For today’s selections from my reading list, we have classics alike in dignity… and recently reissued (or, in one book’s case, retold) in the past few years.
The Canterbury Tales by Peter Ackroyd
A fresh, modern prose retelling captures the vigorous and bawdy spirit of Chaucer’s classic
Renowned critic, historian, and biographer Peter Ackroyd takes on what is arguably the greatest poem in the English language and presents the work in a prose vernacular that makes it accessible to modern readers while preserving the spirit of the original.
A mirror for medieval society, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales concerns a motley group of pilgrims who meet in a London inn on their way to Canterbury and agree to take part in a storytelling competition. Ranging from comedy to tragedy, pious sermon to ribald farce, heroic adventure to passionate romance, the tales serve not only as a summation of the sensibility of the Middle Ages but as a representation of the drama of the human condition.
Ackroyd’s contemporary prose emphasizes the humanity of these characters-as well as explicitly rendering the naughty good humor of the writer whose comedy influenced Fielding and Dickens-yet still masterfully evokes the euphonies and harmonies of Chaucer’s verse. This retelling is sure to delight modern readers and bring a new appreciation to those already familiar with the classic tales.
I don’t have to read The Canterbury Tales for school, college or otherwise. Well, I have read one or two tales and seen A Knight’s Tale, but I do feel odd about the idea of graduating without reading it. I plan to read it properly at some point, but for now, I think Peter Ackroyd’s retelling—or modernization—of the work should tie me over in a reasonable time frame.
William Sweet at The Oxonian Review appreciates how Ackroyd differentiates the character voices, but thinks he reaches too far, especially in punning. Harold Bloom at The New York Times considers it “robust“.
The Canterbury Tales was published on October 29, 2009.
The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Version by Oscar Wilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray altered the way Victorians understood the world they inhabited. It heralded the end of a repressive Victorianism, and after its publication, literature had—in the words of biographer Richard Ellmann—“a different look.” Yet the Dorian Gray that Victorians never knew was even more daring than the novel the British press condemned as “vulgar,” “unclean,” “poisonous,” “discreditable,” and “a sham.” Now, more than 120 years after Wilde handed it over to his publisher, J. B. Lippincott & Company, Wilde’s uncensored typescript is published for the first time, in an annotated, extensively illustrated edition.
The novel’s first editor, J. M. Stoddart, excised material—especially homosexual content—he thought would offend his readers’ sensibilities. When Wilde enlarged the novel for the 1891 edition, he responded to his critics by further toning down its “immoral” elements. The differences between the text Wilde submitted to Lippincott and published versions of the novel have until now been evident to only the handful of scholars who have examined Wilde’s typescript.
Wilde famously said that Dorian Gray “contains much of me”: Basil Hallward is “what I think I am,” Lord Henry “what the world thinks me,” and “Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.” Wilde’s comment suggests a backward glance to a Greek or Dorian Age, but also a forward-looking view to a more permissive time than his own, which saw Wilde sentenced to two years’ hard labor for gross indecency. The appearance of Wilde’s uncensored text is cause for celebration.
As you might remember, preteen!Clare was attracted to books with queer men in them like bees to honey, so I’ve already read The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I quite liked. But I had no idea it was a censored version, which warrants a reread via actual book rather than audiobook…
Michael Dirda at The Washington Post notes that this is an early edition of the novel, rather than a suppressed version that had been published at any time. Brooke Allen, writing for Salon, notes that this is, while lovely, supplemental to the originally available text.
The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition was published on April 11.