Gower Bibliography

John Barton, John Gower and Others: Variation in Late Anglo-French.

Merrilees, Brian and Pagan, Heather. "John Barton, John Gower and Others: Variation in Late Anglo-French." In Language and Culture in Medieval Britain: The French of England c. 1100-c.1500. Ed. Wogan-Browne, Jocelyn and Collette, Carolyn and Kowaleski, Maryanne and Mooney, Linne R and Putter, Ad and Trotter, David. York: York Medieval Press, 2009, pp. 118-34. ISBN 9781903153277

Review

Although Merrilees and Pagan begin by introducing the "Donait" ("grammar") of John Barton, a Cheshireman schooled in Paris in the early fifteenth century, and examine three chronologically descending passages from the "Anglo-Norman Prose Brut" to 1332, their primary study is of Gower's French as exemplified in the Mirour de l'Omme. (They do not include the balades in their surveyed texts.) Noting that "John Gower's French works seem until recently to have fallen between the cracks in both French and Anglo-Norman scholarship" (123), and that he was "set aside as not being part of the Anglo-Norman canon" in the first edition of the 'Anglo-Norman Dictionary'" (123) ], he is set to make an appearance in the second edition, forthcoming at time of press. However much they approve of this revision (as they seem pleased enough by it), Merrilees and Pagan nonetheless use their chosen excepts from the MO to assert that "Gower's use of the French language seems particular" (124); indeed, "here we are dealing with a quite different 'niveau de langue,' consciously literary, and an Anglo-French that seems closer to continental than insular forms" (125). They position Gower in between continental and insular linguistic models (e.g., in the MO, most rhymes are continental, but "the orthography retains some Anglo-Norman features" (126). They note as well that this is not truly surprising, as "Gower is writing in a century that saw a flourishing of lexical creativity in French" and his reading demonstrably included both Anglo-Norman and continental poetry (126). In support they offer "a small sample of Gower's vocabulary, the letters A-E," selecting for four categories: 1) "words that appear to be restricted to French used in England;" 2) "words from continental French . . . but not recorded in Anglo-Norman;" 3) "words that, to date, we have not found other than in the works of John Gower;" 4) "words that may be debatable in their form or use but which should be considered in any treatment of Gower's French" (126-27). In addition to a number of detailed, technical observations, Merrilees and Pagan offer by way of general assessment that 1) "his adoption of fairly newly minted words" from the continental indicates "his familiarity with contemporary French" (130) and 2) "certainly Gower's French seems more standard than that of John Barton, and his overall ability to assimilate contemporary forms, and even to create his own, show a significant comprehension of French" (132). They posit as well that Gower, like "chancery officials, when addressing diplomatic documents in French to continental recipients," possibly "reduced the number of Anglo-Norman features" in his language—perhaps "recognizing or hoping for a wider audience than merely English" (134). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 29.2]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Language and Word Studies
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

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