Gower Bibliography

Nature and the Good in Gower's Confessio Amantis

White, Hugh. "Nature and the Good in Gower's Confessio Amantis." In John Gower: Recent Readings. Papers Presented at the John Gower Society at the International Congress 1983-88. Ed. Yeager, R.F.. Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University, 1989, pp. 1-20.


Here he offers an unusually clear and well illustrated summary of Gower's doctrine. Earlier sources had provided two different views of Nature, one the "law of (non-rational) instinct," the "nature" that man shares with the animals, the other the "law of (natural) reason," man's "nature" as a rational being (p. 2). These two views could be harmonized, yet they could also be set in opposition. In RR, one of Gower's most important sources, Nature is clearly opposed to Reason, though she is not for that reason completely amoral. In CA, "nature," or more normally "kinde," can be used with moral force, for instance in the discussions of ingratitude and murder. "Kinde" is distinguished, however, from "reason," opening up the possibility of conflict, a possibility that is realized for Gower in the sphere of human sexual love (p. 7). "Kinde" may refer broadly to man's "nature," including reason; and even with reference to the sexual impulse it may carry moral authority, though the most obvious examples, the prohibitions of incest and homosexuality, raise unresolvable problems in Nature's role. In other examples (e.g. "Canace and Machaire"), Nature can quite clearly operate against reason, and thus be conducive to vice. There are several key passages in CA on the need to keep natural impulse under the control of reason. But White observes that Gower evidently believes that such control is not always possible. Gower portrays man as trapped between two irreconcilable forces, and the ending of the poem illustrates that "the only truly safe condition is one in which man is no longer subject to the influences of love and nature" (p. 14). [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 9.2]

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

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