Gower Bibliography

Women in John Gower's Confessio Amantis

Burke, Linda Barney. "Women in John Gower's Confessio Amantis." Mediaevalia 3 (1977), pp. 239-259.

Review

While Gower "does nothing to call attention to his literary treatment of women in the Confessio" (239), it is clear that the work's sensitivity and compassion for the limitations of human nature is in part the result of "the almost total absence of negative female stereotypes and antifeminist propaganda in the Confessio" (239). Gower's positive treatment is especially evident in three narratives of women who are traditionally seen as "less than exemplary" (241), namely Xanthippe, Medea, and Anaxarathen. First of all, while the MO tells us only that Xanthippe was angry and contentious with her husband Socrates, the CA provides "some motivation for the wife's foul humor" (241). Gower also does not personify "Cheste" as a woman, and he removes the references to "clubbing or punishing of wives" (242). In context, then, the story serves as an example of a particular sin rather than as an accusation of women in general. Gower's Medea, inherited from Benoît de Sainte-Maure and Guido delle Colonne, has also been transformed. She does not dress up to impress Jason on his arrival (an action condemned by Guido), nor does she scheme with a duenna to seduce Jason in the duplicitous way Benoît describes it. However, while Gower is more sympathetic to young people as they fall in love, he does not idealize Medea's character: "While Medea is innocent and appealing when she first falls in love, something goes wrong with her as the story progresses. At the same time, the sincerity of Jason's initial love serves to emphasize his later weakness and treachery" (247). Since Gower's tale exemplifies "the abuse and misdirection of normal human sexuality" (248), the moral of the story is directed "at both men and women, eliminating antifeminist elements from the story" (248). Finally, in the tale of "Iphis and Araxarathen," the characters' social positions are reversed, and Araxarathen is now a maiden of lowly origins who is no longer described as haughty, and who has a legitimate reason for refusing the love of Iphis. In the end, "Gower's innovation is to divide the responsibility for the disaster [of Iphis' suicide] between the two characters, instead of reproducing a simplistic exemplum of female coldness" (250). Why did Gower alter his opinions of women from those expressed in the MO and the VC? The answer is that in the CA Gower changes his style from strict moral allegory and social satire to a "middel weie" between lust and lore, where his main subject is love, including its positive qualities. [CvD]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Vox Clamantis
Confessio Amantis
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

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