Gower Bibliography

Idleness Working: The Discourse of Love's Labor from Ovid through Chaucer and Gower.

Sadlek, Gregory M. "Idleness Working: The Discourse of Love's Labor from Ovid through Chaucer and Gower." Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2004 ISBN 9780813213736

Review

Sadlek includes the Confessio Amantis in a Bakhtinian study of "the ideologically saturated discourse of love's labor" as present variously in as well the "Ars amatoria," "De amore," "De planctu Naturae," "Roman de la Rose," and "Troilus and Criseyde." His chapter on Gower revises and enlarges an earlier essay, "John Gower's Confessio Amantis, Ideology, and the 'Labor' of 'Love's Labor'" in Re-Visioning Gower: New Essays, ed. R.F. Yeager (1998; rev. JGN XVII.1). Sadlek's focus is Book IV, in which "Genius and Amans grapple with the question of what it means to be slothful in love, and whether Amans is guilty of this sin" (168). His contention is that "Gower's favored labor ideology is one that presents work as a necessary but positive human activity, one whose value derives not merely because it is an antidote to idleness but primarily because of its material contributions to the common profit" (171). This is an idea Sadlek finds consistent in Gower's work, from the Mirour de l'Omme forward; he cites the discussion of Accedie in MO 5125-6180 (186-89). Pointing out that "labor and productivity issues . . . played an important role in late fourteenth-century England, Sadlek surveys and assesses the impact of the Black Death on available labor and consequences for worker value, religious reforms aimed at the apparent idleness of what Wyclif termed "clerks possessioners" and changes in attitudes toward time-keeping brought on by the introduction of clocks (174-81). These "were essential parts of the writing context for both Chaucer and Gower" (181). The problem for Amans and Genius is that—far from being idle—Amans is ceaselessly working to win his lady's love. Genius shows him, however, that "Amans's labor ideology here is inconsistent. Although . . . he argued that he was not guilty of idleness because he kept himself busy, he [later] admits (IV.1757-60) that just keeping busy, just countering the vice of sloth, is not enough. One's work must produce results"(197). Sadlek clarifies helpfully that although Amans recognizes that "he is an idle man" (198), he does so "not on the basis of Christian morality, but rather on the basis of a labor ideology that equates labor with productive activity" (198). Such activity Amans equates with his lady falling in love with him—a goal he has failed to achieve, rendering his "busyness" mere wasted time (200). But Gower's concern is broader than Amans' compass. Genius goes beyond Amans' immediate situation to add other concepts of labor, including "the dignity of intellectual labor" (202). The result is that Book IV ultimately "contains a dialog among various ideologically colored voices," including "traditional medieval ideology of work based on . . . the Seven Deadly Sins;" "aristocratic voices" emphasizing amorous idylls and chivalric combat; and "finally, the voice of a humanist work ethic in process" (203). "In short," Sadlek posits that "Gower's ideology of labor in Book 4 is neither simply traditional nor avant-garde, neither completely aristocratic nor bourgeois. It is an ideology in process, mirroring to some extent ideological shifts in Gower's language and his society . . . a 'site of action' in which various late-medieval labor ideologies undergo a 'sustained literary engagement'"(204). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 29.2]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Confessio Amantis
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata