About two years ago, I wrote about the Broadview Canterbury Tales, which I was considering as a textbook. I’m now in my second semester with it, and I’m not so happy with it.

One reason is simply familiarity (or lack thereof): I’m used to the Riverside’s composite text, with readings and spellings from Hengwrt as well as Ellesmere. Presumably, over time one would adapt to that. But that’s really the least of the problems, though individually they all seem small. It’s the aggregate that makes me want to return to the Riverside.

The line numbering goes a little funky now and then, especially around the end of a tale or section; there sometimes seem to be extra lines that don’t appear in the numbering system.

I don’t like the punctuation. Sentences are chopped up in unfamiliar ways (so in a way this is reason one over again), and I think sometimes they don’t make such good sense as in the Riverside’s punctuation. I like to see related ideas grouped together in elaborate clauses rather than presented as a serious of one-line sentences.

The notes are less detailed than I would like. True, the Riverside’s Explanatory Notes at the end of the book are awkward to consult and go over the heads of many of my students if they do look them up. But I would like them to be there for my more advanced students.

The lack of language instruction in the introduction turns out to be a problem. I thought that wouldn’t matter, because I did a lot of my own explaining anyway. And if I were really organized and wrote my own mini-grammar-handbook (or just a series of handouts) that would be one thing. But it turns out I’m not that organized (big surprise, yeah?), and that a lot of my in-class explaining was in response to student questions about the Riverside’s introductory material. If I assign it, it may be confusing for some, but at least they read it and then when they ask questions I can fill in some gaps, and even people who didn’t do the reading will get something out of the lecture. Now, students aren’t even asking questions, because they don’t know what they don’t know; they don’t know where to start with the questions. I need them to ask questions so I know what to lecture on.

Cost is a problem. Used copies of the Riverside CT are a little more expensive than the Broadview, new. I do try to be aware of textbook costs, and save my students money where I can. Some of the problems I mention could be overcome if I wrote more handouts and just spent more time with this version of the text. But, bottom line, I’m not very comfortable with the Broadview edition, and I feel like my teaching is suffering because of that. If the Riverside CT were cheaper, I would definitely go back to it, no question. As it is . . . I think I’ll go back, and feel guilty.


9 thoughts on “Review re-run

  1. The Riverside is lovely :)If you're setting that one, perhaps recommend to students who plan to do further Middle English study that they buy the complete Riverside instead? The cost difference would be offset, for those students, by the bulk saving. My second-hand Riverside cost me about the same as the Norton collection of Chaucer's Dream-Visions, and was far more useful.

  2. Nakedphilologist, we down under have the British paperback, but up over the complete Riverside is a big really heavy hardback. You've seen mine no? Not so student friendly …

  3. Exactly. The complete Riverside, here, is huge, heavy and unwieldy. I require it for graduate students, but would not recommend it to undergrads. Also, I have a vanishingly small number of students who plan further ME studies. Most of them come around to thinking Chaucer has his points, but they all begin by expecting torture. Few have any great interest in the Middle Ages.

  4. I switched to the Broadview last time round too. Some of the things you point out I didn't notice; others I noticed but decided not to care about.I found that my students absorbed the informational material in the back much better with the Broadview, and generally kept up with the reading much better. When I asked them about this, they said it was because they could carry it with them, whereas the Riverside sat on their desks except for being hauled to class.

  5. Meg, I don't understand: the Broadview & Riverside CT (the paperback, not the complete Chaucer) are close to the same size. Were you assigning the hardback before? I can't say I'm noticing any difference with mine keeping up with the reading in Broadview vs the Riverside CT.

  6. Can one even get the paperback complete Riverside in the US? My bookstore can't order it due to the publishing deals that have been set up; I've been told repeatedly it's for non-US markets only. Is there a workaround of some kind?

  7. Anon: I am told that it is possible for individuals to order the paperback complete Riverside from UK booksellers. I doubt this would work for a whole class, at least if you have large classes, but for 10-12 students who can do some advance planning, it might work out. Or, if you're a grad student, order your copy now and use it whenever you take the Chaucer class.

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