Gower Bibliography

Articulating the Author: Gower and the French Vernacular Codex

Butterfield, Ardis. "Articulating the Author: Gower and the French Vernacular Codex." Yearbook of English Studies 33 (2003), pp. 80-96.


Amans' identification of himself as "John Gower" at the end of CA is "a powerfully unsettling manoeuvre" that "heavily qualifies our ability to regard author, narrator, and lover as either stable or distinct categories," Butterfield writes (80). Gower also plays with the identity of the author in the "outer frame" of the work, including the Latin verse and glosses and the rubrics and illustrations on the page. "The multiple articulations of Gower in Confessio Amantis present John Gower as Latin, English, auctor, commentator, narrator, and amans, with several of these voicings occurring simultaneously on any one page" (82). Butterfield situates Gower's interrogation of the nature of authorship within the context of similar investigations occurring in the manuscript tradition of French vernacular works of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. She compares the revelation of Amans' identity and age, together with the famous problem of whether to represent Amans as a young lover or as an old man in the illustration that appears at or near the beginning of Book 1, to the "intricate web of confusion that Jean [de Meun] throws over his role as author [of the Roman de la Rose]" (84). But "while Jean is revealing a difference between two distinct authors, the Confessio explores this distinction within the tighter frame of a 'single' author. The doubt that grows in our minds as we watch Amans's face growing old is a kind of compressed version of that which we experience in the Rose: the doubleness involved in a single author choosing, with deceptive clarity, to lay bare his mechanism of pretence" (84). She cites Gui de Mori's compilation of a composite RR and a manuscript of Le Roman de Fauvel as examples of explorations of "the idea of authorship as coterminous with the sense of a work as a whole, and hence, with the work's physical length" (87) and of how "the author-figure was transformed into an agent of control over the material form of the book" (88) several decades before the better known example of Machaut. She also considers the ways in which fourteenth-century vernacular authors such as Machaut, Froissart, and the anonymous compiler of the Trésor Amoureux refer to their own roles in the prologues and rubrics to their works. She draws several conclusions regarding Gower. His speaker markers, first of all, "are very much part of a developing tradition in French of giving dramatic voice to the different elements of a first-person narrative," but since they are in Latin rather than in English, "Gower does not explore the power of the rubric to create a growing recognition of the vernacular author in the vernacular" (93-94). "Gower's decision to add a Latin layer to his own authorial compilation," moreover, "ranks as rare and distinctive even in the broader context of European vernacular writing" (94). "Like Machaut and Froissart before him, Gower makes use, not only of the Prologue, but also of the form of the explanatory rubric, to announce himself as author" (95). He extends these with the Latin prose and verse that usually follow the "Explicit." "Here, Gower is named three times in a final flourish, in which his principal works are named, catalogued, and described. Gower, the author, thus gains articulation through a wide variety of locations on the page. . . . Gower appears to be experimenting with different locations for authorship. . . . [and] there seems to be a desire to investigate the possibilities of meaning in these various sites" (95-96). "Gower emerges from this study of French precedents," finally, "as remarkably, perhaps unexpectedly, original. . . . Gower's use of Latin, far from being a sign of conservatism in any simple sense, seems rather a strikingly distinctive means of investigating the complex guises under which authorship was emerging in the books of vernacular writers. It is possible to understand it, in other words, not merely as a means of affirming his auctoritas, of lending gravity and cultural seriousness to his writing, but rather as a voice in a much larger dialogue, embracing vernacular as well as Latin, in which authorship is newly figured" (96). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 23.2]

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

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