Gower Bibliography

Statement and Search in the Confessio Amantis

Farnham, Anthony E.. "Statement and Search in the Confessio Amantis." Mediaevalia 13 (1993), pp. 141-158.


Offers a view of the moral structure of the poem. Borrowing his terms from Dorothy Sayers, and invoking a contrast to Dante, he describes Gower's career as a movement from the poetry of statement to that of search, from "positive certainty of moral assertion" to the "attempt to struggle with whatever it is in human experience that denies such knowledge and resists its expression" (p. 142). His example of the poetry of search is, of course, CA. He examines how at the opening of Book 1 a multiplicity of voices — the marginal commentator, the elegiac verse writer, Amans, Genius, who himself becomes at least two voices, the priest/narrator of the tales and the confessor who comments on them — replaces the unity of statement of the Prologue, and how the clash of view that results "engages both the poem and its readers in an ever-widening search for active clarity of moral vision" (p. 146). He illustrates the effect with the first three tales of Book 3: he distinguishes five different interpretations of the tale of "Canace and Machaire" within the text itself; and he compares Gower's version of "Phebus and Cornide" to its four best-known predecessors to show how their conflicting moral interpretations are present as part of the background to Genius' telling of the story. This method of comparing different moral perspectives remains consistent throughout CA except in the history of religions section in Book 5, and in Book 7, which "seems to return to poetry of statement partly for the purpose of demonstrating that statement is at this point unable to further the search of the poem" (p. 152). In Book 8, the final tale, of "Apollonius of Tyre," is itself fittingly a story of search, and of "recovery of both love and order in life" (p. 154). Amans himself is not able to imitate Apollonius, and CA is thus a record of his failure, though not a failure itself, a brilliant evocation of "human experience groping blindly toward lasting vision" (p. 155). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 13.1]

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:Guest issue edited by Robert F. Yeager.
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata