Gower Bibliography

Holy Fear and Poetics in John Gower's Confessio Amantis, Book I

Banchich, Claire. "Holy Fear and Poetics in John Gower's Confessio Amantis, Book I." In On John Gower: Essays at the Millenium. Ed. Yeager, R.F. Studies in Medieval Culture (46). Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 2007, pp. 188-215.


Discovers an interpretive nexus in the allusions to "timor dei" in Book 1 of CA. Traditionally associated with Humility, "timor dei" is portrayed in its most conventional form in "Capaneus" and "The Trump of Death," though the more serious part of the lesson appears to be lost upon Amans. Another traditional locus for "holy fear" was the Annunciation, which is echoed in both "Mundus and Paulina" and "The Three Questions," and which provides a model for the association of fear, the "conception" of the Word and, by extension, poetic creation as well, and amorous seduction. Gower plays upon these associations throughout Book 1 without fully resolving them. The tale of "Ulysses and the Sirens" suggests that a fear like Mary's at the Annunciation is an appropriate response to the seductions of poetry, particularly poetry of love, that ironically embraces CA itself. In the conversation that precedes the final lesson, on Vainglory, Amans describes his own futile efforts to seduce his lady with his poems and his fear of failure and rejection. In the lesson that Genius offers in reply, Nebuchadnezzar expresses his proper fear of God in his distinctly unpoetic braying. But Genius' second tale, of "The Three Questions," is not at all so straightforward. While echoing earlier references to "holy fear" and to the Annunciation, Peronelle herself exhibits no fear and uses her "eloquent plainness" (206) both to advance her social position and to achieve her own erotic ends. "Present and absent in this riddling culmination is an ever-shifting register of "timor domini," a theme Gower modulates in earnest and in game (and without resolution) throughout Book I and a motif that suggests an ironic sense of self and poetics as subtle and elusive as that of his literary friend and colleague Chaucer" (207). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 27.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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