A Look at Chaucer’s Early Work

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The House of Fame before he wrote The Canterbury Tales, the work that has eclipsed—for the general public at least—not only the rest of Chaucer’s writing but also the rest of Middle English Literature.

But if most people have not heard of The House of Fame, they’re in for a treat. According to Anne Worthington Prescott’s engaging introduction to this poem, Imagining Fame, this early work of Chaucer’s is a highly entertaining—may we use the term “trippy”?—tale that blends religion and philosophy with myth and fantasy and psychological dreamscape. It shows that Chaucer had a wild imagination and a great sense of humor as well as a gift for adventurous story-telling.

Anne Prescott’s Imagining Fame also places Chaucer and The House of Fame in historical context, with grounding in the history of England, and informative background on the world-view of the times, the music of the times—which had such a strong effect on Chaucer’s poetics—and the developing language, Middle English. This new book also gives a brief biography of Chaucer, showing how he fit not only into England’s history but also into the trend across Europe toward the use of national languages in literature.

The author writes in a friendly, sometimes even sassy voice, challenging the academic establishment to “lighten up.” Her modern English translations of quoted passages from the poem are easy and fun to read. She has also added a bibliography and some questions for discussion.

Imagining Fame ends with a puzzle and an answer to the puzzle. Is The House of Fame an unfinished work? It ends at a climactic moment, or perhaps the moment before a climax, with the curtain rising on an important figure who may reveal important answers or wisdom. But this is often the way dreams end, and Anne Worthington Prescott makes the case that the The House of Fame ends, mid-sentence, on the verge of divine revelation.

About the Author. Anne Worthington Prescott first encountered Chaucer at the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, Maryland and then at Harvard College. She received an M.Ed. at Boston University. Thirty-five years later, after a career as teacher and community leader, she began to see the magic and hear the music in Chaucer’s poetry. She is a member of the New Chaucer Society, and has written for Scientae Scholae, an electronic journal for K-12 at of She lives in Pinole, California.

About the Illustrator. Kathryn Finter is a Canadian artist specializing in fifteenth-century materials and techniques of panel painting and manuscript illumination. She is a member of the Medieval Academy of America and the Canadian Society of Medievalists. She lives and paints in Ottawa.

Imagining Fame
An Introduction to
Geoffrey Chaucer’s The House of Fame

by Anne Worthington Prescott

128 pages, paperback, black & white illustrations, $12.95
Limited edition, 128 pages, paperback, full-color illustrations, $30.00
ISBN 1-56474-404-3

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