Gower Bibliography

Confining the Daughter: Gower's 'Tale of Canace and Machaire' and the Politics of the Body

Bullón-Fernández, María. "Confining the Daughter: Gower's 'Tale of Canace and Machaire' and the Politics of the Body." Essays in Medieval Studies: Proceedings of the Illinois Medieval Association 11 (1994), pp. 75-85.


Bullón-Fernández offers not just one but several provocative new ways of reading Gower's already well-read story of Canace and Machaire. Invoking a feminist model of patriarchal society and of the power relations between fathers and daughters, she opposes Eolus' attempts to confine Canace (repeatedly alluded to in the tale) with Canace's two gestures of independence: her choice of her own lover (albeit her brother), which signifies "her father's loss of control over her body" (p. 77); and her composition of her letter, in which she "tries to define her life in her own terms" (p. 77), an attempt that is quickly thwarted. Parallels are drawn in the tale between her two acts of creation, her letter and her child; between her tears and the ink; and thus between writing and her body. The horrific scene of the baby bathing in his mother's blood, Bullón-Fernández observes, paradoxically blends an image of parturition with one of death, echoing the paradoxes of Canace's letter. The multiple parallels in the tale "suggest that Canace's death represents not only Eolus' assertion of his control over Canace's body, but also his desire to terminate a narrative . . . over which he himself had lost authorial control" (p. 79). That Eolus' attempt to control Canace is incestuous in origin is suggested by the attribution of his wrath to Melancholy, the "typical lover's sickness" in the Middle Ages, from which Amans himself suffers because of his unfulfilled desire. Eolus' desire to have control of his daughter's body provides a better explanation of his wrath — and of Gower's evident sympathy for his victims — than does the immorality of the children's union. It also refers the issue of patriarchal control to that of kingship, continuing the analogy between home and kingdom that runs throughout CA. In both cases absolute power must necessarily be restrained, and "Canace's tragic death highlights the sterility and self-destructiveness of any type of absolute patriarchal authority that . . . denies the subordinate body a certain degree of independence" (p. 76). Bullón-Fernández' essay appears with nine others in a special issue of Essays in Medieval Studies entitled Figures of Speech: The Body in Medieval Art, History, and Literature, edited by Allen J. Frantzen and David A. Robertson. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 14.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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