Gower Bibliography

'To thenke what was in hir wille': A Female Reading Context for the Findern Anthology

Kinch, Ashby. "'To thenke what was in hir wille': A Female Reading Context for the Findern Anthology." Neophilologus 91 (2007), pp. 729-44.


The Findern MS (Cambridge University Library MS Ff.1.6), compiled in the last decades of the fifteenth century, is notable for bearing the signatures of several women, who may have been not just owners and readers but also scribes of at least some portions of the book, which was evidently compiled piecemeal over an extended period of time. For Kinch, the MS provides valuable evidence not just of the tastes of a provincial audience but also for the way in which it "illuminat[es] a literary subculture with demonstrable female participation" (p. 731). "Female reading interests" (p. 733) are discernible in the choice of texts, in the selection of portions of these texts, and in the juxtapositions of these selections within the book. Two of the three sections that Kinch examines most closely are the pairing of Gower's tales of Philomela and Rosiphelee and the juxtaposition of Chaucer's "Parliament of Fowls" with Gower's tale of "The Three Questions." In each case, her close readings of the texts themselves are complemented by the way in which each is "recontextualized in a manuscript compiled by women" (p. 740). In the first two tales, "The compilers . . . draw together two stories of female isolation and imprisonment (one involuntary, one self-imposed), and of female interiority (one a physical limitation, the other a will to self-reflection)" (p. 734) which "are both oddly illuminative reflections on the powers and limits—though mostly the limits—of female resistance" (p. 734). By preceding "Rosiphelee" with an excerpt from Amans' speech on his unsuccessful efforts to impress his lady, the compilers also set up a contrast between Tereus and Gower's "inoffensive dupe" (p. 734). "Of course, the two figures are not entirely oppositional: they strangely parallel one another in their persistence, and, again, in the way they impose themselves on the women they seek out. A reader of the court tradition might imagine that most men, though they profess the platitudes of courtly love like Amans, are really more like Tereus at heart; and the specific juxtaposition of these texts certainly facilitates this ironic reading" (p. 734). Both PF and "The Three Questions" "demonstrate intelligent female responses to authority" (p. 739). "The formel voices the positive response to the constraint to which Rosiphelee must submit: although forced to make a choice in love, the woman does exert a certain authority in retaining the prerogative on when and how to exercise that choice" (p. 740). Peronelle, on the other hand, "is shrewd, working on behalf of both her and her father's best interests, in many ways affirming the most positive aspects of the 'patriarchal bargain': if a woman can provide wisdom that advances the values of men between whom she is exchanged, then she validates the proper function of a patriarchal system, even as she benefits directly from the exchange. . . . Peronelle's eloquence implicitly attests to the importance of educating women as a vehicle for the social advancement of the family" (p. 740-41). The "marriage imperative" at work in these tales "no doubt resonated in direct ways" with the lives of the women who compiled this book (p. 742); "one also hopes," Kinch concludes, that "when some female reader . . . read that Rosphilee nestled under the shaw 'and ther sche stod al one stille/To thenke what was in hir wille," that this reader might have seen the potential for something different, an experience of reflexive self-awareness that we have come to identify as one the liberating powers of literature" (p. 743). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 27.2]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis
Manuscripts and Textual Studies

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