Gower Bibliography

Genius and Interpretation in the 'Confessio Amantis'.

Wetherbee, Winthrop. "Genius and Interpretation in the 'Confessio Amantis'." In Magister Regis: Studies in Honor of Robert Earl Kaske. Ed. Groos, Arthur. New York: Fordham University Press, 1986, pp. 241-260. ISBN 0823211614


CA "is a highly complex poem," Wetherbee asserts, "though it employs a minimum of overt artistry." The spareness of its style, of its treatment of narrative, and of its diction has made critics "take for granted the impeccable orthodoxy of Gower's artistic intentions"; and the hierarchical orderliness implied by its structure has been taken as expressive of the "essential character" of the poem. The bulk of CA, however, consists of tales, "complex in themselves, and made still more so by the complexity of their interrelation. All are ostensibly illustrations of the poem's moral argument, but . . . few make their points in a straightforward way" (pp. 241-42). Some of their complexity derives from the "dual perspective" that characterizes Genius: servant to Venus, he also bears traces of the priest of Nature of Alain de Lille, and he is able to "see his subservience to Venus in relation to a prelapsarian model of human behavior." Thus the morals of the tales often serve only as a foil to "Genius' intuitively more sympathetic reponse the the story he is telling," yet Genius is also "intuitively aware that the failings for which he shows such tolerance reflect an underlying failure of reason, will, and vision; and this, though he does not recognize it as such, is a result of the Fall, a measure of man's alienation from a once harmonious relationship with nature and with his fellow humans" (pp. 243-44). Wetherbee illustrates the complexity of the moral argument of the poem with a detailed analysis of the tales in Book 1. He provides several examples in which the circumstances of the tale either subvert, or nullify, or broaden, the intended moral, often because of the changes that Gower has introduced in retelling it. In other cases, it is the details that Gower omits that provide the best evidence of the inadequacy of Genius' moralization. Many of these tales, he observes, are concerned with a man's encounter with a woman, and in many of these, Genius' sympathy for the male character governs his morality and results in the obliteration or obscuring of the moral situation of the woman. Wetherbee goes on to suggest that "male misperceptions of the feminine, and the moral and psychological problems they dramatize, are the unifying element in Book I of the Confessio, Gower's way of focusing his treatment of the sin of pride" (p. 255). Only in the final tale of the "Three Questions" is the woman given an "unambiguously positive role," and while "the story and its explicit moralitas are still imperfectly united, as in the earlier tales, . . . here at last they are in sympathy" (p. 260). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 9.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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