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Poetry and the Making of the English Literary Past1660-1781$
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Richard Terry

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780198186236

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198186236.001.0001

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Myths of Origin: The Canon of Pre-Chaucerian Poetry

Myths of Origin: The Canon of Pre-Chaucerian Poetry

Chapter:
(p.93) 4 Myths of Origin: The Canon of Pre-Chaucerian Poetry
Source:
Poetry and the Making of the English Literary Past
Author(s):

Richard Terry (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198186236.003.0005

Since long before the English Augustan era, it had been a commonplace that English literature began in the age of Geoffrey Chaucer, either through his offices or, more rarely, through those of his contemporary, John Gower. Indeed, it was not unusual for Chaucer to be seen as the sole literary figure of consequence before the 16th century. The most common conceit expressing Chaucer's priority in the literary tradition was that of his being the ‘father’ of English poetry. Another prevalent metaphor for Chaucer's initiation of the vernacular tradition, however, was that of his being a rising sun or new-breaking morn. This chapter considers the hunt for a pre-Chaucerian origin to English literature, an origin that would satisfy the question of at what point, and in connection with which writers, English literature actually began. It discusses the so-called battle of the books, especially as it addressed the status of the vernacular literary canon in comparison with the classical one.

Keywords:   Geoffrey Chaucer, English literature, literary canon, poetry, John Husbands, literary past

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