Gower Bibliography

John Gower und seine Zeit

Siegmund-Schultze, Dorothea. "John Gower und seine Zeit." Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik 3 (1955), pp. 5-71.

Review

Dorothea Siegmund-Schultze offers a thoroughly Marxist reading of Gower's work. Her objective is to demonstrate the extent to which Gower's literary works reveal an association with a particular social class (7). As a landowner and a member of the lower nobility, Gower is generally sympathetic to feudal ideals (and their ideological codification in scholastic reasoning about the three estates). However, he also shares much with the bourgeoisie, including their burgeoning nationalism and their generally positive view of profit. Siegmund-Schultze traces Gower's sometimes ambivalent apology for feudalism through his major three works, spending most time on the MO (7-53). Most of this treatment follows the progression of topics in Gower's works. After a brief overview of what is known about the Gower biography, Siegmund-Schultze discusses significant historical events in the fourteenth century. She notes that the effect of the Bubonic Plague was an increase in wages, which precipitated the Statute of Labourers and eventually the Peasants’ Revolt. From a Marxist perspective, the increase of monetary and contractual agreements increasingly threatened feudal relationships (see especially the discussion of Marx’s views on usury and mercantile capital in the late Middle Ages on page 21). The ideology of the old feudal order was further propped up by medieval spirituality (Siegmund-Schultze quotes Engels; 8). This explains also why Gower's ideal knight is a very pious man, aware of the impermanence of earthly fame (17), and why Gower's discussion of grace and salvation is imbued with the language of earning, reward, and investment (24). Gower's belief in an "Einheitskultur" (9) is further connected with his sense that Reason will teach us the wisdom of the past (Siegmund-Schultze lists Gower's primary sources; 14). In addition, his belief that education is a coherent system (unified in the seven liberal arts) leads him to link together a number of key values: "Bildung [education] Wissen [knowledge] governance und die aurea mediocritas [golden mean]" (15). This project, which links self-governance with the Three Estates model, is constantly threatened. Siegmund-Schultze mentions Gower's preoccupation with the rich burger who tries to imitate the aristocracy. In addition, while Gower is Boethian in his rejection of wealth, profit is often justified and the Vita Activa provides the most benefit to the social well-being. The latter emphasis on the common profit is typically bourgeois, and contradicts the individualism of feudalism (26; although on page 22 Siegmund-Schultze laments the increasingly cold ties of monetary transactions). This nationalistic focus goes hand in hand with a growing pacifism on Gower's part. Despite such bourgeois interests, Gower tends to depict labour as the pursuit of land-tied peasants, and he justifies poverty as something rewarded in heaven. Gower thus remains a tool of the ruling classes, despite the influence of bourgeois ideals (34). The latter ideals are further visible in Gower’s scepticism about courtly love and in his xenophobia towards the Lombards (Siegmund-Schultze quotes Stalin to point out that the market is the first school in which the bourgeoisie learns nationalism; 47). Sometimes Gower's views are evidence of his association with both classes. Thus Gower complains about merchants pampering their wives so that they transgress social dress codes, but he is bourgeois in his concern over the cost of extravagance. Yet, despite the fact that we can classify nearly all of Gower's views as either feudal or bourgeois (e.g., even beer is a national drink and thus bourgeois), Gower is not very conscious of the ascendancy of the middle class. The fact that Gower hasn't learned much is evident in the VC, a kind of pamphlet that supports the use of force for containing the peasants (55). Gower here still supports the Three Estates model, which is why the murder of the Archbishop (Sudbury) is an important climax of Book I of the VC. Likewise, in the CA, Gower ignores the common people and generally focuses on exempla of the nobility, despite the fact that his stories about chivalry have an air of obsolescence. Even here, though, bourgeois realism creeps back in, especially as Amans recognizes his old age and sees the importance of marriage, emphases that are atypical of chivalric romance. Siegmund-Schultze concludes by observing that Gower's apology of feudalism meant that praise of Gower's achievements waned (esp. after the 17th century) along with the ideology he defended. [CvD]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Vox Clamantis
Biography of Gower
Confessio Amantis
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

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