales to go with my copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (SGGK).

For those of you who own CT, do you happen to know which translations were used for either of the editions, and if either edition offers parallel texts? (I prefer to read CT in the original Middle English.)

Many thanks in advance.

2astropi
Editado: Mayo 20, 2014, 6:02pm

I know that the beautifully illustrated Szyk Canterbury Tales

http://www.sanfranciscosentinel.com/?p=97709

are not in Middle English. If you want to read Middle English (and I don't blame you), I think the most gorgeous edition is the William Russell Flint edition (first published by the Medici Society). It has been reprinted often.

3leccol
Mayo 20, 2014, 6:06pm

Both LECs are the same translation. There are too many things to do in life than to read a Middle English translation.

4kdweber
Mayo 20, 2014, 6:20pm

>1 scholasticus: The Szyk illustrated LEC was translated into modern (1934) English by Frank Ernest Hill. It is a beautiful edition. The Folio Society produced a three volume set bound by the Bath Press with English and Middle English side by side. The modern English translator was David Write. The Riverside Chaucer includes The Canterbury Tales and is in Middle English with copious annotations making it very easy to comprehend.

>3 leccol: Middle English is not that difficult to read and is very mellifluous when read out loud.

5Django6924
Mayo 20, 2014, 8:08pm

Both LEC versions, unillustrated and the one illustrated by Szyk, feature Frank E. Hill's translation, but no ME. The version astropi mentions, with illustrations in the Alma-Tadema manner by Flint, uses the edition of the ME text by W.W. Skeat which William Morris used for the overwrought Kelmscott Press edition, and which was also used by Eric Gill for the Golden Cockerell version (which was reprinted a few years ago by the Folio Society). None of these three editions which feature Skeat's ME text have a modern English rendering. There are versions illustrated by Rockwell Kent (modern translation by J.U. Nicolson) and a Folio Society version illustrated by Edna Whyte with the ubiquitous modern English rendering by Neville Coghill, but I can think of only one well-printed version of the Canterbury Tales with modern English rendering by David Wright and F.N. Robinson's definitive ME text, the one I studied in college. This Folio Society edition from the late 1980s is very nicely printed in three volumes with quarter-leather binding and illustrated--with predominantly small woodcuts--by a gallery of Folio artists: Frank Martin, Peter Forster, Peter Reddick, and others.

For ME only, with a plethora of study materials, my college days Riverside Edition of the Robinson text has been updated to a newer Riverside edition with even more critical apparatus, and on thicker paper--it's almost twice the size. I use this mostly for study of Chaucer's other works, especially Troilus and Cressida. When I want to just read the CT in ME, I use the wonderful Knopf (Everyman's Library) edition from 1992, which has no translation, but which features marginal glosses and footnote paraphrases on the page and slightly modernized spelling, replacing the archaic characters "thorn," "yogh," "wynn," and "eth" with their modern phonemic equivalents. The Knopf edition is small, light, and well-printed on nice archival paper, and though I seldom rely on the glosses or the paraphrases, after almost 40 years I need to occasionally jog my memory and it's nice to not have to check a glossary at the back of the book as you must in the Riverside editions.

I highly recommend the Knopf for the general reader who wants to experience the savory language of Chaucer but doesn't want, as Don says, to devote an undue proportion of time to its study. A very little effort is involved thereby and tremendous dividends are returned. I have been a lifelong devotee of Chaucer and the rest of Middle English (and Old English) literature, and don't regret the time I spent at all. However, if one is firmly opposed to the effort, I will say of all the modern versions of the Canterbury Tales I've seen, the one commissioned by Macy comes the closest to reproducing the effect of the original. The earlier unillustrated version in two volumes is usually affordable whereas the Szyk-illustrated version is not when in Fine condition (in which condition it is rarely found) and even the Heritage Press reprint with Szyk's illustrations is getting pricy these days.

For ME fans, a very exciting announcement is the Folio Society will be issuing an edition of Piers the Plowman, with original ME en face a modern English rendering and illustrations by harry Brockway. One of the high points of ME literature after the works of Chaucer and the Gawain poet, this is something to watch for.

6scholasticus
Mayo 20, 2014, 8:22pm

Thank you all!

>3 leccol:

I agree with >4 kdweber: here - ME is quite mellifluous when recited out loud (and I always find people pleasantly surprised at how much they comprehend when they read it out loud).

>5 Django6924:

I take it your specialisation was English or medieval history, then? Mine was medieval history, but I made sure to throw a fair bit of Middle English in there. Never got into Old English, alas, as my language training was largely taken up with Latin. I had to use the Riverside Chaucer in my courses as well and it will always be my touchstone, but...it's not a fine edition and just looks out of place next to my copies of SGGK and the Pearl poem.

I think I may go for the Flint edition, and possibly the three-volume FS edition, or the two-volume LEC edition as well. (I must admit woodcuts are among my favourite illustrations - I blame all these medieval incubables that I worked with in my university days.)

And yes, I've gone in for FS' Piers the Plowman, which was officially announced late last week. I was sold the instant I saw that it had the parallel text, and that the ME was clearly the B-text.*

*Three versions of this work exist: the A-, B-, and C-texts.

7scholasticus
Mayo 20, 2014, 8:29pm

>2 astropi: or >5 Django6924:

Would either of you kindly point me towards a copy of the Flint Canterbury Tales? A quick search on ABE seems to turn up multiple editions. I've found editions where CT is turned into 'modern prose', as well as single- and triple-decker editions of CT as illustrated by Flint; it appears that the Medici Society originally printed the work in 1913 and again in 1929, unless I'm mistaken?

8Django6924
Mayo 20, 2014, 8:53pm

>7 scholasticus:

scholasticus, it just depends on how much you are willing to spend: the original 3-volume edition was printed by the Riccardi Press for the publisher Phillip Warner on behalf of the Medici Society. Original examples are usually in the $1000 and up price range. A single volume edition was issued by the publisher Jonathan Cape and can be found for much, much less. I have seen the three volume edition and it is sumptuously produced. I don't know about the single-volume edition's quality of printing or reproduction.

In fact, I was an English major and my specialty in graduate school was medieval English literature.

9scholasticus
Mayo 20, 2014, 10:52pm

>8 Django6924:

Oh, I'm not willing to spend $1000 on Canterbury Tales, so that's out of the running. (This from someone who just spent $800 on an excellent set of the LEC Shakespeare series minus the volumes of poems a few weeks ago...!)

The single-volume edition looks very nice, from the few photos I've seen. I'll consult my list of trusted booksellers and see if any of them have copies; if they do, I'll request photos and go from there.

Many thanks for your help!

And my specialty in graduate school was medieval English social history, with a strong focus on medieval English law; I also specialised in the medieval Church and the rise of the papacy, particularly under Innocent III, Honorius III, and Gregory IX, as well as the medieval heresies and controversies (most notably the Avignon Papacy and the split in the Franciscan Order under John XXII, memorably transformed into literature in Eco's The Name of the Rose.)

10UK_History_Fan
Mayo 21, 2014, 9:49am

> 9
Greg, I assume you own the beautiful Folio Society edition of The Name of the Rose? If not you need to buy it! I believe it is currently on sale even.

11scholasticus
Mayo 21, 2014, 10:39am

>10 UK_History_Fan:

Oh, I got that title last year in one sale or other. It's one of the few books that I reread every 1-2 years.

I do hope FS publish an edition of Eco's Baudolino eventually. A lot of people find it outright ridiculous, but if you understand that Eco's drawing heavily upon medieval myths and legends (most notably that of Prester John), it makes sense...in Eco's own way, of course, same as Rose. I know many people who abandoned Rose because it was just too dense - not many people find the Franciscan controversy of the fifteenth century and the antagonism with John XXII to comprise thrilling reading. :P

And if FS do publish Baudolino, I really hope they take images from medieval MSS of the blemmyae, &c. that populate the novel throughout Baudolino's travels.

12kdweber
Mayo 21, 2014, 7:44pm

Hmmm; although I already have five editions of CT, the Flint illustrated version looks tempting.

In any case, avoid the EP reprint of the Szyk illustrated CT as they stripped out all of the color illustrations except for one which they used as a frontispiece.

13astropi
Mayo 22, 2014, 12:39am

12: true, but it's inexpensive. Well, it used to be inexpensive at any rate. I don't know how it fares in the second-hand market today, but probably not much.

Speaking of the CT, I've been looking for a recording in ME. Does anyone know of such a recording on CD?

14BionicJim
Nov 23, 2020, 8:27pm

>5 Django6924: Based on your knowledge of LEC history and medieval literature, you may be able to fill me in on why the Prioress' Tale was not printed in the 1946 LEC.

There is a publisher's note at the beginning stating simply that it has not been included, which seems to be news to the translator, Frank Ernest Hill, who also wrote the introduction dated March 1946. Here he states that his is the first "complete" translation, which isn't relevant if The Prioress's Tale isn't included, and he even references the tale later in the Introduction while illustrating one of his points. I don't have the 1934 edition to compare, but according to photographs of the Table of Contents, The Prioress's Tale is right there on page 187! So it was translated by Mr. Hill and he expected it to be reprinted in this later edition, but it was left out.

From my online exploration I see that The Prioress's Tale may be partially lost, though it is commonly published. Also, it looks like some find there to be an Anti-Semitic characterization to it, which may be a good reason to rinse it from the edition especially immediately after WWII. These are purely uninformed guesses, maybe there is a good reason that I didn't stumble upon. I read the passages in Grossman's "The Limited Editions Club" and the relevant ML, but didn't find anything there.

15Django6924
Nov 23, 2020, 11:13pm

>14 BionicJim:

The Prioress's Tale (and her Prologue) is definitely in the 1934 LEC. I'm not sure about the statement that it is partially lost: although it may not be printed in more recent common editions (for the same reason it is omitted in the 1946 LEC), it is in The Riverside Chaucer (1987) which is the standard critical edition of Chaucer's works, the 1986 3-volume Folio Society edition of the Canterbury Tales, as well as the 1992 Everyman's Library edition.

Yes, as you point out, I'm sure Macy left it out due to sensibilities arising from the aftermath of the Holocaust. I will quote from Larry Benson's introduction to The Prioress's Tale in The Riverside Chaucer:

The Prioress's Tale is a "miracle of the Virgin," a very popular genre of devotional literature, and the story that she tells was widespread in medieval Europe...yet this tender tale is also a tale of violence; the Prioress seems to dwell on the sickening details of the child's murder and the savage punishment meted out to his murderers...Even more difficult for the modern reader is the anti-Semitism the tale. In Chaucer's time there were almost no Jews in England; they had been banished a hundred years before. The tale is set therefore in far-off Asia, and its Jews are the stock boogiemen of the fairy-tale-like miracles of the Virgin. The tale's anti-Semitism is thus somewhat different from modern varieties. It nevertheless inevitably discomfits twentieth-century readers....

16WildcatJF
Editado: Nov 24, 2020, 9:38am

>14 BionicJim: >15 Django6924: Ooooo I didn't know this! I should add it to my post on these books. I wonder if Macy was making sure not to offend Szyk, who himself was Jewish.

17kermaier
Nov 24, 2020, 9:35pm

>16 WildcatJF:
Possible. Jews are not exactly unaware of the pervasive anti-Semitic tropes of medieval Europe. In fact, the Prioress’s Tale is studied today in modern Jewish high schools as an example of the genre. However, 1946 might have been too soon to forgo an abundance of caution on the subject.

18Django6924
Nov 25, 2020, 1:19pm

>16 WildcatJF: >17 kermaier:

Indeed, the anti-Semitism had been fomented in England for some time: at the end of the Prioress’s Tale, Chaucer makes a reference to "little Hugh," which was a well-know "urban legend" about a Christian child in Lincoln kidnapped by Jews and subjected to a gruesome parody of Jesus' trial, scourging, and crucifixion, ending with his body being thrown in a well. A total fabrication, it was widely believed, apparently by Chaucer, too.

19astropi
Nov 25, 2020, 3:44pm

Yeah, unfortunately anti-Semitism was very common in England, for a long time. Agatha Christie also portrayed Jews (and other minorities) using negative stereotypes.
Here is more information on the myth of "little Hugh of Lincoln" and note that 19 innocent Jews were murdered because of the fabrication, and 71 others were held in the Tower of London and ordered to death, but eventually released.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Saint_Hugh_of_Lincoln

By the way, I also believe that Macy himself was Jewish?

20DenimDan
Nov 25, 2020, 4:03pm

I always preferred the 1934 LEC CT to the '46, in part because I don't care for the explosion of color that characterizes Szyk's work, but more so because I really like Jones' design and use of Granjon, which he also employed in the 1939 Troilus and Criseyde. However, the white linen for the Jones volumes isn't nearly as nice as the sheepskin on the 1946.

21UK_History_Fan
Nov 26, 2020, 6:07am

>20 DenimDan:
And the 1934 edition is hard to find in undarkened or unstained condition and the white sheepskin on the 1946 nearly impossible to find in decent shape (akin to the spine damage typically found on the Gibbon set).

22Django6924
Nov 26, 2020, 11:30am

Although the sheepskin spine on my 1946 edition is in Fine condition, I really prefer the white linen spines on my 1934, which are still unstained and bright white. Although the late Don Floyd and I had several disagreements, his apathy towards sheepskin was well-founded. I'm still not sure it was the skin of the woolies itself that was the problem, or the way it had been treated in the processing. My late father-in-law's law books were from the 1920s and had tan sheepskin spine bindings that were still in excellent condition, although well-handled. The white sheepskin bindings on most LECs I've seen have a tendency to brittleness and crumbling, and even my 1946 Chaucer feels that if I read it more, would start to crack.

All in all, I've come to the conclusion that leather bindings aren't for me.

23BionicJim
Nov 26, 2020, 1:44pm

>15 Django6924:
Thanks so much for your informed response to this. In thinking about the many instances where the LEC went to extra lengths to publish definitive versions of texts, I was at first surprised by the editorial decision to leave out The Prioress’s Tale here. What was the ultimate intention or goal since it would be impossible to assume a famous 600 year-old work like this could be edited successfully with approval from scholars? However, after mulling on it, I remember how focused George Macy was on giving the members of the LEC a rewarding literary experience and, since his first goal was not necessarily scholarly, the decision was the correct one at the time. The LEC’s Holy Bible - lacking notes and verse numbers to enhance its literary value -is an example of this thinking and a treasured part of my collection.

There was one other instance I recall where an LEC editorial decision led to the striking of a controversial anti-Semitic line from Shakespeare’s Othello. Whereas the LEC Shakespeare had normally followed the First Folio, they used the earlier Quarto version of Othello’s final speech. I believe this is still a much-disputed and, to me, fascinating scholarly debate.

In a modern parallel, the perpetual controversy about the Song of the South film being suppressed by Disney can be seen in a similar light. Whereas from a scholarly standpoint - it is a fact of history and interest, from the perspective of an entertainment company, it is an artifact of a time with different attitudes than those it wishes to be associated with today.

So if Disney’s stance is essentially to entertain first, likewise the LEC’s goal was not the same as The Riverside Chaucer’s. That’s what I came up with and I still love this edition of The Canterbury Tales even though I have to wash my hands after holding it (due to all of the flaking sheepskin).

24kdweber
Nov 26, 2020, 2:14pm

I now have eight copies of The Canterbury Tales. I did break down in the end and get a copy of the Medici Society edition bound in limp vellum and illustrated by Russell Flint. Having so many copies means I don't care that the LEC Szyk edition skimps on the antisemitism. It's a wonderful edition and though my copy is in great condition I do fear to handle it too much having seen what happened to so many copies, I prefer to read Chaucer in Middle English but I do tend to keep my Riverside Press edition handy whenever I read Chaucer.

25Django6924
Nov 26, 2020, 3:54pm

>23 BionicJim:

Thanks. You have brought up something that has always bothered me when you mentioned Disney Studio's suppression of "The Song of the South." I love that film--always have since I was a child and saw it the first time. Interestingly, most of the white people in the film are not likable, and Uncle Remus is without a doubt the most lovable and wisest. Many people who haven't seen the film say it paints a rosy picture of slavery, and in reality the film is set AFTER the was and Emancipation.

But that aside, the picture gave James Baskett a role that showcased the wonderful talents of this tragically little-used actor. In addition to his fine acting and singing abilities, Baskett provided the voices for all the animated characters, an achievement that alone deserved the Honorary Academy Award he received--when in fact he should have been nominated for Best Performance by an actor.

I suppose America will never get over the divide caused by slavery, and so "Song of the South" will remain in the vaults and the artistry of James Baskett will remain appreciated by very few. That said, while I feel this circumstance is tragic and undeserved, I can fully relate to why, a year after the discovery of the extermination camps, Macy felt that it was best to suppress "The Prioress's Tale," which is poisonous in its anti-Semitism.

26abysswalker
Nov 26, 2020, 7:03pm

Does Grossman mention the Prioress decision in her history of the press? I don’t have a copy, but surely someone here could check.

27BionicJim
Nov 26, 2020, 7:10pm

>26 abysswalker:
I looked up all of the index listings under The Canterbury Tales and Arthur Szyk without finding any mention of it.

28abysswalker
Nov 27, 2020, 8:18am

>27 BionicJim: thanks for checking. Was worth a shot.

29jveezer
Nov 27, 2020, 12:17pm

>25 Django6924: There is a very interesting podcast called "You Must Remember This" that covers the Song of the South in detail over six episodes. It is fascinating to hear all the backstory of that movie, that I also loved as a kid. I think you would find it very interesting as well.

30Django6924
Nov 27, 2020, 6:09pm

>29 jveezer:

Thank you, I will search for it when I amok work tonight.

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