Gower Bibliography

Writing, Gender, and Power in Gower's Confessio Amantis.

Leff, Amanda M. "Writing, Gender, and Power in Gower's Confessio Amantis." Exemplaria 20 (2008), pp. 28-47. ISSN 1041-2573

Review

"The Confessio like [Chaucer’s] Wife of Bath's Prologue explores the role of texts in gendered power negotiations," Leff writes (29). "Gower probes the tensions between authoritative literate women and the social norms that constantly threaten to suppress or control them. Men in power attempt to contain female expression, and women in turn appropriate writing to challenge the dominant social order and assert their own authority. By revealing the potential subversiveness of women's writing, Gower's Confessio generates the cultural anxiety that it simultaneously reflects" (31). Araxarathen provides the negative example: the epitaph on her and Iphis's tomb "permanently rewrites Araxarathen in Iphis' terms" and thus "enforces women's subordinate, voiceless place in society" (33). Four other women in the poem use writing somewhat more successfully, "to respond to a threat by a male authority figure. Philomela writes in response to her rape and mutilation at the hands of Tereus; Canace writes in reaction to her abandonment by her brother and the abuse of her father; Arcestrate writes to affirm her choice of mate and to reject the suitors that her father selects for her; Thaise employs her knowledge of books to escape forced prostitution. In all these cases, gender plays a key role in the power struggle in which the women engage: they employ writing to counteract familiar, physical, or social limitations linked to their gender. Rather than accepting their subordination, the women take up their pens and their books to contest the status quo, and they are able to re-negotiate their positions in social networks by means of their literacy . . . . Despite their ability to act in commanding ways, however, Gower's women do not seriously challenge the gender norms perpetuated by the Confessio Amantis and medieval English society. Indeed, their exercises in power typically affirm rather than negate traditional gender roles . . . . Gower's women . . . do not subvert the social hierarchy, but simply seek more favorable positions within it. In the end, their authoritative acts of writing do less to promote the advancement of women than to reinforce the transformative power of writing itself" (43). [PN. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 28.1]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata