Gower Bibliography

Memory and Unity in Gower's Confessio Amantis

Chandler, Katherine R.. "Memory and Unity in Gower's Confessio Amantis." Philological Quarterly 71 (1992), pp. 15-30.

Review

"Gower's emphasis on remembrance is as evident as his preoccupation with division," Chandler asserts; in fact, remembrance or memory provides the means of overcoming division -- within the self, within the kingdom -- and also the motif that unifies diverse materials of the poem. "For Gower, disunity corresponds to failure." Amans' love is not so much evil as irrational, and an instance of disunity or division: he is in conflict with himself -- his will is in conflict with his reason -- because of his infatuation, and because of this division he is unable to recognize and experience until the very end of the poem the deeper love governed by reason and charity. The progress towards the restoration of his reason and the reuniting of his divided self requires three types of remembering: that of the confession, most obviously; that contained in the tales, a "more socially oriented type of remembrance," offering the memory of the successes and failures of others; and "spiritual memory," which awakens in Amans the type of love governed by charity and good will in the poem's conclusion. These three types of memory correspond to the three major parts of the poem's structure: the frame; the body; and the beginning and the end. The confession, in which the first type of memory is contained, is "more the skeleton than the focus" of CA, since it occupies fewer lines than the tales, and Amans frequently has nothing to confess. He does reveal, however, that he has allowed his imagination to supplant his reason. Genius tries to reactivate Amans' memory as a way of strengthening his wisdom and his prudence; and unlike the moment of transformation when Amans sees himself in the mirror, the reinforcement of the habit of remembering works cumulatively upon his behavior, and helps make that transformation permanent. The tales themselves, the second and most prevalent type of remembering in the poem, contain frequent references to memory, and they are typically followed by exhortations and promises to remember. "The tales provide Amans with examples by which he can remember patterns of behavior to emulate or avoid," and they serve a dual purpose: to help unify Amans so that he can govern his own nature, and to help him regain his consciousness of social conventions so that he can function constructively within his community. Some, like "Apollonius of Tyre," also teach the value of a good memory. "Spiritual memory," the third type, becomes dominant in the poem's conclusion, when John Gower the author steps forward as a Christian rather than lover and citizen, beseeching that "in thilke place / wher resteth love and alle pes / Oure joie mai ben endeles" (8.3170-72). Taking issue with Hugh White's more pessimistic analysis of the conclusion (1988; see JGN IX, no. 1), Chandler argues the compatibility of the different ideals -- of earthly love, Christian love, and Reason -- that are offered in the end, and the success of Amans' "healing." The failure of Amans' love is not a condemnation of earthly love generally; Genius attempts to lead Amans to a different type of love, governed by Reason, represented by Apollonius. Venus' banishment of Amans from love once his reason is restored is suspect, since she represents a type of love that Genius himself has rejected, and does not exclude Amans from a higher form of love. "Learning how to unify reason and love comes from remembering the eternal perspective, but White places divine and earthly love in opposition, while Gower united them by subordinating the latter to the former." The "spiritual memory" that recalls divine love surpasses the other forms of memory, but it also encompasses them, and thus provides not just the conclusion but also the binding together of the other elements of the poem. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 12.1]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata