Gower Bibliography

Inside Out in Gower's Republic of Letters

Taylor, Karla. "Inside Out in Gower's Republic of Letters." In John Gower, Trilingual Poet: Language, Translation, and Tradition. Ed. Dutton, Elisabeth, and Hines, John, and Yeager, R.F. Cambridge: Brewer, 2010, pp. 169-81.


Taylor sees a correspondence between alchemy as Gower understood and valued it and the project of moral and political reform in CA. In view of widespread contemporary condemnation of alchemical practices, "Gower's endorsement of alchemy in Confessio book IV is at odds not only with the usual exposés of transmutation, but also with his own intolerance of fraud in language and deed" (170). But when Gower criticizes alchemy, it is for "falling away from a true essence" that he "nevertheless endorses" (173). Taylor identifies two aspects of alchemy that were useful to Gower's ethical design. Alchemists placed great faith in the reliability of surface appearance as a sign of essence: "Alchemical continuity embodies a kind of sacramentalism, the visible sign of invisible truth" which "makes it an apt model for Gower's ideal integrity of reference in all spheres – politics and ethics as well as language" (175). It was also a "science of transformation" (175), which "promises that the face of nature can be made plainly legible" (176). "Having shielded alchemy from the suspicion of offences against political authority and referential truth, Gower can use it to forge his ideal of kingship in book VII" (176). In a key passage, however (7.3545-52), Gower concedes the need for the king sometimes to adopt a "calculated dissimulation" (176). In the tale of Lucrece, Gower explores both the dilemma that results for the heroine when her outward appearance (her violated body) does not correspond to her inner essence (her virtue) and Brutus's transformative power, able to bring her virtue to expression and to bring about better governance as well.[PN. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 30.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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