Gower Bibliography

Ironic Incongruence in the Prologue and Book I of Gower's Confessio Amantis.

Simpson, James. "Ironic Incongruence in the Prologue and Book I of Gower's Confessio Amantis." Neophilologus 72 (1988), pp. 617-632. ISSN 0028-2677


Simpson explores the discrepancies and contradictions created by the juxtaposition of differing traditions in the Prologue and Book 1 of CA, partly in answer to those who see the unity of the poem in Gower's subordination of his presentation of love to the ethical scheme within which it is framed. The opening of Book 1 presents love as an irresistible force and denies the possibility of its control by reason, directly contrary to the sentiments of the Prologue, which denounces men who blame external influences for their own suffering. Such an attitude towards love cannot be a sub-branch of the ethical wisdom of the Prologue, as A.J. Minnis claims: indeed one of the works that Minnis cites for his notion of the "extrinsic" and "intrinsic" prologues helps clarify the distinction between philosophical wisdom and the blind appetites that are the subject of Book 1. Gower's reference to his change of "Stile" (1.8) is also significant, for it alludes to the distinction between the satiric mode of the Prologue (in the manner of Juvenal) and the poetry of delight alone (the manner of Ovid) to which satiric verse was traditionally hostile. Genius himself partakes of a similar "juxtaposition of traditions," and is too ambivalent in nature to resume the moral authority of the Prologue. The tales he tells (Simpson limits himself to Book 1) leave doubt concerning his moral authority on the central question of reason's control of love. A different kind of instability is created by the tendency of the tales to break the bounds set by the opening of Book 1 and to repeatedly invoke the political concerns of the Prologue. The effect is to remind the reader that, despite Genius' fumbling and despite the artificial separation created by the narrator, one cannot treat either politics or sexual control without reference to the other. Gower is very much a poet rather than a philosopher; his wish for a new Arion is closely related to his purpose with CA, but he works within the ironic traditions of Jean de Meun and Chaucer rather than as a compiler of philosophical lore. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 9.1]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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