Gower Bibliography

In Search of the Perfect Spouse: John Gower's Confessio Amantis as a Marriage Manual

Rytting, Jenny Rebecca. "In Search of the Perfect Spouse: John Gower's Confessio Amantis as a Marriage Manual." Dalhousie Review 82 (2002), pp. 113-126. ISSN 0011-5827

Review

Among the other genres of which it partakes, Rytting argues, Confessio Amantis can also be read as a marriage or conduct manual on the model of T"he Goodman of Paris," "he Book of the Knight of La Tour-Landry,"and Christine de Pizan's "he Three Virtues." In presenting its ideal of a good marriage, it may be addressed specifically to Richard II, but it also certainly intended for a wider sphere, and its marital advice is continuous with its political concerns since for Gower "good government begins with self-government; [and] private morality leads to public morality" (115). The exploration of marriage takes place outside of the formal framework of the poem since so many of the most relevant tales arise only incidentally to the discussion of the Seven Deadly Sins, but the pattern that these stories create is nonetheless "carefully arranged" (116) in order to demonstrate the qualities of both good and bad spouses. The five important qualities of a good spouse, Rytting finds, are "honesty, compassion, mutual counsel, fidelity, and appropriate displays of affection" (118). Rytting discusses how these qualities are exemplified in the positive examples of "Florent," "Mundus and Paulina," "Constance," and "Tobias and Sara," and in the negative examples of "Iphis," "Albinus and Rosemund," "Tereus," and "Orestes." The final tale of the poem, "Apollonius of Tyre," summarizes the preceding lesions by providing examples of each of the qualities of a good spouse. It arises, moreover, out of the discussion of incest, which might be seen as the "direct opposite of marriage" since it is "a type of love that by church law cannot end in matrimony" (116). Following the tale, Venus cures Amans of his love which, "while not incestuous in any narrow sense, is unlikely to lead to marriage because of Amans' age, impotence, and failure to attract the interest of his beloved " (117). Her action stands in contrast to her intervention of behalf of the lover's plea in the tale of "Pygmalion." Implicit in this contrast "is the message that fruitful love (love with marriage potential) should be developed, while unfruitful love (love without marriage potential) should be avoided" (ibid.). As a marriage manual or conduct book, CA differs from the other well-known examples in that it is evidently addressed to men as well as women, and while the expected obedience of the wife is not absent from the poem, the qualities of a good spouse that Gower extols are expected of both spouses and they are reciprocal. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society: JGN 22.1]

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

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata