Gower Bibliography

The French Tradition and the Literature of Medieval England.

Calin, William. "The French Tradition and the Literature of Medieval England." Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994

Review

Calin includes a chapter on Gower (pp. 371-98) in this lengthy and detailed survey of the relation of late medieval English literature to its continental French and Anglo-Norman predecessors. Most of the chapter has already appeared in nearly identical form as an essay in the special Gower issue of Mediaevalia in 1993. There, Calin surveyed "John Gower's Continuity in the Tradition of French Fin' Amor," using CB and CA to show how the richness and complexity of Gower's work is oversimplified in seeing it simply as a rejection of earlier French ideals of love. The present chapter includes a discussion of MO, also emphasizing both its debt to its French predecessors and its own inherent richness. Calin is anxious to defend the poem from the charge that as a moral work, it is inherently mediocre and dull. He sees it first of all as a satire, and considers two of its principal achievements Gower's creation of a suitable persona and his choice of the style in which the entire poem is conducted: where CA is "a masterpiece of the plain style," MO is "a master¬piece of the flowing, passionately lofty register of the vernacular literature of ideas" (p. 373). The poem is structured not just by its external frame but by the dominant metaphor of combat — between virtue and vice, reason and passion, light and darkness, God and Satan — and by patterns of antithetical imagery: evil and Satan are depicted in the demonic and bestial, in rot, corruption, and decomposition, in poison, and in lies and illusion, all of which are countered by the imagery used in the depiction of the virtues. Ethically, Gower counsels the domination of reason over passion and of hard work and liberality over sloth, but the poem ends with the telling of the story of Mary and Jesus, the persona's own act of penance in an effort to gain his own salvation, and the poet's final answer to the problem of evil in the individual and in society. In the drama of salvation, the individual to be saved, the "Omme" of the title, like the implied author, is a male; the adversaries and "adjuvants" are all female: "phenomenologically, the Self is a man and is passively subject to onslaught or to succour, to being dragged down or pulled up, by woman as the Other" (p. 379), until finally turning to the greatest mother of all at the end. The devil is in the details, as we have been reminded so often recently: Calin gets the rhyme scheme of MO wrong (p. 372), he confuses Anthony Farnham with Winthrop Wetherbee (p. 388), and in his survey of Gower's sources for CA (p. 387), he casually overstates the poet's dependance on French rather than Latin sources. The virtual absence of notes, in this paragraph and throughout the entire chapter, makes it difficult to assess whether Calin has achieved some new insight through his own research or is merely carelessly misrepresenting the labors of his predecessors. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 14.1]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Cinkante Balades
Confessio Amantis
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata