Gower Bibliography

Irony v. Paradox in the Confessio Amantis

Nicholson, Peter. "Irony v. Paradox in the Confessio Amantis." In John Gower, Trilingual Poet: Language, Translation, and Tradition. Ed. Dutton, Elisabeth, and Hines, John, and Yeager, R.F. Cambridge: Brewer, 2010, pp. 206-17.


Nicholson addresses "some common threads" in the recent studies of James Simpson (Sciences and the Self in Medieval Poetry), Diane Watt (Amoral Gower) and J. Allan Mitchell (Ethics and Exemplary Narrative), all of whom in his view "offer alternatives to reading the [Confessio Amantis] as a series of straightforward moral lessons addressed by a priest to his penitent" (206). All resort to taking the CA ironically, if any resemblance to cohesion at all is to be wrung from the poem they all three find fraught with "inconsistencies, either in its overall structure (comparing, for instance, the beginning to the end), or between lessons, or even within single passages, which are interpreted as reflecting either the inadequacies of Genius as moral instructor or as either the inability or the refusal of Gower himself to advance a coherent morality" (206). Nicholson however finds irony characteristic of Chaucer (207-09) but an inaccurate adjective for the CA, where because its subject is Love Gower continually foregrounds paradox. "Love is both beyond and also necessarily subject to reason: that simple proposition helps account for a great many of the more puzzling features of the Confessio, and it also provides a model—better than 'irony'—for the conceptual structure of the poem" (213). Nicholson sees Gower responding directly to his subject ("fallen human nature—including both the inevitability of sin and the necessity of virtue") in the CA — a subject inconsistent and self-contradictory at its core. Hence: "Irony is not a characteristic mode for Gower, but paradox is . . . . Things are what they seem in the Confessio Amantis, but they are far from simple, and taking the poem at its word does not simplify it; it restores its complexity" (216). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 30.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Style, Rhetoric, and Versification
Confessio Amantis

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