Gower Bibliography

'Redinge of Romance' in Gower's Confessio Amantis

Dimmick, Jeremy. "'Redinge of Romance' in Gower's Confessio Amantis." In Tradition and Transformation in Medieval Romance. Ed. Field, Rosalind. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1999, pp. 125-37.


The romances in CA, Dimmick writes, "constitute a link between Amans's private preoccupations and Gower's broadest thematic concerns, and provide the poem's most confident affirmations of moral, familiar and social good" (pp. 127-28). Amans reveals his predilection for reading romances in Book 6 (876-89): identifying with the characters about whom he reads, he is led to hope that the outcome of his own pursuit of love will be as happy as theirs. He is almost immediately brought back to the realization of how different his prospects are, however. His disappointment provides an opening for Genius to attempt to modify his view of himself and to release him from his obsession, and one of his means of doing so is to through his use of examples of Amans's own favorite reading-material. The three tales that Dinnick examines as examples of romance in CA are "Florent," "Constance," and "Apollonius of Tyre." He has pertinent and interesting comments on each. "Florent" appears to be a wish-fulfillment fantasy, but the hero obtains what he desires not by an act of his own will, as one might expect in romance, but by giving away his own freedom of choice. At that moment, "he recognises for the first time something which the virtue of trowthe does not require him to perceive: his own good (even his own moral good) is not the sole criterion of value. By yielding his 'hole vois' to his wife, Florent acknowledges that she is a narrative subject in her own right, is not merely an adjunct to his own desires or self-worth" (p. 130). At the end of the tale, as the lady reveals the reason for her enchantment, the tale shifts from a "quest romance" to an "exile-romance" of which she is the heroine. "The values of the exile paradigm win out: the reorientation of heroism in 'Florent', away from action to endurance, and finally to a new sense of oneself as operating in the context of other selves – in a society – is a tacit rebuke to Amans's self-isolating obsession with his lady as merely the object of his desire" (ibid.). Overcoming this obsession is also a central concern of "Constance" and "Apollonius of Tyre," in each of which "sexual love is not seen in isolation, as a dominating passion which excludes all other considerations; instead it takes its place in a continuum of 'kindly' bonds of love, integrating the love of parents and children, husbands and wives, humans and God," and where Amans habitually isolates sexual love as an all-encompassing obsession, 'Constance' [and by implication ‘Apollonius' too] aims to integrate sexuality into a broader pattern, both social and cosmic" (p. 131). The optimism of such tales, manifested particularly in the "morally- and socially-resolved closure" of their endings (p. 133), is challenged elsewhere within the poem, and Dinnick sets forth "Jason and Medea" as an example of "a romance which goes badly wrong" (p. 134). Not only does it end disastrously for the participants but it also lacks proper closure, for Medea goes unpunished, and Genius goes on to tell the story of "Phrixus and Helle" to explain the origin of the fleece, which only emphasizes how Medea's act is the perpetuation of a cycle of family violence which in turn is only part of the larger cycle of events extending from the fall of Thebes to the fall of Troy. The poem appears to privilege the more optimistic view by its placement of "Apollonius of Tyre" at the end, but the conclusion involving Amans is considerably more complex, and Gower's hopes that Richard II might be a new Apollonius obviously turned out to be premature. Dinnick's attempt to explore the generic links among these tales is salutary. He rec-ognizes some of the problems in adequately defining romance on page 133, but the definition by which he links these tales, which emphasizes the pattern of reconciliation and reunion over what he calls "generic markers," excludes other tales that are legitimately entitled to be included as romances (e.g. "The False Bachelor," 2.2501-2781), and it also passes over the long passage on prowess, heroism, and "gentilesse" in the middle of Book 4, certainly central romance concerns. There is more that one might say, therefore, about "romance" in CA, but such an objection does not diminish the value of Dinnicks' discussion of the thematic connections that he discerns among the four tales that he chooses to focuses on. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 19.2]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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