Gower Bibliography

'Foryet it thou, and so wol I': Absolving Memory in 'Confessio Amantis'

Stegner, Paul D. "'Foryet it thou, and so wol I': Absolving Memory in 'Confessio Amantis'." Studies in Philology 108 (2011), pp. 488-507. ISSN 0039-3738

Review

Stegner asserts that in the "Confessio" "Gower represents a recuperative form of forgetting in order to signal the difficulty of reconciling auricular confession with narratives of desire" (489). Unlike the many who see Amans as more bewildered than sinful, and his confession as a deliberate amorous trope, Stegner treats Gower's Lover as a Christian sinner in need of penitential healing, and thus seeks to "reveal the deep pressure between the penitent's memory of past transgressions and his reformation through confession" (489). This allows Stegner ultimately to project the methodology of Amans' restitution as a blueprint for social recuperation: "Gower's concentration on the social . . . extends his understanding of memory to include productively forgetting the limitations of human agency. In holding on to and letting go of his memories, Gower indicates how remembering an English society bound together in unity first depends on forgetting the divisions that fracture the kingdom. This focus on forgetting present conflicts and remembering a unified past takes on a particular significance in the tumultuous political climate in which the 'Confessio' was composed and revised. In this sense, Gower uses memory and forgetting as one possible strategy for reconciling England's Ricardian past with its Lancastrian present and future" (507). The bulk of the essay, however, is very little about healing a fractured society; rather, Stegner focusses on the "Tale of Apollonius" in Book VIII and its presentation of incest, arguing Genius chooses the tale in order that Amans recognize himself (and his own "incest," which Stegner is hardly alone in stretching to define as "a synecdoche for amatory desire" [497] generally) in Apollonius, the better to turn the Lover toward reason, and away from "kinde." "Kinde" Stegner reads very darkly, as "bestial," in the pejorative sense, rather than "natural," as animals are, and so sinless in their irrationality. This move is essential for Stegner to complete his turn, which he does in a single, breath-taking leap: "Genius condemns the undercurrents of amatory desire by following the common medieval comparison of incest to the sexual behavior of animals" (498). Only when Amans can "forget" he ever experienced love's pull (while, like Apollonius, remembering the trial-beset journey to enlightenment), can he become a "John Gower" who "gestures toward [an] Augustinian conception of the individual mind's ascent through sensory perception to memory itself and finally beyond it to a form of mystical contemplation of God" (506-07). [RFY. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 31.1]

Item Type:Article
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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