Gower Bibliography

Fragments: Past and Present in Chaucer and Gower

Urban, Malte. "Fragments: Past and Present in Chaucer and Gower." Bern: Peter Lang AG, 2009

Review

Urban's monograph is a direct outgrowth of his 2005 Aberystwyth dissertation; to some degree, the older bones remain visible beneath the newer flesh. His focus in this volume is "the two writers' uses of the past within their texts, their different conceptualizations of history and its use-value for the present, and the ways in which we can read these from the vantage point of our (post)modern present" (12). Conveniently, Urban takes the time early on to identify influences on his work (primarily "Queer Theory and Historicism" [45] but also Jameson, Benjamin, Baudrillard, Bakhtin, Nietzsche--and Patterson and Strohm) and to acquaint his readers with several key terms, as he intends to employ them: by "authority," he means "all types of social actions and literary texts that are invested with a certain amount of prominence and truth-value within social and literary discourses" (13); by "the past" and "history" he means "the cultural past on the one hand and its narrativisation ('history') on the other" (p. 13). These terms enable discussion of his larger subjects, "the poetics of the past and the politics of the present," the former describing "the ways in which writers (in the present case, Chaucer and Gower) incorporate the past and history into their own literary creations. The possible motivations for these uses are referred to throughout . . . as the politics of the present," i.e., intended and unintended "reasons for and effects of . . . the poetics of the past" (13). Chaucer and Gower, Urban claims, "placed old books, the wisdom they contain and its retrieval through their readerly and writerly activity at the centre of their poetic projects" (18). He proposes a three-fold approach: 1) to "trace this common theme through a representative sample of both poets' works, spanning most of their careers, starting mid-1370's and ending around the middle of the 1390's; 2) to analyze the "poetics of the past" by examining how Chaucer and Gower make use of old books; and 3) to "examine the texts' interventions in their contemporary political discourses, reading the politics of the Ricardian present through the lens provided by the poetics of the past" (18). Urban thus offers primary discussions of the House of Fame, Parliament of Fowls, Troilus and Criseyde, and the Canterbury Tales of the Nun's Priest, Physician, and "Melibeus," alongside Gower's Vox Clamantis (primarily the "Visio," but also the differing attitudes toward Richard in versions of Book 6) and Confessio Amantis both generally, as a larger work, and specifically, in a close reading of the "Tale of Virginia." Throughout, Urban recurrently returns to the Troy story as a kind of touchstone and exemplary arena in which to illuminate the contrast he locates at the heart of his study. Ultimately Urban finds that Chaucer and Gower differ in the uses to which they put old books in precisely those ways that they each engage with the politicized world of late fourteenth-century England. Chaucer's approach is ever "a veiled engagement with the socio-political context" (210) while Gower's "general concern with kingship and the state of English society" (217) shows him to be "at pains to formulate clear and unambiguous statements in his poetry" (223), in order to address and heal the division he sees all around him. [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 28.2]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Vox Clamantis
Confessio Amantis

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