Gower Bibliography

The Passive Poet: Amans as Narrator in Book 4 of the Confessio Amantis

Levin, Rozalyn. "The Passive Poet: Amans as Narrator in Book 4 of the Confessio Amantis." Essays in Medieval Studies: Proceedings of the Illinois Medieval Association 3 (1986), pp. 114-30.


Book 4, Levin notes, devotes an unusually large number of lines to Amans' discourse on his love and his notions of "gentilesse." What his speeches reveal, she argues, is a condition of "suspended imaginative desire" based on his direct appropriation of the forms and vocabulary of the courtly lyric, a state that protects him from "aggressive sexuality" but that also insulates him from any fruitful communion with his lady. "Amans lives a lyric, condemning himself to desire without plot or ending. Yet throughout Book 4 he attempts a paradox: he seeks a text which would both eliminate narrative action and enable him to find himself miraculously gratified by his lady's favor, a lyric of love granted" (p. 117). His condition is manifested in several different ways. His attempt to create a narrative, in his reference to the story of Moses and the magic ring, reveals instead his "ambivalence toward his own desire and his underlying wish to forget aggressive sexuality" (p. 118). The series of vignettes with which he describes his courting, all in the present tense, contains no "advancing narrative" but shows "his dislocation from any real attempt to gain gratification from his lady" (p. 119). It also reveals his idea of "gentilesse," which is based more on courtly decorum and correct behavior than on virtuous character. And his borrowing from Ovid in 4.1210-17 "celebrates the condition of desire rather than his lady as the object of desire" (p. 119). The two principal works that he turns to for models for his behavior are RR and T&C, which "offer to Amans the notion that he may in some unspecified way conflate his imaginative experience as lyric persona with the narrative romance to attain the static lyric situation of love fulfilled for which he claims to long" (p. 122). In adopting imagery from RR, however, he "adapts its text to avoid its narrative" (p. 122), and in imitating Troilus, he "adopts a literary antecedant which does not inspire assertive love but instead gives him a precedent for his passivity" (p. 125). "Thus Gower shows how the forms of courtly poetry, however beautiful, betray Amans" (p. 126), and only gradually throughout the remainder of CA does Genius help Amans escape his trap by teaching him the broader and more important connotations of "gentilesse." [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 7.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Confessio Amantis

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata