Gower Bibliography

Allegory and Mirror: Tradition and Structure in Middle English Literature

Wimsatt, James I. "Allegory and Mirror: Tradition and Structure in Middle English Literature." New York: Pegasus, 1970

Review

Wimsatt classifies works of Middle English literature as examples of either personification allegory on the one hand or mirror (encyclopedic compilations) on the other, comparing them with classical and medieval Continental models and characterizing them by their unity, comprehensiveness, and/or didactic functions. He discusses works by Chaucer, Langland, Jean de Meun, Boethius, Vincent of Beauvais, Peraldus, and many others, including Gower. Ostensibly structured as a summa of sin, Gower's CA resists (or fails), according to Wimsatt, its primary principle of organization: it neither follows the systematic arrangement of, for example, the "Ancrene Riwle" or Robert Mannyng's "Handlyng Synne," nor is it as thorough or inclusive in its treatment of the sins and their subsets. The treatment of gluttony in Book 6, which Wimsatt offers as an example, discusses only two species of the sin and then digresses into tales about witchcraft, albeit "interesting" ones. In short, the "stories themselves are the chief merit" of CA (158), rather than its organization or unity. MO, on the other hand, is more successfully thorough and consistent as a mirror of society: "about 8,000 of 31,000 lines are devoted to a systematic condemnation of the estates," and most of "the remainder of the poem is taken up with descriptions of the Seven Deadly Sins with their offspring and of seven offsetting virtues and their progeny" (165). Wimsatt summarizes the "analysis of the decadence of monks" (166) in MO (20833-21180) to illustrate Gower's technique with estates satire, and mentions that VC is also structured as a "series of complaints presented against the Three Estates" (167). [MA]

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Sources, Analogues, and Literary Relations
Vox Clamantis
Confessio Amantis
Mirour de l’Omme (Speculum Meditantis)

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