Gower Bibliography

Teaching Gower's Reception: A Poet for All Ages

Pearsall, Derek. "Teaching Gower's Reception: A Poet for All Ages." In Approaches to Teaching the Poetry of John Gower. Ed. Yeager, R. F., and Gastle, Brian W. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2011, pp. 31-34. ISBN 9781603290999


Gower, Pearsall argues, "has suffered throughout the centuries from his proximity to the greater poet," Chaucer. Indeed, "the label 'moral Gower," that Chaucer "stapled to him" has powerfully, but not entirely justly "shaped his reputation" (31). Pearsall claims that "'moral Gower' is not all there is . . . or even the most important of his claims upon us. For it is above all as a poet of human feeling that readers will remember Gower, both in the portrayal of the delicacy of love's courtesy and the fineness of love-feeling in the confessional 'frame' and also in the deep engagement with the conflicts of love's experience in the exemplary stories that make up the bulk of the poem. . . At times the pressure of feeling behind a story, the exactness and comprehensiveness of Gower's human sympathy, will set up a conflict with the moral of the story expounded by Genius or, more explicitly and brutally, in the Latin marginal summary that accompanies it" (31-32). Pearsall suggests that among the "discerning readers" of Gower who reach beyond "dutiful eulogizing" are Hoccleve, Lydgate, Sidney, Spenser, Jonson, and Shakespeare. Shakespeare made Gower the speaker of the prologue and linking passages in "Pericles," and though "there is little similarity in their treatments of that story, . . . the influence of Gower's narrative, of patient virtue ultimately blessed by providence, on Shakespeare and the movement toward the last plays should not be underestimated. Similiarities and contrasts of these kinds offer practical opportunities for teaching" (33). Gower's reputation fell into decline in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and he "remained a byword for tedious moralizing throughout the nineteenth century," but with Macaulay's edition in 1899, "a truer estimate of Gower's poetic ability began to emerge" (34). "The greatest rewards . . . now are likely to be in the independent stories . . . [for] they are often to some degree painfully unresolved," meant "to test and strain ideas of moral certainty" and in that regard come close to "Chaucer's most finely wrought narratives. . . . Some of the richest experiences of study and teaching are in the comparison of the two poets' narrative techniques" (34). [Kurt Olsson. Copyright. The John Gower Society. JGN 31.1]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Influence and Later Allusion

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