Gower Bibliography

Promiscuous Contexts: Gower's Wife, Prostitution, and the Confessio Amantis

Salisbury, Eve. "Promiscuous Contexts: Gower's Wife, Prostitution, and the Confessio Amantis." In John Gower: Manuscripts, Readers, Contexts. Ed. Urban, Malte. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2009, pp. 219-40.


John Gower married Agnes Groundolf in 1398, in a wedding taking place in his private chapel by special indulgence of the Bishop of Winchester. All remaining evidence--a Latin epitaph, a tomb (now lost), a generous bequest upon her husband's death--points toward Agnes having been highly respected by Gower, at the very least (219-21). Salisbury's "reading of . . . 'the Agnes fragments' is divided into three parts--historical, hagiographical, and philosophical--each defined as 'promiscuous' in order to indicate the discursive fields within which the subject operates and to suggest ways in which the eclectic combination of Gower's disparate genres (legal documents, tomb writing, and poetry) produce meaning. The first part combines a discussion of the sex trade known in Southwark with John and Agnes's personal history to suggest an alternative reading to the Gower marriage and its relation to the Confessio Amantis; the second explores the tropes of prostitution enacted in Gower's 'Tale of Apollonius' within the context of two saints lives, one of St Agnes, the other of the legendary courtesan, Thaïs. That Gower's Thaise, the daughter of Apollonius sold into the brothels of Mitilene, bears a closer resemblance to St Agnes than to the courtesan for whom she is named offers a means by which we may better understand the shaping of Agnes Gower's identity and 'afterlife' by her husband. The third part of the essay revisits Gower's philosophy of common profit in relation to 'common women', the group upon whom the efficacy of redemption and charity may be tested" (222). Salisbury finds the Gower marriage to have been celibate but rewarding, probably, to each, and that the poet's affection and respect for his wife as expressed in the epitaph, will, and tomb seems to have been genuine. Intriguing are Salisbury's suggestions that Agnes's "inclusion among four notable men [as executrix of his will] indicates literacy in Latin" (240) and her reading of the character of Thaise "and other female characters in the Confessio" offers evidence that "Gower seems to have supported . . . the education of young women" (240). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 30.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Biography of Gower
Confessio Amantis

Gower Bibliography Editors Only: edit metadata