Gower Bibliography

Division and Failure in Gower's Confessio Amantis.

White, Hugh. "Division and Failure in Gower's Confessio Amantis." Neophilologus 72 (1988), pp. 600-616. ISSN 0028-2677


According to the traditional view, Gower's attempt to link "lust" and "lore" in CA was misguided, and his work is essentially disunified as a result. According to more recent views, the treatment of love is of a piece with the ethical concerns of the poem; in Minnis' words (1983:1), "For Gower, the virtues of the good lover were indistinguishable from those of the good man." White rejects both positions, and argues that the apparent disunity of the poem reflects the poet's own concern with "division." The theme of division occurs repeatedly in CA, both as a social and as a psychological phenomenon. In both the Prologue and Book 7 man himself is described as divided between conflicting powers. The conflict "is not presented as irresolvable, but . . . a final resolution can only be achieved through the complete removal of one of the warring parties. And there is a clear awareness that such a resolution is not often achieved. . . . It is a pattern which concedes the dominance of failure" (p. 603). One of the recurring oppositions in the poem is that between Nature and Reason, which Gower depicts as "a reflex of the fundamental division between the body and the soul" (p. 604). Despite instances in which nature and reason are apparently reconciled, Gower is not optimistic about the likelihood, especially in matters of love. Genius too is "a figure divided against himself" (p. 607), attempting to serve incompatible aims: thus his own statement on the difficulty of treating love and morality together. The awkwardness is confronted repeatedly during his discourses, especially when his service to Venus leads him to contradict orthodox morality, and at the end of the poem, he abandons the attempt to reconcile love and reason and chooses reason alone. Even Venus and Nature, in Gower's portrayal, partake of the same division; and the attempt to accommodate "kinde" to Reason only leads to conflicting statements on "kinde" itself. Having abandoned the style of his earlier works at the beginning of Book 1, Gower is sent back to these works at the conclusion of Book 8 as he turns from human love to charity. CA is thus "permeated with a sense of failure" (p. 615), reflecting Gower's pessimism about the insuperability of fundamental divisions in our nature and about the impossibility of both enjoying the world and also keeping an eye focused on heaven. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 9.1]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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