Gower Bibliography

Love, Intimacy, and Gower

Olsson, Kurt. "Love, Intimacy, and Gower." Chaucer Review 30 (1995), pp. 71-100. ISSN 0009-2002

Review

Olsson's consideration of issues of "intimacy" and "love" leads not only to a substantial redefinition of what is at stake in Amans' confession but also to some interesting observations on the differences between medieval and modern expectations about privacy and personal relations. He focuses his discussion on the contrast between Amans and the four faithful wives of his concluding vision in Book 8: Penelope, Alceone, Alceste, and Lucrece. The comparison is obviously not favorable to Amans. Amans feels that his singleminded devotion to his lady is sufficient justification for his expectation of a "reward" and for his claims to intimacy with her. The fantasies that he conjures up when deprived of her real company indicate that he understands intimacy only in terms of sexual possession, as a desire to control which denies the woman any decision or choice, and which thus makes real intimacy impossible. His attempts to satisfy his passion have little to do with genuine love. The four wives illustrate a different conception both of self and of marital relations. They are distinguished from not only from Amans, but also from the younger lovers that precede them in Amans' vision, by their faithfulness, of course, but also by the maturity of their relationships and by their stable memory of their experience, the faculty that underlies and enables their strength of character. In MO, Gower reflects a common medieval ambivalence about the desirability of friendship and equality in marriage and the need for a hierarchy. In the ideal marriage, however, the virtues of each partner obviate whatever conflict might be implied in the choice. There is the risk, of course, that the woman's virtue might be defined simply in terms of her acceptance of her subordination, but Gower attributes to his ideal wives virtues that go beyond those required by a hierarchical marriage. That their virtues are associated with their waiting faithfully at home, moreover, places them at the nexus of the values that Gower associates with "home" in CA. Most notably, Amans is depicted as returning "home" with the recovery of his reason and his true sense of self at the very end of the poem, when he comes closest to understanding and practicing the virtues that the wives represent. As he recovers his memory, he becomes conscious of his age, and of the totality of human experience in which he participates. Home becomes for him not the place of forcible and immediate satisfaction but instead the place from which, by true understanding of oneself, one becomes truly qualified for intimacy with others. Where a modern places priority upon privacy, Gower valorizes openness instead, through confession and through the discovery of oneness with other human beings. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 15.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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