Gower Bibliography

Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World.

Howard, Donald R.. "Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World." New York: Dutton, 1987

Review

Gower is not given a major part in Howard's new biography of Chaucer, but the scattered references touch on a number of details in both the personal and literary relationship between the two poets. Partly because of the lack of any other more suitable candidate, Howard suggests that the older Gower was Chaucer's most likely "mentor" during Chaucer's twenties (pp. 162-63). Chaucer's earliest ballades in particular may have been written under Gower's influence, and like Gower's, may have been intended for oral delivery before the merchant "Puy" (pp. 267-68). Gower was well behind his pupil, however, in not yet having begun to write in English (pp. 162- 63, 225). And with HF, "Chaucer's way of writing turns away from Gower's," in part because of his encounter with Italian literature and in part because a poet in his thirties will leave behind the mentors of his youth (p. 255). Their acquaintance continued, but by the time of the dedication of T&C they had "parted company artistically: Gower was still writing medieval complaint with its explicit moralizing, and he disapproved of Chaucer's satire, with its ironic stance" (p. 373), and there is "some irony, surely" in Chaucer's reference to his "sententious and avuncular" friend as "moral Gower" (p. 420). "There is not a question that the two poets were sharing ideas and tales" as Gower began his work on CA and Chaucer commenced LGW and CT (p. 418). MLT was influenced by Gower's "Constance," which Chaucer had seen in draft (p. 419). But in ML Intro Chaucer continues the teasing of his friend: Gower had apparently admonished Chaucer for his inclusion of MilT and RvT, and ML thus condemns Gower for telling dirty stories of his own (p. 420; also p. 438). And though there is no evidence that they quarreled (p. 420), their friendship seems "not to have been resumed with intensity after 1388" (p. 497). Howard artfully weaves together the documentary evidence for Chaucer's life with what is known about the historical backdrop, particularly about the events in which Chaucer is known to have been involved, and the attitudes and interests that he infers from Chaucer's works; and the portrait that emerges of Chaucer's life and times is rich and detailed. Howard will no doubt be criticized for the lack of evidence for some of his speculations (including some of what he has to say about Chaucer's relationship with Gower) and for the excessively biographical interpretation of some of Chaucer's works: is it necessary to believe, for instance, that the Merchant's views of marriage somehow echo Chaucer's? Much of Howard's view of Chaucer's "times," of course, is seen as through Chaucer's eyes; and since Chaucer was close to several members of the royal family, much of the story is concerned with their public and private lives and with the warfare, diplomacy and marriage negotiations in which Chaucer had some part. But Chaucer had little to say about a great many broader social and political movements during his century. It is interesting to speculate how different a backdrop would be drawn, and how different a view of the "times" would emerge, in a similar biography of Gower. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 7.1]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Biography of Gower

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